There’s a Monster In Room 301: Part 2Blog, Essays, Family, Featured, Part of the Solution, Social Justice — By Matthew Worthington on March 15, 2012 at 10:18 am
[Author's Note: This post is the second in a two-part series called "There's a Monster in Room 301". The first post can be found by clicking here].”
[Editors Note: The names of the students have been changed to protect their identities].
Before I continue, a little history about me.
In the eight grade, my life transitioned from living comfortably to living in American poverty. My family gradually became strangled by the vices of its members and at an early age, I was swimming in the sea of our toxins: gangs, excessive pornography, exposure to sex at a young age, infidelity, drugs, domestic violence, emotional abuse, depression, drive-by shootings, SWAT teams raiding our home, you name it… it was there. One of my brothers and I forged a relationship through the church and some amazing people from there cared for us and introduced both of us to Jesus while I was a middle schooler. It was then that I began wrestling with his call on my life. I had a youth minister named Jim who would let me stay with his family whenever things became unsafe for me. I wanted to be like him because he helped kids like me, so I decided to attend college where he did. High school happened, but it was mostly a trajectory change for me, steering me away from the footsteps my siblings and father had taken. It wasn’t until I left for college that I really began blossoming.
I started bible studies from scratch with five people that had nearly 100 people attending weekly. I wrote stories and won national contests with them. I gave speeches at university events. I won lead roles in a competitive theatre program. I ran for President of my university’s SGA and won with a fraction of the experience my opponents had. I was in my prime and everyone knew who I was! And then one day, one of my mentors-a real brilliant guy named Mark Lewis-said to me, “Matt, you’re really good at stuff. Like everything, mostly. Don’t get ahead of yourself, but obviously you’ve got leadership potential.”
Wait. Potential? I thought to myself, What is this guy talking about? Everyone watches me and sees me. I’m the guy doing all of these things! Potential?!
[Insert other vain ramblings here.]
He continued, “It’s not enough that only you know how to do these things. If you want to be a real leader, a true leader, then you’ll learn how to teach others to do what you can do so that they can do it even better than you when you’re not around anymore. They shouldn’t need you to do it for them at some point. So you see, it’s not about just doing it yourself, but it’s about teaching others how. That’s real leadership.’”
Three years later, I realized: this is what it means to be an educator.
Jesus was a great educator himself, and in fact, this was Jesus’ standard, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” He was the one who created the idea Mark had challenged me with.
But what does it take to do that?
Well, I think the best place to start is by following Jesus. He tells us that we will do great things, but that it requires great faith in him. Unfortunately, that kind of faith just doesn’t come naturally to us. A few chapters later, he even admits that it won’t always be great to follow in his footsteps.
He says that some people will hate you. Some will curse you. Others will talk about you behind your back. Some people may doubt your kids and speak pitifully of them or your kids may doubt themselves. People may doubt you or you may doubt you. Maybe you have a bad day and that just happens to be the day that the Master Educator comes in to do your teacher evaluation, which is tied to your salary. Or maybe a student dies, or their uncle gets shot, or a little girl’s body is found in a dumpster around the corner from where you live, or your school system is constantly in the papers for being one of the worst in the nation and everyone says, “Man, you teach in DC. Geez, how’s that? I bet it’s pretty brutal, especially the kids.” And maybe you think, “How dare you?” and your mind swirls in self-righteous judgement. Maybe the politics at your school creep and crawl under your skin and begin consuming your thoughts, emotions, and feelings and before you know it, all of your emotional reserves are being spent on trying to get back at an adult that you don’t feel advocates for your kids in the same way you are. And then you become angry because you realize how much energy you’re wasting, trying to fix things out of your control! So you want to yell, cry, quit, or just be anywhere for five minutes other than at your school because it feels like the sun never rises on your classroom. Worst of all, it feels like your kids’ monster has somehow learned your weakness and is now lurking over your shoulder, preying on you.
Yet here is Jesus, asking us to follow him and being painfully honest about his call.
In John 16 he says, “I have told you all of these things so that you will not lose faith.” What he’s referring to is said earlier in John 14, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me… Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. If you love me, keep my commands…” And he goes on in John 15, ‘My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Teaching is just plain sacrifice. It could be time, emotion, energy, finances, or maybe it’s all of those things. You have to sacrifice something to show your kids their monster is no match.
You don’t always tell your kids this, but they become your friends. Your little, tiny friends that you would do anything for because you love them. So in the spirit of doing great things, I, as a teacher and follower of Jesus, ask myself, “How will I empower them? How will I empower them to overcome a learning disability that feels like a monster scaring the daylights out of them? How will I make the parents of Estefany realize their sacrifice to come to America so their children can have a better life is actually worth every discomfort they currently feel? How will I teach Rashaun all of his consonants, short & long vowels, CVC Words, consonant blends, digraphs, and multisyllabic spelling so he can express his creative genius that’s trapped in his mind? How will I convince Bobby that the work he’s doing in my class is so much more important than what the neighborhood dealer has to offer? Because I really think he has it in him to be incredible. I’m just not sure he fully understands that yet. How will I teach Malik to overcome his dyslexia? How will I make good on parents like Tony and Freddie’s challenge to help change things for their kids?”
It has to start by following Jesus and believing that he will do these great things in me, because I’m just not capable of this. I’m not. I’m too selfish, I’m too weak-willed, and I’m very much in need of something more for my kids.
This more, I know, is the person of Jesus Christ.