Finding God in Middle School

Madison Riley

I am a middle school math teacher. It’s perfectly acceptable to be thinking “bless your heart” or “why on earth would you want to teach middle school?” I get that all the time (for real, almost daily), and I ask myself those same questions on the tough days.

When I started working towards becoming a teacher, I did it because I wanted to make an impact on the lives of my students, and I really just wanted to be around kids. However, they don’t know it, but God has allowed them to have a bigger impact on me and my relationship with Him.

Middle schoolers are tough human beings to understand. They are living in constantly changing, confusing bodies. They are dealing with hormones and new feelings. Boys are hiding behind their squeaky voices, and girls are viciously comparing themselves to the other girls. Let’s not talk about what they’re being exposed to on social media.

Middle schoolers think they’re grown, but they are NOT grown. Often, their attitudes reflect that ideology. They can love you one minute, and hate you the next. It depends on their minute-by-minute mood. I’m sure parents of pre-teens and teens can relate to this.

As you can imagine, teaching math to these kiddos can present its challenges. There are really good days and some not-so-good days. At the end of each day, I try to reflect on what could have been better or how I could have helped a specific student be better, etc.

The summer is also a good time of reflection. I get to look back on the previous year from start to finish, think about what I learned and what I can do differently in the following school year. It’s a time to collect my thoughts and make myself better for my next group of students.

In my reflection of this school year, God has used my group of 12 year olds to demonstrate how He loves His children. I hope that you can see yourself in at least one type of student.

There are three types of students:

Type 1: Students who seemingly have it all together and are perfectly submissive to authority. I was the type one kind of student, so these students are the easiest for me to identify with. They are perfectionists. They are people pleasers; they fear disappointing others. They are rule followers. They want to be able to do everything on their own, above and beyond what is expected of them. They don’t want to rely on anyone else to be successful. Sometimes, these students are the hardest ones to have a relationship with because they want to hide who they truly are so that they appear to others without fault. They soak in knowledge and are easy to teach, but it is hard to truly get to know them.

What I have learned about God’s love through these students: He sees past the facade. He knows we don’t have it all together. He knows that we ultimately have to rely on him, even though it’s a struggle to put aside our own self-reliance. He loves us for who we are, not what we can accomplish. He wants to truly and deeply know us. He wants us to know Him, not just know about Him. He loves us, and He created us to be this way. He wants us to use our abilities for His glory instead of our own.

What God says about this type:
 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Type 2: Students who hide in the shadows because they feel that they’ll never be good enough or they can’t measure up to their peers. These students often fall through the cracks because they just want to blend in. They don’t want to show others their talents or what they are capable of. They believe the lie that they will never be enough. They are not confident, although they should be. They just need someone to notice them and help them reach their potential.

What I have learned about God’s love through these students: God doesn’t want us to hide. He has given us all a different personality and different gifts, yet He loves us all the same. Isn’t it amazing that He has made billions of people and none of them have been the same? In His eyes, we do measure up and we are enough because HE created us! He wants us to be confident in that. He wants us to stop chasing after the lies that destroy our confidence and keep us from using our gifts. He wants us to be confident in Him. He doesn’t want us to compare ourselves to the accomplishments of others. He has so much more in store for us than hiding in the shadows.

What God says about this type:
1 Corinthians 12: 4-7
Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God works all of them in each person. A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good.

Type 3: Students who have experienced so much trauma and have so much baggage that they feel they can’t escape it. As Stephen Hatchell taught several months ago, they carry an emotional backpack with them daily. They are often withdrawn from their surroundings OR have behavior problems. They rebel against authority, but really all they need is love and structure. They want the approval of their peers, but aren’t sure of the appropriate ways to obtain it. Like Type 2, they just need to be noticed, and they need someone to help carry their burden.

What I have learned about God’s love through these students: He loves them so much, and he sees what they are going through. He knew that they would live through this, so he equipped them with unimaginable strength to push through the trauma. He purposefully put people in their paths to help carry their burden and encourage them. He wants them to prosper and reach their full potential in Him. He wants them to know that He is their hope for a better life. He wants them to know that they don’t have to carry their burdens alone. He loves them and is there for them with open arms.

What God says about this type:
Matthew 11:28-29
Come to ME, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

I don’t know if any of that resonated with you, but I can see a little (okay, a lot) of myself in all three types of students. God wants us to speak His truth to the lies that we are fed. He is our ultimate source of love, strength, truth, and every good thing. We are nothing without Him!

I never imagined that I would learn so much about God’s love through observing the behaviors of 12 year olds, but He reaches us and teaches us in and through unexpected places and people. Always look for Him no matter where you are, because He is right there with you!

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