When Expectations Don’t Meet Reality

One of the wonderful things about teaching is the fresh start each year. There is nothing quite like brand new Expo markers, neatly written out nametags, and the anticipation of the opportunity to be a better teacher this year who learned from last year’s mistakes.

And some years you get off to a nice, smooth start…

and other years…well, they’re not so pretty.

That was this year for me.

In several different areas, it has been a difficult start to the year. My expectations of the year kind of came tumbling down when reality hit.

We all have those experiences where expectations meet reality…and reality wins.  Perhaps your school year expectations aren’t coming to fruition. Maybe you had to switch grade levels at the last minute. Maybe you got that really tough class. Maybe your grade level just decided on a new curriculum, and you have to start planning from scratch.

Perhaps your expectations were dashed in a relationship, parenting, a new job, news from a doctor’s appointment, or the struggles of a close loved one.

Our lives are full of unmet expectations. When reality hits, it hurts! But that painful reality is the perfect training ground to help us grow in Christlikeness. So here are a few lessons that God has been reminding me of lately…

Remember that there is hope

When you are swirling around, just trying to keep your head above water, it may feel like it will always be like this. You may feel completely alone in your struggle. You may feel like there is absolutely no hope.

But that is not the truth.

There is always hope. There is hope because there is a Sovereign God up in Heaven orchestrating His perfect plan for your life.  Nothing about your situation is a mistake.

 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (I Cor 10:13)

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom. 5:3-5)

God loves us so much that He allows us to struggle in life – because He is training us for more! Those painful times are the times when He is growing us to become more like His Son.

In Hebrews 12, I really enjoy Paul’s imagery of running a race & God’s discipline/training.  I am kind of a runner so I can identify with it.  So let’s imagine that I decide to run a marathon (hah!) and hire a coach to help train and prepare me for it. The first day of training, he shows up and tells me to run one lap around the track, and then we’ll go get ice cream. Each day continues like this. I may like this coach because, hey – this is easy! I can do this! But when race day comes around, I am never going to make it! My coach failed to train me!

Yet what if I had a coach who pushed me to do 3 miles…then 7…then 15…even though they were hard?  Even though my legs were exhausted? A coach who knew I was tired and knew that my legs were going to hurt, but still pushed me to go just a few miles further? On race day, I am going to be prepared. I will be ready to run.

It’s a small picture of what God does for us – He takes us through difficult times that we don’t enjoy, but they are necessary for our training. Christ  knows the race course ahead of us- He has run it before, and He holds the course record, if you will. So He is going to push you to do 15 miles when 15 miles seems to be impossible. And He is going to run right beside you the whole time. And if you are His child, through His grace, you will finish the race…and all of that training will be worth it all!

 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil. 1:6)

So don’t give up! Fix your gaze on Christ and focus on daily putting one foot in front of another. God doesn’t promise us grace for the week, month, or year. He promises us grace enough for today. And when tomorrow comes, His grace will be there, too.

But this I call to mind ,and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;  his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:21-24)

Check your heart

When you are struggling, ask yourself why it is that your new reality is such a challenge for you.  It’s going to require looking deep and being honest with yourself. It’s not always pretty, but the good news is that God can handle the ugliness of our hearts!  The ugliness may surprise me, but it never surprises Him! For me, I realized that I am struggling this year because I want a smooth & easy year more than I want to grow in Christlikeness. I know that God has ordained all of the circumstances for this year…but they weren’t the circumstances I wanted. I had my agenda…but God knew I needed something better.

Track your thoughts

I already know that Phil. 4:8 is going to be a staple verse for me this year!

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is   pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil. 4:8)

If I am going to grow in Christ this year, I have got to rein in my thoughts. I don’t know about you, but once I start allowing those negative thoughts to creep in, they pretty much swirl round and round until they have created a giant funnel cloud that  ruins my day and most likely the days of those I come into contact with. I need to run my thoughts through the filter of Phil. 4:8, and if they don’t pass the test, then I need to stop dwelling there and replace them with thoughts that are Christ-honoring. It’s going to be a daily battle – but if I want to please Christ,  it’s a battle that I must fight.

Find a way to serve others in your new reality

I am already a very selfish person. However, when my expectations are dashed, my world tends to shrink even smaller. I really don’t care about anyone else’s problems because I am wrapped up in my own.

By the grace of God, I need to stop spending so much time lamenting over my own issues, and I need to turn my eyes to the needs of others.  There have been many times when God opened my eyes to some of the struggles of those around me, and my own problems were quickly put into perspective.

Find ways to be a blessing to those around you. It doesn’t have to be something that takes tons of time – a quick text to let someone know that you are praying for them, a quick note placed into that difficult student’s desk, anything! Trust me, it’s amazing what a difference it will make!

So if you are facing discouragement or struggling with unmet expectations, remember that God already had your reality perfectly scripted out for you.  Take hope, check your heart, track your thoughts, & find a way to serve others through it all. One day we will see that God’s reality, even when painful, was so much better than our expectations would ever have been.

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Unfairly Judged

The hurt was overwhelming.

When the hurt wasn’t throbbing quite so painfully, the anger and defensiveness took over.

I felt that I had been misjudged.

It wasn’t fair.

They didn’t understand.

I had been unjustly treated.

As my emotions vacillated between the hurt and anger, I knew Christ was trying to teach me something in the experience.

I just wasn’t too sure that I really wanted to learn.

We have all been there – drowning in the injustice of a situation.  Whether it came about through a student, parent, administration, or family member, we know the feeling of being unfairly judged.

In my case, I wanted something or someone to show my accuser that they were wrong, and I was right. I wanted vindication!

But, of course, that’s not quite what God had in mind!

I should have known this was coming…after all, I had sort of asked God for it.

This past Christmas season, I had been really wanting to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. Although I have never done Advent before, I had seen many neat ideas online. I decided to try it this year in my classroom to help us all look forward to the Savior’s birth. We would gather around our class Christmas tree each morning  and read some of the Old Testament stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible. I loved doing this as the storybook is perfectly set up to illustrate how those stories showed the need and longing for a Messiah. I wanted to understand that longing and anticipate Christ’s second coming throughout the holiday season.

When I faced my own personal misunderstanding, I understood that longing a little better.

After all, if anyone knew about longing for justice and peace, it was God’s own people.

How they had labored under such cruel masters! How long they had clung to the promise given hundreds and hundreds of years ago that Someone would come to deliver them…yet as grandparents told the promise to their children who told it to their children and so on, it may have become little more than a fairy tale to them.  After all, God had been promising this for about 700 years! Yet, here His people were, still under oppression. Still being mistreated. Still suffering injustice. Still no peace.

Where was their Savior?

The Savior that Isaiah had promised in his prophecy so long ago?

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

It was a verse I had heard every Christmas. It was a good Bible verse. It was typically on my Christmas bulletin board in the hallway. It was the prophecy of the birth of Jesus. It was in the Hallelujah chorus. It was just one of those verses that showed up a lot at Christmas time and everybody knew.

But this year, this verse was different for me.  For the first time, Christ’s names really jumped out at me in light of what I had gone through.

Wonderful Counselor

The One who would give wisdom to me in dealing with this difficult situation.

Mighty God

The One who is almighty and all powerful. This situation seemed impossible, but He is a Savior that specializes in the impossible.

Everlasting Father

He is MY Father. He will always be my Father. He will never leave me or forsake me. He knows and understands the pain that I am feeling right now.

The Prince of Peace

He is the One who can bring peace. He is the One who can work in hearts on this earth to bring about peace, and He is also the One who will bring ultimate peace one day.

I began to understand that yearning God’s people felt in their hearts for This Promised One – the yearning for peace and a day when all would be set right.

Yet, when He finally came, they rejected Him.

He didn’t fit their idea of a Savior. He was meek. He came to serve. He got His hands dirty and spent time with sinners. No thank you, they wanted someone to come with swords blazing and free them from Roman oppression. Their narrow view of a Savior caused them to miss Him when He finally did come.

Oh, let me not make the same mistake! As I long for your second coming when conflict and misunderstandings will be no more, help me to keep my eye on the greater picture. This is not about making sure that I am proven right and justified before another party.

This is all about you.

When I am misunderstood or misjudged, it is a reminder that this world is not my home, that I cannot be satisfied here on earth. This earth and all who are in it are broken. It’s a reminder of why you came – to redeem this shattered, sin-sick world.

I am reminded that you know exactly what it is like to live in this unfair world. In fact, your entire life was spent being unfairly judged & misunderstood. You know and understand how I feel – in fact, you understand in a deeper way than I ever can because you were perfect and yet misjudged!

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrew 4:15)

I am reminded that you chose to voluntarily undergo the most severe injustice that has ever or will ever be served so that I, your enemy, might be declared righteous.

You suffered willingly, humbly, and lovingly.

When life isn’t fair, help me to remember that these situations are windows that allow me a glimpse into who you are and what you have done for me.

Help me to follow your example and respond in humility and love instead of pride and bitterness.

 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (I Peter 2:23)

Help me to not place my value in what others think of me, but to trust that you know the truth, and I can rest in that.

And thank you for bringing unjust treatment along throughout my life…because anything that makes me yearn for you  is a good thing!

 

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Dear Parents of my Students…

Dear Parents,

I don’t know if you noticed, but your child came to class today without their coat…and it’s 40 degrees outside. What would you like me to do with them for recess?

You may not have realized that your child didn’t do their homework again…even though I have let you know every other time your child didn’t complete their homework. Do you check it?

Did you know that your child forgot to bring their lunch to school…again?

  Do you see the behavior notices that I am sending home? Do they raise any concerns?

I admit that sometimes I don’t have the most loving attitude towards you. I secretly feel that if you did your job better, my job would be easier…and you probably feel the same way about me! I know that you are frustrated with me for many things as well!

Can I let you know something? I am overwhelmed. I love your kiddo and would jump in front of a bullet for them, but I feel like a failure at meeting the individual needs of my entire classroom of students. I know I am not meeting all the needs of your child – trust me, I know! I have 18 students, and the feeling of not being able to meet all of their needs about drives me to quit teaching.

I can’t tell you how much I desperately desire to send your kids out of my classroom one year later as children who are kinder, more responsible, and more in love with their Savior. I also want to try to help them become smarter, help them to try and stay organized,  teach them academic lessons, how to get along with others at recess, get them to their art, music, PE and private lessons on time, be their nurse, their counselor, their cheerleader, their disciplinarian…while keeping up with lesson planning and the mass of paperwork that I am responsible for grading.

But you probably feel pretty overwhelmed, too. You do it all day every day for 18+ years. There is no summer vacation or Christmas break for you. There is no end of the year. You have to hold down your own full time jobs and all the pressures that go along with that, come home to fix dinner/do laundry/take care of the home, car, yard; pay your bills on time, get your kids to all their extracurriculars, keep up with church activities, and get your kids out the door early in the morning because you have to be at your job on time. God has ultimately placed the responsibility for your children in your hands. Wow. I feel overwhelmed just looking at all you have got on your plate.

And all of a sudden, I understand how your child can walk out the door without a coat or lunch. I understand that homework isn’t being checked like it should be because maybe you are just trying to hold everything together and keep up with it all. That maybe you let your child get away with something because you are just so tired of dealing with the same issues over and over again, and you don’t even know what to do about it.

I can understand because that is how I can send them home without the study guide that I forgot to hand out in the end of the day chaos.

I can understand because it’s how I forgot to communicate with you in advance about those supplies that were needed to be brought in to school today.

I can understand because that is how I missed that issue involving your child  that happened at school today.

Now, it doesn’t mean it’s right when you or I drop the ball in different areas…but when we look at all each other has going on, it might help us to understand one another better. It may help both of us to be a little more willing to extend grace to each other.

So maybe instead of criticizing you, I should start praying for you.  I pray for the school staff, my students, the school…but am I praying for you? That God would give you wisdom as you raise your child? That God would give you grace to juggle all of your responsibilities? Certainly it is a far better use of my time and energy than grousing about how parents today are too lenient, how they don’t care, how they’re raising their kids all wrong.

And can you pray for me? Pray that I would have wisdom as I work with your child throughout the day. Pray that God would give me discernment in meeting the needs of a classroom full of kids that are each uniquely different. Pray that God would give me grace as I juggle all of the paperwork and planning involved in teaching as well as reaching the hearts of my students.

Pray that God would help both of us live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2).

Pray that God would give both of us His wisdom that is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

We are on the same side.

We are both fighting to prepare your child to grow to love and serve Christ in a hostile culture .

We may use different tactics, but at the end of the day, our goal is the same.

To “[show]  to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done…That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:4,7)

It’s a huge responsibility that we can’t fulfill on our own or even working together – we both desperately need God’s grace!

So let’s prayerfully, graciously move forward together, knowing that we also have the King of Kings on our side giving us all that we need to steward the gift of your child!

Love,

Your Child’s Teacher

 

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Asking the Expert

“How do you help a student get organized?”

“How do you help a student struggling with reading comprehension?”

“How do you help a student who can’t stay in their seat?”
“How do I get play dough out of the carpet before my custodian finds out and kills me?”

What did teachers do before Google?

Seriously, I don’t think I go one day without Googling something.

I am so glad that Google does not judge me for some of the rather….well, dumb, things that I ask. Because I ask a lot of questions.

When I am not on the internet surfing for answers to my myriad of teacher questions, I am hunting down the other teachers in my school and asking them question upon question.

How would you handle this?

What would you do in this case?
What do you think?

I love getting answers. I love the feeling of implementing something that I learned to hopefully solve a problem I am facing in my classroom.

One day, I realized that when I have a question, my default is to Google it and begin to pick other teachers’ brains around the world.

Now that is not necessarily a bad thing – asking questions from those who know more than we do is a very wise course of action! In fact,  Proverbs encourages us to listen to others instead of relying only on what we know!

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,  but a wise man listens to advice. (Proverbs 12:15)

However, I realized that my questions always drove me first to “the experts” rather than to THE EXPERT.

My first response should be to take my question to the One who created and knows both me and my student.

After all, where better to find answers?

My God wants me to come to him with my concerns and issues. He isn’t so busy taking care of world affairs that he doesn’t have time to “deal with” my problem of a class that won’t stop talking. He isn’t going to scold me for taking up his time for something so “minor” in the grand scheme of the universe. He tells me to come to him. He tells me to ask. He promises that He will give.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)

I want my default to be that I take everything to Christ first.

Before I jump on the internet, pull out my college textbooks, or grab the ear of a colleague, I want to first start on my knees. Praying that God would…

  1. Give me Wisdom – wisdom in choosing the proper way to deal with the situation. There are so many ideas out there – I need wisdom to choose the methodology or solution that would be most helpful to my student.
  2. Help the student that is struggling – That He would encourage the heart of that student who is academically behind. That Sarah would realize that her value is in Christ and not her GPA. That little Johnny would be able to stay in his seat. That through these struggles, these students would be drawn to love Him more and realize their own need of help from Christ.
  3. Give wisdom to others involved in the situation – that He would help parents know how best to help their child. That administration would have wisdom in making decisions that could affect this student.

Those behavior issues? Yes, I will probably still ask others for advice…but I will first pray that God would work in that student’s heart. That neat Pinterest behavior modification idea may help…but without prayer for a changed heart, all I am doing is helping to mask the symptoms of that student’s sinful heart.

Those parent issues? Sure, I will use that great communication idea found on a blog…but first, I am going to pray for my own heart in dealing with that family. That I would be loving and Christ like in the way that I relate to them. Then I am going to pray for those parents – that God would give them wisdom in raising their children and that they would also have the correct responses in the face of conflict.

And when I get to see God answer those prayers and work in powerful ways, I will know that it is not because I am such a wonderful and clever teacher. I will know that He graciously listened to my request and worked in ways that only He can work.  I will know that He directed me to that idea to help my student who struggles with reading comprehension. I will know that He worked in my heart, my students’ hearts, and their parents’ hearts. I will know that He is the one who deserves all the praise.

So I am not finished asking the experts, yet.

But I do want to ask the all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving Expert first.

Praying this year that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Ephesians 1:17).

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Letter to a 1st Year Teacher

Dear First-Year Teacher,

Congratulations on finishing school and getting your first teaching placement! I know that right now you are probably feeling waves of excitement, panic, more excitement, and more panic. It wasn’t too long ago that I was in your shoes! How well I remember those feelings (and, if I’m honest…I still have some of those same feelings a few years later!)

This next year is not going to be easy. You are going to be challenged in ways that you can’t imagine. There will probably be times that you wonder what on earth you just spent four years and thousands of dollars learning…because all of a sudden, you feel like you don’t know anything!

And there will be times of great joy. Joy when you get to witness a student finally understanding a difficult concept; joy when a student accepts Christ as their Savior; joy when you see all that God is going to accomplish this year.

As you prepare for your first year, can I give you some advice? Advice that I am still learning to take myself?

Don’t expect to be perfect

You will make mistakes this year. You will forget to call a parent when you were supposed to. You will probably lose a paper. You will unfairly punish a student. You will have a lesson (or two…or twenty) that you will feel like you bombed. You will not be perfect.

And can I tell you something? Mistakes are okay! You are learning. Nobody expects you to be perfect except you! When your students make mistakes in class, do you tell them that they just aren’t cut out for Math and are failures as students? No! You encourage them that their mistakes are helping them learn. They might not be there yet, but with some more practice, they are going to get it!

But as teachers, we sometimes don’t make very good learners. When we make mistakes, we berate ourselves and convince ourselves that we just are not any good at teaching. We’re failures.

You’re not a failure…you’re learning!

When you do make a mistake, be willing to admit it. Don’t get defensive, don’t shift the blame -just admit that you messed up. Apologize to the child, parent, fellow staff member, or administrator and keep serving the Lord through it all!

 

Be Ready to Learn

You are coming out of school and you have learned so much over the past few years! Add the extra educational books you read “just for fun”, the teacher blogs, and Pinterest…your brain is full! You may feel ready to take on the world with your technology and current best practices in education.

 

With all of your newly acquired knowledge, still ensure that you are willing to listen and learn from those around you.

  • Other Teachers – especially those long-standing veterans! Their 30 years of experience will often trump your college textbooks! Pick their brains for ideas. What has worked for them when they faced different issues? How would they deal with this behavioral problem? How would they phrase this issue when talking with a parent? Just because they may not be on the cutting edge of educational technology doesn’t mean that they don’t have an abundance of wisdom! (I personally wish I could trade some of my technological “expertise” for about 15 year of wisdom and experience!)
  • Your students & parents – be open to their feedback! It doesn’t mean that you have to “give in”, but be willing to listen and consider. Have a humble and open attitude. If a parent complains about a situation, be willing to take a step back and look at it. Go and ask for feedback from an unbiased person. If after listening and examining the situation, you believe that you are in the right, humbly explain your reasoning and see if there is a compromise that can be reached. You don’t need to be a pushover, but you do need to listen.

Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance (Proverbs 1:5)

Practice Gratitude

Keep a gratitude journal. Write down those “little” pockets of joy that come your way throughout the days. When you go to pray, use your gratitude journal to specifically praise the Lord for these instances.

  •  Johnny learned his multiplication tables after he was struggling with them for weeks.
  • Cindy got a B on her History test after you helped her study.
  • Matt’s sparkling grin with his two missing front teeth made you smile.
  • The scribbled “Best teacher ever!” on the back of Hannah’s Spelling test.

Keep record of it all, no matter how small and faithfully thank the Lord for each and every moment of grace.

Satan would love to get you down in the dumps by focusing on the things that go wrong in your class – the F that Jeannie got, the disgruntled parent, the loads of paperwork. He would love to keep you right there. Don’t give him the satisfaction! Those “wrong” moments are also blessings in disguise. Your Heavenly Father is trying to help you learn something! He loves you so much that He is always going to be working to conform you to His image (Romans 8:28-29). God is working His perfect plan throughout it all!

Focus on the blessings that God is lavishing on you and your students…even if those blessings come in untidy packages.

Giving thanks always for all things to God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20, emphasis mine)

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (I Thessalonians. 5:18, emphasis mine)

 

Keep Your Perspective

 

As you juggle the lesson plans, grading, and meetings, don’t forget why you are doing this.

It’s not for the money (I’m pretty sure you already knew that.)

It’s not for the summer break.

It’s not about your own glory (i.e. being a kid’s favorite teacher)

It’s all about Christ.

It’s about how He has loved you so much that you have chosen a profession that will daily give you the opportunity to share that love with your students. It’s about how patient He has been to you so that you can show that patience to your kiddos. It’s about how great God is and getting to show your kids glimpses of Him through the subjects that you teach and the way you relate to them.

We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done (Psalm 78:4).

Rely on the Lord

This year will be a roller coaster.  You will be exhausted. There will be tears and there will be laughter. There will be moments of defeat and moments of victory. There will be students that you might not reach but ever so many that you will!

Through the ups and downs, remember that you are not alone. Your Father who has called you to this is faithful to help you through it (I Thessalonians. 5:24).

When you feel overwhelmed, run to Christ for help and trust in what He is doing.

When you feel like things are going great, run to Christ in praise for what He is doing.

The best way to face this upcoming year is not getting a jump start on lesson planning, spending hours on Pinterest, or reading the latest educational articles and books.

The best way you can start this year is on your knees.

The best way you can survive this year is on your knees – pray for your students, their parents, your fellow staff and administration, and pray for yourself, especially for wisdom from the Lord (James 1:5).

In all of the busyness, don’t neglect your relationship with the Lord. You need Him more than anything else this year and every year of your life!

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (I Cor. 15:58)

I am thinking of you as you take on this exciting new year! Love God and love your kids, and you will do great!

In Christ,

Rachel

 

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Truth for Tired Teachers

It’s the final long stretch for many of us…the mad dash to the end of the year (or maybe you are like me, and you’re just trying to crawl on hands and knees to get to spring break!). It’s the last quarter of the game, and we’re exhausted. Our kids are exhausted. Yet, somehow we have to finish the game strong. Standardized tests loom ahead, the amount of curriculum to be covered by then is overwhelming, and discipline issues are setting in as spring fever rises. It’s at times like this that it is especially important to focus on truth. Our thoughts can quickly spiral out of control as we begin to dwell on all of the negatives. But Christ tells us what our thoughts should be centered on –

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil. 4:8)

So let me share some truths that God is reminding me of in this season of the school year!

When you are doing your work for Christ, it matters!

Sometimes we can get discouraged when we see all of the time and energy that we are putting into our ministry…and not getting to see many immediate results for it. Christ promises that when we are serving Him, even the most mundane tasks are investments in His Kingdom.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (I Cor. 15:58)

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Matt 10:42)

You don’t have to do this in your own strength!

It has been said that”God never gives you more than you can handle.” While that phrase is well-meaning, I don’t believe that it is biblical. Over and over again in Scripture, God gives people way more than they handle (David & Goliath, Queen Esther, Joseph being sold into slavery away from his family – just to name a few).  I believe that He gives us more than we can handle…because then we have to rely on Him and not ourselves. Those heroes of the faith are not heroes because they were so amazing…they had a God who was amazing! And we serve the same God today!

Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. (I Thess. 5:24)

This is my go-to verse for everything – God is the One who called me to be a teacher, and He is going to be faithful to accomplish His purpose.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (II Cor. 12:9)

God is using the difficulties you are facing for your good. 

That tough student, that discipline situation that is weighing heavily on you, that set of parents that you are struggling with, the requirements of your district that you can’t keep up with — all of these are circumstances that God has allowed in your life. They are there for a reason, and Romans 8:29 tells us what that reason is – to conform us to the image of Christ that so He might be glorified.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)

And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rom. 8:28-29)

Another favorite passage to go to when I am feeling tired or overwhelmed with circumstances is Hebrews 12 – it comes right after the “Hall of Faith”, a chapter of people remembered for their faith in God. Chapter 12 tells us the secret to enduring the way that they did – keeping our eyes focused on Christ and realizing that He has a purpose in the discipline (training) He is taking us through.

You are loved no matter what.

If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin (see here), you are a beloved child of God. No matter how terrible your lesson went that day, no matter how you feel that you may have failed a student, parent, or administration, God loves you. He doesn’t love you any more on your good days than your bad days – His love for you is based on His character, not your performance. He just loves you because that is who He is!

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you. (Ps. 139:16-18)

God knew that you were going to come up against this tough day even before you were born. He knows every day that He has planned for you, and this is one of them. Psalms 139 is just an amazing psalm – if you are feeling down or lonely, just spend some time meditating on this precious chapter of the Bible!

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [that includes our own selves!] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:28-29)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-31)

God loved us so much that He gave up His Son to die for us when we were His enemies (Col. 1:21). If He loved you enough to do that  while you were His enemy, will He not love and take care of you as His own child?

So as we push through these final months, keep your mind centered on truth – you are not facing these tough times alone. God sees and knows all that you are facing, but He wants to use these times to draw you closer to Himself. When you are tired, turn to Him and His Word!

How about you? What are your favorite verses and truths to meditate on when you are feeling tired, overwhelmed, or discouraged?

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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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When a Teacher Has Nothing Left to Give

There are days when I look at teaching and decide that there is no way I can do this. I’m pretty sure there is no way that anyone can do this!
How on earth am I supposed to teach Bible, Spelling, Handwriting, English, Math, Science, History, and Reading while meeting the physical, social, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual needs of all these students? In 7 hours a day!?! And that doesn’t even include the grading or lesson planning!

Teaching requires a lot of time and a lot of energy. There are simply not enough hours in the day to get it all done. There is just no way that you can have the wisdom to deal with all of the situations you come across day by day.  Some days you go, go, go – trying to meet the needs of your students, their parents,  your school, your family, and church.  And if you are like me, there are some days you feel like you have absolutely nothing left to give.

But I am reminded of some other exhausted teachers with some very limited resources…

We all remember the Sunday school story of the feeding of the 5,000. It was an incredible miracle and made for a great lesson!  However, have you ever thought about the events leading up to the miracle (Mark 6)?

Christ’s cousin, John the Baptist, had just been brutally executed.

The disciples had just returned from their journeys where they were teaching,healing, and casting out demons. They had been so busy that Scripture says, “they had no leisure even to eat” (v. 30).

They must have been exhausted from it all. And Christ invited them to get away and rest. He knew they needed a break.

Yet news got out, and when they arrive for their mini vacation, thousands of people are waiting there for them.

And Jesus doesn’t turn them away. He has compassion and begins to minister to them.

I can only imagine what went on in some of the disciples’ heads. I mean, if it were me, I would probably be fighting back tears or a temper tantrum (probably both). Lord, I have been so busy for you. I just needed this time to breathe. Can’t you tell all of these people to just wait until tomorrow?

So they minister to this crowd on the day that was supposed to be their rest day,  and near the end of a long day, Jesus asks them to do the impossible. Feed all of these people- 5,000 men plus their families.

I think I would have lost it.

How could Christ do that to them? They had been working so hard for Him, had spent their vacation ministering to people, and now He wants them to feed all of these people!

They check their resources – just a few loaves of bread and a few fish.

And Christ wants them to feed over 5,000 people with that?

Yet, look at what happens when the disciples bring their limited resources to Christ. He multiplies it…a lot. They had enough to complete the job Christ had given them…plus leftovers! They ended up with 12 extra baskets (hmm…enough for each disciple to take home a basket?)

Christ didn’t need the disciples, and he didn’t need those loaves and fishes to feed the 5,000. He chose to take those limited resources and do something incredible with them…something that pointed people to Him.

Sometimes in teaching, you will feel completely at the end of your rope. You will feel exhausted and you will have nothing left to give – your resources will look like those paltry loaves and fishes. You just don’t have enough time, energy, or wisdom to meet the demands of the job.

But when we turn to Christ with the little we do have, He multiplies it to become enough – no, more than enough!  He gives the grace for you to meet the obligations you have.  This is not to say that there are times that you need to get away, rest, or say “no” (that’s another post for another day). But I am reassuring you (and myself!) that God gives grace to do what He has called us to do today.

He calls us to do the impossible so He can show us His incredible power.

And He loves you so much that He isn’t going to just give you enough to meet the needs of others – He is going to take care of you and your needs, just as He did with the disciples. And when He does this, the glory goes to Him!

You don’t have to do today on your own – surrender your limitations to Christ and let Him do something amazing!

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. II Corinthians 12:9

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I Corinthians 13 for Teachers

If I am an entertaining and articulate teacher, but have not love, I am nothing.

If I have all wisdom in dealing with student and parent issues that arise, and have not love, I am nothing.

If I give  my free time grading, creating exciting lesson plans, and designing stellar bulletin boards; and have not love, I am nothing.

Love is patient

It does not get annoyed with the drumming pencil or the millionth time a student asks, “what page are we on?”

Love is kind

It speaks to students with kindness, even in times of discipline. It looks for little ways throughout the day to show students care.

Love does not envy or boast

It does not “show off” bulletin boards, lesson ideas, etc. to show up other teachers.

Love is not arrogant

It listens respectfully to the opinions of others and is willing to admit that it is wrong. It is even willing to ask forgiveness from students or other faculty when necessary.

Love is not rude

It finds ways to discipline students without belittling or embarrassing them.

Love does not insist on its own way

It does not get out of sorts when its lesson does not go according to plan or when scheduling does not work out in its favor. It does not consider its way the only way to do things.

Love is not irritable or resentful

It gives students a clean slate daily and doesn’t hold grudges. It doesn’t take student behavior personally. Its mood is not dictated by outside circumstances.

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth

It looks for the positives in the students instead of focusing in on their weaknesses. It doesn’t feel smug or justified when the student “gets what’s coming to him”. It is heartbroken when a student makes wrong choices, not because those choices affect the day, but because those choices are displeasing to God.

Love bears all things

It sets aside its constant to-do list to really listen to what’s on students’ hearts and minds. It finds time to listen to the looong stories, pray for a pet guinea pig, and counsel the friendship drama at recess. These problems that seem so trivial to most are very real and heavy burdens on our students’ hearts.

Love believes all things

It believes the best about the students.

 Love hopes all things

Even after a rough day, it is still hopeful knowing that it was a day in which God was working His grace and perfect plan.

Love endures all things

It keeps going day in and day out. It doesn’t give up on any child because God never gives up on us .

Love never ends.

If you are like me, I see so many areas that I failed in loving my students today. Can I tell you a secret? There is no way that you or I can daily show that kind of love to our students without God’s grace!  We need God to work in our hearts and give us that spirit of love.

II Timothy 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power,  and of love, and of a sound mind.

When I realize that I am not loving my students as I ought to be, I need to look back to the love of God for me. He has loved me despite my sinfulness, and He has offered me grace to love my students in the same unconditional way. It’s all grace!

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