Perhaps I should finish out this series of blog posts on my ‘threads’ with a post about teaching.
I can’t get away from it. I am a teacher. I’ve been teaching since I lined up my friends in chairs or desks in any garage or basement we were allowed to play in and ‘taught’ them the lesson of the day.
Some people might say I was ‘bossy’. I prefer the term ‘authoritative’. I had to start practicing early to hone the skills I would need to manage a classroom of teenagers and convince them that yes, they would write a three-page paper on the use of dashes in Emily Dickinson’s poetry.
Now that is not to say that I am the warden of the classroom. I can be. I will be if I need to be.
I prefer to be the Ellen DeGeneres of the classroom. I like to make my students laugh. I like to learn about my students. I like to showcase their strengths. I like to celebrate them. That’s my sweet-spot. Kids need a little Ellen in their lives. They need someone to be happy to see them, to dance with them, and to applaud them.
However, for some reason, students sometimes need a warden. They need to know that a limit exists. They need to understand that they are expected to comply with the teacher’s demands. They need to know that if they choose not to comply, there will be a consequence. Not a punishment, necessarily, but a consequence.
Sometimes teenagers need a mom in the classroom. My “mom” self shows up when a student reveals that his mother is in the hospital, that her dog died this morning, or that he hasn’t eaten since yesterday. The mom of the classroom has snacks in her desk, a shoulder to cry on, and the ability to grant an extension on any assignment. The mom oozes grace.
Occasionally a little Jack Nicholson shows up in my classroom. You know, Crazy Jack — the guy who looks a little possessed and like he might snap at any moment. That is not to say that my students push me to the brink of snapping — they sometimes do, but that is not when my “Jack Nicholson” shows up. No, Jack shows up out of the blue. He makes comments that keep students wondering if I am losing my mind. He sometimes says things just to get a reaction. He keeps class interesting.
I guess I developed a cast of personas to keep my students engaged, to keep them on task, and to help them feel loved. I wasn’t trying to do this; it just happened.
Sometimes when the warden showed up on the heels of an Ellen appearance my students would say, “Mrs. Rathje, what’s wrong? Are you mad?” I would reply, “No, I’m not mad. I’m just willing to be whatever teacher you need me to be today.”
I was reading my Bible study a little while ago; God used Hosea to announce that He he had had enough. He was going to punish His people, have no compassion on them, and refuse to acknowledge them (Hosea 1). Yikes! Why so harsh! How could God do that to his own people?
Because He was willing to be whatever His people needed Him to be.
When we need a line, a barrier, a boundary — He will provide it.
When we need affirmation, celebration, applause — He will give it.
When we need mercy — He has it in abundance.
I don’t know that He ever plays Jack Nicholson, but He does keep us wondering sometimes, doesn’t He?
Why does He do all these things? Because He loves us, knows way more than us, and understands the consequences of us going our own way. He is Creator, Redeemer, Father, Lord. He is the Teacher who is exactly what we need Him to be.
“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”