Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie is actually a very short book about homeschooling, but it has much to offer in regards to teaching as a Christian. Many of us get wrapped up in the everyday stress of checklists, homework assignments, presentations, grammar lessons, and the lot in regards to teaching. Sarah Mackenzie, of Read-Aloud Revival (amongstlovelythings.com) fame, does a great job unpacking the concept of schole (Greek word for institutions of education) which has been interpreted as restful learning. In this first post of a three part series, I would like to focus on the first part of the book entitled “Whose Well Done Are You Looking For?”.
In Philippians we are told to be anxious over nothing, yet we are anxious over many things.
Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
We worry and fret over our students, the quality of our lesson plans, our relationships with other teachers. We easily fall into worry and fret about our own lives. Our souls are restless, anxiously wondering if something else out there might be a bit better – if maybe there is another way or another book that might prove to be superior to what we are doing now. We choose anxiety as our guide instead of humbly submitting to God and letting Him guide us.
This book is a plea and an explanation on how to seek Him first. Can we live and teach from a state of rest? We can, but we must approach the Holy Spirit every single day, asking Him to lead us and to quiet or anxious souls so that we can really bless our children (students) – not with shiny curriculum or perfect lesson plans, but rather with purposeful, restful spirits.
I appreciate that Mackenzie brings up the point that rest is not ease. “This isn’t idealism. It isn’t simple and peaceful in the sense of being easy or gentle. Teaching from rest is meaningful learning and growth – but without the anxiety and frenzy so common in our day. Contrary to what you might think at first when you first hear ‘teaching from rest’, teaching from rest will take diligence, attention, and a lot of hard work” (4).
Unshakable peace is not going to come from getting through a certain amount of material over a specified amount of time, but it also doesn’t come from throwing in the towel and giving in when things get hard. Peace comes from knowing that our genuine task is to wake up each morning and “get our marching orders from God” (4). It comes from diligence to the work God has given us, but this is diligence infused with faith, with resting in God’s promises to guide and bless us.
The bottom line is resting is about trusting God. “Rest is trusting that God’s got this, even if I’m a mess, even if I’m not enough, even if I mess up everyday. Because I do” (4). Rest is also trusting that even though some of your students are not progressing in their English skills they way you intended for a course, they are learning and God is there with you in that process.
The author brings up the important point of rest being a virtue between negligence and anxiety. Teachers, like homeschooling mothers, find themselves likely to fall prey to one camp or the other. A course that is so condensed that it leaves no room for the soul to breathe will suffocate, but so will the absence of purposeful and intentional teaching. If we are doing our students a disservice “shuttling them through a set of books and plans without consideration for their souls, we are doing them an equal disservice by ignoring their formation and leaving our children (students) to form themselves” (7).
If our students are images of God (of course they are), then we are not meeting their needs or tending to their real nature when we swing like a pendulum to either the vice of anxiety of the vice of negligence.
Personally, I spent my first few teaching years leaning towards negligence. I was relaxed. It was not laziness exactly. I went in to teach them intentionally and I thought it would a wonderful gift to my students to allow them to bloom on their own terms. My neglect fostered laziness, carelessness, and a somewhat self-centered view of learning. I was thinking about wisdom and wonder, and had come to the conclusion that I should do my best to step out of the way. I had failed to build a bridge between the students God had put in front of me and the person intended each of them to be.
“The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.” Plutarch, “On Listening” in Essays, trans Robin H. Waterfield, ed. Ian Kidd (London: Penguin Classics, 19930, 50.
This quote tells us that education is not the filling of a bucket. This is not about filling the mind with information. It is the lighting of a fire. We have to remember that a fire does need to be lit and then stoked. Otherwise, it will burn out.
In Luke 6:4 we learn that when a student is fully formed he or she will become like his teacher. Clearly, a teacher cannot form a students by staying in the shadows.
Consequently, rest is not the absence of work or a failure to consider and carry out a plan. It is work and leisure properly ordered. It involves doing the right thing at the right time and realizing that our task to hear God’s call and follow His Commands, and then trust that God will God. In a sense, to be at rest even while at work.
Our anxiety could be sidestepped by simply acknowledging who we are trying to please. It might sound simplistic, but consider that your days will likely look different depending on whether you are doing it all for His pleasure, or doing it to please students, administration, colleagues, or anyone else. Who are you trying to impress?
Teaching from rest is also about excellence. Sometimes we get caught up with our exceptional language learners and focus on them. We need to remember that God never demands that we produce prodigies or achieve what the world would recognize as excellence. “Rather, he asks us to live excellently – that is, to live in simple obedient faith and trust. He asks us to faithfully commit everyday to him and then do the day’s tasks well. He’s in charge of the results” (10).
Teaching from rest has many aspects of what it isn’t. It isn’t anxiousness, worry, or anxiety. It isn’t idealism. It is meaningful learning and growth for our students that will take diligence, attention and hard work. It is a virtue that falls between the vices of negligence and anxiety. We are to trust that God has everything just where He wants it to be. Teaching from rest is about living in relationship with God; we are to live in obedient faith to the day’s tasks and He will bless the results. In the end, teaching from rest is about being at peace in God’s presence. As we rest in His presence, we are better equipped not only for teaching, but life in general.
Virginia Hanslien (BA Development studies, MA Intercultural Studies) teaches at the Sejong Institute of Foreign Languages at Korea University’s Sejong Campus. She is the editor for this blog and for the newsletter Chronicles of Hope: Christian English Language Educators in Korea and Abroad. She attempts to teach and live from rest near Sejong City.