Last May, I resigned from the 8th grade teaching position that I had held since moving to the area two years prior. The plan was for me to stay home with our daughter after she was born in July. However, our lives took an unexpected turn when Isabelle passed away. After much prayer and thought, my husband and I decided it would be best for me to return to work. My boss and the school district that I had worked for the previous two years were absolutely wonderful. Due to a temporary hiring freeze that summer, they had not filled my position and were able to hire me back. What a blessing!
I will never completely understand why God chose to take Isabelle from us just one day after she was born. Now that I am a few months into a school year that I never thought I would teach, with students that I never thought I would have, I can’t help but wonder if the faces looking up at me each day are a small piece of that puzzle. The group that I teach this year is different than any of the previous six that I have taught in the past. Never before have I seen such a prevalence of bullying and the terrible aftermath that comes with it. I don’t know if I am more sensitive to it now or if this class is just a bit worse than years past. I am still trying to figure out the role God wants me to have with what I see on a daily basis.
I have students who don’t want to come to school each morning because they don’t want to face the faces behind the hateful texts and social media comments. They beg their parents to be homeschooled. I have girls who don’t eat lunch because they think they are too fat and others who cut themselves to feel like they have some control in their lives. During a poetry slam, I had a young man share how isolated he felt at school because no one seemed to care how terrible things were at home. I’ve watched as a girl attempted to act like the belittling comments on that bathroom stall didn’t bother her, even though her peers watched her knowingly.
I really do teach at a wonderful school, and we have amazing guidance counselors who assist all of these students as they progress through what are typically some of the hardest years. The situations listed above are far too commonplace in our public middle schools though. It is very difficult, as a teacher and as a Christian, to figure out what my role should be in these young men and women’s lives. So far, I have come to the following conclusions:
- Be present. Don’t just be an adult who stands in front of the room and talks for an hour. Be a teacher who genuinely cares for their students. Ask about their day, and listen when they respond. Let them know that their opinions are valued and that they are valued.
- Smile. It is amazing what smiling will do for a classroom culture. Instead of dreading another class, it can make a lonely student just a bit happier during the school day. Enthusiasm is contagious.
- Know your students. The more you know your students, the more comfortable they feel in your class. This results in learning, which leads to better grades and increased self-confidence.
So why did God want me to teach this group of students this year? I am not completely sure, but perhaps if I continue to be present, smile, know my students, and teach to the best of my ability, I will make a difference in the life of at least one of them. That’s what it’s all about.