When people find out that I am a teacher, they often look at me in the way one would look at somebody who had just confessed to being a substance abuser – vaguely distrustful, slightly embarrassed for having asked, and possibly possessing a morbid curiosity about what on earth it was that compelled me to become involved in such a questionable practice to begin with. Some people – particularly corporate types – don’t know how to continue the conversation from there. Their underlying prejudices cannot allow them to conceive of the fact that a man with a brain could possibly choose to teach. Certainly it is beyond the comprehension of many that an intelligent man may be motivated by anything other than money. Usually the subject changes quite rapidly thereafter and we move on to the banalities of sport. It is probably better that way. I suspect the real answer would also kill conversation. One day, when asked why I teach, I will give the following answer, and then I will watch them squirm when I ask them why they do the work they do.
My reasons for teaching are complex. There is no simple answer. It is part politics – I am a privileged white man who wants to give back to his country something of what his race took; it is part selfish – it enables me to make a comfortable living in an environment that constantly satisfies my need to grow; it is part altruistic – there are few careers where one is better positioned to influence positive social transformation; it is part raw intuition – I know in my gut it is where I was meant to be. I am sure there are myriad reasons I will never fully grasp. In my conscious mind, they have shifted subtly with time, and have revealed more of themselves to me the longer I have taught.
Since boyhood, teaching has seemed like a glamorous profession. It still does. Sometimes still there is something that fills me with a giddy excitement when I see a child connect to a poem, or pen a first, tentative unravelling of the tangle that is self-awareness. Often I am filled with awe at what it is I have the privilege of doing. It wears me down sometimes, sometimes it breaks me, but it mostly it fills me with life and hope. And when one has experienced life – the real thing, the abundant life that Jesus promised, not the artificial wordly substitute – when one has experienced life and hope, one simply has to share.
I always wanted to change the world, to leave a mark. My life – I have grown to see – is too small to be lived for me alone.
As time has progressed, I have started to embrace my role as a guardian of hearts. I know that Satan’s most effective attacks are often aimed at the very core of our self-worth, and teenagers are so vulnerable. They so infrequently believe in themselves; they struggle to accept their identities as new creations in Christ, clean and free, and worthy of His love. The whole world – sometimes even the church, who should know better – tells them otherwise. But in my classroom, the battlefield of my choosing, I know God has shaped me as a warrior to do battle for those hearts, and so I take my stand.
I know He has equipped me for this battle, and it is His trumpet – His summons to war – that I answer. When I look at the ways He has gifted me, so perfectly crafted to suit this fight, to honour this vision, how can I begin to doubt that this is where I belong? It is His compassion for their vulnerable hearts that inspires mine; it is His incomprehensible wisdom and knowledge on which I yearn to mould both mine and theirs; it is His immovable principles on which I try to anchor mine and on which I will strive to encourage young hearts to anchor theirs; it is His vision of a better world that fuels mine. He has given me the ability to see the needs of His children, the compulsion to free their hearts and bring His light to them; He has shown me grace and mercy, let me taste the joy and peace of being His son. How can I keep that to myself?
And so I find myself on a battlefield, at the place where Satan’s lies fall on the most vulnerable of hearts, fighting to free those captive hearts and train them to take up His sword too. I am not a perfect man, but He has equipped me perfectly for the job He has called me to do. I find my deepest sense of fulfilment here, in the centre of His will for me, where the complexities of the way I have been shaped meet the needs of the vision He has placed in me. It is here I find who I was meant to be in Him, and it is this that empowers me to guide others in their own similar journeys.
As my career has grown, I have come to realise that my battle is not confined only to the classroom, but to the very institutions that strive to provide Christian education. Too often they fall into the trap of becoming just another institution of academic excellence. But God’s vision for Christian schooling is much, much bigger than that. The Christian school should not simply be churning out well-educated Christians, or trying to merely make converts. They should be places where both children and staff can develop a greater understanding of the way that God has equipped them to serve His kingdom, and the communities in which He has placed them.
It is not only the hearts of the children that are under attack, but the hearts of the educators too. The stresses of the job make it easy to forget that we are engaged in a kingdom mission, not simply trying to earn a living, and a big part of my role is encouraging my colleagues to remember for what it is they are fighting.
For me, teaching is a mission. It is not just a job. It does not really matter in which school God places me, but it does matter i that I further His kingdom there, and help others to see the vision He has for Christian schooling worldwide. I have not been a perfect teacher. I have not always even been a good man. But I have grown in understanding of what it is I do – what it is I want to do and be – and I pursue that doggedly. Maybe I am “just a teacher”. Maybe I am a dreamer and delusional. Maybe there is even something egotistical in the way I view my calling. But do you really want to trust your child’s heart to one who is teaching because he had no other marketable skills? Should our most valuable resource – the hearts of children – be entrusted to those who work for money or title?