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A Call to the Weak, not the Perfect

I spent all last summer writing and re-writing these cover letters to go on top of my resume. The thing is, when you write one of these, you don’t exactly highlight the mediocre moments of your career. You emphasize awards, accomplishments, publications, abilities, obstacles.

You don’t mention that almost every day either you got yelled at by a student, or you yelled at one. You don’t mention that getting a Rookie of the Year award testifies more to how generous your friends are than to how good your teaching is. You don’t highlight how each day you began on your knees begging God to do something–anything–to rescue you and your students and your school, because you had no clue what else to do.

Nope, you’ve gotta simplify your story for a cover letter. You’ve gotta turn the Thanksgiving dinner of reality into a five-piece chicken nugget. And you better make it tasty.

Lemme tell ya, when you write enough of those cover letters, your memories start to transform into those chicken nuggets. You forget the hours spent on the phone with parents, many of whom were unhappy, some of whom yelled; the restaurant nights with groups of students, when they often would misbehave or show ingratitude; the miles from dropping that one kid off every day who just happened to live the furthest he possibly could from the school, and your inability to reach him despite the time investment. And you forget just how many times it was only God, answering those desperate prayers, who turned your bumbling lessons from the acorns they were to the oak trees they became.

You lose grip on how weak you are, and how perfectly that weakness works for God. You forget what God meant when he said, “My grace is sufficient. My power is made perfect in weakness,” and you forget how Paul responded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me…. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

No, you forget the reality of how weak you are. You begin looking at weakness like it’s a sin. You become this self-righteous Pharisee. And then, all of sudden, your weakness becomes a boogey man that you have to run from.

And that’s how I entered this past school year–trying to cover up the many weaknesses that I bring to teaching. I was trying to live out that surreal “cover letter” Dave Stuart, that package for the purchasing. I attempted to catch up to my new peers, who seemed all to have read ten times the teaching research I had. I tried their strategies, failed, tried again, usually failed again.

Yet, slowly, I grew. Because of the stellar nature of my colleagues and the relatively agreeable make-up of the students I now teach, my professional growth over the past year has been unprecedented. I’ve read more than one teaching book. Barely.

But God only lets you run away from your weakness for so long. Eventually, he takes your hand, and he walks you over to it, and he reminds you, Son, it’s important for you to work hard, but if you keep acting like you’re so strong, you’re gonna lose touch with reality. Your heart will be so brittle that, when you inevitably do mess up, you’ll either avoid the truth of it, or you’ll snap.

That’s kinda what he did to me yesterday. I’ve been teaching To Kill a Mockingbird to Sophomores, and lately, our discussions and close readings have grown stale. So, I read about this strategy in my one teaching book that prescribed giving students a packet of articles on a topic in the novel you’re reading. I stayed after school and dug up articles that in any way could be related to Harper Lee’s book–remember the Jena 6? the Duke Lacrosse scandal? the Katrina controversy? how about the Matthew Shepard murder?–hoping that, instead of seeing prejudice as a merely black-white, that-was-then-this-is-now issue, that students would grapple with the complexity of cases that had happened within their lifetimes.

By the time the lesson was over, I had seen some promising things. Student groups had been mature enough to handle their articles with appropriate sobriety, and some students had even vocalized profound questions like, “Where did prejudice come from?” Yet, most had not asked such questions. Most of the presentations needed me to step in and clarify major misunderstandings.

And as I was reflecting on this lesson, about to lament how poorly I had planned yet again, a friend sent me an email, in which he mentioned, “Whatever we discuss about education, the bottom line is that we answered God’s calling to teach and He directed… [and] used… us to accomplish His work in the lives of others….  It still amazes me that He can do that–use this imperfect person to glorify Him in the public school system.”

That was what I was missing: an acknowledgment that the greatness of my teaching career will come not from how good my lessons are but from how able God is to fill in the cracks I leave. Don’t misread me: this doesn’t mean I get to stop trying my hardest to become an excellent teacher. It just means that I no longer have to work to prove myself; it means that I can actually boast in my weakness, like Paul did, because when I try my hardest and still fall short, my identity isn’t threatened, because it doesn’t come from my success in the classroom; it comes from a God who died for me.

So, I’m gonna continue to work hard at my calling, even when the heartaches and headaches come. But, thanks to God, now I can stop running from being weak; now I can stop living in a chicken nugget dreamworld. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

– – –
I pray that this piece will help you to use the gospel to look at your weaknesses at work without being threatened.
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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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