When I meet my students for the first time, I can’t help but recall that old Hebrew hymn in which David writes, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalms 139:14, NIV).
While perhaps not many of our public school colleagues or students share David’s theology, I do think the value and the beauty of our students, and therefore our work, merits a moment's reflection for all of us regardless of creed.
But for those of us invited by Jesus into the ministry of the public school classroom, David’s words are on point.
David describes himself as “fearfully” made, in the sense that there is so much complexity and beauty and light and darkness and conflict and peace inside of us that when we reflect on it, we are moved to the point of reverence. This fearfulness is the same sense you might get at the edge of the Grand Canyon or on a boat in the ocean—you're not fearful in the sense of, “I might die right now,” but you're fearful in the sense of, “Wow…this is all a lot bigger than me. I'm kind of small.”
And on each day that you teach this school year, whether you’re teaching math or reading or computer science or kindergarten, you can look at that room full of faces every now and then and consider them as you would a natural wonder of the world—because that is what you’re beholding.
I think: Here I am, teaching these young people, each of them however many days into unique and substantial lives. No human being has ever lived the same life—they are unique. And were it not for their existence in the years that they've lived so far, time and space would not be the same today. Trillions and trillions of the very atoms of the universe would be arranged differently.
And of course, this fearfulness leads to wonder. I stand in awe and wonder at the marvelous privilege it is to have the government require that I teach world history and literacy to groups of 30 or more teenagers each day for a school year in a society that believes in doing something as novel as educating all its young.
I think: What moments of growth will I get to watch in these lives this year? What problems will I get to solve? What conversations will I get to have? What things will I learn?
I don’t know the answers, but I do know that the answers would change were I to remove even one of my students from my roster.
So in light of all this, how then should we approach our work this year?
As something that is hard? Of course—because it is. As something that can be frustrating? Yes—that’s part of it, too. As something bound to be sprinkled with laughter and tears, hardship, and triumph? I think so.
But let’s focus on the heart of the matter. Let’s go into this year ready to practice the reality that the work is “fearfully” and “wonderfully” wrought because that is the nature of the students we teach.
I pray that we all fully know this!
Dave Stuart Jr. is a husband and dad who teaches high school students in a small town. He writes about teaching students toward long-term flourishing at DaveStuartJr.com.
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