Teaching teachers to takes steps of faith and fellowship to bless their students.
Teaching teachers to takes steps of faith and fellowship to bless their students.
I started writing this book and blog so I could write some good stuff and live it. If I said I did it, then I’d have to, right?
Just like so many things teachers plan in the summer, when school started I realized it was hard!
Whenever I wrote I felt like a hypocrite. The more I updated, the stronger this feeling became. Days, weeks and months went by and I stopped writing completely. What was I doing that was worth writing about?
The WordPress app on my phone kept nagging me like a mess I was ignoring. Writing is like exercising, when you fall out of the routine it is hard to get back into. But then it feels so good when you do, you wonder what took so long.
So I started writing about recent struggles I’ve had and I realized. What could be more real? What could be a better way to reach Christian teachers that feel isolated in their faith at school? I can’t give you a 3-step method to a Christ-like Classroom. But I can share what I’ve learned by going through some of the same struggles all of you do, too. So I invite you to subscribe to this site, share your own struggles, and work toward a common goal of a Christ-like Classroom.
Isaiah 40:31, NIV
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Imagine living this verse at the end of May.
You finish the year soaring instead of dragging, go into summer energized instead of weary.
If you’ve been called to teach, then you are doing God’s work. So this is exactly how He wants you to feel every day. Yet, we don’t.
There are so many parts of teaching that can pull us down, if we let them. God never said advancing His kingdom would be easy, but He promises it’s worth it.
He promises all the things in this verse, and they can become true. We tend to focus on the great things at the end of this verse. But first, we have to rewind to the beginning of the verse.
To get back to the purpose He has for us, the reason He put us in our classrooms, we must be the type of person Isaiah is talking about in this verse: those who hope in the Lord.
Teachers always want the best for our students. But we put our hope for this in the wrong things, sometimes. We put our hope in our ability to control our learning environments. But we can’t. We can try. We can feel like we have control some days. But we don’t.
Recently I had an extremely challenging week capped by a Friday afternoon that felt like summiting Everest. Except my summit was making it til 3:30 and my victory would be walking to my car.
I began to wallow in self pity – blame my students, my coworkers, my schedule. However, I’d been praying for clarity in the midst of chaos, lately. God answered my prayers and gave me the awareness to take a few deep breathes. For a few moments my mind was on Him. And the peace that surpasses all understanding passed over me. When I calmed down, the students responded in kind. Suddenly, getting through the last hour of the day didn’t seem so painful.
You don’t need to remember my example. You need to remember God. He is there for you in these moments. The more you think about Him during these moments, the more likely He is to guide you and the more receptive you will be to His will.
The next step toward a Christ-like classroom is seeking what the Bible says that is relevant to teaching. I want to know how Jesus would teach in the modern-day classroom. How would He deal with challenging behaviors? How would He serve the students? How would He respond to parents? Administrators? State mandates? Since none of these questions have been directly spelled out in the Bible, I will start by exploring some related themes that arose during Jesus’ time on earth. Some Biblical themes that come to mind that relate to our work as educators are: children, service, compassion, patience and leadership.
The first story that comes to mind is Jesus scolding the disciples for not bringing some children to him.
Matthew 19:13-15 (NIV)
Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.
In this passage, the disciples make the mistake of thinking children are not worth Jesus’ time. Jesus quickly corrects them and his response clearly indicates children are as valuable to him as adults.
Unfortunately, the disciples’ view of children as less important than adults is all too common in society. It may come as a shock, but this attitude is present in our schools, too. The way I see the passage, Jesus is teaching, healing, blessing, etc. to a crowd of people. Some parents, who want the best for their kids, ask the disciples if Jesus can bless their children. The disciples make it plain to see that they think there are others (adults) more worthy of Jesus blessings. This happens in schools every time we do something to please other adults, or even yourself, instead of what is really best for the students.
I’m convicted of this as I recall a conversation I had with a student teacher who was working in my classroom. His college course required that he have complete control of my classroom for 12 weeks. Often, however, I would have to intervene and tell him to tweak things based on visitors to the building or different things going on that week that we had to check off our lists. For example, a videographer from a curriculum company needed to film a certain kind of lesson on a specific day and, of course, that’s not what we would have been doing that day. So we changed the schedule around for the sake of a video, not what was best for the students.
On another occasion a group of visiting principals walked through every room in the building to see small-group learning activities. So every teacher had to adjust their schedules to make sure the administrators saw what they wanted to see during the 10-minute time slot they were scheduled to observe. I remember hastily rushing my student teacher through his mini lesson that introduced the content students would work on in small groups that day. Rest assured, we had students learning in small groups when the bosses came in. However, the learning could have been more meaningful if I had let my student teacher cover the topic more thoroughly in his mini lesson. Other times, there would be evaluators from his university he would have to please, assessments he had to do for a class or items he had to have on display around the room that took time away from planning and implementing engaging instruction.
I had always thought of these things as minor interruptions that were just part of the job, until he asked me “why do we do so much to please other adults at the expense of doing what is right for the kids?” That question really made me add up in my head all the little things we do because we have to, not because it is in students’ best interest. We have all made the same mistake the disciples made without realizing it. Our actions imply that what adults say is more important than kids. We need to be like Jesus and make sure we are putting the students first. We can do this and do our job. After all, Jesus didn’t send the adults away, rather he stood up for the children. He made sure their needs were met first.
Putting children first sounds easy, it sounds like the right thing to do. Actually doing it can be the challenging part, though. Administrators have lofty goals for their school and therefore their teachers. These goals usually stem from doing what is best for the students, but they tend to get convoluted when generalized for all teachers in a building or district. Handling their requests along with the daily grind of teaching makes it impossible to leave on time and not bring work home. Don’t think for a second, though, that you can use what Jesus said to the disciples as an excuse not to follow the boss’s orders. I included that scripture and this part in the book so we can prioritize, rather than toss aside, responsibility. Jesus tells us to put children first, but the Bible also tells us to respect those with authority.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
These may seem like conflicting viewpoints for teachers who work between serving children and administrators. How can a teacher not hinder children, as Jesus commanded but also be subject to those with authority like Paul writes in Romans? There is not an easy way out of these things. The only thing we, as Christian educators, can do is submit dutifully to both. The key, as I mentioned before, is priority. If you put the needs of the students you serve first, everything will fall into place. When it comes down to it, the demands of your principal are probably in the best interest of the students. The mistake that I’ve made, and others have made, is seeing the work pile up and wanting to cut corners.
Earlier I mentioned rushing my student teacher through his mini lesson to get to small groups. I felt the pressure of getting everyone in place and it came at the expense of the students’ learning. I cut instructional corners and it wasn’t as meaningful. There were other ways the situation could have been dealt with, though, that meets both the needs of the children and the authority. There are other ways to deal with almost every situation like this that arises. Most of the time one thing can help: planning ahead. If I had communicated with my student teacher that they were coming sooner, he could have taught the lesson the previous day or set up other small group learning experiences that did not need to be front loaded with a mini lesson. Since both sides are all working our hardest to do what is best with the children we should also be able to find some common ground.
It is difficult to remember when work piles up, behaviors mount and you want to be anywhere besides your classroom. So it may be useful to remember some other words Jesus spoke about children:
Matthew 18:1-5 (NIV)
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
What a great reminder. Welcoming children is welcoming Jesus. Serving children is serving Jesus. Teaching children is teaching Jesus. He is saying that children are first in His kingdom and we get these opportunities every day! It is so easy to feel complacent and tired in this profession, but if we treat every child like Jesus wants us to then the work is for His glory. And when you’re working for His glory then there is no reason to take the easy way out because you won’t want to do your job any other way.
When you are choosing a career path and want one with purpose, teaching is great for that. You might be encouraged by people who aren’t even educators say that teaching is “a noble profession,” that it’s “honorable” and “respected,” even. I’ve also heard people say teachers “prepare the future for success.” All pretty lofty words to make you feel good about your choice. Then, you’re in college education classes and you can’t wait to get in a classroom and start making a difference. Then you graduate, and when you interview you “want to make an impact on the community.” Then you get the job, and when the first day of school rolls around, you still want to “change the world.”
I hope these passionate goals drive your whole career. If you’re like me, though, discouragement came as reality sank in. Teaching is still a job that has pros and cons, just like any other profession.
I started to lose focus on my purpose as an educator when students started acting up in class. They were not responding positively to the classroom management strategies I read about in graduate school. I became more disheartened when my students groaned about a unit I put a lot of effort into and am passionate about. I spent a good deal of time the summer before I started teaching creating thematic units with engaging projects and exciting ways to introduce students to material. When the first few lessons tanked and the projects looked like they were thrown together in five minutes, I wondered if I was in the right field.
When students don’t seem to care as much about their own education and future as you do it’s natural to start questioning your purpose and wondering how you ended up in the classroom. Somewhere along the line of behavioral issues, unmotivated students, unsupportive parents and non-teaching related tasks that must be completed, the purpose of teaching can be hard to see, and your purpose can be impossible to find.
Purpose can be hard to find in any job at times. I went through the same thing as a journalist. I loved writing and have always asked a ton of questions, so it was natural that I wanted to be a member of the media. In college, I fell in love with the idea of being the “watchdog of democracy.” My thrills came from chasing ambulances and police cars to break the story. I excelled at editing and landed a prestigious internship, which then landed me a job right out of college in any journalist’s dream city: New York. But I started losing sight of my purpose when I went from learning about chasing down sources like Deepthroat to write stories like Watergate and started editing and laying out pages about Miley Cyrus going off the deep end. When my boss told me to scrap a local news page I had been working on all day because the release date changed for one of the Harry Potter movies, I knew I would never be happy in journalism.
After a few years in the classroom, the same emotions started creeping into my mind about my purpose in education. I knew it wasn’t realistic to start a third career path at the age of 31. But what was I doing at my current school when nothing I did worked? What difference was I making when I could see my students looking up to common criminals on the street instead of caring about the more noble, worldly skills I was busting my butt trying to teach them? What could I do about it? What was my purpose? Would a new job, a new type of school, a new district help me? My classroom, my lessons, my career. I, me, mine.
Nothing had purpose until I realized that it wasn’t about me. It’s not my purpose. It’s God’s. That’s what will make a difference, impact the community and change the world! I always felt God called me to teach, but never asked Him about His purpose for me as a teacher until now. This is what I found out.
First, I asked Him, “God, what is your purpose for me? Where do you want me so that I can bring you glory?” Through prayer, God told me “Stay put. Don’t seek a job in another district.The grass isn’t always greener if you’re doing My work.” It turns out it wasn’t a mistake that my first experiences with urban education in my mom’s kindergarten classroom gave me a heart for the underprivileged. It wasn’t a coincidence when God cleared the path for me to go to The Ohio State University for my Master’s degree when the only program they had was urban focused. Truthfully, I wasn’t fully aware of that fact until I had already started the coursework. And it wasn’t an accident when I never got a call back from the suburban schools I applied to and have only had experience in urban buildings despite my opposite upbringing. God put all these parts of my life together and I didn’t even notice. I was too focused on the next step. All I needed to do was ask God to be a part of my professional life and open up that conversation with me about my purpose. Sorry, not my purpose – his purpose for me.
You too must set change your focus and ask God what His purpose is for you. Where does He want you to be? Urban education is definitely not for everyone or the only place to make a difference. In fact, my wife teaches at a private school that we could never afford without her tuition discount in a well-to-do part of town. That is where God placed her to make a difference with the students He created her to work with. Think about your path to your job. How has God led you there? Or are there signs you missed along the way that may have led you to another place? Ask Him.
Steps toward a Christ-Like Classroom:
(Chapter 2, Christ-Like Classroom.)
I made the same mistake every day for my first four and a half years of teaching: I left God at home. Sometimes I would listen to worship music and pray during my commute to school. I thought it helped my mood and kept my focus on God. Every once in awhile a tune would stick in my head throughout the day, but even then, I left God in the car.
As soon as I walked into my classroom in the morning I went into full teacher mode: I was in charge, made all the decisions, managed the classroom, solved problems my way. Every minute of prep time counted. I was constantly making plans for another day, another week, quarter, etc… It wasn’t that I didn’t believe God could help me plan, manage and teach, I just hadn’t asked Him to be a part of my classroom, yet.
I realized I had compartmentalized my faith. School was a compartment where I was in charge, not God. My thought pattern went like this: He didn’t do all the work in graduate school, take all the licensure tests, get the interviews, accept the job. I did. Even though these things were totally led by God, I left him out.
God was there the whole time, though. Even at the beginning of my journey as an educator, I felt called by God to teach. I quit my job as a journalist in New York City. I asked my then-fiancee to leave her teaching job at the end of the school year. All so we could move back to Ohio for grad school right before our wedding to accomplish what I felt was God’s work for me (by the way she still said “I do!”). I even remember praying for God to help get me into the graduate program I wanted and asking him to get me the in-state tuition rate! I prayed for my first job, and after a few years, prayed for another. When that job offer came the week before school started I asked Him whether I should leave the school I was supposed to start at in a matter of days to accept. And I did, and it was one of the most stressful decisions I ever made followed by the toughest two years I ever worked leading up to now!
God guided me through all of that. Yet, when it was time to step into the classroom and fulfill His calling, I still left him in the car… I never prayed for my class or my lessons or my own sanity. The most I ever prayed in school was probably during standardized testing so that scores would reflect well on my own teaching.
It’s tough to consider how different those years could have been if I had given God control instead of trying to control everything myself. That’s why I believe God gave me a class that I had no control over. My struggles made me seek Him and alter the course of my journey in education.
After teaching for almost five years, I finally started asking God to be in the forefront of my mind in school. I asked Him to teach me how to teach like Jesus. I wanted to serve, talk to and mentor my students like Jesus. I also wanted to work like Jesus and treat my coworkers like him, too. Jesus would never complain if his boss asked him to cover another class or moan if he lost much-needed planning time to a meeting with a parent. I wanted people at school to see Jesus in me.
Asking Jesus into my classroom is a daily habit now. Before the building gets busy I start out with a simple prayer. Something like “Dear, Lord, we need you in this room and in this building today. Help me be your servant to these students you entrusted me to teach. Bless me with patience, wisdom and a Christ-like temperament as I interact with your children.” Imagine if every person said a prayer like that when they enter a school. Imagine if every teacher and administrator asked God how to deal with all the issues that arise during the day.
Nothing changed overnight, though. After opening up communication with God during the school day I still mess up. I still get short tempered and catch myself complaining. But that is the difference, I catch these things now. When I slip up I remember God’s presence and control in the classroom. Instead of losing control, I give Him control.
The more I ask God to take charge, the more I notice differences in my classroom. Students find me more approachable now that I stopped bristling every time they ask me a question I had just gone over. The results are right in front of me. It shows in their work. Even when they don’t do something right the first time, they’re not afraid to ask for help and get it right next time. Quality of student work increased as the quality of my patience crept into the way I dealt with them. Students felt that I was working harder for them and they returned the favor by working harder for me. My only regret is not inviting God into my classroom sooner.
I also had other adults notice a difference in my classroom. Their comments wouldn’t come in the form of “what a Christ-like lesson!” or “You really treated that student like Jesus!” but instead “your classroom is so much calmer” and “you got THAT kid to do THAT work?”
I started writing this chapter at the point in the summer when I’ve had time to get away from the chaos of the classroom and am well-rested. It’s usually the same point when I start having grand ideas to reinvent teaching and save education. However, after 2-3 weeks of school the next fall, those ideas wind up in the “too good to be true” pile and get lost forever. So how do I know everything I’m writing won’t meet the same fate? Inviting God into my classroom and praying for the ability to teach like Jesus is a grand idea AND can save education? The difference is that having God at the forefront of your mind is not too good to be true. I know that from experience because He came into my classroom and saved me from self destruction. I know he will be there again every fall, and my hope is that He will be there for you, too.
Steps toward a Christ-like Classroom
(Chapter 1, Christ-Like Classroom)
I got the idea to write this book as I reflected on the most challenging school year of my young career in education. Right after the academic year ended I started asking God to show me where he wanted me: to remain in urban education, to seek a new job in the suburbs, or something else completely. My more senior colleagues said “move to the burbs before it’s too late,” my supportive wife said “go where you’ll be happy,” and God said “write this book.” As I wrote, He revealed to me that I was exactly where he wanted me to be. I certainly didn’t feel like that before God led me on this journey.
To give you a sense of what I had been going through, the 4th-grade class I just finished the year with at my school in Columbus, Ohio, put me through an emotional and spiritual ringer. Emotionally, they caused me enough insomnia and anxiety for my doctor to prescribe me mood-altering and sleeping pills. I had never taken a prescription more serious than an antibiotic in my life. Before going to the doctor, I’d lay awake for hours in the middle of the night torturing myself with issues in my classroom from fighting students to failing students. I remember clearing my mind and start drifting to sleep only to notice I was almost asleep and jolt myself awake again. Natural remedies stopped working. Over-the-counter sleeping aids gave me the worst case of restless leg and made the torture worse; my mind would finally be ready to sleep, but my legs were in physical pain when they were still. My days would be spent with students I could not control and anxiety about sleep I could not control.
Throughout the school year I had become a cranky, boring teacher. I would take the engaging lesson plans I had used in the past and modify them to limit movement, collaboration and critical thinking as much as possible because I did not think the class could handle any more. I had only been teaching for five years and became so dull I wouldn’t even want to be in my class.
My students would fight anyone, steal anything and destroy something new every day. They didn’t show respect toward anybody, not even themselves. Here’s an example of how disrespectful they were toward property: My teaching partner and I started the year with a cart of 30 laptops between the two 4th-grade classes. We finished the year with only 14 machines that were not stolen, smashed, cracked, taken apart or otherwise vandalised.
Lessons were regularly interrupted by students hitting each other with fists, pencils and insults. I struggled to get through to them with clear expectations and consequences. Even the “good” students got caught up in this because they saw it as the norm. Every student felt justified in his or her actions and would respond to my redirections with “because they hit me.” I was so overwhelmed that well-thought-out lessons and unit plans that took weeks of my previous summer vacation were forgotten by the end of the second week of school due to low academics and horrid behavior.
This group of students had been the class that, as it advanced through the grade levels, teachers took notice and either left for other assignments or ended up checking out on them year after year since kindergarten. For much of the year I admit that I fell right in line with their past teachers. I checked out before the weather got cold. When my principal approached me about looping with my class to fifth (and possibly 6th) grade, I managed to switch positions within the school for the following year to avoid them. I honestly did not know if I could handle the rest of that year. I felt completely alone and unsupported professionally until I realized that I had the best support in the universe behind me: Jesus.
It took me until February or March to realize I hadn’t done more than throw up an “oh, my God, help me” about that class. I never sincerely prayed and asked God for help. So I finally shared about the struggles I had been going through with my life group from church. We prayed aloud together that night for God to give me the patience, the grace and the tools to make it through the rest of the year intact and, most importantly, that I would show kids the same love that Jesus would. The next day brought the same challenges, if not more, than before and I was beyond knowing what to do. On my car ride home, when I usually drove in silence to stew about my bad day and come home even crankier, I did something different. I prayed. Not silently, but out loud. I invited God in. He was already a big part of my life when I was home with my family, but he wasn’t a part of my life as an educator. I had never intentionally left God out of my school life, I just never really thought about it before. After all, it’s public school and Jesus doesn’t have a place there, right? You know, Christmas break has to be Winter Break, Easter may fall during Spring Break or it may be a long weekend, or not even… Jesus has been largely taken out of our school systems, so my faith doesn’t have a place there, right? WRONG!
So I invited Jesus in. I will never say that things all of a sudden were great. My students still misbehaved and my teaching still struggled until the last day of school, but finally, God started working in my classroom. Asking Jesus to be in the forefront of my mind during the school day changed the way I thought, how I reacted and how I communicated with students and staff. God didn’t make the problems I dealt with as an urban educator any easier, but he changed the way I dealt with them by showing me how He would deal with them.
I became God’s servant in the classroom, loving the children just like Him. Never once did I preach about Jesus or have any students come to salvation, but God showed me that he had a presence in my public school classroom. As you continue reading this book, I want you to know the two purposes I have for writing it: First, to teach teachers how to teach like Jesus in the public schools. Second, to awaken and strengthen a community of Christian teachers that already exists but is largely invisible. We need Jesus in our schools and we need each other.
(Preface of Christ-Like Classroom in the Public Schools)
Since I started writing and striving toward a Christ-like classroom I have stopped many times because I felt like a hypocrite. I struggle with the very concepts I feel called to write about here: temper, laziness, gossip, etc… Some days I feel so flawed I don’t write. Other days I consciously don’t try as hard in the classroom due to a previous day’s mistake.
God has revealed to me through prayer that, yes, I am flawed, but He is not! And since he knows we can’t be perfect, he has afforded us grace and mercy so that every day can start anew.
Paul talks about this in Romans;
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.”
Through grace we are freed from our past mistakes, a bad day, decision or interaction. Every day, without even asking for it. But we do need to consciously accept it. We also need to ask God for the strength and wisdom to move on and make better, more Christ-like decisions in our classrooms.
The days between Thanksgiving and Christmas break can be some of the hardest for teachers to get through. It may be the most challenging time of the year, though you won’t agree in a few months before spring, or even summer, break.
Daylight is getting shorter , yet school days seem longer. If you’re seasonally affected, like me, it is depressing when you’re literally in your building before the sun rises and after it sets.
You’ve felt the freedom of a few days off and see the promise of more in a couple short weeks. The students sense this as well, and learning is often the last thing in their minds.
Some students can’t wait for the days off they can spend in front of a video game. Many of my students, however, actually get anxious about breaks because it means more time in an unstable home. Meals aren’t as easy to get, safety is not a given, and they often have to fend for themselves and siblings. So behaviors escalate, making this span even harder.
It’s easy to give up, mail it in, find longer video clips that are less relevant to instruction. So I hope this verse provides a spark of motivation that can get you through this difficult time.
“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”
You likely have 10-15 instructional days left. Less if you factor in class and school celebrations, concerts, assemblies, etc… So while you’re counting down the days with your students, keep doing what is right by them, too. Check in instead of checkout, make a difference instead of indifference, make it fun instead of being done.
It’s absolutely cliche to write a Thanksgiving post this week, but when I think about the journey God has lead me on the last 12 months I can’t help but be thankful.
Last November I was at the peak of my frustration with insomnia. I was tired (pun intended) of not being able to fall asleep or waking up in the middle of the night and torturing myself with thoughts about school. Disrespectful students, disastrous lessons, feeling like I was the only person fighting the battle.
Now I realize those restless nights were my wilderness. And strangely, I’m now thankful for them. Just like God used the wildnerness to test the Israelites’ faith, he was using insomnia to test mine. Those nights were a renaissance for my prayer life. I grew closer to God through them and recognize His voice more clearly now. In fact, the conception of my book and this blog took place somewhere between the hours of 2-5 a.m.
In Deuteronomy 8:2, Moses said, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands” I am also thankful that my sleeping issues didn’t last 40 years.
A year later I am thankful for restful nights, being able to recognize God’s voice and having the faith to follow through.