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Practicing What We Teach

What is the foundation for discipline in your classroom? What is your goal when you deal with your students either individually or collectively? If we are not careful, it can be to eliminate inappropriate speech or actions and to make sure that it NEVER happens again!

While this seems to be a very laudable goal, ask yourself how realistic and attainable that result really is. I would suggest that too often we go about discipline in the wrong way with statements like, “Let’s watch that sort of language,” or “I never want to see you do that again.”

I would humbly submit that if that fairly describes discipline in a Lutheran middle or high school, we have failed miserably. How different is that from a secular educational institution? Where have we integrated the faith into our classrooms? Have we let teachable moments just slip through our fingers when it comes to The Office of the Keys and Confession?

Have we really addressed what the Apostle John wrote in 1 John 1:8 (ESV) saying, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”? What if students believe that what they said or did was not “that big of a deal”? That sort of disciplinary action perhaps leads students to resolve “Never say or do that when you are within ear or eye shot of that teacher ever again!”

If we are going to discipline our students in a biblical way, we cannot have a “quick fix” attitude that does not deal with the sin! If we are going to discipline our students in a biblical way, we cannot have a “quick fix” attitude that does not deal with the sin! Your students may simply believe you are making a “big deal” out of nothing! But that’s not what James wrote when he said, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” James 2:10 ESV

Do students in your classroom believe that some rules in the student handbook with which they disagree can be disregarded and even flagrantly broken? When confronted with the infraction, they have told me quite frankly that the rule in question is “unfair and stupid.” The inference is that they are justified in their act of disobedience. That’s when we have to deal quite pointedly with the sin. They have deceived themselves into believing they have no sin, and the truth definitely is not in them. Even if we believe that the rule needs to be “tweaked” a bit, we must deal with the fact that this rule has been established by the school’s authorities and that disobedience is not an option. Disregarding the explicit rule given by those “in authority over us” breaks the fourth commandment. That is a sin not only against the school’s administration but against the Lord.

We need to guide our students to 1 John 1:9, “But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” When my students say, “I’m sorry” or “Please forgive me,” I don’t say, “That’s okay.” That sort of teacher/student exchange only reinforces lawlessness. If you simply reply, “That’s okay,” does that not imply permission to repeat the sin, because, the student’s assumption is, “Apparently it was not that serious”?

Even when I teach my students about their interaction with others, I tell them never say, “That’s okay,” because the antagonist may come back and do the same thing again. When you confront them, they might reply, “Well, you said it was okay so I thought it wasn’t that big of a thing with you!”

Instead, in my classroom I utilize confession and absolution. When a student repents and asks to be forgiven, my reply is, “I forgive you and God does too. And I still love you.”

The intent of discipline in the Lutheran middle or high school is to enable students to continue in a loving and living relationship with Jesus Christ as His disciples. The intent of discipline in the Lutheran middle or high school is to enable students to continue in a loving and living relationship with Jesus Christ as His disciples. We never want to give students the impression that our love and respect is conditional upon them being the perfect, model student. That can lead to a life of self-righteousness or despair.

We want our students to truly understand and believe what John wrote in 1 John 1:7b, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7 ESV When the vertical relationship through absolution and confession is restored, then the horizontal relationship is restored as well, whether between teacher and student or among students.

Our students need to see unconditional love from us based on Christ’s unconditional love when we interact with them. Many of our students come from dysfunctional homes. They may never have experienced unconditional love before. You and I have the opportunity to let Christ’s light and love shine through us. Unconditional love is especially evident in classroom discipline that employs confession and absolution brought about through correct application of Law and Gospel.

The same blood that cleanses our students from their sins also cleanses us from our sins of less than perfect disciplinary actions in the past.We do indeed need to work at “Practicing What We Teach.” We must confess with St. Paul, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Phil. 3:12 ESV

Then remember, the same blood that cleanses our students from their sins also cleanses us from our sins of less than perfect disciplinary actions in the past. And to that we simply say, “Thank you, Lord, for your boundless grace and mercy to me through faith in Jesus Christ who loved me and gave Himself for me. Amen.”

At the time of this writing (2016), Rev. Howard Shane, professor emeritus, was a member of LEA’s SECnet Leadership Team and served as part-time theology instructor at Lutheran High School of Sioux Falls, S.D.

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