Getting Out of Autopilot:
Upper School English Teacher Luke Harvey
By Eleanor Caines
May 10, 2020
In his classroom at Chattanooga Christian School, Luke Harvey has a mug of coffee in one hand and a leatherbound journal in the other. When asked about this journal, he replies that he keeps it with him to jot down any thoughts that he might want to come back to or possibly to discuss with others later. This is just one of the ways Harvey, an upper school English teacher, models living intentionally. Another way is teaching students to be where they are and love who they are with.
“I am super passionate about not ignoring our feelings of dissatisfaction or confusion,” he says. “I think that we are not supposed to feel satisfied in this life, even though satisfaction and comfort are constantly being pushed by society as the ultimate goals.”
Harvey is a strong Christian and says that this is his overwhelming guide and inspiration for everything he does, including the messages that he puts out to the sophomore students in his English class.
Students currently in Harvey’s class describe how he impacts their worldview and the way that they are living their lives. “Every morning he asks us what is good in our lives, which I think is beautiful because its not something that people naturally call attention to on their own,” says Joanna Ward. “It's something that I look forward to on good days, and on bad it forces me to find something good, which I think is amazing.”
According to a study done by The National Institute of Mental Health, 31.9% of teens have some type of anxiety disorder, and 8.1% of those with an anxiety disorder have severe impairment as a result. 38% of teen females have an anxiety disorder, and 26.1% of male teens have an anxiety disorder. These numbers are only continuing to rise, especially after the outbreak of coronavirus (Whyte). In order to combat the rising numbers of anxieties in his students, Harvey likes to draw his students attention to what is good in their lives, even if that is not always easy.
When asked how he tries to live well in his daily life, Harvey opens his leather bound notebook and turns to the back cover, where he has a checklist written and laminated.
“I don’t really believe in ‘checklist living,’ but this is one that I am okay with,” he says. He reads aloud the list, which is: pray, laugh, read scripture, learn something, get better at something, create something, help someone, spread joy, empathize with someone, listen to music, take care of my body, make a good choice, behold a moment, go to bed exhausted. This list is not only written in Harvey’s notebook, but it is also written on a small white board behind his desk, next to a picture of him and his wife.
After reading aloud the list he says, “I can do these things regardless of what happens in the day, and I think that I could be 80 and be proud that I did that everyday, and think that that was a pretty good regardless of money, status, or anything else. It doesn't have to be exactly this list, but something tangible that you can accomplish each day and feel that if you did them, it was a meaningful day. Anyone can do that. It’s not like you have to find your meaning and purpose before you do it. You can do it right now.”
Harvey maintains a good mental state even while dealing with teenagers who are having difficult experiences. “It’s kinda a weird dynamic because I always have to remind myself that I can't fix it, in a weird way, you know? Like I have to be able to tell myself, that's not my burden. I can't fully bear that, which sounds really selfish, but when you're someone like me who is overly empathetic, if you take them all on you can't function. Part of it is actually doing what I can, and then being like, ‘Okay, I'm not going to take that home with me to my wife and daughter’ as much as possible.” Harvey has a young daughter who he is clearly overjoyed to talk about in any capacity if given the chance. He had an adorable picture of her, smiling up at the camera, on his desk as well as another picture of him and his wife.
Harvey says that he feels his main purpose in teaching high school students is to encourage them and to give them a glimpse into a life that is being lived with purpose and intentionality, rather than a life lived on auto-pilot, anxious about finding their purpose. In a time when anxiety is skyrocketing, especially in teenagers, it is crucial that teenagers have examples of lives that they want to live, giving them hope, and Harvey is this for many teenagers in the upper school.
Another current student of Harvey’s, Jacob Davick, explains how Harvey impacts his daily mindset. “He does not shame us if we don’t turn something in on time, and he doesn't talk too much about grades, or stuff like that,” Davick says. “It is very obvious that what he really cares about is us learning and growing, not getting an A.”
Harvey is impacting the lives of many teenagers daily at Chattanooga Christian School by making them realize that they have a purpose, and that they can live that purpose right now. “You can do it right now. And again, that kind of goes back to the lie that meaning and purpose is ‘out there’ and that we are striving towards it. We are moving towards something–which is good, and true, and beautiful, which is God–but the fact is that it's also right here right now, and you are missing it by thinking that it's coming down the line in the future. You can do something right now. You can empathize with someone who’s hurting now, just go look in the hallway. You can make somebody laugh now, or you can help somebody. It might be stuff that's not noticed, but it actually is, just not by the people we think it should be noticed by.”
At the end of the conversation, Harvey says, “I guess just encouraging the people that I interact with, through consistency and challenging people to grow in their mindset or lifestyle is the main way I try to help. I hope that the empathy and the honesty that I share with them is helpful in terms of building relationships with them, and helping them to first realize they want to live differently, and then helping them to get there. I cling to the tolkien quote that says, ‘Over all shadows rides the sun.’” At the end of the year, Harvey likes to leave his students with this quote, and with the idea that you are only ever hungry if you know there is something that can satisfy you. And that satisfaction cannot happen if you are still living on autopilot.
Angus Whyte. “Teen Stress and Anxiety: Facts and Statistics.” Evolve Treatment Centers, 15 June 2021, evolvetreatment.com/blog/teen-stress-anxiety-facts/.
"We are moving towards something–which is good, and true, and beautiful, which is God–but the fact is that it's also right here right now, and you are missing it by thinking that it's coming down the line in the future," says 10th grade English teacher Luke Harvey.