The Bigger Picture
It’s not about me.
This phrase is much easier to say than to actually put into practice. I had a good lesson in humility this week. For some reason, I had a particularly difficult time keeping my students’ attention in the classroom. They were a little more noisy and disrespectful than usual, and yesterday I was fed up with it. I was helping them review for a test I was giving them today, but they just would not listen. Finally, I gave up and said, “Okay, if you don’t want my help, then I won’t give it to you. You are on your own for the test tomorrow.” And then I sat down and let the other teacher take over for the next subject. (And they did just as horrible on the test today as I thought they would.) But I left the room very frustrated and upset. What else can I do to fight for their respect every single day? It gets tiring. They just don’t get it. But then I started reading through some of their answers to an in-class activity…and my attitude started to change. I realized that there is a much bigger picture to what is going on, and I need to step back from the situation (and my emotions) to see it.
In class I read them the poem “Boxes,” which talks about how God gives us two boxes: a black one to hold our sorrows and a gold one to hold our joys. The message of the poem is to let go of our sorrows and hold on to our blessings. So, I had my students write their sorrows on little pieces of paper and had them throw them into a bowl–to LET GO of them. I then had them come up with “happy lists” (something my good friend Jess Mollison introduced me to when I was having a stressful time being an RA at college.) They wrote at least ten things that made them happy, ten things that they were thankful for; most of them came up with more than ten. I had them share their happy lists in class, but told them not to put their names on the sorrows and that I would be the only one to see them.
Well, after class I started reading through their sorrows and I had to stop. I had to wait until I got back to the house so I could read them alone because they made me cry. Oh, how my heart broke for these kids. I mean, it’s one thing to know that Swazi is the most AIDS/HIV infected country in the world, but to know that certain students in my very own classroom have it is an entirely different meaning. I can’t imagine some of the pain and sorrows these youth have had. Yet, they come to class with smiles on their faces and eagerly write happy lists. It’s truly humbling and truly incredible.
Reading their sorrows and crying for these kids made me see a much bigger picture–a bigger picture outside of myself and my classroom. It’s not about me. It’s not about me trying to get my kids to listen to me. It’s not about me as the teacher. I was frustrated because I was acting as if it’s about me. But it’s about the students.
When I stand in front of my students, I am not there to figure out how to earn their respect; I am there to love them, and through that I will gain respect. Who am I as this white foreigner to expect to waltz into their lives and change things? They go through teacher after teacher, friend after friend, parent after parent…people come and go so quickly into their lives. They are not used to someone that really cares about them. They are not used to a teacher who would never lay a hand on them to harm them.
I thought I was coming here to teach. No, I am here to learn. I am here to grow right along side my students, and through this is where the real teaching occurs.
(By the way, I scored a 16/20 on the SiSwati test the students gave me today. Let me tell you, they LOVED it!)
The bigger picture? It’s not about me. It never was. It never will be.
As Mother Teresa puts it, I am simply “a pencil in the writing hand of God.”