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
- Say a prayer inviting God into your classroom.
- Make it a daily habit.
- Focus on His presence in the heat of the moment and the peace of the moment.
(Chapter 1, Christ-Like Classroom)