A little before 8 a.m., the lights were off in all but the back classrooms, as smiling, sleepy teachers trickled into school for a day of training. At the end of every summer, we meet to discuss the year ahead. It’s a sign that summer break is coming to a close and it gets us in gear for the school year. But more than anything it is a chance, before our daily duties absorb our attention, to reflect on our responsibility as Christian teachers.
Much of our end-of-summer training turns to the topic of grades. I’m a perfectionist, and as a student I focused far too much on grades, often worrying myself sick the night before a test. Now, I still find myself worrying over grades, but in a different way.
During training, our administrator asked us for examples of how we could grade with grace and justice when a student submits late work—a question I have struggled with. I’ve changed my late-work policy each year in hopes of finding one that is easy to follow and fair in all circumstances. But I find myself making changes on a case-by-case basis. It’s difficult to know when I should not accept excuses or when I should show leniency for life’s unpredictable events. During training I found myself defensively thinking, “Only God can give grace and justice at once. How can He expect me to do that?”
Then the weight of my responsibility as a teacher slowly settled on me. I am supposed to model God for my class—exhibiting goodness, guiding students to truth, and serving them in love. A teacher has immense authority and influence over students, with the power to direct what they learn and to penalize them if they fail to learn it. And this is a high calling. James’ familiar warning took on new significance: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1, ESV).
Contemplating this heavy responsibility, I scanned the sheet of “service standards” we were discussing and landed on the last one: sacrifice.
Christ is the perfect teacher and showed us the perfect combination of justice and grace by His death on the cross. Maybe it’s the little ways teachers lay down their lives for their students that makes them Christ-like, more than their words of wisdom or perfect late policies.
Good teachers can only demand much from their students if they give much in return. Staying late to tutor a struggling student, spending a spring break carefully grading 10-page research papers, and getting up early on a summer morning to talk about policies certainly can seem like a sacrifice, but it’s nothing compared to Christ’s sacrifice, and it’s a labor of love.