Monday, June 16, 2014

5 Things I Learned During the Last Week of School

We've been gone for awhile. It's not just that we've been busy (oh, we have) but it's more like this: If the Holy Spirit doesn't inspire our writing, we don't write. If He doesn't speak to us and through us, then it's of no importance to us or to anyone else. And then again, it may not be that He hasn't tried to inspire us or hasn't spoken to us, but perhaps we just haven't slowed down enough to listen. 

Summer is finally here, which brings with it a little time to slow down. Thank.You.Jesus. But before we jump into pretty posts about lightning bugs and sandcastles and sun-kissed children so tired that they fall asleep in odd places...let me tell you about how I kept from losing my mind during the last two weeks of school this year.

If you are by chance a 3rd grade teacher in the state of North Carolina, or if by chance you know and love one, I don't even have to explain this to you. It's fodder for another day. For now, here's the gist of it:

Our legislature done gone lost it's mind.

The amount of testing, more testing, and high stakes testing put on 3rd grade this year was profit driven, irresponsible, and almost to the point of abusive to both students and teachers. (And maybe even to parents.)

All students and teachers in grades 3 and up were dealing with such high stakes this year. If I had to use one word to describe the climate, I think it would have to be "tearful." There were lots of tears, from both children and adults. Tears of frustration, fear, sadness, disappointment, and at the end - relief. 

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. ~ Romans 8:28

I won't pretend that I understand why God is allowing this to happen to children across our country. Are there worse things? Sure. But what's going on in education everywhere right now is more than just a little crappy. It's frightening. What I do know, though, is this: God will use every bit of this for each child's good, each teacher's good, and for my good. I know this because I learned a few things last week despite the swirling mire of negativity and doubt and blame that surrounded us all. God will take these lessons and make something beautiful out of them. Somehow.

Here is what I learned (or was reminded of) last week...

5. Children are generous.
All week long, children were giving me pictures, cards, and gifts. They asked me to sign their yearbooks and autograph books as they always do. On the last day of school one little girl bounced up to me with a gift bag. Inside was a handmade craft and a Starbucks gift card. She said, "This is for you because it's a place you've never even been before!" I don't know what made her think that I'd never been to Starbucks before ;). But the sincerity with which she gave, and with which she wanted me to experience something I would enjoy caught me off guard. 

I read not long ago that you should always accept gifts from children with sincerity. I've often shrugged off my own offspring's gifts of sticky Cheerios and scribbled half-hearted drawings. But when someone cares for you, they may want to show that through gift giving. Children are naturally generous and we need to perpetuate this through receiving their gifts joyfully. Yes, joyfully. Even the stinky lotion, the lopsided rainbow loom bracelets, and the questionable baked goods. All of them.

4. Nine year olds still love their teachers.
One of my little boys had a particularly rough last week of school. Nothing we did pleased him. The games we played were wrong. His tie dyed t-shirt was not colorful enough. Our read-aloud was boring. He detested every single game at field day. He pushed away from his friends and he barely did any of the "fun" assignments. I wanted to lighten his mood. Teasingly, I said, "What's wrong? Are you just sad because you're going to miss me all summer?"

"Well, that's part of it," he replied. Cue heart explosion. I was stunned. After all those days that I hounded him for missing work. Made him sit up instead of laying down during carpet times. Guided him (forced him) to work with others on group projects instead of doing them on his own. Gave him silent lunch as a natural consequence for being sassy to his classmates. But still, he loved me and he wanted and needed the discipline and structure that I provided.

3. Parents do care.
I know this to be true and always have. But this week I got an amazing surprise from one of my Hispanic moms, who doesn't speak any English. As she took her child home on the last day, she looked around, took a deep breath, looked me in the face and said,

"Thank you for all you do for my son this year. Thank you so much. He learn lot. He happy every day."

She learned English for me. *tears*

2. I can depend on my husband. 
Over the course of four days my husband attended two awards presentations, three parties,  two field days, one splash day, and multiple lunches. He carried heavy gallons of sweet tea. He applied sunscreen. He had water gun fights. He also picked up 100 tacos and delivered them to my class wearing a sombrero and a mustache. All so that I could take care of my other 22 kids this past week.

He also listened to me worry and fuss every single night about every detail. Oh, he complained. He I-told-you-so'd. But he was there. And I am thankful.

You know what they say. Real men marry teachers. There's even a shirt.

1. They may have thought they did, but they can't take God out of public schools.
Teachers and students and principals are still praying for themselves and for each other. Parents are taking their kids to church. Kids are talking to each other about Jesus. They are asking their teachers questions about the Bible. And teachers are answering. Scripture is found on desks and walls. Words of life are being spoken to children who are in need of love.

If God lives inside our hearts, and we are in the public schools, then God has been there all along. Maybe some of us just stopped looking for Him. I stopped for awhile. But it's time now, that we start looking again. What we're doing in public schools right now is really, really hard. And there is no way to get through hard things without the strength that comes from Christ alone.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. ~1 John 4:16

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. ~Joshua 1:9

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 
~Psalm 139:7-10