The previous afternoon, the teacher asked her class if there were any students who had never done any cooking at all. Four boys raised their hands, so she made them the four group leaders. Each one was sent home with recipe for a different no-bake dessert. They were asked to figure out what they would need and bring it to class the next day. (I don’t know if they were given money for ingredients or how they worked that out.) They brought things like Oreos, powdered sugar, graham crackers (that mostly need to be crushed into crumbs), chocolate in various forms, Nutella, butter, milk and whipping cream. They also brought bowls and spoons, whisks, measuring cups, measuring spoons, an electric mixer for the whipped cream, and some pans.
One of the Boys actually looked at the recipe in advance and worked out the measurements, converting from liters and grams to cups and tablespoons. One ingredient was “a stick of butter,” which caused a lot of conversation and looking things up on the internet. No one had thought of a way to crush the graham crackers, so that took some experimentation. There were several messes to clean up before the next class. Later in the day, after everything chilled in the refrigerator, we ate more sweets than anyone should at any one time. Much English was spoken and learned and we had a lot of fun.
When I was a campus pastor at the University of New Mexico a teacher brought her class of students with disabilities to Luther House one day a week for several years. These were young adults, still technically in high school, but taking classes in the Albuquerque Public School System until they turned 21. They were the same age as the college students who lived at Luther House or who came by every day. Some of them knew each other from high school. The class had students with autism, fragile X, head injuries, Down’s syndrome, or other cognitive disabilities. Their teacher, Rita Harris, constantly amazed me with the wonderful way she related to the students (just like any other young adults). She taught them by doing things together.
There were cooking lessons (not unlike the one in Dabas) because she was helping them prepare to live more independently. For several years they cooked an entire Thanksgiving dinner and hosted their families and friends. They learned how to prepare many things at once, set the table, do dishes, and clean up. At other times they learned how to do their own laundry, or who would be safe to talk to on the city buses. We often saw students blossom when they found something they enjoyed learning and doing. Too many of them had spent a lot of time with people who cared about them but were very protective. Rita gave them the chance to try new things and learn how much more they could do if they tried.
Once or twice we had a garden at Luther House. We planted and grew vegetables together and ate them. We did service projects together in the community. There were many ways that the college students benefitted from all these experiences as well. The disabilities receded to the background, and we knew each other and grew together as people.
One of my favorite projects was a photography exhibit. The students had visited several art galleries with Rita and wanted to do their own show. She took them to Old Town in Albuquerque, a very colorful place, to take photos. Later they cropped them and had them printed, made frames, and labeled each one like the galleries. We hosted the exhibit and a special opening at Luther House. Rita and her class made invitations and a guest list. It was announced in all the Education classes on campus, so lots of students came. The class made refreshments and served them and talked with people about their work. They also created 3 or 4 experiences to teach their guests some of the things they had learned at the galleries and from doing this project. For example, they taught us how to level a picture when you hang it on the wall and they let everyone try to do it.
I share these stories because I know many teachers who use their creativity every day to help their students learn. They stretch their imaginations and ours. They show us something of the mind of God who created all things in infinite diversity. They demonstrate God’s love whatever our abilities. Good teachers are a blessing to everyone.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-7