I am the full-time 5th grade teacher
The simplest answer is love. Ten years from now, no students will remember the exact content of what you taught them. What they will remember is that you were there everyday, no matter how tough the day before was, and that you always cared. They will remember how they knew that you loved them, even if you never said it. They will remember the times that you sat with them when home was broken and when you gave them a second chance because you knew they were better. It is my hope that these are the memories my students will look back on. I hope that they remember that they were loved and that they were worth every moment.
They are incredible children and they make it extremely easy to love and care for them. I understand that the burdens they carry with them to school can be incredibly heavy on top of the regular struggles of being a middle school student. Being able to have these challenges acknowledged creates for them a sense of safety. In recognizing this I made the decision at the beginning of the year, to allow my students time in the morning for journaling. This has become an incredible tool for my students to clear their minds. I have also offered them the opportunity to turn their journals in if they would like to and I have been amazed by how many of them have continued to do so. I take time each night to read their journals and write them a little note of support or answer a question that they have included. At the last parent / teacher conference, one of the parents commented on how much journaling has meant to her daughter and how it has offered her a support and stability that she could not receive at home.
Another thing that has become very important to my students is their weekly one-on-ones. Every Friday, I take the time to meet with each student in my class for a few minutes. During this time they are able to talk about how they are feeling. We talk about grades and school briefly, but most of the time ends up being used to discuss family or friend issues. I did not realize how much it meant to the students until a week came when we had Friday off and instead of being excited, their first concern was when they would be able to make up their one-on-ones. For some of my students this has been a time when they felt they could express something bigger that was troubling them and we have been able to set up times each week to allow for a more in depth conversation. I meet with one of my students every Monday during prep to talk about some family issues and I meet with another one Tuesdays to help work on challenging subjects.
More than anything else, my students need to know that someone loves them and believes that their dreams can become a reality. I make it my mission everyday to let them know that I am that person. From their handshake in the morning on their way into class, to the one they receive on their way out, they are my number one priority. I love them and I do believe they can change their world, if not ours.
Two years ago, when posed with this question I would have placed faith before all else. However, I have learned that at times faith can be shaken and that having a safe and holy group of people surrounding you can be an essential support to faith development. I believe that for my students as well as for myself, a strong community becomes the bridge that supports spiritual growth and service.
I truly love my job and my students, but being their support system when their lives are filled with so much turmoil and instability can drain me and chip away at my own faith stability. It is my community, the group of people that I come home to after the workday, that lifts me up and helps to take some of the weight of the day off of my shoulders. I know that when the days are long or my lessons flop that Brother Richard will always be able to put the day into perspective and turn it into a prayerful moment. When the weight of a student’s life weighs me down I know that Andy and Br. Mike will lift it through laughter and Jackie will sit beside me and listen while I spill out the struggle. Doing my job without these people to walk beside me and bring me back to prayer would be impossible. They have become the foundation that supports all of the rest of my life here and I feel incredibly blessed to have each of them.
I believe that the same is true for my students. The community that has been formed within the four walls of our classroom is the foundation for the academics, the faith, and the moments of growth that we share. Our classroom community is a safe place where each student knows that they are loved and valued; their struggles are shared and their triumphs are celebrated by all.
Years from now as I move on from this program and look back at my experiences, I will find that my view of God, the world, and myself were totally altered by the hands of poverty and love that touched me during my two years as a volunteer.
Before I entered the program I knew that I wanted to study special education. It was a field that I had always felt drawn to and I had decided to walk blindly into it. When I look back at this time in my life I will certainly find that it was here that I realized the great need for dedicated special education teachers in the impoverished areas of our country. All of my students during my past two years of service have had an exorbitant amount of God-given potential, but many could not afford the extra resources needed to assess this potential and bring it to fruition. I have found my calling among these students who slip through the cracks of our education system without anyone noticing.
I will always look back at this time with the understanding that it is where I truly came to know God and walk each day beside the most genuine examples of Jesus. I understand now that you will never truly know Jesus until you have held the hands of his poor and wiped the tears of frustration from their eyes.
I would simply try to give perspective. Nobody can be perfect all the time, and we are not helping anything by casting judgments in the meantime. Period.
There will never be a time in your life where you can totally give yourself in service to strangers; where you can walk hand in hand with the poor. It is something that will change your life and you open your eyes to social injustice. You will fall in love with those you service and in the end you will realize that you are gaining way more than you give.