Grace in the Workplace – Grace in and at School – Greg Albrecht

Question:

I have been a follower of the ministry of PTM and CWR  for many years and believe in Jesus Christ and his grace however, I am struggling to understand what I should do as it relates to my profession. I am a high school principal who deals with discipline.  My job entails handing out consequences when a student violates rules and policies. I listen to the situation and do my best to make the proper decision, but I am struggling with staff members who want everyone disciplined. Knowing what I know about grace and forgiveness has me struggling. Many times I do give grace when I meet with the students, however, many staff members do not feel that letting a student “off the hook” is teaching them right from wrong and only invites more misbehavior. Do you have any guidance as to how I should handle my decisions as it relates to following the discipline code in my building? Is it time for me to find a new job?

Response:

Several thoughts on the difficult dilemma that is often presented between faith and career and then more specific to your own:

  1. First of all, having to enforce discipline in any venue, in present day North America, is problematic and involves great stress.  Whether one serves as an officer of the court as judge, or district attorney, as a public servant including those who serve in police departments, a parent, a teacher or high school principal in your case… discipline and consequences are rife with misunderstanding and decisions are fair game for all who wish to play Monday morning quarterback.    As you say, it is difficult enough “enforcing” laws that are on the books, but then the blow back from one’s own peers, owns constituency at large, including parents in your situation adds to never being able to “please all the people all the time.”   But then you know that – just wanted you to be aware that I am aware of this context in which you work. 
  2. Does grace always invite more misbehavior?  In the spiritual world, which is the expertise, by God’s grace, I offer (limited that it may be) this same objection is often voiced.  The objection is that folks who receive forgiveness and walk away will be repeat offenders, and thus, so goes the law and order crowd, take advantage of physical powers who grant grace and forgiveness, and beyond that, “take advantage” of God.   On the one hand, God obviously allows us to “take advantage” of him – such is the message of the cross.  He knows we are imperfect and will fall short again, sometimes in the same behavior for which he forgave us before.  But, the New Testament makes clear, as you know, God never stops forgiving us.  No such thing. 
  3. Of course, that spiritual perspective does not immediately speak to your dilemma, for you have limitations, regulations and boundaries, as well as supervisors who have authority over you, including parents to whom you have responsibilities, not to mention your immediate desire to serve a student who finds themselves on the wrong side of your desk.  Then, as you mention, you have peers who feel they know better.  Untenable situation in many ways – I get that.  Personal faith often does not have a perfect nexus with career responsibilities.   
  4. If one is hired and accepts a task or responsibility they have rules/codes/directives they must follow and enforce – when one’s jurisdiction increases, then so does the audience of nay sayers who feel free to spout their opinions.  However, it seems to me that your peers are not paying your salary, nor do they know the details of each infraction upon which you decide.  But, and I have some experience with this dynamic, while peers cannot remove you from your job, they can make life miserable.     
  5. Should you find “a new job?”  That is definitely not a question for me to weigh in on.   So many factors are involved.  On the one hand, please allow me to thank you “for your service.”  It has become customary to offer gratitude for service to men and women in uniform, but teachers and school administrators who are giving of themselves to teach and train the next generation are often not given such thanks.  You obviously take your job seriously, and attempt to be fair and circumspect.  Thank you on behalf of many who have never said “thanks” – or perhaps never will.   How desperately we need – how desperately young people need – people who care and give themselves in service, in sacrificial love.   However, your own health and stress is yet another factor – in some cases, though you do not say so in your comments, personal safety is an additional issue for teachers and school administrators.   I offer my prayer that God will guide you and give you wisdom as you ponder the difficulties you face.

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