The Tuesday bell-ringer is pretty basic. Students answer a handful of fill in the blank and multiple choice review questions. Take a few hands. Get the right answers. Move on with class. Teaching 101 - Right? Needless to say, it goes a bit differently in my class. I have replaced a few of those classroom staples to make the most out of this mundane task. Even for my reluctant students, answering our Tuesday review questions is stimulating, simply by assigning some nontraditional responses to the task. We might impersonate animals, or stretch in complicated yoga poses, do the latest dance moves, or even chase each other around with chainsaws (disclaimer: not real chainsaws, and context is everything). Now, you may think me mad, but you will think no longer still when I describe the wise ways I assess students. By watching the room, I can quickly assess whether or not a student truly knows the answer. If they do the wrong movement, or if their eyes wander, or they are gassing up their chainsaws in full commitment, I know what my next step is. With the right culture and procedures, it seems to be a pretty foolproof system to get a quick temperature of the classroom.
January 8th, 2019 wasn't unlike any other Tuesday, but as fate and irony would have it, it was the day my “wise ways” got the best of me. On the heels of a discussion about resolutions and goal setting, I assigned exercises (the most popular resolution) to Tuesday’s multiple choice review section, admitting that I probably could use the exercise as I had put on a few pounds. I cannot say that I remember the movements for “A”, “B”, and “D”, but “C” I remember distinctly. “C” was a lunge. In the midst of all the excitement of answering with greatest flexibility, the added pressure to the already stressed pair of khakis caused a swift split. In front of 27 sixth graders and a second-day student teacher, I ripped my pants -- good. Oh, real good. In just a single stifled breath, I saw the many endings to this embarrassment and struggle, but none of them resolved with mended pants. So I confessed what had happened, we all laughed quite a bit (admittedly, me less than them), and eventually, we moved forward and continued class. Even if it rips my pants. Even if my pants are ripped. I will have fun.
The Word of God speaks directly to the other four rules of my classroom: being ready, responsible, respect, and giving your best effort; however, where in the Bible does it say anything about having fun? There are many who would agree (believers and nonbelievers) God has eliminated all forms of fun. “Haven’t you seen Footloose?” It is true, the Bible provides boundaries and contexts for celebrating, but it is important to note Jesus attended quite a few parties, and will be hosting one someday soon (Rev 19:6-9). Another notable fun-haver was David (ancestor to Jesus), who enjoyed playing loud music and dancing in the streets (2 Sam 6:14-22). Finally, it was his son, Solomon, who states that God gives us pleasures in this life (and within His law) to remove us from the daily toil (Ecc 3:12,13). But ultimately, laughter, dancing, and other forms of fun are seasonal affairs. (Ecc 3:4)
The hapless truth is no matter how much fun I bring into my classroom, students’ lives can be taxing and toilsome. Many go home to unfortunate circumstances, some to go home unspeakable things, and a few don’t truly have a “home” to go home to. I work hard to give every educational opportunity to help students eventually leave those things behind, but in the here and now, in the day-in-day-out struggle when life can simply stink, dance moves, shouting, lots of sugar, and laughter are the best medicine. However this is merely suppressing the symptoms. We all need something more substantial to reach the root, which will give us a long-term, life-altering prognosis. For that, you need joy.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” - James 1:2-4
Joy isn’t merely a distraction from my circumstance, but on the contrary, acknowledges that my circumstance will be met with a steadfast attitude to keep me moving forward. This means my metaphorical pants may be intact or torn, but either way, I can praise my Father, be fulfilled, and keep moving forward. When I am holding firm or uprooting my life. When I am building new habits or slowly removing the bad ones. When I am winning a battle with sin or fighting desperately to run away. When I am praising God for an answered prayer (or two) or beating my chest to have Him hear my plea. When I am rich, when I am poor, when I am single, when I am married, when I am healthy, when I am weak, when I am finding, and when I am seeking, when I am having fun, and when I am in misery, I can praise my Father, be fulfilled, and keep moving forward. Even matched with the greatest test we know, the sting of death, the joy of the Lord becomes more evident than ever and is our sustaining strength.
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” - 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
So, I must amend my final rule to make it more precise. I will not have fun. I will have joy.
While smiles, encouragement, singing, playfulness, dancing, and laughter are some of the most fun things to include in classrooms, and simply life, ultimately, these can and should be used to also showcase our joy. Initially, these surface level behaviors may not be noticed for what they truly are until we are faced with persecution or our ongoing struggle becomes more apparent. So we must be steadfast in our joy, not merely rejoicing when we are the recipient of a great gift or when things go our way. Where, then, is the contrast? We must find our way to celebrate when we have much to mourn. We must sing out loud in the middle of persecution. We must find a way to be playful when our mortal body is giving in and giving up. We must find encouraging words when we are treated unfairly. And, yes, we must find a way to laugh when we rip our pants in front of roomful of people. These are the moments, more than any other, that make our testimony. Heads will begin to scratch and question will be induced. “How can you possibly be so different? How are you happy? Why do you have hope? (1 Peter 3:15).” Our answer: It’s simple. I will have joy...Now, let me tell you why.
You do not have to study this picture for long to notice that one of these hats is not like the other ones. I couldn’t resist showing up for the tour of our school’s progressing construction in my very own hard hat. This burgundy feature, with “Winner” handwritten above the brim, many-a-scratch across its hemisphere, and dare I say even a faint odor, has hung above my board since my first day as a teacher to stir my memory. It reminds me that I once was a college dropout. It reminds me that I have skills beyond the classroom. It reminds me that I am fulfilled as a teacher. But most of all, it serves as a reminder that no matter the task, I must do my best.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. - Colossians 3:23, 24
Twenty years old. Freshly married. I simply needed a job. Lacking skills, I also lacked options, so I found work as grunt labor for a contractor inside of a Louisiana refinery. All the day long my role was to unload racks of metal and wood, sorting them by size and shape. While this task didn’t use much of the matter in between my ears, it was some of the hardest labor of my life. It would have been easy to slow down, lay out, or take it easy (as advised by my many coworkers), but my limited potential allowed me to clearly see the will of God in my work: His glory. My daily toil became my deliberate testimony. Others noticed the effort, and in turn God blessed me for seeking Him. I was promoted over and over again, in each place sharing my testimony with a different group of people. I did my best to serve Him (albeit imperfectly at times), although it was far from the place I dreamed I’d be doing this.
As I have sought God’s will through prayer and scripture, I have noticed He isn’t necessarily caught up as much as I am in the what, when, and where. Is being a teacher a calling on my life? Possibly. Is it important that I am at a certain school? Maybe. Does it matter what subject I teach? Probably not. Most importantly, would God still use me if my circumstances were drastically different and I was still seeking Him? He has, He is, and He will. Doing your best has little to do with meeting the benchmarks and more to do with making out the big picture. How and why are the questions God challenges our heart with first. His word separates bone from marrow as it judges the intentions of our heart to see what really lies beneath the surface of your choices (Heb 4:12).
This year marks the fifth anniversary of one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made in my life. As a soon-to-be graduate, two schools had offered me a position, and I was torn. Both school choices presented equally compelling cases to why I should teach there, each offering their unique set of pros and cons. Ultimately, I wanted God’s will in my decision, so I prayed. And I prayed again. And again. Over and over I invited God in to help me make a choice, yet God was seemingly silent. Needless to say, I was confused. As I talked about my frustrations with my wife, family, and friends, the question they each countered with was, “Is there a wrong choice?” Hmm.
In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. - Proverbs 3:6
I came to the conclusion there was and is a right choice. The right choice will always be to submit to Him first, to walk in faith and deliberately live out our testimony. When we are attune to this, we can be confident in our decision to take the next step forward without a sign, a lot, or a fleece because submission to His will means He has led me to this fork, crossroad, or intersection, so He will continue make the path straight no matter where I turn.
One final factor to consider, as we often compare ourselves to others, is the uniqueness in which we are designed. According to the parable in Matthew 25, On a 1-10 scale of (literal) talents there were vast differences. Each servant is charged with the same task, no matter the number, and each one invests their money differently. The one with the least, a single talent, is reprimanded not because he has the least, but because he has done nothing with it. There are so many classroom implications about how I challenge my students, the measure of success, and what trying hard looks like, but ultimately, for each one of us, if we make the investments, God provides the increase. If we keep moving forward, He will make the path straight. If we do our best, choose and seek Him in all we do, He has the best things awaiting us.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” - 1 Timothy 4:7-8