In our interviewing for staff, we try to discern if the person senses God’s call to a missional vocation. Here is one reason why that is so important – because this is going to be the hardest job that you will ever do. Almost invariably within about two weeks, I have a new teacher in my office crying because it is so hard. What basis do I have to be able to say to that teacher, “You’re going to be alright, and God is going to help you”? I can say that because everyone who has been called, will be equipped by God. If He has called you to this, then you can even guarantee that He is going to equip you to carry out what He has called you to do. Understanding God’s call is so essential. We say, “If it’s the Lord’s will, it’s the Lord’s bill!” The Lord is on the hook to provide.
What we are looking for is what we call no excuses kind of teachers. One of the questions we will ask in an interview is, “What do you think it means to be a no excuses teacher?” The teacher who says, “Well, that means that those students and those families have no excuses for them not to do what they need to do,” is not our person. A person who says, “No matter what, there is no excuse for me to fail. I am going to do whatever it takes,” that is our person! That is an all-in, do whatever it takes mentality.
We think of all of our teachers as pastors of the students and families in their room. That is a really unusual thing. If as a teacher, you are thinking that you are just going to go in and teach a lesson and then go home, that is not going to work. Our teachers are people who come in and are actually excited about the opportunity to shepherd the hearts of the students in their classrooms. They see themselves as pastors of the students in their classes.
Programs do not change people, do they? People change people. You are the instrument, as Paul Tripp puts it in his book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change. That is magic if you see yourself as an instrument in the Redeemer’s hands.
We know that people don’t care how much you know until you know how much you care. How does that caring work? In the end, it is a sacrificial kind of love that is necessary to build those kinds of relationships.
Let me give you some examples.
The other day after school, I had to get something from one of the classrooms and I took the elevator upstairs. As I walked out of the elevator, here was my Middle School Science teacher wearing a bandana and holding a Nerf Gun! And there was the group of boys he mentored all having a Nerf war after school. How do you think I felt about that? I was ecstatic! I was overjoyed! Here was a person who was investing in building relationships with these boys after school ours. Do you think their experience translates into the classroom? Oh man, does it ever! That is the kind of over-and-above, all-in mentality that it takes.
Almost all of our teachers in the Upper School are leaders of a mentor group. They have a small group of men and women that they are building up and pouring into. Most of that building up and pouring into happens outside of school time. They have a missional mentality. The teachers love that and look forward to it. They are scheming and dreaming about ways to build those kinds of relationships with our students. And some go to extraordinary levels.
We have had situations where a home was so broken that some of our own teachers stepped up and invited that student to come and live in their home with them for a year or two. Do you understand what I am getting at when I say all-in? If you have a missional mentality, inviting a student to live with your family is so exciting. That is the kind of thing that thrills you. Some of our teachers have even moved into the city because they are so committed to connecting with our families.
Part of being all-in is related to the longevity of staff. By God’s grace, we have staff that is committed to being with us for the long term. Why is that so important? Because in most of our families there is so much turmoil going on in their lives and everything is changing all the time.
Here is an example of one thing that will happen at our school. In the morning when students come in, some of them go on what I call a parade – they walk around and visit with some of their former teachers. They get a hug here and some love there. It is as if everything is all right because I saw Mrs. Harris and Mr. Crowl. So you see how when everything else is in flux, to have a staff that is there for the long term is really important.
All of this requires some level of sacrifice. It is hard and it causes you to lean on and depend on one another in ways that you never thought you would ever do. You are not going to check in, do your work and then go home because you are working with your best friends!
On Fridays, a number of the women teachers come over to my house in the morning for breakfast and Bible study. On Friday nights when I come home from work, I see the leftovers from the morning breakfast – coffee and muffins and always a box or two of Kleenexes. And I think, “Oh, that was a good morning!”
If you are going to get involved in this sort of work, it is going to cost you everything you have. But you will be more satisfied, more fulfilled, than anything you can imagine. It will require a radical dependence on God and on his Word, and an all-in commitment. But the fruit will be really amazing.