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My wife and I were discussing a passage in the Bible the other day, the one about teachers incurring a stricter judgement (James 3:1). This passage is quite easy to understand. Teachers, all teachers, not just “certificated” ones, will answer for how they behaved, influenced others and for what they taught those who found themselves in their care.
I have always been a bit nervous about this passage, knowing that as a lifelong teacher, I will render an account for how I “affected” or “infected” those who crossed my path.
Indeed, it is fair to say that everyone will be judged on the same basis, but it should also be obvious that one whose calling and career is teaching will have had opportunity to influence many more people and so have more to account for.
Please understand, however, that as much as I have had opportunity to influence children, I have always clearly understood that my job was to assist parents, not replace them. I was merely acting “in loco parentis.”
This attitude resulted in my having less than a handful of confrontations with parents in my career, and in the rare event this did happen, I succeeded every time by reminding the parents that I worked on their behalf, to help them fulfill their responsibility to teach their children. Nobody argued this point.
Even though many of these parents did not share my Christian worldview, most understood they had the ultimate responsibility for their children.
Now, back to influencing students. It is impossible to actually know how many students I have had an influence on. I had some students for several years, some for a day and some for a moment. I taught in schools for twenty-five years and have now been involved in home education for even longer.
So, when my wife and I tried estimating how many students I had the good pleasure of meeting in my career, we came up with a number that really got me worried about that passage in the Bible!
We estimated that I have spoken into the lives of as many as twenty thousand souls! And that was a very conservative estimate of students, not people in general!
I cannot say that every one of those lives was changed by my involvement. I assume most simply went through the motions of being a student under my care, but I can say that I valued them all. Every student was important to me. Everyone had special needs, so I paid no attention to the school’s coding system.
I most certainly cannot remember the names of all these students and I will not claim that they all appreciated my effort to positively influence them. As you all know, it does not take much to fall into the bad graces of individuals offended by happenstance.
I can say, however, since I was working for God on behalf of parents to teach their children, that I enjoyed and continue to enjoy a wonderful career in education.
Students (and parents) whom I meet today are still happy to see me and many still recall things I taught them decades ago. I think that this is because truth is timeless. Praise God from whom all truth and blessings flow!
Before I get into this story about Matthew, I believe that I need to explain how a school typically works. Student successes are generally claimed as school successes and student “failures” are often seen as parental failures.
There is a good reason that they say teaching in public school is a good job, if you can get it! It is structured in such a way that teachers are rarely at fault. While claiming to know more than parents, school staff are quick to pass student issues off as parent problems when most often it is the system that is at fault.
On the other hand, student issues, especially if they can be coded as some sort of “special needs,” bring much more money to the school.
Usually schools fight parents when they determine to bring their “special needs” child to be educated at home because it results in a reduction of income for the school. I cannot count the times we, as home education providers, have had to deal with this one!
Another thing that I must share with you is that the face you see on the outside of a school is usually much different from the face you would see from the inside. School marquees are littered with wonderful sounding platitudes such as “student centred success for everyone,” but these are mostly empty words used in a game called marketing.
Another thing: I learned to avoid going to the staff lounge when I was a teacher because I often found it to be a “den of iniquity,” a place where teachers and staff expressed how they really felt. Not that all teachers are evil doers involved in various forms of debauchery, but the talk respecting students and parents was often, if not usually, negative, condescending and derogatory.
I can honestly tell you that I had opportunity to question why some of these teachers were even there when they so obviously hated their jobs and, unfortunately, children also.
In fairness, I also have to say that there were many of my colleagues who were outstanding in their love for children and dedication to teaching.
The problem, therefore, has always been and remains the luck of the draw. If your child ends up in a good teacher’s class, okay! Maybe great! But if not, trouble, tears and turmoil!
Understand that no matter what, students are indeed important to the system, but mostly because they are the fuel that runs the engine of the industry revolving around education, an industry more intent on its own perpetuation than its purpose. In short, teachers cannot teach and schools are just buildings, without students.
By now you may be asking what in the world all this has to do with Matthew! Well, you need to understand the schools’ perception regarding the “Matthews” of this world and why schools often fail to meet the needs of every student, in spite of what they say.
You also need to remember that coming from this corrupt school environment, I could easily identify a school casualty and Matthew was definitely one of them.
Matthew is only one of many thousands of students that I have had and if, as I stated earlier, they were all important to me, he must have been special for very specific reasons.
Even though I have had many outstanding students over the years, Matthew remains one of the most outstanding in my career, not only because I was used of God to conduct a miracle in his life, but because God used him to validate my entire life’s work.
Next time I will get into how we influenced each other’s lives.