No Child Left Behind? Well, how’d they get behind to begin with!?

An under-advantaged young adult with “issues” finds inspiration in something they never knew they had a talent in and uses their talents to extend themselves far beyond what they ever thought they could possible offer. They are inspired by someone they care about, and in the end persevere over extreme adversity.

Their stories are told at every motivational conference. Devotional books and Lifetime specials are chuck full of their stories. Oddly enough, they are also the plot structure of nearly every Adam Sandler film I ever watched! But I’d like to talk to you today about “No Child Left Behind.” Not the Federal law about increasing standards in the public school systems. Rather, the concept of always offering that second chance.

The Bible says that through Jesus we a forgiven of our sins. (Act 10:43) It also says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7) I like that verse a lot. It reminds me that I continue to be a student every time I step in front of a class as a teacher. And without getting too specific, you can probably drudge up some personal reference of a teacher you’ve had or a boss…or neighbor…or friend, who simply “did their job” everyday. They showed up…checked in…and did there job. Not much more than that.

I have the privilege of teaching over 135 students at Faith Lutheran. I direct onstage more than that in a year. That’s a lot of impressionable minds….listening to me! What power! (I can even write detentions!) But, if you think about that….what POWER. These are students who arrive everyday with preconceived notions, varied backgrounds, and wild opinions. These are the same people that will grow up to become my boss, or your superior, or the next world leader. (Cliche’s aside.) Who knows what will happen, but for now, their focus and attention is all mine. I can crack open text books and pour out words from publisher after publisher. I could have “free time” and allow them to rest or exercise their opinions in whatever way they like. I could even lean in close…and talk seriously about what I believe…and if I’m persuasive enough, motivate them to begin thinking for themselves. What POWER.

It’s like driving a car. Here’s an expensive, powerful, and forceful luxury item that has been entrusted to me so that I may make travel more convenient. It has the capacity to move fast or slow…manipulate through traffic…and honk to ward off danger. But it also has the capacity to kill people. It all depends upon the driver. Teachers are “driving instructors.”

School is far too concerned about a student’s progress and behavior to worry about things like “are they interested” or “do they care?” It’s sad really. I can’t recall a single time my high school History teacher or Math instructor leaned over and asked me if I liked what we were doing. Imagine that! “Um, not really.” What then? I think it is every teacher’s job to not only instruct…but to make sure that the student is engaged enough to want to re-approach the next period. After all we only have them in class for 1.5 hours every other day. (We have block scheduling people. I don’t know how public schools do it!)

Students are not statistics, and I don’t care how badly Nevada’s SAT scores are, nothing reflects WHY students did poorly. (And don’t even get me started on standardized testing content!) Shouldn’t we be concerned about that? After all, isn’t high school supposed to prepare students for the real world? If there was a team working around the clock every single day for four years to pin-point HOW you learn best…put it into practice…challenge those boundaries so that we can exceed our own personal expectations…and then foster a supportive environment to nurture that type of learning…wouldn’t the secondary education world be producing MORE leaders…and fewer teenage mothers and overly confident jocks with nothing to fall back on but their own overloaded testosterone. (Probably not the best example. And while it’s certainly not the norm…especially at Faith….it’s true, isn’t it?)

Strong statement there. But that’s what a school should be. Sports are great and I support them 100%. They are certainly appropriately part of the high school experience. But they need to build a student up so that they can coach themselves later. While Faith nurtures every teenage pregnancy issue, the bottom line still remains “are the students interested in that care?” And if so, my biggest question would be, why weren’t they that interested BEFORE they found themselves making a life-altering decision?

We need to take two giant steps back and look at High School. We have specialized fields of study that we offer. I teach Drama…does that mean I should prepare student’s for Broadway? Heck no. It means that I should PREPARE STUDENTS…by using the tools and fundamental techniques that Drama demands…in an appealing and acceptable way. (And that’s the important part.) Once we tear ourselves away from the ultimate objective…once we make a student’s failing grade in our class personal…then we’ve compromised why a student SHOULD be attending school altogether.

Once a colleague of mine argued that it’s not our job to be liked by students. I beg to differ. That IS our job. It is our job to be that student’s BEST FRIEND. By definition, a friend is a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.  That’s what a teacher should be. Someone who is not only invested, but attached by FEELINGS.

Which brings me to my final point. Students are kids. Young people…with wild ideas, and stupid notions. They cannot be treated like adults. They shouldn’t have the same expectations as adults. They come from all walks of life…they possess passionate feelings that they will suppress/express….they love and hate…and they all will have an opinion. (If you prick them, do they not bleed?)  They will make mistakes…they will fail…they will graffiti the walls…they will overextend themselves for the sake of another….they will hold hands and make-out in dark basements…they will over indulge…and they WILL listen to you. That is, if you give them something to listen to.

I have a huge problem with people who hold grudges. My wife leads Chapel service at Faith and the topic last week was forgiveness. Her students offered this very clever skit using Veggie Tales characters and leach-like grudges that attached themselves to the miserable “un-forgiver.” These grudges suck out a person’s joy and leave them empty and shallow.

I don’t ask…I plead with parents, teachers…anyone who has the great fortune to work with young adults…forgive them. They’ll test you, and you’ll want to ring their necks sometimes…but you need to forgive them. Secondly, believe in them. There is good in everyone…and if you ever look at a person and say that they are beyond hope…well, perhaps your close to  being right. But do you wonder why? Do you care? Should you? If not…aren’t you just as “hopeless?”

No Child Left Behind means something different to me. It’s my own personal law. It enforces me to forgive. It enforces me to leave the judging to the ultimate judge, my Lord. It enforces me to keep my eyes on the prize….excuse me….keep my eyes on my students’ prize. Because in the end, don’t we WANT them to persevere over extreme adversity? (Even if it is their own?) If not…why?

*Special thanks to Lauren Nichole for the photograph.
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