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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Loving the Hard-to-love Student

Maybe you have gotten your class list for the upcoming school year and you were eagerly reading it when a name on the page brought you to a screeching halt.

You got THAT KID.

Of all the students that ended up in your class, you ended up with THAT KID.

He is legendary among his former teachers.

The stories you have heard about him are enough to get you to consider retiring at 35.

He may be obnoxious. She may be lazy. He may be disrespectful. She may be argumentative. He may be disliked by every other student. Whatever he may be, he will be a challenge.

Most teachers I know would take a bullet for any one of their kids. We love each and every one of our students…and yet that very student I would jump in front of a bullet for, I can act so unloving with in my daily interactions. I get tired of dealing with the same discipline issues. I get frustrated with their derailing of my plans. I just want them to learn their lesson! I want them to make my life easier! Why do they have to be so difficult?

When I look into God’s Word, I see so many examples of hard-to-love students.

That student who always spoke their mind…that was Peter.

That student who thought that they knew better than the teacher…Well, that was Peter, again.

That student who just never seemed to learn his lesson…that was the entire nation of Israel!

The student who turned against the One pouring His life into him…that was Judas.

The student who whined and complained no matter how much they had been given…that was…Wait. That is me. Don’t I look at all the blessings that God has given me and whine about what I don’t have?

Come to think of it…I am also that student who speaks her mind to God about what I do and don’t like about His plans for my life. I’m that student who turns her back on God and does her own thing many times. I’m the student that never seems to learn the lessons that God is teaching me. I’m the student that thinks I know better than the teacher.

Hmmm…could it just be that I am a hard-to-love student?

That despite all of the good things I may have done…really, I haven’t done anything that could possibly deserve God’s love? That before salvation, I was actually God’s enemy?

And, all of a sudden, that hard-to-love student and I have something in common. A BIG something! Neither one of us deserves love based on our actions and attitudes.

But, you know what? True love doesn’t depend on how much somebody deserves it. True love is unconditional. It is freely given.

How thankful I am that my Heavenly Father didn’t give up loving me. He didn’t love me because I was anything special. He didn’t love me because I deserved that love. He just loved me. That’s who He is.

He loved me so much, that even while I was His enemy, He sent His beloved Son to take my punishment.

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8, emphasis added)

I have been shown such amazing grace and unconditional love even when I was at my worst.

How can I then, being loved and accepted despite my condition, turn to that hard-to-love student and just let them go?

Give up on them and ride out the year?

Constantly nag at them and their faults?

Speak harshly to them and about them?

Because, you know what? Who doesn’t love the kids who love them back? They’re the easy ones -the ones who scribble “best teacher ever” on their spelling tests, bring you treats and handwritten cards, and just float through your class following all of the rules. It takes a heart changed by Christ to love the student who blatantly disrespects you, shows no regard for your rules, and seems to hate your guts.

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies [I certainly hope you don’t consider your student an enemy – but I think the principles here still apply!] , do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse youIf you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. (Luke 6:27-28, 32; emphasis added)

Lord, help me to show that student the unconditional love that you have shown to me.

Help me to  faithfully pray for that student…committing to pray for them every single day this year. It’s hard to spend that much time praying for someone without loving them.

Lord, help me to act loving even when I don’t necessarily feel loving. Help me to remember that love is a choice. It is not a feeling. Even when I am struggling with this student, help me to find the next loving thing that I can do for them.

That may mean sending them back to their seat so I can have a moment to pray before dealing with the discipline issue.

That may mean actively looking for something that I can praise them for or thank them for doing.

That may mean slipping a note inside of their desk for them to discover the next day.

That may mean asking them to join me for lunch or an after school snack in the classroom.

That may mean giving up some of my desires and rights to find a way to serve that student. It will mean sacrifice. But the sacrifices I may make don’t come close to the sacrifice that was made for me!

Lord, help me to remember that if this student is hard for me to love, he is probably hard for others to love. If I don’t show him your love, who will?

And most of all, thank you for loving this hard-to-love student so much that you sacrificed all to adopt me into your family. You knew what you were getting – and yet you still chose me.

When I show love to that hard-to-love student, I am living out a picture of the Gospel.  Lord, help this hard-to-love teacher love as she has been loved.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

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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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Teaching Tough Students

We all have those students.

The ones who know exactly which of our buttons to push and seem to take great delight in pushing them!

The ones who moan and groan over every request we make of them.

The ones who stir up trouble among their classmates.

The ones who just never seem to obey.

And if you are like me, my patience can begin to wear thin.

The year goes on, and I get tired of dealing with the same issues again and again. Why can’t they just learn their lesson?

While dealing with a group of particularly difficult students one year, I was struck with the story of another person who had to lead a pretty tough group.  His name was Moses, and he had the opportunity to lead the people of Israel through the wilderness after being freed from slavery. Now, you need to know some things about this group of people…

They complained (A LOT).

They didn’t listen (A LOT).

They didn’t obey (A LOT).

They just couldn’t seem to learn their lesson (A LOT).

Sound like anyone you might know?  😉

Poor Moses. What a group! After seeing God provide for them again and again, the Israelites were again complaining because they were thirsty. They  were personally attacking Moses – why have you brought us out here to die? (sounds like my students in Math class!). So Moses went before the Lord with their complaint. God instructed him to speak to a rock and water would come out for the people.  So armed with the promise of God, Moses went before the Israelites at the rock…and directly disobeyed God. Instead of speaking to the rock, he took his staff and struck it. Water still came out despite his disobedience. The Israelites were happy…but God was not. What’s up?

Moses was frustrated with leading this rebellious people. He grew angry and lashed out. He got results, but he went about it completely in the wrong way.

I do the same thing. Many times I feel like I am figuratively “striking the rock” with my difficult students. I get frustrated. I grow impatient and angry. I let unkind  and harsh words fly out. And you know what? Sometimes there may be results. That tough student may shape up…but I have dishonored God in the process.

You know what is interesting? When God spoke with Moses about his sin, he didn’t specifically mention his anger. Anger wasn’t the problem – it was simply a symptom of something going on in Moses’ heart.

And the Lord said unto Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12)

God got right to the root – Moses was angry because he didn’t believe God.

I realized that my problem with these difficult students was not my impatience and anger. My real problem was that I wasn’t believing God.

  • That He was the one who had placed these students in my life (Rom. 8:28-29)
  • That He would give me the grace and patience to lead them (I Thess. 5:24)
  • That He is the one who could change their hearts…not me (Jer. 24:7, Ps. 51:10).
  • That He is enough for me…no matter what kind of students, the kind of day, or the kind of school year that I may be facing (Ps. 16:11).

When I don’t believe God’s promises and react wrongly to my difficult students, I have not glorified Him. I have not shown them the greatness of their God. I haven’t shown them a glimpse of His character. Even if they shape up and became a model student, if I have not showed God to them, I have failed. After all, the sole purpose of our life (which certainly includes our teaching, discipline, etc.) is to glorify God.

In him [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestinedaccording to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:11-12).

 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (I Cor. 10:31).

Moses failed to believe God, and as a result, God was not glorified among His people. I don’t want to make the same mistake in my teaching!

So how can we make sure we aren’t “striking the rock” as Moses did?

  1. Stay in a close relationship with the Lord – stay in His Word and spend time in prayer. We can’t show our students someone that we don’t know very well.
  2. Memorize & meditate on God’s Promises – this goes along with #1. It’s hard to believe and depend on the promises of someone that we don’t know. What promises do you have trouble believing about God and His working in your life? Commit them to memory – write them on index cards and stick them around your home and classroom. When you are tempted to doubt, preach those verses right back to yourself.
  3. Remember God’s work in your own heart – how many times have I repeatedly disobeyed God? Over and over again in His Word, He tells me what to do. Over and over again, I choose to do my own thing and suffer the consequences. I repent and turn back to Him…and do it all over again. I’m a pretty slow learner. I’m not too different from my difficult students! Yet God has shown me such amazing love and grace! How can I not let that same love and grace spill over to my difficult students?

How about you? What characteristics or promises of God help you in dealing with challenging students?

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It’s Okay to Just Say “No”

Teachers have big hearts.

We love to serve others.

We love to jump in and help.

That’s why we are teachers. But what happens when that desire to serve almost crushes us under the weight of many obligations that we have voluntarily put ourselves under? Extra activities and responsibilities at school, church ministry opportunities, and family obligations can threaten to topple us over.

It might be time to learn how to say “no.”

This is a skill that I am currently working on learning 🙂 It’s such a small word but soooo hard to say! When a request comes your way,  learn to not answer right away. It’s okay to say, “can I get back to you on that?” . That will give you time to think through it, pray about it, and seek counsel. As you look at the opportunity, here are a few principles to keep in mind.

Check your motives 

When I am approached with a request, what is my motivation in accepting (or rejecting) it? Many times my motivation lies in  my pride. I am naturally a people pleaser. I love for everyone around me to be happy, and especially for them to be happy with me. Saying “yes” to something makes people smile at me – they thank me. They think that I am wonderful. And I feel wonderful…until I realize what I just got myself into.

True confession – I have recently been looking at the many different things that I am involved in and was feeling overwhelmed. There just wasn’t enough time to do everything and to do it well.  I began working on how to let the leader of our public school Bible club  know that I would need to step down for next year. That very day, as I was thinking about how best to talk to her and explain my reasons…a few of us (including the leader) were discussing the idea of having some of our high schoolers create some wordless books for the kids, and before I could fully grasp what was happening, I was volunteering to take on that new project including getting permission from administration and parents. I climbed into my car, shell-shocked at how I had planned on giving something up – only to take on an additional responsibility! Yet, I had no one to blame but myself – I wanted everyone to be happy so I said “yes”.

If the only reason you are not saying “no”  is because you don’t want to displease someone, that should at least make you stop and take some time to think through your decision!

Another thing to check is your view of God. Sometimes I say “yes” to new ministries because I have a wrong view of God. I should be serving Him out of gratitude for what He has done for me – yet sometimes I find myself slipping into the thoughts of trying to impress God or earn His love and approval. But just as I was saved by grace and not by good works (Eph. 2:8-9), I also live by grace. God loves me the same no matter what I do!

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, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Check your priorities

So maybe you have checked your motives and they are honestly good – you really just want to serve God or others in this way. Does that mean you should say “yes”? Well, not necessarily!

There are many genuine needs that I feel burdened to help out with…but I can’t do them all. How do I decide what to say “yes” to and what to politely decline? It can help to sit down and decide your priorities.

  1. Your relationship with the Lord – this must be first. It can be easy to get so busy serving God that we neglect to build our relationship with Him through quiet time in prayer and His Word. If I say “yes”, will this new responsibility hinder my time and energy to spend with Lord? Martha learned this – she was working so hard for the Lord, yet her service became a distraction. 

    And she [Martha] had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. (Luke 10:39-40A).  

  2. Your Family – I grew up as a missionary kid, and I am so thankful that I got to see the way my parents lived this out. Your family is your first ministry – not your students. If you say “yes”, how will that affect your family?

After those two priorities, you will have to finish the list on your own 😉 ! Involvement in your local church should be high on the list (Hebrew 10:25), taking care of yourself by having the time to eat right and exercise (I Cor. 6:19), and your students should also be somewhere on that list. Ask yourself – if you say “yes” to this new opportunity, what will you have to say “no” to in order to make it work? At this point of my life, my students are my main ministry. For me, I ultimately had to make the decision to say “no” to the Bible club ministry because I saw that it was draining time and energy away from my own students. Also,  in doing everything, I was not doing anything really well – just keeping my head above water.

Also a quick note here on priorities – you need to have some time to take care of yourself and recharge.  Just because there are 24 hours in the day and 7 days in a week, you don’t have you use up every single one! Now, we have to be careful here – there is a balance between hoarding our time for pleasure and realizing that we honestly do need to take time to recharge. God did not design us to run continuously – even Jesus had several times on earth where He went away from the crowds to rest and recharge. If the Son of God needed to rest during His time here on earth, so do we!

Keep a Servant’s Heart

It is okay to say “no”. But it is not okay to do it without a willing heart. Here’s what I mean – a servant’s heart is not quick to say “no” – it hears the person out and gives thoughtful consideration to what they are asking. A servant’s heart does not keep score of its service and smugly review it while looking down on others’ lack of service. A servant’s heart does not complain about all that it already has to do. A servant’s heart is not defensive. It is a heart that is willing to serve however God calls, but it humbly realizes that it can’t do everything.

If you have prayed through the decision and feel that it is not something that you can undertake right now, be honest with the person who asked you. Kindly explain to them, “You know what, I really appreciate your asking me to volunteer, but right now I am really focusing on my ministry to my students. I feel that if I helped out here, I wouldn’t have the time/energy/etc. that I really need to give to them. Thanks so much for thinking of me!”

If you really feel burdened to help – get creative! Perhaps there is another less time-consuming way that  that you could help (i.e. instead of teaching AWANAS every week, you can make cookies once a month or once every other month for it.) For me, with the Bible club ministry, I offered to substitute occasionally.

Finally, remember this: if you have prayed through this decision, you do not need to feel guilty. Live for an audience of One – if your decision is what you believe will best glorify God, then you don’t need to worry about the approval of others!

Alright, everyone, let’s practice saying it together -“Noooo….”

 

 

 

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The Comparison Game

I wish I had her class.

I wish I taught at that school.

I wish I was as creative a she is…

The comparison game – played by many of us, and won by none of us. How quick I am to look at your personality, your classroom, your life, and immediately place my own personality, classroom, and life side by side with yours. I want to know how I measure up. I want to know my value in relationship to yours.

See, the comparison game is quite a dangerous game. It never ends well! When I play it, I typically fall in one of two ways…and they both involve me losing!

Comparison is the thief of joy. (Theodore Roosevelt)

1. Envy & Self-pity

I look at your life, the students you have, the teaching abilities you have, and I want them instead of what I have.  I begin to think in if only’s…

  • If only I had your high achieving, well-behaved class…
  • If only I had the supportive parents you have….
  • If only I had your personality as a teacher…
  • If only I had your sense of humor…
  • If only I had your ability to lead…

But the if only’s offer a dangerous lie – that if only I had what you had, I could be happy. Any time that I look for my joy outside of Christ, I am treading on dangerous ground.

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5)

God gave you your class, your abilities, and your life. He gave me mine – and I can be content with what I have because He promises His presence. Maybe He has given me a load that appears more difficult than yours, but He promises His grace to help me bear what He has given me (II Cor. 12:9).

Contentment comes when I find my value in Christ and not in how I measure up to you. If I am His child, I am loved and accepted the way I am – warts and all! Christ knew my sinfulness and weakness, but He still chose to save me. If I cannot find contentment and security in Him, I will never find it!

This is not to say that I shouldn’t learn from you and your strengths – but instead of envying your abilities, I should be thankful for them. I should let you know that. I should ask for suggestions in improving. But I should not envy you. I can be thankful that God blessed me with areas I need to grow in…if I was perfect, I wouldn’t need to depend on Him. (If you struggle with perfectionism, please check out what I wrote here).  I can be thankful that as a body of Christ, God has given us different abilities and jobs. One of us is is not more important than another member – we are all working together to bring glory to God (I Cor. 12:12-26).

2. Pride & Self-sufficiency

This is my response when I compare myself with you and find that I am “better”. I become proud that I would never talk to a student that way. I am proud that can get my students to behave in the hallway or lunchroom. I am proud that even though I may not be the best teacher, at least I am better than you. 

But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. (II Corinthians 10:12b)

My pride shows my foolishness. If I have abilities or good circumstances, why would I think that am responsible for them? Yes, I have probably had to work hard to develop a good classroom management system or develop creative lessons…but if it weren’t for God, would I be able to do any of it? Isn’t God the One who gave me my gifts and talents? I may have honed them, but I can’t develop what I don’t have to begin with!

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (I Corinthians. 4:7)

And just as the if only’s, my pride also puts me on dangerous ground. I am finding my value and joy in accomplishments instead of Christ…and what’s worse, I am taking His credit for it!

So, how do you stop playing the comparison game? Start a new game – a  game of gratitude! When you are tempted to start comparing yourself to someone else, stop. Begin praying and thanking the Lord for what He has given you – be specific! Gratitude solves both problems – I can’t be envious and full of self-pity when I see all that God has blessed me with. I also can’t be proud because I realize that God has blessed me with all that I have. Find your joy in Christ alone – nothing else will satisfy!

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Speaking Grace to our Students

I couldn’t help but laugh at this image I found floating around on the internet…because as a teacher, I feel like this sometimes!

You start out the day with great intentions, but it doesn’t take long before you start getting short with your students. Maybe you didn’t get much sleep last night, maybe you are dealing with some outside circumstances or stresses, maybe the day’s schedule got changed and the kids are just going crazy .  But whatever is going on, it’s not a good day. By the time that last bell rings, you have been impatient with many of your students and even called some of them out unkindly.

What is up with that? I mean, you love them, right (you may not feel like you love them right now, but you know that you ultimately do!)? So why do these words fly out of your mouth? Some teachers are notorious for yelling at their kids, but sometimes our unkind speech can be more subtle – a little one-liner here, speaking harshly in a moment of discipline, an impatient response, calling them out in front of the whole class, and other similar words of unkindness.

Words that put them down in front of their friends.

Words that embarrass them.

Words that hurt them.

Words that don’t look anything like Christ.

As Christians, the way that we speak to our students should look very different from the unsaved teacher down the hallway.

When we find ourselves struggling in our speech towards our students, we first need to see where these words are coming from…and I’ll give you a hint – it really doesn’t have anything to do with our students!

The Bible clearly tells us that our words come from our heart – every word we say is indicative of what is in our hearts. Our tongue can often be the “check engine light” – yes, those words coming out aren’t good, but they are signaling a much deeper problem. Our students merely help us to see what is in our hearts.

“…out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

But there is hope! See, if the problems with our speech stem from what others (namely, our students) are doing to us, we don’t have much hope of fixing it. We are giving up and admitting that others have the ability to make us sin. If our students are having a good day, we’ll have a good day! If they are having a bad day, we are forced to also have a bad day. However, if the problem is with my own heart, Christ has the answer for that!

He died so that I would not have be enslaved to my selfish and impatient heart.  He has set me free from its control! Now, He lives inside of me and is working to produce His character in my life.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)

Words that look like Christ come from a heart that seeks Christ- a heart that desires to please Him and point others towards Him more than it wants its own desires. I can’t just put on loving, patient, and gentle speech…I first have to deal with the heart that is producing the unkind and impatient words.

I need to search my heart and see what it is that I want more than obeying God’s command to love others with my words.  I need to confess it to Him and ask for His help. If I lose my temper or say something unkind to a student, I need to have the humility to call them aside later and apologize (and no excuses – “Well, I should not have said that, but if you wouldn’t have…”). We can be tempted to think that this will make our students lose their respect for us – but have you ever had an authority in your life apologize to you? Chances are that increased your respect for them, not lowered it!

Once I have dealt with my heart, I can begin to replace that old speech with words that look like Christ, and of course, Christ has the answer yet again!

 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Eph. 4:29)

Instead of using words that can tear down our students, let’s look for ways to speak grace to them, to build them up and encourage them. I have been challenged to be more proactive in doing this by really focusing in on 1-2 students a day and going out of my way to deliberately and specifically build them up with my words – look for the little things  to praise them for, encourage them when I see them struggling with something, point their eyes towards Christ. Of course, I want to have this spirit with my whole class, but I think that zoning in on a few students at a time will help me focus on specific encouragement instead of just general praise.

Also, be warned that if you are determined to please Christ in this area, your flesh is really going to fight you. I sat down on Tuesday to begin drafting this post after hearing a wonderful sermon on it. I was excited about using my speech to really minister grace to my students…and then my flesh began to kick and scream. It decided that it was not going to go down so easily. The very next day (and the rest of this week!) I struggled so much with being patient with my students. I wanted to blame it on the fact that they were just not listening to me…but that wasn’t the reason. The reason was because I have an impatient heart – I want what I want when I want it. My students were getting in the way of what I wanted (quickly getting through our research paper writing unit!) and so my impatient heart just bubbled right up and out my mouth. I failed multiple times and had to ask their forgiveness the next day. And Satan would love to keep us down and defeated at this point…but the Lord reminded me of Prov. 24:16A

For the righteous falls seven times and rises again…

It is not that a righteous person never falls. They fall, but by the grace of God, they get back up and try again. And again. And again…and they seek God’s help every time, knowing that they will continue to fall when they are depending on their own strength.

May God help us all to speak grace to our students!

 

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The Pursuit of Perfection in Teaching

Do you ever just feel overwhelmed? Like you’re a failure at teaching?

Your class seems crazy, the grading stack seems to multiply faster than you can tame it, your lessons feel like they are falling flat, and you just know that you are not a good teacher.

Then you get on Pinterest and see these wonderful classrooms and amazing teachers and you really feel depressed.

But being overwhelmed has helped me begin to think.

Why do I get so frustrated and overwhelmed? Well, teaching is hard and overwhelming, no question about that! But I often find myself in this slump, simply and honestly, because I want to be the best. I have always had to be the best – have the best projects in the class, be the best student teacher, the best person…and trying to be the best is awfully hard. There are a whole lot of people and circumstances that barge in and mess up my plans for being perfect. And, of course – my own imperfect heart doesn’t help the situation, either! 😉

When my goal is to be the “perfect” teacher, it’s no wonder I am frustrated when I have to do  a  not-so-exciting lesson plan that involves reading the textbook and doing a worksheet.  I thought I was going to be one of those really fun teachers who always had the entire class hanging on her every word and action every minute of every day (I may have watched one too many inspirational teacher movies)! No wonder I am irritated when I have to scold them for misbehavior. No wonder it drives me crazy when I have a fun lesson and it goes off course through students’ disobedience or failure on the assessment. I am confronted with the truth that I am not the best teacher…maybe I’m just an average teacher – or maybe even below average!

And I realize that being the best has become my idol…that is why I get so frustrated and overwhelmed when I face these issues in my class. The idol of perfection is a hard god to worship – you see, it is never satisfied. No matter what you do, you will always feel like you have to do more and be more.

But God does not expect me to be perfect…He knows my sins and my weaknesses, and He loves me anyway. Just as I am saved by grace, I am sustained by grace.  Why would I labor at the altar of perfectionism to a god who will never be satisfied when I have a Savior who is calling to me,

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  Matthew 11:28-29

When I realize that I don’t have to be perfect, my goal can change from being the best teacher to glorifying God…and all of my issues are seen in an entirely new light.

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink or whatsover ye do, do all to the glory of God   I Corinthians 10:31

I can glorify God through whatever I do in the classroom. I can glorify Him through a “boring” textbook/worksheet lesson. I can glorify Him when handling discipline problems and realizing that I perhaps have failed in a certain situation. This is not to say that I should not strive to improve my teaching…all good teachers are always learning and looking for ways to improve!  I am referring to those of us (myself included!) who feel overwhelmed by the unrealistic expectations and burdens we place on ourselves to be perfect teachers.

 

When I am focusing on glorifying God, then my day can not be ruined by a failed lesson, parent complaint, or student discipline issue. My eyes are too busy looking for ways in these circumstances to show my students how great our God is and how much He loves them. After all, as they go throughout their lives, is it more important for my students  to remember me as an incredible 4th grade teacher…or to remember their 4th grade teacher’s great God?

Being the perfect teacher is very subjective, and I will rarely “feel” that I am a great teacher. Honestly, right now, being the best teacher feels a little impossible.

Perfection is impossible.

But glorifying God is possible — under any circumstances.

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