Saturday, May 24, 2014

Third Grade: An Adventure

She opened the door and I entered into a ransacked room. Books were spilling out of desks. Papers lay strewn across the floor. Chairs were half heartedly pushed towards desks. And maybe, as I've taught several students before, I should have inferred something from the situation before me. But sometimes ignorance is bliss, and sooner or later that ignorance will be corrected and the full situation will be seen.

However, on that rainy Monday morning, when the principal offered me a long term substitute position to finish off the end of the school year, I was so full of joy that I blindly accepted.

Fast forward a week later. Students were coming back from Spring Break and I was there – bright eyed and bushy tailed – ready to meet the thirteen students whom the principal had told me were all wonderful! I could hardly wait. A class so small, and so well behaved, meant fun activities would certainly be planned. I was beginning to think that five weeks would be too short and wished it could be longer.

And then, to start enlightening me to the situation around me, in walked the two third grade teachers in my team. They were very warm and welcoming and forewarned me that I had a rough group of kids. I laughed it off, still caught up in the joy of having a chance to teach. And then the bell rang. My students piled in. And my ignorance was quickly swept away.

The past five weeks have been a whirlwind. A whirlwind of sadness, tiredness, stress, and overwhelming helplessness. I laughed at myself for ever thinking kindergarten was hard. This was an entirely new level of difficulty.

Within the first week I heard cuss words thrown out in every day conversation, I had chairs and desks thrown across the room (not to mention plenty of smaller objects), I witnessed and tried to prevent two fist fights, and left every day worn down and feeling helpless. I could hardly teach with all the commotion every day and I felt like I rarely smiled. If you have ever thought that teaching was easy, please think again! Coming into a classroom at the end of the year to a group of rowdy kids who do not want to listen to a substitute makes for trying times.

I wish I could say it got better. I wish I could write that by the end of the five weeks every student was sitting quietly and following directions all the way and there was no bad language or fighting. But I can't write that. By the end of the five weeks, three of my students were expelled. And though I was left with a handful of students, it still took immense effort to maintain the structure of the classroom.

I wanted to quit after that first week, but I'm glad I didn't. Though the experience was rough, and though I felt as if I accomplished nothing, I did learn a lot.

First, I learned that every child has a story. Though these kids were in third grade, many of them had experienced great tragedy or loss in their lives. Many of them lived in situations that I couldn't even imagine. And the way they lived effected their behaviour in very apparent ways. It helps to listen to everyone's story so that you know where they are coming from and why they do the things they do.

Secondly, God's love was more vivid to me than ever before. Every morning on my way to work I sat in my car and prayed for love, wisdom, and patience in teaching these children. And every day God gave me what I asked for.

During my fourth week in third grade I started a new read aloud with my class – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I am a huge fan of C.S. Lewis and I loved getting to share that book with my third graders. Something that I had never noticed before was after Lucy and Susan watch Aslan die and then come back to life, Lucy asks Susan if they should tell Edmund what Aslan did for him. And Susan says no, because it would be so overwhelming for Edmund to realize that Aslan gave up Himself for Edmund.

Reading that struck me. I know what Christ did for me. And sometimes it isn't overwhelming, sometimes it bounces off of me like water on oil. When it shouldn't. Every day should be filled with overwhelming rejoicing and humbling at the price that Jesus paid for me! He loved me even when I was a sinner. Even when I was undeserving of any love, God so loved He gave His Son! And that– that is overwhelming grace!

As I was driving to school on the last day, I was thinking about God's love. I have seen it painted clearer these past few weeks because I have struggled to love. There were days when I felt so hardened and felt as if not an ounce of love were in me. When kids told me "no" to my face and my patience was wearing thin, I wondered how I could ever love them. When they started fights with each other, threw things, or yelled insulting words, it took every fiber of my being to hold in the tears of hurt and not walk out the door. And then I realized I do the same with God all the time. I turn away, I complain, I question why, I yell, I wonder if He's actually good, and all the while His love never fails. He doesn't turn His face away. And that realization opened my eyes to the joy of the Gospel all over again. We love because He first loved us. And His love goes so much deeper, fuller, and wider than any human love ever could – and thank God it does!

Third Grade taught me quite a lot. I feel more rounded as a teacher. I have been exposed to a spectrum of children and living situations. And I've learned that sometimes children aren't all that meets the eye. Sometimes you have to ask and listen, and no matter what, you have to love. Whether that love is in the form of a structured classroom, a listening ear, or even just sitting with a student – everybody needs love and because of the great love that Christ has given us He enables us to love others.

Am I glad Summer break is here? Absolutely.
Would I have ever walked into that Third Grade classroom knowing what the future would hold? Absolutely not! I would have run the other direction.
Am I thankful that God gave me the strength to hold on for five weeks and not quit? Yes! Yes, yes, yes! I would not do it again, but I'm thankful for all I learned. And I'm thankful that God's love never gives up! 

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