Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Best Thing About Teaching...

One of the best things about being a teacher is studying the students.

I loved getting to know my students, their favorite things, their strengths and weaknesses, their families, their pets, their plans for the future, their learning styles. I loved it.

I have always loved talking with my students. There are few things more precious than receiving a child's trust, so that he wants to tell you about his day, his dream last night, his loose tooth, his every thought. (Truly, one of my greatest classroom management challenges was learning how to balance their every thought against the curriculum demands.)

When I taught third grade, each of my students moved into my heart in his or her own way... there is nothing like that first year of teaching, that first class roster, that first crew to baptize a new teacher into all there is to running a classroom. I loved each and every one of them, and I still miss them sometimes. We had a great community in that classroom - all of us.

My heart belonged especially to two little boys in my third grade class. They needed me to be their teacher that year. Our relationship was ordained, meant to be, for those nine months and beyond. They needed someone to love them, believe in them, and hold them accountable to what they were really capable of. We did great things together, those boys and me.

One of them was L, who made some major transformations in character and maturity. I studied up on The Strong Willed Child, and he and I battled day in and day out for a good number of weeks... until he learned that I mean what I say, he can feel safe in this environment, and he could trust me. After that, we were inseparable. We paced the playground together so he could calm down from a potential meltdown. I talked him out from under the picnic table on the playground, when he wore his pajamas to school on the wrong day. We did our own book studies together, since his reading level and sense of humor often far surpassed the curriculum. We were quite a team. At the end of the year, he wrote me a letter that I will never lose or forget.
It was a turning point for him. In fact, his fourth grade teachers attributed much of his success to many of the battles L and I fought together. I could write a book on my experiences with him that year, and someday I will. Truly.

And then there was my other buddy, C. We were also quite a team, but in a very different, very loving, much easier way. Simply, I understood him. When I met with his parents early in the school year to talk about his progress, his mom said through tears, "You like my son. You really like my son."

As a mother now, I really get that. His second grade teacher hadn't been his biggest fan, and this little guy just needed somebody to like him. I sure did. A lot. He knew how to wink, and that was our nonverbal exchange in the classroom. That was my way of complimenting him on great behavior and good work, and it was his way of saying hello to me, anytime he wanted to. He was a great kid.

At the end of the school year, C's family moved to Australia. Now, that's a move. His dad was native to Australia, and their love for ministry took them to another continent. As C geared up for the move, we had many talks and read some good books together - not the least of which was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Because, if you'll recall, Alexander wishes to escape from it all with a move to Australia.

Before C and his family moved away, my buddy and I had an ice cream date. I prepared to start a new school year, with a whole new classroom and roster of children who would steal my heart in their own way. One day before the new year started, I took a break from my classroom to have ice cream with my now-fourth-grade friend. I drove, he rode in the backseat, and we went to Coldstone Creamery. We had ice cream sundaes, and we played Crazy Eights. It was unforgettable. Just before we got in the car, his mom said, "Make sure you let him pay. This is very important to him." I let him.

I just got a letter from C. He has lived in Australia for four years now, and he is gearing up for a ministry trip to Africa this summer. He is now a young man, a very skilled writer, and a believing Christian on a mission to change the world for the Lord. And I got to be his third grade teacher. The whole idea is pretty overwhelming and humbling.

I don't write any of this to give myself a pat on the back... this isn't about me. It's bigger than me. It's just my written proof that this is what I was meant to do. This is what can happen when a teacher strives to love her students with the love of God, to show them that there are no conditions in this classroom, they are safe, they are loved, and they can do this.

As a teacher in a secular classroom, I was most encouraged by families who knew the Lord, whose children were bright lights in a dark world. But I was also encouraged to think that someday, my students who didn't yet know the Lord would one day find Him... and maybe they would look back on their experience in my classroom and think, "I bet she knew the Lord, too. She just had to."

As I've often written, my home is my classroom now; my boys are my students. And I delight in studying them, learning them, and talking with them, someday.

And someday, when they don't need as much from me in such a physical, tangible, all-day-everyday way, I'll get back into that classroom.

It's where I'm meant to be - loving kids in little ways that mean everything.


Alli Dunham said...

I can't put into words how moved I am by this blog entry, Tricia. So very moved...to tears, really.

my3boys said...

So I'm not the first to say so, but....I cried. You are most absolutely right. You are meant to be there. Someday.