Graduation events begin today. Parents flying in from out-of-town. Family gatherings. Proud moments for children, parents, grandparents. This is a big day.
The students, young adults, walk across the stage and receive their graduate degrees. Three or four years of hard work brought them here. They feel a sense of accomplishment, completion, pride. They should.
As a teacher, I am proud too. I see the growth in these students over the course of their time here. From struggles and new beginnings — to confidence and moving on to another new beginning. They embark now on new careers.
The teacher is left behind. Students move on. I find I am reflective, melancholic, about sending these students off. Pleased for them. Sad for me.
They have enriched my life. They helped bring out the best in me. They helped me become a better teacher.
And so, I pray from the Psalms for each of these students.
Show them where to walk,
Let them give themselves to you.
Rescue them from their enemies, LORD;
Let them run to you to hide them.
Teach them to do your will,
for you are God.
May your gracious Spirit lead them forward
on a firm footing.
For the glory of your name, O LORD, preserve their lives.
Because of your faithfulness, always bring them out of distress.
In your unfailing love, silence all their enemies
and destroy all their foes,
for they am your servants.
Psalm 143 (modified)
Do you have a teacher who you left behind as you moved on? What about that teacher enriched your life? Do you ever wonder whether you enriched that teacher’s life?
As a teacher, I sometimes get caught up in “teaching.” Trying to figure out my lesson plans and crafting assignments that will help students learn — learn the materials, learn to think, learn to write, revise, and edit. As part of this planning, I often think about the “professionalism” aspect of their learning, too. Are they aware of how to communicate professionally? Do they know the importance of being punctual? Do they understand that their integrity–their character and reputation–are far more important than what a supervisor may want them to do, or a client they may represent?
Sometimes I get so caught up that I forget that the students need me to remember that they are not just students — but thinking, feeling, spiritual human beings.
Maybe it isn’t so much that I forget. It’s just that I push that aspect of the students off to the side, rather than keep it front and center. I need to love them, not just teach them.
Today, God reminded me.
The students had a first draft of a paper due, for peer review. Two students wrote me in the early morning hours, both in a bit of distress–expressing their frustrations. But between the lines, I could hear not just frustration, but the slipping away of their self-worth and self-confidence.
I added my students to my prayers this morning, but went along my way as usual. But God knew that it was me who needed His grace more than the students.
One of those students stopped by my office to talk later in the day. His face was long and he looked tired. We talked through his paper and his concerns about its structure and content.
Towards the end of the conversation, I saw a sudden flash of life in his face–his eyes lit up and a brief smile crossed his mouth. In that moment, the holy spirit stepped in and flooded the room with compassion. Before I knew it, words were flowing. I paused and something like the following came spilling out of me, “You know [Jason], you need to give yourself more credit than you do. You are really bright. Really capable. You have grown so much as a student and writer this year. This paper will come together and you will be so thrilled with it when you are done. ”
It was a flood of grace. The air in the room lifted and [Jason’s] demeanor changed completely. I felt his spirit change. I saw it in his eyes and in his face and in his movement.
As for me? I felt God’s presence and his grace. Grateful that He knew that this young man needed more than help with his paper. And, grateful that He gave me the opportunity and the words. Grateful for the reminder that I need to keep the whole person (not just the student) and God front and center–not me . . . Even though I might be the one standing in the front of the classroom.