Confessions of a Public School Teacher

It is the second week of school and the cafeteria is full of 150 hustling, bustling, loud, nervous, awkward middle schoolers. Their social studies teacher is a bright-eyed, excited, partially naive 22 year old. He has been going from table to table eating lunch with his students in order to get to know them a bit better. This endeavor is always a bit uncomfortable at first but once the teacher introduces things to talk about, the conversation goes smoothly – most of the time. You see, on this particular day he settles at a table of six girls. Believing it to be an innocent enough question, he decides to ask them what their favorite fruit or vegetable is, and gets the bright idea to teach them that bananas have potassium which helps prevent muscle aches and cramps.  So the teacher asks the following question to these twelve year old girls, “How many of you have gotten cramps before?” DOH!!! Several of them nervously look around. The teacher’s insides freeze. Half his conscience is barraging him with insults at the stupidity of his question, the other half is on the floor laughing at the hilarity of the question. After three seconds of agonizing silence (which might as well have been 3 hours) an outspoken girl retorts, “Well…not yet.”

Believe it or not, I used to teach in a public school. And as you have probably gathered by now, I was this naive teacher. You see, my first year out of college I taught sixth grade Social Studies at Lange Middle School here in Columbia. Despite the initial “foot in mouth” moment, I made it through the year, as did the rest of my students. And even though I only taught for a year, I learned some things about teaching, about my kiddos, and about God. So whether you are an education major planning to wade into the waters of teaching, or whether you are planning on pursuing a career that stretches you to the point of inability (in other words, everyone else), I hope you find these lessons beneficial as you seek to be faithful to God in your career.

What I Learned About Teaching

I learned that teaching requires continued learning. I consistently found myself scrambling to learn about the next subject. Teaching is an ever-evolving art that can always be improved upon because there is so much to learn about in God’s world.  So whether you plan on teaching Science or English, or plan to work for a magazine or newspaper, be prepared to continue the process of learning in your vocation.

I learned that teaching is more about sowing than it is about harvesting. I will probably never see the fruit of the life lessons I tried to instill in my students, but that is the truth of most of life. God is working in literally millions of different ways through millions of different people to accomplish His will (1 Cor. 3:7-9). When we accept our roles as sowers, the more “useful” we will be to God in accomplishing His purposes for the careers He is calling us to.

What I learned about my kiddos.

They are not innocent. It is one thing to read in Romans 3:10 that “none is righteous, no, not one.” It is another thing to, on multiple occasions, watch from afar as a twelve year old looks around to make sure no teachers are around before intentionally knocking a student’s book out of their hand, or shove them into a locker. Now I know this seems like a very cynical lesson to learn, but learning it taught me that my students are just like me – sinners in need of God’s grace. We are not born innocent and pure, we are born sinful (Psalm 51:5).

They live more difficult lives than I ever imagined. I had a student whose older siblings partied and drank with their parents a few times a week. I had a student whose mom shot X-rated films in their apartment. I had a student (twelve years old) who was the mother figure for her three- and five-year old siblings. I had a student whose mom would literally kick her out of the house one week and take her back the next (this happened several times). I had multiple students being initiated into gangs.

As I reflected on these precious children I was literally brought to tears. We live in a deeply broken world in desperate need of a Savior. No matter what career you choose I beg you to take Jesus’ words seriously when He said to let them come to Him. Yes children are not innocent, but they are so impressionable, which means they are more open to believing the Gospel and loving Jesus. Many live harder lives than we imagine and they are starved for love. So whatever career path you choose, make it a point to somehow be involved in a child’s life. Pray for them, spend time with them, hug them; be the Gospel in the flesh for them.

What I Learned About God

I experienced first hand the faithfulness of God. There were days when I was completely exhausted, days when I had no idea what I was going to teach the next day, days when I had no idea how to handle discipline issues in my classroom, days when I had no idea what to say to a student who keeps getting picked on and hates his life.  But throughout all the chaos and messiness of my year, God in His grace gave me the daily “bread” I needed to make it through the day. Romans 8:32 really is true: “He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with Him graciously give us all things?”

It does not matter what career you plan on pursuing. The rock-solid truth you can tether yourself to in the coming storms is that God is our loving Father who is jealous to see us one day dwell with Him (Ex. 34:14, Deut. 4:24). He’ll be there in the times that are bad,  in the times that are good, and in the times when you have to talk to a table of twelve year old girls.

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About austinpconner

I am originally from St. Louis, MO, and graduated from MU in 2007 and have been on staff with Veritas for almost 4 years. In addition to being on staff, I am a full time student at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. One more minor detail: my wife Polly and I had our first child last June - Adelyn Grace Conner.
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