I was in a data driven meeting once when the advice was given “Of course we want all students to succeed, but given our limitations, sometimes you need to teach to the middle.” Perhaps you’ve heard something similar. My heart dropped and my soul cringed when I think about such philosophy. It just felt antithetical to everything about what it means to be an excellent educator.
In Luke 15 we see Jesus sharing three parables with one underlying theme: celebrating when what was once lost has been found. He tells the story of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin and Lost Son. In each of these stories there are 3 things we need to take away and apply in our classrooms.
1) Each of these items had an inherent value to their owner. The shepherd understood the value of his sheep, the woman knew the coin had worth and of course the father loved his son. We need to see and value each of our students inherently because they are our students and I don’t just mean the ones in your classroom. They are all ours. Yes, even that one. Especially that one. We are all children of God and should be valued as such.
2) The lost item was prioritized over the rest when necessary. The shepherd left his 99 sheep, the majority, in the field while he went to work looking for the one. The woman turned her house upside-down diligently looking for the one missing. The father, though he had a faithful son at home, directed his attention and his servants to tend the son who at one point scorned him. While his son was still in the distance, it was the father who left his home to embrace the prodigal son. It is so easy, and sometimes even encouraged, to focus your energy and attention to the students who “get it”, to those who thrive in our educational system. But what are you doing to prioritize the lost one when necessary? What about that GT kid who finishes everything ahead of her peers and it is easier to let her have “free time” rather than create separate lessons that will challenge her? Or the ELL student for whom it is less stressful to give them a test review with the answers filled in rather than create a scaffolded review appropriate for them? Don’t just teach to the middle; if Jesus could reach to the far ends of the earth, we can teach to the edge of our classrooms.
3) Rejoice in the return of the lost! It was not just the ninety-nine sheep or the 9 coins or the one son who stayed home that received all the love and attention; the shepherd, the woman and the father were each thrilled when what was once lost was found. Not only did they rejoice, but they recruited others to celebrate with them. I once had a student who scored a 77 on the last test of the school year. In September, this young man scored a 12, yes, out of 100, on the first test we took. And then a 20. And then a 36. And then a 48. And we struggled. And toiled. And tutored. And worked. Before and after school. Phone calls home were regular. Emotions were high. Frustrations were real. Barriers were broken. Progress was slow and tedious and not always linear. But neither of us quit on the other. Or on ourselves. Success was not optional, but mandatory. We celebrated that 77 like it was an acceptance letter to Harvard!
When we were lost, whether we knew it or not, the Father gave up everything, including his only son, to find us. The word tells us that all of heaven rejoices when one lost soul has become found! Praise God that he didn’t count those already found more worthy than seeking you out or give up on you in your lostness. How eager are you to do the same for others?
Take some time to ask and answer these questions of yourself: What are you intentionally doing to reach the lost in your classroom? Is there space to celebrate the 65 from the kid who tried and the 95 from the kid who doesn’t have to try at all? Is there a person in my PLN who can help me grow in this area?
Father, thank you for seeking after me when I was lost and for not giving up on me. Thank you for valuing me and loving me enough to diligently search for me. Help me to do the same for the sheep you have given me. Enable me to have a heart for every one of my students and to be intentional about seeking those who are lost and rejoicing when they are found.