The Burden of the Teacher

Usually, when my husband and I go out on our weekly date night, I’m as relaxed as I can be.

A few months ago, though, when we ventured out to our favorite wing joint, I blinked as the hostess seated us.  In the distance, a waitress lingered next to the kitchen door, waiting for a tray.  She looked familiar.  She looked…she looked…

…like one of my students.

I poked my husband.  “Hey,” I said cheerfully, “I taught that kid freshman English.”  But worry set in as soon as I spoke the words.  Had she passed?  Had she done well?  Had she failed, and did that mean I should order wings from anyone but her?

I couldn’t remember and felt strangely off kilter for a few minutes, especially since I was wearing a shirt and jeans instead of my dressier “professor” clothes.  But before long the feeling faded.  I’m pretty much the same person in class that I am outside of it, and my grading policies are fair and well-thought-out, so I wasn’t really concerned.

That said, if you’re a teacher – especially if you are a spiritual teacher – then you had better be prepared for moments like these, because God has tasked you with a special burden.

The Bible demands that teachers be “a model of good works” and asks that in our teaching we “show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned” (Titus 2:7-8).  It warns that “those who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1-2).  In other words, those who teach must accept that they are held to a rigorous standard, perhaps even moreso than other believers.  With great privilege comes great responsibility.

My university tells me that, as an academic professor, my life outside the classroom has little bearing on what I do in the classroom.  If my English students were ever to catch me “behaving badly,” my job would be safe so long as my acts remained on the right side of the law.  But as a Christian teacher, all the actions of my personal life reflect on the words I say in class.

That’s because it’s awful hard to learn from a hypocrite.  The Bible forces us to consider this in Romans 2:21:

You who teach others, do you not teach yourself?  While you preach against stealing, do you steal?

That’s not to say teachers never sin.  We fall and fail and get forgiveness and start over just like everyone else.  What’s important to remember, though, is that when we teach we are a model for others.  Our words carry weight.  Our actions prove or disprove the things that we say.  By declaring ourselves an authority of the Word, we must strive as much as we can to live by it and to live authentically and mindfully.

I’m writing this because every now and then I’m struck by how easy it is for believers to become teachers.  At some churches all you have to do is volunteer.  And because of that, I think we can often come to view teaching casually, as though it’s just another duty to fulfill or just another activity to take on.  But it isn’t.  If you decide to teach, don’t make the choice lightly.  And if you are already a teacher, remember what God’s word says about your duty.

To whom much is given, much is required.


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