I recently learned of some heavy heartache a student of mine is carrying quietly upon his shoulders along with his backpack and homework. I felt utterly hopeless to help with his burden. I can’t control the variables of my students’ lives, but I can write the story of my own family. When I returned to teaching after eight years as a stay-at-home mom, I worried about the effect it would have upon my own four small children. It hasn’t been easy and we are all adjusting, but when I step back and take a moment to reflect, I see some lovely silver linings in these clouds of transition.
- End goal in sight. Interacting with teenagers who are on the brink of adulthood helps me to refine my parenting goals and strategies for my littles. Now is the time to think about the teens my children will one day be. Teaching high school students helps me envision what I want for my kids. This works in two ways: On one hand, knowing some of my students are struggling mightily against the pull of drugs and alcohol makes me come home and hug my tiny ones tightly, grateful that we’re dealing with sharing toys and household chores. On the other hand, seeing a 16 year old student leave food trash in my room reminds me how important it is to raise kids who clean up after themselves. Proverbs 20:11 reminds us, “Even a child is known by his actions, whether his deeds are pure or right,” and teaching has sharpened my radar to correct the small actions that grow into big habits.
- Strategic parenting. I’m a free-flow creative, classic Type B. But teaching has forced me to be more organized and strategic. It carries over to my parenting. Just as I put careful thought into the scope and sequence of my teaching, I am also thinking more about the intentionality of what I am teaching my own children. Am I teaching them to know about God? How to trust Christ? To stand up for themselves ? To be kind? To be responsible? To love and be loved? The struggle is real: I often want to flop on the couch when I get home and do nothing after a long day of teaching. But if I am willing to pour myself out each day for my students, how much more do I want to pour what little wisdom I possess into my own four precious children?
- Love the unlovely.In the first couple months of teaching, I found myself doing something entirely of the flesh: moving away from the difficult students. It’s in our nature to dislike those who make life difficult for us. I caught myself, or rather, the Spirit caught me in conviction.
- I became aware when another teacher told me that a student said he thought I hated him. This particular student had been extremely difficult in my class, and it was true I didn’t like him. How easy it was to let my behavior follow my feelings! Instead, I made a point to go to him that very day and tell him this was not true. I made a point each day to talk to him especially to overturn his impression. His behavior changed dramatically and an entirely new relationship has blossomed between us.
- Moving toward the difficult child is something I must do in parenting also. The “squeaky wheel” child with the bad behavior is the one who needs more attention, more love, more assurance. Our impulse is often to thrust the child away from us, to send them to their room, to the corner, to bed. But sometimes the right thing to do is pull them close, whisper love, and extend grace. Grace always costs us something (usually pride) and always heals more deeply than we could ever imagine.
- My most urgent prayer right now is that God would give me more love, that He would unfold my heart like a piece of notebook paper, until it is large enough to hold all the people in my life. Last year I had four children and this year I have 104. I pray to love them all well.
- Self-Respect. Recently, my oldest child, Abby, wrote me a list of reasons why she loves me. Somewhere around the middle of the list was this reason: Because you teach! If there is one life lesson that simply must be caught more than taught, I believe it is self-respect. If we wish that our children would grow to be people who love themselves as well as others, we simply must begin in our own hearts. This is where the work begins. I loved being a stay-at-home mom and I will never regret those precious years, but it’s true that I lost a little ground on the inside being so isolated. Returning to teaching has forced me to find myself again after many years of wearing only the Mommy-hat. Seeing this independence in me makes Abby proud. While I wish I could simply teach her how to care for and cherish her own unique identity, I know she draws this one directly from my own example. Taking up teaching, brushing off the dust, and finding the strength to begin again is making me stronger on the inside and she sees it. Maybe she finds unconscious comfort in the knowledge that she, too, one day can have a family and a calling. Seeing Mommy step out in faith and try new things seems to give her a quiet assurance that she, too, can and will find her way in this wild world. I hope so.
A spiritual mentor once told me that we never know where we might end up in life and what God might call us to do. I have found that she is right. I never expected to find myself here, but here is where I choose to bloom and grow.
Published March 17, 2016