My respect and appreciation for educators have exponentially increased these past few months. When I first arrived on the island of Yap as a volunteer missionary, I came with idealistic dreams of adorable little kids who would be easy to shape and lead. I had chosen to teach kindergarten and first grade because I thought I couldn’t mess it up.
Well, I was wrong. Because of COVID-related quarantine complications, I arrived at Yap SDA School just in time for midterms. The first day was overwhelming—the kids didn’t listen, didn’t stay in their seats, and were constantly talking. They threw crayons on the ground, ripped up their papers, hit each other, and jumped on desks. I’m not going to lie; I had to raise my voice, take things away, and make some of them sit down. It was hard to keep them on task long enough to get through their tests. I was in way over my head, and it was only day one!
That evening, I talked to the previous first-grade teacher, and she gave me a copy of a book called The First Days of School. I immediately looked up classroom management. I came up with routines for the morning activities, recess, lunch, and physical education classes. I spent a big chunk of the second day going over the rules and expectations and then had the students practice them. We only got through two subjects that day, but they learned how to line up; where to put their shoes, backpacks, and lunches; and how to sit quietly at their desks. I gave each one a classroom job, too, so that they could feel a sense of responsibility.
Just having higher expectations and being firm with them helped so much. Some kids still acted up, but because the class was behaving better, it was easier to get them back on track. It was encouraging to see how sweet the kids were.
Academically, I faced another challenge. The students weren’t familiar with the English alphabet. One of the textbooks at the school suggested teaching the kids to read in small increments, starting with only three letters of the alphabet and adding a new sound every other day. At the time, I couldn’t see the progress my kids were making. It felt like I was hardly making a difference, and it was taking way too long. I even wondered if I was a failure as a teacher.
I stuck with it, though. As the weeks passed, I introduced small storybooks, and to my surprise, my kids could read bits of them! I was excited to see that they gradually were able to read more and more.
Now we’re well into the second semester of the school year, and I’m reminded of just how far my students have come in very simple but meaningful ways. Every week, my class learns a new memory verse. We’ve already gone through the well-known ones like John 3:16 and Genesis 1:1, but I also sprinkle in verses that are less familiar. On Mondays, I write the week’s memory verse on the blackboard. When my students file into class and sit down at their desks, I see them look at it. After a few seconds, my braver students attempt to read the verse out loud. The other students catch their excitement and try sounding out the words too. It makes me so happy not only to hear them reading something on their own but also to know that they are excited to be reading from the Bible.
Truly, one of our memory verses has been fulfilled: “The Lord is good to all” (Psalm 145:9). The Lord is teaching my children to be interested in learning and appreciating the Word of God, and He has certainly been good to me too. I will always remember this year in Yap for all that it has taught me, this newbie teacher, about God’s goodness and love.
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