I’ll be honest with you: I’ve been staring at this Word document for the last 12 hours – typing and deleting every thought/idea I could think of while reflecting on my past year as an LV. It’s hard. It’s hard because the year was hard, but also great, but mostly exhausting. So, I have a lot of thoughts roaming through my mind, and I don’t know which one to focus on.
And I guess that’s a good way to summarize my first year as an LV.
Just like my thoughts, my first year was all over the place, slightly unorganized, pretty chaotic. And yet, it was valid and reassuring. I reflect back on where I was when I started and look at where I am now and tell myself, “you survived!” Believe me, there were a lot of days where I felt like I was pushed down to the floor and was too weak to get up. But, as my current community member Baraka has mentioned, “you don’t fail when you fall; you fail when you choose not to get up.” And with that quote, I am reminded of the three main vignettes that were my first-year LV experience.
A year ago today, I probably had gone through five breakdowns, 30 sleepless nights, and two boxes of Emergen-C. My scheduled consisted of:
- Waking up at 5:30 a.m.
- Prayer at 6:30 a.m.
- Getting to school between 7-7:30 a.m.
- Work until 5 p.m.
- Prayer at 5:45 p.m.
- Dinner (until who-knows-when)
It was a lot for me to handle. I tried to be positive about the whole situation but could not find a way to maintain any ounce of energy by the end of the day. I kept drinking a ton of water because I was told that could help. (Plot twist: it didn’t.) There were many days where I wanted to skip dinner – actually, almost every day – but I felt that would be viewed as rude and alienating. And then at school there were days where some students didn’t listen to instructions or maybe I just couldn’t give clear instructions (most likely the latter). I felt like I was a terrible teacher and that negativity just made everything worse.
Our community participates in monthly meetings called Faith Sharing, in which the leader shares an article/story that resonated strongly with them, especially in their relationship with God. At first, it was awkward for me, since I’m not one to be comfortable to talk about personal things such as faith and religion. But, I can say now, that I always look forward to those meetings – especially meetings in which we are discussing a meditation by De La Salle. I’m still trying to figure out which one is my favorite between the Third and Fourth Meditation for the Time of Retreat. But I know that my favorite quote comes from the Fourth Meditation:
“Be convinced of what Saint Paul says, that you plant and water the seed, but it is God through Jesus Christ who makes it grow and brings your work to fulfillment. So when it happens that you encounter some difficulty in the guidance of your disciples, when there are some who do not profit from your instructions and you observe a certain spirit of immorality in them, turn to God with confidence. Very insistently ask Jesus Christ to make his Spirit come alive in you, for he has chosen you to do his work.”
I believe this is such a powerful quote that perfectly summarizes the role of a teacher. We work hard for our students to succeed. However, we don’t get to see their success immediately, but we can only hope that God takes it from where we leave them and helps them grow, helps them become successful. I often forgot where some of these children are coming from. And when a student is having a bad day or talks back to me or shuts down – it’s not their fault. It’s not because they’re “stupid” or because they “hate me”; it’s because they feel like the whole world is against them. Praying for my students is the only solution I can think of to help them cope. I pray that they have the strength and courage to open up to me or to another adult. I pray that they know what trust is. I can only pray.
I finally saw the purpose of my year. What I was going through was only a testament of my dedication to my service and my relationship with God. Through Faith Sharing and prayer, I was able validate my crazy decision to become a middle school teacher. When I get to school at 7:00 a.m., start prepping for the lessons or labs of the day, I don’t look at it as a job. When I go to my students’ soccer games every weekend, it’s not because I’m required to. I don’t worry about working for a paycheck. I don’t even view what I do as work. I serve. I always put them before myself. I always think about their needs before I can think about my own. And this mentality was so important for me at the beginning of my second year because it allowed me to be just as open to them as I want them to be to me.
I have definitely been more positive and energetic now than ever before, and I think it’s because I know my limitations. But I also know my students’ limitations and I know how to work with them. I like to believe that my students and I now have a strong sense of trust and community. In fact, during the third week of school, one of my students gave me a bag of Kit-Kat Minis because I was “the coolest homeroom teacher ever.” I clearly took that as the biggest compliment ever.
And I can’t help but think that any of this would not have happened if I didn’t have those breakdowns and sleepless nights a year ago…
Jon Vanegas is a second-year LV serving at San Miguel School in Washington, DC and is a 2016 graduate of Manhattan College.