I never thought that the above statement would come out of my mouth, and I certainly never imagined that it would be the title of a blog post. As a long-time public school teacher, I spent 17 years painstakingly avoiding any discussion of my personal beliefs with my students. I sat quietly while they freely shared religious and ethical ideas, facilitating only, trying never to impose my own thoughts on impressionable ears.
I thought I was done with teaching for a while, set on a course to focus solely on my writing, publishing my next book, writing this blog, and freelancing for a growing client base. But life has a way of throwing us for a loop every now and again. You know what they say about best laid plans. I’m still writing, but I’ve been pulled back into teaching once again.
The difference is that now I find myself not in my standard, large public high school, but in a small Christian school, the proverbial fish out of water. Except that somehow, I’m not. Somehow I went from one extreme to the other in any number of ways without a major struggle. The biggest change, indubitably, is that after 17 years of never bringing up God’s name, I am including Him or allowing my students to include Him in any conversation that might arise. I thought it would be weirdly uncomfortable. Instead, it’s profoundly liberating.
Then today happened. Thursday is Chapel Day, usually just 15 minutes of listening to a message or praise music, and then it’s back to class. But today, the facilitator called all of the teachers onto the gym floor and invited the students to find a teacher and form a prayer circle. A group circled around me, and we joined hands and prepared to pray. I told the kids that I would get the group started, and then anyone could jump in with their own prayers as they saw fit.
Confession – other than with my family, I’ve never formed an original prayer out loud, in front of other people, before. I’m pretty sure I’m not very good at it. So it’s a bit intimidating to pray in front of kids who respect you and think that you have something to offer. I didn’t want to let them down, and I felt a tremendous responsibility to do a good job by saying something worthwhile.
Somehow, I found my voice. As much as I wanted it to be, my prayer wasn’t profound or deep or resonating with spiritual insights. I just thanked God for bringing me to the school and introducing me to all of the wonderful kids there. I told him how grateful I was to have them in my life. It was probably 30 seconds, in total. Then I stopped and waited for my teenagers to fill in the blanks.
No one said a word.
After about a minute and the start of some nervous chuckling, I initiated a new prayer: “Please God, let someone else join in on this prayer,” and the circle erupted in laughter, and the ice was broken. At that point, students began to pray, sometimes joking around a little, most of the time quite serious, and it was… how can I describe it? … inspiring, refreshing, heart-warming. It was slightly awkward and a little bit weird, and at the same time, it might have been one of the most important things I’ve ever done with my students.
It’s amazing how you can look back on your career and assume that you’ve seen and done it all and that this is as good as it’s going to get. Sometimes, you’re right, but sometimes, it gets better.
The Christian school environment isn’t for everyone, but for me? Well, it has taken me and shaken me, and it has made me think. And for a long-time teacher who had thought she had done it all, that’s a beautiful thing.