I was very lucky to be raised in a household that promoted Christian principles through the words and actions that surrounded me. I was even able to receive an amazing Catholic school education that openly reinforced these standards at school. The students that I currently teach come from a variety of different backgrounds. Some are being raised in families similar to my own upbringing, surrounded by positive influences. Others are being raised in challenging households, surrounded by negative influences that promote a lifestyle filled with poor decisions. I fear for these students and want desperately for them to make positive choices in the future. Occasionally though, this type of student stumbles upon faith in a way that can only be the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it happens through other peoples’ words or example, but other times it is their own curiosity.
Being a Christian teacher in a public school poses a list of difficulties. Although I teach in a small town that, for the most part, supports a lifestyle and principles in line with Christianity, this is not always the case. As both a public school teacher and a Christian, I am sometimes faced with seemingly impossible situations.
My students have been working on persuasive essays for quite a while now. I allowed them to choose any topic that is of interest to them. I find that their best writing comes from things that they are passionate about. As long as they can support their argument with valid sources, they are permitted to choose whatever they want. Over the years, I have had students write about all sorts of controversial issues. Some of them I have agreed with on a moral level and others I have not. Regardless, I hold all papers to the same academic standards. This year, one student chose to write about a controversial issue in which Christianity has a clear stance. The student picked the stance that would be supported by those who follow Christianity. Deep down, my heart jumped with joy.
This student worked hard on his essay. He followed all the required steps while sifting through websites and databases to find credible sources to support his argument. He organized his research and then began to write his essay. Slowly the essay took form. It was logically organized and well written. As a teacher, I was thrilled that his ability to research, read, and write was clearly improving.
Today, the student walked into the computer lab looking solemn. He opened up the Google Doc that contained his essay and then seemed to look through the computer completely spacing out. At first I was confused by his attitude. Only yesterday, he was completely consumed by his research and the writing of his paper. As I took a closer look at the screen, I became concerned. His paper appeared to be more disorganized than it was the day before. At a glance, I could tell that his sources were no longer perfectly cited and his opening paragraph had been shortened. My heart sank when I began to read his essay.
Two days before the major essay that he had been working so diligently on was due, his mother required him to change his entire topic to the opposing viewpoint. I was devastated on many levels. The Christian in me, although I would never verbally express it to him, had been so excited that despite his challenging home environment, he had chosen to write about his original topic. He had stumbled upon truth through his own curiosity and made the choice to pursue it. What exactly inspired him, I may never know. As a Christian, I was frustrated by the situation.
As a teacher, I was also frustrated. This student was inquisitive and interested in everything he was reading, and the result was a wonderfully constructed persuasive essay. He was willingly reading nonfiction and writing on a level unmatched by his previous essays. However, now his essay was unorganized and clearly thrown together at the last minute. His grade and attitude about the assignment have been negatively affected by the fact that the parent chose, after the student worked on the essay for weeks, to look at it only two days before it was due and make him change the whole thing.
How is this helping him to be successful in school? How is this helping him to become a better reader and writer? Will that spark, that desire to learn that I saw the last few weeks be completely snuffed? Parents and teachers should be on the same team, not working against each other.
What does someone say to a defeated looking boy staring blankly at his computer? My mind is still consumed with that question. It was not the boy’s fault his mother made him change the whole essay or that he comes from a challenging home environment. There really wasn’t anything I could do. The old essay was gone. Feeling defeated myself, I gave him some guidance to improve the current essay and moved on to assist one of the many students who had hands waving in the air for assistance. As I walked away, he continued to stare at the screen, his face devoid of emotion. Slowly, his hands moved to the keyboard, and he began to type.
I am curious to see what he turns in tomorrow.