Last Tuesday, along with her crinkled coloring sheets and handwriting homework, my first-grader Anny pulled out a folded little note from her backpack. “My mom write this for you,” she said, handing it to me.

The week before, I’d been losing focus. I was getting frustrated about little things like my students’ innocent clumsiness and mispronounced words, which are very normal things to find in a first-grade classroom! Simple tasks such as getting everyone to line up at the door were frequently interrupted by untied shoes, forgetting to push in a chair, or—just about when everyone was ready to go—a shy child raising his hand and asking if he could please go to the bathroom. I had a hard time being encouraging and patient and seeing past these common interruptions. I felt like I had no excuses. My students are smart, and they love school. No matter what mood I’m in, they are always excited for whatever project or worksheet I set down on their desks. Their constant cooperation made me even more frustrated with myself. They deserved better from me.

Posing with my students Jack, Anny, and Alyssa after completing a super-reader scavenger hunt.
Enjoying the vibrant colors of Malawian art at a local shop.
Taking a break at one of the gorgeous waterfalls on Mount Mulanje during a holiday backpacking trip in the mountains.
With the Pulla family (Anada, Grace, Jack, and Anny) after sharing a delicious, home-cooked Indian meal together for Sabbath lunch.

Over the weekend after that frustrating week, I knew something had to change, and my mind flashed back to how earnestly I had prayed at the beginning of the school year. I had never taught before. I hadn't known what to expect, and I was scared. I had prayed for patience, creativity, joy, and compassion, and the first week of the semester had been fantastic. So were the following weeks. With each school day, I became aware of opportunities to develop the things I had prayed for. Unfortunately, I'd begun to choose frustration over prayer.

I wanted things to be like that first week of school again. I wanted to regain awareness for moments of laughter and silliness instead of frustration. “God, I need patience,” I prayed. “Please help me to show more love, more compassion, and more joy.”

On Monday, my students were the silliest they had been the entire school year. They dropped colored pencils all over the floor, made crazy sound effects instead of the actual sounds of the alphabet, and laughed at almost anything I said. Instead of responding with exasperation, I saw it as an opportunity to laugh along with them. Their happiness was contagious. It had been all along; I just wasn’t aware of it!

That Monday at school was especially fun. We still did the same math, handwriting, and spelling schoolwork as always, but opportunities for frustration turned into opportunities for patience. And that patience was rewarded with happy first-grader smiles. 

The next day was when I read the note Anny handed me from her mom.

“Hello, madam Mindy. Really we are very very happy and pleased by you. Jack, Anny are doing excellent. So God is with you otherwise no one teach kids like you. God bless you. Thanks a lot.”

I felt so humbled. This mother was thanking me when it was actually her kids, my students, who were doing the real teaching all along. Her words affirmed how important prayer needs to be in my life. It opened my eyes to the happiness and joy that had always been seated in the little wooden school desks across from mine. I’m excited for next Monday!

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Mindy Robinson
Originally from the United States, Mindy Robinson spent the past two years teaching at Kabula Hill School in Blantyre, Malawi. She is currently earning an elementary education degree at Walla Walla University.