He Puts Children First

My next step in learning how to be Christ-like in the classroom is seeking what the Bible says that is relevant to teaching. I want to know how Jesus would be 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: working with 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 last year. His 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 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.

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 led up to the small groups going on 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 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, when 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 challenging. Administrators have lofty goals for their school and therefore their teachers. 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.

Romans 13:1-2 (ESV)

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 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. If we are all working our hardest to do what is best with the children we should also be able to have some common ground.

When work piles up, behaviors mount and you want to be anywhere besides your classroom 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.

Steps toward a Christ-like classroom:

  1. Put students first.
  2. Respect those in authority.
  3. Don’t take the easy way out.
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