First year teaching, groggy and still-waking up, I pulled into the parking lot at school. The early morning sun, having just crested the horizon, glinted on the frost still remaining on my windshield and side-windows. Opening the door of my car, I stood and stretched. Looking down, my mind momentarily froze as my eyes registered the clothes that I had chosen to wear that morning. A sudden wave of horror rolled over me. The gray pants I believed I had put on had inexplicably morphed into my brown pair of pants. Somehow, I had managed to put on a different pair of pants than I thought I did, and, although the combo could’ve been worse, it wasn’t particularly award-worthy either. I could already picture the cringe that would sweep across my wife’s face when I got home later that evening.
While having clothing that matches is important enough for a teacher, in the grand-picture it is fairly trivial. However, being able to match up as a teacher is crucially important for your work in the classroom. If you want to establish a good atmosphere in your classroom where students respect, listen, and enjoy your class, matching is extremely important. Now what type of matching are we talking about? There are particularly 2 different areas that it is important that, as a teacher, you are matching: your walk with God and your walk with yourself.
If you’re a parent, you’re well aware of the fact that your children are always watching. They seem to have an innate ability to see and pick-up on little things far more than we realize and, maybe, would want. That’s why we need to make sure to be vigilant in showing them a walk that is upright before God. As they say, “monkey see, monkey do.” Similarly, our students are watching us to see if we are living a life that is in accordance with what we believe. As teachers, we are to lead by example. While not living an outwardly wicked life is, obviously, important, more pertinent to your work as a Christian teacher is to make sure that your life is not just “not bad” but that it would be looked on as a model for others. Paul expresses something similar to this in Philippians 4:4-9:
Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.
There is a lot going on in this passage. First off, Paul instructs the saints in the church of Philippi to “let [their] moderation be known unto all men.” Don’t hide your faith and your love for God; it is something to celebrate: “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.” He cautions them not to worry about anything (be careful for nothing). This is to be done through prayer and thanksgiving, coming often and confidently. That is the model for a Christian. A teacher, if we are being honest, is not necessarily, called to be “more holy.” That is not the idea. The idea, though, is that God has given us the position of being someone that is looked to frequently and observed keenly. In the same way that parents are responsible to their children to be good models to base their life and walk on, teachers are responsible and required to be examples of Christ’s walk to their students.
We are to match our walk up to the standard of God’s law (as much as we are able to as redeemed sinners). Paul says, “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report…think on these things.” As teachers, these are the qualities and the characteristics that we desire our students think and walk in. Make sure we are doing so as well. If you are advocating that the students spend more time reading good Christian literature, make sure that your Christian books aren’t gathering dust. If you are telling your students how important personal devotions are, make sure that your own devotional life hasn’t lagged and become dormant. If you desire that your students are kind one unto another and serve the Lord with gladness in their hearts, show the same kind of love and tender-heartedness to your colleagues and to your students. Don’t give your students the occasion to accuse you of falling on the “do as I say, not as I do” adage. Paul recognizes the prominent position that teachers have and how others are watching when he says, “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” He didn’t shy away from this role. He wanted the saints in Philippi to live a life similar to his own. That was not to say he was without sin. That’s impossible. However, he knew that God had called him to live a life of integrity and uprightness before His face and that he was doing all he could each day to mortify the old man of sin within him and to live a new and sanctified life by the Holy Spirit (Form for the Public Confession of Faith). That’s what he desired for the Philippian saints as well.
This is far from the only passage in which Paul encourages an upright walk, especially for those with prominent positions. In his instruction to Timothy, he says, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Timothy was dealing with the those in his congregation who were doubting, not listening to, or not giving credit to him due to his age. Paul’s advice to Timothy was that he “set an example” so that those around him would see from his life that He was God’s servant. That’s our calling too, as teachers. Be an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. That, really, is the calling for all Christians, no matter your job or how visible it is every day (Titus 2). We ought all to be striving for this even if a teacher’s walk is more openly regarded than others.
So then, why is this so important? As we’ve seen, it is important for each Christian to model their life after Christ and that they be not hearers of the Word only but doers also (James 1:22-25). However, for a teacher, especially in the light of classroom management, this is exceptionally important. Students perceive when a teacher is being genuine in their walk with God and in their instruction about living for God. If there is a disconnect between what the students hear and what they see within the life of the teacher, this can cause a related disconnect in the relationship between a teacher and their students. Students need to trust their teachers as well as firmly believe that their teachers are living for God first, and that, through that, they are living to do what is best for their students not only for their earthly lives but also, more importantly, for their spiritual lives.
The second area that a teacher must match up is in regards to their own portrayal of themselves. This involves another area of genuineness. We will continue next week by exploring how pivotal it is that we present ourselves authentically to our students and not come across as “fake”.
One parting thought, though, for this week, still on the topic of living a life that is in accordance to the walk we pray our students walk in. One of the most beautiful and straightforward passages in the Bible that speaks about how we are to live as Christians is Psalm 1. May this passage encourage you in your own daily journey with God so that you can relay that encouragement to your students so that they too, can walk in a way that matches with the God of their salvation.
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
Mr. Ethan Mingerink is a teacher at Covenant Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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