I think every teacher starts out with a “save the world” feeling. Every single one enters into the education work force with one driving, motivating factor. Sometimes it's paying it forward and doing for others what was done for them, but I also think that more often it comes from a place of filling a need they had as a student that went unmet all those years ago. Mine was the latter. I really wanted to feel like I belonged and to feel accepted in a room of my peers. Instead I spent much of elementary school feeling like the ugly duckling. (If you saw pictures from those years, you’d understand why.) So as a teacher I was determined that my classroom would be a safe place where everyone felt comfortable and valued. I was looking back through a journal I kept during that first year of teaching, and I found the moment I knew I was winning at this.
Thursday, December 8, 2005 – At the carpet this afternoon when we were reading the science chapter together, Chase farted. It was disgusting and funny and I felt proud. I’ve worked so hard to get these kids to feel comfortable around each other and me, and I’m just so glad he felt like he could do that. He must really trust us and feel like he is around friends and family when he is in my classroom.
Turns out 4th grade boys don’t really need to feel that comfortable before they will pass gas. It was four months into my first year; I had a lot to learn. But I’d still like to believe there is a little something there, besides the bean burritos they served for lunch that day.
Another win for me came a year or two later with a boy who clearly struggled to fit in. He didn’t look like the other boys, and he didn’t smell like the other boys. The year before I had him in class was a rough year for him. His mom started 4th grade by telling me how much he had been bullied in the past, how much he hated school, and how he had no friends. I kept an eye on him, but I also don’t remember doing anything big to single him out or force friendships. I included him as I did everyone else. I was friendly with him, I laughed with him, and I listened to his stories about his weekend--just like I did for everyone else. When he felt like I valued him, he carried himself differently. When he had an ounce of self confidence to bring to building relationships with his peers, he was able to make headway. By October of that year he had been voted into student council by his classmates, and by the end of the school year he would play with all the boys are recess and sit with all the girls at lunch. He’s one that I hear little bits about here and there on Facebook, and it sounds like he’s doing really well. If you asked him what changed from 3rd to 4th grade, I wonder what he would say. I’ve got to imagine that my role in that shift was so subtle that he wouldn’t even name it. And that’s okay. If he can hold his head high, feel like there’s value in what he has to offer, feel like there’s worth in him just being himself, then that’s a win for me. It’s a win for all of us, really.
So when people ask me if I miss teaching, there’s a reason I trip over my words when I try to answer. Do I miss the insane workload and crazy expectations? No. Do I miss the kids and their families? Yes. But while I miss having that avenue to build into kids, God has blessed me with the opportunity to continue that calling with the student ministries group at our church. The thing that brought me to teaching in the first place was a crazy big desire to instill in kids a sense of acceptance and belonging and value and worth. A desire that comes from knowing and believing they are all created in the image of God.
I have this calling to do awkward with them until it isn't awkward anymore. Now I get to do it one Sunday morning small group, one band concert, one track meet, one sleepover at a time.
When kids feel valued, loved, and empowered, we all win. Just you watch and see.