Witten by: Kate Gapp, Seton Teaching Fellow
“Kate, you’re being too hard on yourself.”I struggle with this phrase. I have heard it more often in the months since I’ve begun teaching at Brilla College Prep than ever before in my life. I came here to give these children a future full of hope. I don’t like being told to stop being hard on myself; if I’m not constantly pushing myself, how can I give my students what they deserve? They deserve so, so much.
I expected this Fellowship to be challenging, and have discovered that teaching third grade is much more challenging than I imagined, South Bronx or otherwise. Life is messy, and people are broken; children are born into a world already full of sin. In El Camino, Brilla’s afterschool program, I’ve stood helpless at how to handle fights between rowdy 3rd grade boys. I’ve stood furious with eight-year-old girls insulting each other’s’ school pictures and calling each other the nastiest names they can think of. I’ve walked home many days dejected from the effects of sin already so glaring in young lives, struggling to muster up seeds of hope from somewhere in my heart. The thing is, I felt so inadequate that most days I didn’t truly have hope for my students or myself. I wasn’t present with my students. “They deserve better than me,” I would think, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lacking joy and peace, I could not give my students what they are starving for.
Thank God that HE has changed my mind and heart so much in the past four months. It’s not what I can do, but what Our Lord can do by the power of His mighty love:
“He gives power to the faint, abundant strength to the weary…They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.” (Isaiah 40:30-31)
I admit, a little sheepishly, that I wish I had a “and one day it all changed” story. But I don’t. Over time, relationships with my students have grown. This is everything; relationships are the way Jesus Christ loves, too. Confidence in myself and in God’s purpose for me blossomed. I have found hope from knowing my students, being honest with them, letting them be children, and building trust between us. As the days become weeks, my disciples and I share daily life together, and vulnerability bears trust. I began to smile big at my eager little disciples running up to me (“walk, please!”) to tell me,
“I helped Bethany with her homework and she finished a whole page!”
“I drew this for you, Ms. Gapp!” (A picture of me and a dinosaur saving that student from a pit of doom).
“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord,” I prayed. And He did. Relationships are not built in a day, and they are also not torn down from a tough day, on my end or theirs.
I remember one moment vividly. One of my disciples, a third grader already carrying himself beneath an “I’m so tough and can’t be tamed” façade, broke down. Because of an allergy, he couldn’t have snack, and because he was misbehaving, he wasn’t allowed to eat his own special snack. Suddenly he just started crying, hard, and I let him. I leant down and spoke words in his ear, gentle but unwavering. Three months earlier, full of pity and unsure of myself, I would have either caved to his wishes or given him a consequence for not meeting my expectations. But now I just gave him space to feel frustrated and let him know it was ok.
Christ is the exact same way with us. He lets promiscuous woman weep on his feet. He invites sinners to dine with him. He teaches and feeds the masses. I am no Christ, I’m just a teacher. For the little time they are under my care, I will shepherd my little flock to Him. And they will know that I need Him just as much as they do.