From the moment I knew that I wanted to be a teacher, I also knew that I wanted to teach students with disabilities. When afforded the opportunity to cadet teach in high school, Yahweh placed me in a classroom of students with emotional and behavioral disabilities. That was all it took; I was in love! From my senior year in high school, I knew where I was called to be.
Early in my career I realized that the blessing I received from the work I’ve been given far exceeded the service I gave. My students are phenomenal people who have to work hard against countless obstacles. My words are shared through a lens of complete respect and compassion. However, I also won’t romanticize the work that my colleagues and I engage in. Our work is difficult. It is often thankless. There are very few resources spread across overwhelming amounts of need. There are days that I come home physically and emotionally bruised. The students I have spent my career working with are those whom many educators fear facing in the classroom. Therefore Matthew 25:40 has become the verse that guides my career. “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” When a student uses behavior to masterfully push my last button or breaks my heart with his need, I repeat this verse in my head. It is the balm that calms my heart and reminds me who I am truly serving.
In recent years, I have traded the traditional classroom for consulting and then administration. Currently, He’s gifted me the position of principal in a small school for students with behavioral needs. The Master Teacher likely tired of my cries during this first year in a new and challenging role. Lessons from year one have been many including that as the scope of a role grows, so does the scope of ministry. Not only does a principal touch the lives of children, she is also able to love staff members. I often find myself telling others that the staff at our school fell from heaven. While I’m often smiling as I share, I know that I’m telling the truth.
As staff decisions were made, prayer covered each step. Of course I prayed, as did my life group and other prayer warriors. Not only has prayer governed staffing decisions, but prayer covers each classroom and each child. What an honor it is to fall to one’s knees on behalf of a student. Prayer that He will make me the leader that each child and each staff member needs is the frequent cry of my heart.
Burnout in the field of teaching students with behavioral challenges is staggering. Long ago, the Master Teacher helped me learn to leave work at work. Perhaps it’s easier for a believer to do so as we know that our work is not the saving work. He alone saves. He alone heals the hearts of troubled youth. His work alone will turn a life around, I am just an often tired and unworthy vessel. I feel overwhelmed on a daily basis by the work he is allowing me to face. Knowing that He has a plan and purpose that far exceeds what I could imagine or hope for keeps me chugging along. It keeps a smile on my face and compassion in my heart. His promises guide my encouragement of staff members and tighten my hugs around students. Loving the Master Teacher makes the least of these, my students, the greatest vessels for love.
- Matthew 25:31-46
What’s Your Perspective
- What is the balm that heals your heart at the end of a rough day, week or year?
- If prayer is already a part of your work life, how might you incorporate other believers, colleagues or even students in lifting your work?
Jill Schafhauser is the Coordinator of ALPHA, a Separate Day Program for students with behavioral disorders. Jill has been loving life in the world of special education, for eighteen years. She also has two handsome sons and an awesome husband. The Schafhausers serve the Lord as a team, trying to be a bit more like Him daily.
Photo Credit: hugo b♪rth♪→photostream via Compfight cc