Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Christian Public School Teacher

I am a Christian. I teach 7th grade in a public school. That makes me a Christian public school teacher.

Oxymoron or not?

Whether or not you believe the title is an oxymoron, I am not alone. There are many of us. We each deal with the challenges of being Christian within the walls of a public school differently. I won’t tell you that we all handle it the same. We don’t. I can only speak deeply from my own perspective, and I can speak from the outside looking in from my perspective of how others I view firsthand deal with the situations presented. I can assure you, we all feel differently about how we should behave and we all handle each other’s behaviors differently.

We are not a collective group. We are in no way, shape, or form attempting to take over public education. J (Some of you just let out a huge sigh of relief, didn’t you?)

Today I was discussing author’s voice with my students. I mentioned that I write my non-fiction exactly the way I teach classes. I feel that I could print my blog, mix it in with other’s similar writing, pass it out to adults who read my blog, and that with 90-95% accuracy they would correctly identify which piece of writing was mine.

Several students asked questions.

“Surely you don’t really use phrases like, ‘Holy toledo.’?”

“Do you think we could pick out your voice? Since we listen to you teach every day?”

I responded to the questions as asked. One normally quiet student’s hand shot up.

“Mrs. Tripp, would you bring what you write tonight in tomorrow and let us try to pick it out?”

Without missing a beat I responded, “I’m sorry, but the content isn’t appropriate for me to share with my students.”

Eyebrows went up and down all over the room. Quickly I realized my mistake.

“What I mean is that my blog is religious in nature and due to the law on separation of church and state I can’t share my religious views with students.”

Yikes! They almost thought I was writing inappropriate stuff!! EEEK! Yes, these are the things I say without thinking.

The students immediately understood why I couldn’t bring in tonight’s post and the subject was dropped.

For them, the subject was dropped.

I, on the other hand, was reminded of just how ‘separate’ my lives are. No, that wasn’t a typo or mistake. Lives.

Teachers are like cats. We have more than one life. The number of lives we have depends on our family situation, community situation, religious affiliation, and a bazillion other things. I think of myself as split personalities sometimes.

I am this person at work (school), this person at home, this person at church, this person at the grocery store, this person at community events in town, this person in public out-of-town, and the list goes on and on.

My behavior, attitude, and overall personality will change depending on the place and the people in attendance.

See, students see me as me the teacher no matter where I am. Location does not change the fact that I am a public school teacher to them. They call me by my “Mrs.” name. They expect me to respond to them, call them by name, behave like I would at school, regardless of the social setting. They can’t take the teacher out of the classroom.

I’m a lot like those students. I see me as a Christian. A follower of Christ. I speak in “church” language. I talk about scripture and prayer frequently. I wear shirts that advertise my faith. I have an innate desire to deal with discipline through Biblical examples and instructions. I can’t take the “Christ” out of me simply because I walk into a public school building where separation of church and state takes precedence over my personal religious freedoms.

This has caused a lot of internal turmoil for me in recent years. I have in no way been publicly persecuted because of my faith. I have in no way pushed the boundaries or broken any laws within the context of my job. However, it hurts my spirit, my soul, to feel like I should speak words of encouragement, words of life to someone and know I can’t.

I gave up a youth leader position because I couldn’t handle being a spiritual leader in the church and then being a “teacher” when I actually met the students on their mission field. I wanted to be their coach, to be their minister, to be their prayer partner, and I couldn’t do that effectively and still maintain a clearly drawn line of separation of church and state. Too many other students could hear conversations, see handouts, misconstrue what was going on as school related when it wasn’t…

So, where did this blog start? How do I handle being a Christian public school teacher? The answer is easy. Not very well.

I’m still learning, though. I have a long way to go. And two things I can claim:

1. I am a Christian. That will not change. My employment will not effect my salvation. It is secure. If I were ever to have to choose between my profession and my Savior, well, it would be an easy choice.

2. I am a teacher. I do my absolute best every day. That will not change. The fact that I am a Christian actually reinforces this effort. (Whatever you do, work at it will all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23- 24)

A Christian public school teacher is not the same thing as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy. We are not imaginary beings created to make children happy. We really do exist. We may not always make children happy as we dole out assignments, homework, projects, labs, quizzes, tests, and occasionally correction, but you can rest assured we are always doing it for the right reasons. We are probably even praying about it before, during, and after. But shhhh don’t tell anyone! 😉

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