It was a week or ago when the idea struck me. Coming up with a theme and scripture for the year is never easy, but this one just made sense. The verse? There was none better than the fruits of the spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5: 22-23). Christian teachers need a steady diet of all these fruits to maintain spiritual health throughout the school year. The theme? Be fruitful. We as teachers get the opportunity to shape and mold our students, watering them with encouragement, pruning with discipline when needed. Our students are the fruit. Together we are the ones who make them grow. Tell me a job out there more important than that.
Summer is a great time. I get to grow my children. Whether it be playing with them at the pool, taking them to Deanna Rose Farmstead, or vacationing in Minnesota, I get to spend quality time with them. The countdown is on now. My bucket list is nearly complete for the summer. A quick trip to St. Louis, a few “special days” with my boys, plenty of snuggles in the morning, and all of a sudden POOF! The time is gone. They will be off to first grade and kindergarten. But I get to continue growing my boys outside of work throughout the school year. My students? They are gone. New years bring new fruit. That is what makes the job of a teacher so vital. We only have from August until May to make a difference in the life of a child. For me that means 50 minutes a day.
Do you want to hear something even more crazy? Some of these students coming into our classes in less than a month don’t have much of a home life. They come from broken families. Divorces. Turmoil. Some might have a mom or dad in jail. Others have parents that work two, three jobs each. All to put food on the table. School is their safe place, and these students rely on—you guessed it—teachers to make a difference in their lives. We have the daunting task of making that difference in nine months. Let’s reflect on that for a minute. Who are those teachers for you? Which teachers in your past gave their hearts and souls to you? How did they guide you? Mentor you? Make an impression on your heart so much that you would never forget their name? To make a difference in the life of a child is priceless, and to do it in nine months seems impossible. But I did have one teacher whom I will never forget, and the man did it in less than three weeks. Wanna hear a story?
His name was Bill Carpenter. He was my Comp 1 teacher at the University of Kansas way back in the fall of 1995. I had only attended his class maybe three or four times, but one day he noticed something about me. I wasn’t all there. My eyes were glazed over. I wanted to scream out for help, but I didn’t know who to turn to. My parents were 45 minutes away back home. I had pledged a fraternity, and not to get into too much detail, let’s just say it wasn’t necessarily the right fit. There was quite a bit of meaningless hazing, and with me being one of two freshman who had chosen not to drink alcohol, I was quite the toy for the upper classmen to play with. Especially in driving them around late at night. Bill, knowing that something was up, did something that any concerned teacher would do. He asked me to hang around after class.
I was an overstuffed vacuum cleaner. Emotions poured out from the depths of my soul, and I told him everything. I mean EVERYTHING. It reminded me of that scene from the Goonies where Chunk told the mean old lady his life story. There was genuine concern in Bill’s eyes. When you have a teacher that will actually listen to you—I mean really listen—that is something special. He heard me out, for at least ten minutes then walked me to the counseling office. The walk took us another 15 minutes. More stories were spilling out. Oddly enough, I remember rattling on and on about the last high school football game I ever played in as we traveled in the elevator to the top. Long story short, Bill passed the baton to the counselor at KU, they called my folks, my folks raced out to pick me up, and I went home, sleeping for 14 straight hours. Needless to say, that was the end of my stint at KU for that school year.
How many teachers at KU would have done that? Not many probably. When you go to a Division I school that large, you are just a number amongst a faceless mob of students overwhelming the campus. I was only in Bill’s class a few times, yet I remember he didn’t treat me like a number. He had already known my name. He actually made a game about it the first few weeks of class, having each class member say their name along with a favorite food one day and movie the next. Sounds elementary, doesn’t it? Not to Bill. Bill knew my name, and when he said Hey, Clint can you hang around after class? I was more than ready to. Because he cared. His body language said so as he listened to my story through tear-filled eyes. Having never had a conversation about faith, I can guarantee you Bill Carpenter was a Christian. He wore that faith on his sleeve.
What about you? Will you be wearing your faith on your sleeve during the 2017-2018 school year? What type of fruit will you be creating this year? John 15:1-2 states, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Be a Bill Carpenter. Be the branch that God prunes to bear more fruit.
Father, I pray that we can all be fruitful for You this school year. Allow us to enjoy the last few weeks of summer with our families, and let us stride into the classroom this year with purpose and conviction to be the Christian teachers you called us to be. Amen.