Start this school year with a happy and holy classroom
By Sheri Wohlfert
We all begin the new school year with goals in mind. We start with fresh ideas, shiny new materials and supplies, and a pocket full of tried-and-true favorite tricks and treasures. A few years ago as I was getting my room ready, a wise grandmother challenged me to find ways to make my room as happy and holy as it could be.
She assured me of her gratitude to all the teachers who had given tirelessly to her children and grandchildren. She was grateful for all the academics that were taught but in her old age, she realized holiness and happiness were two things we need more of. With a hug and a lot of prayer, I delightfully accepted her challenge and learned some important lessons along the way. Since we’re still at the edge of a new year, maybe you will find a lesson or two to put in place for your students as well.
Lesson one: Holiness and happiness begin with me! I can’t teach or expect either from the students if I don’t live it out myself. The part of the lesson it took a while to master; just because I do my best to demonstrate them, it doesn’t mean I’ll receive them in return. It’s about the giving and the teaching, not the receiving. I had to remember I’m in the business of planting seeds, not harvesting them. These qualities are for heaven, not for me, so I had to learn to be patient and keep demonstrating.
Lesson two: Keep a Holy Pace! Each year is different, each lesson is different and each student is different. Each of us is fearfully and wonderfully made and it’s my job to take people where they are and guide them as far as I’m able. Just because my lesson plan says I’ll get to point X, that doesn’t mean the ceiling will cave in if I only make it to point W or S … or B! St. Francis de Sales said, “Have patience with all things, but, first of all with yourself.” Stop long enough to ask questions and really listen to the answers, to pray with each other, and to laugh every day.
Lesson three: Make your room a Holy Space! Some powerful words from St. Josmaría Escrivá put the importance of a visible faith in the classroom into perspective. He said, “In a Holy Space you go to pray; to become a bonfire, a living flame, giving light and heat.” When I began to pray with these words, I began to see my classroom as a seedbed for something so much more important, powerful, and life-changing than academics. I filled my room with posters, words, images, and materials that brought Christ’s love and our Catholic identity to life. When the students started to take turns bringing things to the prayer corner it opened conversation, provided evangelization opportunities, and things like prayer books, statues, and religious art started appearing on my students’ Christmas and birthday wish lists.
Lesson four: Holy Water! The font is right at the door and students bless themselves and each other often. It renews our baptismal promises, it wards off temptation and evil, and it reminds us that we are his. I also bless the forehead of every child I sit down to “chat with” when things aren’t going well. We bless each other when we sit down to talk and pray about tough things going on in school or at home. With holy water in hand, I begin many mornings sitting at the desk of a student who is struggling. I bless the desk and ask God to be with them in their struggle and to be with me as I work to show them his love, mercy, and compassion.
Lesson five: Holy People! Our daily tasks are our opportunity to grow in holiness, whether it’s grading papers, answering the same question for the 67th time, or in the simple act of patiently listening. It’s our task to help our students understand this too, and embrace everything from homework to group work with a tricky classmate as a chance to act as Christ and grow in holiness. St. Ursula said,
“Holiness does not demand anything great, beyond the ability of the person. It depends on God’s love; every daily act can be transformed into an act of love.”
We are holy because we are made in his image and likeness; we just need to remember to act like we know it!
Lesson six: Holy Smokes … that wasn’t it! There will be moments when things happen that are neither happy or holy. Those are the most important moments, because they give us the opportunity to see where we need to change. If happiness and holiness are a goal in our classrooms, allow students to identify the moments when things go wrong and talk and pray about how to restore, refine, and re-do those moments.
Lesson seven: The most important of all … Holy Conversation or prayer! There can’t be enough prayer if happy and holy are the goal. In times of celebration, pray. In times of trouble, pray. In times of indecision and frustration, pray. In times of dispute and disagreement, pray. In times of fun and thanksgiving, pray. Pray for each other, pray with each other, and do it out loud and in silence. Pray before the day, during the day, and at the end of the day. Pray with and for the staff in your school. Let the kids see you pray with each other and bless each other and hold each others needs up to the Lord. We know as teachers that we have to model, model, model –so how about we begin with prayer!
I am so grateful for that grandma who stopped by that day as I was hanging my classroom curtains and organizing my books. Her challenge made me a better teacher and maybe even a better disciple. May the Lord bless your new year with his rich mercy and grace!
Sheri Wohlfert is a Catholic wife, mom, speaker, and teacher who writes from Michigan. She uses her sense of humor and her deep faith to help others discover the joy of being a child of God. Sheri also writes at JoyfulWords.org.
Image credit: George Martell/Bayard Inc, 2017. All rights reserved.
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