The other night, my school had their yearly Advent program. For parents, it was lovely and beautiful. For teachers, it was also incredibly chaotic. And loud. So, so, loud.
Imagine, if you will, 150+ kids in a large room waiting for their turn to sing in front of their parents. The Nebraska Volleyball game was being shown, several groups of kids had come together to play various card games.
Here I was, one of many teachers in the midst of the chaos.
One of my students asks if I have cards. I know why he’s asking: just that afternoon, during school, we played an epic game of war, just us two, in the midst of similar chaos. I realize he wants to play again. He has several students his own age to play with, but he wants to play card war with me. Part of me (the adult? part of me) considers dismissing him to go play with others. That is what the other teachers would do – or I assume, because no other students ask teachers to play cards. Am I supposed to be above playing cards with a 12 year old? The other part of me, the one that has grown as I have gotten older, smiles and takes out a pack of cards while asking if he wants to play War again.
If you walked into that room and saw me playing cards with my students while other teachers grade papers (which is something I probably should have been doing – I procrastinate too much) or watch the volleyball game, or attempt to control the chaos, you might have several opinions on the type of teacher I am.
But if you knew me as a teacher in my first year of teaching, you would wonder what had happened to me.
I would, quite honestly, answer you: Joy. Joy happened to me.
I have been teaching middle school science since 2011. When I started out, it was more important for me to be heard and listened to. This isn’t a bad thing – I still think it is important for me to be heard and listened to, but back then, I displayed it by being unapproachable and stern.
After a year or two, I began to feel jealous of my coworkers that knew things about my students that I didn’t. They had relationships with these kids that I didn’t have. For a while I dismissed it as a result of the subject matter they taught (journaling in Language Arts opens kids up more) or the vocation they had in life (being a mother, they were just more motherly and caring. I wasn’t like that). In fact, the first time a student hugged me I was shocked and concerned for how their peers might treat them. Not a very warm response.
After 4 years at the same school and with the same kids, you can’t help but develop relationships, so I started to let go of my dismissive attitude, bit by bit.
Moving to another job had a whole new set of challenges. I was teaching Middle school science still, but these were new kids and I didn’t have the relationships with them. I didn’t know how to form them very well. I still struggled with trying to be the stern, no nonsense, teacher and the compassionate understanding teacher. I didn’t know how to make these two things work together.
During this second teaching job, I didn’t feel like a good teacher at all. I was either too much or not enough. It didn’t help that my prayer and spiritual life were not good. In fact, it probably made things worse.
Flash forward to now. I am in my third teaching job, still a middle school science teacher, and I will often listen to stories from students about their weekend, or what they were thinking about, or what interests them. Sometimes they are in my homeroom, sometimes they are not.
I have come to this place, where I start the day with a smile for each kid (whether I feel like it or not), not out of years of experience or study, but hours of prayer and grace that have filled me with Joy for what I do and who I do it for.
Joy is in the part of me that doesn’t care that there are papers to grade and chaos to control; that wants to play card games with my students.
When I am struggling to feel adequate in this world, this part of me is the childish, not grown up part of me that people could judge me for. When I have spent time in prayer and find myself closer to God, this part of me is “child-like”, filled with joy and looking at another person and seeing a child who wants to connect and be loved. “Let them come to me” and I will smile at them. “Let them come to me” and I will play cards with them. “Let them come to me” and I will show them they are loved, even if they are just my students.