Today was our last day of classes at Black Forest Academy. Though finals are still ahead and plenty of events loom in the schedule next week, I thought I’d acknowledge this momentous day by posting the letters I read to my classes today. Thanking God, tonight, for the grace and prayers that have made this a wonderful year.
My Dear and Brilliant Students,
A merry last day of eleventh grade to you! I spent yesterday afternoon and this morning reading your childhood memoirs. Though I intended to read them ages ago, it seems fitting that these stories are your “last words” for English class this year. We began the year with expressions of belief, and have ended it with observations, memories of how you see the world, the past and your own life. These things—your most deeply-held beliefs and parade of vivid moments past—are powerful anchors to identity. And while American Literature class is on the surface about learning to read valuable books and write clever essays, in a larger sense it is about much more than that.
“I believe that walking with God is unpredictable,” I wrote at the beginning of the year, in the spare moments between listening to thoughts on beliefs as varied as environmental stewardship, music copyright law and a passionate love for HBR. Though I spent plenty of time trying in the months before I left Seattle, I couldn’t have imagined this year. With less than a third the number of students I’ve taught in the past, this time with you has been richer and, paradoxically, larger than any other year of teaching. I’ve loved knowing you, learning your voices and histories and passions. I admire the deep care you show for one another, and have been blessed by the honest joy so many of you bring to school every day. Thank you for introducing me to BFA this year with patience, humor and grace.
One of the most important parts of English class (or school in general, for that matter) is this remarkable privilege of experiences in common. We read together, we discuss and reflect and share, because we learn more from each other than in reading in our rooms alone, or even from listening only to my thoughts on a given work. This year, it has struck me especially that we read together because we’re called to live together. As the body of Christ, we encounter the varied brokenness of our world not alone, fighting battles on our individual energy, but together, united in pursuit of truth and love, the kingdom of God.
Thank you for a marvelous year, dear students. I will miss you deeply, and pray that you continue to remain “rooted and grounded” in the love of Christ as you continue to learn and grow, in the summer and beyond.
Peace in Christ,
* * *
About a year ago, I moved to Europe to teach middle school English and history. Though I’d never taught middle school before, I spent the summer getting myself excited, practicing being silly and imaginative to amuse twelve-year-olds. Then, four days before school started, I heard the news: I’d be teaching high school English, American Literature. “Oh, and also,” Mr. Leavitt added, “You said you’d be comfortable teaching history. So, well, we have you down for Canadian History this year. I mean, you lived close to Canada.”
It’s true. I’ve lived within 200 miles of the U.S.-Canadian border my whole life until now. I’ve spent endless summers splashing around the golden shores of the Gulf Islands and saw my first French words on BC Ferries. I grew up laughing at Canadians for saying “eh”—but we all know how I’ve been punished for that, eh? As far back as I can remember, there were Canadians, their words spelled and said differently, their grass a little greener and neater than the unmowed wildness on the southern side of things. No, I’m not Canadian, but I wouldn’t have minded if I were.
Still, no amount of proximity really can prepare an American for the mysterious wildness of teaching Canadian History. For me, studying for this class has been like looking at one of those side-by-side “Can You Spot the Differences?” cartoons. The landscape is the same, but the events, the names, and the outcomes are different from the national history I know. Canada is more distinct than I thought at first, and though the early history unfolded with many of the same players, infinitesimal variations knocked our nations onto different paths.
Like Canada and America, it took only a few slight details to change my plans drastically. I’ve been discovering that some of God’s most beautiful, interesting and surprising gifts happen a long way from my expectation or even imagination. I’d never spent any time daydreaming about teaching history at all, much less Canadian History. But whether it was a chilly morning playing hockey against the Geography class, or a long night reading up on Canada’s role in the First World War, I’ll always look back on this year as a privilege, a gift. It’s a rare history class that is so mixed up in patriotism, identity and mystery, with students and teacher working together towards the goal of discovering a country. Even long after you forget which Mackenzie was which, or who first landed on Newfoundland, I hope that you have a foundation for understanding what it means to be Canadian (or love Canadians) in a wider world.
We’re never given the choice about history, learning it or not. Even though some of you might stop taking the classes, history piles up, around us and under our feet, details coming thick and fast as the world keeps changing on us. Keep paying attention. Know that God works in nations as well as individuals, and be watching for Him in Canada or wherever you find yourself, always participating fully in the context in which He places you.
Thank you, dear students, for the pleasure of sharing this class with you. Thank you for consistently showing up with eager and open minds, jumping wholeheartedly into the adventures of string maps and economics lessons with Smarties. I’ve loved this year.
Peace in Christ,