I’m very bad at this blogging thing….it’s not that I don’t have anything to say; in fact, I would say it is quite the opposite – I have so much to say, I don’t even know where to begin. I always have ideas for posts while in the metro or when I’m walking home or at school, but they are often not fully formed ideas and then by the time I get home, I forget about writing them down. However, there are some things I can’t stop thinking about, like my students and the things that they say to me. I went to church today and the sermon was about the word picture provided in Matthew 25:31-46, which talks about serving “the least of these,” and I feel like it so perfectly goes along with what I have been thinking about.
If I could have planned this whole Spain adventure exactly as I would have liked, I would have chosen to be in the autonomous region of Castilla-León, specifically in Salamanca, teaching at a primary school. However, God had other plans – ones that I think have provided a lot more room for growth than if I would have been in a small, relatively rural area working with small children (things that would be comfortable to me). Instead, I was placed in the largest city in Spain – Madrid, the 3rd largest city in the European union, containing nearly 6.3 million people and I was placed in a high school to teach inner city teenagers. Perfect. This experience has been nothing like that which I imagined this adventure to be.
I have never worked with teenagers before and honestly, I had no desire. I remember what I was like as a teenager, I was not pleasant. My first couple of weeks teaching here, I thought to myself many times: “this must be my penance for the way I acted as a teenager in school.” It was rough – these kids are tough and they wanted to see how far they could push my boundaries, especially when the real professors were not in the class with me. A solution to getting them to behave, was to say, “Okay, you are here with me now, but if you misbehave, you get 1 warning and then you have to go back to <insert professor’s name here> class.” I hated feeling like a hard ass, I wanted class to be fun, but we needed structure.
So these last few weeks have been an adjustment to this new rule. Two weeks ago (it was pretty much the week from teaching hell for various reasons), I had to kick 2 students out of class and send them back to their teacher; it pained me to do so. After that class, I went to the professor’s class to talk with them and to talk with her – I wanted them to be in my class, but I needed them to behave. I told them this and asked them to come back to class; they apologized for being disruptive and agreed to come back to class next time and to behave.
This past week has been much better; I feel like I am actually connecting with my students and like they are beginning to trust me. They say things to me that often catch me completely off guard – and not in a bad way, just, they surprise me. I’m discovering how unique and intelligent they are, as well as how much they want to have hope, to feel valued as people, and to have someone believe in them, when they don’t believe in themselves; I can especially see this in my students who are 15/16/17 years old.
Last Tuesday, I was assisting in class 4A, just walking around the classroom while they were doing a speaking activity, seeing if they needed any help. One of the girls who sits in the front of the class, stopped me and said, “You are always smiling and happy, why?” I was completely not expecting that. My first thought was, “well it’s because of Jesus!” and my next thought was, “I can’t say that, this is a public school and we’re in the middle of class.” So I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders and said, “yeah, it’s just the way I am.” I have wished so many times in the last week that I could go back and do that over again, say my first thought, and be honest with her about the reason for my joy and happiness.
On Thursday, I was working with one of my Primero de Bachilerato classes and they were working on making up a skit to present to the class. Two of the boys were done early, so I had them come up to me and act it out for me so that I could correct their grammar and/or help them with vocabulary. After they were done, I just started talking to them, asking them questions about what they wanted to do after school, what were their interests, how old they were. And I was totally surprised by their answers – one of them told me that his grandmother taught him how to cook and that he loved cooking and wanted to become a chef. I told him that he should totally check out what kind of programs are available to do that and he looked at me like, no one had ever encouraged him before to do something that he enjoyed.
It was at that moment that I realized, these kids need someone to believe in them, they need mercy and encouragement and someone to respect them and to love on them. I forget sometimes that the education system is so different here than in the states. Professors regularly yell at the students in class, telling them to “shut up”, and/or that they are stupid and/or lazy; not something that would fly in a classroom back in the states – unfortunately, it is very common here. In addition, I have no idea what kind of home life these kids have, I have no idea if they have loving and caring parents who believe in them, who spend time with them regularly. I have no idea if anyone tells them if they are important. It makes me think of Abileen in the book, The Help. (It is an amazing book, everyone should read it.) Every day, Abileen says to the little girl that she takes care of, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important” (page 199) because her parents never tell her that.
Today’s gospel reading came from Matthew 25. In chapters 24 & 25, Jesus talks with his disciples about the end of the ages, about the second coming and tells 2 parables about being prepared for the second coming and finally concludes with a “word picture” of the future judgement. Jesus talks about the future time, when a separation of the goats and the sheep will be necessary. He says to the sheep, “You clothed me, fed me and cared for me when I was in need”; he says to the goats, “You did not clothe me, or feed me or care for me when I was in need.” Their responses, Deacon Nigel pointed out in the sermon today, are nearly identical (verses 37-39 & 44): “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and (not) help?” and the Lord’s response is (verses 40 & 45): “whatever you did (did not) do for the least of these, you did (did not) do for me.” Deacon Nigel also pointed out that their responses imply that if they had known that what they were doing was for the Lord, they would have cared for those people even more. He mentioned that it is much easier to treat those who are important, as such, but those who are not important to us, those are the people that we are to treat with equal importance.
This speaks so clearly to me of God’s love and care and value of each person and if we are to mirror Christ, then we too need to love and care and value each person, (and make sure they know they are loved, cared for and valued) no matter how “unimportant” they are to the rest of society. I feel like right now, God is placing this calling on my life, to serve Him, by ministering to these teens that society and the school system see as unimportant, stupid, lazy kids who are going no where; they need to know how important and how deeply loved they are by the God who made them.
My prayer every morning, since I have started teaching, has been, “Lord, please help me just to survive this day,” but I want it to change, to become, “Lord, please help me to show these kids how much you love them and how important and how valued they are.”