One of the things that I like to do is substitute teach at the local high school. Some people tell me that this is absolutely crazy because, as everyone knows, substitutes are the sacrificial lambs that get chewed up and spit out each and every school day. When students find out that they have a substitute, it’s like the class becomes Anarchy 101.
I’m not saying that I’m the best substitute teacher ever - I let the students determine that - but I will say that I have yet to encounter a situation that has made me run for the door or scream for the principal. Maybe it’s because I have worked with students most of my adult life, but I usually relish the opportunity to be in the classroom with teenagers on their own “turf.”
You see, I believe that students today - whether, elementary, middle school, or high school - get a bad rap. They get labeled from day one, whether as a good kid or a bad kid. Yes, many earn those labels honestly, but it does make me wonder how it got to the point that they consistently live up to the reputation that they have earned. I’ve always believed that people will usually reach the bar as LOW as you set it for them, which means that oftentimes students just accept that they are not smart enough, good enough, talented enough, pretty enough, popular enough, etc. Thus, they live out these low expectations that they and others have set for them.
I’m not okay with that.
I wish I could wave a magic wand and see students all across the board excel. I wish that their home lives were healthy and that they didn’t see the need to please others while sacrificing their true identity. I wish that whenever they walked into the room that every stereotype and label that has been assigned to them would be dismissed by adults and fellow students alike. I wish we could all be that way.
As I process this tragic waste of emotional and psychological energy, I realize that the issue runs far deeper than just how good or bad a student’s environment is. The way that students are seen - and how they see themselves - is truly a spiritual problem. Yeah, I realize that those who are not spiritual will scoff at this notion, and that’s okay. But whether or not you believe in God and that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life or not, there is one truth that I believe could totally revolutionize the way that we not only see students but also the rest of the world:
All people have value.
You see, we live in a world that is so busy arbitrarily assigning value and worth to people that we forget that it is not the world’s responsibility or even their right to do so. A person’s value has already been established by God and cannot be diminished by man, no matter how much we despise other people. Since you are made in God's image, you have incredible value. You are not an accident or a mistake. You are treasured by God.
If you tell me that you hate someone or think that they are worthless, then more than likely you are basing that opinion on something that they have done to you rather than who they truly are. Even though someone may speak and act in ways that make you cringe, that person is still valued - treasured - by God. And because that is the case, there is not one person who cannot turn the page and experience redemption in his or her life.
The only possible way that you can appreciate the value of someone is if you see him or her as a person and not an object. This may sound crazy, but we are more prone to treat people as objects who irritate us, get in our way, anger us, or are not worthy of our attention or time than we are as real people who have desires, needs, and dreams just like we do.
When was the last time you saw a teenager and wondered what his or her dreams for the future were? How about a homeless person - have you ever wondered how he got in that situation before you automatically dismiss him as an alcoholic/addict/lazy bum? That teacher that always seems so stressed out and yells at her students - what could possibly be going on at home or in her personal life that has her so off-balance?
These are the types of questions we need to ask ourselves before we drink the Kool Aid of automatically seeing people as their reputation has labeled them. And this takes work, because when are committed to see others as people and not objects it means that we often will have to make time to get to know them and listen to them. But what if we were committed to doing that, to truly valuing people ? Can you imagine how our schools would change, how much less crime and poverty might exist, and the amount of cooperation we could see in our government if everyone was committed to see others as people and not objects? I would drink a giant glass of that Kool Aid!
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