Do you ever have one of those school years when you wonder if it is all even worth it? You might be giving your all in the classroom but it seems all for not. Your students aren’t responding. You lead, but they refuse to follow. It is like you’re on an island, and nobody is around to rescue you. You send up the smoke signals, the flares, but nothing will stop the inevitable. Your ship is sinking. It is the Titanic times ten, and you wonder why you even try in the first place. Work is no longer a passion for you. You find your eyes counting down the minutes until the end of the day, and when that final bell rings, you feel as if you are free. You burn out. Implode. Disintegrate into nothing. Ever been there before?
I ran into a good friend of mine in the copy room last Thursday morning. An avid member of our prayer group, she mentioned an urgent prayer request from a friend of hers on her worship team at church. This guy was treading in deep water and losing his urgency to keep afloat. He was teaching in the inner city where violence and disrespect were the norm. A fight had broken out in his room that week. He found himself crying out for prayer at worship practice with my friend, and she was there to pick up the pieces. The request was logged on our prayer list, and he was lifted up that Friday morning by our prayer team. I did not have the privilege of attending that morning as I was out of town, but sure enough there was his prayer request staring back at me from our googledoc that evening when I quieted my soul to pray for my colleagues.
Hearing this story reminded me of a place I was not too long ago. The school year of 2011-2012 was a train wreck for me. Not only was I going through a severe depression, struggling with back problems, raising two baby boys, and watching my marriage crumble, but I had likewise inherited the most challenging group of students ever. I loathed going to work. The misfits were the ones that were looked up to as leaders, and the good kids just quietly sat at their seats letting chaos rule the classroom. They had pretty much accepted that their class was awful, and some actually took pride in it. I was pulling my hair out–or what was left of it at the time–until I lost all hope. My efforts seemed futile. That fire deep inside, the passion to teach with reckless abandon, was all but extinct.
Looking back on that school year, I can see God’s craftsmanship at work. What did He teach me? Endurance. Perseverance. The ability to spin a negative into a positive. That group of kids was so lost that I failed to realize that I was indeed reaching a few students who needed direction. Last year one of those kids found her way into my classroom. I was lost in a mountain of papers to grade, distracted by the mysterious mold growing around them. I smiled at her as she bounced up to me and tried to give me a full frontal hug. I shifted, opting for the side hug instead. What did she have to say that was so urgent? This gal was one of the lone bright spots in a class full of mischief. She proceeded to tell me how much she missed my class, how she wanted to dedicate her first published book to me, and how she wished she could be in 7th grade again. It literally came out all in one breath. She chatted me up for about three minutes then bounced right back out the door.
God’s message was all too clear … teachers do count. You are reaching kids when you think you aren’t. There is hope when all seems lost. And yes, there is always a bright spot if you choose to attempt to find it. For me, it was a little redhead in my 6th hour, a kiddo that I would not be surprised to see write the next best-selling Hunger Games series. I’ve seen her work. It’s truly amazing. And you had better believe I will be first in line when she comes back for a book signing at Barnes and Noble. I had taught this kid for nearly 10 months never truly knowing the impact I had on her. Suddenly all that pain I went through, all the frustration, all the days I counted the minutes down were worth it. If I had reached one, surely there was another alongside her. Somewhere there had to be. That young lady lifted a veil of darkness that had blinded me for nearly two years.
Teachers are a light. They help students see when it all seems cloudy. They illuminate a world of possibility to the lost, and they open doors that students didn’t even know existed. Matthew 5: 16 states, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Teachers should never doubt that light. If you are a Christian teacher and you are beginning to think that your flame is extinguished, think again. You are reaching someone out there. You may not realize it now, but there is a kid soaking in your knowledge like a wet sponge. This kid, whomever it may be, looks up to you. This kid needs direction, substance, and hope. This kid is waiting for you to realize the power you have inside to shed light on whatever darkness is cloaking them. This kid needs a mentor, an inspiration to pull them away from the jaws of inadequacy. This kid needs a teacher. And that teacher is you.