The things that happen behind the closed doors of the school campus goes beyond just math problems & adolescent crushes – there are deeper issues that only teachers know about when they are with students the majority of the day. Today, Jayson Brewer has a conversation with Jeff Henderson, a middle school teacher in the public school system who lives out his Christian faith in his classroom, and how that faith has brought upon attacks to him and his entire school district.
Jeff Henderson is a middle school teacher at Baldwin Street Middle School in Hudsonville, Michigan. Located in a suburb of Grand Rapids, MI.
How long have you been a public middle school teacher?
“Thirty years. Twenty-five of it in the middle school.”
Why did you choose to teach middle school?
“A lot of people chafe when they think of middle schoolers and adolescents and hormones that are raging and moving but there’s something about their moldability that makes them fascinating to me. I feel like sometimes a scientist, being able to experiment because literally every one of those kids, boys, and girls, they’re all different so it really is a unique opportunity.
Describe the culture of where the school is located from the past to today.
“Go back 25 years and it was a simpler world. We didn’t have the technology, we didn’t have the computers, the phones, the gadgets. So it really was. When you think of a simpler world, there wasn’t as much to contend with. Looking back, the change has been, I wouldn’t say immediately rapid but it seems like it’s rapid because it crashes in with such an intimidating factor when you look at everything that’s available to kids. When I began with middle school the issues might have been family issues, they could have been educational, certainly, there was always a level of divorce, there’s level of family issues kids have dealt with. As its progressed, it’s gone way beyond that. Identity is absolutely hitting our kids square in the face they see identity from all over the world.”
What challenges do you see these students face on a daily basis?
“I really do think it’s identity and finding out who they are. It seems like in our culture from watching whether it’s the political battles in the news or just even the tragedies recently, I think kids are dealing with a form of brokenness that I would say is hopelessness. They don’t look out and see this bright future that you and I grew up with all these possibilities available. They carry stress, the number of kids that I have coming to me with anxiety and stress is unbelievable and to the point where they really want to give up. But the other one, too, is what the media has brought in. As an adult in this culture, to see what our media has fed kids and what they have available is heartbreaking because it’s a deluge. The things they see online, the things they deal with obviously with recent events that have occurred in our culture with the most recent mass shooting at a school in Florida, amongst the culture of division, amongst the culture of the hate. Challenged kids come from challenged homes. They’ve got some challenges in their lives that have taken the wind out of their sails.”
How have you seen schools be a solution to some of these challenges?
“Part of our population is going to be dealing with deep issues and we work to identify who those kids are. When I see a student who’s struggling, I’m going to be intentional and I’m going to step in, however, I can.”
You mentioned to me that students ultimately want to know, ‘Does anyone know me? Does anybody recognize me? Am I valuable at all to anyone?’ Take a moment share with our audience a story of what that looks like to individuals that you know.
“I received this letter from one (former) student. That I pulled her into the hallway and said, ‘You know, you’re a great writer. Great student. Today you’re just not even starting, what’s going on?’ ‘Well, my parents are getting divorced, nobody seems to have time for me.’ And just taking a moment to pray with that student and what the letter said is, ‘You took a moment to pray with me and you didn’t realize that night I had fully intended and planned on a way to end my life. And until you prayed, I didn’t realize that God had a purpose and vision for me.’ She continued to write, ‘I’m 25 now and I’m leading a women’s Bible study. I love God and I just look back and I think of those moments where you just took time to pray with me. You noticed something because of who you are and how you approach relationships with other people. You just naturally bring God’s love into those relationships.'”
Listen to the rest of the podcast to hear about how Jeff Henderson came under fire for his faith at a public school and what happened as a result. It is a story that is better listened to then read.
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