The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word ... (Isaiah 50:4).
It's September. Summer's gone. The passing bell rings and scores of students merge into a jabbering phalanx of teenagers: the cool and the unnoticed, the ambitious and the disaffected, middle linebackers and flutists, the gay, the straight, the confused. Bumping and grazing and side-stepping one another; anxious, confident, terrified, depressed, angry, sleep-deprived; texting, gossiping, trying hard to be seen, trying hard not to be seen, arriving at the next class to enjoy or endure or disrupt the lesson.
Being a teacher and a Lutheran carries its own tension. For teaching can be miserable if you are seen as a pushover: discourteous pupils, humiliating encounters with your supervisors, a sense that all you had hoped to do for your students went bust.
And yet, you are a Lutheran, and that means you can't be content to simply run a disciplined classroom for your own comfort's sake. That would be a tepid response to God's free gift of grace.
So what do you do? Prayer helps: thanking God for the abilities and talents and interests that made you a teacher, and for the teachers who inspired you. Praying that in school you will do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God as you teach. Praying that as that scrum of students surges down the hall you will see the face of Christ in each of their faces. Praying for your students, and for the adults who serve them. Praying that you will find the right blend of kindness and rigor to keep your students growing — intellectually, emotionally and morally.
And, often, praying for a given student by name. This last form of prayer can be the thing that keeps you going with the student who concerns you most at a given point in time.
As a Christian teacher you have to love — even if you may not always like — that student.
But what does that mean? More than a decade ago, my pastor shared a definition of the love that you could employ with that youth and every one of your students: you support, care for, lift up the child.
An American public high school is a very secular place. Subtly, and without violating civil liberties, a teacher can make it a holy one.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers