October 25, 2013

The Quiet Man • A Friday Flashback

This Friday Flashback was originally written in July 2006. 

He was the teacher everyone wanted to avoid. This past year of college, more than a few conversations about Mr. Shepherd began like this:

“Who’s your Bible teacher?... Oh-- that quiet man?… Boy, do I feel sorry for you!”

As soon as his name was mentioned, someone was sure to quip, “the quiet teacher” or “the one nobody can ever hear.” I heard his voice described as “squeaky like an ambulance siren… up and down all the time” and “you can only hear every fourth syllable.” Everyone unanimously agreed that the word which best fit Mr. Shepherd was “Booooooring.”

I had him my first semester for Old Testament Survey 101. I must admit, this was the only class I have ever fallen asleep in. I could not follow his lectures at all, and indeed, I could barely hear a word he said. He told us once that in high school he’d been voted “Most Bashful.” I believe it. His reticence was the first impression I got of Mr. Shepherd. In conversation, all of his words were quietly thought out beforehand, sometimes with uncomfortable pauses.

Mr. Shepherd is about my father's age, with some sort of technological career behind him. Most students thought he belonged back in front of that computer screen; and all of Mr. Shepherd's students agreed that the desk job would've been more inside Mr. Shepherd's comfort zone. But, as he announced to us on the first day of class, the Lord had called Mr. Shepherd out of his comfort zone and into the ministry. Ministry to us.

I endured through that first semester with Mr. Shepherd, complaining along with everyone else about his teaching style and feeling as if my success as a college scholar was somehow injured by having had him as Bible teacher. Then spring semester rolled around. Before registration I planned my class schedule carefully and meticulously; it is very difficult for a "work student" with many work hours to fit all the required courses  around a job schedule. But at last I had figured it out, and, eager to see which teachers I’d ended up with, I thumbed through the registration booklet. I’d never heard of any of the teachers I would be having for my Math, English, or P.E. classes. I didn’t recognize the names of my History and Speech teachers. But when I got to New Testament Survey, my enthusiasm for the new semester faded as I noticed the name printed beside the section number I was planning to register for.

Mr. Shepherd.

Surely this had to be wrong! I was not taking Mr. Shepherd again! I double-checked. It was inevitable. The only section of New Testament Survey which fit around my work schedule was taught by the one and only Mr. Shepherd.

I complained for days. Could it possibly be fair that I had to suffer through Mr. Shepherd’s lectures for two semesters in a row?! I rallied the sympathy of everyone I met that first week or two, and made it known that I was not happy about taking the quiet man’s class.

This time my assigned seat was front and center, squarely in front of Mr. Shepherd. I could actually hear what he was saying. I could actually see some expression in his face, even if I couldn’t hear it in his voice. Not long into the semester, I began to think Mr. Shepherd had changed. I was learning a great deal in his class and even enjoying it. Did he improve over Christmas break? One day’s question about the lecture began a habit of talking with Mr. Shepherd briefly after class.

And one day I understood what the difference was.

Instead of seeing him as an awkward pedagogue, I had begun to see him as a man of God, so passionate about his Lord and his Textbook that he would fight daily to overcome an inherent diffidence in order to present them to us. From his conversation with me and a few classmates who were willing to give him a chance, I recognized that he had the same passion for his students. Mr. Shepherd hadn't changed. I had.
On the last day of class, afterwards I asked Mr. Shepherd to sign my yearbook beside his picture. He quietly proceeded to oblige me, but stopped abruptly, noticing where I had written beside their pictures the classes for which I had sat under each professor.

“You had me last semester also?” he asked, seeing “Old Testament” as well as “New Testament” beside his name.

I knew he wouldn’t have remembered me from the larger Old Testament class, one which I hurried into and out of each day without interaction. As I answered affirmatively to his question, Mr. Shepherd's face slowly registered surprise. Then, he said, “You came back.” And he gave me the most rewarding smile I’d seen all year.

In that moment, I felt guilty that I hadn't chosen to have Mr. Shepherd as a professor twice. Immediately I was stricken with shame for my former attitude about Mr. Shepherd. I had spoken with contempt for him along with everyone else while barely yet out of his classroom door. I realized he was probably aware that students tried to avoid taking his classes, and most who ended up with him had no other choice. As a future teacher myself, I suddenly imagined how Mr. Shepherd must’ve felt, waking up every morning so excited about teaching his passion, so full of love for his students, but knowing that he was decried among those very students simply for not being as naturally eloquent as others. Tears pressed against my eyes as I watched this humble man who was willing to follow the hand of God even into territory which wasn’t easy for him to trek.
I thanked him when he was done signing and I rushed back to my dorm room to read what he’d written. When I found the page, I read what has now become the most treasured signature in my yearbook:

“May the Lord continue to bless and enlighten.
Thanks for being an encouragement to me!
- Mr. Shepherd.”

Added July 2007:
I've changed my teacher's name, but I really wanted to share this.
I have been privileged to sit under this teacher's instruction yet again since writing the above, and am continually inspired by his quiet reverence for God and His Word.
Thank you, Mr. Shepherd!

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