A clothes-line stretched jauntily across the bulletin board I had just finished. Its cheerful caption invited the students to “Line Up a Good Year.” Pinned to the line were doll clothing reminders—“Dress neatly,” “Sock it to poor study habits,” “Pair up for helpful understanding,” “Dish out teasing sparingly.”
I wish a good school year were really as simple as the bulletin board made it appear. Parents must be willing to put forth great effort to achieve good school years, and pastoral families often must exert greater effort than other families. Like it or not (I never have liked it and neither did our children), the pastor’s family sets the pace for others in the school. Although we wish our kids could be treated just like any others, we must recognize that they are looked to in a special way. In fact, as I’ve grown older, I have almost decided this is not all bad. Observers expect our families to model what we preach.
For example, the reminder to “dress neatly” is for Mother as much as for the children. Let your children make choices about what they will wear, but be sure the choices you offer are suitable for school. Don’t let them choose between ragged, dirty, or ill-fitting clothing. Help them understand that school is sufficiently important to dress differently than they would for a day of recreation. Making choices about what to wear builds a child’s self-confidence and strengthens self-esteem. But how can they choose from disorganized closets? Perhaps you could show your child two or three equally appropriate outfits and ask, “Which do you want to wear today?” Then your child has the satisfaction of choosing and you know he or she will look good in whichever is chosen.
I remember a second grader from another classroom who often came to school needing a bath. One day I saw him looking particularly cute, but I couldn’t determine what was different. Finally I asked his teacher if he had a new haircut. “No,” she said. “He’s had his hair, body, and clothes scrubbed. He’s so clean he squeaks, and it’s hard to recognize him. If his mother could see how much better he is accepted today, she would keep him clean.”
Unless a child is taught to appreciate clean, neat apparel, he may not recognize that a person’s character is often judged by the style of dress. The pastor’s wife who wants to “line up for a good year” for her children could read again the chapter in Education called “Relation of Dress to Education.” Ultimately we can help our children make choices that will lead them to choose the “royal robe woven in heaven’s loom—the ‘fine linen, clean and white’ which all the holy ones of earth will wear” (p. 249).
“Sock it to Poor Study Habits” may be as much Dad’s responsibility as Mom’s. A pastor who plans too many evening events which his spouse is expected to attend may be contributing to poor study habits. Too often, however, it is not attendance at church functions which encroaches upon study time. Television, records, radio, or any other sounds in the home may make it difficult for a child to concentrate and study. Although the child may be able to write out answers, the material may not be penetrating his mind because of these distractions. Song lyrics are often remembered better than memory verses.
Provide a specific place for your child that is conducive to quiet study. Be ready to give help if it is needed, but don’t do the work for your child. Teach your children that “diligent study is essential” (Fundamentals of Education, p. 228) and that “by superficial study, the mind gradually loses its tone” (Ibid., p. 258). Remember, good study habits are best instilled in children by their parents. You cannot depend upon the teacher for the total development of good study habits. Teachers are often so pressed for time that they cannot monitor every aspect of each student’s study habits.
“Dish out teasing sparingly” is an important concept to teach your children. Often young people “gang up” on one child and make his or her life miserable with their teasing. Help your children learn to protect the feelings of others and to understand that teasing is not a license to bear false witness. Joke-telling is closely connected to teasing. Many youngsters become addicted to off-color jokes, and those who live in the parsonage are not immune. Teach your children that purity in language and thought is to be like Jesus, and remember that you often teach as much by example as by precept.
“Pair up for good understanding” referred to peer tutoring on my bulletin board, but let’s consider another paired relationship—the teamwork of the pastor, the pastor’s family and the teacher. Censure or criticism of the teacher encourages insubordination in children and teaches them bad habits (Education, p. 248). The teacher is a professional educator whose job is to direct the learning of the children and to prepare them for the time ahead when they will have to earn a living. Try asking what you can do to help share the burden of education rather than telling the teacher what you want done.
The children’s salvation is the foremost goal of both the pastor and the teacher. Too-frequent pastoral intervention can wreak havoc with a school program. Don’t consider that the school exists for your convenience to obtain Ingathering or baptismal goals. Any teacher expects reasonable amounts of time to be taken for these activities, but help your educators keep most school hours sacred for learning. Teachers and pastoral parents will be encouraged and strengthened if you work together.
Stretch a clothesline in your mind and hang from it the necessary reminders that will help you make your child’s school year a good experience. Not every day is good for hanging things on clotheslines, but if you will air these suggestions often and follow them, you can “Line Up a Good Year.”