…and thanks for all the fish

Dear friends,

On Friday, Joey announced via email to the NCS family that Coart & I will be moving into new jobs at the end of this school year.  We are excited about Coart’s opportunity to pursue his UGA PhD in Social Foundations of Education full-time.  For him to be able to be in school full-time, I need to pursue more lucrative employment. And after 10 years in one place, this is a good time for a change. So here we are.

We want to say thank-you to many families down through the years whose support of our ministry at New Covenant School kept us going through the hard times. Education is an incredible ministry, but it’s also an exhausting one, both physically and emotionally. When we could not see our way forward, people stepped forward to love us, support us, feed us, hug us, offer help, or forgive us for our mistakes with their kids. It’s that last one that stuns me. Such a precious gift. Only the forgiven can forgive.

I came to NCS 10 years ago knowing little about formal education. Neither of us did. NCS barely had a high school, but it had a solid headmaster and board who wanted to see a great foundation laid for the upper school. Those early years lacked the cool “culture” that so many NCS upper school students cite as the reason they love this school. All of that work was still ahead of us. It was tough.

I have told some of you this story:  the first 4 weeks I taught …ever…. I woke every morning wishing I could quit. It was THAT hard. I don’t know why every 1st year teacher doesn’t just quit. Teaching is an incredible blend of artistry and science, of people management and content delivery, of academic prowess and interpersonal skills.  I didn’t know how to keep the 8th graders from talking nonstop (they were bored and hungry — now I understand); how to teach Romeo and Juliet to the freshmen (we survived somehow); how to get 6th graders to understand grammar (they won’t get it till their brains develop enough to grasp the abstract nature of the concepts). My curriculum was handed to me from the Logos School’s curriculum guide, and — honestly — most of it was totally inappropriate for the age level.  But that’s why you can’t just hand off a pile of textbooks and expect a teacher to plug herself into the gap. Teaching isn’t about the textbooks. It’s a dance, a long slow waltz of content and skills and relationships.

Those early years, I was rescued and mentored and loved by incredible people like Maurice Lopez, who still ranks just below Jesus in my book. With 40 years of experience in education and a lovely Andersonian accent, Mr Lopez helped me relax and take it one day at a time.  I also leaned on Dennis Bills, our headmaster and friend who had hired us for this high-school-building adventure.  He and his family lived next door to us (a happy thing), and we enjoyed many meals around their table discussing anything from Halo to the difficulties of getting any middle schooler to want to learn Latin. (I think it might be impossible.)

We met some incredible students right out of the gate. Like … Darby Wilcox is simply indescribable.  She still plays guitar and sings in Greenville several times a month; you should go hear her. I first met her as a misplaced 10th grader in a school that only went up to 9th grade. She and Liz Noblitt and Mallie Settle used to have the most epic cream cheese fights during lunch…. none of us interfered. Who wants to get attacked by a crazy cream-cheese-wielding adolescent?!

As Coart said during that first year, “I expected I would like teaching, and that I might even like teaching high school and middle school students. I never expected I would actually LOVE them.”

It was this realization — loving others for the glory of the Kingdom — plus our master’s education at Covenant College that forged our philosophy of education. Education is discipleship. By nature, it is relational. You cannot expect to accomplish anything in the classroom if you do not love your students, or if they are unable to respect you. People absorb the worldview of people they love, not people they tolerate or spar with. And education must be bathed in Grace.  Otherwise, well-intended school structures become a horrible form of legalism that traps students in a performance-centered Gospel.

Further, beginning under Dennis and continuing with Joey, NCS became a place where broken, hurting kids could find some shreds of safety, a harbor where their battered lives could rest and repair. I was never prouder of our student body than I was a few years ago when they were able to open their arms and love one of their peers who had sinned deeply. While adults whispered nasty things about that kid in the hallway, the students chose to love the broken and bind up the wounds.  It took yeas of hard labor by many NCS faculty and students to get our school culture to that point, but it was incredible to watch. (Shout-out to Joey Thames for being an integral part of building that culture of Grace among the students. His influence will be greatly missed next year.)

We’ve seen the student body become a resilient, caring group of sinners.  Yep, sinners.  I shake my head still when I see a class ripping into one another — these things ought not to be so among the family of God. But we move forward.  NCS has been able to minister to kids who were hurting, depressed, cocky, shattered, abused, confused, doubting, cutting, starving, uncaring, and broken. God is mighty. The Gospel is true.

Like Jesus, we’ve never had much success with the self-righteous. So it goes.

A culture of Kingdom-service and loving concern will not survive unless the caretakers watch over the plants carefully. It’s the nature of education that we work with new students and families every year. You can’t ever stop teaching or stop talking about what the Gospel means in the context of learning.  Always repenting, always renewing, always reforming. The gardening metaphor fits.

For all of these lessons and thousands more that I haven’t written — we thank the families and students and alumni of New Covenant School. It’s been a great ride.

Now we’re headed into a new, undiscovered country. We covet your prayers for us that God would provide the jobs we both need and wisdom to sort out the logistics of a two-income family perhaps spread across two states.

Our desire is to end well. We want to work hard right until the school year ends, then joyfully pass the baton to the next runners. Pray that God provides the educators to fill our shoes.

And no matter how far we go, you’ll always be able to find me right here. I’ve got too many cooped-up words not to blog once in a while. 

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