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Loving the Unlovable

There is a student I sometimes interact with as a substitute–I will call him Monty. The first time I met him, he was disrespectful. He made jokes toward me, referred to me flippant, and was persistently off-task and disruptive.

Because my identity comes not from how I am treated by others, but from how God views me in Christ, I can respect people like Monty even when they disrespect me. Even though my gut wanted to roughly rebuke him, Christ’s love allowed me to take an interest in him, to genuinely serve his interests.

The second time I encountered Monty, I was teaching his least favorite class (Math), and I was doing it during his least favorite period (last hour). As soon as directions were given, Monty zoomed out of his seat and nearly ran into someone. I pulled Monty aside and began to speak with him, but I could get a word in, he said something like, “Here we go, another teacher who hates me.”

“No, Monty, I don’t hate you! Far from it. Do you feel like all the other teachers do hate you?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you think they would hate you?”

“I don’t know. They just hate me.”

“Well, Monty, do you behave in their classes like you just behaved in here, rushing around and nearly running into someone.”

“Yeah, sometimes, I guess. I don’t know. Can I go now?”

“No, Monty, not yet. If you were in my class and you regularly behaved like that, I’d have a hard time liking you, because, to me, you would be the kid who was regularly a wild card. But I don’t think that’s who you really are. Based on the way I see you talk with other students, I can tell you’re smart. Also, I can see that you’re well-liked by your students. I don’t think that comes from being a hateworthy person.”

“Okay, can I go now? I’m having a bad day, and I’m really pissed off.”

“Well Monty, I know you can change your image with your teachers. I encourage you to try it.”

I didn’t get any positive reactions from Monty that day–on the contrary, I seemed only to be a nuisance to him. But, again, since my identity comes not from how valuable Monty views me as, but instead as how valuable God sees me as now that I am part of Christ’s body, I can take belittlement.

As I learned more about Monty through several other meetings with him, I began to pray for him. Whenever I saw him in the hallway, I would ask how his day was going. He’d be honest–“Not that great, not that bad”–and I’d be honest, too.

Today, I got the chance to teach Monty again. Contrary to what he was used to, I didn’t strong-arm him. I didn’t try to subdue him at the slightest hint of misbehavior. Instead, I tried to communicate his value: Asking him if he needed help on the assignment (instead of implying that he was goofing off); expressing genuine concern when he said he would be leaving the school after next week, shaking his hand and saying, “Take care.”

At the end of the class, God pierced the dark clouds over Monty’s life right now with light. He was the last one out, and, before he left, he shook my hand and said, “Have a good day.”

In Mark 4, Jesus tells a parable of a man who night and day scatters seeds. This man doesn’t know how the seeds grow, but they do. That’s what we do as gospel-centered teachers: we scatter seeds, night and day. When we’re not with the students and they pop into our minds, we pray for them. When we’re with them, we express their value as human beings made in God’s image, regardless of how they behave.

God does the rest.

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Pencil Experiment

I decided last Monday morning to put out 12 new pencils in the pencil jar and monitor their progress. You can see the results here: http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pazxn17LO61JC489e3T4ANw <http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pazxn17LO61JC489e3T4ANw>

I noticed that if I put a mixture of pencils out in the morning, those left at the end of the day tended to be the shortest ones. And yet, on not one day was a child idle due to lack of a pencil. A long pencil is not required for even 40 minutes’ worth of straight writing workshop, so today, on Friday, an insight popped into my head as I was looking at yet another pencil I’d found outside. This one had some nice length to it. Why not break it in half? I did. I sharpened the newly broken piece. I looked at my desk where I’d set the pencils. Two pencils.

Suddenly, the price of pencils changed from 98 cents per dozen to 49 cents per dozen — a fifty percent decrease! Pencils cease to be the classroom management issue they’ve been in the past. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for little surprises, and for making a pencil predicament into a fun experiment.

Control

I get itchy with fear thinking about my classroom getting out of control, and even moreso having someone else–especially a colleague–see the chaos. And that’s one reason why Mr. Scriven moving to Woodlawn High next year and Mrs. Maul moving to a different middle school (and all of the other staff changes that seem set to take place next year) may be the best things that’ve happened to me. Mr. Scriven has been like a protector for me, someone I could go to when I knew I needed backing up in a challenging situation. In politics, you collect mutually beneficial relationships; in the gospel, Jesus made Himself bereft of the ultimate relationship so that we might never lack it.

It’s easy as a public school teacher to begin living politically rather than in, for, and through the gospel. As I walk through feelings of bitterness and despair towards what once seemed like a solid and clear future, I’m drawn to reflect on Christ’s victory over my greatest enemies of fear and evil and death. If next year I don’t have a “supportive administration,” let me recall Christ who was not just unsupported by administration, but mocked, beaten, and killed by them. My fear of having a classroom that appears out of control is conquered by Christ’s final day, where it appeared He had no control at all. He could have done an infinite array of things to regain control that day, but He did nothing–in fact, He didn’t even defend Himself from mockery.

If these administrative changes for next year take my friends, my administrative support, my effectiveness at my job, or whatever else, but they give me a greater depth of relationship and intimacy with God, I have lost nothing and gained everything.