Sunday, 17 May 2020

Lessons from Lockdown: The Essential Thing (Classroom Edition)

Almost two months have gone by since my first Lessons from Lockdown blog post, and I never imagined it would be this long before my second post. To be honest, I initially created this post on April 8th and have had it in draft mode ever since. Two days later, my grandmother passed away unexpectedly, so with that, plus online teaching and finishing my master's program, blogging had to be put on hold again. I still have a lot to share, and I'm looking forward to blogging more regularly now that I'm done with grad school and am more settled in to the rhythm of teaching online.

In my first post, I talked about my relationship with Jesus as an essential thing, something that I need to prioritize during this time. Today's post kind of bounces off of that one, but in the context of relationships in the classroom. Over the past few years, so much has been emphasized as essential in the teaching world. We have found ourselves caught up in a world of Pinterest classrooms, Instagram-worthy lessons, and the latest classroom management tricks. It's easy to believe that all of these things are extremely important, especially when we see them everywhere we look. 

But this situation is reminding me that classroom decorations, fancy bulletin boards, elaborate lessons, the latest Instagram fads, and Target Dollar Spot finds really don't matter. Don't get me wrong; I am not condemning any of these things. I enjoy them just as much as the next teacher. However, when all of that is gone, what remains is our relationships with our students. 

Just over six weeks before schools closed here, we experienced a 7.7 magnitude earthquake during the school day. It was a surreal experience to feel the floor shaking beneath my feet and to look around and see my classroom decor rocking back and forth. But after it was over, a passage from Hebrews 12 came to my mind:

"At that time [God's] voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, 'Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.' The words 'once more' indicate the removing of what can be shakenthat is, created thingsso that what cannot be shaken may remain."
- Hebrews 12:26-27 

I spent the next few days reflecting on that passage and its implications for me as a teacher. Here are the words I wrote in my journal:

God's kingdom represents all that is eternal. It is "a kingdom that cannot be shaken" (v. 28). So often my focus drifts to what is temporary, but as I saw things shaking around me yesterday, I realized that none of that stuff matters in light of eternity. This year, God wants me to build His kingdom; I know that. But yesterday, He clarified that command and vision. The kingdom He's calling me to build is His unshakable kingdom. As a teacher, that means teaching with an eternal perspective - focusing not on gimmicks and decorations (even though those things can be fun for kids) but on loving my students fiercely and sharing Christ with them.

When I wrote those words, I had no idea that just a few weeks later the temporary would be shaken again. I had no idea that I would be teaching from my ordinary, brown couch instead of in my bright and colorful classroom. I had no idea that I wouldn't be able to do my usual holiday activities for St. Patrick's Day and Easter or create cute bulletin boards around the room. And while I do miss those aspects of teaching, I'm thankful for what remains.

Each day, I get to see my students' faces (albeit through a computer screen, but it's certainly better than nothing). I get to hear their stories, see their smiles, and encourage them when they don't have a smile. I get to continue building relationships with them and loving them, even though it's from a distance. As I teach my class each day, I get to focus on the essential thing, the thing that remains when everything else has been shaken.

Teachers, we may not have access to all the bells and whistles right now. And you know what? That's okay. Let's use this time to invest in what truly lasts - our relationships with the precious children we teach each day.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Lessons from Lockdown: The Essential Thing

Lockdown. It's a word I sure didn't expect to be hearing in 2020, but here we are. The world as we know it seems to have turned upside down over the last couple of weeks, and the Coronavirus has caused a level of change and disruption that we never imagined was possible. However, I think it’s been helping all of us to learn some valuable lessons too. It's been a long time since I've blogged on here, but I feel compelled to share what I'm learning during this time through a blog series called Lessons from Lockdown. (Ironically, when I came up with that title, there was no official lockdown here in the Cayman Islands, even though most people are being cautious and staying home. However, starting tonight, we will be going into a full lockdown for a few days to try to prevent further spread of the virus in the days ahead.)

While praying last night, I was thanking God for the specific lessons that He has been teaching me through this situation. As more and more businesses close their doors, one of the things I’ve been reflecting on is what is truly essential and what’s not. In the middle of my prayer, the Holy Spirit brought to my mind a passage of Scripture that also speaks about what is essential:

“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” 
- ‭‭Luke‬ ‭10:41-42‬ ‭NIV‬‬ (emphasis mine)

In this passage, Jesus was reminding Martha - who was worried about all that needed to be done - about the most essential thing: sitting in His presence. Mary, the sister of Martha, had chosen to sit at Jesus’ feet, to spend time with Him listening to His word (v. 39). Martha, on the other hand, was “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” during Jesus’ visit (v. 49).

Over the past few days, I’ve found myself feeling a bit like Martha. I too am “worried and upset about many things” (v. 41). It’s not an exact parallel, as Martha was busy serving Jesus, but many days I’ve spent more time checking the news and focusing on my to do list than sitting in the presence of my Savior.

Martha’s concerns were valid and her intentions were good; Jesus wasn’t denying that. He wasn’t telling her to forget about her household responsibilities. Instead, He was reminding her that her greatest need was simply being with Him and hearing His word. And that’s my greatest need too.

The words “Mary has chosen what is better” remind me that I have a choice in how I spend my time right now. I can choose to spend my whole day reading Coronavirus news articles and statistics, running around trying to check every single thing off my to do list, or I can prioritize time with Jesus.

Jesus’ words to Martha were an invitation to enter into His presence, where there is abundant joy (Psalm 16:11). It’s the same invitation He gives in Matthew 11:28: “‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’” 

In the midst of our anxiety and exhaustion, Jesus beckons us to come to Him. May we use this time in isolation to do just that.