There are moments that I have experienced in my career as an educator that have challenged me. My first year. Teaching Advanced Placement. Being a head coach. And the myriad of other situations that I’ve faced throughout each passing school year. Yet as another year draws to a close, I couldn’t help but reflect on my biggest challenges this year. As many of you know, I was let go from my last post as a Jr. High Principal. The Lord opened a door for me at my new school as the High School Vice Principal. It has been, like the rest of my years in education, a tremendous blessing. I find so much joy in what I get to do on a daily basis. As a Jr. High Principal, I felt really out of touch with the students. Now that my current job description includes the word ‘student’, I have found the “oomph” once lost. Yet with the myriad of conversations I’ve had with students this year, there are a few that have challenged me to my core. And yet, each one ended up with me saying something that my pride and ego have a difficult time letting me proclaim to teenagers: “I don’t know.”
I’d say that the bulk of my time is spent keeping students accountable to the rules and policies they’ve “forgotten”; if I had a dime for every time a student said, “I didn’t know that was against the rules.” I’ve heard a lot of the excuses, and I kid you not, down to “my dog literally ate my homework Mr. Stevens!” (enter face palm here) However, despite it all, it’s a blessing to be able to sit, chat, and counsel students in the ways of “adulthood”. It always a blessing to develop those deeper relationships with students. Yet, with that bond between Vice Principal and student, comes the following:
WARNING: Should a student find trust in you, be prepared to have them spill the beans of their hearts with you at any given moment.
Quite a few times this year, I have had students sit in my office sharing their deepest fears, worries, and pains. And I’m not talking about failing their most recent Biology quiz. I’m talking about abuse (physical, sexual, verbal), addictions, thoughts of and attempts at suicide, cutting, homosexual and bisexual tendencies, divorce, feelings of loneliness and depression, and the list goes on. Many times, my heart has been broken for the young men and women who have shed tears and have been doubled over in anguish in my office. And herein lies my challenge. When a student looks at me with tears in their eyes and asks, “Why? Why did God allow this to happen to me?!” I’m admitting before you now that everything within me desired to create an answer for them. Every ounce of my pride said, “Just say something, no matter what it is, to make them feel better.”
For those of you who don’t know me, or haven’t read this blog before, I am a Christian and I work in a Christian school. Shouldn’t I have all the answers for these kids? Pride and ego say, “Yes!” Yet, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is this:
Sometimes, you just have to learn to shut up and listen.
They need to know that there are people who will not try to explain everything. People that will lend an ear, listen intently, and show them that someone cares about them. Not every situation for teenagers can be explained away with, “These are life lessons son. You’re going to be a better person for having gone through this. Buck up. Get over it. Just ignore them. Don’t worry, be happy.” Let us not forget that children hurt too, and a lot of the time, they’ve been hurt and have absolutely no clue as to why it happened. Yes, their teenagers, but God gave them a heart too. Despite all the studies and statistics that say otherwise, teenagers are human. They need a tremendous amount of love and support. And sometimes, it’s okay to say “I don’t know.” Ultimately, all you’re doing is showing them that you too, despite contradicting studies, are human too.
Let me leave you with this. Despite the tears, hurt, anguish, and everything else that these conversations bring, allow me to share what these challenging situations have taught me. Patience, understanding, tenderheartedness, compassion, grace, and joy in that God chose me to be with those students in those, as Max Lucado calls them, “eternal instants”.
“An instant in time that had no time. A picture that froze in mid-frame, demanding to be savored. A minute that refused to die, after sixty seconds…a moment that reminds you of the treasures surrounding you. Your home. Your peace of mind. Your health…a moment that can bring a mist to the manliest of eyes and perspective to the darkest life.” ~ Max Lucado
For this educator, the majority of what we do is about these moments. Forget the tests, standards, and whatever else you’ve been taught in your credential program. These are the times that can not be “taught”. These moments are to be treasured and remembered because they’re worth far more than the certificate that hangs on your wall, or the monetary compensation you bring home. These are the moments that cause your students to come back and say, “Thank you.” Because I can guarantee you it’s not about how you taught them to combine letters and numbers, or the dates to World War II. It’s because you showed them you cared, and that goes way beyond the textbook and state standards.
God bless you!