I taught school for ten years. Looking back, I have so many great memories, lasting life lessons, and forever friendships formed during those years, and for the most part, I can say they were good years. But the last couple years in the classroom came with some especially rough and tough moments. We’ve all heard the old saying “hurt people, hurt people” and hurting children are no exception. When all a person receives in life are heartbreak and hurt and brokenness, that’s all they know how to give.
I often felt like the proverbial punching bag. I’d come in for the day, standing tall, only to get knocked down, mostly emotionally, but a couple times physically, over and over again. And by the end of those years, I was completely exhausted on all fronts.
It wasn’t that I had a “bad” class or even a bunch of difficult students. It was simply that I had a great group of kids with a few students who were so hurt from their lives outside of school that they didn’t know how to function well within the classroom environment. Their minds and their bodies were in constant turmoil, and they often dominated the classroom and wreaked havoc, not only on themselves, but on everything and everyone around them.
However, the sad reality was those students who did function somewhat well and “normally” (whatever that means), rarely got the best of me as a teacher. They didn’t get the time, attention, and passion for teaching and learning that they deserved. It is one of my biggest regrets when I look back at those years.
Tony was one of those kids. He was quiet. Reserved. Sweet. I don’t remember much about his work or his grades. Only that he mostly did what he was asked to do. I’m sure he had his moments. Moments when something was incomplete or lost, but honestly, I cannot begin to recall . . . he didn’t dominate. Like so many others, he often faded into the background because he didn’t demand every ounce of my time and energy. But, like every student, no matter how demanding or not, he was still one of my kids. And like every single student, I loved him as one of my own.
As the saying goes, “the days are long, but the years are short”, and as most teachers (and parents) can attest, school years are not the exception. Before we knew it, Tony’s year in fourth grade was coming to a close. The final week of school we always had an awards assembly. We dressed up and smiled for the pictures, and yes, everyone got some award . . . not because we had an “everyone gets a trophy” mentality, but because after years of working with kids, you realize the huge importance of someone feeling valued . . . you learn look for the good even when it’s hard to find.
With Tony, the good wasn’t hard to find. I didn’t have to go searching for some reason to give him an award, but I also couldn’t help feeling as if I had done him, and quite a few others, quite a disservice that year, not being able to give them the time and attention they deserved. Which is why I was so taken aback, when Tony came walking up to me with roses and a card thanking me for being “such a wonderful” teacher.
It is forever etched into my mind as one of the greatest moments of teaching. It still brings tears to my eyes. I didn’t earn those roses or those words in that card. But Tony didn’t care. He looked for the good and chose to see past the “bad”. He extended grace and mercy when I didn’t deserve either. And in doing that, he taught me so much about loving others well, even when, especially when, it’s most difficult.
As I’ve been reflecting on this past year and looking forward to a new year, I began to pray and ask God to give me direction for not only what’s tangible but for my heart and soul . . . for my relationships . . . for my family . . . for our present and our future. This is the story that came to memory, and I landed on one word, one goal (and two scripture passages . . . more on those later) for this year.
To both extend and receive more of it . . .
That’s it. Unbelievably simple, yet, amazingly difficult all at once. Grace does not come naturally to my perfectionistic nature . . . grace for others or grace for myself . . . it’s just not a natural extension of my personality. But grace is what I feel God speaking to me as we go into this next year. In the easy and the hard and all the in between. Grace.
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