Faith Matters: When it comes to public-school classrooms, thank God for the helpers

Recently I found myself in the middle of a conversation with a teacher friend and a member of my congregation about the merits of block scheduling for high school students — longer class periods, less periods in a day.

I’ll admit, it’s not the most fascinating topic for discussion and, on the surface, not a faith-based one, either.

But within the discussion, I learned about the helpers. I’m sure you’ve heard of the helpers, the ones Mr. Rodgers introduced to the country when he was helping children deal with scary situations. He’d say, “Look for the helpers.”

My friend spent a few years teaching in a Title I school, the same one my child now attends. Title I schools are schools with a high percentage of students who live in poverty.

As we were discussing block scheduling, he said, “When you have a student who only gets to eat when they come to school, is sleeping in a car or on a floor, wears the same clothes day after day, and is dealing with the extreme pressure just to survive, you can’t reasonably expect them to be able to pay attention to anything for such a long period of time.”

So, he taught differently. And he mentored. And he showed up in the lives of kids who had nobody showing up for them.

His decision to do it was rooted in faith. He may be a teacher, but he is a child of God and follower of Christ first and foremost.

And for him, these students aren’t a grade and most certainly not a standardized test score. They, too, are children of God and somebody needed to make sure they knew it.

Hope Lee.jpg
The Rev. Dr. Hope Lee

Somebody saw these kids and took what little time he had with them to remind them that they were not alone. I’m not sure he ever said a word about his faith. But, I know he quietly demonstrated it every day.

Over at the middle school down the street, there is another teacher who is also actively guided by her faith. She and I interact on the topic of how we go about teaching kids who have Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Middle School is tough as it is, and it can be exceptionally tough for exceptional kids.

She has this gift of being able to identify kids who aren’t getting the hang of middle school and giving them a soft space to land. She constantly reminds parents that just because their child has challenges doesn’t mean that God hasn’t created them for great things.

She writes a word of encouragement to every one of her students, every year, that overflow from a heart of prayer and abiding faith.

As I’ve written before, I’m a Christian pastor with three children in the public school system. My kids learn all about reading, math, social studies and science. But, what I have loved most about them being in public schools is getting to see amazing adults demonstrate what it looks like to be a follower of Christ out in the world, not through their words, but through every day faithful actions.

I share these stories with you because these aren’t the stories that usually get told.

Right now, we tell stories of possibly arming teachers with guns and debating as to whether they are paid fairly.

For some inexplicable reason, we celebrate standardized test scores as the only visible metric of both a teacher and a student and a school’s worth.

When I talk to teachers all over this district, it never ceases to amaze me how much pressure these individuals are under and what they are willing to take and put up with as a matter of following Jesus Christ, who for the most part, quietly went about his days changing the world for those that the world no longer regarded as worthy.

These are really scary times in education. Thank God for the helpers.

The Rev. Dr. Hope Lee, lead pastor of Kirkwood Presbyterian Church and The Well, can be reached at 941-794-6229, or Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Bradenton Herald written by local clergy members.

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