As I closed the door to my classroom for the last time in twenty-five years of teaching middle school, I knew that I had learned as many, if not more, lessons about life and caring about others. These often restless, but always searching, students had changed me in ways I could not have imagined, nor would they probably ever know. Gratefully, I am not the same person that I was on my first apprehensive day in the classroom. What life lessons could eleven and twelve year-olds possibly teach me? Plenty.
I know that because God loves us, we are to love others. Children certainly demonstrate the importance of unconditional love and care. No matter what type of day I was having, the children’s optimism and care for me often overwhelmed any difficulties I might have. I learned to give back to them and others what they were so willingly and unselfishly sharing with me. If someone had asked me about student ethnicity, I couldn’t have answered, because they were all beautiful individuals in my sight—no differences, no distinctions. Unconditional love—isn’t that the way we were created by God to see each other? I learned the value of love and respect for every person.
I can hear Thomas’s words, even now, resounding down my memory’s halls. “Mrs. B., do you want to see what I found on the walk this morning?” he proudly declared, unfolding a tissue with a butterfly wing gently wrapped in it. “Do you have a magnifying glass to see it up close? At home I love to look at insects and birds.” A magnifying glass—an important tool for viewing the intricacies of life. But even more important than looking at life at close range, I learned from my students to look at life through the binoculars’ lens. Students are essentially idealistic and are often making choices that address future goals. I learned through those long distance lenses to keep goals in perspective and check them often. I understand, too, not to dwell with a magnifying glass on the imperfections of unfolding personalities, but to use my lifetime binoculars to view the final outcome that I hope for them to achieve. I am to do the same in my life. This lesson reminds me that I, too, am still unfolding and will continue to be as God refines me.
In Proverbs we learn that a happy heart is medicine for the soul (17:22). Laughter is a blessed gift from God. After some of life’s disappointments crashed over the sand castles of my life, my students reminded me often how to laugh again. They have a sense of humor, sometimes to the point of giddiness over the ridiculous. But I needed more of that, and received it from them as daily soul gifts. Those squeals of innocent happiness are like balm to the emotions, and I gladly applied it as we laughed together. It made teaching fun, the mixture of the learning and the laughing. Now, as I treat any “spiritual ailments” with the gift of laughter, I thank children for that lesson.
I have also learned to embrace change. I admit that it is sometimes with a loose embrace, even with a sad embrace, but from teaching I learned that to grow as a person and to do God’s will in life, I must embrace change. Some changes bring great challenges. Over the years I have not only taught students, but also student teachers. One of my tips for being a good teacher, I told them, is to be flexible—to be able to change. Is a lesson not working? Change it up. Are students struggling with discipline or learning issues? Change the way the subject is approached or improvise strategies to deter problems. Handling change graciously is crucial for my personal life, as well. Health issues and living situations change. Family responsibilities may become demanding. But to be a good steward of all of life, the pleasant and difficult, I need to accept change. That I have learned as a teacher.
Finally, I learned early on to depend on God in my classroom. Through Him I could demonstrate love, fairness, and concern for each child who stepped through my doors. The classroom is a cross-section of humanity. I have learned to trust God with the bigger world of my life, as well. Now I can write across my life’s blackboard, “Thank you, my sweet students, for sharing your lessons with me.”