“18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. ” -Matthew 4:18-21
I have been teaching seventh grade science for the past three years, and it is honestly one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I love it and I have committed to continuing to teach at least for the foreseeable future, but I definitely struggle. One of the biggest challenges I have found in teaching is getting students to follow what I say. First of all, my students are twelve to thirteen in age and they almost by default decide that they need to oppose me. Second, many of them have grown up in a culture of entitlement where they have been conditioned to believe that they are either victims, the center of the universe, or debt collectors waiting for a payout. Third, they are surrounded by their peers and are far more concerned about the approval of their friends than they are about their own well being and the approval of their nerdy and awkward science teacher.
This week, I had one of those “teacher moments” that reminds you why you decided to get into teaching. I had one of those moments that temporarily makes you forget about the staff meetings, the burden of “closing the achievement gap,” the students who ignore and belittle you, the administrators who pile on the demands, and all the other things that cause teachers to quit in droves every year. I had a moment where I saw a student learn and apply what he had learned.
I have a student who I am going to call Joe, just in case anyone from my school sees this. I have had Joe since the beginning of the year and he is difficult to teach. The highest grade he has gotten in my class is a D, he reads at a fourth or fifth grade reading level, he is constantly disrupting my class, and he distracts almost every other student in the room. However, I came to the realization a few weeks ago that I genuinely love this kid. Every teacher has those kids that make lasting impressions and who are kids they would legitimately do anything for. Joe is that kid for me. Anyway, I have had numerous occasions to talk to this kid throughout the year because he (along with three or four other kids) eats lunch with me every day, he is in the running club I organize, and he is just consistently in my room to talk about his day or the problems he is having. Recently, I realized that he has changed a lot as the year has progressed.
This week, he was arguing with another student in the middle of class. It started getting out of hand because they were yelling while I was attempting to instruct the students and they both stood up and began showing signs of aggression. I gently grabbed Joe’s shoulder and told him, in a low voice, to ignore the other student. To my surprise, Joe immediately stopped and sat quietly for the rest of class, until I sent him out to cool down because I could see the anger building as he sat quietly and took the other student’s insults. Once he was outside, I told him I was proud of him and that I knew it was hard to have self control. He replied that he knew what he had to do and he didn’t want to get in trouble. At the beginning of the year, we had this same issue and he actually started fighting the kid in my class in the middle of instruction.
The second thing that happened this week was that I told him he needed to stop hanging out with the two friends I always see him with. His friends, I told him, were going nowhere and were okay with it. Both of these students are completely failing my class and are disruptive and at times disrespectful. He responded that he had been friends with both kids for a while and he knew it wasn’t good but they were his friends. He then proceeded to run out in the middle of my discussion with him. I assumed he wasn’t listening, but the next day, he asked to eat lunch with me without his friends and I didn’t see him interact with them during class.
I had Joe’s best interests in mind from the beginning of the year, just as I have every student’s best interest in mind. However, he has bucked against me at every turn and refused to listen to anything I say. It wasn’t until we had built up a relationship and he himself was convinced that he actually started following me and making decisions that went against his reasoning and personal logic. He trusted my logic and my decisions more than his own because he knew I cared and that he could trust me.
God has had my (and your) best interests from the start, even before we existed. We buck against him at every turn, assuming we know better. We should always take the highest paying job, always go to the best school, always follow our hearts, always marry the most attractive person, pursue comfort, etc. We trust in our own logic and our own understanding, not realizing how we are hurting ourselves, the people around us, and God Himself. However, when we follow God, we find life and we realize He knew what was best all along.
I think that’s what often blows me away when I read this passage of Jesus calling the disciples. He calls them in the middle of their work. He doesn’t wait until it’s convenient for them or until they have worked their way up to trusting Him. He calls them when He wants to call them and…they follow immediately. What is it about Jesus that they must have seen that told them they could skip through all the resistance, the defiance, and the clinging to their will? What is it I perceive about Jesus that makes me not skip through those things?
I find it far easier to pursue my own goals and interests than to follow those of my Savior and King. What would life really look like if I chose to wholeheartedly run after my Savior and my God who has done nothing but show me grace? Oh, that my heart would be softened and my eyes opened to the worthlessness of all I hold dear apart from my God. Let my teaching be for You, Lord. Let my breathing be for You. Help me to let go of my selfishness and my reluctance to loving You. Let me not wait for a convenient time to follow You. Instead, let me follow You know and let me see that You are all I need.