The thankless job of teaching

Many of my teachers friends are exhaling a long breath for the first time in 9 months.

In America, most public and private schools have wrapped up, and teachers are entering a much-needed break.  Those that don’t personally know any teachers may be incredulous about the concept of a “summer break”; those of us who know (or are) teachers know how deserved and needed those months are.

For most of the year — including parts of that summer break — teachers are prepping in and out of school hours to ensure their students have what they need to learn and thrive.  They plan out curriculums (and back-up curriculums, and substitute plans) to ensure not a moment is wasted, even the moments that seem organic.  They research supplies that will enhance their classroom, and when funding inevitably falls short, they organize donations or even pull from their own wallets.  The best-prepared teachers still find themselves grading papers after-hours, and the most caring teachers find themselves thinking about their students in their personal time.  I personally know teachers that work hard to research what makes an engaging classroom, write personalized notes to each of their students, and document detailed feedback to track each child’s growth.

That is why it stings when the teachers’ efforts and sacrifices go unnoticed.  Teachers can pour themselves into their work and be met with arguments from students, complaints from parents, and repercussions from administration if certain outcomes aren’t met.  It can often be a thankless job.

Students have no idea how present and invested their teachers may be.  There are many reasons for this:

  • Developmentally, they can’t comprehend the work and time required to teach, nor the fact the teacher also navigates a life outside the classroom
  • Personally, they may not want to be there, and the teacher is making them do things they’d rather not
  • Emotionally, they may have a lot going on outside the classroom, which then impacts the learning experience


Ultimately, a teacher can be doing all the right things, and be told they aren’t.  Or, a student can attribute their growth solely to themselves, not giving their teacher the credit they deserve; “I don’t need teachers,” has been uttered in many classrooms.  Fortunately for all of us, many teachers persevere — for years and even decades — because they are driven by a love for their students and a desire to see them thrive.

If this thanklessness upsets you — and it should — be sure not to vilify the others too much, because we aren’t any better when it comes to God.

We have no idea how present and invested God is in our lives.  He is deeply intentional about our plans and paths, organizing them beyond our individual lives to our roles in the greater Body.  He provides for us — in overt ways and ways unknown — to insure we have what we need, even when we aren’t aware we need it.  He even loves us so much that He gave is one and only son! (John 3:16)  And yet… we doubt Him, question Him, or simply don’t think about Him.  We argue that He isn’t doing what we want, complain about the things He does do, and choose our own paths frequently.  We do not trust Him as Provider, even though our “classroom” is filled.  We do not believe He is wise, even though He knows all.  He does everything perfectly, and we tell Him He doesn’t; we attribute the good things in our lives to things outside Him.

Fortunately for all of us, He is deeply patient, because He knows:

  • Developmentally, we can’t comprehend the actions of an almighty God, nor the fact He is God over more than just our lives (1 Corinthians 3)
  • Personally, we don’t always want His ways, and get frustrated when He calls us to things we’d rather avoid (Isaiah 55:8)
  • Emotionally, we have a lot going on, and when we engage with Him we bring that weight with us (Matthew 11:28-30)


God knows this, and so is patient with us amidst our complaints based-in-limited-human-understanding:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:8-9

Just as a student can easily (and understandably) misjudge their teacher, we can can do the same with God.  Our invitation is to own this very real flaw, and choose to name, seek, and celebrate what is true about God:

  • That even when it seems He’s let things get out of control, He is always in control
  • That even when it seems He doesn’t care, He loves us more deeply than we can comprehend
  • That even when it seems He isn’t providing, He is Provider in ways we may not realize
  • That even when it seems He’s left us directionless, He is our guide and knows the plans He has for us

Thank the teachers in your life, and thank God for his presence and provision; sometimes gratitude is our first step to knowing Him more authentically.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Colossians 2:6-7

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