I am a teacher. There … I’ve said it. And as much as this job may frustrate me at times (being my own ‘thorn in my flesh’ as Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 12 v 7), it is something I cannot escape, even if I wished to.
And believe me, I’ve tried. Time out at home. Children’s work at church. Short sojourn in the world of Special Needs. I’ve tried them all, and yet teaching keeps drawing me back. Why? I guess it’s because I see it as a God-given vocation, my own ‘calling.’ Doesn’t mean that I’m good at it all the time, certainly not as good as I want to be (but I am something of a perfectionist, so my own hardest task-master) nor that I never make mistakes. But it is something I feel God has given me to do, so do it I must.
And when it is good, it is OH SO GOOD. Teaching, on a good day, cannot be beaten in terms of job satisfaction. Teaching, on a good day, grafting at the chalk face, is sublime. Not just the Christmas cards from kids who, it seems, I have imparted something of worth to, nor the present from the girl whose case I have been on all year and who (rightly) takes that as my caring about her. Because I do. I really do. I think teachers have the most kids of anybody in society, because every year there is a new batch that we take on and nurture through til the time they leave us. As they should.
And yet sometimes I feel it is seen as not quite ‘holy’ enough. Well-meaning people who seem to suggest that if I were working in children’s work in church, for instance … I would be working ‘for the Lord’. But I am. Right down here in the valley, not on the mountain top. Why is there this (false, in my view) division between ‘church’ work and ‘secular’ work?
When Peter, James and John went up on the mountain-side with Jesus and witnessed his transfiguration, where ‘His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light’ and ‘ a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” ‘ (Matthew 17 verses 2 and 5 respectively), Peter jumps in with a suggestion. Feet first as usual. I love Peter as I can relate so clearly to him! (Such good intentions, such a good heart, seemed such a good thing to say at the time ….!)
When he suggested that they should build ‘shelters’ for Jesus, Moses and Elijah (who had also appeared), the suggestion is not taken up. On the contrary, a footnote in both Mark and Luke’s version seems to say that he was misguided to say this. Luke 9 v 33 says ‘(He did not know what he was saying.)’ But why? Surely being up on the mountain top is a glorious, inspiring, over all spiritual experience? Definitely. But I get the impression that Jesus didn’t want them to stay up on the mountain top, but to get back to the valley, to the people that needed them.
Listening recently to a gorgeous and truly inspirational colleague who was leaving my school, he reminded those present that we are ‘teachers of children first and foremost’ and only after that teachers of our subject. I agree wholeheartedly. And while I know that many teachers go into the profession with a more humanist sense of vocation, for me, can there be anything more truly ‘holy’ than being a role model for young minds, guiding their journeys and supporting them along the way? These are the ‘lambs’ or ‘sheep’ that God has given me to ‘feed’ or ‘take care of’ (John 21) not in any soppy, ‘fluffy slippers’ sense (fluffy I ain’t!) but in a very real way.
I’m not putting down ‘church’ ministry. Not in the slightest. But life does not exist only in churches, and God is not expecting us to hide away in church life, being faintly apologetic about our faith when we go out and about in the world outside. Especially not when our societies have so much need – whether that be those in financial need, families that are broken or those who are lonely and just need someone to listen.
So what role does church play in supporting both ‘Christian’ and ‘secular’ vocation? Church too often becomes a place that drains rather than replenishes. And after spending time labouring in the vineyard, so to speak, I need my ‘still waters’ and ‘green pastures’ (Psalm 23.) I need to be fed in turn, so I have something left to give out rather than running on empty. Value me for ME, not for the ‘slot’ I can fill! Ask how I’m doing (and I can work out if you really want to know, or are just being polite!)
Churches should never be such ‘busy’ places (rotas, routines, regulations!) that they forget that their congregations are made up of people. Just people – with all their frailties, imperfections and needs. And they / we / I need to pray for discernment in meeting those needs. Personally, I don’t need someone to come up with an alternative employment solution (however well-intended); I do need someone to pray for God’s strength for me to be able to do the job He’s given me. There are lovely people in my church who support me – for that I’m incredibly grateful. Not by doing anything earth-shattering, just ‘helping out.’ Just listening while I vent, so I am able to pick myself up and get back down into the valley!
Pic 1: http://www.educationquizzes.com/blog-for-parents/2013/08/six-teaching-techniques/
Pic 2: http://classroomtales.com/2010/05/29/no-hands-up-please/
Pic 3: http://onegraydot.com/transfiguration-of-christ-illustrationartwork/
Pic 5: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hope_Valley,_Derbyshire
Pic 6: http://www.wellstreetchurch.org.uk/church-life/pastoral-care/
Pic 7: http://nexttriptourism.com/lauterbrunnen-valley-tourism-switzerland/