Sunday, February 2, 2014

For the Love of Teaching

I've learned, as a teacher, that some days rock; some days, really don't. On Wednesday, I had the second kind. On Thursday, with a good night's sleep between me and my mistakes, I thought of this verse:

Mark 10.17-22
17 Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”18 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’”[c]20 And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”22 But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
What strikes me about this passage is that Jesus loved the young man.

In truth, the young man is not being very lovable right now. He's self-righteous, self-centered, and greedy. He asserts, probably loudly, how well he's kept every commandment; he keeps his wealth instead of giving it to those who really need it, and walking with Jesus. Jesus has every right to be frustrated, even angry, with the man, and we know from the incident at the Temple that Jesus could get angry. 

Yet Jesus does not get angry. He does not even get upset. All we are told is that Jesus loved the young man, for no observable reason whatsoever. He simply looks at the young man, and loves him.

No matter what the young man does, no matter how he hurts Jesus here, he cannot sin himself out of the love of Christ.

Graham Green writes in The Power and the Glory, "It was for this world that Christ had died; the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater glory lay around the death. It  was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or a civilization - it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and corrupt." In the end, this is the message of the cross: that beyond all our expectations, beyond anything we have actually earned, Jesus loves us. 

This is a reassuring, comforting truth of the Gospel. 

It is also a challenge to me as a teacher. 

Sometimes, my students are easy to love, like when they write notes telling me that my class has changed their life, or purchase purple shoes as an in-class joke. Sometimes, they're not, like when I catch them on Facebook in class, or whey they blow off homework assignment after homework assignment.

How do I respond to this? Unfortunately, all too often I do the opposite of what Jesus does to the young man: I do not look at my students and love them; I look at what they are doing, and get upset.

This, I think, is the key difference between Jesus's love and my lack thereof: I get distracted by what my students do; Jesus, not one to get distracted, sees only the young man, created in the image of God inherently valuable, distinct from all his poor choices. Nothing the young man does can erase the fact that he was meant to walk with God, and nothing my students do should erase my love for them.

This doesn't mean, of course, that I should be a pushover. They deserve, and often desperately need, their teachers' love, but sometimes what they need most of all is tough love, the kind that doesn't take late homework so that they learn to respect deadlines, or the kind that gives out that F when needed so that students actually learn to write well. Nor does loving students mean I let them get away with whatever they want in class. A student using Facebook may be distracting to the other students, for instance; loving students means loving all the students, making sure that everybody thrives in class.

Honestly, though, reminding myself to be strict is really a reminder I do not need, like telling a child that it's okay to have a cookie every now and then, or like telling a couch potato that it's okay to have a day without exercise. The reminder I really need is this: The most important thing I can do as a teacher is love my students, regardless of whether their behaviour pleases me or frustrates me.

Because in the end, it's not about me.

This, I think, is what trips me up. I make class about me: need to rock this lesson, need to get them interested in this 1600s essay, need to earn their respect. Class is performance, and I am the starring character. How different from Jesus's love, which went to a cross on which he could win no glory, simply for the love of half-hearted and corrupt humanity. How different from what class is meant to be, a journey in which students become better writers, better readers, better and holier thinkers.

Sometimes, we Christians pour scorn on those who say they believe that Jesus was a great moral teacher. He was the Son of God, we exclaim!

True, but He was a great teacher, the very best. In the same way that humanity is made in his image and meant to be like Him, I want my teaching to be made in his image.

Teaching made in his image is not, ultimately, about doing thorough research or understanding Milton's Areopagitica; it is not about whether I have the students' respect or their attention. Teaching in the image of God is about whether I love the students. If I can do that, everything else will fall into place. Will every day be perfect? Absolutely not. Jesus was the perfect teacher, and yet Judas betrayed him. But regardless of what my students do, I will be doing what Jesus did: looking at my students and, by the grace of God, loving them.

May it be so.


  1. Great post, Megan! I really enjoyed it and is a great reminder to me as a teacher as well.

  2. Megan, Really enjoy your writing. Great exhortation for this homeschool mom!