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Warren and C, sacred teaching and gangbanging

Two days ago a seventh grader named Warren got “zapped” (apparently a game of dare) to take a lunch tray covered in mustard, mayo, ketchup, and spit and mush it in a kid named Robert’s face. Supposedly a lot of kids don’t like Robert, especially the popular boys, so they dared Warren to do this. Warren did it, even though, supposedly, he knew he’d get expelled for it.

I happened to be monitoring the hallway just outside the caf when this happened. I heard an increase in volume, then heard Ms. Maul yelling, then saw Ms. Maul’s face looking very strangely intense as she called for me. Before I moved an inch, Warren was walking out the door grinning and Robert was behind him, Maul backwalking in front of him. Robert’s face and hair was covered in condiments.

Ms. Maul tried to restrain Robert but he walked past her. I grabbed Robert, but Robert wasn’t kidding, he really wanted to get to Warren and he was almost my size. Praise God, the Holy Spirit gave me the strength necessary to stop Robert right there with some kind of hold around the chest. (Equally praiseworthy, the white shirt I was wearing only had slight mustard on one sleeve afterwards.) Robert struggled fiercely, and probably would have started throwing elbows, had he not (again praise to God) gotten control of himself at Ms. Maul’s urging. Had he elbowed me, it’s likely that he would have been suspended, too.

Here’s the thing: Robert’s got what seems to be a well-earned reputation for being overly flirtatious with girls that are “off limits.” This has earned him enemies. But there are even some teachers who seem to think Robert got what he deserved today. This is crazy. Robert is an early teen adolescent at our urban school whose certainly made foolish choices and stirred the pot too many times.

But if we want to start saying who deserves getting spit and mustard and ketchup and mayo jammed in their face, we better start lining up students and staff alike. I’ll sit down and go first, because I know I deserve it for some of the things I’ve said in anger, the instructional mistakes I’ve made, the oversights, the things I’ve said about kids to other teachers, the kinds of talk I’ve drank in from other teachers about kids. The list of
my transgressions in the school building is immense.

Were it not for the free grace of Christ and the eternally firm certainty that He is unconditionally committed to my redemption, I’d have no reason to continue teaching. “Making a difference” stopped being an idol for me sometime over the last year as I realized that I’m not a savior, but actually a part of the problem.

The answer to educational failures as far as teachers go isn’t ultimately better trained, better motivated, more moral teachers, etc (those these are all good things), it’s redeemed teachers. It’s not new faces we need, it’s new hearts. It’s not highly qualified teachers we need, it’s teacher with gospel-changed hearts. I’m not talking about religious teachers, I’m talking about teachers engaged in the all-of-life, gospel-centered repentance that comes from Jesus.

You want a solid teaching staff? Don’t look at their lesson plans, look at their willingness to repent. Listen to their story–has repentance been a part of it, or apart from it? Is it all about them, or all about the kids, or all about Jesus?

This is where the gospel gets offensive, and can even seem stupid. But we are too screwed up and broken to live for, kids are too screwed up and broken to live for (and remember that we’re too screwed up and broken to save them), so that leaves Jesus as the only motivation for teaching.

With Jesus, teaching changes from being a million things to being one: sacred, walking with God, holy, even in the filthy mess I make of it. And trust me, I make a filthy, filthy mess of it.

God thank You for wonderfully making Warren and Robert, and ask that You’d deliver both from hatred and womanizing and peer pressure and any other demons that chase them.

Something happened yesterday that also caused me pause: C, my mentee, was sent to the board for expulsion. Here’s what I gather happened:

C was sitting in a study carrel in Ms. Booker’s room. While there, he drew several gang graffiti symbols. When Ms. Booker saw him doing it, she asked him if he’d drawn those things, and he said yes. She called Mr. King in, and C again confessed. Gang graffiti has been popping up around our 7th grade trailers, so this was no small offense. C was taken to the office, and he left the premises.

This is pretty heartbreaking. It all seems so premeditated. C is smart. He’s thoughtful. And yet he drew these things, in front of a teacher, then confessed, then walked off.

C has poured his heart out to me many times during our weekly restaurant trips on Wednesday nights to Cici’s pizza buffet. He’s struggled with a psychological addiction to weed for at least a year now. During some of that time he has tried to quit and failed. He’s been at times driven to succeed, and at times driven to do nothing. Always he’s been full of visions for the future. He was expelled once this year for testing positive for being high in school. He had his best quarter of the year at the alternative school.

Then he came back, tight lipped and ready to do business. That was three months ago. Now he’s on his way back out again. I spoke with him just last Wednesday, and yesterday (Tuesday) is when this stuff happened.

Once on our way to the restaurant I swear I saw C flash a hand signal out the window at another boy. I don’t know anything about gang signs or any of this, so I couldn’t be sure. But the detailed (and, according to our school officer, authentic) gang symbols we’d been seeing on our trailer walls reminded me of C’s hand, there was just no proof.

God, I prayed about this last night, and I’ll do it again. I thank You for all the gifts You’ve given C, for the talks about You that we’ve had, for what seems at times to be at least an intellectual belief in Your Son, but God, I ask that You would deliver C from the bonds that hold him, the bonds of gangbanging (or faking it) and of drug use. God, he’s surrounded by a cloud of evil. You’ve given him such an incredible array of excellent talent. Lord, make His joy You. Make His food Your Word.

This will all take a miracle.

But what is impossible for You?

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About davestuartjr
Dave Stuart Jr. is a full-time teacher who writes about becoming better, saner teachers at TeachingtheCore.com. He is a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Crystal, and a father to Hadassah, Laura, and Marlena.

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