In the twenty-ninth hour, I shut down. I was a student again – checking the clock, cradling my chin in my palm, wishing for a caffeine fix or freedom. Forget the romanticism of lifelong learning. Forget the crisp new anthologies, the comprehensive literary guides, and the colorful sticky notes provided (all of which are crack to the English teacher). Forget the “first-year teacher zeal” felt in the first few hours of this thirty-two hour professional development.
I felt like the fifth-year teacher I am – exhausted and clutching at any ray of positivity. The clock ticked on. Before me lay the cherry on top: a stack of nine synthesis papers written for a national exam. Educators hate to score this paper. Our professional development class was given twenty minutes to score these essays. It was a simulation designed to broaden our perspectives as English teachers, and to test our scoring skills. Would we reach consensus?
Twenty minutes later, as the highest scoring paper was read aloud, a reverent multitude of praises arose. “Wow.” “Beautiful.” “Amazing.” It was the elusive score students and teachers alike seek to achieve. Here was excellence. Here was quintessential academic writing. Indeed, it was possible. And all written by some kid unable to legally vote or drink.
Maybe it was the lack of caffeine. Maybe it was my rebellious spirit. But a catalyst thought crossed my mind and shot me into one of the greater God moments of my life.
Sacrilegious, I know. Maybe I’m still bitter over feeling like an outsider to the Advanced Placement world, both as a student and a teacher. But, I felt strangely ecclesiastical as I questioned the eternal value of such an achievement.
Success is meaningless apart from Christ.
“Train up a child in the way he should go,” was the next thought to invade my brain. Religious, I know. We public school teachers quote Proverbs 22:6 to spiritualize our noble profession. But what is “the way” in which children must go? Spiritually speak, Jesus is the way (John 14:6). To the world, the answer is, well, anything but Jesus.
So, what does this mean for the public school teacher? I’ve been called to follow Christ and share his gospel. Yet, there’s only so much I can legally do in the public school. And I don’t feel called to radically witness and get myself fired. That would be decidedly ineffective.
Each year, I remind myself to pray for my students. I remind myself that I am Christ’s ambassador in a dark place. I pray students will connect my kindness with my faith; I pray to reflect Christ and His good name for the skeptical or cynical student. But, there must be more I can do. Suddenly, I knew the answer.