When I first started teaching my current fourth graders two years ago, my mantra for their class was “love conquers all.” Recently, I have realized much of the reason for their moody behavior in class and stage whispers about which teachers they like. I’ve always known it was about who was in control of the class, but I always blamed the wrong students. With a flash of a stamped paper, trading little items back and forth during class, and a glimpse of paper money, I finally discovered the culprit.
Jenny gives her classmates stamps based on their behavior–toward her. The stamps are converted to paper money, used to buy things at her “store.” When I first saw glimpses of this store in action, I was incredulous at the types of things that were being sold. Plain, clear folders. Ordinary pens. If they don’t buy, they are punished by Jenny’s moods. Also, the worst thing is that Jenny has the power to take anything they buy back from them, giving them no security. Following Jenny’s rules enslaves them and makes it impossible for them to enjoy anything that’s not giving them a tangible reward. They prefer Jenny’s material rewards to the immaterial rewards teachers give them such as praise, accomplishment, and education.
Love = truth + grace. I grew up in a church that emphasized truth over grace and so naturally the pendulum has swung over to the grace side. However, both grace and truth are vital in my relationship with these students. Without grace, I’d scold them after every infraction. Without truth, I’d ignore their self-destructive behavior. Love does conquer all, but it needs to be a rich, nuanced love; grace and truth working side-by-side. Grace and truth have to be so blended in our words that no one can see where truth ends and grace begins.
How can I so blend truth and grace? My actions towards my students are a representation of how God responds to my sin and self-destructive behavior. Truth often requires that I suffer earthly consequences for my foolish actions, but Jesus took the eternal consequences onto himself in a stunning display of grace.
In that, Jesus Christ, who was full of grace and truth, conquers all.
Conquers my apathetic heart.
Conquers little fourth grade mafia bosses and those whom they oppress.