Resist the Push to Follow the Crowd
The greatest obstacle to effective and successful teaching doesn’t lie outside the profession, but within the profession. Over my almost 30 years of teaching, half as an elementary teacher, and the other half as a university professor, I have been constantly bombarded by other teachers meaning to stifle my voice. I recall during my first elementary teaching job the principal telling me that he admired my resolve at not giving into peer pressure to “follow the crowd.” At the time, I was not exactly sure I knew what he meant. It wasn’t until years later, after many fellow teachers constantly trying to enforce on me THEIR brand of teaching, that I realized what he meant.
Colleagues have often said to me that I was doing “my thing,” however, since accepting God early in my teen years; I have made it a daily practice to ask Him what I should or should not be doing, so that I was being obedient to him (Ps. 37:5-7). God has never let me down, but instead, has always rewarded my obedience to him instead of caving into the peer pressure to do what co-workers were telling me to do (Ps. 36:12).
The Ground Zero Bully
So, why is it that many teachers fall into the trap of following the crowd? Teachers serve a large group of people including students and their families, and the surrounding community. These groups all critically scrutinize what teachers are doing. This creates an inherent fear among teachers and puts forth that old adage of “safety in numbers.” Many teachers buy into the tenet that if they’re all doing the same thing, than it’s the right thing, and they will be safe from public scrutiny that might say otherwise. This also involves the natural human emotions of fear, jealousy, and insecurity. If one teacher in the school is doing something that might be viewed as innovative, outside of the box, and getting positive attention for it, then the others become afraid, afraid the school community will view them as less than, ineffective, or deficient in some way, and fear breeds insecurity and jealousy. What usually follows is that the fearful, jealous co-workers launch a smear campaign aimed at defaming the stand-out teacher. Typically, this jealousy has an epicenter, a ground zero, initiating from one person who launches attacks against the target teacher that she views as a threat to her standing, or her reputation as a teacher. You might consider this person to be your “thorn in the flesh (2 Cor.12:7).” She will work behind the scenes to damage your reputation by gossiping about you, spreading false rumors, and influencing others against you. In today’s society, she’s known a bully, but an adult bully, one that has perfected her craft over the years to the point in which her ways are so subtle that they appear to go undetected by the people around her. She may use a well-timed comment, such as: “We have concerns about his teaching;” a roll of the eyes; facial grimaces; or other nonverbal body language to get her defamation of character messages across to the others around you. Ultimately, she has an enormous need to control the people around her which stems from her own fear and insecurities. She typically is outspoken, verbally aggressive, passively aggressive, and determined. Since teaching is a job that comprises groups of co-workers, she will often say: “This is the way WE always have done it.” What she really means is that this is the way “SHE” wants it. If you don’t go along with her, then she will do whatever it takes to influence others against you, damage your reputation, spread lies and rumors about you, and do whatever it takes to drive you out.
The Target on Your Back
For many years, I was not sure why I was such a target of bullying attacks. I knew that as a Christian teacher (James 3:1), I would suffer; however, I didn’t think I was aggressively standing out for Christ. I mean I wasn’t out on the street corners proclaiming to people to REPENT OR ELSE! I was not pushing my faith into the faces of others at every opportunity. Sometimes I thought there had to be something wrong with me, because I was not loudly proclaiming my love for Christ, in my perspective anyway, and yet, I was still suffering, and I couldn’t figure out why.
Only recently did God reveal to me that others saw Christ in me, and that this made them afraid, insecure, and they felt threatened, so much so, that they did all they could to make me ineffective, to fall into line with them, or to push me out of my job as a teacher (John 15:21). This was a moment of God’s revealed truth (John 16:13) that made my circumstances very clear to me. We don’t have to be radical in letting others know we follow God, they will be able to tell by looking at our life style, which in my case, certainly hasn’t been perfect by any means, however, whenever I have made serious mistakes in my life and asked God to help me out of them, he has always given me his instruction, and rewarded my obedience, which inturn, has planted his success into my teaching. In addition, people will see by your personality attributes that you are different. Your kindness, self-control over your anger, and quickness to forgive the offenses hurled at you, will stand out to the people around you, and contrary to society’s popular belief, people will hate this about you, just as they hated Jesus (John 15:18-19).
I have always tried to live by God’s rules and principles and not to conform to societal pressures and norms. Until God made it clear to me that it was because of Him in me that others were battling against me, that I really felt validated as a Godly man following Christ. All the attacks from the bullies around me suddenly made sense. Because of Christ in me, they felt fear, threatened, and had to do whatever they could to protect themselves and they’re reputation. When God manifests his success in you, you attract attention, which will feed the insecurities, fears, and jealousies from the people around you, especially if they are vulnerable to these types of weaknesses.
Clarity and Truth
Knowing what was happening to me and why it was happening brought me a sense of clarity, truth, and understanding that can only come from God (Ps. 119:105). On one hand, I felt a huge sense of relief, but on the other, I really didn’t want to suffer like this; I wanted it to stop, just like Paul asked God to remove his “thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7),” I wanted God to remove this bully from me, and I asked him to do so, but when it looked like he wasn’t going to answer my prayers when I wanted him to, and how I wanted him to, I tried to take matters into my own hands. I tried confronting the bully directly, and she simply denied my claims. I tried telling my boss about what was happening, and the bully, who already had been influencing my boss against me through her smear campaign, simply claimed that I was the one at fault for not doing things THEIR way, of course, meaning, HER way. In the adult world, not the world of children, confronting and tattling on bullies, one adult to another, never works, and in fact, will work against you and only serve to make you look weaker and less capable, therefore, reinforcing the bully’s claims against you. The only way to effectively deal with an adult bully’s actions against you is through God’s power (Ps. 18:2). Pray for God to reveal the truth about her actions to the people around her and you (Luke 12:3). Revenge belongs to God (Rom. 12:21), not you, so pray for God to repay the bully for the damage she has caused you. God wants everyone to accept his son Jesus (1 Tim. 2:4), repent from sin, and follow him, so pray for God to influence her life towards these goals, and trust God to deal with her in his way, which is not society’s way.
Realize that the bully belongs to God, and everything she does is under God’s control (Is. 45:6-7), and that he has allowed her destructive actions towards you for a purpose (Ps. 138:8). Ask God what that purpose is, but usually it’s to make you stronger and more capable to carry out his plans through your life’s work (2 Pet. 1:3). God wants to make you bold, courageous, and steadfast for the sake of doing what HE wants you to do (Is. 41:10). HE is your real and true boss and NOT the bully (Col. 3:23).
Decide Who’s Voice to Listen To
The only voice you should listen to for your teaching is God’s (John 10:27). Spend a lot of time in prayer, studying the Bible, and listening to sermons. Ask God what he wants you to do with your teaching, and trust that he will tell you (Prov. 3:5-6). As he speaks to you, keep a journal and write down the ideas that he has given to you, reflect about them, ask God about them, and if the same ideas keep coming to your mind through prayer, Bible study, and sermons, implement them into your teaching. God’s message to you usually works through a connectedness between these three areas, like a theme that he wants you to learn and implement into your life (Ps. 73:24). This only works if you are dedicated in spending time with him for the sake of building a personal relationship with him, trusting him to help and inform you, and obeying his instructions for your teaching (1 Chron. 7:14).
My point is you can never go wrong by following God’s instruction for every part of your life, but you will suffer society’s rejection and ridicule towards your differences in not doing what is popular or what others are telling you to do. The pressures to conform will be great, and they will never go away, but God will help you through all obstacles that lie in the path of your teaching through his wisdom, knowledge, and discernment, not your own, and not society’s (James 3:17). The results will be an ever growing faith and trust in God, and an ever growing powerful resolve to resist intimidation from bullies.
International Bible Society (1984). The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
It was my parents, Gene and Nelda Weih, who first instilled in me that God, not me, was the center of my universe, and that I owed all of my life to him. I am grateful to them for making sure I had plenty of adult Godly role models around me to light the path during my boyhood years.
During my first few years as a beginning teacher, God surrounded me with his people to protect, nurture, and tend to me while I grew, became stronger, and developed deeper roots into the profession. I am grateful for the care given to me by the staff at Colvin Elementary School, Wichita, Kansas, in particular to Benny Mevey, Mrs. Washington, Susan Alaimo, Helen Blevins, Hester Wilhelm, and Sarah Simpson.
Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Charles F. Stanley for his inspirational messages that I have listened to, read, and studied for almost 20 years. Even though we have never met, his work for God has greatly influenced all areas of my life.