Sunday, October 2, 2011

Time, Influence, and Conversations

First of all, if anyone knows where the entire month of September went, could you please let me know? It seems to have left us behind, and we're a little confused...

In all seriousness, though, the time has been going really quickly. We have two weeks left in this semester. Michael is sitting next to me grading some exams (what fun!), and I'm holding off the nagging thought in the back of my mind telling me that I should be doing the same thing.

I can't really say that our lives have had anything out of the ordinary happening recently, because they haven't. We continue with our "go to school, have lots of random activities after school, come home and crash" routine, but that's okay. There's something good in routine, I think, even when it gets to be a little exhausting.

I had a really fabulous conversation with some of my students this week. As I look back on the entire week, I can honestly say that that conversation was the highlight. Easily. We were finishing up reading and discussing the book Night by Elie Wiesel. If you haven't read it, you should - it's a memoir written by a man who survived the concentration camps of World War II. It's short, but extremely difficult to read. I highly recommend it.

Anyway, I made one of my 12th grade classes read it, and since I was teaching it for the second time, I had a much better idea of what to highlight and discuss as we worked our way through. It was amazing to me how little my students knew about World War II - history is not one of those things that's emphasized in Thailand, so I often have to explain some history with anything we read in class. My students were completely stunned as we went through the book. They asked question after question, trying to figure out how all of these things could happen, and what else happened that wasn't mentioned in the book. It was really tough to talk about, and I think the students had a difficult time reading it more because of the content than the language barrier.

We finished this book, and read through a speech that the author made in the 1980's to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. In the speech, the author talks about how "our lives no longer belong to us alone, but to all those who need us desperately." I asked my class what he meant by that, and from that question, we got into a discussion of "the weak" - people who live in poverty, who are sick, who are powerless and oppressed.

Many of the high school students have this idea that when they go to college and graduate, they will get a job, earn a lot of money, and then be able to sit back and not work any longer. Well, after our discussion in class of global issues, I asked the students what it meant for our lives to belong to other people. What does it mean to help someone? What if our lives are supposed to be spent helping other people, rather than working our way to the top? What if life is not meant to be easy?

These are things that I have thought about before. Some of these questions were asked to me in college. Some of these concepts go along with my faith in Christ. Jesus made himself nothing, taking the nature of a servant. We are supposed to serve other people. It's difficult, but it is what we are called to do. I know that.

My students, however, do not have this mentality. I was amazed at how stunned some of them looked when I asked some of these questions. Two or three of them literally looked like I'd just hit them over the head with a brick. I could almost see their minds working, "'What if life isn't supposed to be easy?' That's what everyone works for - an easy life. Why wouldn't I want an easy life?" One student told me after class that he will be thinking about that question for a really long time. I certainly hope that he does.

This is one of the pure joys of teaching: asking the really tough questions that make the students think. Those kinds of days are the ones that are my favorite, and they're the ones that make me glad I teach high school. I hope that by making them think, they will eventually come to some conclusion. I also hope that that conclusion will be the right one.

I'm suddenly realizing that the time I have with my 12th grade students is running short. We are almost halfway finished, and the second half always goes by faster than the first. Soon they will be off to college and I will have little to no influence in their lives anymore. Time: it's such a crazy thing. We seem to have so much of it, but in the end, there is so little. I hope that the little time I have to be a part of their lives is enough to influence them for the rest of their lives.

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