I am in my 18th year of full- or part-time teaching at the middle-school, high-school, or college level! I just added it up, and it shocked me. I don’t feel as old as that number makes me out to be, and I also feel I should have a better hang of it after 17 years. I’m STILL staying up late several nights a week to prep or grade.
Early in this career that I love (thank You, God, for bringing me back to it), a teacher told me that I should learn more than my students do through my teaching. That’s true—or it should be. If a teacher is no longer learning and growing through the act of teaching, it may be time to quit or at least take a break (though that’s not why I quit three years ago; I was definitely still on a learning curve. In fact, I needed a break from the learning curve.)
So here’s one of my current learning curves: Right now I am finishing up Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress with my seniors. One of the themes that has emerged is that getting your world shaken up, even when it happens through very negative circumstances, helps you to learn, grow and change. The author, Dai Sijie, based this fictional account on his very real experiences during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, during which several million urban youth in China were sent to labor in rural villages. In Balzac the two city youth who are relocated feel completely different from the people they are now living with but by the end, though it is not a tidy nor happy ending, they have discovered more similarities between themselves and their rural neighbors than they would ever have believed when they first arrived.
My students and I talked about the problems and benefits of spending long-term time in a place where we don’t “fit” the norm. I introduced to them the term “third-culture kids,” TCKs, a term that describes young people who have spent part of their formative years in a culture different from their home culture. It’s an important term for them to know. We have 36 international students at Wheaton Academy this year. Each of them is already—or is becoming—a TCK.
I asked my students, “How many of you spend significant time in a culture in which you are not the majority?” Besides the one international student from Liberia, two others raised their hands. They are both African American going to a school that is still pretty white (though becoming less so—yay!).
I challenged the rest of us to do it—find some place or group in which we feel like the cultural minority. Ever since I gave that challenge, God has been opening my eyes to more of the reasons He wanted us back here. I was REALLY comfortable in Sterling, more comfortable than I have EVER felt in suburbia. But “not feeling comfortable” is actually a pretty good thing. It shakes me up some. It reminds me that this world isn’t my true home anyway. It pushes me to make connections with people who are very different than I am, either culturally or spiritually or economically or educationally.
The nature of my day keeps this in mind. In the mornings I drop Patrick off at his morning school. I am one of the few white moms who enter the building. Patrick, with his dark skin, fits right in. Then I run the other kids to Wheaton Christian Grammar, where nearly everyone is white—and many are in a much higher income bracket. I teach my wonderful students for a couple of hours at WA (the place that feels most like “home”), and then I am off to pick up Patrick and deliver him to the Early Learning Center, where every student has some form of learning or developmental difficulty (and Patrick—with his small fine-motor skill issues—is by far the highest functioning student). At night the smell of Nina’s or Jane’s rice and soy sauce mingles with the leftover scents of an American dinner. The sounds of Chinese and Vietnamese have become ordinary to our ears. On Thursday nights I go to a writing class where I am often the only one who would describe herself as a Christ follower.
My world is already a wonderfully mixed up place, but I want to push myself more. I don’t want to avoid places or people just because they look or dress differently or believe differently than I do. I don’t want to avoid deep conversations with my international students or fellow moms or fellow classmates because it’s unknown territory. I want to be okay with being a little uncomfortable. I’m learning that I love comfort more than I ever thought I did, and I am also learning that God doesn’t care a whole lot about my comfort. In fact, I think I think it often gets in the way of what He really desires for me.