Taking Flight

On teaching while Christian

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(Photo by Aleks Dahlberg on Unsplash)

My thoughts for this post are difficult to grasp. Sometimes I feel as if thoughts and feelings are bottled up inside me and floating all around me just out of reach when it comes to the impetus of where my dream of teaching and being a Christian meet. I feel choked up by words that I am afraid to say because this is not an easy topic. Sometimes it’s as if I haven’t been given the appropriate vocabulary to navigate this. It’s not like I have anyone modeling what I need in grad school. For many of my peers I would imagine this topic might ere on the rocky edge of taboo. Excuse me as I imagine a sharp cliff with nothing but menacing waves and daggers below.

I’m not a teacher yet, but I’m going to be. Few professions carry as much baggage and dignity at the same time. Plagued with headlines about underfunding, emergency certification, growing class sizes, and standardized testing, teaching is not an easy job. So many factors have to converge on one another in just the right spot – teacher personality, the group of students, administration, community and school culture – or it all collapses.

Tensions are high when it comes to how education should be done. Everyone has an opinion but no viable solution. But tensions may be worse with the social climate.

In my first class of the semester, a group of seniors and some grad students sat in an awkward makeshift circle in a room that was not quite right for the class or the circle we tried to form so we could talk to each other. I sat between two of my grad student friends, but I wonder if they know of the waves and daggers I saw.

As class began, we started discussing moments in high school when we felt like we were soaring in the classroom and when we felt like we were falling flat on our faces. It came around to one student who started to talk about how it was during high school when he was coming out. It was a difficult time for him. I could only imagine it was. But there was a teacher he was very close to that he was most worried about finding out. He went on to explain that this teacher was very religious and how that contributed to his anxiety during that time. This same teacher was approached by students to be a sponsor for the school’s GSA, Gay Straight Alliance for those who are unfamiliar.

So, I sat in my seat but I felt as if I was standing at the edge of that cliff, the sight of ominous waves and rocks below. Muscles tense, breathing short, pupils dilated. The Enemy was using fear against me but jokes on him. Because I wondered, how much Jesus can I show my students?

 

I would never think to say anything harmful to my students but I am apprehensive for the day when a student approaches my desk and ask me to support something that I can’t. I’m anxious about the repercussions that saying no might bring, and I’ll carry them along with the rest of my cross if need be. I am prayerful that my students will understand that I am not trying to be mean or spiteful but that I cannot compromise the very core of who I am for anything.

 

So, right now I’m asking myself how does my religion as the teacher of a high school English class influence how I actually teach and how I go about other activities related to my job? Because it’s not as if I cease to be a Christian for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Faith and religion essentially should effect every aspect of our lives if we’re doing it right.

I’ve noticed that there are the parts of my being a Christian that people are okay with. They love to talk about the importance of love and how Jesus loved people. They love to arrogantly tell me that they are certain that Jesus was a socialist when they aren’t even a Christian and have hardly read an iota of the Bible. They like to bring up Jesus’s one violent outburst, but they don’t really care about his reasoning for doing so. They like to remember how Jesus spared the woman who was caught in adultery, but they like to forget that Jesus also said to her to go and sin no more.

And other parts of my being a Christian…well they probably would not enjoy much of that either.

Legally, I won’t be able to tell my students about Jesus in words. I can’t tell them about the magnificence of His grace or the power of His perfect and true love. I won’t be able to explain to them how Jesus saves. I can’t tell them about sin and what that means and what it is. And there is a part of me that is okay with that. I’m okay with that because some of my students may not be Christians and I don’t want to use my position of power and superiority to bully my students into Christianity. That’s not how any of this winning souls works.

I don’t expect my students, especially those who want nothing to do with Christianity, to be force feed a religion. Like any other human being, I don’t expect my non-Christian students to behave like Christians. That would be irrational and silly.

But it’s not like I stop being a Christian when I walk through the doors of the school. It’s not like I stop being clothed in Christ when I sit down at my desk or stand up in front of my students.

When I start teaching, I can’t teach Christianity but I can teach while being a Christian. And I can show students mercy when they act up and forgiveness when they cross the line and patience when they are just not getting it. I can show them grace and love and compassion. I can be joyful when I show up to teach them even when my life at and away from work may not be worthy of joy. I can do my best to create a peaceful environment in spite of the differences in my classroom. I can show them kindness. I can show them goodness. I can show them faithfulness. I can be gentle with them in my criticisms and feedback and general speech. I can be self-controlled in my anger when they are getting on my last nerve.

Because if I can’t tell my students about Jesus, then I plan to show him to them through my actions.

What challenges have you faced in the classroom because of your faith?

 

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Taking Flight

A Call to Teach

Many of the teachers I have had throughout my life often said that the best way to know you’ve mastered a subject or concept is your ability to teach someone else. Another thing I also heard from many of my teachers is that when you start teaching others, you often times turn into the student, learning something from people you never thought could teach you anything and learning in ways you never thought you would.

In my twenty years of existence, I’ve had some stellar teachers from school, Bible school, in my family and among my friend groups. All in all, these teachers have taught me to love the Word and to love words (which is saying something coming from an introvert). I could list these teachers and the many things they have taught me but to do so would take too long. Instead, I will just say that all the amazing men and women who have taken the time to teach me have affected my life more than I ever thought they would.

There have been many points in my life where I have seriously considered and toyed with the idea of being a teacher because of the extraordinary people who taught me. Starting in 8th grade, I told my academic counselor that I wanted to be an English teacher. Within a year I thought about being a journalist and then as I progressed in high school I wanted to do PR, but the idea of being a teacher never completely went away. I remember in my freshman year of college I seriously debated getting a degree in both public relations and English because I thought one day I would want to teach, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it right out of college. And now I’ve started to seriously consider getting a master’s and the thought of getting a master’s in English education has crossed my mind a time or two, but so has a master’s in strategic communications or mass communications management.

Though the plans of the eighth grade version of me have faded in and out of my mind year after year, my love for words has not. My mom likes to say that she never could get a football out of my brother’s hands and books out of mine (and that’s probably partly her fault). When I was first learning to read, I remember we would read about the hilarious adventures of Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park. It was a night-time ritual of ours because she thought I wasn’t reading at the level I should be. From that point in my life I became the kid who would take a book to recess or work on stories I was writing…I guess that was the hazard in helping me read so what I’m trying to say is that this is all your fault, mom! But I wouldn’t have it any other way because as I went through middle school and high school my love for words continued to grow. From seventh grade to my senior year of high school, the line up of English teachers I had is the academic equivalent of the 1992 U.S.A. Olympic basketball dream team. I’ll let them fight over who would be Michael Jordan in this scenario.

At a whole other level is a place special made for the teachers who taught me about the Bible. Regardless of the career I have, these are the teachers I want to imitate. Regardless of the career I have, this is one subject I hope I will always teach. Whether it be in an actual Bible class or in the way I live me life, I aim to be a source of God’s Word even to those who don’t believe.

Last week, I had the opportunity to both imitate and teach the Word at a church camp in south central Oklahoma. For a whole week, I was a counselor to fifth and sixth grade girls and these girls changed my life. People tell me I’m brave, but bravery as nothing to do with it. It takes a bit of patience and a lot of love and with that you can teach anyone. During a week where it rained non-stop for three days straight, it took more patience, or “bravery” if you prefer, to teach by example than to teach these young, squirmy and loveable girls in the two Bible classes I taught. It rained so much, I thought I would never be dry again, but the positive attitudes from both the campers and the counselors left me with lessons learned from young ten and eleven year old girls who I thought wouldn’t and couldn’t teach me all that they did.

If the question is to teach or not to teach, then the answer for me will always be to teach regardless of my career path.

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