By Theresa Tarn, Kindergarten Teacher and Grammar School Art Coordinator
Any student who has completed Kindergarten or 1st grade at Trinity would be able to tell you about poor, old Jonathan Bing. Here is what they would say:
Jonathan Bing by Beatrice Curtis Brown
Poor old Jonathan Bing
Went out in his carriage to visit the King,
But everyone pointed and said, “Look at that!
Jonathan Bing has forgotten his hat!”
(He’d forgotten his hat!)
Poor old Jonathan Bing
Went home and put on a new hat for the King,
But up by the palace a soldier said, “Hi!
You can’t see the King; you’ve forgotten your tie!”
(He’d forgotten his tie!)
Poor old Jonathan Bing
He put on a beautiful tie for the King
But when he arrived an Archbishop said, “Ho!
You can’t come to court in pyjamas, you know!”
Poor old Jonathan Bing
Went home and addressed a short note to the King:
If you please will excuse me
I won’t come to tea;
For home’s the best place for
All people like me!
This is just one of many poems that are etched into the minds of our students. Oh yes, poetry is definitely a “thing” at TCS. In fact, we have a Slam of it. A portion of our school day is dedicated to poetry memorization. We work at it slowly and steadily, chipping away at each line until it rolls off the tips of our tongues without much thought. But all too often, we get caught up in the repetition of saying the lines without knowing what we are saying. Well, one day this spring, as I was reviewing this particular poem with my Kindergarten class, I had the most wonderful “ah-ha!” moment, where a silly poem led to a discussion of a powerful biblical concept.
Midway through the recitation process, I started to feel sorry for Jonathan Bing. This guy is so forgetful! He can’t seem to get it right and keeps getting sent home because he is not properly dressed. But pity was replaced with delight as I was reminded of the surety of our stance before our King. If we trust in Jesus, we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, which is why our God will not turn us away. What a glorious truth! Not only did Jesus secure for us the forgiveness of sin, but he makes us acceptable to God by the imputation of his righteousness. In the book of Zechariah, we are given a picture of Joshua, the high priest of Israel, standing before the angel of the Lord clothed in filthy garments. Then the angel says, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” (Zech. 3:4). This is what Jesus has accomplished for those who believe. Without Christ, we are much like Jonathan Bing – poor and dismissible. But thanks be to God that, through faith, we are dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne!
It may be many years before these 5-6 year olds fully understand the biblical doctrine of justification, but my prayer is that the seeds of the gospel would be planted in their minds, along with lines of poetry. So, this summer, as we scrounge around for all the right Land’s End uniform pieces to wear on the first day of school, may we also remember to help our children put on the new self, to be clothed with the garments of salvation.
By Neil Anderson, Head of School
Heading a school is fun, but I really love teaching. Dr. Lindsey Scholl and I dreamt up a creative writing course last year and I began to carve out a little section at the end of the day to teach it with her. She took the short story part of the job and I took poetry. Man, I love poetry. Don’t fear, this is not going to turn into another rant on the power of poetry. The reason I bring up the class is because something interesting and unexpected happened at the end of the first one and every class since.
That first class, I pulled out all the tricks to begin to prick the poetic imagination. I made them laugh–I made them cry. And then something beautiful happened. After closing in prayer, they stood to depart and offered up a chorus of “thank you.” Almost every one of them looked at me and said, “Thank you, Mr. Anderson.” Now… I must confess that in my pride, my first assumption was that I must have just nailed it. They were grateful for the level of teaching expertise they had just experienced to the degree that they felt compelled to transcend their natural teenage ingratitude as a response to a great class. To test this theory, I proceeded to teach a succession of less than inspiring poetry classes, yet they continued to say “thank you” every time.
If you have been around TCS for long, you know we believe in the power of liturgical habits. It delights my heart to be in earshot of Dr. Williams’ class at the end of the day to hear them close in doxology or the Herbert Prayer, or to see Ms. Pfannenschmidt fist-bumping the peace of Christ to each student as they leave the room. I know that teachers are investing towards habits of healthy formation, but I don’t believe anyone has told them to say “thank you” after each class. I think this one grew on its own. Students are choosing to recognize the efforts of their teacher and they are participating in a liturgy of gratitude as they leave class.
A few weeks ago, Dr. Ward stopped by from the other side of the pond. He came to spread his theory that there is an explicit medieval cosmological metaphorical backing to the Narnia Books (I’m sold). We were a little concerned that students would not track, but they did, much in part to Dr. Ward slowing down his precious British accent to half speed. Once again, I witnessed this habit that grew without me knowing it. Students exited in front of Dr. Ward, one at a time, and said, “thank you.”
What’s the big deal? So they have some manners. The big deal is that this sort of behavior represents firstfruits to me. It represents soil fertile for even better things. It represents students with a conscience. It represents students showing virtue that us parents are not showing (when is the last time we made sure to say thank you to our pastor on Sunday before heading to lunch). It represents a collective representation of the one leper. There was one healed leper who came back to Jesus and displayed the most important evidence of healing. He went back to say “thank you” because his heart compelled him to give credit where it is due. The fall is being overcome in him. Gratitude is the language of new creation.
The fruit of discipleship is not always abundantly evident in upper school students. Sometimes we are merely looking for the signs that the Lord has not left the building. And then there are moments that move us. It moves me every time they say “thank you” after class. Every time. It increases the delight in teaching that was already so strong. It makes me want to give more, to love them more. It also reminds me that the movement towards wisdom and virtue might be more subtle than we often think.
By Dr. Lindsey Scholl, (7th Grade Humanities & Latin Chair)
The feeder was hung by the window with care, with hope that the chickadees soon would be there. I watched and I waited to see what would descend. Maybe blackbirds, or finches, or sparrows on end. I took out my camera, and I waited and watched, with the focus well set and the lens clean of spots. When what to my wondering eyes came to view, but a bunting bright- painted in crayon-like hues.
I jest, but this happened. John and I really did have a feeder that we watched with anticipation. Often, our only guests were “LBJs” as one birder has called them: little brown jobs. These were usually sparrows, but sometimes a wren would join us. One glorious spring, a painted bunting arrived, brought its mate, and stayed through the summer. We felt chosen.
Our birding enthusiasm started small: a feeder stocked with Pennington’s Classic Bird Feed, a clean window, a field guide, and the fascination that comes with the ability to identify something you’ve seen countless times, but only on the periphery of your vision. Who knew that blue jays have heads that are shaped differently than those of bluebirds? Cardinals always travel in pairs. Wrens are quite small.
John and I are not the only birders in our community. There are birders among our administrators, our teachers, co-teachers, and even students. You can discover these enlightened souls in the following manner: take a suspected birder outside, preferably where there are some trees and ideally where you know there is natural activity. Place your back to the trees while you engage her in conversation. If her gaze drifts to the branches, you are dealing with a birder. If her eyes light up, and she is unable to focus on what you’re saying, she has just spotted something red and is certain it’s not a cardinal. At that point, you should give up the conversation and follow her gaze.
G.K. Chesterton once wrote that a turkey was more occult and awful than an angel. Ancient observers would take omens from the flight of birds; these predictions were called auguries, and we have not yet taken our birding to this level. Our Lord told us to consider the birds of the air and then to live as worry-free as they do. The practice of birding is as classical as Aristotle and as Christian as Francis of Assisi, and I recommend it to any TCS family who likes to spend time outside. Actually, any family who likes to look outside.
I divide the advantages of birding into two categories: the quick pay-off and the long haul. First, the quick pay-off. If you are like me, you have paid birds no attention other than observing that a duck likes water and robins come out at spring. With a second look, you will begin to comprehend the variety of shapes and sounds that have formed the backdrop of your life. Those birds you hear at night while sitting at a stoplight? Those are Grackles. Those black shapes on the power lines in the spring are Grackles, (Houston has a lot of them), but also Starlings. That crazy bird you saw on the shoulder on your drive outside of Austin was a roadrunner. When you and your kids start putting names to faces, you will be instantly satisfied, yet curious to know more.
Once you get through the species you can recognize quickly and without binoculars, you start to experience the advantages of the long haul. You find yourself watching the bird feeder instead of the computer. You go out for a walk just to see what’s there. You take the kids for a drive to Edith Moore Bird Sanctuary, where you are certain you will see a turtle and might be blessed with a woodpecker. You pay attention to the seasons, not as dictated by Hobby Lobby, but as determined by the arrival of the goldfinches.
The great thing is that most of this applies to your children. Active children can enjoy the walks outside, where you will coach them to do their cartwheels more quietly so they don’t scare the birds. Those who love responsibility can carry the binoculars. Contemplative young ones can watch the sparrows at the feeder in the rain. In addition to the childlike joy of identification, they will also learn patience and wonder. Patience: not all birds are painted buntings. Wonder: some of them are.
By Hunter Rapp, TCS Freshman
I’ve always loved going to see movies. The whole experience—from walking into the theatre to the lights dimming as the film starts—is just so enjoyable. The anticipation makes the process leading up to the actual movie just as fun. (Then again, it might just be the popcorn.) Whatever the case, I wanted to capture that feeling when I wrote this poem. Now, please silence your cell phones and enjoy the feature presentation—The Theatre.
By Michelle Graves, 5th Grade Humanities
By Dr. Christi Williams (6th Grade Humanities)
Have you ever noticed how it is difficult to remember and recount the books you read five years ago? What about those you read last year? Anytime we read a book without teaching, discussing, studying, or writing about it, we tend to forget much of what we read. It is sad to realize how many books we’ve read and already largely forgotten. When we read quickly and passively, the stories and wisdom we enjoy easily pass in and out of our hearts and minds. I combat this tendency partially by highlighting and writing in my books, a practice which slows me down, engages me more responsively with the text, and makes it easy to locate and return to favorite passages ten years from now. But this only does so much. Commonplace books are another way to combat the tendency to read and forget. As St. Jerome said. “to read without also writing is to sleep.”
Commonplacing changes reading practices so that we slow down, digest, meditate, remember, and apply what we read.
What is a commonplace book?
A commonplace book is a personal journal that compiles quotes from books you read. It may also include illustrations, personal thoughts, lists, and anecdotes. We gain great understanding and encounter poetic beauty that shape our souls as we read, and by writing those passages down as we go, we build a storehouse of virtue and wisdom, a treasure trove of literary gems, that can then take the form of action in our lives. For, as Seneca says, “We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application–not far far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech–and learn them so well that words become works.”
Commonplace books have been used by scholars and readers throughout history. Marcus Aurelius kept one, and it later became his famous Meditations. Montaigne’s early essays were largely a compilation of the quotes, axioms, and historical notes recorded in commonplace books. Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon kept one. Even Bill Gates has a commonplace book.
But are commonplace books just for scholars? Absolutely not. I have introduced commonplace books to my sixth graders this year, and they have really enjoyed making their own. Each student selects different passages (they share their favorite quotes with the class, and explain why they chose them), and it becomes a unique, personal response to the books we read. It’s so exciting to see them taking joy in the power of words, expressing their creativity through illustrations, and learning to be active readers.
If you are interested in making your own commonplace book, or commonplacing with your children or students, I have some practical suggestions that have worked for me (many came from Jenny Rallens) about how to do it. This level of specificity and detail is helpful for children up through 8th grade, who thrive by having a model to adhere to. As they become older, more confident, and more creative, these books can become as unique as the people themselves.
How to set one up:
Choosing a commonplace book: I ask my students to select a durable, attractive, lined journal that is easy to write in. Picking out a journal is one of the most fun steps for the kids. Many students pick an elegant leather bound book with thick pages or an artsy hardback from Barnes & Noble. They can get pricey, but it is worth the investment and these journals usually take several years to complete.
I explain to my students what a commonplace book is, why it is important, and pass around some of my prettiest commonplace books for them to see, touch, and smell. I point out the delightful smell of old leather, the texture of creamy white pages, and the classy attractiveness of careful penmanship. I encourage them to see these as works of art.
I require students to write in pen, and encourage them to pick a writing utensil that enables them to write beautifully (erasable pens and pilot pens are favorites). Pencil smudges too easily, disappears over time, and can encourage sloppy handwriting. Some students choose to write in black or blue pen only, and others have any elaborate color coding system. Allowing them space to be unique makes the process more exciting and rewarding.
Setting up the book (nuts and bolts):
- Children write their names in cursive (when the they learn cursive) inside the front cover or on the first page of the book.
- Children number pages 1-100 (front and back) in the bottom corner margin of each page.
- On page 1, children write “Commonplace Book” and later may add a design or illustration.
- Skip pages 2-4 — later the child may use these introductory pages for favorite quotes written in beautiful calligraphy or additional illustrations.
- On page 5, child writes “TABLE OF CONTENTS” on the top line (see picture below). Children will fill this page out over the course of the year, so now they need only list the title of their first book (it can begin it with page 7).
- On page 7, children create a title page for their first book. The students are asked to write the full title and author’s full name in careful, elegant script two or three times larger than normal. Later, students may add designs and illustrations to this page.
- I choose the first quote from their first book and write the entire entry on the board for them to copy in their books. Quotes are enclosed by quotation marks and written in cursive. Later I teach students how to select important quotes and use ellipses (…) and brackets  to skip less important parts of a passage.
- Each quote is followed by a citation and tag. Skip a line after the quote. On the following line, flush to the right and write the citation in print, which includes author, title, and page or line numbers. I encourage students to use “Ibid” where appropriate. After the citation, students write down a tag in brackets and all caps. The tag gives the topic or theme of the quote for quick reference later. [DOUBT VS. FAITH, PATIENCE]
- Students skip two lines between each quote. Quotes for books are recorded in the order that the books are read. A page is skipped between each new book and all books are given a title page (and optional illustration), I like to include a couple of additional sections at the beginning of the commonplace books for “Favorite Words” and “Song Lyrics.” After years of using commonplace books, your child will have developed into an active, careful reader, be able to look back on the wealth of wisdom gained through his education, be more likely to remember what he has learned, and carry these literary treasures with him throughout life.