Last summer, I wrote about my experience teaching in an inner-city alternative school. Now, in the throes of another school year, I find myself looking ahead to next year and what I can do differently. My list is full of small housekeeping items, like filing papers weekly and keeping student files up to date. These are important things to do, and I will probably have tons of sticky notes placed around my room to remember it all next year.
But even though these housekeeping items are important, the most important thing I, and every teacher, need to remember in preparing for the next school year is that there is no such thing as a “perfect teacher.”
What does a “perfect teacher” even look like? Everyone has their own idea. Most teachers find themselves falling into this unhealthy comparison. Living in a technology-filled world, we have so many model classrooms and teachers right at our fingertips. I find myself scrolling through Pinterest and Instagram trying to find that one creative activity for the upcoming week’s lesson plan. I longingly wish my classroom was as cool as the classroom down the hall. I watch movies and T.V. and find myself dreaming about having the impact on a student’s life like Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World or Hillary Swank’s character in Freedom Writers.
Unfortunately, comparisons like these cause us teachers—and specifically, us Christian teachers—to work like dogs at everything except what we are actually called to do: teach students and share the light of the gospel of Christ with them.
Becoming “the perfect teacher” is a task no one on earth will ever accomplish. The reality of the situation is that we are all imperfect sinners who will fail every single day. Responding in anger when I hear my name called for the millionth time in an hour reminds me that I am a sinner. Giving up on a lesson and sticking my kids with busy work on their laptops after a failed Pinterest activity dumps shaving cream all over the floor reminds me that I am a sinner. When I am too busy to listen to my students’ stories, even though I am the only person in their lives that gives them the time of day, reminds me that I am a sinner.
The harder I strive for perfection, the more I am suffocated by the realization that I am not the perfect teacher, and I can never be the perfect teacher.
The gospel for the teacher
Even though we are sinners, Christ died for us. He lived a sinless life, and died a sinner’s death on the cross so that we could be seen as righteous in the eyes of God (2 Cor. 5:21). His love for us is greater than our failures (1 John 3:20). Just as we are called to salvation, he has also called us as teachers to teach. This calling on our lives gives us faith that through the Holy Spirit, we are equipped with the power and wisdom to overcome these sins and share Christ’s love with our students.
Christian teacher, I am saved and have been called by Christ to be a teacher, specifically an inner city teacher. Each day I have to be reminded of the gospel of Jesus. The gospel message does not stop with our salvation, because we are daily becoming more like Christ. The gospel tells us that, yes, we are saved, but the Holy Spirit is continually teaching us and forming us to be more like Jesus, who is the Greatest Teacher.
Rejoice, teacher, that Jesus is better than our Pinterest catastrophes, our raised voices and our selfishness. When you are feeling down after a day full of failed activities and angry responses, remember that you are not the perfect teacher. Some days you will feel inadequate, and that is OK. Rest in the fact that we are inadequate, but Christ is more than adequate. He is the only Perfect Teacher, and his love for us is so great that he gives us the power to overcome our sins and the confidence to share his love with our students.
What does this look like for a Christian teacher on a daily basis?
1. Rest in the gospel. Remember that we have been justified of our sin and have been united with Christ in salvation. This is the most important thing a teacher can do, and anything that we “do” to improve as teachers must be built on this reality. But there are ways to daily live out this truth.
2. Being with the Word. I would recommend starting the morning by waking up early, getting some coffee and digging into God’s Word. Spending time reading, meditating and praying through scripture will prepare you for the long day ahead.
3. Pray continually. As you drive to school, pray for the day. And be specific with your prayers. For some, this may be a short drive, but for others this could be a long time spent pleading with Christ to use you to share his grace and love with your students. Talk with him about the failures from the day before, and pray for the power to overcome those failures through him.
When you walk into your classroom, pray for each student by name before you begin preparing for the day. You know your students’ struggles at home and at school. Pray for those specific needs. Ask Christ to let you be the tool he uses to shine his light on your students.
4. Talk and listen. After your students enter the classroom, take time to talk with each child and hear those stories that they so desperately want to share with you. When meeting with them, let them know how proud you are of them, and remind them that you want them to be successful. They need to hear this, because they may not hear it anywhere else. Share encouraging words to each child multiple times a day, even when it is hard. When you want to say something negative, replace it with a positive comment. They will remember the times that you could have been angry, and instead showed them love. And when you feel like yelling, pause and pray for patience.
These are not easy things to do in our flesh, but remember that we are not teaching for our glory—we are teaching for Christ’s glory. We are not teaching to become teacher of the year; we are teaching to give Christ’s love to our students. If you win teacher of the year, glory be to God. The Lord rewards those who are obedient to his calling. Yet, remember that we will not succeed without being completely dependent on the one who died for our sins. Cling to him every moment of the day. Have confidence, and give your students what we all crave: Christ’s love.
This post was originally published on Tabitha’s blog.