The Teacher’s Joy and Reward

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Tina Nguyen, music education student teacher at Mauldin Elementary School. Photo by Derek Eckenroth, 2013

As a faculty supervisor for music education, I am often in the local schools observing our music ed. interns. The last semester of their college career is full-time student teaching, when all the pieces of their college puzzle connect. They get to spend the entire day doing what they’ve worked so hard to prepare for. They see the whole scope of what music teachers experience and can make special connections with their students.

This is one of my favorite things to do. I am thrilled to see our students touching lives through music.

Case in point: an intern named Sarah. Here are her thoughts.

My mind and heart are overflowing and sleep has left me, for now. Yesterday was my last day at my internship where I have been a student teacher for the past 14 weeks. Because of the spring musical, I had more than 40 extra hours with “my kids” within the final two weeks. I would not trade that time for the world.

Usually my thoughts flow in a natural current. But as I have searched for sleep in the wee hours this morning, my thoughts have flowed more like a whirlpool, the same things circling again and again and again.

More than anything I am just overwhelmed by the grace of God in my life throughout this whole semester, but especially in the last two weeks. I believe that God, in His supreme understanding of my heart (for He created it!), allowed me the extra time with my students so that the memories would be so fresh, so deep, and so precious, that yesterday would be all the more meaningful … and difficult.
My high school students put together a journal of their thoughts for me and presented it to me last Friday, and a few remaining kids signed it yesterday. I have poured over the journal and wept as I found that even the most sarcastic and condescending student wrote his heart on a page.

Every note in that journal means the world to me, but two entries struck me with a deep profoundness, and I must share them here. The first comes from a student who I taught but did not really connect with until the final week of my internship. In the journal, he shared John 11:35. Yes, for those of you who might be shaking your heads, John 11:35 is the simplistic, short verse that reads, “Jesus wept.” Underneath the verse he wrote: “This means: we must follow Jesus’ example and cry when necessary.” An interpretation a bit out of the ordinary, perhaps, but what a reminder to me that God is the Author of emotion, the Creator of the human heart, and that even He, the divine God-Man, expressed utter heartbreak over the death of Lazarus in the form of tears.

The second entry was written just yesterday, while I taught my sixth grade one last time. One of my senior boys sat at my desk and wrote for several minutes. When the bell rang and I opened my journal, I found this quote, courtesy of Dr. Seuss, at the top of the page: “I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead and some come from behind. But I’ve bought a big bat; I’m all ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have trouble with me.” This student proceeded to write about how because we are Christians, God has provided us all with a sort of “bat” in life. He thanked me for becoming part of his bat this semester.

With a heart hugely humbled and aching to the point I almost could not breathe, I said good-bye to those with whom I have spent my final college semester. I wish I could more adequately convey the whirlpool of thoughts. I see my students’ faces, and I lift them up in prayer. In this myriad of sleepless thinking—which is very incomplete and not in the best form—I give praise to God for His grace. He knew exactly what I needed in my internship this semester. While striving towards an education degree, He brought an amazing group of students into my life that caused me to stop and reflect on so much. In January I came to be their teacher. But yesterday when I left, they had taught me.

For my first “unofficial-official,” much beloved students: Philippians 1:3, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.”

In these few paragraphs Sarah was able to express the almost inexpressible reward and joy of teaching. What a wonderful privilege to be a teacher!