Anyone who teaches knows that we are in the business of brokenness. Through our classroom doors walk students with baggage we can’t carry, stories we may never hear and wounds we could never imagine much less heal. It is also through those doors that we walk through burdened, wounded and broken ourselves, and yet we are there to minister to them anyway.
Going into my twentieth year of teaching, I was blessed to spend the summer before in deep rest and relaxation. Normally, I find projects to do to fill that time up, but it seemed that as June approached, more and more things were taken off my table leaving me with noting but time. That time was precious to me after having spent the last several years in one kind of hardship or another. So, with few obligations hanging over my head, I found ways to do as little as possible. It was wonderful. There were days I loaded up my bag for a day at the pool where I sat in the sun, tears welling in my eyes from relief. The pool at noon is a quiet place that one can have all to herself while moms and their children lunch and nap waiting for the day to cool just a little shy of hellish temperatures before invading the waters with squeals of laughter or eager demands of, “Mom! Watch this!” While I stared at the water and purposefully tried not to think about much at all, I still found myself pondering the last few school years and the interactions I had with my students. If I am honest, there has been a lot lacking from the relationships I have had with them for a few years now, but I wasn’t sure what happened to me that caused things to change. For years, I had built some really great connections with my kids so much so that as adults several of them have reconnected with me on social media as they have grown into adults. More recently, I have noticed fewer kids coming back to visit, fewer kids saying, “This is my favorite class,” and fewer kids meeting my eye in the hallway the next year to say hello. As easy and convenient as it would be to say, “These kids today...” or blame them for their immaturity, privilege or past ugliness, the least common denominator is me. So, I realized that Amy needed a teaching makeover, and maybe that was what this summer of space and time was all about.
At 7:45 the morning of the first day of school, I drove on my own (my daughter and I are sharing a car right now), and I was grateful for the time alone. Being a person of faith, I always try to start the school year off with a prayer over my colleagues, my students, myself and the year as a whole. Knowing that this year five out of my six sections would be Spanish 1, I knew I would need MORE: more patience, more wisdom, more strength, more grace, more mercy, and more love than I have ever had before. So, I opened my mouth and began to pray thanking God for another opportunity to serve in the capacity He called me to, but what came out of my mouth next surprised me so much it was all I could do to keep from weeping with the steering wheel in my hands.
While I realize that not everyone who reads this little blog shares my faith, I would still like to share my prayer with you. Who knows? Maybe you can find a way to turn it into a mantra or something. All I know is, it is powerful, and it is changing everything.
I prayed this:
God, help me to see my students with new eyes.
Help me to see them not as bad, but broken, as children who have needs that need meeting. Lord, help me in my brokenness to never be intimidated by theirs.
Fill me with extra portions of grace, love and mercy.
In fact, fill me so full and overflowing that my lack is irrelevant in the face of their need.
Just typing that out again makes tears come to my eyes.
It has only been a two weeks since that prayer, and I am astounded by how I see the answers to that prayer come back to me every single day. That quick, quiet moment in the car turned out to be a transformational one. I mean it when I say, I feel like a new person, or that I really do have new vision. When I look out at my students, no matter who they are, what their demeanor is in class, what background they look like they come from or what they do, I just see this:
This one needs encouragement
This one lacks trust
This one battles anxiety
This one has not been equipped
This one lacks confidence in their ability to learn
This one needs to be seen
This one hasn’t seen success in a long time
It is remarkable how visible their needs have become, and even more remarkable how clear it is what I am supposed to do. So, like a battlefield medic assessing the wounded, I scan the room looking for what I CAN do to defy the narratives my students have created in their heads about school, teachers, adults, life or even themselves. I know I cannot change their realities, but I can change the present moment for them even if just a little bit. It’s really cool to see we are already making gains. A student who already said he hates Spanish after the first assignment not going well, now says he is a Spanish god because the second assignment became easier after a sidebar conversation with him about how if he does what I ask he will pass. Another student who came in to school 7 days behind everyone else, waved me down from the back of the room during a game of Kahoot to mouth, “I’m in 3rd place!” He never imagined himself there. So, we had our own little celebration. Kids who were freaking out in a target language environment are settling in, learning how to BE, and finding out that I am not going to let them fail. Not in big ways or small.
You would think that a teacher with nineteen years of teaching experience would know these things and make sure to do them every single year, but the truth is that we go through seasons, too. Our brokenness changes how we respond to the brokenness in front of us. We shift into survival mode and stop teaching children because our reserves are low and getting through the day seems daunting. Or, we get bored, hurt, complacent, tired, jaded and a host of other things as the years go by. None of us has a perfect career in which every year we teach is the best we ever had. If you tell me that’s you, I will call your bluff.
It is my twentieth year, and I am a new teacher. I can’t wait to see my students each day, and find out how I can minister to them in big ways or small. What a great way to celebrate an anniversary.
We are in the business of brokenness, and our jobs are to use our own to humanize the people in front of us. I have had a handful of good years, but I have a feeling this one will be the best yet. I can’t wait!
(n.) A special place where we remember that students are humans that need to feel loved and important, where their achievements are celebrated every day and where we learn Spanish along the way!
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