Sunday, December 5, 2010

Teachers! Help!

I teach 7-12 grade Sunday school at church. Today we were talking about the passage in Matthew where Jesus says that if you look at a woman lustfully, you should gouge your eye out. For whatever reason (probably because they're 7-12 graders) someone turned the conversation to homosexuality. I said "Guys, it happens in the LCMS. Don't act like we're better Christians than other denominations." The kids looked at me with astonishment, and I'm pretty sure I saw smoke coming out of some ears. Before anyone could say anything more, I said "I don't really think we should talk about this until I've talked to your parents and pastor first." They said OK and let it go.

I know what I said was the right thing, but I think this was a teachable moment. Did I mess up here? I suppose not, because I wasn't prepared to talk about that particular subject at that time. I also would've had to deal with backlash from parents. I feel like if the kids want to talk about it, though, maybe I should pursue it.

Since 97% of my readership is comprised of teachers/soon to be teachers, I figured I could get some advice. First step is to talk to pastor, then talk to parents. After that, I'm not really sure where to go.

Any thoughts or suggestions?

For the record, when it comes to homosexuality, I treat it as love the sinner, hate the sin. I don't see it any differently than any other type of sexual immorality. I'd be interested to hear some of your thoughts on this to help with preparation of a lesson. 

So much for this being a blog about farming, eh?


  1. I can't wait to hear from all the other teachers out there about this. Thanks for asking this question, Ben.

    Here's my opinion: I think you did the right thing from a teacher's perspective, which is to get your bearings, though there are times when that "teachable moment" happens and there's no turning back. (That's why teachers are constantly striving to understand EVERYTHING. It's exhausting and impossible and mostly about pride, but I digress.) In that case, you've just got to ride it out and hope for the best (i.e. turn it over--believe me, I say prayers constantly while I'm teaching because I need help.) And as is usually the case with teachable moments, the topic will be something that is really important but also difficult to talk about. Yes, you should talk to these kids about homosexuality, definitely. And seek counsel, as you are doing. And pray that you'll come up with the right questions. Let the kids work through it. You don't have to have all the answers; you just have to be prepared with the right questions, questions that will help them articulate their emotions and ideas in a safe way (and as you mentioned, smoke might come out of ears and you'll have to be prepared for that). Let them muddle through it and continue to ask them questions that will lead to openness, honesty, compassion and love. At all times, as a teacher, my primary goal is to work toward peace no matter what the topic.

    Oh, another thing that helps: Make "I" statements rather than "they" and "you" statements. It reminds me to look at the beam in my eye before pointing fingers, and you'll want to be an example of this for your students, especially when there is so much potential for anger, judgement, and even violence (not in your classroom, but in the world at large) when talking about such a charged topic. I hope that helps. Remember that you wouldn't be in the position you're in right now if God didn't believe you were the right person for the job. These kids obviously feel comfortable asking you questions. You'll find your way in Him.

  2. Ben, you've got more of a teacher mindset than you think. This was most definitely a teachable moment -- and I've found those (more often than not) take you off-guard. Since this is a delicate issue, I think it's wise that you're doing a bit of research and communication first to really be prepared for these students. That's powerful. That's important.

    I think it's important to see where they are right now in their thinking, and go from there. Go with the flow a bit. Meet them where they are at, and explore the topic together. Make them feel like it's okay to voice their opinions, questions, and thoughts, but make sure they understand that "hate the sin, love the sinner" idea. They will draw a lot from the attitude you present about the topic. The great thing about this age range is how real you can explore this topic with them and guide them to keep a level head and an open mind.

    I'll be praying for you on this one, Ben. It's not an easy task, but, as Lisa said, you're there for a reason.

  3. I've been thinking about this all day, actually; I read it this morning before leaving for school.

    Believe me when I say that I've botched my fair share of teachable moments in my short time in the field, and I'm often as lost as you about how to re-approach the subject after the moment is gone. I don't know how some of the teachers we've had over the years do it - the more I attempt to teach, the more fascinated I am by those I know who do it well. :) I will say that the easiest solution I've applied is to ignore that the prior teachable moment ever happened and move on. See how the word "easiest" is used instead of the word "best"? :) Because I don't know what's best. Lisa's got some great words up there, and I'd trust the guidance in those words. Michelle, too. I'll just add two things that I do know:

    1. God will not stop providing you with teachable moments. Ever. They'll keep coming. Don't think that botching and/or running away from one will save you forever. Oh no. He'll find you. ;)

    2. Even your initial comment (to your students) is enough to start the stirring of the Holy Spirit in hearts. True, you didn't get in a full-blown conversation/discussion/lecture (whichever you choose) on the subject. But students are often more perceptive than we give them credit for. Even if your "Don't act like we're better Christians than other denominations," got one student thinking about the subject for a moment longer than s/he would have without your prompting, that's something, I think. I was reminded by a wise teacher woman once that in the splendid, glorious moment when a flower blooms there are many, many, many small, quiet, unseen things that must happen first; soil made fertile, many seeds scattered for every one that takes root, unnoticed nourishment, and slow determined growth. Maybe our time as teachers is only a minuscule speck in the development of a young mind; maybe we never get to see the bloom-moment of them understanding the idea of what it means to hate sin while loving a person, but that doesn't automatically equal failure. A "trust God's presence in your teaching" sort of thing, you know? Great encouragement for when our students don't always get to where we want them to be by the end of our time together.

    I'm excited that you're willing to do this - to get into the sticky stuff - with your students. That takes an amount of courage and heart that not every teacher out there is willing to offer up.

    Go get 'em, tiger.
    (For the life of me, I could come up with nothing better to end this long-winded comment...)