Each morning the teacher across the hall and I commit to the same routine of writing our objectives for the day with a click of chalk on the green boards and a shuffle of lesson plans ready to be reviewed by visitors. Each morning students in the middle school are let in before the bells ring and we can always hear that they are coming from the moment they enter the commons area about two halls away from us. They are loud. They are untucked. They sometimes smell from not taking care or not having someone to teach them to take care of themselves.
Sometimes they have already had a fight before 7:30 a.m., sometimes they make it till after lunch before a random fight begins. They love to fight. They talk about fighting, they plan fighting, they seem to live to get in fights. There is not a fight every day, but definitely once a week on the middle school side. I am not sure about the high school, but it is definitely more often than middle. Most of them come from a rural environment where the only thing to do is to pit neighborhood against neighborhood. The instigators are usually the parents of the children who have been known to drag their children outside in the street and ordered to fight other children.
The communities in which some of these children come from are much like the pre-Christian times of Assyrian warriors and the ‘eye for an eye’ mentality. Only these children have heard of Christ and the young girls are some of the most frequent fighters. It becomes easy for new teachers to come in and stereotype them. I came in having experienced and broken up fights before, but never to this capacity. It has taught me something new about humanity.
It has affirmed my belief that every person no matter what has been made in the image of God. I searched for some good behind the outer clothing of many of the most aggressive fighters. What I saw is that each person longs for someone to love them, to care for them, to hear them. Many of these children do not have that and have no idea what positive attention is in their lives.
Paul says we must “put on the new man who has been created in God’s image – in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth.” Eph 4:24 How hard it must be to put righteousness on when all you know is anger and depravity? As Easter once again draws near, I am looking forward to the Resurrection. Each year I often work hard contemplating the crucifixion and the lonely Saturday of Our Lady, but these children who are taught dislike and contempt remind me of the beauty inside them in the image of Christ in his Glory.
I admit, this reflection shows that I had to pray hard for understanding in loving these children. I always try to love the children I teach even if I don’t like them. It was easy the first two months of school to be bewildered. It finally hit me that I wasn’t praying enough for them. I still don’t like their actions, but it is very hard for me to judge them in a harsh way because of where they’re coming from. But, I hold them to a high standard and they know it. Even the high school students whisper my name or call out when I pass. We have only about 350 kids, maybe about 80 that I teach in middle school. My reputation could be good or bad in their eyes, but I am continuously explaining to those who ask, that it is my job to watch them and keep them safe by ratting them out. They’ll appreciate it one day.
It is the repetition of what is true that will melt their hearts and allow them to see Christ. If they were to have fine teachers as we all have in the image of Jesus Christ, then it might be easy for them to see his joy and radiance ready for them. But they have me, and several other hardworking, caring teachers that go out of their way every day for them.
“But now, put off all such things as anger, rage, malice, slander, abusive language from your mouth….
As the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another…” Colossians 3: 8, 12