Church Work, part 2

The following is a letter that my father gave to me just prior to my graduation from college:

Teaching is like nothing you have done before.

If you are a beginning teacher you are about to have some of the most wonderful and some of the least wonderful experiences.  Your success will depend strictly on one person, you.  How you choose to handle these experiences will determine your success.

If you can remember turning over a rock that had been in the same place for many years, you remember the surprises you found underneath the rock.  You found some things you did not wish to believe were true about life.  Bugs, worms, and creeping things went scurrying, sometimes right toward you!  It was at that moment you had to decide whether to run away screaming or to use the opportunity to learn about life.  You may discover that you thought you were interested in learning about bugs until the bugs came running toward you.  It is then that you found out about yourself.  You realized that either you cope, stay, and learn, or forget learning and run away.  It all depends on how you handle the situation.

When you begin teaching you are also turning over a rock.  You have been on the student side of education for many years.  Now the rock is turned.  You will discover things that you did not wish to believe were true about teaching, about children, about other teachers, about schools, and about education in general.  You also discover things about yourself that you did not wish to be true.  It is then that you find out about yourself.  You realize that either you cope, stay, and learn, or forget learning and run away.  Success depends on how you handle the situation.

You will never learn more about children than when you are responsible for the education of a classroom full of children.  You will find some of them to be the nicest and most pleasant people on the earth, and you will find some things that you did not want to believe were true about children.  Some children are not pleasant, some lie, some cheat, some steal, some are mean to others, some have no manners, some are lazy, some have been abused, some have been sick for a long time, some die, some throw up on your new outfit, some wet their pants, some make up stories about you, some cause social problems, some learn more slowly than others, some don’t like school, some don’t like you, some think they already know everything there is to know.  None of these traits are things anyone wants to believe about children, so when you as a new teacher discover these things you may realize that to cope with them, you will have to make changes in your philosophies and in your life.  Some do not wish to make the necessary changes.  They run away screaming.

You will never learn more about yourself than when you become responsible for the education of a classroom full of children.  You learn why it is important to keep your word, to be honest, to be diligent, to be prepared, to forgive, to be able to be forgiven, and to love.  You will learn that you have feelings about others that you never wanted to believe you could have, some bad and some good.  You learn how difficult it is to actually do what you said you would do, how jealous you can become, how negative it is possible for you to be, how difficult it is to discipline children for things you know you do yourself, how difficult it is to be cheerful and pleasant at times, how difficult it is to actually do what you said you would do,

how difficult it is to actually do what you said you would do,

how difficult it is to actually do what you said you would do…

You sometimes question your own ability, your own dedication, your own competence, your own mission in life, your own integrity, and your own sanity.  When you as a new teacher discover these things you realize that to cope with them you will have to make changes in your philosophies and in your life.  Some do not wish to make these changes; they run away screaming.

Success in teaching happens to those who realize that beginning the teaching profession is the beginning of education for them.  All of your previous education gives you some essential tools for the technical aspects of teaching, but truly successful teaching comes from the heart of the teacher.  You, as a new teacher, must come to grips with the realities and find ways to cope with them.  You must learn how to love the lovable child and you must learn how to love the seemingly unlovable child.  You must learn what competence is and how you can achieve it.  You must understand that you are the person in the classroom with the most responsibility and that you must accept responsibility with diligence, humility, and grace.  You must understand how important it is to actually do what you said you would do.

Only when you understand that you are unable to handle things without help can you be successful.  The first source of help comes from God.  Developing a good relationship with the Savior, Jesus, but the work of the Holy Spirit becomes the first priority.  The second source of help comes from fellow teachers who have been through this business before; they have wise advice.  Parents and students can also give wise counsel at times that should never be ignored, but should be examined carefully for bias.  It is helpful to continue taking relevant college courses and workshops.  It is helpful to read educational books, journals, and magazines.  It is helpful to pray.

The first year of teaching should probably be outlawed as cruel and unusual punishment.  Your schedule changes.  Your responsibilities change.  Your time for yourself disappears.  People demand things from you.  You must remember that before you can become a second year teacher, you must complete your first year.  Don’t give up.  Don’t ever give up.  Understand who you are.  Understand what you are doing.

The profession of teaching is an honorable one.  The profession of being a Lutheran Teacher is more than a profession; it is a true ministry.  You are God’s ambassador, God’s mouthpiece, God’s worker and witness.  Your work is essential in the society and in the Kingdom of God.  Each time you give a clear witness of your faith in Jesus and teach others to do the same by your actions and your words, the Holy Spirit has the opportunity to use those words and actions of yours to do great things in the hearts of children and their parents.  Each child who profits by your teaching benefits the society in ways you cannot imagine at the time you are delivering instruction to that child.  As a teacher you are important, more like essential, to the lives of people.  You may be the single most influential person in the life of a child.  You may be the difference for the children you teach between their becoming successes or burdens on the society; and between their becoming missionaries or subjects of mission work for the church.  The heart of a teacher must shine like a star with the love of Jesus.

God bless you for even considering the Lutheran Teaching Ministry.  God bless your efforts to become good at it.  Stay with it.  Don’t give up.  You are not alone!

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