Monday, July 13, 2009

Developing a Strong Work Ethic

I thought I had a strong work ethic until I met Dr. I.M. Tuf , my math methods instructor in college. Okay, you got me. That was not her real name, but she really was tough. She was the kind of teacher who never let students just float through her class. To earn a passing grade, you had to produce, and produce well at that. At first I rebelled, at least inwardly, against her standards.

"This is my last semester before I student teach," I thought to myself.

"I only have a few months left on campus and want to enjoy it," I reasoned.

"No one needs to know how to teach math this well, " I tried to convince myself.

I waited until the last minute to complete her "unreasonable" assignments, rationalizing that everyone else in the class was doing no better than I was.

At mid-term, my average reflected my efforts… a 64. I had never made less than a B in my entire academic career. Appalled by her seemingly unattainable standards, I scheduled an appointment to discuss my grade with her. I sat in the chair across from her and complained about how she was ruining my GPA and that I might not graduate with honors because of her. I offered a ton of excuses for my poor performance. I was taking 21 semester hours and could not give her class as much attention as she required. I had just gotten engaged. There was so much to do to prepare for a wedding, and I didn't have time for meetings with florists and caterers because of her. She was ruining this special time in my life. I even cried. She heard me out and then asked some very wise questions.

Do you want to make an A in my class or do you want to be a good teacher?

I answered, "well, both." However, I knew what she meant and in my heart knew the right answer.

Do you want to graduate with honors or do you want to make a difference in the lives of children?

I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath.

Do you want to stand during graduation and be recognized or do you want to stand for what is right?

I had to confess how self-centered I was being and ask God to forgive me.

Setting our course for the path of least resistance feels good because it is what our flesh craves. However, as parents, we have to teach our children to hate sin because God hates sin. This includes the sins of slothfulness and complacency. In a society plagued with mediocrity and apathy, we cannot gauge our expectations against the standards of the majority. We must press toward a higher standard.

More importantly, we have to teach our children that though the flesh is weak (Mark 14:38), God is our ever-present help (Psalm 46). We believe that working hard, not being complacent or content with mediocrity, is a spiritual issue. The effort our children put into their school work reflects their attitudes toward stewardship, and we want them to learn the value of hard work that flows from a desire to love, obey, and glorify God. We also want them to learn to call upon Him in any circumstance for help, even while doing their school work.

The book of Proverbs contains many warnings for the sluggard. One such warning is found in chapter 18. Verse nine says, "He who is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys." If we are slack in our work, or in other words if we are not good stewards of our time, gifts, and talents and are not faithful and diligent in carrying out our responsibilities, we are brothers of the enemy. It is Satan who would have us neglect our responsibilities, to be sluggish about spiritual things, and waste what God has given us. The enemy would have us compare ourselves to a lost and dying world and be proud of how well we are doing.

Conversely, Proverbs has many good things to say about the diligent. Chapter 22, verse 9 asks, "Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings…." The man who is industrious, who knows his calling, and who works cheerfully at what the Lord gives him is promised blessing.

How important then is it to teach our children the value of work hard? I would dare to say very important.

The third essential goal we have for our children's education is to provide a curriculum that promotes a strong work ethic. In all their areas of study, we want them to be actively engaged in the learning process. There is memorizing and sometimes worksheets to be done. However, more often than not, they must produce authentic work… reading, discussing, writing, creating, presenting, building, and more. I believe we need not find a curriculum that merely keeps them busy but one that keeps them productive, teaching them to value hard work and giving them the opportunity to reap its rewards.

This is a tough goal for me to meet sometimes. I get tired. In fact, at the end of this past school year, I was closing in on throwing in the towel. We had worked for three months to remodel our house. Then, the hot water heater leaked and destroyed part of our brand new kitchen flooring. I was tired and struggling to see God's providence in this. After that, I had to help undo the ruined remodeling work. This left behind a sticky sub-flooring that I could not get clean and had to live with until the new flooring could be installed. On top of this, our last unit of the year was on the Civil War. The most complicated and depressing time in our nation's history, and that was how we were to end this really hard school year.

While I was planning for this dreaded unit, I wrote for my Facebook status one day, half-joking, half-not, "Dawn is considering how to teach a unit on the Civil War. I am contemplating saying 'There was a big war.' then giving them coloring sheets of Lincoln, Davis, Grant, and Lee and being done with it." I know slapping down coloring sheets with no real objective or purpose other than to check something off my list is not being a teacher of stewardship.

When I fall into that attitude, I am not being a steward of my time, talents, materials and one other very important gift that God has given me… the young minds who gather at my table each day to learn from my good teaching and by my good example. My bad example stood only to teach them to do what is easy, what feels good, and what does not require too much of me. Even worse, it stood to teach them it is permissible to be frustrated by providence. Instead of by prayer, making my requests known to God, I was modeling a form of anxiety... one that demonstrated I was afraid God was requiring more of me than I could handle. (Phil 4:6)

We originally committed to this third goal with curriculum selection in mind, and it is a driving force behind what we choose. I want my children engaged in meaningful work. I want them doing more than skill and drill. However, this goal also touches upon my implementation of our curricula. To instill a good work ethic in my children, I must model that ethic in my teaching, in my managing of the home, and in everything the Lord gives me to complete.

Holding to this goal, as well as the other two essential goals I have described in this series, is challenging. Please understand that I do not claim to have lived up to any of my goals perfectly, nor can I even come close to reaching them on my own. When I felt discouraged this spring, my husband gently guided me back on course. I need his leadership. My friends prayed for me and encouraged me. I need their support. My pastor and elders, who just happen to know a lot about the Civil War, offered help. I need their wisdom.

Most importantly, when I wanted to walk away from it all, when I wanted to choose the path of least resistance, when I was tired and empty and drained, the Lord was with me. He showed me the error of my ways. He filled me with His grace. He renewed my strength. He enabled me to move past selfishness and teach the Civil War unit to His glory. More than I need anyone else, I need the Lord. "But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wing as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." Isaiah 40:31

In the first article of this series, I encouraged you to set the course for your race with goals. Since then, I have encouraged you to set your course for a distinctly Christian education. I have encouraged you to set boundaries for your course with a Biblical worldview. I have encouraged you to set the pace of your course for hard work. I want to end, ladies, by encouraging you once again to run and to run like you want to win. Run as one who cannot wait to reach the finish line and hear the words, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." Matt 25:23

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