He looked up at me with big round eyes, not with a look of defiance, but of defeat. He could not pick up that pencil and begin working on his math assignment. He just did not have the energy to overcome the resistance. For several weeks now, I had tried praise and bribery- contracts, prizes, reduced homework, Tootsie rolls…nothing worked. I sat next to him- feeling a bit defeated myself. “Did you know my grandpa got a purple heart when he was in the war?” He said in that way kids do when they hope the comment will distract from the goal at hand. “Really! That’s cool.” I said. Then a teacher “ding! ding!” went off in my head. “Hey, if I gave you a purple heart every time you did your math, would you like that?” He perked up. Smiled. Picked up his pencil and started the arduous process of solving the long division problems. He kept at it until the page was complete. I thought he might be disappointed when I cut out a purple heart from construction paper, but he was delighted. For the next few months, he was happy to complete his math for one simple paper heart to add to his collection. Divine inspiration? I like to think it was. I gave him purple hearts. He gave me the gift of joy and a lesson in listening and being willing to do what it takes to help reach a struggling student. This is teaching- a trove of treasures.
If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Romans 12:8 NIV
I dreamt of being a teacher from a very young age. Nevertheless, nothing (not all the instruction on classroom management, lesson planning, and a host of other education related topics) had prepared me for the feeling of walking in that fifth grade classroom on the first day of my student teaching experience-surrounded by young minds depending on me to help them glean knowledge. It was intimidating and exciting. As soon as I stood in front of those students to teach, I was at home. A home built around a long sustained aspiration- walls of warmth and doors of possibilities staring at me with eager eyes. Wow!
Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. Proverbs 16:3
Finally, after ten weeks of learning from a wonderful mentor teacher, trying new things and reflecting on successes and failures, and falling in love with those 27 young people, I graduated and received my Bachelor’s degree. I was proud of myself and excited for my future. One day soon I was actually going to walk into my own classroom surrounded by my own students. I was finally, amazingly, going to be a teacher. What an incredible treasure.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. Colossians 3:23
I was hired that first year to teach at a highly-impacted high-risk school. I was advised to work in this setting for a couple of years and then I would be able to move to an easier school. I stayed for eight years. Many of the adults and teens in the surrounding areas were local gang members. On our first back-to-school night, we had to employ uniformed police officers to be on hand in case there was trouble among rival gangs. Some of our students went home daily to unimaginable horrors. Some were in foster homes and some had no home at all. I taught one bright young man who had to study during his lunch hour and hide his homework because he would be ridiculed (or worse) at home for taking school seriously. Many of our students were just learning to speak English. Though it was hard and heartbreaking and sometimes scary, everything about that school was where I was supposed to be. It was a powerful place to begin my teaching career. I had no doubt that as teachers we impacted our students every single day. I knew that for many coming to school was their only safe place. These kids stole my heart and taught me so much about compassion and strength and surpassing difficulties. Teaching and learning at this school was another amazing gift. Thank you, Lord
I also taught in a school where many of our students came from affluent homes. The back-to-school night here was very different. There were no police officers patrolling the grounds; no prizes or free food to entice reluctant parents to attend the event. We had 100% parental attendance and one of the first parents I noticed come through the door was a well-known 70’s pop star. A famous author’s children attended the school as well as other celebrities’ kids. The patrons at this educational institution also taught me fabulous life lessons. I learned that despite differing economic status, we all share a common desire to want what is best for our children. I learned that no-one escapes trials and challenges. They are sometimes just different ones. I learned a committed kind of love from a super cute boy with down syndrome who could not leave my classroom each day without expressing his love for me. I learned how to be part of helping heal grief from a sweet little girl who kept her brother’s framed picture on her desk and wrote letters to him when she was feeling sad. Kids from all walks of life share joys, fears, hurts, and concerns and just want to belong, feel accepted, and be seen and acknowledged. My fourth grade students from this school remain cherished parts of my heart as well. I am so thankful for the gift of teaching them.
May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands. Psalm90:17
I believe that I was meant to be a teacher and yet I have made plenty of mistakes- probably at least one a day. To this day, I am learning truths to help me become a better educator. It is a challenging high-stress job where I heard once that most teachers have to make approximately 600 decisions a day. It involves long hours and children with as many different personalities and problems as ribbon designs in a party shop. I am not and will never be even close to perfect at it. But, for me, teaching was a colorful box filled with passion and purpose. Once opened, it gave me a sense of success I had never felt before. I did not always dance with joy over the challenges of day-to-day teaching, but I never doubted that it was what I was supposed to do. Having that assurance for all these years has been an powerful energizing prize for me and kept me from giving up.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10
I was blessed to teach my last 14 years in an elementary school that could be described as economically middle-of-the-road, but to me there was nothing average about this incredible school. Not only did I partner with wonderfully supportive parents, I worked with amazing teachers and administrators, a fabulous school secretary and secretarial staff, compassionate custodians, dedicated lunch staff and aides, and more. If I had time, I could easily describe many instances where miracles occurred because of these people who showed up every day to hand out their unique gifts in order to ensure that our students received a quality education. It was an invigorating experience.
“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.” Mr. Fred Rogers
The best gifts, of course, come from the students. I could write a separate book on the many treasures they have been to me. Each time I run into a former student and am greeted with a hug and a smile, I am so blessed. I have been amazingly fortunate to have seen them graduate, get married, go on to have children of their own. They have been my teachers, as well as my students, for all of these years and I am grateful to each one of them for the lessons and joy they have given to me. Thanks to all of you- “A” you are adorable- just sayin!
I dedicate this Thursday’s blog to all of the wonderful students, parents, administrators, and school staff that help keep the education treasures flowing. In particular during this back-to-school month, I honor the teachers who bring their gifts through those glass doors every day in order to share their talents, purpose, and passion with the students placed in their care. You are amazing!
As always, thank you so much for joining me this week. I pray that each and every one of you would be encouraged and strengthened in the gifts and natural talents you have been given. I am so grateful for your support and encouragement to me.