I graduated from Virginia Tech on May 18, and moved to Jacksonville, Florida three weeks later to start my contract with Teach for America, a program that enlists professionals to teach for at least two years in low-income communities throughout the U.S. in an effort to eliminate educational inequity. I have never been to Florida and do not know anyone who lives there. I have never had a full time job and have never taught independently. I was anxious, but collaborating with people who were as passionate about education as I am for 13 hour work days allowed me to settle in and make friends with my fellow corps members quickly. I was inspired by the relationships I built with my fifth graders during summer school and was determined to do whatever it took to allow my kids to have the same educational opportunities as their peers in more affluent neighborhoods. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was meant to be somewhere. That I could not be investing myself in anything more important than education, that I could not be serving a more deserving population, and that my skills could not be better used elsewhere. In short, the six-week summer training program was the most mentally exhausting and rewarding experience of my life.
And then it was over. And all of the sudden, I found myself employed, with bills to pay, adult things like retirement plans and car and health insurance to figure out, a classroom (complete with rats and roaches) to set up, daily county required professional development sessions to attend, a parent open house to organize, and lessons to plan before school starts in seven days. Throughout the past week, I have felt the fire that fueled my positive mentality this summer burning out. The more information I received about curriculums, standards, testing, funding, and so forth, the more I was reminded how unknowledgeable and inexperienced I was. The more statistics I received about the startlingly low test-scores of my incoming fourth graders the more intimidated I became by the enormous gap I need to close. There was simply not enough time in the day for all I had to do and learn—let alone sleep!
Today I was sitting in my classroom, sweaty, sleep deprived and surrounded by a tornado of cut out letters to hang up, when my principal walked in and handed me several pieces of paper. I said thanks, but was definitely thinking, “Great, more work to do.” As she left, I began reading through the paper. A page on hallway bulletin boards, a page on bus duty assignments, a page on the resource schedule… And the last page, a list of twenty-six names. The names of my twenty-six fourth graders. I stared at them. I read the list once, and again, and again. Soon, the tears started to flow. My heart welled up with an extreme love for each name on that paper. I had been so caught up in my own doubts, problems, and stress that I forgot what mattered the most—the fact that I was here to love and teach students who will depend on me to provide them with an excellent education every single day.
I thought about how much God loved us before we were even formed. How He knew our names. How He felt extreme love for us before we ever glorified Him or sinned against Him, and continued to love us unconditionally when we did. How he believes we are all worthy of opportunities to achieve greatness—no matter our race, gender, neighborhood, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or family background. How He has a plan for each one of us. How He believes we are important and have the potential to lead positive change in a broken world.
I have six days before the first day of school. I am making a promise to internalize my twenty-six names so that when I become burdened by the heavy weight of my work I remember to think about my students in the same loving light that God views all of us.