Meditating on Meekness, Teaching and a New School Year

Sep 12th, 2013 | Category: Church Work Professional, Featured, Lutheran Education Commentary
By Sudi Kate Gliebe, Ph.D.

Teaching is a stressful occupation (Johnson et al. 2005; Chaplain 2008; McCarthy et al. 2010) and is certainly recognized as an emotional undertaking (Sutton, Mudrey-Camino and Knight 2009). Research shows that love, joy and satisfaction are positive emotions most teachers experience; it also shows, however, that frustration, anger and anxiety are also commonly experienced (Hatch 1993; Hargreaves 1998; Winograd 2003). Christian teachers would be well-served to consider the virtue of meekness as a probable and Biblical solution to frustration in the classroom. The following principles might assuage the effects of stress on teaching experiences.

Me? Meek?

A society that emphasizes “me-ness”—high achievement and intense competition in many areas of life—would generally look askance at the very idea of being meek. Parents who push and micro-manage daughters and sons to earn high grades and test scores, to be top-notch athletes, accomplished musicians, etc., often expect that teachers will, likewise, push students to meet those goals. They may not understand a teacher who is self-effacing and who models humility and may mistake it for weakness or less than what they expect as “excellence.”  Further, highly accomplished teachers certainly strive for professional excellence and may, at times, also push themselves and colleagues as a point of pride or find that they become frustrated with students who don’t seem to be capable of pushing themselves. Meekness, on the other hand, has little to do with a lack of competitiveness or a “winning attitude” with which it may be confused. Rather, it is an internal quality of personal presence in the classroom that “accommodates the soul to every occurrence, and so makes a man easy to himself, and to all about him” (Henry, 1825, p. 1).

Meekness is a fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (meekness) and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV). The fruit of the Spirit is the trademark of believers and the opposite of habitual anger (Powlison, 1995). Meekness is found in the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). As the name implies the Beatitudes are be-attitudes; attitudes of the heart believers must adopt. Meekness is interchangeable with humility. “Now Moses was a very humble (meek) man” (Numbers 12:3). The Bible declares that God opposes the proud but pours his grace on the humble (meek) (James 4:6). He rewards meekness with strength and joy (Psalm 147:6, Isaiah 29:29 & Proverbs 3:34). God delights in the ways of the meek (Psalm 149:4).

Meditating on Meekness

Meekness is a habit. It is developed with “actual care and diligence” (Henry, 1825, p. 151). “Frequent acts will confirm” a disposition of meekness and it will become a habit (Henry, 1825, p. 151). Therefore an attitude of meekness must be chosen. Meekness does not happen by accident, it must be deliberately pursued.

Reflection – What frequent acts can I practice today that will help me to be more meek? How can I remind myself today that I am on a quest for meekness?

Meekness is first practiced toward God. It involves submitting oneself to the Word of God and his Providence (Henry, 1825). Meekness is an attitude of full surrender and obedience to Christ. Reflection – What Bible passage can I memorize and meditate on today that will remind me to be meek? How can I walk humbly before the Lord, today? How can I keep thoughts of God in the forefront of my mind?

Meekness is lived out before others. Without meekness it is impossible to govern (control) one’s anger/passions. Meekness considers the circumstances, calms the spirit, curbs the tongue and cools the heat of passion (anger/frustration) (Henry, 1825). Meekness heals and strengthens relationships.

Reflection – How can I remember today to be meek when I am provoked? How can I discipline myself to give soft answers, use kind words and practice forgiveness? How can I encourage my students to do the same with one another?

Meekness is essential to good leadership. It is easy to be “fiery and hasty” with young children (Henry, 1825, p. 81). Their clumsiness and constant demands can sometimes exasperate adults. Being “put into a flame” and “easily provoked” by these small infractions demonstrates a lack of meekness (Henry, 1825, p. 81). Meekness is the ability to command oneself; essential virtue when commanding others.

Reflection – How can I show more forbearance with my young students? How can I be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry?” ( James 1:19) How can I train myself to overlook small offenses?

Meekness is essential to being a good follower. Meekness is the quiet spirit which “reconciles us to the post we are in, and to all the difficulties of it, and would make the best of the present state, though it be attended with many inconveniences” (Henry, 1825, p. 83).

Reflection – How can I walk humbly before my supervisor(s)? How can I do my best to make their work a joy? How can I practice giving them the benefit of the doubt?

Meekness is essential among equals. Contradictions in “opinions, desires and designs” are common among colleagues (Henry, 1825, p. 85). Impatience and competition are common as well. Meekness puts into perspective one’s faults and attenuates the faults of others.

Reflection – Is there a colleague I must forgive? Is there a work-relationship that needs mending? Is there a colleague I must apologize to? How can I remember to examine myself first, instead of judging others?

Meekness has many benefits. It yields beauty and courage. Meekness reflects victory over sin. “No triumphant chariot so easy, so safe, so truly glorious, as that in which the meek soul rides” (Henry, 1825, p. 41). Meekness is the “soul’s agreement with itself” and surest way to attain beauty (Henry, 1825, p. 45). Meekness is not cowardice or “evidence of a little soul” (Henry, 1825, p. 48).  On the contrary, true courage is meek. True courage chooses love and charity over anger and revenge (Henry, 1825).

Reflection – How can walk in victory, beauty and courage today? What does it mean to attain these virtues/gifts through meekness? How can I remind my students that to be strong, one must be meek?

Meekness is contagious. King Solomon warns: “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared” (Proverbs 22:24-25). It is wise to seek the company of the meek, in order to observe them and imitate their quiet disposition. “Observe in others how sweet and amiable meekness is” and follow their example (Henry, 1825, p. 155).

Reflection – Who do I know that is meek? How can I make an effort to observe and imitate this person? What are my students likely to imitate when they observe me?

Meekness demands remembering. “Time was when you were yourselves children . . . allow yourselves the liberty of reflection [and] treat those that are under you as you yourselves then wished to be treated” (Henry, 1825, p. 82-83). Meekness brings forth balance between indulgence and harsh discipline. If reprove is needed, reprove with warmth (Henry, 1825).

Reflection – What were some acts of kindness that adults showed toward me when I was a young child? How did their kindness/gentleness impact me? How can I reprove my students without forgetting I once was a child? How do I want to be remembered?

The greatest model of meekness is Jesus; the best proclamation of meekness is Phil 2:3-8 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross.”

Reflection – How can I remember this passage today? How can apply these truths to my life? What would it look like to have the same attitude as Christ in my classroom?

There IS a “Me” in Meekness

Galatians 5:16, 22-23 declares: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (meekness) and self-control.” On one hand the fruit of meekness is only possible as an outflow of the Holy Spirit’s work in believer’s lives. One the other hand godly (meek) character develops as a result of deliberate effort as stated by 1 Timothy 4: 7b-8. “Train yourself to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

Psychologist William James (1920) wrote the following description of habits that are worth pursuing: “Every good that is worth possessing must be paid in strokes of daily effort. By neglecting the necessary concrete labor, by sparing ourselves the little daily tax, we are positively digging the graves of our higher possibilities (James, 1920 p. 73-74). Meekness is indeed a higher possibility. It is a virtue worth possessing at work and at home. Meekness can be pursued by the power of the Holy Spirit with daily effort and deliberation.

References

Chaplain, R. P. (2008). Stress and Psychological Distress among Trainee Secondary Teachers in England. Educational Psychology, 28(2), 195-209.

Hargreaves, A. (1998). The Emotional Practice of Teaching. Teacher Education, 14(8), 835-854.

Hatch, A. (1993). Passing Along Teacher’s Beliefs: A Good Day Is. Educational Horizons, 71 (2), 109-112.

Henry, M. (1825). A Discourse on Meekness and Quietness of Spirit. New York: American Tract Society.

James, W. (1920). Talks to Teachers on Psychology and to Students on Some of Life’s Ideals. London: Longmans, Green and Co.

Johnson, S., Cooper, C., Cartwright, S., Donald, I., Taylor, P., & Millet, C. (2005). The Experience of Work-Related Stress across Occupations. Journal of Managerial Psychology 20(2), 178-187.

McCarthy, C. J., Lambert, R. G. Crowe, E. W. & McCarthy, C. J. (2010). Coping, Stress, and Job Satisfaction as Predictors of Advanced Placement Statistics Teachers’ Intention to Leave the Field. NASSP Bulletin, 94(4), 306-326.

Powlison, D. (1995). Anger Part 1: Understanding Anger. The Journal of Biblical Counseling 14 (1), 40-53.

Sutton, R. E., Mudrey-Camino, R., & Knight, C. C. (2009). Teacher’s Emotion Regulation and Classroom Management. Theory into Practice, 48(2), 130-137.

Winograd, K. (2003). The Functions of Teacher Emotions; the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Teachers College Record, 105(9), 1641-1673.

Author Information

Sudi Kate Gliebe, Ph.D. received her doctoral degree in Childhood Education and Foundations of Education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, TX where she also completed the Masters in Christian Education. Consistent with the Great Commission, Christ-followers in science, education and other fields of study have the privilege of submitting their endeavors to the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Dr. Gliebe may be contacted at sudste@hotmail.com.

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