Friday, October 25, 2013

Theory 23: God and prayer are most definitely in schools.

I saw a photo on Facebook that read, “Now that the government is shut down, can we pray in schools?”

The picture obviously pokes fun of congressional issues and references the controversial topic of prayer in schools. In last week’s post, I told you that in 1983, my 3rd grade teacher started each day with a Bible story. Teachers can’t help but communicate ideas they think students should grasp, including lessons in morality, behavior, and etiquette.

A friend of mine once said, “I want to teach in a private Christian school so I can invoke the name of God when I discipline students. Instead of saying, ‘You are going to time-out,’ I can say, ‘You know, God sees what you are doing right now.”

I really don’t know how atheist teachers can survive this job. I deal with the frailties of the human teenage condition on a daily basis. I need divine intervention whenever I can get it — to effectively collaborate with all types of personalities, to meet the individual needs of 212 freshmen (heck, to remember their names), and often to save my own rear end!

What if I started my junior high school days with a nice little Bible story? Given the exponential reach of social media and emotionality of national mainstream media, how much time would I have to diet and dye my hair before I appeared on Fox or CNN to defend my actions? I am a rule follower – to some extent – and would never want to offend students and parents or cause trouble for my administrators and coworkers. But, shhhhh, God and prayer are most definitely in schools. Most of us recite the Pledge of Allegiance (under God, indivisible…) and then observe a moment of silence. Often, administrators ask students to keep staff members or students in our “thoughts and prayers.” I suppose “thoughts” are for the non-praying? I wonder what God thinks of “thoughts.” I often ask to God to interpret my “thoughts” as “prayers” because they are for more frequent and less eloquent. Well, actually, I ask God to interpret my good “thoughts” as prayers. I ask him to forgive my “bad thoughts” entirely. Sometimes all this thinking is confusing in a school.

Take my first year of teaching. Oh, Lord have mercy! I’m telling you: my first year of service  should really count for five in the Tennessee retirement plan. The school was rough. Administrators were tough. I’d had enough. After one week. It had nothing to do with poverty or race or ethnicity. Those demographics were similar to many American schools and I loved teaching a diverse student population. No, that school is a special place with fascinating stories, colorful faculty, and, honestly, an undercurrent (among students) that cannot be explained. One of my favorite students said to me, “I couldn’t be a teacher. I’d hit somebody.”

Did I want to hit somebody? YES!

Did I pray? YES!

Oooh, I need one of these!
Every day, in my car, I read the Serenity Prayer off a little laminated card wedged over my speedometer.  That got me inside. Once “on the inside” I repeated (silently, of course) a prayer I wrote for myself:

Dear God,
Help me not to cuss, cry, or quit.

I asked a colleague how he coped and he said, “I just look at a picture of my little girl on the beach and go to the Zen place in my head.”

I never cried. I didn’t quit. I came really close to cussing, but God saved me with cross-curricular planning. I taught pre-algebra, which brings out the worst in many people and is a high stakes content area for mandated testing. Frustrated at students' lack of commitment, I blurted out, “How in the Hel….k can you not understand this?” My bad. Rookie mistake. My 8th graders went nuts, saying “Mrs. D, you just said hell!," "We’re gonna tell the principal and our parents!," "Girl, you lost your cool," and "Whoa, Mrs. D, you said a bad word!” Luckily, I knew that English teachers were teaching foreign phrases (alma mater, du jour, e pluribus Unum) so I thought fast and saved my derrière by saying, “Oh, no I didn’t! Helk is a foreign phrase! It’s Norwegian (yeah, sure, Norwegian) for ‘I don’t know what it is going on right now.”

They bought it. My faux pas went unnoticed by administrators and parents, but my students employed the word “helk” ad nauseum for the rest of the school year. Praise Jesus, administrators never caught on.

~ ~ ~

Since I know so many teachers, I asked them for examples of prayer they’ve seen in school. Teachers can’t afford lawsuits, so I left their names out and paraphrased for their protection.

Students like prompts. I like prompts. Prayers often start with prompts.

Here’s a sweet little list of prompted prayers you may hear a teacher whisper:

Heavenly Father, …

I’m sorry I let those senior boys get something out of my car and they found Budweiser cans and brought them back into the building.

Don’t let my principal find out I cashed a check using the school newspaper money deposit bag as a bank.

Please get my bill collectors to stop calling me at school.

Forgive me for throwing a stack of math workbooks across the room. I didn’t hit a student. Amen.

I apologize for wanting to trip that mean 8th grader who called me a “b” and watch her fall headfirst down the stairs.

Keep me from backfiring in class. If I do, and it’s an SBD, pleeeeaaassseee don’t let a student pick up the scent.        

Get me through the day so I don’t say something I’ll regret later that will make me lose my job.

Please get those athletes and coaches who pray before games to be that pious during the week.

Thank you for sending the drug dogs to protect our students. Extra thank you for not letting the drug dogs find the dip in my desk drawer.

Let someone call in a bomb threat so we can sit in the sunshine in the football stadium for two hours

Get that other teacher to shut up so we can end this faculty meeting

Thank you for not gifting that child hand-eye coordination. If the desk he threw at me had hit me I’d be in some real pain right now.

Please don’t let those toga party pictures get out on social media

It’s my day to be observed against a six page rubric of educational performance perfection. I don’t want [student] to be sick, but can you make sure it’s time for him to have his braces tightened?

Let that tingling feeling be too much Aquanet and not head lice.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Parents, you may be wondering, “If teachers are praying such things, what on earth are teenagers thinking during the moment of silence?” I wondered, too. So, I asked my freshmen, and I felt immense shame afterwards. Here are some of their responses to my question, “What do you pray at school?”

God, help me make good grades

Jesus, will you please give me the answer to the questions?

Help me treat others like I want to be treated

Make all my answers be right

Don’t let my locker get awkwardly shut so I can’t open it

For my school lunch to nourish my body

At lunch, we all hold hands (sometimes we even intertwine hands) and pray. If you steal food during the prayer it’s the ultimate sin.

Help my teacher forget to check for homework.

That there’s no work in English because I always forget my pen.

I just say The Lord’s Prayer

For the military and that they are okay

My cat and my family

For all my friends

Thanks for providing me an education

That God will lead me down the right path

Just to get through the day. Fifth period biology gets me.

Readers, don’t be disillusioned by the cynical nature of the teachers’ prayers. Be encouraged by the soulful and positive attitudes of today’s youth! And please know that teachers pray sweet things, too! Yes, teachers get grouchy. Our attitudes sometimes buckle under the immense No Child Left Behind/Common Core pressure, but we are still passionate, nurturing professionals. We worry about our students. We counsel them. We love our students. We absolutely pray for them, without ceasing!

Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse: What a setting in which to learn AND pray

Two of my colleagues, Scotty and Rob, wrote a fantastic book for teachers. The title, The Ultimate Survival Guide for Teachers: An inspirational and hilarious handbook for the world’s most misunderstood wilderness*, says it all. Throughout the book, Scotty and Rob illustrate thoughtful, playful, and soulful interactions between teachers and students. Their goal with the book is to empower teachers to create healthy, dynamic careers for themselves and successful classrooms for their students.
Maybe we could collaborate on a devotional, guys. I’d love a chance to make a little extra money. Which brings me to Theory 24: Teachers are money hustlers, ya’ll.

First, though, in honor of National Adoption Awareness Month, I am posting the first five chapters of The Eye of Adoption. To read them, click here or go to the Theories: Size 12 home page or visit
See you next post! Until then, think outside the barn. 

Oh!, Speaking of hustling:

Also, visit or my website to read about my book, The Eye of Adoption, my short story, Field Day, and my collection of essays for parents and teachers, Parents, Stop and Think.

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* For more information on The Ultimate Survival Guide for Teachers, visit

Just thinking outside the barn...

Just thinking outside the barn...