They walked in bright and early at 8:15 am on Wednesday morning. Braids and faux-hawks. Elsa dresses and Captain America shirts. Light-up sneakers and Velcro shoes. All smiles and a thousand things to say.
The kindergarteners had arrived for their music time.
We spent a glorious half hour together playing instruments, singing and dancing around the room, and playing with our stuffed animal friend Berlioz the Bear (pronounced BEAR-lee-ohz. He’s named after the famous composer). When I walked to my classroom after bringing them back to their teacher at the end of music, I smiled and remembered why I do this in the first place. The happiness that making music brought to those children – and honestly, the happiness they brought to me by sharing in their joy and wonder – was exactly what I needed to get back into the swing of life at school.
I teach at a VERY small school and we have PreK-12 all in one building. (I know, mind blowing, right?) This means I get to teach everybody! So later in the day I had the seventh grade class for music. This is a really fun age level to teach. No no, hear me out! I know it’s middle school, but I’m not crazy! They are witty, smart, and so so SO funny! They make me laugh every single time I have them in class.
Since this is their last year of general music class, I always base my curriculum around teaching the seventh graders to play acoustic guitar. They love it. Fun, engaging, keeps them occupied and too busy to misbehave! This week we have been working on the basics – holding the guitar, strumming patterns and some simple chords. On Friday I passed around the first song that the class would be learning called “Down in the Valley”. It’s an old folk song that is simple and repetitive, and only requires two guitar chords to play. Some of the lyrics include these words: “Roses love sunshine, violets love dew, angels in heaven know I love you.” Upon reading these words, one of my boys said, “Mrs. LaPointe, are you sure this is an okay song for us to be singing in school?” I replied, “What do you mean?” His response: “Well, it’s an awfully Christian song, isn’t it? I mean, we’re singing about angels! I thought we weren’t supposed to talk about God in school?”
Okay…think before you speak here, Sabrina. Many impressionable minds are awaiting your response. They will all go back home and tell their parents exactly what you said-and one of those parents just happens to be on the school board!
I weighed my options for a second, then said, “We can definitely sing about angels. We are blessed to live in a community that supports learning of all types, including music. If singing a song that includes lyrics about ‘angels in heaven’ will help you become a better guitar player, then I am doing my job.” The boy nodded his head and went on as if nothing had happened.
I lament the lack of Christianity in our schools today (heck, the whole world), and I continue to pray for God’s intercession for this. However, I kind of doubt that I will walk into our next faculty meeting and our superintenent will say, “Hey guys, we were just kidding around with the whole ‘separation of church and state’ thing. Now get out there and get those kids reading and reciting Scripture! Team Jesus!”(Although…wouldn’t that be awesome? I’d totally pay to see that.) As I have gone on in my teaching career, I have been witness to countless heartbreaking situations involving the home lives of my students. How I wish I could do something more to help them. I feel especially drawn to the teenage girls in this respect. I am blessed that many of them feel comfortable enough to confide in me when they are having problems. I want so much to take them aside and say, “Can I please pray for you? Let’s pray together.” But I can’t do that. So how, then, does one go about exhuding Christian values when you work in a place that says Christian values are inappropriate?
As Christians we are called to evangelize and spread the good news of Christ throughout the world. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he reminds them (and us) of this expectation. He writes, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21) Now, I can’t stand up on one of the cafeteria tables and testify about the amazing miracle that is Christ Jesus. I can’t be the advisor for a Campus Crusade for Christ group. I can’t have a “come to Jesus” meeting with my Chorus students. However, I can choose to be a reflection of Jesus through my actions and interactions with each class and each student that I teach.
Some might say that by doing this I’m just trying to be a good person, and not truly being a relfection of Jesus. I don’t think that’s true. Of course I want to be a good person! Doesn’t everyone? But I know plenty of “good people” who don’t know Jesus! It needs to be taken a step further and seen from a Christian perspective. From Jesus’ perspective, really.
When I treat my students with dignity and respect, I am reflecting Jesus in His interaction with the blind man, Bartimaeus. Instead of casting Bartimaeus aside, as so many others had done, Jesus calls him over and essentially asks Bartimaeus, “How can I serve you?” He then heals the man of his blindness, saying before the crowd, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Mark 10:46-52)
When I guide my students through a conversation about inappropriate choices or behaviors, I am reflecting Jesus in His treatment of The Adulterous Woman. When all of the men were ready to stone her for her actions, Jesus instead rebukes the men, saying, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” After saving her life, Jesus (most importantly) forgives the woman of her sin, but at the same time cautions her to “sin no more”. (John 8:1-11)
When I show patience towards my students who are disrespectful or consistently act out, I am reflecting Jesus in His conversation with the apostle Philip. Despite having been following Jesus for a considerable amount of time, Philip displays doubtfulness by saying, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” While Jesus does seem a bit exasperated by this lack of faith on Philip’s part, He exhibits extreme patience and restraint. Jesus tells him, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” Jesus then goes on to make amazing promises to Philip, despite his lack of trust, by saying, “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:1-14)
It’s true that I can’t overtly share my Christian faith with my students. I pray that Jesus will soon come back and show this world how much we truly need Him in all aspects of our lives. In the meantime, I will work to be the best reflection of Jesus that I can each day. I am by no means any less ignorant of my myriad blessings, any less broken, any less of a sinner just because I am trying to be more Christ-like. But if my students can see a bit of the sacred heart of Jesus in their secular world every time they walk in my classroom, I will consider it a job well done.