September: Be Faithful
This September, I returned to school; but for the first time, I did not return as a student. I am teaching a grade 5/6 split class at a private Christian school in Guelph. It baffles me to think that I am an actual teacher now; not a student teacher, not a teacher-candidate, not an aspiring teacher but an Ontario Certified Teacher that has their own class for a full year. What did I do to deserve or "level up" into this position of responsibility?
As my first month of teaching wraps up, I have learned and held onto so many different lessons and reminders that I'd like to remember. My hope is that I could end each month with a post to wrap up any new insights I have learned. After all, one thing I've learned throughout my two years of teacher's college is to reflect on what you do - what did you do well? What could you improve on and how might you do it differently next time?
The First Week of School
(as a brand new teacher, with the repercussions of a global health crisis)
We were always reminded that though we go through our teacher training, we would never experience or know what is like to go through the first week of school. You have to establish routines and expectations, start and build new relationships and familiarize yourself with your class of personalities and their respective needs.
I think I probably cried every single day that week. Not because I had a bad or misbehaving class, not out of fear as we navigate covid-education, but because I felt utterly inadequate for the job. My schedule consisted of bible, math, literacy (grammar, reading, writing), science, art, typing, social studies, and gym - many which I had not taught before. I remember looking at my classroom the week before school started. It filled with 16 socially distant desks, marked with yellow tape. These desks represented my students who will be coming into my class with a wide spectrum of learning abilities, social-emotional needs, and various home lives and circumstances. And then there was me, my teacher desk where I would sit (little did I know that I wouldn't actually have time to sit) and my teaching desk where I would stand and instruct. Me - of all people. Why me? What did I have to offer to these precious children? Sure, I could bring some of my outdoor education experience into science, sure I could sort through my math courses and find some rich learning tasks for my kids to work through, but how was I supposed to teach soccer (which I am currently attempting to do), how was I supposed to communicate and instruct upon the technique of watercolour? How was I supposed to cultivate biblical truths and virtues and point my students to the good, the true, and the beautiful? How was I supposed to and going to do that?
It is God who girds me with strength and makes my way perfect.
A close church family gifted me a succulent with this verse on it as a reminder and encouragement as I began my teaching career. As I worked through my doubts and my feelings of inadequacy, I had to remind myself time and time again that God is the one who works within me and grants me the ability and strength to live and teach these students - for His glory. I remember sharing with those who've asked how teaching is going saying "all I want to do is a good job". That's all I'm asking for. I want to do my best because my students deserve the best, but I too easily equated mistakes with failure. However, I was asked to reframe my perspective a little. By saying "I want to do a good job", it implies the desire for success. Now, success isn't a bad thing, but I was challenged to fix my eyes not on success but on faithfulness.
It is not about being successful, it is all about being faithful.
Whether I know it or not, I think I can tend to take on a saviour complex sometimes. If I am the teacher and my role is to instruct and teach, student understanding is completely dependent on me. If learning and understanding doesn't take place, that is reflected on poor instruction by the teacher. This is how to measure if a teacher is successful or not.
However, whether it is spiritual growth, learning, or understanding, it all comes from the Lord. He is the God of the universe, of science, of our lives, of education, He is the God who grants us understanding and grants us faith to believe in His Word and His truth. I cannot actually do anything that can guarantee understanding. There is no instructional method, creative assessment or lesson plan that can assure and produce learning. All God calls me to do is to be faithful in where He has placed me, to plan faithfully, to teach faithfully, to play well with the cards that I have been dealt and commit the rest to Him.
It reminds me of working on the farm. You plant the seeds, you work the soil, you ensure that nutrients and provisions are given to encourage growth, but disease, frost, and death you cannot stop. God gives the growth. You can stand out there with your crop for as long as you want and try to protect them and ensure they don't die but you can't actually guarantee that. God gives the growth. Faithfully work the soil and plant the crop that you are given, and commit the rest to Him.
I pray that God would grant me faith to believe that He has placed me in that particular class with those particular students for a reason. I pray He will give me faith to believe that He can and will do a mighty work in and through me if I strive to be faithful. I cannot wait until the end of the year, not because I am looking forward to summer holiday but because I can't wait to see what God will have done in my life and in my class as a result of trusting Him and being faithful in my work. But as of right now, heading into week 4, I don't see anything happening (or so I think).
From Seed to Sprout
How great would life be if you could plant a seed, water it and watch it sprout, grow and bear fruit immediately? Oh to reap the harvest without waiting, without the need to doubt if the seed was dead to begin with, without the need to worry about it not sprouting or being stolen by a squirrel or feasted on by a vole. But all we can do is plant the seed and wait.
These first four weeks are hard because it mainly consists of planting seeds. The seeds of classroom expectations. The seeds of the daily routines and rhythms. The seeds of implementing COVID protocols. The seeds of biblical values and morals. Will anything sprout? Will anything bear fruit? But as I wait (impatiently), I pray I will continue to be faithful in working the soil and tending to the crops that is my classroom and my students.
The First Sprout
I will say that it seems that the first seeds I planted are beginning to sprout ever so slightly. My theme for my class this year is Enduring Hardship. Be it a challenging math problem, the task of baking bread, or a trial in life, the enduring and perseverance leads to growth, and at the end of hardship there is usually some reward, be it understanding, a beautiful loaf of bread, a sense of accomplishment or a lesson to be learned. For the first two weeks, we as a class hammered in the idea of enduring hardship based on Hebrews 12:11 - 'for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it". Ironically, I find that it is actually I who needs to hear this truth of enduring hardship the most.
That being said, there was a moment in math class one day where I had asked the class to come up with as many ways to come up with 36. 35+1, 36x1, 40-4 etc... One of my students asked me for help and confessed that she couldn't do it, she couldn't even think of one. I reminded her to endure hardship and told her to try to think of just one. Circling back, she was very excited to tell me that she had come up with 7! 6x6, 7x5+1 etc... All she had to do was think and try. She endured hardship and was now reaping the reward! It was probably more encouraging to me to see the first seed begin to sprout. God gives the growth.
I think I'll end each post how I end my days at school, reflecting on what went well and what I could improve on.
- being intentional and building relationships with my students, I think I have been able to connect with students in the whole school be it with my personality or my bug box (the 7/8s respectfully call me Mr. Bug Man, and I throw and catch the "woah" to the bus kids whenever they pull out of the lot - ya, I'm cool)
- committing each day to the Lord before school starts and praying for my students by name
- establishing and upholding classroom expectations by having students who disobey stand up and repeat the classroom expectation as a reminder before sitting down
- using twist-ies as a physical reminder to social distance (swinging your arms around)
- saying "two claps for..." to applaud someone's work or effort while moving our activity along
- discerning how to devote my full energy and efforts as someone who is single without making school and planning an obsessive idol
- to be able to look beyond and see the big picture to evaluate where my programming is going - end goals, assessments... (I am just trying to get through each day at this point)
- submitting to the authority and leadership I have been placed under
- being able to truly and meaningfully rest each weekend so I don't burn out