By: Karen Daggert
This is my 15th year to teach elementary school.
Before I started teaching in the public school system, I had the fairy tale picture in my mind of a sunny classroom full of smiling, innocent children who were all eager to learn and please others. I quickly learned that, in reality, teaching is really, really hard work. Many of the kids are not innocent, having witnessed things that no adult should ever witness; not all children are eager to learn and please others. However, for the first few years, I was really motivated and excited about helping each one of these little individuals be successful in school and beyond. I set out to make a difference in the world!
As the years went by, I experienced many things that began to change me in a way that I later realized I didn’t like. Many of the children I have taught are from single-parent homes, usually raised by mother or grandmother. “Dad” doesn’t exist, or is “stepdad,” or “my mom’s boyfriend.” Some students have a parent who is in jail. Some students are left unsupervised after school because parents are working late. Many students rely on the school system for their meals because there is no food at home. Students come to school in the same dirty clothes they slept in and have worn to school all week. They wait for an adult at school to notice that their shoes are falling apart and give them a new pair out of the donation box, or to give them a coat when it gets cold. As you can imagine, these are not students who come to school with smiling faces, eager to learn and please others.
There are children who are poorly behaved. They have no respect for authority and do not value education. Often, these children are of parents that, when a teacher calls home about the unacceptable behaviors, defend the child and blame the teacher, the other students, or the school. The misbehavior continues.
It is not an unusual occurrence to hear children cussing in their conversations or when they are playing games at P.E. There are fights. There is always a problem between students that the teacher or the principal is working to resolve. The chair in the office for disciplinary referrals to the principal is most always filled.
Along with these problems, there is the problem of an angry parent. There are the times of an unhappy administrator. There are new standards from the state to learn and teach. There is a new curriculum. There are committees on which teachers are expected to serve. There are lessons in all the subject areas to plan every day for the whole class, lessons to plan for small groups every day, lessons to plan for students in need of intervention. There are papers to grade. There are tests to create. There are faculty meetings, PLC meetings, grade level meetings, PTO meetings, parent-teacher conferences, committee meetings, and professional development conferences to attend. There are additional students in the classroom because a substitute didn’t show up for a teacher who is absent.
In all of this, I became something like a robot. I don’t know how it happened, or after how long. One day, not too long ago, I realized my heart had become hard. I no longer had thoughts of making the world a better place. I had become desensitized. My job had become nothing more than a job. I went in, taught the curriculum, checked off all of the extra things that were expected of me, and got paid at the end of the month. I felt closed off inside.
One day, I seemed to have some sort of an awakening. I was not who I once was. I wasn’t the same caring and compassionate person I used to be. When I realized this, it bothered me. But, I couldn’t seem to do anything about it. I was this person with a hardened heart that I didn’t like. Nothing I told myself changed it.
I started to pray for God to change me. I asked Him to soften my heart. I asked Him to give me compassion for others. I prayed this for a long time before I changed. As I prayed this prayer, I continued to come to church and listen. As the rioting in Minneapolis took place, after the death of George Floyd, Harvey, one of the pastors at Anchor Church, preached a message that every individual has inherent value. In Genesis 1:27, it says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” EVERY PERSON IS IMPORTANT TO GOD AND HAS VALUE. EVERY PERSON IS CREATED IN HIS IMAGE.
I continued to listen. What is our purpose? Our purpose is to bring God glory by all that we say and do in our lives. Our lives are meant to point others to Jesus. Our good works are not for our salvation, but to live in light of what Jesus has done for us. I am to forgive others and give them grace because of the grace that God has given me. In 1 Corinthians 8:6, it says, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
I prayed and I listened. After time, I noticed a change in myself. I realized that I felt a strong desire to help others, to make their lives better, even in some small way. I started to feel differently about my students, their parents, my principal, other teachers. Every one of these people are individuals whom God created and they have value to God! God started pointing out every little thing that was right around me. Those things became bigger than every little thing that was wrong. He stirred in me a desire to love others. I no longer felt weighed down with the heavy burden of teaching. I felt joyful.
At the same time these changes were happening, my Mom and I began memorizing bible verses together. We wanted to learn a verse a week. Each week, I typed them and posted them behind my desk in my classroom at school. One of those verses is John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” These have become guiding words in my life.
Recently, I can’t remember what we were reading that spurred a question, but one of my students asked me about heaven and hell. Another student shared with her his knowledge, but Jesus was not mentioned. I felt nervous, but I told myself that God would give me the words to say. I shared with both students what I believe. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The students listened, but seemed to take the words lightly. I did not become discouraged because, again just recently, I learned that one may plant a seed, someone else may come and water it, but it is God who makes it grow. I also learned that God doesn’t need us to accomplish His plans, but He invites us to be a part of it. I participated in God’s plans when I shared my belief with these students.
During this time, Rand, another of Anchor’s teachers, preached a message about how we can honor God and please Him with our lives, wherever we are, no matter our circumstances. I am a teacher at Flatwoods Elementary School. I go to school with over 400 individuals created by God, created in His image. This is my mission field. Every day, I can be a part of God’s plans. Every day, I can love others. Every day, I can be pleasing to God through my thoughts, words, and actions. I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide me. Though I am paid to teach the curriculum to my students, and I do so to the best of my ability, my true purpose is to bring God glory.