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Twenty-Six Names

Twenty-Six Names

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.

About Kathryn Berlin

A graduate of Virginia Tech and aspiring elementary school teacher, Kathryn is the second of Reverend Tom Berlin's four daughters.

8 comments

  1. J. D. & Nancy Berlin

    Kathryn,
    It was so good to hear from you and that you have settled in well. Our prayers are with you as you anticipate the opening of school. Those 26 young people are lucky to have you.
    Love,
    J.D. & Memaw

  2. Hi Kathryn:
    I’m a long time member of FUMC and I can see that you have inherited your Dad’s talent for writing and communication. I wanted to let you know that you inspired me on a day when I really needed to remember God’s love for and his faithfulness to all of us. Thank you! My prayers and thoughts are with you as you start the school year.

    Linda

  3. Your priorities and God inspired wisdom are spot on! Your kids, and you, are going to have a GREAT year. Keep giving thanks and praying for each of those names. You are one of life changers God has invited to be a part of their discovering God’s best in their lives. Love you, Mom

  4. Kathryn, WOW!! So very proud of you and all you have accomplished in such a short time. You have always had a “can-do” attidude about you and it shows again in this post. Finding positive in an overwhelmingly negative world is often extremely difficult. But you looked deep and saw that last page of names and that “can-do” attitude popped right out again. My sister teaches in a Title One School and you remind me so much of her and her love of these children who literally come from nothing. Constantly, I ask her to move up here and teach up here. Her response is always, “but these children need me more”. Although that may be true – what children really need is a teacher who loves what they do and can offer that no matter where they are. God blessed you with a strong resolve and dedication to those in need – no matter what the age. You are a blessing to these children and all that you come in contact with. Thank you for sharing this blessing with us! We love you!! Walt and Janie

  5. Hey KB, good luck to you on the first day of school, and everyday thereafter. Please feel free to use me and Phil as sounding boards if you want to talk about anything teaching related! We’re thinking of you. 🙂

  6. Kathryn,
    GOOD LUCK tomorrow! Those 26 students will adore you. Keep that fire fueling!
    Love,
    Jess

  7. Kathryn,
    Congratulations on beginning your career as a teacher! You come from a long line of fantastic teachers –remembering that your great-grandmother Louise Berlin was just like you— with a passion for helping children embrace learning and life! Your 26 kids are so blessed to have YOU as their guide during this school year.

    I am one of your cousins and just wanted to let you know we are all wishing you the best as the school year begins. Love what you do and remember that God has great plans for the work you are doing!

    Annette Haines

  8. You have been on my mind and in my heart, Kathryn. What fortunate students who will be in your class and be encouraged and loved by you. YOU will be their champion. The Morells are so proud of you and two of your biggest fans!

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