I wrote this last Friday, almost a week ago now. I failed to post it because, well, this is Africa and the internet is not always guaranteed.
I sat in the garden tonight, and watched the stars come out.
I suppose it was my celebration of sorts. For surviving the week. My first week as a Rosslyn teacher.
We talked about the intellectual virtues today,* and, for me, teaching has always been about courage. About doing hard things.
You see, I don't like talking in front of people. (My words, in air, disconnected from paper and pen, from keyboard and screen, jumble and squirm and become something utterly unmanageable. An approximation, an imprecision, and, at times, a wandering, gluttonous, slovenly mass, without meaning or sense.)
You see, I'm afraid of new people. (Not afraid of them, precisely, but afraid of being shown, in their presence, to be wanting. Uninteresting, blasé, with nothing particularly valuable to contribute or impart.)
You see, I'm a perfectionist who doesn't want to do it at all if I can't be guaranteed to do it right. (Doing things right is how I define my identity and my worth. That teaching can only ever be a process of approximation – of doing things better, of trying one's best – nearly destroys my sense of value and self.)
You see, I'm terrified of failing. (And failing, I'm afraid, is guaranteed. On at least one of the 180 days I teach, during at least one one of the 900 classes those days will contain, I will be sure to get it wrong. Probably more than once. Definitely more than once.)
I don't teach – have never taught – because I find it easy. I teach because, when I teach, I'm at my most vulnerable, my most broken, my most scared, my most challenged . . . and it's there, in that uncomfortable space, face to face with my failings, my short-comings, my desperate need for grace, that I am most capable of growth.
At least, that's why I think I teach. Why I think God keeps bringing it back into my life. Because teaching is not one of those things I can do on my own strength.
And so I'm forced to fall back on faith. Faith that God has brought me here. Faith that God brought me here because I can do this. Because I do have something to offer. Faith that God has worked through my teaching in the past, and can do it, will do it, again. Faith that, if I keep pressing into him, he will use me to be a blessing, in his way, in his time.
This week was hard. I was often conflicted; often disheartened; often discouraged; always exhausted. So many new faces and new names. And I miss the old faces. The old names. The old ways of doing things. The classes and students and colleagues I know. And, more to the point, the classes and students and colleagues who know (and value) me.
But I'm reminded by Parker Palmer that my desire to be known is the same desire shared by each and every one of my students. And I am not here to be known so much as to know. To know them. To see them. Their beauty, their potential, their fears and joys. Their passions. To call out of them that of God in them. To read meaning in the texts of their lives, and help them read that meaning too. In short, I'm here to love them. And that is more important, surely, than even teaching well.
* "The development of God-honoring thinking habits that result from an earnest pursuit of truth" -- the intellectual virtues include Intellectual Courage, Intellectual Curiosity, Intellectual Humility, Intellectual Honesty, Intellectual Fair-Mindedness, Intellectual Tenacity, Intellectual Carefulness.