As a new teacher, I was advised to establish and maintain healthy boundaries in my classroom because my students would flourish and learn best within set boundaries.
That was great advice.
In fact, God gave His own followers a set of Ten Commandments, basic boundaries that have served mankind well for thousands of years. And the very first of those commands states: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
Perhaps this initial command should be the cornerstone of our teaching process, the building block upon which we establish the other nine biblical boundaries within our classrooms.
That sounds judicious in theory, but how can Christian teachers institute a set of obviously religious commandments in secular, public school classrooms?
We can’t – or at least not overtly.
But we can build our classrooms around the common-sense wisdom and God-ordained truths of the Ten Commandments. But in order to do so, we first have to model them in our own lives.
Christian psychologist and author of the best-seller, Boundaries with Kids: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Children, Dr. Henry Cloud puts it this way, “If your boundary training consists only of words, you are wasting your breath. But if you 'do' boundaries with your kids, they internalize the experiences, remember them, digest them, and make them part of how they see reality.”
With that in mind, consider how Jesus answered the Pharisees in Matthew 22 when they asked, “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in the Law?”
Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.”
Personally, I do not believe that Jesus was telling His followers to disregard the commandments, no more than he exempts modern-day Christians from following them. Instead, Jesus was reminding us all that our focus needs to be on the loving, protective nature of His boundaries rather than the legalistic letter of those laws.
In fact, Jesus went on to tell the Pharisees, “And the second [commandment] is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
If we ponder these verses carefully, we see that God is dividing the commandments into two parts, thereby establishing two distinct boundaries: How we treat God and how we treat other people.
Accordingly, the first four of the Ten Commandments set the boundaries for a healthy relationship with our Maker. We are directed to put God first, never make or worship idols, never take His name is vain, and hallow the Sabbath day of worship. In other words, as Jesus put it to the Pharisees, we must love God with all we are – spirit, soul, and body.
In our classrooms, we do not have to verbalize these four commandments to our students. They will quickly discover what we value most and how we prioritize things in our lives. Every day, in every action, we are a living tableau of our personal priorities.
So be forewarned: kids are perceptive; they can detect hypocrisy instantly in adults. Quickly discerning the difference in teacher words versus teacher actions, our students will not respond well to the educational philosophy of “do what I say not what I do.”
But if we consistently live and function within those first four commanded boundaries, then we will be able to successfully ‘do’ the other six boundaries listed in the Ten Commandments with our students – in simplified but powerful ways.
We should start by conveying the last six commandments in terms that are easy for kids to understand and are acceptable in any classroom. Whatever age we teach, we simply bring each commandment down to that particular level:
“Honor your father and mother” can become an ongoing lesson in respect and obedience to all adults in charge. Obedience truly is better than any sacrifice, but this is a biblical concept forsaken in many homes – and classrooms. We should be quick to recognize and highlight instances of honorable behavior.
In our current culture, “Do not murder” is an imperative message on how to treat others as we teach students to never harm or hurt another person. Find ways to encourage students to demonstrate kindness in both words and deeds. Absolutely refuse to tolerate bullying of any type. Stop it instantly!
“Do not commit adultery” might sound harder to adapt to a classroom but break it down to the topic of faithfulness. Show kids that love never fails, and model that unfailing love by never giving up on students, even on their worst days.
“Do not steal” and “do not lie” might require daily “doing” and redoing in some classes. So consistently remind students that ownership is not the same thing as finding something left unattended. Also, make sure that truth is the most valuable and honored commodity in the classroom, especially in personal words and deeds.
And finally, “do not covet” might be the toughest commandment to teach because we all want more and better and bigger than what we have. It is part of human nature, and part and parcel of the American way of life. Luckily, teachers are pretty resourceful; we have the ability to “make do” with what we have.
But keep in mind that what few resources and belongings we have may seem like boundless treasures to some of our kids. So, make sure to model gratitude and contentment, and gently reprove jealousy and envy at every given opportunity.
Most of all, remember that learning is a never-ending journey, and our students, like most adults, have no idea what they don’t know yet. It really is no surprise that kids often tend to push and even rage against set boundaries of safety and protection as they struggle to grow and learn. Give them mercy and grace – the same mercy and grace God offers us when we confess our sinful wanderings outside His boundaries.
Yes, God is quite familiar with that human tendency to roam. In the Bible, we read multiple stories of man’s failure to see, hear, and understand just how mightily God wanted to bless His children within His set boundaries. They could not understand that God’s boundaries were tangible proof of His love for them.
Likewise, if we love our students and want them to succeed in learning and in life, we must establish and maintain healthy boundaries for them. And since “the statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple,” it would be wise for Christian educators to use the Ten Commandments as the infallible plumb line for setting classroom boundaries.