All students names have been changed in order to protect them.
We made cards in my middle school classroom. I explained about this funny day we celebrate on February 14th, and showed my class what a Valentine’s card looks like. Then, we got our hands on markers and construction paper and made our own cards.
Some of my students made cards for friends in other classes, and other made some for teachers at their school. And about half of them made cards for any set of eyes that would care to read them. A couple of the girls devoted themselves to taping them up on the front door of the classroom.
This is what they read:
- Happy Valentine’s Day everybody
- Happy Valentine’s Day ❤ you are very kindfully to other people and you are always respectfully. Anyway I would like to say happy Valentine’s day.
- Have big happy happy I happy Valentine’s happy
- Saddy Valentine’s Day.
- My is sister. I love you. I am thankful for you. Thank you for helping me. Love. Thank you for everything.
- Happy Valentine’s day to everyone. I love you guys. ❤ Happy Valentine’s day to everyone. Enjoy your day guys.
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Do you remember the middle school student I told you about who loves to jump rope? She helped me to jump rope one evening, and promised me that I could do it. Well, her birthday was last week. When I told her my birthday was only a few days after, her face lit up. “Really?” she asked.
When we made our Valentine’s cards in class a few days later, she made one special for me. I hugged it to my chest, and told her thank you.
This is what the Valentine card read:
- Brianna, your the best teacher that I ever had. I wish that you could stay for ever in after school. Happy Valentine’s Day. Love, Darcy.
Just a few minutes later, she caught my attention again. She held a piece of notebook paper and a small, locked notebook in her hand.
“Miss, this is for your birthday. Happy birthday,” she said, handing it all to me. I opened the notebook paper to see a drawn peacock wishing me a happy birthday. The notebook had a mermaid on the cover, and said, “Always be yourself unless you can be a mermaid. Then be a mermaid.”
It was the first birthday gift I had been given, and one of the most special. The thought counts, and the actions that follow– no matter how big or small—make a difference. I have no doubt little Darcy will make a difference in this world. She’s making one in mine, and I’m supposed to be the one impacting her.
– – –
A small, sixth-grade boy named Tim started in our after-school middle school program a couple weeks ago. He’s from Asia, and he’s at that part of growing up where he’s still sweet and isn’t cool enough yet to make my life super hard in the classroom. He’s the only student who lives at an apartment complex further away from his classmates. I’ve driven him home a couple times, and I love getting a few minutes to talk to him quietly. Honestly, opportunities like that don’t come too often in our program. I’m thankful when they do.
This week, when Tim and I began the 10-minute drive to his home, he asked me, “Miss, I have a question: do you like Mario or Scooby?”
“Hmm. I like Mario,” I answered, wondering where he was going with this. It hardly seemed like a fair comparison.
“Well, I liked to play Mario when I was a kid. He lives in an interesting world,” I explained.
It was quiet for a few seconds. I could only assume that he disagreed, so I returned the question, “Who do you like, Tim? Mario or Scooby?”
“Scooby!” he exclaimed, without giving it a second thought.
“Scooby? Why?” I asked him.
“Scooby solves mysteries. And, he isn’t afraid of monsters,” Tim said. My eyes were fixed on the road ahead of me, but I could hear his voice clearly. He sounded happy and excited, and this is something else I don’t get to witness a lot in my middle school students. And again, I’m thankful when I do.
You know me: I romanticize things and make it more poetic. And I knew when Tim answered that he likes Scooby because Scooby isn’t afraid of monsters (which is debatable, ha!), it was beautiful. Everyone has fears lurking in the shadows of their world. We run from them and avoid them. We don’t like talking about them, and many times, we don’t feel like we can fight them. Some people try though, and it’s one of the most inspiring and awesome things humanity does.
Everyone has them. And everyone’s looks different. I have a feeling that the fears and monsters I fight are different from the ones Tim has fought. I wasn’t brave enough to ask, but I have a feeling that he’s come face to face with monsters much bigger than the ones I’ve ever dreamt of. Even though he’s safe in America now, what I do know is that most of his life has been spent on the run. He’s run from monsters, and I have no doubt he’s met them too.
We talked the rest of the drive about Mario’s mustache, and he suggested that I tell my husband to get rid of the beard.
“Maybe you’ll like him without it,” he said. And I just chuckled.
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Sara and Milad
I know I talk about Sara and Milad nearly every week, but we connect in ways that I don’t experience with many of my other students. I believe we have a special relationship, and I pray that even long after my role as their teacher is finished, I will continue to know them.
This week, they served me breakfast, as they always do. On my plate was a beautiful heart-shaped doughnut, covered in red icing and pink sprinkles. I asked them if they celebrate Valentine’s Day. They looked at me incredulously, “Of course. It’s a love day.”
Honestly, I had decided against teaching my students about Valentine’s Day this week because I knew that many countries around the world have banned the holiday. Out of respect for my students whose religious beliefs might discourage them from celebrating, I chose to forfeit that fight. Plus, I was super excited to teach about American birthdays instead.
I tried to explain this in low, introductory English to Sara and Milad. The world “Muslim” came to my mind, and I decided to go there.
“I know you’re Muslim. I didn’t know if you liked Valentine’s Day,” I told them, curious to hear their response.
“There are good Muslims, and there are bad Muslims. We are good Muslims,” they said. They told me they loved to celebrate and parties. Milad went further, “There are many Christians: Catholic, Protestant, Jews–“
I stopped him there. “Only people who believe in Jesus are Christians.” And I think that proved his point.
“There are good Christians and there are bad Christians. Same with Muslims,” he said.
I empathized. I understood what he meant. He, in simple English, was making religious comparisons that stretched around the world. And you know, I felt what he said. I felt it deeply.
There are Christians who shame the name of Christ, instead of letting His name shame them. They abuse His Gospel and carry it without much care about who could be watching. They don’t esteem His Words, and they twist it into their own words. They teach what’s wrong, and glorify the gods of their comfort. They speak up when it’s best to be silent, and vice versa. I know, because I’m one of them. Even when I try to be the “good Christian,” there are many days I fail.
And here is my student, talking about a different religion, but still explaining that there are some people who harm the name of what they claim to believe. They do more harm than good with their actions on the altar of their beliefs. And for those who are passionate for the “good” version of their religion, they feel the sting of those who shame the name of what they love.
Readers, I hope everything I write makes it evident that I love Jesus and Jesus alone. However, I also hope these words can show us the similarities we have with people who are so different. I hope we can find a common ground, and a safe place to meet the people we think we could never reach.
I hope we can realize that at the end of the days, we’re all broken people trying to do the best we can with what we’re given. As we all seek the same answers but look in different places, I hope we can find the reality that we’re all in this humanity thing together. And sometimes, maybe the people who look the most different from us are the ones who are more alike than we can even imagine.
– – –
I shared with you all several weeks ago about how I told some of my students that I wanted them to visit my home for dinner. They loved the idea, and even suggested having a birthday party instead. I didn’t think I’d have the guts to go through with it, but once I told Travis, we were sold. All in. Nothing was going to stop it.
I dedicated last week to teaching my students about the basic birthday traditions in America, and the necessary words they need to know too. At the end of each class, I handed them a printed birthday invitation and explained that they were invited to my home for a party with students from all my classes, my family, and my friends.
On Friday night, we made a trip to Sam’s Club for bulk queso and a huge cake. On Friday morning, I left a class and then recorded myself driving into my apartment complex to send to the students who had RSPVed. Finding the address is easy, but finding the apartment number is the hard part.
Would you believe me if I told you that almost half of them came?
I invited 15 students, and watched in amazement as 7 of them came to our home with some of their families. These students were stretched across 4 different classes, and the only people most of them knew were me or their spouse. And then our friends and family began arriving too. There were knocks on the doors, and my parents kept coming to me saying, “I think there are some people looking for you.” They’d motion toward to the door, and I’d recognize familiar faces.
“Teacher, where do we put shoes?” they asked me, stepping into my home for the first time.
And before I knew it, there were Burmese, Kurdish, Cuban, Sudanese and American people piled into our tiny, one-bedroom apartment. We didn’t even have enough chairs for everyone to sit, but I’m not even sure anyone noticed. We ate pizza, we played pin the tail on the horse (seriously- ha!), and sang the most beautiful round of “happy birthday” I’ve ever heard.
Friends, do you know how brave this whole experience was for these people?
I thought I was brave for going out on a limb and hosting a party for such a wide range of people, but the ones who came were the brave ones.
The students who came to an apartment complex they had never seen before, and knocked on a door not knowing who would be on the other side or what they would say—they’re brave.
The friends and family who gave up time on their Saturday to come and meet people they might not ever see again, and can barely communicate with—they’re brave.
My husband who willingly let us budget for a pricey grocery trip to make my dreams of seeing unity among all people and serving them in our home—he’s brave.
All of my students brought me gifts. They brought Easter bunnies, perfume, flannels, house shoes, blankets, purses, a scarf from the tribe of Mara—way more than I deserve or expected. When my dear friend, Sara, handed me the gift as she and her family left, she hugged me tight. “I love you,” she said.
I held her for a minute and told her, “I love you too.”
It was the party of a lifetime. It was the most tangible reminder of why I labor, day in and day out, to know these people and to seek to build long-standing relationships. It’s difficult, exhausting, and sometimes feels unfruitful. But the start of 23 years old told me that it’s not in vain.
Here’s to a year of more building, unity, loving, serving, and crazy, impossible, mountainous ideas.
I’m their teacher, but when it comes to learning about love and courage, I am their student. God, bless them.