I'm an early riser. The peacefulness of the morning, before the first graders fill my day, is a gift. It's precious time spent in final preparations for the day's plans, time spent in devotions and in prayer for my students. First graders are energetic, passionate, full-of-wonder six year olds who love to learn, laugh, and tire out their teacher. I'm also early to bed.
Teaching in a Christian school, I can help my students to see not just the "outside" world around them, but the Creator behind it. Every part of the day has opportunities–planned or unplanned–to point to God. As the children read or listen to stories, I'll ask: "Where is God in this story?" "How is God working in that character's life?" "Is this character acting like a child of God?" and relate it to their life experiences. When sharing the Daily Problem Solver in Math, they see the diversity of strategies used to come to the solution and marvel at God's creating us each so uniquely. First graders love learning from each other, helping and encouraging each other. We see God's faithfulness in Bible stories and share stories of God's faithfulness to us and our families. We pray for each other and tell about prayers answered. We sing spontaneous songs of praise if an occasion "pops up." When learning about our bodies, we remember the verse in scripture…"I am fearfully and wonderfully made."
Billy's bedtime prayer in the October 31 Family Circus comic began, "Our Father, who art in heaven, Halloween be Thy name…" When I displayed this to the first graders who were caught up in the excitement of costumes and candy, there were audible gasps and stunned expressions. These six year olds "got it"– they understood that a night of trick or treating doesn't compare to the lasting joy of Jesus in their lives. I tell the first graders that I am a lifelong learner… I continue to be dazzled by God and to be open to His leading. I share how God has grown my heart of serving through experiences in China, India, Mississippi, feeding the homeless, and involvement in prison ministry. I share how God is teaching me patience while standing at the end of an endless line at the grocery store… I now use that time to pray for the cashier and those in line ahead of me. I can see glimpses of what the children will become in the Lord's hands, and with the home and church, model and nurture a faith-filled life of service to God. I know that my students will not remember all I taught them, but how I taught them–with a passionate relationship with the Lord, living my life before Him.
Pat Mendendorp has taught 1st grade at Calvin Christian School since 1970. She holds a B.A. in Elementary Education from Calvin College.