Working with two year olds is consuming, tiring, challenging. I enter a toddler vacuum at the beginning of the day and am cut off from the outside world and ordinary adult life until I return home in the evening. I’m very new to this job – it’s only been a few weeks – and there have been many times when I’ve felt overwhelmed by all it requires of me. It’s easy to feel, too, that all this position does is take from me, while I receive nothing in return. In peaceful moments, however, I marvel at all that my students are teaching me about love, forgiveness and living with gusto.
First, on love. It’s easy to understand that my tiny charges are in love with their parents. For several of them separating at the beginning of the day involves some combination of tears, protests and a refusal to take off jackets and outside shoes. What I’m always delighted to witness, however, is how much they love one another. Or maybe it’s how they’re unafraid to demonstrate their love for each other. When a friend arrives in the morning they happily shout his/her name, and drop whatever they’re doing to come to the door and greet them with hugs, smiles and kisses. If a friend is crying because they are hurt or don’t want to leave their parents, I can count on at least one student to try and comfort them with pats on the back and hugs. And, when one of my students wrongs another, after an apology all is forgiven and it’s as though the transgression never happened.
1 Corinthians 13:4-5 says “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (NIV) My students struggle like all the rest of us with all but the last characteristic on this list, and I can see how much of an impact this has on our classroom environment and my relationship with each of them. They forgive totally and completely, in a way it’s rare to see with older people – even if the ‘older’ person is 6. It is tempting to dismiss their actions based on the wrongdoing – often the issue is that someone pushed them or grabbed the book they were reading – but in their two year old minds, developing in stable families and neighbourhoods, these are truly aggravating problems.
Another thing that surprised me is how readily my students forgive me. I discipline them so regularly, I was nervous in my first week that they wouldn’t like me. I know this is different than the peer-to-peer interactions I described, but how easy is it for us to resent people who correct us, even if they are right?
In addition to this easy forgiveness being good for the community atmosphere in our classroom, I’ve noticed how good it is for the individual student. After receiving their apology, they turn their minds completely to whatever they were doing and are able to focus on and enjoy it totally, without any lingering feelings of indignation. How different from my own experience, when I say that I’ve forgiven someone yet still feel bitterness and discontent creeping into all aspects of my day. I can see in my charges why forgiveness is so important for the wronged individual: it frees your mind and energy to focus on everything else you have to deal with, and whatever life throws at you next. Hanging on to the past and nursing self-righteousness does more than alter our moods, it actively works against our ability to give all of our effort and attention to present tasks and responsibilities. I understand this even more clearly now that I can witness the exuberance with which my students carry on with their days. I want to be just like them!
This brings me to my students’ exuberance in general. They are so enthusiastic about the little rituals in our day, regardless of having done them many times over. When it comes to new activities or people, they are immediately curious and excited to learn more. Their growing minds explore and absorb everything around them, so that when people ask me what it is that I can teach two year olds, my answer is honestly everything. Their zeal for life is heartwarming and inspiring – I want to have the joy they do! Although it’s not possible for me to return to the care and responsibility-free mindset of a toddler, I know that each day offers reasons for me to be joyful and astounded. No matter how old I am, like my Grammy says, “You learn something new every day.” I had a hard time believing her when I was younger – there had to be some threshold of adulthood at which I would cease to be amazed or confounded by life right? Wrong. And what a gift that is! An even greater gift is the unshakeable security I have in Christ, who loves me and called me to him by name, who has saved me from myself and offers me a soul-satisfying relationship with him.
Despite the difficulties with this job, when I reflect on these things I feel blessed that God is using my students to teach me so plainly about the life he has asked us to lead, and to give me a glimpse into why his commandments are good for us. Watching my students interact with one another, and having to deal with them myself, is giving me a new perspective on our sinfulness and its consequences for us as individuals and in our relationships. I also feel acutely the ways I come up short on the fruit of the Spirit, especially because it feels like I need to use all of them to get through each day. As I am stretched by my teaching responsibilities, and observe the workings of two year old hearts and minds, I’m learning about my faith in a completely new, refreshing way, uniquely tied to this (unexpected) classroom experience. It’s so stimulating to ponder these things, and I’m excited about the changes this role is bringing to my spirit. Praise Him!
*The fruit of the Holy Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23