Teaching in An In-Between Time


During Advent, we are particularly aware of the divine mystery.  We know what’s come, we know what is, we know what’s coming and we know what will come again: Christ the King. It’s an in-between time, and a perfect time for some self-reflection and activities which might help our students (and ourselves) better mindfully journey through the days.

This year I’m reading through Malcolm Guite’s Waiting On The Word which provides a poem a day with reflection for each day of Advent and then on through Epiphany in January.  While a book like this would be far too difficult for our learners, the idea behind the book is one that could be easily turned into an Advent activity we could do with students – and done in whatever kind of school or community we hold our classes in.

In secular schools, we could set up a Christmas-themed project-based-activity which would have students work in groups to either write or find poems about topics like love, kindness, people traveling in difficult circumstances, gift-giving, and the like.  This would be an ongoing project, with a little time devoted to it in each class, and around the time that Christmas comes, student work could be then gathered into a booklet that’s published either online or offline.

One could do much more much more directly of course in Christian schools and with Church groups. Yet, even for those of you who can do this much more, I’d still like you to think about ways you could do some outreach in secular contexts. It’s been my experience that it’s in these secular contexts where circumstances might require us not to say too much that some real magic can happen.  But here let’s just go ahead and call these happenings the miracles that they are.

One of these miracles took place some years ago when I was teaching O. Henry’s The Gift of The Magi to a group of Japanese University students. This story, which is always fresh no matter how old it might be, really resonated with these students. That’s why we decided to extend things by having the class work in small groups to come up with  modern versions of the story in which the young couple lived in a run-down apartment and worked at jobs that would be typical for central Japan.

Students came up with some truly fabulous and very original versions, but one in particular shone far brighter than the others. That was the one about an unmarried couple expecting a baby at Christmas time, a couple who didn’t even have an apartment because no one would rent them one. Veering even further from the  original story, the gift the couple ended up giving each other was a safe place to spend the night on Christmas Eve. There’s more to the story than this, but what I want to tell you is that as the leader of the group who wrote that version read this story out loud, I felt the room grow quiet and the presence of the Holy Spirit come sit with us.

That in itself would have been more than enough but then this happened: a few days later one of the students from that class came to my office and asked if she could talk with me.  As she sat down, she noticed my copy of The Gift of The Magi on the shelf and began telling me how much she enjoyed it. Then after a few false starts, she told me she was pregnant and might have to drop out of school because of this.

There’s a long story between that previous paragraph and what I have to say next, but the time came when I was able to witness to this young woman about Christ’s love for her. This was years after that day in my office, sometime near the day she was about to graduate from university, and not long before she married the father of her baby.

Writing this today many years later, I’m able not only to see how God was at work in this story even long before I was aware of what was happening,  but also how very clearly it was a whole series of in-between times for this young woman.

No matter what age-group you teach or what context you teach in, you’ll have students who do not need much explanation to know what it’s like to be in an in-between time. Any activities that you could do with your students that works in this gap between what is (or what was) and what’s coming would be an easy way in to unleashing the power that drives the mysteries of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.


Chuck Sandy is a writer, teacher trainer, motivational speaker, educational activist and pilgrim. Although his training and expertise is in English language teaching (ELT) and teacher training, he’s recently become known for his work on spirituality and compassion. Some of this grew out of experiences he had when walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across northern Spain in 2014.

Chuck Sandy has written a number of ESL books that you can see here.  His most recent book is Walking Into the Light.


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