For one thing, we are examples of the believer wherever we go. My students know I am a Christian (in some cases because I have told them). I don't have to say anything more for them to watch my behaviors and attribute them to my belief system. This is also true if a teacher tells her students, "I am a liberal" or "I am a Mormon" or "I support Hillary Clinton for president." Immediately, students think, "She doesn't drink coffee because she's a Mormon," or "She wouldn't like my mom because my mom is going to vote Republican." Students make connections without our encouragement. That's why it's so important to have pure motives, to keep an open mind, to be humble, and to follow the law, no matter how you identify yourself. You're an authority figure in their little world, and you do not have the right to take advantage of that position.
So where does that leave me as a self-identified Christian in the public school? Very vulnerable. If students perceive me to be grouchy, disrespectful, lazy, unprepared, or any other negative descriptor while on the job, there is a high risk that it will all be chalked up to my being a typical Christian. Is that fair? Is that negative trait of mine a "typical Christian" behavior? Maybe not. But then, maybe I'm the only Christian they know.
When you think about it that way, you as a Christian teacher in the public school have a powerful platform, even if you never say a word. If you are up for the challenge, you have the opportunity to identify for students through your conduct what it means to be a believer.
The book of I Timothy and several other passages in Paul's letters indicate that Christians in contact with unbelievers should work harder, love more genuinely, give more generously, and abase our pride more readily than those around us. It's hard to do in the best of circumstances, when our lesson plans are finished and our desks are clear. We must learn to follow Christ's example for us even when the going gets tough. Parents will be angry over their children's grades, coworkers will be jealous or gossipy, and students will sometimes make huge withdrawals on your emotional strength. This is when the example of a believer must be especially clear. This is how I behave when life is brutal. This is a Christian on the job.
It's only through Christ's strength that we can live up to this high standard of behavior, and we will sometimes fail. Let's keep humble and keep connected to the Vine.
Read this article from the Washington Post on teachers who share their faith within the bounds of the law. Thanks for a close examination of this important topic, Emma Brown!
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