Despite the unique challenges my classroom and students have presented this year, there are some little and big things I have watched grow and change, and I want to share some of them.
First of all, one of my little students who was so shy she didn’t speak for the first two months of school has begun speaking to me (promptly after I brought a random chicken to class and let her hold it and help me name it). And this isn’t just any talking, she is speaking with such precise grammar and big words that I am daily shocked to discover the lovely language ability she possesses. Also, she doesn’t just talk to me occasionally- she talks to me throughout most of the day, about everything from how her shoe is untied to friendship problems in the class to things happening at home. I cannot believe the huge progress that I have seen her achieve! She went from being a painfully shy girl who wouldn’t smile, make eye contact, speak, or participate in class, to a bubbly little girl full of smiles and laughter and stories! I had to call her out for talking for the first time in class yesterday, and it was the most hilarious thing because the whole class was SHOCKED, and I think she was too! But she didn’t burst into tears or shyly look into her hands, she made eye contact with me and had a huge playful smile dancing across her face. What a lovely child full of surprises! The other day as she was leaving to go home, she looked up into my eyes and told me, “Teacher, I am going to miss you when you leave!” What a shock those kind words were! My darling student, you don’t understand just how much I am going to miss you too.
Another huge thing that has changed is my number one troublemaker. The first few weeks of class were SO difficult with him that I found myself repeatedly crying after school. He would throw temper tantrums in class, refusing to do absolutely anything that you asked him to – no matter if you asked him kindly, gave him an incentive, threatened a punishment, or gave a punishment – it was always the same horrifying response of an angry and destructive outburst. Multiple times he hurled things at other students before I could throw myself in the way, destroyed the classroom decorations and furnishings, threw water all over his desk and those around him, trashed all the backpacks of his classmates, and even yelled mean things to God in the middle of class. At this point we realized that school may be a better place without him, so we created a plan for him and his family to follow. He had three chances, or he would be kicked out of the school. And this is when I started REALLY praying for him. I know I should have started praying like crazy earlier, but it just didn’t happen. Yes, I prayed for my students, but not with the vigor and soul that I should have. In fact, we all started praying for him. With a complete change in the classroom organization and seating arrangement, I set out to make my classroom a safe place, despite this student, but also for this student. At this point I was getting a lot of complaints from the other parents about their children’s interaction with him, and I kept trying my very best but struggled with knowing how to stop his angry outbursts when I couldn’t see them coming. Many things have happened since then- new seating arrangements, a new sensitivity to emotions, a new “I’m sorry” policy, a new punishment system, new teamwork strategies, new fun things to learn, new family-like groups and increased rewards for good behavior, and the student I have now is completely different.
He is kind most of the time, he loves to help one of the little girls in the class when she is struggling with math or an untied shoe, he prays respectfully and even leads out in small group prayers, and he often wears a contagious and loving smile. Yesterday I introduced subtraction to my first graders. The look on his face when he grasped the idea and was able to use his own fingers to subtract by himself was priceless. He kept showing me that he could do it- and it gave me a deep happiness because I could tell how much joy it brought him. That’s who is he is now- a loving boy who needed a safe place, a warm hug when things were tough, and someone who was stubborn enough to get past his barriers and see the huge sweetheart that he is. He loves bringing me pictures that he draws of bees, stars, and of his family. I am thankful for him being in my class, and that I have the privilege of being his teacher. I definitely did a lot of growing, and I can see that he has too. Wow, isn’t God amazing?! I would have never thought all that was possible. Praise God!
I had a fun moment today when I let the kids use scissors for the first time (we finally had enough for each student to use one!!). We made snowflakes together and it ended up looking like a snowstorm hit our classroom with all the tiny pieces of white paper covering everything! I guess that is going to be the closest thing we will have to an actual snowstorm. The best part (I’m TRULY kidding) about all of this is that my floor is made of red bricks with sand in between them. Sounds strange, I know, but I am teaching inside of a large, white tent and this is the ground that they placed it over. This makes sweeping literally the worst thing ever. As I sweep, it usually ends up mushing leftover food and pieces of pencil shavings and papers into the cracks between the bricks- making those items irretrievable. So tonight’s task will be lots of fun, especially with the layer of white over everything! But just like Edhy always says, “Life is never flat!”
Your continued prayers for each of my active, challenging, adorable, learning, gorgeous children as I do my very best to teach them are greatly appreciated!
Until next time…
*Julia McEdward is a student missionary from Walla Walla University, teaching elementary in Timor Leste. This was originally posted on Julia’s blog, and is used with permission.