I asked my partner this evening what he thought excited me most about teaching …

When is it that I come home from work all, you know, jumping up and down?”
Well I don’t know. Maybe, when a kid gets it? By which I mean, I guess, the teaching bit…”

I remember my first day in the classroom. I was nineteen, teaching someone else’s curriculum, explaining an assignment I hadn’t designed. But there was a question from a goofy 8th grader and so I walked over to his desk and we talked and I altered the task slightly and reexplained it because it turned out he’d raised a valid point, and then he got excited and bent over his work while I moved back to the front of the classroom.

I think that was the moment I fell in love.

It wasn’t about books.
It wasn’t about writing.
It wasn’t about words.

It was about that moment. In that moment we learned.

It was silly—I couldn’t tell you the book or the task to save my life. But the feeling of explaining something, being questioned, then listening (and listening and listening) and changing the way I was teaching until I became comprehensible was a feeling I wanted again. And even deeper, the effect of that moment is burned in my memory: I saw the body language of a child completely absorbed in the work of words, scratching away at the paper before him.

I happened upon that moment that day, but it turns out it’s tough to get there, most of the time.

It takes honesty and consistency to build trust with my students. It takes a fair and firm hand to create a safe classroom environment. It takes insight to see beyond the stony glare of an angry teen. It takes creativity to plan units that engage my students enough to keep them in their seats. It takes perseverance do all my students the justice of preparing them for their exams (or other goals). It takes perspective to not become overwhelmed by the stacks of paperwork that surround the teaching profession.

It’s hard. Harder than almost anything else I’ve ever done.

Sometimes I think teaching is simply a never ending list of problems to be solved (on some days it’s a downright Whack-A-Mole). But this is why I love it. I’m never going to arrive. I’m always going to be a student, inside. Trying to figure out a better way to explain that technique, a more effective way to communicate what makes writing clear, a gentler question to draw the tentative student into the text. Learning from the people in front of me how to teach them better, to teach them the way they deserve to be taught, with grace and with excellence.

I’m not sure that this love letter is going to swell the ranks of any teacher preparation programs. And of course, I could rattle off the list of reasons not to sign up. But we all know them already—the hours, the lack of societal support, the disillusioning systems, apathetic and/or rowdy teens, and on. Add to that the emotional burden of hurting students and the self-doubt of an imperfect teacher and it doesn’t partiularly sound like a recipe for a fulfilled life.

And yes, I get tired. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I take shortcuts. Sometimes I teach crappy lessons. Sometimes I completely lose the plot. Like any grand romance, the daily grind takes a toll on my affection.

But I’m in love. I dread Monday morning until the first not-always-cheery face greets me in period 1. Then I remember why I’m here. I remember why I do this crazy job.

It’s because of you. And you. And you. And because some afternoon I’ll wade through the lesson plans and student reports on my desk and find that essay you redrafted and I’ll realize that you learned and I learned and we’re both better people for it.


A Tenebrae Reflection

April 3, 2015

On Mark 14:3-31

You were made in human likeness, found in appearance as a man—here, with us, with sounds and smells and tastes. Here in the place of expectation and disillusionment, confusion and truth, betrayal and redemption.

You are here, knowing the rough texture of your crowded city and hot, sweaty rooms. Dozens of us are here, squashed on the floor, sitting on each other’s feet—desperate for truth—a salve for the confusion of complex times and complicated needs.

Crash. Our startled faces look up. The small ceramic jar has forced silence and the heavy sweetness of nard mixes with the musk of bodies. The sacred and the profane, here, together. A joke dwindles and conversation dissolves into a sigh here, a grunt there. Muttering, murmuring, reasoning, rationalizing: hissed whispers that condemn. The volume climbs, until:

With no need to raise your voice, evenly, but then, with the falter of a man who has seen the person before him, with the falter of man who knows where this anointing leads:

‘Leave her alone. She has done a beautiful thing to me.’

Frustration and truth. Confusion and understanding

Do we have ears to hear?

Whispered plans. Money clinks. Did he meet their eyes when the final agreement was made? Did he feel nauseous? Did he know that tightness of the chest we feel in anger, indignation? But this is in the shadows.

The noonday sun sees the agitation of plans needing to be made: questions, instructions, the rust smelling blood in the streets, the charring of grilled lamb—roasting flesh. Acerbic herbs stain fingertips with smells that will last all evening.

You recline. Muscles relaxed by the breathing, talking, whispering of those who knew (or thought they knew) you best. Muscles tense at the thought of what is to come. Bowls clink, clank. Jaws work: eating, laughing, debating.

But then, rather suddenly, unexpectedly, at a time most right but most unpredictable, amidst the swallowing, the slurping—a most human of activities—grace is defined. Quietly and firmly:

‘One of you will betray me.’
‘This is my body, my blood.’ 

Sin and redemption. Betrayal and adoption. Rejection and love.

We are confused: sad, heavy questions trail off, one-by-one. A hymn is sung, haltingly. Understanding will come, but it is not present tonight.

One—we all know him—cannot leave the discomfort, that need to justify, and his emphatic insistence echoes the prophesied crowing. But grace is more insistent still.

Listen to the truth.

Listen to the voice of the God-Man. Listen to the voice of him who knows your humanity, who sees your sin. Listen to the suffering servant, the Passover lamb, the One who conquered death:

‘You will all fall away.’
‘But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you.’