I’ll never forget that first back-to-school night as a middle school parent. The night crackled with the positive outlook that all teachers have at the beginning of a school year. I was nervous and excited to hear about the next phase of education for my child. I was ready to absorb all I needed to help him navigate new challenges and experiences that are emblematic of the in-between years. It was a clean slate, and I wondered what these educators could teach me as they taught my kid.
The details of the meeting focused on curriculum and new freedoms that our students would enjoy, both items that I expected. But one thing stood out. As the principal gave his speech, he said something that will forever stick in my brain:
“Although we are teachers by profession, we only have your children 29% of an entire calendar year. The rest of their time spent learning is with YOU, the parents.”
That means that for 71% of my children’s life, it is up to me to teach them. Math and Language Arts and Social Studies are subjects taught at school, but they are only a small fraction of what they must learn.
I am their primary teacher.
Often parents talk about having teachable moments with their kids. We are equal parts amused and thankful for the opportunity to live through something with our children instead of having to lecture them about it. Teachable moments may be times where we catch our child doing something right or wrong, and we take the time to emphasize what that experience means within the framework of a life. We teach our kids to share, help, and work through experience and our own example. We hope that they learn and apply the lesson when we aren’t looking.
What we overlook is that most moments are teachable.
It’s the teachable moment that isn’t scripted that truly reveals our character. The one that happens when our guard is down and we don’t notice who is watching. We know that when we volunteer our time helping others, treat others with kindness and respect, and work hard, we are teaching. But it goes further. Every second that our kids are with us, they are learning how to treat people, how to assert themselves, how to be in a relationship, how to work hard to attain goals, how to be brave, how to care for others. Our kids hear and see everything we do.
They also see us when we gossip, lie, and judge others, lash out in anger, keep secrets, and waste time. We might not intend to teach them these less-than-stellar behaviors, but the effects of these behaviors are strong. It’s important to know that however we live our lives, we are teaching our kids how to live theirs.
I have to say that I worry about these subversive teachable moments that I am giving my children, the ones that show them my dark side without realizing that it is showing. My character is not unmarred; there are cracks in the surface and pieces that are missing, exposing the deeper parts. I see the ugly parts of me in the behaviors of my children, and it is regrettable.
Luckily for them – and me – we have a better role model in Jesus. Jesus’ example is always stellar, and he doesn’t shy away from teaching his true character. There is no dark underbelly to his makeup; his lessons are all worthy of following. Each moment of his life is teachable. The hard part is adapting his lessons to our lives in this world.
But we can. With the tools that God gives us through his word and the spiritual gifts that he provides within our own personalities and abilities, we can be a better role model and better teacher to our kids. And everyone around us.
Each of us is capable – and called – to use the gifts that God has given us, and follow the lead of Jesus to show our children and strangers the lessons of life. We don’t need to spotlight the teachable moment, the lengthy lecture that induces judgment, shame and boredom. We can just live our lives – with humility and love, integrity and kindness. If we follow Jesus’ lead, and make his teachable moments our own, our example will influence not only our children, but others around us as well.
Do everything without complaining and arguing, Philippians 12:14-15