Educators are a lasting influence in the lives of their students, whether for good, or for not so good. I still remember my Kindergarten teacher, Miss Johnson, and the way she gently guided my hands to teach me how to finger paint, and how she smiled genuinely to greet her students each morning, and even how she spoke to us with kindness. She, and teachers like her, gave me a sense of peace and that everything in my tumultuous 5-year old world would be okay. Miss Johnson loved being a teacher. It was what she was created to do.
Then there was Miss Bivens, my Sunday school teacher. She was different. Her angelic voice brought life to the song, “Jesus Loves Me”. She was the Sunday School teacher for children at the Presbyterian Church that we attended occasionally with my grandmother. Her relationship with God was real. She radiated Christ rather than reflected him. Years later, during an extremely rough patch in my life, Miss Johnson and Biven’s examples, their words of encouragement, came to me and changed the course of my life.
I became a Sunday School teacher years later for the 8 to 11 year old class. David was a 10-year old who was extremely disruptive and prevented the other students from listening. Nothing I tried worked. I finally reached my wits end and sent him to sit with his parents. He was furious when he stomped out of the classroom.
After Sunday school was over, David stomped right back into my classroom, interrupted a conversation I was having with another student, crossed his arms and shouted, “I’m never coming to your class again.”
At that moment I expected him to leave as suddenly as he appeared. Instead, we had a momentary stare down. “God, what do I do?” I silently prayed. Spirit held my tongue. I was at peace. The next words out of my mouth were, “David, do you like to fish?”
This little fellow softened. His face turned from anger to wonder. His eyes opened wide as he calmly and curiously answered (arms still crossed), “Yes.”
“Would you mind if I ask your parents if we can go fishing next week?” I asked, still staring into his large dark brown eyes.
Without answering, David ran out of the room to find his parents. Moments later, David was pulling his father by the hand into the room and heading straight for me, his eyes as wide as saucers. He stopped abruptly in front of me and eagerly asked his father, “Can Miss Yvonne take me fishing next week?”
The day I took David fishing was the day both of our lives turned around. He began to be attentive and engaged with the others in the class and became one of my best students.
It was the next week that I discovered the motivational gifts we read about in Romans 12. David’s primary motivational gift was exhortation. His parents didn’t understand his need to be the center of attention. They confessed, since they were much older when he was born, they didn’t spend time trying to find out. All they knew to do was to apply the, spare the rod spoil the child scripture that so many parents use to correct behavior issues when they don’t know what else to do. Because of this, they were damaging David’s ability to express with his motivational gift of exhortation, to encourage his friends.
There is a fine balance between teaching children to behave and developing their motivation to give love. If we don’t understand the fine line, we can sometimes unintentionally squash their gifts.
My point is that parents (and teachers) can be so consumed with disciplining their children that they miss who they are and why they respond to life the way they do. It indeed takes a village to raise children in today’s world. That’s where teachers can fill the gap and help.
Little kiddies under our care generally exhibit behavior patterns that may not necessarily be negative behavior issues, rather character traits based on their God-given gifts. Once this discovery happens we are able to guide them in a way that empowers them to naturally develop their motivational gifts; they will be happier children.
For example, little Johnny gets along with his peers quite well (the giver), and little Susie, not so well (perhaps a prophet). Some children might disrupt the class on a regular basis (the challenges of an exhorter), and some will be so quiet you’ll barely know they are in the room (the mercy-giver).
As a former volunteer for the United Way Reading Pals program it was a joy to watch the children and be able to pin point what their motivational gifts were.
One of my children was a classic mercy-giver (a 4-year-old). He loved to give hugs and although children were not permitted to sit on our laps when we were reading to them, he tried each week. He liked to cuddle, a trait of children with this gift. One day we were reading out-doors and he looked around and said, “I love the quiet”. Children with this gift also like their surroundings to be quiet. These children are very tender-hearted and will cry easily at others in distress.
When children discover their gifts, they will also begin to understand that all their friends have gifts too. They will learn to appreciate the differences in their peers and that these differences are okay. This discovery can make teaching more exciting than ever and help you appreciate your own gift of teaching even more. Enjoy!