Monday, September 10, 2012

Free to Give Back

(We're gearing up for The PURSE-onality Challenge holiday edition"A Holiday-Ready Heart"–in October! Stay tuned for full details...Warm-Up Week starts September 24!)

September 5-23, I'll be blogging through Mary DeMuth's soon-to-be-released book Everything: What you Give and What you Gain to Become Like Jesus. Each week, I'll be giving way a copy of the book. You can enter the drawing via the Rafflecopter at the end of each Everything blog post!

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"So I let her go. And I let her rest in God’s hands, knowing that He is the keeper of every single heart–even the hearts that break each other’s and His. As I do this, I grow less dependent on others’ opinions and more connected to God.

There’s freedom in that. We don’t have to connive behind the scenes being someone’s conscience or dictator. Letting God be God and us be us allows freedom not only for the person we’re tempted to control but also for all of us who grow tired of such things."

Mary DeMuth, Everything

Not a Movie Teacher

I am not a movie teacher.

You know, the kind of teacher whose students stand and deliver, while being freedom writers and playing Mr. Holland’s Opus?

I am so not a movie teacher.

My students never think, “I want to teach like her when I grow up!”

My students don’t even think, “I want to be like her when I grow up!”

And that used to bother me. 


My students want to be just like the popular teachers. They want to be funny like Mr. M. They stand and cheer when Mr. Z walks in the room. They push themselves beyond the limits of the human vocal range for Mr. L. 

They want to be just like those teachers.

Not a Popular Teacher

But nobody wants to be like their high school English teacher.

In fact, nobody actually likes high school English teachers.

When I attend writers’ conferences, I have to bite my tongue when workshop leaders say things like*

  • “Now it’s time to ignore everything your high school English teacher, who was obsessed with nothing but outdated sentence diagraming and grammar, taught you and…”
  • “I know that all high school English teachers just love the 5-paragraph essay but nobody actually writes that way…”
  • “Don’t think about your mean awful English teacher who never did anything but destroy your papers and self-esteem with her red pen…”

Knowing that none of my students have ever wanted to be like me used to make me terribly insecure about my role as a Christian teacher. 

(Never mind that on most days, I didn’t even want to be like me!)

A Different Goal 

A huge burden lifted when I finally realized that my goal is not to get my students to like me or to be like me.

My relentless drive to get my students to like me and want to be like me has all but evaporated. 

I experienced confirmation of this over the weekend: 

I’d confiscated a cell phone from a senior. I was completely within school rules. But I was troubled. 

Yes, I’d given him a warning. Yes, he’d chosen to get it back out again. And yes, he’d been all-but-defiant about relinquishing the phone. 

In the past, I would have “connived behind the scenes, being someone’s conscience or dictator.”

Instead, I felt a Spirit nudge:  Give it back.

Give It Back

Give it back? What will the other students think? The other faculty members? The visiting adults who had seen me walk away with the phone?

Give it back.

Oh yeah. I’m not trying to be liked. By anyone. The popularity contest is over.

Give it back.

I wrote a short note in which I expressed my concerns and invited further conversation at a later time. I wrapped the note around the phone, quietly handed it to the student, and then went to sit elsewhere without looking back.

He may have started texting the moment he go his phone back and texted through the remainder of the program. I don’t know. I chose to take that risk.

Give Him Back

I gave my student back into “God’s hands, knowing that He is the keeper of every single heart.”

To my complete surprise, he pulled up a chair and sat with me in the cafeteria Sunday evening. We chatted about books we’ve both read, and then he said, “I really appreciate the way you handled the phone. I felt respected.” 

“That was my goal,” I said.

This young man (
who, like so many, struggles with authority and Author-ity issues) and I will have a conversation about “the phone.” 

Not so that I can try to get him to like me. Or be like me. 

We’ll have a conversation because that’s what the Holy Spirit has nudged me to do. I don’t have an agenda. No expected outcome.

Oh, for a fleeting moment it occurred to me that perhaps this one act of grace could be the catalyst for this young skeptic’s baptism?!?

But then I remembered:  I’m not a movie teacher.

I’m just me being me.

Letting God be God.

There's freedom in that.

*Just for the record:
  • I teach more than sentence diagraming (which can be a wonderful way to help linear-logical thinkers to understand how words work together in sentences) and grammar.
  • I tell my students to never ever write me “a 5-paragraph essay” but welcome them to turn in an essay that just happens to have five paragraphs (many believe that the 5-paragraph essay format is the skeleton of their writing, and it takes time to teach them that it’s just a scaffolding device!)
  • My pen is purple.

Your Turn:
  • How have you tried to get others to like you? be like you?
  • In what ways have you tried to "control" others?
  • Anything else on your heart!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. this is a great post. i never thought about what it would be like to an unpopular teacher haha. that would be pretty hard. but it's awesome to remember that our identities are in Jesus. hollapraize.

  2. Cheri, I have never heard of linear-logical thinking. How do you know if that is someone's style? I homeschool & always trying to figure out my children's styles & if it's not cut & dry/black & white, I struggle pinpointing.

  3. I actually liked my high school English teachers...they "made" me read books. ;D

    Very good points on wanting to make people like us and be popular. Spent most of my life like that...friends, teachers, parents, etc.,...never worked. You are so right that we should be us and let God be God. It makes life so much easier when Christ is our center instead of ourselves, which is really what wanting to be popular is in the first place.

    I have really enjoyed your blog. I wish I had time to read everything. You are such a great encourager (which my computer says is not even a real word. :D).

  4. Cheri,
    This is a great post! Thank you for sharing. I actually loved my high school (and middle school) English teachers. Outside of them, I admired one history teacher (for his ability to keep the class awake by tossing desks around the room LOL), one middle school math teacher (he always had an encouraging word and loved my writing, too), and one science teacher (who walked me through earth science with a gentle, guiding hand so I could actually pass it). Every one of these teachers allowed me to be me and didn't try to cram me into some mold or force me to like the subject matter of their classrooms.
    Be encouraged. I'm sure some shy girl in the back of the class is enjoying every moment of her learning experience under you. There's always one or two who will say they loved their English teacher and can't wait to become one themselves. Or a writer. Or an editor who will use red ink to mark up someone's manuscript one day. ;)

  5. Thank you sharing the nudge of the Holy be able to have something we do make a HIgh School young man feel respected...and have him tell you that!....GOLD!!!

    My pen in hot pink ;)