Washing Students’ Feet

The day has been long. Your students are gone. The classroom is a mess  and your desk is piled high with paperwork while your to-do list grows by the minute.  You begin to slog through the to-do list when there is a knock at your door.

It is a student who stopped by because they didn’t understand the Math lesson from earlier that day.

It’s a student who forgot a paper in their desk, and when they go to pull out the paper, their entire desk explodes with other papers, pens, Lego pieces, and a half-eaten sandwich from last week.

Or perhaps your phone rings and it’s a parent who wants to have a long conversation.

Another student’s parent emails and lets you know that Junior is not getting the content – could you meet with him when you have a chance?

And sometimes, I don’t have a very good attitude with all of the requests that come my way. I begin to grumble in my heart.

Will the grading never end?

Why can’t that student just clean up after themselves?

Why does that parent have to call and talk to me again?

How on earth am I supposed to fit one more thing in?

I thought teaching would be different – more dramatic moments of touching kids’ hearts and lives…less paperwork!  I thought I would be seeing these students change under my guidance while inspirational music swells in the background (can you tell I really love those teacher movies?). Many days, I find that I am just teaching them to clean up their trash from the lunch table, learn their multiplication tables, and be kind to their friends (while a student whistling during class provides  the “inspirational” background music).

But sometimes the mundane and messy parts of teaching are where Christ can shine the brightest through us.

After all, look how Christ Himself spent His final hours- doing a simple chore.

He wrapped himself in a towel and one by one began to wash His disciples’ feet. This was a servant’s job, yet the King of all is seen kneeling on the floor, lifting up dirty foot after dirty foot and gently bathing them.

He washed their feet, knowing that in mere hours they would forsake Him.

He washed the feet of Simon Peter, knowing that Peter would fiercely deny ever knowing Him the very next day.

And yes, He even washed the feet of Judas, the disciple who had been with Him all of this time, had seen the miracles…and was planning on betraying Christ that very night.

But Jesus served them quietly and humbly.

And He wants us to serve those He has placed in our lives. He wants us to get right down into the trenches where it is not always pretty, and where our students don’t always “deserve” it, and to pick up a towel and begin to wash their dirty feet.

If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. (John 13:14)

So what does it look like for us to wash our students’ feet?

  • Perhaps staying late to help with academic work.
  • Giving up some of our prep period to help a student get their desk and binder organized (I am sure there is a very special crown in Heaven for this!)
  • Grading (Yes! Grading their papers is one way that I can serve my students!)
  • Giving up part of your Saturday to attend their soccer game.
  • Taking the extra time to provide support for a student or family.
  • Setting aside our to-do list to listen or to help.
  • Your free time that you give up to plan, grade, contact parents, and do all of the other things that don’t fit into an 8 hour day (or even a 10 hour day!)
  • Searching in your white skirt & pearls for their baritone in the dumpster after school (true story – don’t even ask how a baritone gets accidentally thrown away).

These are all things that can be difficult to do…or at least, difficult to do with the right attitude. Sometimes we simply need to lay aside our titles, our college degrees, our years of experience, and get down to serve our students. When we serve, we look like Christ. Just as Christ’s final hours washing His disciples’ feet were not a waste of time, the time and energy that we give to our students is never wasted – it’s an eternal investment.

After all, when we stand before Christ, He is not going to be looking at the grades our students got on the standardized tests. He is not going to be looking at our “Teacher of the Year” honor or our advanced degrees. He is not going to look at the number of workshops we have presented. He is going to be looking at how we showed our love for Him and others.

And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. (II Corinthians 12:15)

I had the privilege of serving at a Christian camp for three years. The president of the camp, Dr. Ken Collier, would tell us the story of a man whose motto in life was “He who dies with the most toys wins”. Dr. Collier changed this motto around to fit our ministry…

He who dies with the dirtiest towel wins. – Dr. Ken Collier

So who’s ready to go get some towels dirty?

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  1. You said it so well! The “extra miles” WILL be remembered for the kindness and needs met. Keep on with your ministry of teaching this way. We desperately need you in the classroom.
    A 36yr veteran teacher, now retired to new ministries.

  2. Thank you. I’m with you. As a teacher, I’ve realized that I’m just His vessel in the high school. I pray the kids see the Jesus in me and not the me that wants to roll her eyes at one more excuse, that inside wants to scream at the top of my lungs for my kids to just DO THEIR JOB! But, it’s Christ who steps in with love…pauses….stops stops and listens to the child at my door…in my room…it’s an honor to serve Christ for high schoolers.
    Let me go now and grade another paper and wash more feet!

    1. Way to wash those feet, Jana! 🙂 We all need the Lord’s help and patience! Thanks for serving him in the high school realm!

  3. I love this article! A friend shared it on Facebook and it caught my eye. Thanks so much for writing it. Do you mind if I share this on my blog (with due credit, of course)? I’m a missionary teacher in West Africa and we were just talking about this idea last week in a parent meeting. I know some co-workers of mine would love to read it as well. My blog is elisabethchronicles.blogspot.com if you want to check it out.

    1. Sure! I would request that you do so by posting the link to the article here! I will definitely check out your blog – what a wonderful way to serve the Lord in West Africa!

    1. Awesome! Thanks so much for sharing 🙂 I enjoyed looking at your blog and will look forward to hearing updates!

  4. This is a very good reminder to me… I love the thought that Jesus’ ministry was full of little daily, dirty, exhausting tasks that may not have meant much at first glance- but at a closer look it showed 12 men… it showed the world… how to live!