Last week I began the process known as “back to school”. Teachers in my school had a week to plan before the students return to the classroom on August 12th. If you’re not a teacher, you really have no idea how stressful this week can be. Setting up the classroom, curriculum and procedures can be a daunting task, even to the most experienced educator.
In addition to those things that pertain to the classroom, I have also been assigned a group of students in which I am responsible in making sure the Individual Education Plan (IEP) is being followed, both in my classroom and every other area they step foot into during the school day.
Those students in my special education program can stay until they are 21 years of age. This means I have known some of these young men and women up to 7 years in some cases! Which brings to me to Raishaun!
Upon reviewing my caseload this year, I was surprised to learn that this is Raishaun’s last year! Can that be? I met Raishaun when he was a new freshman in my school. Rashaun came into our school when he was 14 years old, standing a little over four feet tall and weighing about a 100 pounds soaking wet. Seven years later, he hasn’t changed much physically.
One area of improvement that I am quite proud of is his social skills, specifically how he interacts with other people. When I first met him, people were only “tools” to Raishaun, something to be used to fulfill an immediate need. He only sought others out when he wanted something that only benefitted himself.
His biggest struggle was in understanding when his actions caused pain to someone else. For example, if another student had a set of markers they were using, he would take them and then wonder why they were so upset. If someone had food, he would wait until their guard was down and then grab the item and consume it as fast as possible. I learned quickly to put my DDC (Daily Diet Caffeine) on top of my 6-foot filing cabinet.
Now, Raishaun was not a stealthy as he imagined and was caught frequently. In those moments when he was apprehended soon enough, he was requested to return the stolen item and apologize. Raishaun would hesitantly give back the item. The teacher would then prompt him to apologize by asking in that teacher sing-song way, “What do you say?”
The first year, I concentrated on him simply saying, “I’m Sorry”. The words came out in a monotone with no eye contact with the victim. Many times the apology was directed at me. The second year, I began to ask him, after he delivered his apology, “What are you sorry for?”
Quick side note. When phrasing questions to students, a teacher needs to be as savvy as a trial lawyer, which means never ask a question unless you already know the answer. I was unprepared for Raishaun’s answer and regret my response.
I will forever remember the following conversation:
Me: Raishaun, give that back! NOW!
Raishaun: (Gives item back slowly, eyeballing me)
Me: What do you say?
Raishaun: I’m Sorry.
Me: What are you sorry for, Raishaun?
Raishaun: P, I’m sorry you caught me!
My next action was totally unprofessional, but I couldn’t help myself. I lost it and started laughing. I’m talking the kind of laughter that makes you sit down and tears start rolling down your cheek. The kind of laughter that becomes so contagious that everyone around you doubles over as well. The teacher aides lost it! The students lost it! Even the victim lost it!
Finally, Raishaun lost it. It took at least 15 minutes to get everyone back to the point where we could focus on the lesson. It seemed just when it was dying down, someone would start giggling again, causing another bout of hysterics.
Since then, Raishaun has matured greatly and knows to keep his hands off other people things. Though he has matured through the years, he still tells me at least once a week, “P, I’m sorry you caught me!”
I realize that even though my purpose with Raishaun was to teach him how to be remorseful for his actions, I envied his ability not to feel guilty.
In a couple’s Bible study this weekend, I was asked the following opening question: How do you deal with guilt? I appreciated that they went right to that instead of asking the usual “Duh!” question, “Do you ever feel guilty?”
Of course, we feel guilty! I have BIG guilt and little guilt! I have deep guilt and shallow guilt. I feel guilty about not picking up my dishes, rinsing them off and putting them in the dishwasher as much as what I feel when I fail to acknowledge a birthday or anniversary of a good friend or relative. I feel guilty when I know my wife would really like me to go downstairs to change the wash but I wait until she will just do it herself. I feel guilty when I tell someone outside my family, “No, I can’t help you with that.” And I feel guilty those times I say YES and take time away from my family.
Guilt is your conscience (God) letting you know that your actions are causing harm to another person and/or yourself. This is hardwired into every human being. Guilt is a feeling. What many do not realize is that there is nothing wrong with feelings. What is wrong is those actions that those feelings cause you to take.
If you are like me, I deal with my guilt by rationalizing. I convince myself that I really shouldn’t be guilty because it really wasn’t my fault. If I can’t help you, you probably should have planned better. If my actions caused you pain, maybe you are just being a tad bit oversensitive. I can find fault in any situation, pointing the finger at someone or something else, rather than owning up to my own actions.
To be honest, the times that I really feel guilty are those times when I know I should be sorry. I’m guessing many of you are like Raishaun (and me) when the thing we are most sorry for is getting caught? When I am caught, I tend to just shut up, keep my head down and forge ahead until the whole thing blows over.
So, the answer to the question of how I deal with guilt in my life, I guess the honest answer is that I really don’t!
Luckily for us we have a God that can eliminate guilt. God will forgive sin but allows us to experience the consequences in order for us to learn. We know this because the Bible shares the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). After committing adultery and murdering a good friend, he asked God to forgive him only after a prophet of the Lord called him out on his crimes. He didn’t think anything was wrong until he was caught!
In Psalm 51:10, David implores God to create in him a clean heart. God forgave David, but allowed him to suffer the consequences of his actions. As a result of the whole affair, the kingdom of Israel was divided into two parts and David lost the honor of building the Lord’s Temple in Jerusalem.
Now, I try to treat guilt as a warning light, similar to that annoying tire pressure one on my car. Warning lights are an inexpensive and relatively simple fix if dealt with immediately, but can cause major problems down the road. The light is there for a reason and it’s in every car, not just for certain people.
Guilt affects everyone and needs to be handled in a healthy and spiritual manner. How should we handle guilt? As with everything else, let’s turn to the words of our Master.
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
In other words, don’t let your words and/or actions against another fester into a bigger problem. We are commanded to forgive. This means both others and, more importantly, ourselves. If God can forgive us, why can’t we. How come it’s easier to forgive someone else than ourselves?
The purpose of guilt is repentance and reconciliation. Otherwise, you’re just sorry you got caught.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for all you have let us experience, both the good and the bad. Help us to forgive ourselves and to shed our guilt in favor of your unending love and grace
In your name, Jesus,
ps. As I stated in the begining, we are starting school soon and I could use your help with something. I need to acquire a few items for my students to use this year and I am having a little fundraiser. Please visit my class project at donor’schoose.org
Thanks agin for reading and please feel free to share this across all your social media. Please comment below.