Core scripture: “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it” (Proverbs 22:6).
Message: Whispers and snickers from my Cougar Time caused me to look up from my busywork last Monday afternoon. A student close to my desk decided to fill me in.
“Mr. Daniels … I don’t mean to be a snitch, but some people might have been cheating on your quiz today.”
My blood boiled. My eyes shot out the best psychopathic death stare I could muster.
“Oh, really? Who?” I demanded.
Giggles from the class taunted me more. He sat back in his chair and casually said, “I don’t mean to name names, but I know some people copied that poem you told them to memorize.”
“Is that so?” I challenged him. This was war! How dare any child cheat on my quiz. I mean, I put my full trust in them. I went home that night planning my attack. I was going to crack the whip. No mercy. All scores would be thrown out, and the entire team was going to retake that quiz. I was going to make them never want to even think about cheating ever again. My drill sergeant speech was playing over and over in my head that night as I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Tuesday morning, I awoke and sat down to talk to God about the whole mess. I prayed for how to discuss this with my students. My conversation with the Lord got me thinking. Had I ever cheated? When had I fallen short? I was reminded of Jesus asking the Pharisees whoever had not sinned to cast the first stone against the adulterous woman. The stones in my hand, just like those of the Pharisees, dropped to the ground with a thud. I rehearsed a new speech based on the core of my faith: love and forgiveness.
We had the time for it. I opted to take the humble approach as opposed to the shameful one, beginning by telling them of one of my lowest moments as a student. It was 10th grade, my sophomore year in high school. I had not done ANY reading over The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and we had a quiz that day. My buddy Tony and I traded papers to grade our quiz, giving each other perfect scores, only to have the teacher catch us and ask us to stay after class. Busted! I still remember that feeling of guilt flood through my body, turning my face red with shame.
Can we park on that thought for a second? Humility is a wonderful way to teach a life lesson. It lets our students know that nobody is perfect. We all sin. Even us teachers! That humility brings us down to their level. It reminds me of pastors telling us about their shortcomings to prove a point. This modesty can connect us to our students in ways we previously thought were unimaginable.
The kids leaned in. Some were whispering and smiling at my idiotic decision. A few of them raised their hands to ask questions. I answered honestly and moved on to the more difficult part of my speech.
“The truth is, guys, I have a strong suspicion that there may have been some cheating on my quiz yesterday,” I began.
Smiles were wiped clean from their faces. You could smell the fear in the room. It reeked of horse manure. Vomit. A few looked left and right, shock overwhelming their expressions. They reminded me of the disciples right after Jesus told the 12 that one would betray Him. I paused for added effect, panning the entire class with a look of concern.
“At first I was angry. Now that anger has made way for sadness. I am hurt; however, at the core of my faith are powerful words like love. Grace. Forgiveness. I promise to show you all what that means right now. Tomorrow we will all retake the poem part of the quiz. It will give you one more night to study, and for those that fell short, it will give you a second chance.”
Their heads hung low. Very few could even look me in the eye. Had they been able to they might have noticed the wetness of tears beginning to form.
“I have no way of knowing for sure who took the easy way out, but I want you all to know something. If you cheated and would like to get it off your chest, talk to me. I will not be angry with you. I will praise you for your honesty, and I will grant you undeserved forgiveness. And I can promise you that the truth will indeed set you free.”
What happened next was amazing. All through the rest of the week, hour by hour, day by day, 11 brave souls approached me to confess their dishonesty. Some talked to me face to face. Some wrote me page-long notes of apology, leaving them at my desk. One e-mailed me, and another confessed on her bell work. Those phone calls home were difficult to make, but with each one I praised those parents that their son or daughter was honest enough to step forward and own their actions.
I wrote each child a sincere note of gratitude, thanking them for making the right choice in coming clean. The quiz scores the following day were MUCH better. Although I was up from my desk, patrolling the room like a hawk scouting for prey to feast on, nobody dared cheat this time. Through all the tragedy, I began to see how God was working this for our good, teaching these children a life lesson of integrity that will hopefully stick to their souls like peanut butter.
Life lessons. That is what teaching is all about! If my students can remember what a simile is ten years from now, that is all well and good; but if they can look back on my class and remember that lesson on integrity, all the better. My only question to leave you with is this: What do your students need to learn? Is it jealousy? Drama? Misbehavior? Honesty? Whatever their needs are, teach that lesson with reckless abandon, passion, and enthusiasm.
Challenge: Look for an opportunity to teach a life lesson about something your students are currently going through. Teach that character lesson with passion to your kids, making them remember it for a lifetime.
Song application: “Voice of Truth” by Casting Crowns
But the voice of truth tells me a different story
The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”
The voice of truth says, “This is for My glory”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth
Quote: “Grace means undeserved kindness. It is the gift of God to man the moment he sees he is unworthy of God’s favor.” (Dwight L. Moody)
Bible story: Read the story of Jesus forgiving the adulterous woman in John 8:1-11. Is there any sin God will not forgive? How can we forgive our students in an appropriate manner that displays both grace yet still allows for consequences?
Prayer: Father, I pray you will help us teach life lessons this last month of school that will stick to our students’ hearts. Amen.