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What Do You Do When You Hear of Spectacular Student Sins?

Whether you teach on the Upper East Side of Manhattan or within the city limits of Baltimore or along a cornfield in Smallville, USA, you are bound to hear occasional reports of the self-destructive doings of your secondary students. I hate it when it happens, but, if you’re paying attention to your kids and seeking to know them better, you’re bound to come across reports of  students you love hacking away at their souls with pre-marital sex, substance abuse, or other foolish deeds. Yet, when we do, what should we do with this information?

One option is to ignore it. “I’m not a counselor,” we might rightly say, and then we move on with our instructional duties. This is true; we aren’t counselors. But, as Christians, we have the Wonderful Counselor residing within us; we have a constant communication link to the counselor who makes the most highly-paid counselors of our era seem like doddering fools. I don’t think that, as Christians, with access to the infinitely wise Creator of our students, we can simply ignore reports like these, though it surely may be a way to protect ourselves from emotionally draining information.

Another option is to laugh to ourselves or with a colleague. “These kids,” we might say. Using humor to cover up the intense hurt that our students are doing to themselves is just another form of self-protection.

A common option in these situations is to gossip about it. Gossip is the telling of unpleasant truths. Any time we share information about a student’s self-destructive exploits with someone besides the student or someone who can help the child, we gossip. Alarmingly, I find myself participating in this far too often. Just like the previous options, this is a form of self-protection. By telling someone, I get it off my chest.

Ultimately, this is a moral decision that cannot be joyfully made apart from the Gospel. Christ makes moral decisions both incredibly easy and infinitely challenging. He tells us that the first law is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We go to God with these disturbing tales; we seek and receive true comfort from our talks with Him, not the counterfeit comfort that comes with the thrill of sharing a dirty secret with a colleague. And the second command, Christ says, is similar: we are to love our neighbors just as we love ourselves.

But our students are not our neighbors… right? Asking “Who is my neighbor?” in response to Christ’s second command is as old as the command itself—and Christ responds with the parable of the good Samaritan, which effectively says, “The person right in front of you is your neighbor, whether they are of the same class, job, status, gender, or whathaveyou.” Our students are our neighbors, and we are to love them as we would want to be loved if we were them.

So, when we hear these secrets and are tempted to either ignore them or divulge them to colleagues, we can simply “put ourselves in their shoes.” If we were the student, making similarly terrible decisions, yet knowing deep down that these decisions were destroying us, what would we want done? First of all, I wouldn’t want someone to ignore or laugh about it; at least, deep down I wouldn’t. And second, I certainly wouldn’t want it spread around fruitlessly. What good would all of my teachers knowing my sin do for me? Nothing except do what I find teacher gossip most often does: create a tiny voice in the teacher’s head that says, “That student is unreachable. Move on to someone else.”

No, I wouldn’t want that. Instead, knowing what I know now, I’d want two things: first, for the teacher to pray for me; second, for the teacher to prayerfully pull me aside and ask me how things were going, perhaps even confronting me in a humble-bold manner.

The next time we hear of a stomach-churning, debaucherous deed done by one of our students, let’s put off the temptation to ignore it or laugh about it or gossip, instead turning to God with joy that we are able to be part of the redemptive work that Christ’s infinitely powerful blood and resurrection have made possible.

What do you do in these situations? What do you do when a colleague comes to you and begins gossiping about a student’s sin?

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Series: How to Stay in our Job “with God”: Creative Productivity for a Purpose

2. We make much of Christ in our secular work by the joyful, trusting, God-exalting design of our creativity and industry.

Creative Productivity for a Purpose

There is a lot underneath this heading in John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life, but I’ll try to summarize it all here with a sentence from Piper:

“…[T]he essence of our work as humans must be that it is done in conscious reliance on God’s power, and in conscious quest of God’s pattern of excellence, and in deliberate aim to reflect God’s glory (141).

There’s enough meat in that one sentence to keep me busy in my secular workplace for the rest of my life! In short: we work in our secular workplaces with God when we strive for creative productivity for a purpose.

“As Good as Prayer”

Piper also addresses a common error made by well-meaning folks of faith in their secular workplaces: neglecting the responsibilities of our jobs in favor of “exercises of devotion” (e.g., prayer, Bible reading, fasting)–in other words, “personal piety to the neglect of secular duties”–is hypocritical (141). Jonathan Edwards once wrote about his wife as an example of the opposite of this error: “worldly business has been attended with great alacrity, as part of the service of God; [she declared] that it being done thus, ’tis found to be as good as prayer;” (quoted in Piper, 141).

Piper goes on: “True personal piety feeds the purposeful work of secular vocations rather than undermining it. Idleness does not grow in the soil of fellowship with God” (142).

Summary

The second way to bring God to work is:

  1. Consciously relying on his power
  2. Consciously shaping the world after his excellence (and thereby doing excellent work)
  3. Thereby being satisfied in him.
  4. Thereby having Him glorified in us.

Application

For me as a public school English teacher, excellent work means:

  • Grading papers in a manner that is most helpful to students.
  • Grading with honesty and accuracy on all graded assignments.
  • Planning lessons not with teacher ease as the highest priority, but with whatever will most effectively make the lesson accessible and meaningful to students.
  • Incorporating a moral bedrock to all classroom instruction, both with words and with deeds.

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.