We’re going to be taking a slight detour from discussing qualifications of good teachers and the reasonings behind our current teacher shortage to talk, in a short series of posts, about something relevant for both prospective teachers and established teachers alike: classroom management. This time of the year can be particularly challenging for teachers as both they and their students become battle-weary and work-worn within the dreary dregs of Winter. The sun rarely shines and the workload piles up. Then the warm days show up – a couple days at least – and the madness of March sets in. Teachers find their patience and calm often frayed to nubs, easily agitated unless they actively fight the urge to be short and irritable. Small problems that have been simmering within the class atmosphere seem to be exacerbated and manifest themselves as the extremes in student attitude and teacher reactitude – yes, I made that word up – are pressed to their limits. Teachers can feel like a bone to be chewed when the gales of student discontent come slashin’. A mutinous spirit has entered the class and, if not carefully stymied, can grow and mutate into a festering sore.
A properly managed classroom does not mean that this spirit of unrest can’t happen. We live in a sinful world, teaching sinful students as sinful teachers. Yet, a proper, Christian view of your students and your role as their teacher can plug a lot of holes in a “sinking” ship. A healthy, Christ-centered approach to classroom management strengthens the unity of the classroom and defuses a mutinous attitude or, even better, helps to prevent it from growing in the first place. So, teachers, avoid mutiny by boarding the HMS Bounty.
Teachers, you need to get onboard. Establishing a Christ-centered classroom requires that you consider your treatment of the following four principles: Hope, Match, Serve, and Bounty. Avoid mutiny by hoping, matching, serving, and trusting in God’s bounty.
First, let’s look at hope. How is this to play a central part in the direction of your classroom? It is crucial that we have the hope of God when it comes to our students. We can be discouraged at times with the actions of our students. We can be discouraged with our own actions and reactions. It can be easy to get downhearted, anxious, and even despairing over the day-to-day interactions between students as well as our own engagements with them. We might say something – or not say something – and regret it. We may get discouraged when students sin against each other or struggle with the afflictions of the flesh and the effects of their own sinful natures. This is where the hope of God comes into play. The hope of God casts aside despair and refocuses us on the One who really matters and on whose strength we ought to lean on and encourage our students to lean on. Psalm 43 expresses the Psalmist’s same struggle with these discouragements. Psalter 120 paints this Psalm beautifully:
Judge me, God of my salvation,
Plead my cause, for Thee I trust;
Hear my earnest supplication,
Save me from my foes unjust.
O my soul, why art thou grieving?
What disquiets and dismays?
Hope in God; His help receiving,
I shall yet my Saviour praise.
On Thy strength alone relying,
Why am I cast off by Thee,
In my helpless sorrow sighing,
While the foe oppresses me?
Light and truth, my way attending,
Send thou forth to be my guide,
Till Thy holy mount ascending,
I within Thy house abide.
At Thy sacred altar bending,
God, my God, my boundless joy,
Harp and voice, in worship blending,
For Thy praise will I employ.
It bears special notice how often prayer is referenced. We receive the hope of God through the power of prayer and God speaking with us: “At Thy sacred altar bending, God, my God, my boundless joy, harp and voice in worship blending, for thy praise will I employ.” We worship Him and praise Him by bowing before Him. It is through this prayer and worship that we are given His hope and, in turn, His help is received. It is when we shed off our own conceited notion of self-ability and admit our own inability (which happens more and more as the Holy Spirit cleanses our hearts and sanctifies us to live like unto Jesus Christ) that the reassurance of the power of Christ’s shed blood more-and-more washes over us, calming the squalls of disquiet and dismay so that, instead of feeling cast-off from God, our sighs of helpless sorrow are flung away. We have CHRIST pleading our cause! What greater balm for discouragement is there than that?!
When we hope in God, our discouragement in our own failures is put in perspective. God’s mercies are new and boundless to us every morning. Never will we “scrape the bottom” of His goodness. When we know that truth, our discouragement is transformed into encouragement for we confess that we “can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth” us (Philippians 4:13). Paul, in the context of this passage, is speaking to the wide range of different situations in which God has placed him and the variety of different emotions he’s faced: “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (vs 12). The life of the teacher can feel like this sometimes. There can be highs and lows. Sometimes, as a teacher, you experience the greatest “highs” of the mountaintops: witnessing students as they serve Jesus in their walk, model their life after Jesus Christ, apply the things they’ve learned in their classes to their Christian worldview, and take up their place within the the Church of Christ. However, you also will experience the lows: the realities of our own sinfulness, the consequences of sinful walks and actions, the corrupting influence of the world upon families and friendships, and Satan’s own direct assaults upon the youth. These can be disheartening. Sometimes it can feel like the negative, difficult situations are hitting harder and more frequently than the good moments, the scales are out-of-balance, like you’ve been placed in a heavyweight-boxing match and you’re horribly undersized and underprepared. That’s where we take our hope in God…for ourselves (He’s our strength), but also, and this is crucially important, for our students.
Having this mindset of having the hope of God for our students is critical, and it plays a role in how we navigate the management of our classrooms. When we see students sinning, or they sin directly to us, or they are burdened down with the effects of their own sinful behaviors, these can be troubling and can, without the proper Christ-centered perspective, lead to an improper perspective of the students and our own reaction to them and their time in our classrooms. We, as teachers, have been given the joy of teaching and instructing God’s youth. They are God’s youth. We place our trust and our hope in that truth. When they act out in sin, we should be wise to remember to direct them to God. Don’t focus the attention on what they did to you as a teacher primarily but redirect their attention to God. When they are struggling with their own sinful behaviors, orient them to face the rugged cross of Jesus. Equip them with the Word given by God for them. When counseling, leading, and comforting, don’t just bring your own words. These can only go so far as they proceed from earthen vessels. Bring God’s comfort and hope alongside your students when they’re struggling so that they too have a proper and right perspective.
We have a surety in God’s promises that we can rely on, a confidence that we bear in the classroom when we view the young people sitting before us in the light of Christ. They are Christ’s lambs. Each one, like ourselves, is under-construction by the Holy Spirit who teaches and guides us through a life of continued sanctification, and He will not fail to bring about His desired purpose: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Our confident work, therefore, is performed out of love. It begins with Christ’s love for His sheep. We love Him because He has first loved us. Our love for each other proceeds out of this love for Christ: “We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also” (I John 4:19-21). When we remember this, our view of others, our students included, changes. We harbor a confident hope in God’s promise for them as His children, “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5).
And this hope is a joyful thing. We can take joy in the hope of salvation: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3). This hope is a lively hope. It inspires a certain agency to our hope so that our hope is not a dead hope. Christ is ARISEN! Our hope, therefore, is sure and very much alive. When we have this hope and joy in our students, even when they sin against us and our tempers flare or our selfish desire is to take offense for our own self’s sake, we remember to whom we belong and to whom they belong. This doesn’t give excuse for their actions by any means. If anything, it adds more imperative that the wrongdoing be addressed and not turned a blind-eye to. Yet not for the sake of our own honor but for their own well-being and, more importantly, to guide them to an awareness of their own hope of salvation and to draw them to the foot of the cross.
When we have this attitude towards our students, God blesses us with strength. A healthy, Christ-empowered strength. This type of strength is fed on by students as they watch and observe the walk of a teacher whose walk is in line with God’s Word. Psalm 42, which was referenced earlier, speaks about being disquieted and the exhaustion that accompanies it. The Psalmist draws the picture of a deer panting for water, near-death from thirst and near-mad in its search for “water brooks”. That “water brook” is Jesus Christ, the living water. When His people drink of Him and hope/wait on Him, He “shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
So, take that hope of God into your classroom. Hope in God for your students. Trust in His promises for them. Joy in the Lord and take courage. Equipped with hope, enter your classroom with a new strength, that of Jesus’ work not of your own. Be on your knees before His throne, constant in prayer, and, through His peace may you be given joy. “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:13).
Mr. Ethan Mingerink is a teacher at Covenant Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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