I love my job. I love my students. I’m blessed that when I leave home every morning, kiss my daughter good-bye, and head to “work,” that I feel fulfilled, that there is a God-driven purpose to my day.
That’s not to say that every day is easy. On the contrary, there are many tough days. Building and maintaining relationships with teenagers is taxing. On any given day, at any given hour, they will love you, they will hate you, and then they will love you some more. They test, push, exasperate, and surprise you. Opening your heart to care for young adults who are searching, not always down the right path, for who they are, creates a space of vulnerability within you that constantly worries for their future and their safety. Many of their stories break your heart and open your eyes to the world around you. You celebrate milestones, both great and small, and you cry in your empty classroom when you read what they share through their writing.
Short responses for example, that have nothing to do with the text they have read and should be analyzing, and are instead filled with sentences like “there is always hope” and “God is my best friend.” This from a student who barely escaped his country alive, after gangs dismembered and burned his brother’s body in the streets. God constantly reminds me of his presence in my classroom. He shows me why I fight for these kids’ attention, for their academic success, and for them to know their value.
My students fight for me too. They confide in me, ask about my daughter, leave me sweet notes, and tease me. They hush each other when they are too noisy, share their snacks and ask how I am doing. They strive to be good people, and they lift me up on my worst days as a teacher.
Days for instance, when bureaucracy thwarts classroom plans, when the powers that be determine that increased testing takes precedence over learning. State testing is a double-edged sword. Teachers are measured by their students’ passing rates. Students are terrified of failing. Stress abounds and legitimate concerns are entering the discourse, questioning the efficacy and validity of such high stakes testing.
Last week I found myself beyond frustrated to learn that what little time I have left to prepare my students for the behemoth, end-all-be-all end of course state test, was being cut in half with the scheduling of two additional standardized tests. Within the next two months, my students will take a total of three tests, solely in the subject of English.
I’m usually up for a challenge, yet I freaked out. I tried to take the scheduling of the second benchmark test in stride. That third test though, that one gutted me. The moment I read the email informing me that another test was being scheduled in March, anger flooded through my veins. I fired off the most ridiculous, zillion lined text message to my boyfriend that crazily ended with “I’m being set up to fail and I just touched my head and my hair is falling out.” I know the man truly loves me, because he didn’t toss his phone and run in the other direction. His gentle and supportive response stopped my meltdown in its tracks, not just because it was sweet, but because he reminded me of who I am.
I am a woman who prays, a woman who believes that there is no task too great for my God. So why was I behaving like a hopeless hypocrite? I pray for my students’ personal lives, but I have failed to steadfastly pray for their academic lives. It seems like such an obvious thing for a Christian teacher, and yet I had utterly ignored this significant part of my life in prayer. I am not enough to overcome the many obstacles in the public education system, but I will show up and give my students 100% of myself every day, and I will trust God to fill in the gaps as only he can.
I will pray that my students are mentally present every day, that they can absorb, apply and retain information, that they will discover satisfaction in achievement. I will pray that at least 60% of my students will pass the English 1 and English 2 EOC tests at the end of March. I would ask that if you pray, please join me in praying for my students.
Most importantly, I will pray that my students know that a test does not define who they are or what they will accomplish in the future. In April, we will celebrate, well before we ever receive the results of who passed and who did not. We will celebrate putting forth our best efforts and believing in ourselves, a lesson I hope they will apply throughout their lives.