I teach, and my students fall asleep.
Not all of them. Not all the time. But a few of them, every now and again. I’m at the front of the room doing my best to be as engaging and enthusiastic as possible, and out of the corner of my eye I see it: the head tipped forward, the mouth slightly ajar, the closed eyes.
And I always, always think: Are you kidding me?
I’m not the only one it happens to. Nor is it a problem for only college professors or school teachers. My mother is an excellent and engaging Sunday School teacher, and I once watched an adult man, over weeks of her consecutive teaching, fall asleep and actually snore through her class.
As you can see, I can’t help but have a kneejerk reaction to it. It always seems so rude and thoughtless. Yes, I know people have legitimate reasons to be tired and life is demanding, but something about having someone fall asleep while you’re in the middle of talking feels like an outright rebuke: a slap in the face that says you’re just not enough to keep my attention, sorry.
Which is why I am always so impressed with Paul when I read Acts 20:9. Paul was gathered with believers in Troas, and because he was due to depart the next day he was getting his words in. Scripture said that lamps were lit and he talked until around midnight, whereupon this happens:
Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead.
What makes this story absurdly funny and not tragic is that Paul pauses, runs downstairs, resurrects the man, goes back upstairs and has a bite to eat, and then – this is the best part – goes on talking until morning.
I usually read this as a study in Paul’s – and, from a larger perspective, God’s – patience with those who are still growing. Yes, Eutychus dozed off. Yes, it was probably rude – everything indicates that Paul’s presence was a rare gift. Yes, he was missing out. And yes, his sleepy carelessness got him killed. And yet Paul, rather than shrug it off as the penalty for his behavior, rather than be aggravated or upset, goes down and gives him another chance. What grace!
But you know what else strikes me on a re-reading? Paul didn’t second-guess his own manner or his methods. He didn’t let external circumstances dictate his plans. If someone had fallen asleep during my teaching to the point that they fell backwards out a window and had to be resurrected, I think I would’ve probably wrapped it up after that with a quick prayer of gratitude and some praise. I would have permitted the circumstances to shorten my thoughts and transform my original intent.
Not Paul. He talked till midnight, paused for a resurrection, and then kept right on talking until dawn. He was patient and acted out of great love for the man who had fallen, surely – and yet he didn’t let that distracting little incident change what it was that he had come to do. He wanted to get his words out – and so he did. The incident didn’t make him become self-conscious and it didn’t even seem to anger or disturb him in any meaningful way.
If only I could be so secure and confident. All too often, I monitor what’s going on around me and I allow it to dictate my response, how I’m thinking or feeling, or what I decide to do. Would that I had Paul’s conviction to just keep right on going, interruptions and all – and would that I had his ability to let aggravations and interruptions and all manner of distractions slide!
Truly, every time I read the story of Eutychus I can’t help but realize that remaining unruffled is as godly a skill as I can hope to cultivate. For the world, panic and confusion and kneejerk responses, the shifting sands of opinions and circumstance; for the believer, the smooth and placid conviction of knowing what is important, and what is not, and dismissing the rest.
May you remain joyously unruffled by whatever life throws at you today!
P.S. The first full week of the Jonathan study is available here. Come join!
4 thoughts on “Remaining Unruffled”
These were helpful thoughts that I needed to hear. I teach informally, and I can lack confidence sometimes – as in I am too worried about the audience and whether they may be bored, find an approach I use odd, etc. What if I try something new and it doesn’t work well? (But if you never try, you will never know.) I can be way too self-conscious. A teacher should want to teach in an interesting way, but the teacher can also be over-concerned with them self and the audience. I recently had a conversation along these lines with my husband. I’ve been a student/participant with a teacher or facilitator who clearly needed MORE awareness of the audience and them self. My problems is the exact opposite.
I’ve also observed that you can’t always go by the audience expressions. I took some classes online, which involved watching previously recorded lectures in the classroom. They would show the students at times. I was always surprised to see students that looked bored and uninterested, yet I thought the teacher was VERY engaging and doing an exceptional job! How could anyone look bored? I was hanging on to every word.
Anyways… my rambles.
It’s really a struggle sometimes! Too far one way and you’re always changing to suit people – too far the other and you might be missing on changing in a necessary way.
I’ve had students who looked as bored as could be and found out later they were hanging on every word; that was just apparently their default “classroom” expression. And students who appeared engaged who were basically faking it to look good and couldn’t retain a single thing I’d said. Funny how that works.
In the end, you’re right – too much self-consciousness can be a problem. I’ve found that if I refrain from focusing on individuals and instead focus on the general mood of the room, it’s a big help for me in gauging responsiveness (since at the same time I don’t want to teach in a way is over everyone’s head!) Evaluations (the honest ones that don’t just say “I hate reading for class”) can be a help too.
In the end, it really is all trial and error, giving yourself permission to experiment, and having some people you trust who can observe you and give you feedback on what works, or doesn’t.
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I teach, and my students have stressful full-time jobs and families at home that need their attention and energy. I don’t take it personally when a student falls asleep. The biggest shock, though, was a student who–in several different sessions–fell asleep while taking a written quiz! J.
I don’t take it personally when it’s my non-traditional students – who often have full-time jobs and families too – though they still end up counted absent, haha. Life can get rough and sometimes that just happens, though it’s far more frequent with my stayed-out-too-late-partying-frat-bros. But WOW, your quiz-taker! That’s some amazingly dedicated sleeping!