Truth and Love

Recently, some friends and I were discussing love, truth, and the relationship between the two.  How do we confront without becoming judgmental?  How do we love without becoming too permissive?  What is loving and what is truthful?  Where do they overlap?  Can you have one without the other?

This idea of truth and love is something that has always been a real challenge for me and my vocal self.  I’m a doer.  I want to get things done.  And if I don’t believe something will make a difference in the end, I generally don’t see any point in doing (or saying) it.

This leads to an often imbalanced application of truth and love.

Today, though, while teaching, I had a tiny little glimpse into how this should look.

I know teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but (if we’re honest) there are definitely kids who especially tug at our hearts. For the purposes of this story, I will name this particular student, who easily fits into the above category, Landon.

Landon didn’t care much about school last year, and sometimes got into trouble for being dishonest or consistently not doing his homework.  This year, he’s really stepped up and taken more accountability for his work.  He’s been trying much harder, and has readjusted his priorities.  He’s growing up and figuring out who he is.

It’s been an absolute joy to see that growth, and it is something that I badly want to reward.  That said, Landon still has a lot of growth to do in the English department.  While I have desperately wanted to nudge his grade in the encouraging direction, I have avoided doing so, hoping that it won’t discourage him to the point of giving up.

Today I handed back an assignment with a failing mark.  We talked through the issues, and some ways that he could fix them.  I was clear in what the problems were, and told him exactly why he received that grade.  I didn’t sugar coat it.  He looked sad.

It’s those things that are hard as a teacher.  How do you encourage a student, but at the same time appropriately cover their paper in the necessary marks? How do you call students out on bad habits without discouraging creativity?  How do you speak the truth in love?

As I sat at my desk considering these things, the class filed out, with Landon being the last in the classroom.  Despite our tough conversation, Landon turned around as he walked out of my classroom and added, “Miss? Thanks for believing in me.”

I was stunned that this was his response to our conversation.  Even after I failed his assignment and told him in no uncertain terms what he needed to work on, he still felt believed in.  The focus wasn’t on what I thought he had done wrong, but on what I thought he could do right.

Isn’t it the same in life?  The same in relationships with family, friends, and even the people that are really hard to love?  If we can invest, if people know, know beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we believe in them, that we love them and we’re on their team, then the focus is no longer on the short-comings that we address.  That negative aspect doesn’t govern the tough conversations that we may have.

Because, in reality, all of us fail at something.  All of us feel like we just can’t get that one thing right, no matter how many times we try.  That even if we do improve, that it’s still not good enough to be “passing” whatever test it is that we have set up for ourselves.

And sometimes, we just need someone to be real with us about it.  To tell us that we do, indeed, need to keep working on this, but that they’ve seen growth.  To tell us that, yes, we’re currently struggling in this department, but that they know we have the potential to beat it.  To tell us that we are broken and sinful, but they still love us.

And that they believe in us.

I still don’t fully understand the whole concept of truth and love, and I am by no means any good at applying it, but I am thankful today for this glimpse of what that means!

Also, as a side note: I love teaching.  It’s the best job ever.

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SQOTD #16: An Erotic Racket

This is not the first time – nor will it be the last time – that I find teaching ESL students more than mildly entertaining.

Today during our lunch hour, I had about 25 kids hanging out in my room.  They’ve taken to this recently, and I love it.  A group of students kicks around a soccer ball on the far side of the room.  Another cluster huddles around a few guitars, singing.  Others spread out chatting, laughing, studying.

It’s loud. And I love it.

One of my students came to talk to me in the midst of all of this, and questioned if “this is how it always is at lunch?”

“Yes, it tends to be this way,” I replied.  “They sure make a racket, don’t they?”

He agreed, “Ya…but it’s probably good that they’re erotic at lunch, because that way they can focus during class.”

An important note on the English language:
A racket ≠ Erotic

SQOTD #15: School Technology

It’s always funny to me the things that students pick up on.  More than once they have informed me of my habits of which I was previously unaware.

Recently, though, they caught onto something of which I (and probably the majority of teachers) am completely aware.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the school that I am currently working at, and we’ve been working on loading a new time capsule that will be opened in ten years.

My kids were working on notes to themselves during our homeroom time, and we were all chatting as we worked.  In regards to the USB with video interviews that we were including in our shoebox, one girl remarked that, “In 10 years, we probably won’t even be able to use USBs!”

One of my boys, still working, nonchalantly responded, “Don’t worry.  The school will still have the same old computers.  We can just use it here.”

Made my day!

My [Assumed] Chinese Heritage

I never really thought of myself as particularly Asian.

Apparently, people here disagree.

My kids tell me that I look Chinese all the time, that I have “more Chinese eyes* than they do.” Of course, my students say a lot of things, and if I believed them I would identify myself as a Taylor-Swift-esque, Shakira-resembling, main-character-from-brave-look-alike who is Chinese and fat and tall.  So I don’t always listen.

Then, just a few months ago, a good friend of mine told me she thought I was half Chinese for all of the first semester.

Then, I went to get glasses.  16-year-old Lauren was told that she needed to get glasses to fix accident induced double-vision.  My 23-year-old self finally gave in today.  While I was waiting for the glasses, the lady working the counter asked me, in broken English, where I was from.  I told her I was American.

“Oh, but half Chinese??”

No.. just white.

“But your eyes are Chinese, yes?!”

Nope. Plain old white person.

“Oh very interesting.  I was very confused because they are Chinese but blue.”

*The topic of race is MUCH more open here – people will say anything, and it is generally accepted socially.  I’m a bit afraid that this will get me in trouble upon moving home.

Sukabumi: High Ropes

Every year, we take our 7th graders to a national park about 100 miles from our school.  We stay in tents, visit a nearby village, and do all kinds of activities to help them experiment outside the bounds of their comfort zones.

One of the five main activities in which the kids participate is the high ropes course. This particular course has a series of six challenges strung 20 meters above the forest floor.  The afternoon that we went, the whole area was immersed in a fog that gave it an eerie feel. Our kids did an incredible job on it!

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Afterward, when we were debriefing, one boy mentioned something that really made me think.  He talked about how he had originally been scared of the course, and hadn’t wanted to do it.  He talked about how he watched his friends do it, and how watching them do it made him willing to try.  And then he talked about how, once he was up there, it wasn’t that bad. That he was glad he had done it.

I considered how broadly this can be applied to our lives.  First of all, that once we try things, we often are glad we did.  That things aren’t as scary as they look.  Secondly, though, it is a good reminder that we have huge influence on those around us.  By being willing to step up and do something, step up and stand up for someone, step up and talk about something difficult, we give others the voice, motivation, and courage needed to do the same.

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Ubud, Bali: Markets and Mayhem

In addition to the monkey forest and our bike tour, we did a whole lot of shopping and resting.  One of the best parts about vacationing in Indonesia is that an hour-long massage is cheaper than a fast food combo meal.

Our final morning in Ubud, we woke up early to take motorbikes through the hills and rice fields.  It was beautiful!

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I went to Bali aiming to add a lot of Indonesian decor to my home, and was quite successful!  I’m especially excited about my new impressionist boat painting.  I was almost equally excited that I was able to find rambutan (mamones chinos, in Costa Rica), a spiky red fruit that I love!

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Sunday afternoon, we were scheduled to fly out around 3:30 Jakarta time – plenty of time to get home and settle in before starting work the next day.  Also plenty of time to wait around for the expected delays and inefficiency that accompany pretty much everything one attempts to do in Indonesia.

What we were not prepared for, though, was our airline disappearing.**  Poof.  No one had shown up to work at any airport in Indonesia, nor answered any phone, for four days.  No one bothered to notify passengers; the airline still had no plan to help stranded customers.*  What’s more, there were no tickets back to Jakarta available on any airline that day or most of the next.

So, frustrated, we called our principal and told him that the five of us would not be able to make work the following day – probably not a great day at a school that doesn’t hire outside substitutes.

Though I honestly would’ve preferred to have been at work (I know, I know – Bali isn’t the worst place to be stuck), we made the most of our final day.  Namely, we were able to watch the Superbowl live!

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I’m thankful to have finally made it back!  I arrived at my homeroom on Tuesday only to find out that my life had become exponentially more interesting while I was gone.  My homeroom informed me that my homeroom partner had told them that I had run off with a Balinese man I fell in love with (kudos, this was an impressive move).  They also added: DON’T WORRY, WE DIDN’T BELIEVE HIM! 🙂

*The longer I live abroad, the more I appreciate the good ole’ US of A.

**Just in case they ever reappear – which I highly doubt, since that would mean refunding our money – don’t EVER fly 

How We See People

All year, my homeroom from last year has been begging to have a reunion.  I told them that we could if they planned it, and they readily agreed.  They informed me that “7.2 last year was the best” because “everyone was in it.”

This is funny, because at the beginning of last year they complained that “none of their friends were in their homeroom” and “there was no one in it”.

I laughed at them inwardly, but appreciated the clarity of the lesson.  As they talked about last year, they talked about how no one judged anyone else, and you could be yourself.  I love what they learned, whether they realized it or not.  First, that the important thing is the ability to be yourself, not how cool or pretty or whatever else you think a person is. Secondly, that if you give people a chance, you’ll often end up really liking them.

We tossed around a whole bunch of ideas, but landed on just going to my apartment to hang out and eat Bon Chon*.  22 out of the 23 kids still living in Indonesia made it.  They came to me the week before, asking excitedly if they could invite the students in their grade that were new to SPH this year.  “We just know that they would’ve been part of 7.2!  They fit perfectly!”

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It was a relaxed but fun time.  It’s amazing how much they’ve grown up in just one year, including many of them growing to be taller than me!  Below is a picture from the beginning of last year, then a picture of our reunion.  This is my first group of students that I had for a whole year, and it was great to reconnect as a homeroom 🙂

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*The closest thing you can get to Chick-Fil-A here.  And they’re just as obsessed with it as Americans are with Chick-Fil-A!