This isn’t something I’ve mentioned on this blog, but I’ve been teaching at a disadvantaged high school on the South Side of Chicago for the last 2 months. It is a job I have fallen in love with. I have also fallen in love with the kids that scared me on my first day at work.
Back in Singapore, I went to schools where the authority of teachers was largely unquestioned, and where the worst that happened to students was failing a class. Going into this job, I knew this would be a whole other world, but it still shocked when I met students who refused to talk to me, who threatened to punch or choke their teachers, as well as those who shared about familial, social, emotional, and psychological problems so deep they left me feeling helpless.
Not to mention I was severely depressed at the time. With a hopelessly pessimistic worldview and a non-existent self-esteem, how was I to navigate these classrooms and hallways? Even my doctor was worried — she recommended that I looked for a different job with a “happy and positive” environment. I did not heed her advice. And by the grace of God, this job that scared me shitless ended up playing a huge role in buoying me toward recovery.
Depression, by its very nature, sucks the sufferer into a kind of chronic and delusional self-absorption. My work forced me to not think of myself, instead focusing on the teenagers that came through the classroom doors each period, and that gradually pushed me out of the cocoon I had spun around myself. In retrospect, all this makes sense in light of the fact that we were created by God to be other-centered, not self-centered. And indeed I have experienced much healing through being pouring myself out for others. “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure– pressed down, shaken together, and running over. ” (Luke 6:38)
I don’t know if my students will ever find this. Maybe I’ll tell them about this blog somewhere down the line. In any case, they’ve been helping me far more than they realize, and the following words are begging to be written.
D.L., you are no longer my student, but you were the first one to get me excited about my job. Your willingness to learn drew me out of my shell. Your enthusiasm and excitability encouraged me to get creative in my teaching methods and re-activated a part of my brain I had long left unused.
C.S., you are one of the most genuine and sincere young men I know. Your sanguine spirit and goofiness inspire me to learn to laugh at myself and my predicaments.
L.L., I wish you would believe me when I tell you that you brighten up my day each time you walk through those doors. And I’m most definitely not coddling you when I tell you that you are incredibly bright and gifted, and that an IEP doesn’t mean otherwise. You ask questions that no other student asks me, notice things nobody else does. With you I have had the deepest and most profound conversations one could ever have with a fifteen-year-old boy. You show me every day that teaching is so much more than imparting academic knowledge.
R.H., I hope you will forgive me for the times I have lost my patience with you. You remain wonderfully compassionate and gentle toward others in spite of the setbacks and grievances you have experienced. You inspire me to continue to grow in humility and generosity.
M.M., I already told you that I see so much of myself in you. Thank you for taking my long lectures on life seriously. You show me that my failures and regrets can be used for the benefit of others. Your growing willingness to receive constructive criticism, and the way you struggle to fight old habits, inspire me to fight my inner demons.
J.F., teaching you brings me great joy. You’re that one kid no teacher could possibly get mad at — you’re polite, respectful, teachable, and yet you have no idea you are all of those things.
O.M., your curiosity and “strange” questions keep me learning and growing alongside you. And I look at you on that hospital bed and I see a living testimony of God’s divine love and protection. Fight on, soldier. I’m fighting right next to you.
I am crying as I type this because I love you all so much and I am praying that you will all be able to look beyond your immediate circumstances and see how precious and important you are — to me and especially to the God who created you and continues to mold you.