BY PAM VAN DOP, GRADE 8 TEACHER
“Leanne,” I wrote to my editor, “I think I just wrote a book.”
Those words catapulted me into a world I had never dreamt I would be in. I mean, I teach math and science, what business do I have writing a book? I have plenty of excuses to NOT write a book: busyness, fear, financial constraints, dreading the work, unsure of the publishing process, not having any degree associated with writing…but…I did it anyways.
I did it because I believe that everyone has a story worth telling. If I share mine, maybe others will have courage to share theirs.
The story begins…
When I think back to the first time I stepped foot in my very own classroom in Surrey, I was surrounded by slightly younger than me humans who bounced into class, sat in a desk, and looked at me with expectant eyes. To be honest, I had a frog in my throat at that moment. All of my teaching prep didn’t fully prepare me for that moment. I had been a student teacher, but I was just borrowing kids.
Now, they sat in front of me, and they were mine.
Instead of thinking of the science lesson on classroom safety, or the math lesson on reviewing mental math strategies, or the Bible lesson on the meaning of theology, I was overwhelmed with the idea that all these kids were in the process of writing their own stories.
They fidgeted in front of me, and I saw that a part of them were a product of their parents, but another part of them were a product of their life experiences thus far. I became instinctively aware of the reality that they had all walked through pain, loss, heartache, and rejection to some extent. They had, also, all experienced degrees of love, joy, laughter, and acceptance.
They came in with partial stories and I had the privilege of stepping into those stories and play a role. Big or small…I was a part of their experience. I wasn’t ready to see all of that in my very first moments of being a teacher. I wasn’t ready to see all of these kids through God’s eyes.
I knew I was somehow standing on holy ground.
The Plot Thickens
That’s when I knew teaching was more than curriculum. God gave me opportunities to participate in stories and relationships, giving and taking, pouring out, and filling up.
I spent that first year embracing the adventure of celebrating those stories. Some stories were like carbonated beverages, bubbling up with excitement at every moment. Other stories were swampy, murky with anxiety, depression, unmet expectations, and self-doubt. Most stories were a mixture of both. And I celebrated them all just the same.
Because no matter the content, God’s whispers of presence could be heard.
Ben was studious and I learned about his early morning “pre-school” at the Mormon temple. Sylvia was passionate and I learned about her struggles reconciling her Buddhist background and the grade 12 Bible concepts I taught. Ethan struggled with his parents expectations, Amy battled with physical ailments with the best attitude, and Dan just wanted to be a rock star, literally.
I learned about so many kids and what they brought into the classroom and knew to my core that every single person I met was beautifully and wonderfully made. There was no doubt in my mind that God had created every single one of them with a voice and purpose for this world.
So, when I stepped back into the classroom last year, even during a pandemic, I promised myself I would once again see my students through God’s eyes. Their stories are not done. They are still writing about their celebrations and what they are learning through the tough times.
These kids of mine (this mama has adopted them for a couple of hours every day—thank you grade 8 parents), have some incredible stories tell.
I invite you to listen.
It may not be easy for them to tell it.
It may not come naturally.
But, coming from experience, everyone has a story worth telling.