Middle schoolers can be a lot of fun. They can also be super annoying; they can get on nerves that you didn't even know existed. One minute you are laughing and enjoying their silliness or unique view of things, totally loving being with them. The next minute you want to flush them down the toilet.
I have on occasion used those very words with my class: "I love this class so much, but sometimes I want to flush you down the toilet." (I use that specific phrase to express frustration in a way that gets the point across without communicating threat or violence.) I am fairly confident in this case that they take the words "I love you" more seriously that the part about my inserting them into my plumbing system.
I am currently filling a teaching gap in an inner city school as a long term Spanish substitute while the district continues to seek out a permanent teacher whose training and specialty lie in this area. It is a walk of grace, one that is yielding both joy and deep life lessons that I did not expect.
One particular challenge for me involves the selection of materials and topics for each lesson. I've had help. This is a great work environment, and the other teachers have been super helpful. The other Spanish teacher (a seasoned Spanish teacher) has been a tremendous resource. And yesterday my heavenly teacher inserted a lesson plan in my spirit that I will probably never find in any Spanish textbook.
The message was simple and applied to every student: "You matter, and you are valuable." I started every class period with a general address to the whole class. I said that they matter, that every single one of them has intelligence and worth. I said that when I get frustrated with them for misbehavior (and I want to flush them down the toilet), it is never because I think they are bad. On the contrary, I see their high worth, and it frustrates me to see them treat themselves and others like they are less than they are. I told them that when I push them them to do their work, it is because I see what they can do and become, and I want to encourage them towards their potential.
After the general message I let others work silently while I walked around to each student and gave each one a message of encouragement, silently praying for the words as I walked from desk to desk. I expected eye rolls at the utter cheesiness of the message. No-one rolled their eyes. Some actually got teary eyed. A few opened up a bit. One student told me that he had never heard a teacher tell him that he matters. I know his other teachers, people who genuinely care about their students. Yet sometimes the message fails to get across when we don't speak up and use those specific words.
The church at Ephesus was very concerned with teaching the right lessons and acting according to the right beliefs. This was the same church that held a bonfire to destroy tens of thousands of dollars worth of scrolls and paraphernalia with false teachings. This was the same church that the apostle John commended in the book of Revelation for not tolerating false teachings. It was also the church that St. John reprimanded in that same message for forgetting their first love. In Ephesus 4, Paul also encouraged and challenged the church at Ephesus to live and teach by a truth that extends beyond factually accurate doctrine:
"Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as their is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear." -Ephesians 4:29 (NRSV)
That "lesson" I taught about the students' value was not planned. Nor will it ever be on any state test. But I'm certain it is the most important lesson I will ever teach in a public school. It is a lesson I need to practice every day, so that I may honor God by sharing the infinite love and acceptance I am given with others. Perhaps that is the greatest and most important daily adventure in grace.