When Teaching Gets Tough

In his money management course Financial Peace University (FPU), Christian financial counselor and best-selling author Dave Ramsey tells his audience something to the effect of “your parents never talked about sex; they never talked about money; you thought they had neither; turns out they had both!”

In a humorous way Ramsey identifies at least one reason why so many people seek out his financial advice every day on his radio program: the people in their lives most poised to explain financial common sense never did so. Maybe their parents didn’t feel qualified. Maybe their parents were too embarrassed by their own financial failures. Maybe their parents felt the topic was too sensitive.

Maybe their parents were counting on the schools.

And, if we’re honest, those of us educating the children of these parents don’t always do as much as we could when addressing the tough subjects. Oh sure, we can teach personal finance as well as the basics of the birds and the bees. But, when it comes to handling the more difficult questions and situations that our students face, we often feel unqualified, embarrassed, or as though certain topics are off limits. We worry about saying the wrong thing, upsetting the wrong parent, or jeopardizing our rapport with our students. And so we stick with what is “safe” to teach.

Until we can’t.

Sometimes our hands are forced. The difficult content spills into the classroom when a best friend identifies as transgender, when a Christian school teacher is accused of sexual assault, when a student commits suicide as a result of cyberbullying, when a racial slur is spray painted on the school kiosk, or when a first grader is told by a classmate that her parents are voting for a “baby killer.”

The theme of this issue is “When the teaching gets tough.” You will find that a few of the articles are longer than usual. This is by design. While we might like to read short, simple articles providing succinct answers to the questions we have about addressing issues such as sexual identity (p. 20), sexual abuse (p. 28), politics (p. 14), pornography (p. 10), and social media (p. 5), such answers do not usually exist. Approaches to these difficult, and often delicate, situations must be prayerfully considered, thoughtfully executed, and crafted in age-appropriate ways.

While we may hesitate to address these more challenging realities, our students are encountering them with increasing regularity all the same. We’d be naive to think that our students aren’t looking for opportunities to ask difficult questions about what they are witnessing or that they aren’t willing to wrestle with less-than-neatly-packaged answers. If they receive the message, whether implicit or explicit, that the Christian adults in their lives, whether parents or teachers, are unwilling or unable to have these discussions with them, they will likely search for answers elsewhere or live with the shame that they have these questions in the first place.

Mark Brink teaches English at Unity Christian High School in Hudsonville, MI.