Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.
“So you teach English?”
“Yes. Eleventh grade.”
“And… you’re not Canadian?’
It’s a frequent exchange these days, the first of the school year, during which I’ve carried around a stack of adjustments, heavy and slippery like an upperclassman’s textbooks. I’ve moved to a new country and apartment, started a new job and begun a new school year. All of which have involved meeting literally hundreds of people, a tall order for an introvert like me.
I knew it was going to be tricky. Knew when I left myself three days to travel from Schladming to Kandern, move in, and be ready for school to start. I planned for it, spending a few raining Austrian afternoons reading books for middle schoolers and writing syllabi. I wondered what I’d teach in Ancient Civilization class, daydreaming about mythology. And then, hours before I got on the train to Germany, it all changed. Instead of the sixth and seventh graders I’d planned on, I am now teaching two sections of Grade 11 English, and one Canadian History class.
“And are you Canadian?”
Why no, students. I am not.
I can only laugh, most of the time. I have taught this English class before. It was my first period, my first year of teaching. I learned a great deal from LA 11, because it was extraordinarily difficult. Most kids at Ingraham didn’t like to read about Puritans, even if the Puritans were scripted by Arthur Miller and said salacious things. Still, they were almost adults and we had grown-up conversations. All in all, I am overjoyed to be teaching high school, to be starting the year having students write “This I Believe” essays.
I have never, of course, taught history at all, let alone the history of Canada, which so far is a distorted parallel of American History, most of the same events with the violence dulled and the names changed. I also seem to lack the greatest qualification of all, being Canadian. With a few binders of maps, a textbook, a shelf full of books from my predecessors which includes Canadian History for Dummies, we’ll all learn a great deal.
And I’m reminded of Paul teaching Gentiles instead of Jews. Of everyone who’s ever been on their tiptoes in the deep end. I’m tested in the belief that I chose for my “This I Believe”: I believe that life with God is unpredictable, because for me the moments, relationships and places of greatest beauty have been on the other side of doors I’d never have thought of trying. Doors like Canadian history.
So I’m thankful at the end of this week. Thankful for my 32 English students who give me confidence and a chance to try again with a class that challenged me. Thankful for Canadian History, reminding me that the world is wide and I don’t know everything. Reminding me to trust God and work hard, every day.