Grace is Love that Cares, Stoops and Rescues
“What do you teach?” This question causes me pause. I know the expected, appropriate response would announce a subject area. Sometimes I answer directly, “Middle school English.” However, my favorite reply remains, “I teach children.”
“It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something. May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.” — Dr. Leo Buscaglia
During my educational career, I served as a middle school principal. Dr. Buscaglia’s words guided my daily interactions with students reminding me of the opportunities that existed. With a goal to bestow grace, my typical day in public education revolved around the children. The mission of the staff and myself was to create an environment of safety and compassion.
“Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.” — John Stott
Grace of tolerance provides empathy
A day at work usually began as the front doors to the middle school opened into the cafeteria. It’s were I drank my first cup of coffee and greeted students who ate breakfast and visited with friends.
It is where I waited for Andrew whose behavior contract required him to meet his teachers just beyond the doors to be searched and observed. Searched to confiscate non-educational contraband and observed to see if it will be a good day, or not so good. From his morning greeting, “I hate that f — bus driver,” or “Hey, Mrs. Steele,” he established the mood — kind of like Jell-O. Everyone was aware that if things heated up, Andrew melted down.
Except for his colorful vocabulary, this young man embraced a heart of gold and the mind of a toddler encased in the body of a 278-pound teenager. He responded positively to food and humor but revolted against requests and requirements. Each day he offered his best. He never planned to hurt others; he simply responded on instinct as an abused dog might respond to an intimidating situation.
Grace of diligence teaches persistence
On any given day, after shedding my purse, coat and storing my lunch, I walked through the halls greeting students with high fives and questions about their previous evening. Each had a story to tell.
Anthony dressed in a red and white striped shirt, tight jeans, carried a backpack and wore black-rimmed glasses. Restraint and concern that students might pick up my chant restricted me from exclaiming, “Where’s Waldo!”
In the Eye Spy books, Waldo was forgetful and lost. He roamed the book and with the each page turn, dropped a personal belonging. Much the same, Anthony roamed the halls. Because of his impulsiveness, teachers repeatedly asked him to put his cell phone in his locker, and he often required redirection to slow down and keep his hands to himself.
Grace of encouragement builds responsibility
When I returned to my office, a list waited for my attention. I knew as the day unfolded priorities would demand my attention and the list would grow, seldom diminishing. Often the list held an inventory of names, students whose misdeeds needed addressing. Through empathy, consequences, and dialogue, I worked beside them building relationships, plans, and problem-solving skills.
On this day, a secretary announced the first arrival, Tadd. He never seemed to have control over his lanky, 12-year-old body. His reputation preceded him: his fingers stole an iPod; his hands gestured improperly; his arms threw a bolt down the crowded hall; his head repeatedly sported a forbidden hat, and his body performed a victory dance in the middle of class.
Whether a mature mind might someday develop to match his age or his actions would conform to society’s expectations was yet to be seen but I greeted him with encouragement that the future held great promise. When his parents spoke supportive words in the office, their body language yelled rejection. Between the lines of his behavior plan, reassurance existed.
Grace of empathy promotes success
When Jenny entered my office, her dyed hair, black clothes, and dark attitude released a gust of sadness that enveloped the room. A concerned shadow circled her eyes reflecting rebellion with a hint of longing.
The daily point sheet, if it had been picked up at all, was returned unsigned by a parent, not because of defiance but the knowledge that attempts to get signatures required energy she didn’t possess.
By being tardy to class, she prolonged the negative and remained in the fellowship of peers. Her refusals to comply masked her failures while declaring her independence. Her proclamation of bi-sexuality granted inclusion by both girls and boys. The bulge of her notebook provided evidence of banned notes as a similar bulge in her pocket confirmed the presence of a cell phone; both provided assurances of approval from peers.
Grace of acceptance reassures individual worth
Usually, Amos signed in late. When he didn’t come to school his mother wrote excuses the next day. A professional letter had been by the school board and the prosecuting attorney proclaiming him a habitual truant.
When he did appear, he most likely loitered in the halls avoiding the classroom. Once he wrote on the lockers — maybe to notify everyone of his existence. A warm welcome provided the hospitality that brought him back again to roam and search the school halls.
Grace of kindness earns forgiveness
The saying, “Boys will be boys” attempted to justify actions that in no way warranted justification. Bill understood the pain he caused when he forced a peer into the trash can. Once bullied, he had become the bully.
However, the recent death of his friend from cancer still haunted his memories. In honor of his friend, he promised to live each day positively. Tears stained his cheeks as he confessed, admitted, and pleaded his guilt knowing it necessary so he could accept his punishment and accept forgiveness.
Grace of affection endorses dignity
Upon opening and reading the emails, Johnny’s name was added to the list. His new school requested more information about him. What could be said about the school’s adopted child? After eating the school-provided breakfast, he brushed his teeth with a toothbrush his English teacher stored in her desk drawer.
Johnny wore donated clothes once worn by the science teacher’s son, and the history teacher investigated steps to gain foster care licensing. With his absence, my wash loads decreased but he remained in our hearts. In response to the email asking about strategies to support success, I replied, “Give him love. Keep him safe.”
Grace of generosity offers respectability
As the bell rang, Louis stopped by the office at the end of the day to retrieve his cell phone. His presence was immediately obvious. He was loud in the classroom, in the hall, at choir concerts, and on the bus.
Known by teachers, students, parents, substitutes, and bus drivers as the class clown, a disruption, a peeping Tom, and trouble. But despite his disabilities and problems, he never hesitated to smile at all he met. Louis readily helped the disadvantaged. He made me smile even as I handed out consequences and spouted lectures.
Grace of patience instills hope
Surrounded by teenagers’ energy, I walked towards the buses wondering how a thousand students exited a building, boarded buses, and disappeared in five minutes.
Outside the buses, students loitered with friends. So strange there was no hurry to leave the place they had hated and cursed all day. For them must be bestowed with the grace of persistence so they will learn to accept life for what it offers.
Boys and girls hugged goodbye in a manner that activated memories of watching soldiers leave wives and children as they departed for a tour of duty. Students who experienced their “first love” of many to come learned about future relationships through experience.
The day ended with a phone message from an Arizona school principal responding to a request for information about Marcus. I read the notations quickly realizing his behaviors remained similar since his move to Idaho: argumentative, non-compliant, tardy, disruptive, and violent. His name remained on my list, at the top, to address tomorrow.
Each child — each person — carries their past which molds who we are and who we will become. Each one of them and all of us through the sacrifice of others receive grace not because it is deserved, but in fact, because mercy is granted. Daily I am thankful that we are not given what is deserved.
Teachers go to college to learn their subjects: math, science, English, history. They are masters of the curriculum. However ultimately, teachers teach children.
“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know who much you care. — Theodore Roosevelt
When I’ve watched students walk across the stage to receive a diploma, I remember they are not simply graduating from academics but traveling into a world that requires continual grace. They carry the lesson that they are their best and they are wonderful.
(The vignettes shared are true stories about students I connected with as a middle school administrator. Names are changed, but these students are representative of all the teens that walk the halls of public education. Working beside them provided me the opportunity to develop compassion and learn the art of being fully human.)