Olivia is sharing the big lessons she's learned from her first year of teaching (and helping me out during our busy, busy move). To read the first part, click here. Thanks again, Olivia!
...I recently completed my very first year of teaching. I am blessed to teach Religion and Art to 7th and 8th graders at our local Catholic middle school. Spending each day with preteens gifts me with loads of entertainment, a bore-less job, and plenty of opportunities to grow in virtue. This year has taught me much more than I can fully fathom now, but I nevertheless present to you 10 simple, yet profound lessons I have learned about teaching and catechizing young people in our culture today. I "knew" all about these before, but like we've concluded, experiencing and implementing them is a far different task.
Note: Even if you are not a teacher, this list is applicable to anyone who engages with teenagers, and can even be useful in parenting (although I humbly lay no claim on expertise in that arena)!
6. Support them. When I find out what my individual students are interested in and get excited about those things with them, I have their full attention. I cannot tell you how many connections this has solidified between me and the kids. Whether it's a common sport, love of coffee, chess, music, family, dancing, etc.- letting them know that I care about what they care about moves mountains. If I support them in their endeavors and show interest in what they love, they, in turn, will be more interested in what I love and seek to hand on to them, namely: the Lawd.
7. Have mercy. They're human, and they're oh-so-fragile. Forgive, forgive, forgive. And then forget. Show them the love and mercy of the Father by being merciful with them when they screw up. Because they will, and often. But they are also quick to seek forgiveness. Welcome them back into the fold with open arms.
8. Aim for greatness, but realize that greatness ≠ perfection. Speaking of mercy, I have learned to have mercy on myself. I will mess up, my lessons won't always knock it out of the park, and I will fail in areas of discipline and discipleship. So I'll fake it 'til I make it, keep on keepin' on, and all that other stuff because if I give up on me, then they will give up on me. They smell fear and they see straight through BS so I must acknowledge when I fail, dust myself off, and get back to trying my best.
9. Leave work at work. As you know, Mandi has already intelligently advised this, but it's important enough to repeat and it is another lesson I have had to learn the hard way. At the beginning of the year, I would carry all my students' problems, hopes, and sorrows home with me. I would fret over the ones who were causing trouble and I would immerse myself in sorrow over the ones who were suffering.
The root of this, I realize, is noble. I love them, simply put. I want them to be happy and holy and when they are not I feel the lack in my own heart. But bringing this frustration and sadness home truly did have an influence on how I interacted with my husband. I would allow myself to remain in a state of frustration and sadness and let's be honest, nobody likes a crabby wife.
Before we got married, our marriage preparation sponsor couple advised us to 'leave work at work', and I ashamedly admit that I doubted that mantra. I mean, my work is not just any work, it is a mission. I'm not working solely for a paycheck, but for souls. Oy, my pride is my downfall. I have learned that leaving work at work is not a bad thing and it certainly does not mean that I am not putting my whole heart into this particular mission; it purely means that my vocation is THE mission to which I'm called first. If I am failing at that, then any success I gain elsewhere is worthless.
So, I began a small practice that has brought me much peace and joy. At the end of the school day, right before I leave, I pray my 'surrender prayer'. It's super informal and changes every day according to various needs, but it usually goes something like this:
Jesus, thank you for calling me to teach these students who I am so unworthy of. Thank you for the grace You've given me to get through another day, and for the blessing of participating in Your mission of salvation. I apologize for the ways I've failed today (mention specifics), and I ask for Your mercy on me and any of those I may have harmed. Lord, I now offer these, Your students, to Your Heart. You know what they need (mention specifics), and I beg You to deliver them from sin and a spirit of selfishness and depression. I leave them in Your Hands, Father, now and always. I will gladly return tomorrow with a renewed heart and a willingness to sacrifice on their behalf. Until then, I ask You to protect them, to give them great joy in You, and to ensure their health, happiness, and holiness.
Praying this short prayer has enabled me to go home at the end of each day happy and undivided. I've noticed that the more time and energy I put into my vocation as wife, the better teacher I become. Funny how that works, huh?
10. Pray, pray, pray. All the time. For them and for your ministry. This is the easiest thing to do, but the hardest to actually implement. The goal is to love them with His Heart, not your own. Read John 3:30 over and over again and realize that nothing you do is possible without grace.
Olivia is a new wife to David and a teacher to tweens who lives to pursue the heights of happiness and holiness. She loves light beer, cooking, old books, and all things Southern. Olivia blogs at www.totheheights.com and would love to have you along for the adventure!