Core scripture: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1: 5).
Message: There is a fire that burns inside the Christian teacher. Something inside them aches to reach out to students on a level beyond the norm. They love what they do. They don’t complain. They selflessly serve 24/7, and their doors are never closed to those who need them. Walk into that teacher’s room before school and you will find students milling around, laughing, teasing each other, just living life. They have found a safe place there. The Christian teacher at his desk, and though he knows he needs just a little more time to prep for that lesson, he goes out of his way to take the temperature of his students. He makes a difference in their lives. He mentors them. He takes them under his wing as his own, knowing that he will only have less than a year to get them ready for the next level. To let those little birdies fly. Are you ready?
You know, the first week of school is always a bit daunting. Overwhelming to say the least. I’ve been through this rodeo a few times before. Fourteen times to be exact, so I know what to expect. Or not. Do you ever realize that no matter how much you prepare for that first day, something always goes awry? The first day lunch runs long and the schedule gets changed for the afternoon. The incredible lesson you planned blows up in your face. You mispronounce about seventeen different names of kids that come from who knows where, and all that stuff that you try to cram in is ALWAYS left for the following week. I wonder how God will let me learn how to be flexible all over again this year. He always throws a curve ball at me, but it always makes me a better teacher in the end.
So, let’s make this simple. Besides just trying to stay afloat and keep from sinking in the stresses of the first week, what if we boiled it down to one thought? What if we simply rolled with the punches, laughed at the chaos, and had a single goal in mind. To get to know our kids. What makes them tick? Where are they from? Who do they hang out with? What hobbies do they enjoy? The Christian teacher takes the time to study their students like a college kid crams for a final exam. They take their rosters home and mill over ways to reach each and every face. They begin building connections with them. They show they care. Do you know the best way you can show you care? It all comes in the power of a name. Learn them, and learn them on the fly. By the end of the second week of school, you should have every one down, calling each name out daily. Even that quiet shy kid that tries to fly under the radar.
Did you know that God knows your name? Let’s stop and reflect on that for a second. Scroll back to the top of this page and read that core scripture again. Our God, the Lord of heaven and earth, knew the prophet Jeremiah even before there was a prophet Jeremiah. We’re talking about an all-knowing God that created a beautiful tapestry of a plan for Jeremiah, for you, for everyone. How awesome is that? To think that on day one, God not only knows every teachers’ name out there, He knows all the students too. Everywhere! How is that even possible? He notices every nuance of every person all across the world, past, present, and future. God knows the children of your students and the children’s children and their children. That type of loving God makes me feel secure! He has a plan for you this year. “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29: 11). I can’t wait to find out what God has planned for us this year.
God sets the bar high, but attempt to follow His lead. Memorize those names. Will you mess up? Heck yeah! I had two of the sweetest, hard-working Hispanic girls last year, both in the same class of course, both younger siblings of brothers and sisters I taught long before, and both best friends. Holy smokes! I couldn’t count the number of times I messed them up, but that is why God’s grace is so fantastic. If you mess up on a name, make it a game for yourself. I used to smack myself upside the head every time I mixed them up. The kids loved it! Another teacher friend of mine would give a small piece of candy to a kid every time she missed his name. Think of something small, fun. But get to know them! The kids know you care about them the more you use those names, and they love to be recognized. They are not just a number on your roster. They are living breathing beings that crave to be seen, to be heard.
Finally, I have found the power of a nickname to be useful. I have had a plethora of them through the years, and it is absolutely crazy … when I see them down the road, even as they become young adults (yep, I am getting to be that age!), I still refer to them by their old nickname. My Little Butterfly … Bob the Builder … Me, Myself, and SHOPPING! (she always wore that shirt) … Duck Sauce … Mr. Insanity … My Little Helper … There are some who call me Tim??? (It’s a Monte Python thing, and that kid LOVED it) … Unicorn Girl … Dancing Queen … Holy macaroni, I could list pages of them! A nickname to a kid says I am special. He notices something about me! He thinks I am important. When a nickname comes to me, I always pull a kid aside and ask them permission to use it. Most of the time they will smile and say, “Yes, call me that!” But there are times when they’d rather not. Check with the kid first before publicly using that nickname. The rest will fall right into place!
So, I have to ask … Are you ready? All those faces will be flooding your classroom soon enough. Faces that want to be seen. Faces that crave to be known. Faces that have a voice and NEED to be heard. Be the teacher that lets your students shine this year. Get to know them on a personal level. Find out what makes them tick. Study them like the time you pulled that all-nighter back in college, cramming for that calculus final. (Calculus and me? We just don’t jive. I guess that is why I had to take it over in summer school, and I guess it is why I teach Language Arts!) And pray for those kids! Pray they will see Christ through the way you treat them. Pray for their families, for their academic success. Pray that God will allow you to touch their hearts so that they will be talking about you at the dinner table. Pray that this school year will be a year when they can blossom, believe in themselves, and achieve heights they had never even fathomed before.
May God be present in ALL of your classrooms this year. Every step of the way, from day one to May whatever. That last day is not even on my radar yet. But I tell you what. The first day is!
Challenge: Memorize all student names by the end of the second week of school. Elementary teachers, I somewhat envy you only having to know a group of 30 or so. You get the added challenge of knowing your kids on an intimate level beyond the name. Middle school and high school teachers? Best of luck to you! I will soon have about 110 faces coming through my door on Thursday, and the clock is ticking. But do you know what? Through God, all things are possible (Mark 10: 27).
Prayer: Lord who knows all names, be present in our classrooms this week. Let our students know they have a safe place instructed by a teacher who burns with passion for You. May we model Christ through the way we conduct ourselves. It is through His name, we pray. Amen.
Song to bring it home: Francesca Battestelli’s song “He Knows My Name” speaks so much truth to the fact that God indeed knows us all. If you happen to look this song up on Youtube, I highly recommend the “Official Video” which shares the stories of a handful of women who have all been through a lot but by the grace of God found Jesus to help them through. It is well worth the 12 minutes it takes to watch it!