The other ritual I developed when I met a class for the first time was to hold a drawing for a rock.
I had a student pass around little pieces of paper, just big enough for each to write his or her name on it.
“What’s this for?” someone always asked.
“We’re having a drawing this morning,” I would respond. “Write your name on the piece of paper and fold it twice. Put it into this basket in the front of the room.
They wrote their names and they folded the paper. I always had to say, “Twice. Fold it twice.”
“For this,” I said, showing them a smooth, rounded rock about half the size of a golf ball. The rock was in a small, zip-lock baggie. I passed the rock around the room.
“Why would I want a rock!” someone would invariably ask, insulted that I would have a drawing for something so stupidly ordinary.
“If you don’t want the rock, just don’t put your name in the basket,” I said. My lack of concern for their cynicism always seemed to intrigue them.
Once all the names were in the basket and the rock had made its way around the room, I said, “I am going to give you clues about this rock and let’s see who is the first to guess what is so special about it. Are you ready?” The all nodded.
“This rock does not come from the U.S. It comes from a country whose name begins with an I.”
“Illinois!” someone shouted.
“No, stupid, Illinois is a state,” said another student.
“Oh, yeah, then is it Indiana?”
This always made me laugh. It didn’t seem to matter the grade. I always got these two answers first.
“No, no, guys,” I would say. “Think of countries that begin with an I. Not states! There are, actually nine countries that begin with an I.”
They began naming countries until someone finally said “Israel” and I told them, “Yes, this stone came from Israel.”
I asked several other questions, asking them where smooth rocks are usually found (in water); if you wanted to kill someone with a rock like this, how would you project it (with a slingshot); who, their age, might have killed someone really big, in Israel, three thousand years ago. This last question was tough until someone tentatively said, “David and Goliath?” When they had guessed all this, I then told them the rock I had passed around was one I had taken from the same brook where David had picked up the stone he used to kill Goliath.
“How many stones did David pick up from the brook?” I asked. A few knew: “Five”.
“And, how many did it take to kill Goliath?” I asked. A few knew: “One”.
“What happened to the other four?” I asked, holding up the round stone in the little zip-lock baggie. “Maybe that’s one of them!” they responded.
I had their attention. Everyone wanted to win a stupid rock.
A girl in one of the classes was desperate to win. I never knew why. But, when she didn’t win that morning, she was devastated.
“Do you have another one?” she asked.
“Yes, I have one here,” I said, holding up another little baggie I had placed on the teacher’s desk.
“Can I have it?” asked the girl.
“No. I’m sorry you didn’t win, but I may need this one if I have to have another drawing later today.” She didn’t look happy.
I did need to have another drawing the very next period, but when I looked at the desk for the rock, it was gone.
Next day, I was called to sub at the same school but for a different subject. During lunch I walked down the hall to the lunchroom and scanned the room. Sure enough, sitting and chatting with friends was the girl who had wanted the rock. I suspected she had taken it as she had left the room the day before. I went over to her table and set beside her.
“You really wanted that rock, didn’t you?” I began.
She nodded casually.
“But, you shouldn’t have taken it.”
“I didn’t take anything,” she protested.
I held out my hand and waited. After a moment, she dug into her pocket and took out the baggie and handed it over.
“I really wanted to win,” she said.
“I know,” I smiled. “I’m sorry you didn’t.”
Later that day, the girl appeared in my classroom as she obviously was taking the subject I was now subbing for. She didn’t look me in the eye the entire period.
Just before the class was to end, I motioned her to come to the teacher’s desk where I was sitting.
“You know, when you took the rock yesterday, you became a thief.” She lowered her head and nodded.
I continued, “A long time ago, a man said that if someone is going to steal something from you, she becomes a thief and she feels like a thief. But, if you just give her what she would have stolen from you, then she isn’t a thief anymore. Do you know the person who said that?” I was a little surprised that she did.
I took the baggie out of my pocket and held it out to her. “Here,” I said, “I don’t want you to be a thief and I don’t want you to feel like a thief.”
It hurt me to see the pained expression of guilt on her face. “Oh, no, Mr. C.D., I can’t have it,” she said. “That would be wrong.”
“No, it won’t be wrong. It is wrong for someone to have something they stole. But, you know,” I wrinkled up my face as if trying to remember something really important, “I don’t recall this having been stolen. Do you?”
Her expression changed from guilt to wide-eyed wonder. Then, as if she was just understanding a joke, a broad smile came over her face. “No,” she said softly, “I don’t recall that, either.”
“Here. Please take this as a gift from me to you.”
“Thank you,” was all she said, as the bell rang to dismiss.