Gospel and Law in the Classroom

It’s the end of the semester at the public high school where I teach.  For my senior students, that means Judgement Day.  A large number of them are nervous, because if they fail my class – even just this one semester – then they must take night school in order to walk at graduation.  Most students pass, though they do so with a fair amount of nervousness.  But some do fail, and leaves me, the teacher, in an awkward position.  School policy dictates that I allow them to retake their final exam.  I must let them look over old tests to see if they should retake them, and if they have a zero for a test, I let them take that, too.  The whole point is to do anything – everything – I can to help my students pass my class and move ever closer to graduation.

I have to confess that part of me resists this.  I look at my students who have slept in class, skipped school, shown up late, refused to turn in assignments and talked in class, and I find it very difficult to show them mercy.  When students shuffle through class preferring to talk about what they did over the weekend, where they went and what they smoked, I have little sympathy for a failing grade.  But what I miss at times is that while they do in fact deserve to fail, for those students who seek it, mercy is the only option. Some students will fail and never bother to ask for help.  Others will have done so little, that there is no help.  (On those two examples, the theological parallels break down hard.)  But others will come to me and our guidance counselor, and they are desperate for help.  They are seniors, remember, and only a few months from graduation.  There is no summer school to graduate on time.  They are, literally, at the end of their rope.

I could wax poetic about enforcing standards, and how students should learn the consequences of their actions.  Indeed, if my students were younger, I would likely do just that.  They are not young, though, and to fail them when I could allow them the opportunity to pass would be spite and retribution.  It would be a standard that existed for its own sake, not to help a student but to harm him.  Students in such a case would only resist and rebel by running from school and education and quite likely running (emotionally, at least) from their own families.   Educational standards – the law, as it were – must not exist in a vaccuum for their own sake.  There will always be times when a student simply quits, and I have no choice but to fail her.  Yet there are many times when  I can show mercy in hopes that , the student will feel relief – an unburdening, we might say – at the grace shown to them and they will leave high school striving to “go and sin no more” as it relates to their responsibilites in life.  As such grace has been shown to me, I have no choice but to show it to my own students.


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