Teaching middle school – or any level of school – is not for that faint of heart. You leave “teacher school” with grandiose ideas of how you will impact fragile young minds, guiding them to make positive changes in the world. You have plans for how to stay organized, how to allow kids the freedom to sharpen pencils or blow their noses without allowing the rest of the class to fall into chaos. You plaster your wall with encouraging posters and silly memes so that students will have something to read when their minds wander away from the lesson – even though you promise yourself that your lessons will be so engrossing and inspiring that they will have no need to daydream.
Then, reality hits. For the first few days, the eager young minds are letter-perfect in their behavior, but as the first few days turn into the first few weeks, personalities begin to clash and the kids become…comfortable. They start demonstrating their weaknesses in ways you never dreamed possible. Trust me. I once had a student ask if he could eat the rest of my lunch, which consisted of the last three bites of the sandwich I hadn’t had time to gobble down during the 30-minute lunch period. I’ve lectured kids about bringing a pencil, a glue stick, or even the backpack that they “forgot” at the park that morning. I’ve also broken up fist-fights. I’ve watched 12-year-old eyes fill with tears when reality becomes too much to bear. Reality is tough for all of us, and those grand illusions we build for ourselves seem to shatter into a million little fragments on the stained classroom carpet.
Somewhere along the way, though, those tiny fragments of lofty ideals amalgamate into something stronger and more powerful than all of the classroom routines you could have ever devised – you stumble upon the ONE essential trait that can change the course of each child’s history: the pattern of believing.
In the season 5 premiere of When Calls the Heart, many of the characters discovered that believing in someone else, or in themselves, can help them fight battles much bigger than ourselves. It is the same for these young people in my classroom, trying to discover their places in the world.
There are really two simple ways to rely on “believing” – you can believe in the bad or believe in the good. Three characters in this episode let their “beliefs in the bad” rule their judgement. Bill Avery, as a former Mountie and a private investigator – sees the bad side of almost everyone. It’s the nature of his job. The challenge is that he has fallen into such a pattern of believing the bad that he now expects it – which doesn’t allow for repentance, confession, or redemption in those he encounters. Carson Shepherd, the new town doctor, seems to fall into this same pattern. Having dealt with other purveyors of “miracle tonics” and having seen the negative results, Carson automatically assumes the newest traveling salesman is of the same ilk. Only when this salesman explains “the power of believing” does Carson realize that the man is really trying to help the townspeople by selling his “miracle tonic.” The third culprit of falling into the negative method of believing is Leland Coulter. In his case, believing that he isn’t smart enough, or respected enough, or skilled enough, has him skirting the responsibilities of acting sheriff.
By “believing in the good,” Rosemary Coulter successfully supported and encouraged her husband when he felt inadequate in that sheriff position. Speaking words of encourage and trust in his abilities, she demonstrated the pattern we should all strive to develop – acknowledge the bad but believe the good. Elizabeth eventually takes a little lesson from Rosemary. While at first she only believed that her sister Julie was acting impulsively by requesting to become a teacher’s apprentice, she realizes at the end of the episode that believing in her sister’s abilities was the only way she could really impact Julie’s success.
As teachers, or parents, or friends, or spouses, isn’t that really what we pray we can do? We want to know that we can impact others for good – that we can have some small part in helping another achieve their dreams. When I first discovered this truth, how believing in my students was the very best way I could help them, I wasn’t sure how to establish this new pattern. In fact, it is a process that I repeatedly revise. It begins with a clean slate – just like the second chance that Abigail fought to provide Gowen. It’s incredibly difficult to believe in the good if we cannot see past the bad.
Everyone comes into our lives with a past, a story far more complicated than we realize. Some of my students come to me with “track records” of negative behavior and poor test scores. The very first thing I tell them is that I haven’t read those records or looked into their files, and that the year is brand new. I wipe their slate clean, and we start from scratch. Then, I begin by believing they can achieve – believing they are good at heart – believing that this year will be better for all of them. That’s where it starts, for me. I carry the power of believing with me into that room everyday, praying that someday, it will transfer from my heart into theirs.
Now, as a wife and a mother, I carry this “pattern of believing” into my home. I once had a pastor explain that, when we start with believing our spouse has our best interests at heart and that he or she only wants the best for us, we can move forward with building a lasting relationship. So, even in the midst of a challenge, I believe in my husband – not just in what he can accomplish but in his ultimate love for me.
Together, we work to translate this “pattern of believing” to our sons. Each night, as I tuck them in with a story or a song, I also whisper in their ears how much they are loved, how proud we are of them, and how special they are to us. Every. Single. Day. Slowly, as they grow and begin to discover their talents and weaknesses, they also are developing their own pattern of believing. In a world that does its best to rob them of their intrinsic self worth, they are learning how powerful “believing” can be. Maybe one day, they will carry the ability to believe in themselves and others into the world and change it for the better.