Teaching the Teacher – Who is Teaching whom at School?

Teaching the Teacher

Who is Teaching Whom?

Teaching the Teacher
A Classroom in Waiting

Whenever I have some time off I begin to reflect on the classroom and the precious kids that I am so lucky to spend time with five days out of every week. I get so much out of this vocation. Most recently, I have been pondering the question, “Who is doing most of the teaching? The students or me?” The truth is that my students have always been teaching the teacher even when I didn’t realize it. I have been given the grace by God to continually see children in a whole, new light as He reveals new insights to me through them. As I looked over the classroom of 15 kids marching down the hallway the other day they appeared to me as little soldiers for Christ. I began realizing how they are God’s army, called to do his will. They are made by their creator to serve Him through the goodness, love, and as the image of God in which they were created. I began thinking about how they have such huge hearts, and yet their young, aspiring minds cannot even begin to fathom the enormous plans God has in store for each and every one of them. For now, they are just doing what comes naturally to them. I see how this is what Jesus talks about when he says we have to become like children to inherit God’s kingdom. At the age of 9 and 10 years charity towards one another is something very automatic and instinctive for them. We were designed for this and at 9 and 10 years old, we have yet to be changed by a world that is not of God’s ways.  Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor as our-self is something my students model for me every day. The examples of their kindness and love toward one another are too numerous to mention, but here are a couple of true stories I will share:

  • I’ll never forget the sorrowful expression of a very tearful kid in the lunchroom who discovered his mother forgot the sandwich in his lunch box. Seconds later he was being handed slices of pizza left and right from his classmates. Some of them gave up their last slice. The kid’s misfortune and tears evaporated instantly as he suddenly had a stack of pizza slices that matched the height of his joyful grin.
  • Earlier in the year, we had a girl as guest to shadow our fourth grade class for the day to see if she might be interested in enrolling the next day. She was understandably shy, but the entire class wasted no time doing everything they could to make her their friend. As we went out to the playground for recess I noticed that the girl had grabbed a basketball and was about to play alone. I was about to go over and shoot some baskets with her, but before I could make it there, another one of my students was escorting her out to the playground. At the end of the day, as the students said goodbye to their new friend, the joy on her face was unmistakable. This girl felt loved. I could not imagine her not wanting to come back.

Teaching the Teacher

The reward of it all

Of course, children aren’t perfect. They still need to be taught discipline, reasoning, listening skills, neatness, accuracy, details, manners, patience, study habits, organization, math facts, and how to write proper sentences. That sounds challenging, but the irony is that those things are not even what are most important. Isn’t it ironic? The most important lesson I can give them is teaching them how not to change – how to remain a child of God in a world that is so distant from Him. They can get ornery and give us teachers a lot of grief. I have to remind myself to not take it personally and to recognize that this orneriness is an outlet for the joy they have in being happy children who crave fun and excitement. I constantly pray that I can live-up to being the teacher, mentor, father-figure, role model, and example of Truth that God wants for them.  I am so completely blessed to be given the chance to serve God in this way and to get back so much love and wisdom. They are teaching the teacher and always will be. I feel as though I don’t deserve this. It is all so humbling.

Images of God

Why I became a Catholic School Teacher

4th-grade-teacher

 

Children are images of God. While my Catholic faith has taught me that all of us are created as images of God, it was through the beauty and joy in the faces of young innocent children that I became introduced to this exciting and most important profession as a teacher. Just as recently as 18 months ago, I would have never dreamed that I would have just completed my very first year as a Fourth grade Catholic school teacher. The summer now affords me the time to reflect on why I am in this profession, what I have learned, what I have done, and what I will begin to do as I plan ahead for next year. I pray to God each day that I will never forget the love I have for the students I taught this year and that the Holy Spirit continues to ignite me with the fire and passion to mentor and teach future generations of Gods creation. Without the Holy Spirit I would not have a story to share about this vocation and highest calling to serve God. It is most personally fitting for me that I should choose Images of God as my very first post title. For one thing, this was the name of my school’s religion book that I used to teach two classes of 43, fourth grade children about their Catholic faith. But more importantly, the title explains how and why I gave up a 27-year career in the business world to become a school teacher in the first place. I could not begin to describe what resulted in such an abrupt and seemingly drastic career change without relating a story from a little over two years ago that completely changed my life and the way I look at children and the world in which we live. I was touched by God in a very dramatic way.

My Volunteer Job as a Catechism Teacher

Touched by God

In September of 2012, my wife and I began a volunteer Catechism teaching position to fourth graders of a local Catholic school. I have two sisters teaching full-time in the Catholic schools and a wife as a full time special-ed teacher in the public schools. We felt that this would be a good way for us to serve God and at the same time, hopefully give us a deeper appreciation and knowledge of our own Catholic faith. I do think there was another reason for this: I was never truly content or at peace in my own profession as a salesman in the corporate world of computers. Looking back, I really do think this was somewhat of a half-hearted attempt on my part to explore the possibility of teaching as a career, but it was by no means an idea that was in the forefront of my conscience. Giving up 90 minutes of our time on Sunday afternoons made us both feel good, but one day it rewarded me in a way I would have never imagined. While sitting at the dinner table having a cocktail with my wife I thought back to the classroom that day when the most vivid, colorful and beautiful image of the children were instantly etched into my mind like a raging fire. It was as if I was seeing these children through the eyes of Jesus. It brought me to tears. Feeling embarrassed as I tried to explain this vision to my wife, I was overcome with the intensity of Gods love and burning desire to show me how children are made in his own image. The feeling and intensity were so heavy that I felt as if I was being crushed and over-powered. I was no longer in control of my emotions. It was as heavy as if the world was sitting on my chest and I was nearly suffocating. I tried to push away to get some space and breathing room, but God would have none of it. The more I tried to push the vision aside, the more I realized Jesus was right there at the dinner table with me, squeezing every last tear from my body with his eternal embrace. While I was finally able to have a normal dinner, I was still not the same. I could no longer do anything without remembering what happened and re-living the moment where God was trying to change my life.

Touched? Or Tackled by God?

Now what do I do?

It seems so under-stated to me when I say that I was touched by God. It was more like being blind-sided, tackled and held hostage. There was nothing subtle about this. Of course, God would never hold any of us hostage as I will soon illustrate later on in my story. However, within my own closed-in world this was how I felt. God knows what’s best for our happiness and sometimes that means pushing us beyond our comfort zone to seek it. God was clearly sending me a message; one which required drastic action and change in my life. The reality, however, was that I had to go back to work the next day, doing something that I never really had a great passion to do these last 27 years. I had struggled for so long, but hadn’t realized I was my own worse enemy. I continued to look for jobs in all the wrong places and for all the wrong reasons. Based on the circumstances I’ve described and the title of this blog, Spirited Teaching, it might seem that becoming a teacher was the obvious response to God over-powering me that Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, we live in a world where we put clumsy obstacles and irrational demands in front of our own best interests. For 27 years, I was a slave of things like money. With some encouragement from my two sisters and wife, the idea of teaching certainly crossed my mind, but how could I possibly survive on an entry level teacher’s salary? So, I continued to pray, beat around the bush and struggle at an unfruitful job in sales. The one thing that brought me over the edge and caused me to take action was my Catholic faith.

Putting my Trust in Jesus

Trust in JesusSeveral months later, I was listening carefully to the homilies at Mass and praying every day and night for a direction to take in response to God’s calling. I couldn’t help recognizing how the message, Trusting in Jesus, kept coming back to my mind every day. What does it really mean and would I ever have the courage to act upon that theme? One day at Mass I looked at the Divine Mercy of Jesus photo that was on the wall of our Church. I noticed and appreciated the way our Church had constructed a new and elaborate, wooden frame to make the picture prominently emphasized.  One day before Mass had started, I spotted a woman and daughter in front of me admiring the newly adorned painting. The way the Church decided to feature the Divine Mercy in such a noticeable way places special significant and importance of the painting’s message. I reflected upon that throughout Mass. I looked at Jesus and felt his patience and calling. I compared it to the not-so-subtle way he threw all his weight on me a few months earlier. This was Jesus, always patient and always loving, looking at me and asking me in a gentle way to put my trust in what he wants me to do. This was not Jesus holding me hostage, but a gentle reminder from an ever loving, merciful God who would never impose his will on me. I asked myself, what is lacking in my trust that would prevent me from serving God as a teacher? The obvious answer was, money; that’s it. Would I make enough to pay all of our bills? I began to think what little faith I had if that was the only thing keeping me from doing what God called me to do. That’s what it meant for me to put my trust in Jesus. I prayed about it and made a decision to pursue a teaching job through the alternative license teaching program. But, I knew that it couldn’t be just any teaching job.

Why a Catholic School Teacher?

Children are Images of God

Catholic SchoolI could have become a public school teacher through the alternative licensing program and made a significantly higher starting salary. I knew in my heart though that my desire to teach sprang from a reason which was far greater than just academics. More importantly, a public school position would not have satisfied my response to God’s calling. My encounter with God was meant to be shared and I think it is the cornerstone of my entire teaching philosophy: We are images of God and the face of these beautiful children during their simplistic, innocent ways is an illustration of this throughout each school day.  The faces and joyful activity of young children remind me of the happiness we are all intended to experience all of our lives. It reminds me of the way I felt that one Sunday afternoon nearly two years ago. Only by being perfect imitations of Jesus can we truly experience long-lasting happiness. In children, I see how fragile this happiness is while they develop into adulthood. Of course, fourth grade children are far from perfect and they are just entering an age where they are prone to the unhealthy influences of the outside world. What better time is there to impress upon them that they are made to be images of God?  In a Catholic school setting with our bible, textbooks, and Church, I have everything I could possibly want to serve God in the way he intended. My teaching of religion began with a brand new text book titled, Images of God. This title was a point that was continuously brought up throughout the many chapters of the book and the children understood this lesson well.

On the very first day of school I emphasized to all of the kids that their first and most important job at school was to serve God. When children misbehaved, I asked them if they were acting as Images of God. As they continue to be bombarded with the temptations and unhealthy habits of the secular world I want this to be a benchmark they can use for making good choices. While I recognize that there are many excellent Christian, public school teachers who are holy and serving God, it must be difficult for them to be quiet about impressing their faith upon the children they are teaching. I have been called to do just the opposite and that is the part I love about teaching at a Catholic school. I can be totally open about what and why I teach and make it how I teach. But, there is another reason.

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