At a time when most people are dreaming about retirement, I stumbled upon my dream job as a teacher to 2- and 3-year-olds. These tiny little beacons of light have completely turned my world around. And after all, I knew the basics, right? Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Well, it turns out there’s a little more to it than that.
Rule #1: Don’t be afraid to tell someone how AWESOME they are! I now get to tell a minimum of twelve people per day, just how awesome they are, and what makes them so. At that age, they drink it in like a sponge soaking up a puddle of milk.
I’ve been overheard saying anything from, “oh, my goodness, you look exactly like a princess today!” to “oh, look! We’re both wearing flops! I LOVE FLOPS! Let’s compare our toes to see whose are bigger!” Sometimes someone – usually a young lady - will come in wearing brand new shoes, and I will gather the girls around to talk about all our shoes – what color they are, do they sparkle or light up, and when did they get them - which is always answered very confidently with, “yesterday.”
Girls and boys alike run to the big red plastic bucket that holds all the dress-up skirts, and dance around like princesses and knights in shining armor (if knights in shining armor wore skirts.) And I have learned this very important lesson, which is Rule #2: “the Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round” much better when one is wearing a tutu.
Having a classroom full of “potty trainees” can certainly have its ups and downs. It’s amazing to watch the kids go from wearing diapers all day to being completely potty trained in only a few months. Admittedly, everyone is on a different schedule, and at times we wonder exactly who is training whom. But in the long run, make no mistake about it – Rule #3: the toddler trains the teacher. NOT the other way around.
Rule #4: Turn nearly every negative situation into a positive one. When “Johnny” has collected (hoarded) all the cars and refuses to share any, we compliment him on how many he can hold in his hand at one time. “WOW, I can’t believe you can hold twenty cars at one time… know what would be fun? Let’s see how many “Mary” can hold.” Typically it goes on from there.
Rule #5: Vocabulary. A teacher needs to be ready on a moment’s notice to hold a vocabulary lesson. One day, my co-teacher was explaining an art project, when a very precocious 3-year-old told her very matter-of-factly, “I’m not going to do that unless you give me $100.” My co-teacher very calmly said, “Wow. Can you say ‘extortion’? Which of course turned into a vocabulary lesson.
These stories are just very small examples of the way I believe God sees us, and the very minor challenges he puts in our way. He teaches, we learn – for the most part. 3 John 1-4 says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine a God who loves me as I am – blemished, big, and loud and a little out-of-control. After all, it’s easy to love a cuddly little puppy, but not so easy to love the monster that just chewed up your favorite rug.
Sometimes when I’m struggling with a loving way to show a child that they’re doing something ‘incorrectly,” Deuteronomy 4:9 lends me a hand: “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—“
It took me a long time to realize what an important job teaching is, and even longer to realize that – Rule #6: we’re all teachers and students at the same time. Matthew 5: 6 explains, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” And finally, we all know John 3: 16, 17 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”