Hold Whose Standards How?

In a funk at the moment, and it is my profession of education that is causing it. Keeping in mind that mutation has provided me with several pair of hands, let’s see if we can get it all out on the table and bring some semblance of order to my funky thoughts. In the end, I don’t really hope in an answer, but the catharsis is still there to be had.

On the one hand, we each teach from our own “place.” We teach what we know, from the person that we are to the people we perceive our students to be. We know that we are teaching the parents behind our students just as much as we are addressing the cherubs themselves. So a major standard for our teaching is ourselves. We must be true to our own selves or crazy we shall become, and that right quickly.

Another hand, and pious one at that, is that we teach according to the standard of Christ and the Scriptures. If we are indeed His disciples, then we are not allowed to divorce our own teaching from His. We set that delightful standard of being as holy with our teaching as He was with His before our eyes continually and then beg for His grace to heal our short fallings. I am not allowed to set aside this discipling standard for any earthly convenience or compromise.

Then there is the third hand (cross referencing my mutated appendages) that states that our employer, the school, determines the standards by which we teach. We have to follow the path of the school’s curricula, or we are soon pushing cholesterol down at the local Mickey D’s. Which means that our standards come from the hodge podge of school board, curriculum committee (if there is one), and adminstrative fiat (I am lucky enough to have the bi-polar convenience of teaching for myself, the headmaster). So let’s see, that is three hands so far.

Then we do have the standard of student orientation. I mean, do I teach what I teach for me? Or does Christ need my teaching? And would a school of itself need anything I might say? Is not part of my teaching “standard” or the measure of my means found within the needs and tenor of my students? Oops, now I have sliced this fourth hand on the sword of relevance. This is a big no no for many educators. There must be a higher standard than student performance. But what if that high standard is the very cause of low performance by a student unable to rise that high, and therefore bereft of any hope that he can attain or succeed with the given “high” standard? Can that standard, no matter its purity and beautiful height then truly produce any education, if its intended target is missed? But that is the students fault, right? Not my problem. Can a teacher think this way? Very tricky, and it is not yet quite as sticky as the next hand…

You see I have yet another hand, and it is most difficult for me. There are these ignorant, paranoid folk who provide me with my students: the parents. And they have standards for their own children that frequently contradict, compromise, or contravene my own ideas of what learning ought to be. And they in many realities pay for my life of learning, leisure, and lecture. And there is no way to teach several students at once without finding that I am too easy for some parents, too demanding for others, proud and haughty in some eyes and a weanie in the eyes of others.

So what is a teacher to do? What are my options? How do I keep it all together and string a few days of consistency together in the classroom? It would seem that none of the following are satisfactory, but at the moment it is all that I see possible. Here is the ongoing conversation of sanity for a teacher…

A. I can forget all standards but my own. After all, I am the teacher and those coming to me for instruction should trust me to do what is right. Certainly I will temper all my decisions and actions by Scripture, but it is not a teaching text, it is the Word of God. Students are too young to know what they need, and parents are too subjective to offer any help. To thy own self be true. Is this the humility of teaching, or its opposite? It removes a lot of the frustrations, but it does tend to make for a lonesome and somewhat bitter life, if my observations are accurate.

B. Take the high road and blame God. God has called me to be a tough teacher and until He tells me different, “here I stand.” Very tough to argue with, but I find this argument lacking in Biblical warrant. Yes, I can view many Old Testament passages from this view, and even find some evidence in the NT and Christ’s own example that He set the bar high and would not let His disciples off the hook, but then wait a moment and look at just that very example. Ultimately, He let His disciples off the biggest hook of all. He is abandoned by them all, betrayed and denied, and yet there He is in the Upper room, risen and forgiving of all their low performance. Did the standards fall? No. But did he not also meet them where they were and graciously give them far more chances than we tend to think is fair? Yes. So my point is that the high road, whatever it might be in God’s eyes, does have both elements of Law and Gospel firmly in the midst of it.

C. Take the team approach and hide behind my school. Its not my standards that are lacking, or too high, or faulty in any way, because I am simply doing what my school has asked me to do. It’s the curricula. It’s my supervisor. It’s the weather. In the end, it’s your teaching, and you have the choice of being an agent of change in your setting, or a martyr. I don’t like to be a martyr because its demand for death is a little tough for me. Sure, plenty of teachers teach in a context of servitude and tight boxes put upon them by their superiors. But either the teacher is seeking to change things, or seeking to change where they are. The living martyr is not impressive.

D. Just listen to the students, for they shall lead us to our paradise. This is defeated shortly after we try it. Seventh graders lead us to X-box and mutant amphibians, not to excellence. We are to be leading them, but from a few feet in front, not six miles off in a cloud of shikinah glory. We bring them further up, and further in, but not by bullhorn from the ivory tower. Students are not left out of the equation, but they are not the only denominator either.

E. Then we could simply seek to make the most parents possible happy the most often. Deep magic is needed here. I find the same mom calling me blessed one day and evil the next. I find two parents who agree on what a kid should be learning only to discover one has a first grader in my school and the other’s youngest is 32. They are not married, nor do they share a child, they just happen to agree on standards for the moment, and quite by coincidence. How many times has Dad and Mom met with me, Mom in tears about the baby and all the pain, and sweat, and agony, and for what, a lousy 86%? It must be that I am demanding too much. Then, as they leave (when I have run out of Kleenex), the Dad stays behind for a minute and gives me the ‘ol “you better kick that boy’s ass or I’ll yank him from your class” routine. The tears of his wife are not dry on my desk and he is adding my sweat to the mix. Make all your parents happy and I guarantee you insanity. In fact, I think that is the only explanation for totally happy parents: the one who perceives them to all be happy is insane.

Okay, so all five hands have issues with their solutions. So what is the answer? I don’t think there is one. I said that when I started this diatribe. What I do know is that somewhere in this messy business there is learning, and the higher we can lift our standards together, the better our final end will be. Teacher must give room for parents to be parents, and for headmasters to be ignorant, and for students to be, well, students. And Christ teaches us all to be there, on the beach, with the fire going, and fish on the barbie, and the disillusioned, hungry disciples come and sit, and are brought back to the center: “Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.”

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