Study Your Students


Jesus heals a lame man at the pool of Bethesda.

Core scripture: “When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, ‘Would you like to get well?’” (John 5:6)

Message: Picture this … You have been sick for 38 treacherous years.  Lame, blind, paralyzed, you name it.  It has all weighed you down for so long that this is the only life you know.  You have completely lost hope.  Others spit at you.  Some might toss a coin or two next to you out of pity, but you don’t want pity.  You just want to be healed. 

Suddenly, a man appears next to you.  This man is different.  This man’s loving words automatically inject hope through your veins.  There is something unique about Him, but you cannot grasp what it is.  His words, tender and genuine, ask the most meaningful question ever.

Would you like to get well?”

This is the story of Jesus healing the man by the pool in John 5:1-15.  The story of course has a happy ending.  Jesus commands him to get up, and he is healed.  Instantly!  Not just physically healed but emotionally healed as well.  What a testimony!  I can only guess how many people he must have shared that story with later in the temple that day.

And it all started with a question.  A question that cut straight to this man’s heart.  Jesus was the king of questions.  Many times, in scripture you see Christ answering a question with another question, especially to those hard-hearted pharisees.  His heart questions always exposed something deep down in the gut that was hidden from the naked eye.  He cut straight to the chase, unveiling mysterious meaning like a magician. 

Poof!

Guess what?  As teachers we have that same power.  If you are like me, the beginning of the year is a time to study your students like cramming for a final exam.  You want to know everything you can about these kids—their names, their likes and dislikes, their passions, their quirks—everything!  It is time to analyze the way you ask questions. 

Let’s think about the possibilities of this hypothetical situation.  You begin with a basic question.  What is your favorite band?  A kid dressed in all black, ripped jeans, dark makeup, and hair falling over her eyes jumps up and yells out, “METALLICA!” 

Hey, good start!  You found out her favorite band, but don’t stop there.  Probe further. 

“Metallica, huh?” you say back.  “I remember listening to Metallica.” 

Yeah, it was a phase I went through.  Right after high school.  The Black album blared loudly from my Ford Bronco II quite often back then.    

“YOU listened to Metallica?” the girl says in sheer shock and awe.

“Well, yeah!  So, what is your favorite Metallica song?” you ask.

“Probably Enter Sandman,” she says after thinking for a few seconds.

“Yeah, that’s a good one, but I prefer the beauty of Nothing Else Matters,” you say back.

A connection is being made!  Guess what?  You don’t stop there!  You begin to dig deeper by asking, “So, how did you get to love Metallica so much?  That band was around when I was your age!”

The girl, feeling totally comfortable in this new relationship with this new incredible teacher that loves the same band she loves, continues on, saying, “Well, my dad used to listen to this music a ton.  He taught me to love it.  We went to see Metallica in concert three years ago.”

You can see it in her face.  The excited mood changes to slightly more melancholy.  Serious.  And you picked up on two key words she said … used to.

“That must have been awesome!” you say.  “I noticed you said that your dad used to listen to Metallica.  Did something … happen?”

Tears begin to form in her eyes.  You crouch next to her desk to put yourself on her level.  Her expression tells you everything you need to know, and you console her immediately. 

“Don’t worry about it,” you whisper.  “You don’t need to talk about this if you don’t want to.”

The sweet girl snatches a Kleenex and squeaks out, “No, it’s okay.  I’m fine.”

You take a second to let her collect her thoughts and weep.  These tears?  They needed to happen.  They are healing to her.  Built up inside for so long that they had to be let go.  And now that they are out, she instantly feels better. 

“Hey, I so appreciate you sharing with me.  It must not be easy to deal with whatever you have been through.  Is your dad not around anymore?”

Another question.  She shakes her head no.  Her friend, lovingly by her side, giving her a hug now, whispers to you that her dad passed away last year.  Cancer. 

“I want to help you through this,” you say.  “We are doing a personal narrative in my class next week.  I wonder … this might be a good topic to write about.  Do you think you might want to get some of your feelings out?”

Another question.  She is lost deep in thought.

“Writing can be therapeutic for some, you know,” you encourage her.

She smiles sweetly at you.  “Maybe?” 

You pat her on the shoulder.  “Only if you think you are ready,” you say. 

The mood, deep and ultra-serious for the first week of school, needs to be lightened.  You decide to sing a line from Enter Sandman to her.

“Hush, little baby.  Don’t say a word.  And never mind that noise you heard,” you begin to sing in your best James Hatfield voice. 

She begins to laugh uncontrollably.

“It’s just the beast under your bed!  In your closet in your heeeead!” you finish off the lyrics, shifting back to your normal voice.  “Maybe I should keep my day job.”

By now you have quite a few others laughing as you know your James Hatfield voice does not quite measure up to the real thing.  This story, much like the story of the lame man at the pool, has a happy ending.  The girl writes a glorious, tear-jerking, straight-in-your-face, cathartic narrative that blows your socks off.  You love it so much that you keep it, asking the poor kid if you can anonymously share it with future students down the road.

She says yes.

Getting her feelings out in that narrative helped her cope with some dark thoughts.  She gets the help she needs and starts therapy.  Months of talking to her counselor and to you bring a healing that she thought would never come.  She becomes one of your most favorite students.  You bond over the love of Metallica.  The last week of school comes.  She comes up to you, wraps you in a bear hug, and leaves this note in your hands.

Dear (insert your name),

This year has been amazing!  I never would have thought that 7th grade would be so awesome, and I have to say a lot of it was because of you.  That day that you talked to me about Metallica?  I was not in a good place at all that day.  As a matter of fact, I was thinking about killing myself.  I wanted nothing to do with this world, but you helped me through it.  You helped me get my feelings out.  I owe my life to you.  Thanks for everything!

Love,

Ms. Metallica

You weep.  You know none of this happened had you not shown her the love of Christ.  And do you know what?  None of it would have happened without questions.  Ask those heart questions this year.  Dig deep into what makes your students tick. 

The results will speak for themselves. 

Challenge: Ask questions this week.  Ask their favorite school appropriate songs and play those songs for them as they walk in your room.  Ask what their favorite candy bar is and surprise it with them on their desk the next day.  Ask them their favorite Netflix show, catch one of those episodes on your own, and have a conversation about it the next day.  Study your students!  Show them as much love as possible.  Wrap them around your fingers the first week of school, and continue showing them the love of Christ the entire way. 

Prayer points: Lift up the following areas to the Lord …

  • Pray that your students’ hearts would be opened this week to answer your questions with honesty and clarity.
  • Praise God for the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child.  Isn’t teaching the best profession ever?
  • Praise God that I just returned from having supper with an old football player of mine who was deeply struggling in life and found Christ last year.  I got to hear his testimony tonight, and it was a blessing to my day!

Just for fun: What would happen if we had no knees or elbows.  Seriously.  Have you ever thought of that?  Try to get through a day without bending your knees and elbows.  You encounter some major problems!  For one, your toothbrush wouldn’t reach your mouth.  Secondly, it is really hard to sit down about anywhere.  Running would be very … robotic?  I will stop there.  (I honestly wonder how many people reading this right now are trying this out.  I have done it before, and it is quite hilarious.  Want even more fun?  Try it with your students!)

Prayer: Father, help me find the right heart questions to ask my students this year, and allow me to follow them up with a love that can only come from You.  Amen.

(This blog is dedicated to my good FCA friend, Andrew McClanahan. Andrew asks the most thought-provoking questions I have ever heard.)

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