Miss Gruwell and Miss Potter

Some of my first Ingraham students, four years later at their graduation.

Like all good teachers, I went to see the 2007 film Freedom Writers as soon as it came out. As some people are with sports or science fiction movies, I am with teacher movies. I love them. Long before I was a teacher–even when I was struggling with teaching as a calling–I would watch Dead Poets’ Society or, you know, Anne of Green Gables with tears in my instruction-loving eyes.

As teacher movies go, Freedom Writers is pure inspiration, telling the true story of Erin Gruwell and her work as an English teacher in an urban high school. I should have loved it, put it high in my queue of emotional school classics, but I didn’t. In fact, as a first-year teacher in an urban high school with a transient, low-income population, I found it exhausting. There is a possibility for success as a teacher, this movie told me, but it will cost you everything.

I much preferred, in fact, the other film I saw that day. (This is the only time I can remember seeing two movies in the theater in one day. Since it was January, I imagine it was a dark, cloudy Seattle day. I hope it was, anyway.) Miss Potter, which tells the story of Beatrix Potter’s early life and work, ends with the author settling on a farm in the Lake District of Northern England. She sits on a hillside above a landscape splashed with a million shades of green, notebook in hand, sun on her shoulders. “There’s something delicious about writing the first words of a story,” she begins. I want that, I thought, to write and live in a wild, beautiful place.

I remember, that evening almost five years ago, leaving Freedom Writers with a sobering realization. As much as I longed for the peace and quietness of a writer’s life, I’d been clearly called to this one, the urban teaching I’d just spent two hours watching on screen. I wasn’t sure about teaching, then, and there were still two years of uncertainty ahead of me, times when I would struggle with doubt and weariness with the enormity of this role. And yet there was peace, even then, in knowing that I was doing, by the grace of God, exactly what He’d called me to. My time at Ingraham was transformative and rich, in every way a blessing, though never one of the easiest blessings to accept.

I watched Miss Potter again recently, and as the camera sweepingly takes in the green landscape of Northern England, I saw Southwestern Germany, this place that has become home to me. And I realized that in many ways, God has given me here the best of both lives. I am surrounded by this marvelous beauty, a place of peace and creativity for me in so many ways. I’ve been given the space to think and to grow, to listen and learn, gifts for which I’m daily grateful. All that, and I still get to teach, spending hours of every day in the company of bright, interesting and energetic young people. God has transformed my heart regarding teaching in the last five years, from weary uncertainty to complete delight in what I do.

School starts at Black Forest Academy one week from today. I’m preparing classroom and curriculum, making space in heart and schedule for a new season of life. Thankful for all that’s behind, eager for all that’s to come, I truly can’t wait. Thank You, Lord, for this place, our students and this calling for which You continue to equip me, year after year.

Emily and I enjoy the sunset from a hilltop over Kandern.

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3 thoughts on “Miss Gruwell and Miss Potter

  1. We’re on the same road daughter – like you, I’m torn between the contemplative and the active, the rural and urban. Like you, I’m hesitant, yet at peace, with my primary calling. Like you, I’ve been given, by the grace of God, the best of both (as I write these words the hillside across the lake that is my bedroom view these two weeks is glowing with sunset colors, reflected in the shimmering lake). Like you… I’m grateful, and more so for a daughter with whom I share so much!

  2. Kristi, as a fellow teacher, I completely relate to all that you said. I LOVE teacher movies and I LOVE teaching. There is something so satisfying about shaping the lives of young hearts and minds. I’m heading back to the classroom next year to teach 9th grade Algebra. I’m excited about all that lies ahead and yet a little worried about balancing life with my desire to be a great teacher and reach kids vs. enjoying other interests and life in general. There is a feeling sometimes, as portrayed by the media, that to be a great teacher you have to sacrifice all other aspects of life. I feel like I’m better in the classroom when I enjoy my life outside the classroom too. I’m glad you’ve found a great spot to love what you do AND creatively express yourself.

  3. It really is the best of both worlds.

    Hope you have a wonderful year portraying America as a richly mystical, far away land full of bright-eyed Romantics, optimistic world-changers, and nutty traditionalists.

    In the meantime, keep writing. I’m missing the environment like no other.

    Peace.

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