I am very intentional in the fact that I do not watch the news. I know some may say I am not being a responsible citizen and I understand that, but me not watching the news is like an alcoholic avoiding the bars. I worry too much and the news gives me more to worry about so I deliberately stay away. But people talk and I do see things, so despite the fact that I try to keep my head in the sand, I do hear about all the craziness going on in the world.
Yes, I hear about all the damage done by hate in this world. It breaks my heart to know I am raising children in this world, but it also breaks my heart because I see the lie that so many of these people are living under. Lies from Satan. He is being allowed to terrorize so many people because of the lies he tells. Don’t get me wrong. There is true injustice and prejudice and hardship in this world, but allowing Satan to tell us violence and more hate is the answer, only makes matters worse. He is dividing and terrorizing us, which is why Christians have to and should be working harder than ever.
Thankfully, I don’t see a great deal of this attitude in my classroom…yet. But I know, if things continue down the road they are on, I will see a divided classroom, students lost in the lies of Satan, only making things worse. And many of these students don’t have the foundations at home that lead to good decision making. Even if we take the religious aspect out, many students aren’t even taught good morals. I mean, adults are the ones buying into the lies of Satan and our students are the innocent bystanders who will deal with many of the consequences.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Believers make a difference. Even a small speck of light makes a difference in a dark room. And we can be that light. But we have got to make a point to do it. We cannot wait until we feel like it or until everything just works out. I mean because if I leave it up to my feelings, I usually just get mad and act like the rest of the world. I need to be the difference. All believers need to be the difference and we need to be intentional. We need to be intentional in our relationship with God so that we are strong enough to make a difference. We need to be intentional in our prayers. We need to be specific in our actions and the way we spend our time. And we definitely need to be intentional in our love. Jesus said to love and pray for our enemies. Paul told us love was the greatest of all. And that is why as believers, and especially teacher believers, we have got to love intentionally. We have got to be deliberate and calculated. We have got to have a plan of action. Again, we cannot just wait until we feel love, because it might not ever come.
But here is a plan to help us be intentional in our love, so that we can be the light in our dark classroom…and world.
First, we should intentionally love ourselves.
I know as moms and teachers, we usually are somewhere at the bottom of the priority list. Well, I am not saying we need to be first, but I am saying we cannot neglect our bodies and souls and then expect to love others. We cannot give from an empty tank. First, we have to let God fill us up with His love. That will come through spending time with him. That should always be our number one priority. He tells us in Matthew, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Working for God and being intentional with our love doesn’t have to be a hard job, but we have to fill up in the right place first. We have got to spend time with God so we can have the gentle and humble heart He is referring to.
And while time with God is key, we cannot live in last place, even with the best quiet time on the planet. There will come times when you have to step up for yourself – in a loving way. But also each day, you should do a little something that you enjoy. I like to run and I like to read. Each day I try to do one (or both, if I am lucky) of those things. They both give me quiet time alone with my own thoughts. They are both relaxing. I enjoy them both, and hey, one works my body and the other works my mind, so I am getting extra benefits. Whatever it is, you have to save a few minutes for you and only you each day.
You also need to be sure you have the right mindset. I think time with God will help with this because he will convict us, but you have to keep a positive attitude. You cannot go around grumbling about everyone and everything and show love at the same time. Things can be rough, especially within a school setting, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything good. We should always focus on the positive. Remember in Philippians, Paul tells us to focus on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable.” If you can retrain your thoughts to automatically go to the positive, then you are really loving yourself. I mean no one likes someone to constantly critiques them, and when you fuss and grumble about every aspect of your life, that is what you are doing, reminding yourself of every little teeny tiny thing that is wrong in your life. That is not a loving attitude, and you are doing it to yourself. But change your attitude, focus on the positive and you can love yourself, so you can love others.
Second, we should intentionally love our students.
I know this should come naturally. And in some ways it does, but like in everything, sometimes you just get bogged down in the chores and responsibilities of the day. Even though in your heart you know you love the students, your actions are not showing it. Many of these students do not know what Godly love looks like, so it is important that we are intentional in showing that kind of love. And even if a student is raised by a Godly family and they experience love daily, can they really ever experience too much love?
One of the first and easiest ways to intentionally love our students is to pray for them. Not just in general, but specific prayers for each child. This is something I need to work on myself, and in some classrooms it is easier than others, but maybe you just make a habit of walking around the room while they are working and silently lifting a prayer for each one. Maybe you do your own prayer campaign where each day you make a point to pray for a different student. No matter how you choose to pray for them, be intentional about it.
Through prayer, learn to look at students the way Jesus does, especially the really aggravating ones. I like to think about it like I am putting on my Jesus glasses. I need to see the world the way He does. I need to see each child the way He does. In Matthew Jesus tells us, “See that you do not despise one of the little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of the Father who is in heaven.” While Jesus is probably talking about those who are young believers, we know he cares for the children as well, and many of them fall into that young believer category. They need good examples and guidance and we cannot make it someone else’s job. Instead, we need to see them as Jesus does, so that we can love them as Jesus does.
Also, be intentional about what you teach. I know some subjects are easier to do this with than others, but try to teach literature or concepts that will in turn teach humility and kindness and love and so many of the other good character traits that are missing today. To begin the year, I read aloud parts of Wonder by R. J. Palacio. It is such a great book about kindness and empathy and my kids loved it. I also teach the short story “The Most Dangerous Game.” It is a classic. The boys love it. But we are able to talk about themes like the value of human life and we have some great discussion with that theme. I think we take for granted that students are born with good morals or that they are being taught at home, but if we watch news very much, you know that is not the case. Be intentional about what you teach so that you can work as much kindness and love into your lessons as possible.
And one of the most important ways to show love to a student is to make a point to connect with them. Build relationships. I have seen several ways to do this. One of my favorite teachers and then co-worker used to do “Handshake, hug or pass Friday.” She would stand at the door on Fridays and students could give her a handshake, hug or they could just say pass. It gave her a chance to interact with each child and get a read on each one. Such a simple greeting goes a long way. Then, I have seen the idea where you write each student’s name on a post-it note and then when you notice someone doing something great or notice that someone needs encouragement, you scratch out a message on the post-it note and give it to them. Because each child already had a pre-labeled note, you will know who you have encouraged and who is still needing encouragement. And if you have never heard of the 2 x 10 behavior strategy, check it out. You spend 2 minutes a day for 10 days in a row talking to a student, particularly a troubled student, and the idea is that by just showing them individual positive attention, you will build a relationship and their behavior will improve. While this is definitely true for troubled students, we should also try it with our loners, the outliers who don’t get in on the action much. We need to make a point to give them positive attention as well. All our students need positive attention. But I know from my own experience that this will not happen naturally. We have to be intentional about it. We have to have a plan for loving our students. I know it sounds crazy and maybe a little fake, but it is true and it will make a difference.
Finally, we have to be intentional in loving our co-workers.
Just because they are adults does not mean there are not issues. Each adult comes from his or her on own reality, so sometimes we have to leave those Jesus glasses on when looking at adults too. This is probably why Paul reminds us in Ephesians, “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility, and gentleness, and with patience, bearing with one another in love.” Try to see each adult you work with the way God sees him or her. And like you should pray for yourself and your students, pray for co-workers. Also, pray in each of these areas. It is a simple act that goes so far. We are called as teachers,so we need to make sure as we interact with everyone, not just students, that we are acting in a manner worthy of our calling.
And I know it is easy, especially when teaching, to get lost in the responsibilities and work, but pay attention to your co-workers. Be ready to lift them up and encourage them if they seem stressed or discouraged. Encouragement is never a bad thing. And I think it is always appreciated. It may be just what someone needs.
In the way of encouraging adults, try to let positivity spread (yes, that means you have to be positive first). I know in school, it is so easy to focus on the negative, but that is not healthy. Train yourself to look at the positive (a good way to show love to yourself) and then do your best to let that be contagious and spread to others. Set the example for others, not just in your positive attitude, but in your work ethic, in the way you interact with students, in all that you do.
An excellent way to spread positivity and set an example is help out when you can. Look out for the teachers you work with. Grab their papers off the copy machine and walk them down. Add some paper if it is out (I know paper is a non-renewable resource around most schools, but God will take care of you.) Let your actions demonstrate Jesus, not just your words. In Wonder by R. J. Palacio, he says “be kinder than necessary,” and while that is not scripture, I think that is exactly what Jesus did and what we should always try to model. Let our words and actions be kinder than necessary.
As I write I think of the poor teacher who shot himself in his classroom. I can only imagine what may have driven him to that desperate decision. I think about the children who shoot each other, who want to take their own lives, and who are just down right mean because they can be. This world we live in is definitely the devil’s playground and there are moments when I just feel hopeless. But in those moments, I am reminded of my calling, my purpose, and my power – all of which comes from a much greater source than the devil and his play ground. God has overcome this world. He is the light in this darkness and he chose us to help spread that light. But we have to be intentional about it. We cannot just wait and hope it happens, hope what we do is enough. We have to be in prayer and we have to intentionally – on purpose, with clear direction – love ourselves, our students, and our co-workers. We have to deliberately spread the love, because the devil doesn’t have to work very hard to spread the hate. Remember it doesn’t always happen naturally, so we have to love intentionally.