I regularly send a prayer update to about 100 friends, supporters, and intercessors. I title the email “Pastoring Christian Educators,” as that is really how I see my role as Executive Director of Christian Educators. One of the more challenging aspects of my role involves reading one or two referrals a week describing a teacher who either wants to quit or is contemplating throwing in the towel on their teaching career.
Here is an example (used with permission) that not only broke my heart but hit on so many themes common to the rest of them:
Dear Christian Educators,
I feel led to leave my current position in a district where I have served for the last 20 years… Sadly, many of my colleagues have recently quit for a variety of reasons, including understaffing, extreme student behavior problems, and overcrowded classrooms that are unequipped to meet the complex needs of the students. Now, it seems like we are hiring anyone because we are understaffed. We currently have a convicted felon working at our school. And just this week, a staff member was arrested for child pornography.
I have always had a good relationship with my principal and assistant principal, but I do not feel that they can handle the current situation. Students run the halls, scream, and destroy property. The school is out of control and unsafe.
Furthermore, it seems like making sure we do not offend anyone is more of a priority than the safety of the students. Just this week, I found one of my male students, who identifies as transgender, in the girl’s bathroom watching other students. We have a gender-neutral bathroom. But when I asked the administration how to address this, I was told that I could not tell students where to go to the bathroom.
I no longer feel effective at meeting the needs of my students, including basic safety. I want to leave quietly but have no idea how to do it. I love the Lord and I love teaching. I have prayed about this extensively on my own and with other staff members. Please pray for me and my students. Please pray that I know what I need to do next and that hope can be restored.
Ouch. Educators, can you relate to this? While my experience with our members is anecdotal, it certainly feels like we are facing a crisis characterized by many of these issues.
My friend Daniel Buck at the Fordham Institute agrees in a recent column, documenting the significant uptick in problematic post-pandemic student behavior. He cites a 2023 survey of superintendents stating that “81% of superintendents say behavioral concerns are significantly worse now than in 2019,” and 92% say that students’ mental health is worse than in 2019.
I know teaching may be harder than it’s ever been. I know many have good reasons to quit. But as a pastor to educators, let me cut against the grain of our culture that so easily jumps to “OMG, you have no idea!”-style venting. Maybe, like the teacher quoted above, you feel hopeless. But let me tell you, friends, times that feel hopeless are when we can actually have the greatest hope.
Scripture is full of these examples: Joseph thrown in a pit to die, Moses and the Israelites trapped at the Red Sea, Daniel thrown into the lions’ den, Esther and her people facing genocide, Jehoshaphat about to be defeated by a vast army, Peter in prison, Paul bitten by a poisonous snake…the list could fill the rest of this entire column.
When we are the most desperate, we give up on self-sufficiency and cry out to God. As Jehoshaphat famously said, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
But here’s the rub: if we’re honest, many of us don’t believe that God will intervene like He did over and over and over again in the Scriptures. Sure, God shut the mouths of lions or defeated entire armies with a worship team, but He’s not going to help me get Johnny to stop bolting out of the classroom door.
Do you really believe God will intervene in the very situation that is making you feel hopeless? May I suggest a little test to find out?
Try walking in the opposite spirit.
Then, see what God does.
The tool, Walking in the Opposite Spirit, is a compiled list of negative emotional responses and corresponding Scripture applications that help us respond differently than we normally might. For example, instead of anger, it directs us to lean into Ephesians 4:26, which reminds us not to let the sun go down on our anger. When we are tempted to wallow in self-pity and victimization, we’re encouraged to put Zephaniah 3:17 on repeat: “He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
But the idea here is not just to meditate on Scripture. That’s only the start. The test is to actually respond differently to the source of the negative emotions.
For example, that parent who endlessly accuses you? Father, show me how to love her.
The student who can’t regulate his emotions and responses? Jesus, help me respond to him with forgiveness and blessing.
The principal who puts endless burdens on you? Holy Spirit, give me the strength not to complain but to have a joyful attitude.
The “teacher of the year” next door that makes you feel inadequate? Lord, free me from comparison and show me my identity in You.
When you let these truths take root in your heart to the point that you make different attitudinal and behavioral choices in response, you are walking in the opposite spirit! Now, watch and see what God does. Of course, realize it won’t be easy, as God is more interested in changing you than making your circumstances more comfortable.
CE member Andrea told me about the time when she first started her Good News Club and the principal started getting complaints about it from another teacher—a teacher who also had her daughter enrolled in the school. But because Andrea had followed the right procedures (if interested, you can learn more here), the principal defended her. Nonetheless, Andrea felt attacked as her colleague had accused her of violating the law. But rather than respond with hostility, she prayed for this teacher. Lo and behold, the family schedule of this teacher shifted, and she found herself in need of childcare at the exact time of the Good News Club. Even more surprising, she put her daughter in the club! So not only did God defend Andrea, but He just showed off by giving her the chance to share the Gospel with this precious girl every week.
Will your challenging situation work out like that? I don’t know. God is very creative in how He works. But I do promise that you will see Him work if you are watching for it.
So let’s not grow weary in doing good. I know it’s hard. But you carry the power of the God of Heaven with you through the Holy Spirit as you walk into your school every day. Make a choice to walk in the opposite spirit, and see what He does.
David Schmus is the Executive Director of Christian Educators.
Click the button below to learn more about David Schmus.
P.S. Even while doing our best to walk in the opposite spirit, there are times when educators are facing real abuse and need to advocate for justice, or sometimes the answer may be a job change. We can help you navigate those situations.
Free to Teach is written to inform, encourage, and inspire Christian educators serving in our public schools. It should not be construed as legal advice provided by an attorney.