"Nobody said it was easy..."
Coldplay's irritatingly catchy lyrics played on in my head as my co-teacher and I stared at our new 5th grade class; helpless as we witnessed them seemingly act out a scene in their classroom that can only be described as part Ferris Bueller's day off and part Hunger Games. When we entered the room, trying our best to be clothed in authority and love, the commotion died down a little, but their mischievous eyes followed us all the way to the front of the class, smiles widening as new jokes popped in their minds that would be prepared just for us, given at the just the right moment of class, where it would do the most harm.
Teaching isn't easy for anyone, but it looks especially hiccup inducing when you only have three weeks to teach three classes with kids that are beautiful, bright, and creative, and use every one of their talents to mess with the new teachers.
However, underneath these playful and sometimes disrespectful eyes, are children who long to impress, long for someone to notice why they are special, long for someone to push them into achieving their goals, and long to be loved. Many of these kids are residents of the El Shaddai orphanage, and others come from around the mountain villages. All have stories that can (and have) induced me to tears; stories of abandonment, death, abuse, poverty, and AIDS--and all come back to school, day after day, striving to look at their future in hope.
That day, we had the students draw a picture of who they wanted to be when they grew up, and write down why. There were drawings of pilots, doctors, nurses, chefs, teachers, and policemen. The best was their description of WHY they wanted to be these things. One young man wrote down confidently that he wanted to be a "police" because he wanted to "stop thieves" and "walk children across the street." This statement accompanied a grand picture of a little thief with an air bubble that said, "No! I want to steal! I am hungry and its fun!" and then a picture of a giant policeman with an air bubble in all caps stating, "NO! YOU WILL NOT STEAL BECAUSE I WILL NOT LET IT! I HAVE A GUN!!!"
However, most of the children were very shy in showing their pictures, or sharing any information at all. We tried to coax volunteers and only received little sniggers or cast down eyes. One quiet young man, one of the older children, hesitantly raised his hand, and we pointed at him with relief. He cleared his throat and read his sentence in a loud mumble.
"I wish to be a father when I grow up."
The class erupted in fake and jeering laughter which was immediately squashed by my co-teacher and I. The young man looked down at his paper.
"Go on," I said. "So far it sounds amazing. What is your reason?"
This little bit of encouragement silenced the rest of the students and they all turned to look at their classmate. He looked up at me and smiled, and then read on.
"I wish to be a father when I grow up, because I believe that it is very important that a child has a father. So I will be a good father."
I swallowed back some emotion in my throat. I knew that this student's father died of AIDS, and I wasn't sure about the rest of his family. I threw my hands up in the air and said with exuberance, "Wow! That is a FANTASTIC reason!!! Amazing! Thank you so much for sharing!"
His grin matched mine. He looked around the room and then back at me, pleased with himself.
That was all it took.
Suddenly every student's hand shot up like they were catching a baseball in the World Series.
"Teacha! Teacha! Pick me! Look at my picture! This is what I want to be!"
All their faces radiated open hope that we would approve of them and praise them. That we would see them and tell them that they were special.
Amidst the irritation and frustration, throughout the spit wads and paper airplanes, the heckling and the disrespectful tones, there are moments like these. Moments and opportunities to tell kids that they are loved, they are important, and that they have a future.
And we get to point them to the ultimate Father, the one that claims them, never leaves them, embraces them, and takes great delight in them. Every moment, every day.
Oh yes. It's all well worth it.
Author: Tori Thompson
Photo Credit: Kylee Wilson
The authors of this blog are various and sundry, from the long-term staff and volunteers at El Shaddai, to missions trip volunteers, and maybe even a few people in between.