Clearly, there are many tough jobs in our world.
Here are a few that easily come to mind—police officer, emergency room doctor, port-a-john technician, school bus driver, and parent.
Being a parent might be the toughest one.
While the passion of creating a child is magical, when that bundle of joy arrives, it is all hands on deck. And believe me, it takes a lot of helpful loving hands to raise a child.
Just as parents attempt to mold and shape their children, parents are also molded and shaped by those same children.
All kinds of things impact that molding and shaping. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are in between, and some things happen to parents and their children that just can’t be explained.
While serving on our local school board, I have discovered there has been one constant in our monthly meetings—reviewing recommendations from the superintendent for student expulsion.
Expulsion for all practical purposes means that a student has come to the end of the line—the ride is over.
Expulsion molds and shapes lives too.
Sadly, the lives of some students have been unraveling since the day of their birth. For others, their lives can be torn a part in one split second with an unwise choice.
Years ago, when I served as a high school assistant principal, expulsion often meant that all educational services for a student ceased. Today, school boards and superintendents look to alternative educational opportunities for students who have been recommended for expulsion.
Sometimes after a year, a student will reapply for admission to the school system. During that year with lots of support, plus their own fortitude, a student has learned from the expulsion experience. Good things have taken place. Readmission is granted. That good molding and shaping while it might be rare makes hope a reality.
My old body still allows me to take a run through our neighborhood from time to time. Those runs can be good think time.
One thing I have noticed on my runs is that I can really see the surface of the road.
In the winter, remaining sand and salt particles from a snow storm gradually start to accumulate on the shoulder of the road. Sometimes pine tags, broken twigs, and litter become a part of that mix as well. Friction from whirring tires, wind, and rain contribute to this brushed aside build up.
That build up makes me think about students in a school who have been brushed aside. Could be any number of reasons, but the school system in those moments has failed a student.
When school systems lose track of a student nothing good is going to happen. Eventually, the student will lose track as well. When the student loses track of his/her relevance, the path to making poor choices immediately expands. Once a student makes one lousy choice, too often more lousy choices are on the horizon.
My mind asks me how many students did I brush aside in my career as a public educator? How often did I fail to recognize those students who just never seemed to fit, who never quite figured school out? Where was I in their baggage? Why couldn’t I have been better at helping them figure things out? Why didn’t I intervene on their behalf?
I have no good answer, only excuses. My excuses are not acceptable.
Sometimes I will run across a road surface that is full of cracks, fissures running in all directions. Sooner or later, that road surface will need to be repaired.
Students, parents, and school systems can be full of cracks too. Those cracks allow for intrusion. Intrusions can wear us down. All of those things out there that are beyond our control begin to take over. When this happens, it is easy to lose hope.
On a daily basis, a student, a parent, and a school system can lose hope.
So, how do we regain hope?
I recently attended the National School Board Association’s annual convention in Philadelphia. My brain is still recovering from information overload.
But, there were some recurring themes.
For example, who is being overlooked in our schools?
How do schools create a sense of belonging for those who are being overlooked?
If I want to reach the brushed aside student, the student full of cracks, the overlooked student, or the student who has no sense of belonging, how do I make those needed repairs. The experts believe the answer comes down to a couple of words—building relationships.
Building relationships isn’t a simple snap of fingers.
Building relationships takes time.
In the ticking of those seconds, building a relationship will require endurance, endless energy, carefully chosen words, the capacity to communicate acceptance, and a resilient heart.
I wonder how many expulsions could have been prevented by not brushing off a student or by not letting a student intrude into the cracks of the system.
Today, I often forget about a role model who didn’t brush off people during his short time on earth. No, Jesus had a skill set that allowed him to build relationships while he moved through a variety of environments. He was deliberate and precise in his teaching moments.
I wonder what it was like to be his parent? I wonder if it was a tough job? I wonder what Joseph and Mary thought about his extraordinary skills? Did they truly understand him?
I would imagine their hearts were full of questions about their son.
I too have lots of heartfelt questions about Jesus and his work.
But, I also have questions about my own heart.
How can I make my heart less likely to brush aside the people I encounter who are overlooked with no sense of belonging?
I need to search my heart and find that answer.
How about you?
Remember, it’s about building relationships.