The Teacher You Need, re-visit

I’ve been teaching since I lined up my childhood 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 might say I was ‘bossy’. I prefer the term ‘influential’.  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 became “the boss” in 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 students laugh. I like to learn about them. I like to showcase their strengths and 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, students also sometimes need a boss. They need to know that a limit exists. They need to understand that they are expected to comply with the teacher’s expectations. They need to know that if they choose not to comply, there will be a consequence. Not a punishment, necessarily, but a consequence.

Other times, kids need a mom in the classroom. My “mom” self shows up when a student reveals that her mother is in the hospital, that his dog died this morning, or that she 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.

I have been known, on rare occasions, to turn a little Jack Nicholson in my classroom. I cock my eyebrow, quietly walk past a mildly misbehaving adolescent, and crush a hornet on the window sill with my bare hand. “Jack” shows up out of the blue. He makes off-the-wall comments 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 I was teaching in a high school classroom, “the boss” would show up to re-gain control on the heels of an “Ellen” appearance gone-rogue, and 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.”

Recently I was reading how 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.

Sometimes we go rogue. We forget that God is God, and we are not.

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.

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, Friend, Lord. He is the Teacher who is exactly what we need Him to be.

Teacher I will follow you wherever you go.

Matthew 8:18

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