One thing that drove me absolutely crazy as a teacher was when the students would ask, “Is this going to be on the test?” I taught 10
grade English for one school year. Yes, I’m one of the statistics, one of the many teachers who don’t make it past the first year. The funny thing is that I don’t know why except that it probably has something to do with this very question.
Here I am in front of the class, looking every bit as teacher-ish as I can, trying to fit the image of what I always thought a teacher should be: intelligent, engaging, funny, compassionate, etc. I imagine myself looking out from the helm of my ship across a sea of possibility, where over the horizon in any direction there could be a new discovery, an epiphany, a moment even of pure education in which one of these boys or girls would be that much closer to being a man or a woman.
I look into their eyes and pour out my soul in the form of knowledge and wisdom gleaned from the greatest writings in history, expounding on Shakespeare, Donne, poetry, drama, tragedy, humanity, transcendence. I’m no longer feverishly chalking up the blackboard with notes because I’m lost in the ecstasy of the moment. There is something more important going on here, something so much greater than notes or tests or grades. This goes beyond learning even; I am equipping them with the tools to engage life with zeal and passion to attain a higher level of humanity, and to gain a deeper sense of the complex immortal soul within the chambers of their mortal heart. Then a hand goes up in the back. This is it, the single point in time in which learning occurs, when the student graduates from the coal-like darkness of ignorance to the diamond-like brilliance and clarity of wisdom.
“Yes?” I say with excited trepidation. I watch the student’s mouth to capture the words as they are spoken. This is what I signed on for, the breakthrough, the epiphany, the question …
“Is this going to be on the test?”
I admit; these are the most deflating words I have ever heard. Clifford the Big Red Dog has just been shot in his big red chest and is falling to smother the Thanksgiving Day revelers. The parade is over. The moment of clarity is my own. My eyes are now open. The sea of possibility is but a puddle of blank stares—a muddy, expressionless, pothole of faces.
This hardly captures my entire neither-lengthy-nor-distinguished career as a teacher, but it was a defining reality. Sometimes we just want to get the job done. We want to know exactly what we have to do in order to pass the test, to be considered excellent, good, average, fair or poor depending on our individual ambition. We are susceptible to this kind of thinking in school, work and even church.
Whatever the setting, if we are asking exactly how much time and effort is required to accomplish a task, then it becomes apparent that we are probably going to do just that and no more. In matters of faith it’s easy to fall into wanting to do something but often this doing is more out of obligation than devotion. We rarely go beyond what we “have to.”
We approach church as chore, quiet times as a routine (if we’ve been “good” about it), and worship as meeting God on our own terms. It’s as if we read God’s Word and think, I’d better remember that verse—I bet he’ll ask me that one on Judgment Day. Or in worship, we think, maybe if I raise my hands He’ll come closer. You watching, God?
Meanwhile, God is pouring out His Spirit onto the world. Through His word and His Spirit He is trying to connect with us and equip us to engage our lives. He has given us all the reasons and the tools to live passionately. Then we raise our hands and ask, “Is this on the test?”
I think of my students now and I want to respond to that question. “YES! This is on the test and this is the test. Look around, you are in the midst of experience and that is what I’m equipping you for, not for some piece of paper, not for some day in the future. I am giving you every reason to live fully and passionately. Don’t you want to start now?”
We’ve got everything backwards. The Bible is full of commands and precepts and we look at them and wonder where we’ll find the time, which one’s are most important, which one does God mean the most, etc. But instead of rules for living, they are tools for living. If our devotion was comparable to the gift we all believe we’ve been given then the spontaneous reaction would be to put forth effort to use that gift. We would do out of devotion.
I chalk it up to immaturity but maybe my students just didn’t understand what they’ve been given. Maybe it wasn’t spelled out clearly enough. Or maybe they just weren’t interested yet. I find it a shameful though either way, when someone is given the reasons, the tools and the opportunity to learn and to grow without being asked for anything in return and all they want to know is “Is this on the test?”[Steve Brooks had a very short tenure as a high school English teacher.]