Role Reversal

Eventually it happens to us all: The big dog becomes the little dog, the first become the last, the child becomes a parent, the student becomes the teacher. For me, after 12 years of being a teacher I’ve become a student again. Since January I have been enrolled in full-time language school to learn French so that I can train teachers using French in West Africa. I sit with 12 other students in a tiny classroom four days a week for six hours each day.

Did I mention I sit?  Yes, that’s right.  And I only talk when I have to.

I listen.

I raise my hand.

I desperately want my teacher to tell me, “Bien.”

I’m frustrated when she erases something I haven’t been able to write down.

I think about her weird responses and talk about them with my friends after school.

I want my tests back the next day.

I know all her outfits and shoes (really like the blue ones).

I write papers, which are written in cursive, skipping every other line, using white out (no cross outs) and certainly no jagged edges. They get handed back to me covered in red ink with circles and underlines and questions marks indicating that apparently that sentence structure doesn’t communicate much in French.

Needless to say this has been a very humbling year.

…but…oh, so needed.

Rewind a year and a half ago, I was one of those teachers that wanted my students to experience their learning. As you well know, this kind of teaching requires a lot of preparation, but also for me, these creative lessons became an area of pride. I would take it as a personal offence if a child decided not to listen to instructions, be absent, or heaven-forbid, forget his pencil during one of these magnificent lessons. And if this is anything like you, then on behalf of your students, as a student myself, I’d like to say, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I don’t understand. I’m sorry I forgot. I’m sorry I zoned out. I’m sorry…I’m inadequate.

This year has taught me so much about the standards of our world and my inadequacy to attain them. Here in France, the grading system is out of 20. If you score 10 or higher you pass; 15 is good; 20 is out of the question. That means if you have master just 75% of the material you get a sticker. I’m not a “aim for 75%” kind of girl—if perfection is unattainable, what do I aim for?  Really, this struggle to reach perfection has been a struggle long before I was in language school. As a teacher I never, NEVER felt finished. There was always more to do or more that could be done. I always felt inadequate.

I know that this article is very different than the typical OnPractice because I have no research, just me: the research subject. But I don’t want to point you to me. I want to point you to Christ. One of the amazing truths about our Savior is that he became one of us. He was both a student and a teacher. As a boy, he asked questions of the teachers of the law and then later he instructed them. Jesus knows exactly what it feels like to be on either side of the coin. He understands. He understands our fatigue, our confusion, our frustration, our limits.
But he also went where no man has gone before. I Corinthians 1 says that he became for us wisdom, righteousness and justice. He become our adequacy. There is such freedom when we don’t need to hide our inadequacy—and frankly, we need to embrace this as part of the gospel. We are inadequate to live out God’s law, but Christ fulfills the law for us and covers our guilt and shame with his perfection. We understand this, but how does this get lived out in our classrooms?

For me, as a student, right now, I must embrace that I don’t know everything. I’m in process. For you, as a teacher right now, embrace that you don’t know and can’t do everything. You, too, are in process.  Make room for the gospel of grace to cover you and that kid who forgot his pencil.

Christy Ware

Teacher Education Services
TeachBeyond

Photo Credits: Adult student. Newman University via Compfight ccOverwhelmed. lordsutch via Compfight cc