So often as educators we are asked, “Who was the best teacher you ever had?” If I am honest, the best teacher I ever had was one of my students. I was teaching my third year of first grade and Michael walked into my classroom the day before school was about to start. This little guy had energy radiating out of his fingertips and talked non-stop. I mean non-stop. By the end of his 30-minute visit, I felt strangely exhausted and unnerved. I went to bed that night with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach; I was afraid.
Sure enough, the first day of school was everything I dreaded it would be. He threw a checkerboard across the room, called the other kids names, and practically burst into flames. It was only a half-day and I was exhausted. I drove home and slept for three hours. Each day after got progressively worse. He defied every direction, loved the negative attention, refused every reward I tried to give him, and verbally abused the playground monitors.
I was emotionally exhausted and out of solutions. My thoughts went something like this: “If only Michael weren’t in my room, it would be a great year. If only he was sweet like the other kids, if only the administration had been wise enough to screen him. If only….if only…if only…” Months went by like this and I grew increasingly desperate.
I was driving to work one morning listening to Christian music and slipping into my usual negative train of thought when the Lord broke in. That still small voice was loving, but firm. “The administration didn’t make a mistake. I SENT him to you and I don’t make mistakes. This is my perfect will and you need to start thanking me for Michael instead of complaining.” The conviction was deep. My love had fallen short, my patience was worn thin, and my attitude was wrong. Tears fell from my eyes and I obeyed the Lord’s word. I started giving praise and thanksgiving for the child the Lord had placed in my care.
I started reaching out to Michael in ways I hadn’t before and laughing with him and finding ways to connect. He started to trust me enough to confide in me and tell me his heartache about his parents’ divorce. He felt like he was alone and he didn’t have any friends. My heart broke. How did I miss it?
In November, I gave the children the opportunity to accept Jesus in their hearts and to ask for a new beginning and purpose; sins washed away, all things made new. To my shock and delight, the first hand that flew up was Michael’s. There was no hesitation; he wanted Jesus and Jesus wanted him. Every day after that was better; a little softer, a little sweeter, less defiant, and more joyful. The miracle was real.
As it so happened, Christian friends were also taking Michael’s mom to church on a regular basis. She accepted Jesus two months later. My joy was complete. This little boy was the greatest teacher of all time. To avoid the struggle is to miss the blessing!
Elise Bradley is the lead first grade teacher at SVC. Her impressive resume includes a B.A. and Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from Vanguard University and 19 years of classroom teaching experience. A product of Christian education herself, she counts it a blessing to teach her students about Jesus and loves to make learning fun. She can be reached at email@example.com.