Why I Teach

This past week was National Teacher Appreciation week and I was blessed to be on the receiving end of a lot of love. It was so encouraging and very humbling to be acknowledged for just doing my job.

No doubt, teaching has changed dramatically over the years. This is my twenty-first year at my present school. And although I couldn’t ask for a more supportive environment, it’s definitely not the same job I originally signed up for two decades ago. Much of the professional autonomy is gone. Curriculum is driven by educational law largely lacking in common sense. Testing is out of control.

But the one thing that hasn’t changed is this – children still need somebody to love them and invest in them. They need someone who will care enough about them to hold them accountable. To say no to unacceptable behavior and yes to putting forth the necessary effort to succeed. They need somebody who will help them push past failure and cheer them on even when its hard.

Learning isn’t about perfection. It’s about progress.

Over the years, I’ve rejoiced in my students’ successes and agonized over their failures. And still I feel like I’m the lucky one. The one, who for at least a short while, got to walk that path of progress alongside them.

A few weeks ago a child in my class wrote me a note on the back of her math homework. She was moving to another state on short notice and on her last day of class she handed in her homework along with these words.

To the best 2nd grade teacher anybody could ever have.

School is very important. That is not why I like it though. I like it because of all of the people you can meet and the things you are able to learn. People become teachers. They take the time to teach us new things. Mrs. Gatts, yes, my teacher, helped me. She and all my teachers helped me learn and know what I do know. I love my teacher. I love you, Mrs. Gatts.

That’s why I do it.

That’s why I teach.

That’s why any loving teacher teaches. We love learning, but more than that, we love the learner.

Happy Teacher Appreciation week to all my fellow teachers! Keep loving the learners. They are so worth it.

 

 

How long?

The last day of school has finally arrived and the children are anxiously anticipating our awards program. Even though I have set the movable hands on the demonstration clock at the front of the room to 12:15 one little guy continues to ask, “How long ’til awards, Mrs. Gatts?”

After answering him multiple times throughout the morning I finally point to the clock and say, “What does the clock say?”

He screws up his face in concentration.

“3:00?’

“Try again. The little hand points toward the hour. The big hand tells how many minutes past.”

“Three after twelve?”

I sigh. Great. It’s the last day of school and he still doesn’t know how to tell time. Trying to maintain a happy heart I muster a smile.

“It’s 12:15,”  I tell him.

He smiles back.

“But how long ’till awards?”

This time I can’t help but chuckle.

“I tell you what, darlin’, ” I say. “When it’s time, I’ll tell you to line up. I promise I won’t let you miss it.”

His freckled nose crinkles up as he grins. “O.K.,” he says.

I get it.

Waiting is hard work. And not just for little boys. It’s hard for us big kids, too. It feels unnatural and uncomfortable.

“How long, O LORD?” I cry out. “How long before You hear my prayers and answer them?”

I want answers to my questions, solutions to my problems, sometimes even an end to my sufferings and I want it right now.

Today.

Actually, yesterday, if possible.

But God doesn’t schedule in His answers according to the calendar I keep. He loves me too much to rush the process. That intricate process of me becoming who I am to be.

Learning to be content in the waiting rooms of my life allows me to cultivate trust and obedience. Character traits that can only be grown in the slow, steady light of the Father’s perfect timing. Resting in the knowledge that God alone knows the when and where of my life.

So when impatience gets the best of me and I cry out, “How long, O LORD?” I can be confident that He sees me, freckled nose and all and says,

“I’ll tell you what, darlin’. When it’s time, I’ll tell you. And I promise I won’t let you miss it.”

 

 

 

No Expertise Required

When I was in the fifth grade my teacher wrote a high school level algebra problem on the chalkboard and challenged us to solve it. There were three stipulations:

1. It was to be done strictly as homework.

2. We would have to be ready to explain our solution to our classmates.

3. Because it was such an advanced level problem, our parents were allowed to help us.

Never before had I seen such a complicated, convoluted conglomeration of letters and numbers. Feeling doubtful about my mathematical expertise, I still felt compelled to try.

For one thing, I was very competitive when it came to all things school-related. For another, there was a candy prize for anyone who solved it. To the delight of my dentist’s banking account, candy was one of the driving motivators of my ten-year-old life.

That night as I sat at the dining room table struggling to make sense of the numbers and letters before me I came to a decision. I could either go to school the next day admitting defeat or I could ask my college educated parents for help. I chose the latter.

For the next half an hour my parents worked to find a solution while I sat by and watched. From time to time my mother would pop up her head and ask, “Are you sure your teacher said we could help you?” I would nod.

That nod was my sole contribution the process. Because the problem was so far over my head it was more likely that I would spin around and turn into Wonder Woman than it was for me to come up with anything relevant.

The next day I walked into the classroom, my well-worked problem secure under my arm, wondering how in the world I would explain that problem to the class. Math time arrived and our teacher asked which of us had accomplished the task. Only one other person had done the problem.

She asked the two of us come to the front to write out our equations. I might as well have been writing in Sanskrit for all I knew about what my piece of chalk was scratching across the chalkboard.

To my great relief, my classmate asked if he could be the one to explain the solution. As he enthusiastically pointed to parentheses and equal signs, I stood by, blank look on my face, still completely in the dark as to what any of it meant. Afterwards, the class applauded and we were each given a candy cane. I sat down feeling completely unworthily. Later, I tossed the candy cane into the garbage.

I couldn’t receive something I felt did not deserve.

So what’s the point?

Here it is. Jesus offers us something we don’t deserve and every one of us has the choice to happily receive it or throw it away.

We can gratefully accept that fact that by his death and resurrection we are saved. Our sins have been nailed to the cross and we can live as forgiven people under grace.

Or we can go through life, drowning under the weight of our own sin and unworthiness, refusing to accept the gift that He gives.

Let’s face it. We all sin and none of us are worthy. There is absolutely nothing we can contribute to the situation to solve that problem.

But, Good News!  He loves us just the same! Romans 5:8 tells me that God provided for me even while I was still in my sin.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

My sins separate me from God and I can do nothing on my own to remedy that. But God still made a way for me to reconnect.

His name is Jesus Christ. When I yield to Him, His grace pours over me.

I don’t have to stand by, palms sweating, afraid that my unworthiness will be exposed. Instead, Jesus stands in that gap for me. He takes my sins upon Him and reconciles me to the Father.

He did all the work on the cross.

As for me – no expertise required.

Thank-you, LORD.

The Bothersome Blessings

I braved the snowy less-than-desirable driving conditions out to my rural school only to find out that classes had been cancelled for the day. At first I was annoyed that I had somehow been omitted from the staff list that receives automated school closing text alerts. However, after some consideration I realized that it was only a minor inconvenience and had I not spent the hour driving back and forth here are the things I would have missed:

1. Opportunity to help another. As I made my way home I spotted two fur-clad little girls on the corner waiting for the school bus. I rolled down my window to relay the news. “School’s cancelled for the day, girls, because of the snow!” They smiled and waved and called out a thank-you before turning to walk away. At least I’d saved them from a few more frozen moments on the curb.

2. Views of the extraordinary white-washed scenery in all of its snowy splendor. The brown earth and bare trees had become things of beauty when they were blanketed in snow. The images reminded me of how Jesus covers me with His love and grace. That even though I am stained and dead in my sin I become pure and white through the blood of the Lamb.

3. Time spent in prayer for the parent of one of my students. My drive time is always a great opportunity for conversation with the Father. This morning I had asked Him to give special attention to one of the moms in my room. Her child had recently come to church at my invitation. She wanted to know if she could send his sisters on the van that had come to pick him up on Sunday. I assured her they could and then went on to invite her to come, too. She had looked away quickly without an answer, but not before I had seen her expression. It was one that had said, “I’m not worthy. You don’t know what I have done.” My heart went out to her and I wanted to say, “He loves you anyway.” So this morning I lifted her up to the throne and asked God to whisper His gentle love to her heart.

Suddenly, the trip that had seemed to be a bother, had become a blessing. Simply by changing the lens in which I viewed the situation made all the difference. Thank-you, Lord, for loving me so much that You continue call to me in all the bothersome, blessed places of my life.

Opportunity knocking

I swear I had only stepped out into the hallway for a minute before the morning bell rang. In truth, I was actually in the doorway but my back was to the classroom as my colleague and I briefly discussed the rescheduling of a cancelled field trip. As soon as I turned to face my class the town criers were up and out of their seats ready to tattle.

Ben and Jay were fighting!

Two very familiar culprits were then called into the hallway for an up-close and personal discussion with me. Out poured the stories, each one collaborating the other while putting the most favorable light on whomever was doing the telling.

“I was in the bathroom and he started knocking on the door saying, ‘911, this is an emergency. Come out with your hands up!’ and then I opened the door and he pushed me down. Then afterwards when he went into the bathroom I did the same thing to him.”

“No you knocked me down and started trying to do karate on me.”

All I could think was, “I was three feet away! How could that all have happened without me hearing it?”

In the end, nobody had suffered anything more than hurt feelings and a need to be right.

But isn’t that just like life is sometimes? We get distracted by things we deem more important and miss the more urgent issue that is right behind us? Like the overwhelming need to be right in a situation that really calls out for an act of mercy and compromise. Or giving into retaliation instead of offering up forgiveness. Am I not so unlike the eight year old boys who struggle to be heard as they tell their side of the story?

When did it become more important to be right than to be happy? Truly- it is the moment I decide that I am more important than somebody else. It is in the moment when I forget that I am called to be a child of God with a loving, humble and forgiving spirit. It is in the moment when I cease to listen with my heart.

I am thankful that I am surrounded by chances to grow each day. Even in the ordinary classroom squabbles or the sometimes annoying inconveniences there can be a hidden opportunity. For it is within those less then desirable circumstances that change can be found. And it is there that I can choose to expand into a little better version of myself. A version that looks a little less like me and a little more like Jesus.