“You actually learned something!”

I’ve been so surprised and pleased by my students  this year.

I know it’s just the second week of school but so far they are polite, enthusiastic, friendly and hard-working.

They’ve done a couple of things to make me laugh already.

One happened yesterday in class when two ninth grade boys were conferring with each other about homework for another class. “You didn’t do it?!” one said to the other, shocked. I love that not doing homework is still a big enough deal to scandalize these kids. It was almost the opposite in the schools where I did my student teaching.

Another was when I heard an 11th grade boy holding forth importantly to a pair of girls: “If you just make up a word and use it often enough, it just becomes a word, like a word that people can use. You know the word ‘underwhelm‘? Somebody just made that up. They saw overwhelm and decided they were under instead of over so they said “underwhelm” and now it’s a word.”

What made me laugh about that was that I had taught him that concept last week. He didn’t even know that before last Wednesday and now he was lecturing his classmates professorially as if the etymology of the word “underwhelm” was the subject of his doctoral dissertation. But, while I was laughing so I was thinking “You actually learned something!”. That’s a good feeling for a teacher.


Each teacher at my school heads up a small group. They meet with the same 7-10 students weekly throughout the year, pray with them, do activities together and mentor the students. My group is composed of 8 ninth grade girls.

Last Friday all the small groups did service projects. My group bought materials for and put together kits of school supplies to be sent overseas through the Mennonite Central Committee . We also made cards and wrote letters to include in the packages.

Before we started I told the girls about the financial situation of my students in Rwanda. I talked about how even a pen or a small notebook is a precious possession for those kids. I told them that even though it’s easy for them to buy a notebook to send overseas, it will mean a lot to the child that receives it. I was tearing up as I spoke so I finished my mini-lecture and went to prepare our workspace. As I left I heard one of the girls whisper to another, gesturing to their venti caramel frappucinos, “Wow, now I feel kind of bad drinking this.”

I had to laugh. I don’t think I effected a huge shift in her worldview but a little bit of perspective is a good thing for eight ninth graders, especially when seven of them own an iPhone 5.

One of the cards, made by an international student from China


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