Laboring in the field of students’ minds and hearts

| August 26, 2020 | 0 Comments

“Then he said to the disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” Matthew 9:37

While preparing for the new school year as a middle and high school teacher, I am once again struck by the astonishing privilege of tending to students’ minds and hearts. Teachers have a special role laboring in God’s fields — the encounter of mind to mind, or as Cardinal St. John Henry Newman puts it, where “heart speaks to heart.” Such a sacred place! It calls to mind a hymn popular in my youth titled “This is Holy Ground.” The words of the first verse meditate:

This is holy ground,

We’re standing on holy ground

For the Lord is present

And where He is is holy.

In the nascent stages of students’ spiritual journey, teachers get to labor on the sacred ground of these children’s souls.

What does this work look like? Laborers both pick and protect fruit. This means affirming and developing students’ gifts, together with countering weeds of influence that try to choke them out. I remember a teacher doing this for me in second grade. After our weekly morning Mass at my Catholic school, I innocently exclaimed, “I love Mass” as I got ready for recess. As this little fruit of the Spirit burst out in the hall, two classmates scoffed, causing me to shrink back. My teacher overheard, scolded the girls, then affirmed my feelings. In that moment of confusion for me, she pulled a weed of doubt and harvested a lifelong love for Mass.

Teachers’ work is better described as a craft. We acquire skills necessary to teach but must apply them thoughtfully and creatively to each student. To cultivate so many different fruits amidst such a wide array of weeds takes nothing less than divine grace. Thus, teaching necessitates a deep prayer life and docility to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We are the laborers, but God is still the Master.

The Lord impressed this lesson on me by experience. I vividly recall a day I resisted the Holy Spirit. I had a well-prepared lesson which would be simple to execute after such hard work. As class began however, I felt the Holy Spirit urge me to put it aside and try to engage them in a class discussion instead. I stubbornly went ahead with my lesson, but it fell flat on students’ hearts. In contrast, once when I was re-reading St. Faustina’s diary, the Holy Spirit inspired me to incorporate it into my next unit. I labored to put together some excerpts and guided study questions. It struck a particular student right to the heart and kindled the fire of her faith. Years have passed since then, but Faustina has remained an important part of her spiritual life and vocation. What a work of the Spirit!

Cardinal Newman believed that true education happens through personal connection. What students learn is greatly affected by who we are and how we teach. If we express passion for our subject and its connection to God our creator, students imbibe that spirit of faith and the interconnectedness of knowledge. When we treat them with love and patience, we impress upon them their dignity and worth. Subjects might be interesting, policies can direct behavior, but it’s teachers who inspire. As Cardinal Newman beautifully stated, “Persons influence us, voices melt us, looks subdue us, deeds inflame us.”

The Lord has produced a rich harvest. As we approach this new year, let us pray for laborers and be laborers of prayer.

Jendro, a member of Holy Name of Jesus in Medina, teaches theology at Providence Academy in Plymouth. A Catholic speaker and writer, her website is taketimeforhim.com.

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Category: The Local Church