At the Start of a New Year

We had "Mini-Class Night" for parents on Thursday, an opportunity for parents to walk through their sons' schedules in imitation of their days. Mom and Dad move from class to class, listening to short 10-minute presentations by the teachers. More than a few parents approached me and said, "Oh! So you're the Mr. Duns we've heard so much about." Some smiled. Others....well, others seemed more puzzled than amused.

I will admit that while my theology is pretty orthodox (considering I do Yoga as an exercise form, that might surprise some!), my teachings methods aren't always so. To demonstrate transitive verbs to my seniors in philosophy, I brought my teddy bear Paddington to class. Paddington did a marvelous job showing the students that the verb "to carry" can be used transitively to show that Paddington receives the action of carrying (I am carrying Paddington, so at this moment he is carried). It was my hope that my beloved prop would help illuminate aspects of Plato's Euthyphro dialogue. Instead, it led to several of them entering the student senate office, kidnapping my bear, and leaving a ransom note. It took four days for me to recover my old friend.

As I mentioned before, I believe I had something of a paranormal experience at the beginning of the year. Then again, I think it is a paranormal experience when a classroom full of boys leaves my room and the room doesn't smell like a brothel in Calcutta. Nevertheless, I am convinced that when students start to doze off in the middle of class, it is because they have been overcome by a soporific demon who is actively working against the student to thwart his learning. To do battle with such a malevolent force, I have no recourse but to douse the student in blessed water (which I drink all day long): either short range by putting a few drops of water from my Nalgene bottle on his head -or- from a distance with a small, concealable squirt-gun I keep under my desk at all times. The blessed water seems to do an admirable job in dispelling the demon and restoring the student to the land of the living.

Finally, I'm growing accustomed to having multiple names. For some reason, it seems en vogue to give Mr. Ryan G. Duns, SJ as many nicknames as possible. So far the list includes such highlights as:

  • Mr. Duns
  • Mr. D
  • Abba Duns
  • Abba
  • Big Daddy Duns
  • Poppa Duns
  • SJ
The latter, "SJ", has become a favorite. While there's something terribly reductionistic about being addressed by two initials, I think it's sort of cool. 

Freshmen, I must say, are rather gullible. The wide-eyed innocence may seem to tender and so delicate to some teachers. To me, it simply presents an opportunity to launch into some totally outlandish tale that I can be assured of their believing. Just this week, I had to address half of the freshmen at the "Co-Curricular Fair." In an effort to buy time, I started to tell the students how one of the Jesuits here at school ran BOTH the "Alligator Wrestling Club" and the "Squirrel Club," informing them that this Jesuit had once wrestled an alligator in an effort to save his students and that on a nightly basis he met on our back patio for ongoing negotiations with Antioches Epiphanus IV, the Grand General of the Squirrel Army.

Four students approached me later that day, disappointed that they couldn't find the Alligator Wrestling Club table amidst the other clubs.

I loved it.

Finally, it's amazing how eager students are to accept compliments. Just last night, while standing with a group of colleagues at the football game, one of the students I taught last year kept coming up to talk to me. He poked me with a stick. He poked me with an empty water bottle. He teased me for being bald. As you can imagine, I like this kid a lot. Finally, I turned around and said, "Kiddo, I owe you a great debt of thanks." His face lit up as he waited for me to say something profound, something moving. I continued, "Kiddo, you have single-handedly confirmed my vow of chastity and my own resolution never to have children of my own." When he reached out to touch my shoulder, I feigned horror and proclaimed, "Hey, don't defile the holy goods." He laughed and went off to buy two sodas and probably a dozen hot dogs (and he won't put on a pound because of it).

I've said it before, but I love teaching. I go to bed exhausted each night, but I always offer up a prayer of thanks for this chance to shape the hearts and minds of so many great young men. I really hope that I am teaching kids and interacting with kids in keeping with the core spirit of Catholic moral theology: showing how we are meant to live together, forever, in the Eternal Kingdom illuminated by the light of the Lamb. With a sense of joy and enthusiasm about my life and vocation, I hope to instill a deeper passion for life and love and faith in my students and in the world around me.
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