>One of the [many] occupational hazards of teaching they don’t tell you about in college is how difficult it can be to have your success be at least partially measured through the performance of other people, specifically little, loosey-goosey people who may not be quite as invested in their own well-being as you are. In many other professions, you work hard for better results and you are rewarded. As a teacher, you can pour your heart and soul into a class, but if a student doesn’t buy into it, neither of you will have much of anything to show for it. My mentor showed me how relationship precedes achievement, at least with children of poverty: show a child you are unconditionally in their corner, and he will jump through flaming hoops for you. (The converse holds true as well.)
Right before we let out for winter break, the juniors and seniors got their October OGT scores back. Two boys from my OGT class immediately bounced into my room to tell me they had passed, and I wish I’d had a camera to capture their faces. I wrote on the board in big letters, “WE PASSED!” and invited students to sign their names under it. As happy as I was for them, though, I was equally disappointed for those who didn’t, including all of my seniors. I was particularly crushed about Boris and Natasha, who not only didn’t pass but actually scored worse. Both are in my OGT class, both are very smart, and both had spent a lot of time in our school’s resource center–with my permission during our class time–working with the tutors there. So I don’t really know what happened there, but I think we need to have a conversation when we return from break.
I’ve always been good at what I do (with the notable exception of sports) and it hasn’t been easy for me to adjust my ideas about success without feeling like I’m copping out. But then I realize the true value of the so-called “little” victories. The fact that my students came to tell me means, 1) they felt like I helped them; 2) they knew I’d be happy (read: ecstatic) for them; 3) they wanted to make me proud, and I was. To have developed that rapport (or at least some degree thereof) with 40+ little people in a strange new town in less than four months…that is quite a personal accomplishment for me given my pathological trust issues. Which reminds me of the second point I meant to write about in my last post: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16b) As I sat in church on Sunday pondering the idea of love without fear, and wondering whether I can really stay in a profession that chews me up for the sake of truly reaching a few, I suddenly realized, Isn’t that what Jesus did? Then maybe I am not so far removed from God as I have often felt since moving, and that is comforting.
On a final note, I received an e-mail this morning from a student I had two years ago when we taught VBS in Taiwan, which was my first real teaching experience. I met this girl at the first week of camp, in which a roomful of 20 fourth-graders (none of which spoke functional English) and two 6-hour days of teaching in 90-degree heat (sans air-conditioning) completely broke whatever pride I had in my own strength…to everyone’s benefit. Once I let go of my need to be in control, we just had fun. Anyway, one of the little girls wrote this to me, which I have roughly translated from the Chinese.
Teacher! It has been two years. I don’t know if you remember me? My name is Apple, how are you. I am now in sixth grade and I will graduate. When will you come back to Taiwan? I hope you do not forget me. I will always remember that dedicated-no-matter-what teacher: you! Please don’t forget me!
One week. Less than 40 hours spent with this little girl, and she remembers me two years later. It is almost unbearably humbling. And it makes all the lesson planning, sleepless nights, and spider bites (in Taiwan, at least)…so worth it.