[notice]Musings around children’s ministry. Reflections on Week 1 of a 10 weeks teaching stint.[/notice]
Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children (Matthew19:14, NLT)
I recently embarked on a 10 week teaching experience in a school local to me. To protect the school, and the learners I will refrain from mentioning the school’s name. This opportunity has given me an insight into the realities of school life that I never had before.
Reaching a Generation, the organisation I work for, has been working with educators for close to 10 years mostly as an outside service provider. I am praying that the Lord will use my time in this school to deepen the ministry RaG has with schools. Over the next 10 weeks I want to share things that the Lord lays on my heart that spring from the school context.
In the past RaG’s ministry has given me audience with educators and learners who share their experiences with me. It’s from these accounts that I’d gain an understanding of what the current school environment is like. I’d couple these accounts with memories from my own school experiences and create my own slightly romanticised view of schools in South Africa.
Now for a week and a half I have been standing alongside some of the educators RaG’s ministry serves; keeping order in assembly, reminding learners to get into lines, or to tuck in their shirts! It’s a privileged place to be and for the coming weeks I’m glad to be sharing my experiences as “Ma’am Mabena”.
The first thing I had to adjust to was how the day was broken up. The bell going every so often and the break times really threw me. By the time the learners went home I was bushed! I’ve now discovered that a little snack and tea during the second break gives me the lift I need to get through the rest of the school day!
On a more serious note, I am learning how to show love by disciplining learners. Many of the children I encounter are so obviously neglected and as a result act out. Many of them come from disadvantaged backgrounds and lack the stability I took for granted when I was growing up.
Testing my limits
Learners testing how far the In the first week many learners try to test how far they can go with me in some ‘trying ways’. In moments when all I want to do is punish and put some of these kids ‘in their place’, the Lord reminds me that they are His and that I should treat them accordingly. So I swallow my frustrated remark and in a strained voice say, “Why have you done this?” and proceed to instruct whichever little one has committed the offence about the correct way of doing things.
That isn’t the hardest part, the hardest part is when you’ve turned your back and the child has gone right back to doing what you’ve just told them not to, and they only stop when the “dragon teacher”, which resides at every school, breathes fire on them. Like magic, the kids respond and behave the right way. Unbelievable!
I’ll admit that I did attempt the booming voice joined with a stern look but I have since abandoned it. That level of threat requires a great level of follow through that I don’t have the gumption to explore. Perhaps in a few weeks, my willingness to scream threats of punishment at children while glaring disapprovingly may have grown somewhat. I hope not!
The other day an older educator warned me that, “with these children, it’s like starting from scratch every day. You discipline they go home, have little to no supervision and the next day you have to tell them all over again.” I find that a bitter pill to swallow and instead believe the Lord’s account that the children in my school each have angels who are seeing the face of the Father (Matthew 18: 10). They are not unsupervised as my colleague suggested. In many cases, they just have not made a connection with the One who is watching over them and the guardians He has assigned each one.
This is not a battle against flesh and blood. The children are what we see in this struggle (to prepare them for life) but the Word says that the frustrations we experience are spiritual not carnal (Ephesians 6:12). The good news is that our weapons are not carnal either-we have divine power to pull down strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). This truth is seriously being challenged in my life after this period of working with seriously challenging children.
The world has its own rules for responding to frustrating people that are not always helpful in an eternal sense… And I’ll not lie, giving my best rendition of the scariest teacher I can remember is the first impulse I have when I encounter a challenging child!
While I am finding my feet and developing skills to teach children, the Lord has encouraged me through a little girl in Grade 4 who wrote these words to me (and I quote),
“I will like to say that you look very nice and I like the way you are treting us in the school”
What an encouragement for me to keep trying to show love when I discipline these learners. Yes, it is necessary to point out the bad behaviour (and bad grammar!), but I am often tempted to stop there. I remember how awful it was when teachers said things like “You’re just a bad girl!” when perhaps I was only being naughty that day. I also remember how certain learners were shunned by staff, even if they weren’t in their class, because the staff had decided that that a particular learner was not worth putting in an effort for. I’ve been convicted that that is the same as cursing the children. Isn’t that stopping them from fellowshipping fully with Jesus?
The weight of this fact has compelled me to, after I’ve pointed out the bad behaviour (sometimes with a booming voice for effect!), I need to remember to express belief that they are capable of doing the opposite.
It is early days so I’ll keep you posted on how this all turns out. Hopefully I’ll not have to confess to perpetuating the ‘name them and shame them’ kind of shouting I sometimes see teachers doing. In the meantime, pray for me? Some days I’m closer to condemning these little ones than I’d like to admit!