Thursday, January 13, 2011

Inhale Grace, Exhale Gratitude

“When I create my exams, I always make them with the intent that no student can get an ‘A’.” stated my eccentric professor. Dr. Scott Johnson paced about the quiet classroom of his new Speech students while he explained his teaching style. Unfortunately distracted by his ostentatious tie and this statement, I found it difficult to fathom these words that came from his mouth. Furiously, my mind screamed, “What is he saying?! He has no right to make failure his students’ only option. That’s a ridiculous! If I can’t get an ‘A’, why should I try??”

Upon exiting Johnson’s class, I called my mother and ranted to her over this strange way of teaching. Finally, I gritted my teeth and I said, “Mom, I’m going to get an ‘A’. I’m not going to just roll over and give up.” That first semester in Dr. Scott Johnson’s class was a struggle. His spontaneity and flexibility in class schedule was something that I was taken aback by. Sure, homeschooling had required a certain amount of flexibility and spontaneity. However, I had never expected to find a teacher who taught his class with such a real world focus.

As Johnson’s style of teaching befuddled college students, cancer re-attacked Johnson’s life. Even during Johnson’s most difficult days, he always chose to reflect Jesus. Johnson clung to the phrase, “Inhale grace, exhale gratitude.” I never understood the weight of that phrase. It sounded nice and it was concise. The phrase sat well on the tongue. Of course, there were many days where Johnson close to tears would inhale a deep trembling breath and then slowly exhale. As he did, Johnson would whisper those accompanying words. Thinking about it now, I think those words helped Johnson to refocus on Jesus Christ rather than himself.

For the past three years, I have participated in a class in which Johnson taught speech, oral interpretation, or persuasion. None of those classes fit the mold of an ordinary class. Often, the syllabi were represented solely by the necessary Bethel rules of no plagiarism and cell phones. By my third class with Johnson, most of his shock factor had worn off and had been replaced by a knowing smirk every time he threw the class a curve ball. While other students would not show up for class or complain about Johnson’s odd teaching, I considered myself to be similar to Old Faithful. On days that class was cancelled, I would enter the empty classroom and stare silently at the blank white board with the class cancellation scribbled across the board. My heart mourned. Each class cancellation signified an emergency or scheduled chemotherapy treatment. Although thankful for some extra time to myself, I could never celebrate those cancelled class times.

On my midterm, Johnson gave me a full hundred points. Two years earlier in utter frustration with a professor, who made success seemingly impossible, I chose to work hard. Every class that I took with Johnson challenged me. Not only did Johnson have a propensity to the strange and the weird, he valued challenges. Johnson continually wanted his students to be inspired to thought. He did that on a daily basis. Never have I been so excited to receive a full one hundred points on an exam. I almost pasted this hard earned “A” exam on my refrigerator like a proud five year old.

On January 3rd, 2011, Dr. Scott Johnson passed into eternity. He left a Legacy.