faithful. adjective.”Thorough performance of a duty; steady in allegiance; reliable.”
At the beginning of January, the teachers on my team analyzed the scores from our latest round of standardized testing. I was not entirely pleased. Not because proctoring tests is not exactly my favorite use of my time (ahem), but because there was more red in my results than I wanted to see.
I skedaddled back to my classroom and spent my prep comparing data and brainstorming how to bring nonfiction scores up and having a minor panic that I’m not an okay teacher and my lessons aren’t purposeful and I must have missed something crucial in college even though I didn’t skip class and maybe a real, qualified adult needs to be in my classroom at all times.
Then I forgot to go to a meeting, as one does.
After these solid affirmations of my competency, I turned on On Being for my commute. Krista Tippet interviewed Eugene Peterson, the pastor who translated The Message paraphrase of the Bible. Part of their conversation stuck with me:
“The tighter we cling to the norm of effectiveness, the smaller and smaller tasks we’re going to take on, because they’re the only ones with which you can be effective. But there has to be a standard that trumps effectiveness. And I have a word that I use for myself that helps me walk this path…that’s the word faithfulness. Faithfulness has to trump effectiveness.”
I cling, very tightly, to the norm of effectiveness.
I realized just how tightly again a few weeks later. My class was reading Arithmetic, a poem about the challenges of math. My quick pre-reading activity was having students discuss their least favorite class. That would get them engaged, I thought. Maybe it did. But as they talked, I heard what felt like a chorus of “ELA, ELA, ELA” across the classroom.
I brushed it off, at first. Later that evening, though, I realized how deeply their responses shook me when I turned teary and resistant to the idea of going to school in the morning. Was this not proof that all of my efforts were for naught? I was working late to grade, trying to plan things that seemed marginally interesting, and sharing snippets of my life so students could build relationships. If no one appreciated any of this, why was I showing up? No one was convinced that the way poets play with language is amazing. No one valued silent reading time. No one liked it. I had failed.
Let’s pause and summarize: I am a teacher who believes that in order to be effective, I must have stellar test scores and all 98 of my students must love every minute of my class. In addition, based on the educational theories I believe, most class time should be spent challenging students to use higher-order thinking to develop real-life reading and writing skills while also making them better citizens.
We have a problem.
I cannot do that effectively. No way.
Recognizing this leaves me leaning heavy on Eugene Peterson’s words: faithfulness has to trump effectiveness.
I still want to know what will create through the roof MCA scores. I want to know how much those scores actually matter. I want to know how to help struggling readers love my class, when every assignment requires intense effort from them. If I knew those answers, and had mind controlling abilities, I might be an awfully effective teacher.
But having all those answers, and all that control, isn’t possible. Being faithful is.
Right now, in the doldrums of February, faithfulness is simple but hard. It looks like continuing to get out of bed on Monday mornings. And Tuesday mornings. And Friday mornings. It means forcing kids to research beyond skimming Wikipedia because I believe that skill actually matters. It means brainstorming reading challenges so more of the munchkins read outside of class, even for ten minutes. It looks like making lessons as engaging as I can, not so my kids will love me but because it’s the best for their learning.
Faithfulness, in my attitude and effort and passion for my kids and my content, will be enough. It trumps effectiveness. For the sake of our students and our careers, it has to.