I am sitting here tonight, honestly in awe of how quickly this first year of teaching has been. What a year! There have been many successes and many "I-can't-believe-I-just-did-that" moments. There have been smiles, hugs, and tears. I have been stretched and challenged in ways I did not anticipate, and yet I have come out of it, even more appreciative of this calling God has instilled in me.
I remember hearing the calling the first time at Urbana 06 (oh, what a long time ago that was!). My heart was drawn towards God's mission for urban children. I had my heart set on it and my plans all drawn out - I would go to grad school somewhere, get my teaching license, and teach kids that needed an opportunity to succeed. He ended up placing me in Alexandria, VA.
At first, it really didn't seem to match up. Urban kids? My school is located in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in this city! However, the more I got to know my students and their stories, the more I see why God has called me here to serve these particular students. Many of my students are those students I desired to teach - the ones with less opportunities, the ones with burdens you could not even imagine. I have seen them all persevere and make incredible progress, and I am blessed to be a small part of it.
Friends, I so wish you could have been there with me today. Knowing that my time with these students is drawing to a close, I used a small grant from the school PTA to buy my students two books each that we had read together over the course of a month. These were beloved books to us, and you should have seen their eyes light up when I handed them the books.
"Are these from the library, Ms. Pan? Where did you get so many?" One student asked.
"No, I bought these, and these are for you to keep. They are yours." I smiled.
One student clutched the books to her chest. Another couldn't keep from flipping through the pages and reading the familiar story. All of them gave me hugs. But what mattered the most was not the appreciation from the students (although that was so sweet!) - it was seeing them get excited about books and excited about reading. For some of my students, these are the first books that they have ever owned. It gave me such joy to see them so excited to get the new books. One of my students even closed his eyes tight and said, "I can't wait for the surprise, Ms. Pan!" He was delighted.
And that is truly special. This is why I love what I do. I have learned and grown so much this year. I have made many mistakes, but also learned how to be a better teacher and a better learner myself. I am looking forward to what next year brings. :)