By Stephanie Bryan, 4th grade traditional teacher
After living in one home for my entire childhood, my adult life has been more nomadic. Teachers can teach anywhere, so I found myself moving from school to school often in the past 12 years. There was a consistent three-year cycle to my teaching career, and I didn’t know if I’d ever overcome it. When I started my third year at The Academy, I didn’t feel that itch to find another city or another school. It seemed I might stay awhile.
As I began my fourth year teaching fourth grade last year, I thought it would be a pretty calm year. Having done this for a while, I knew what to expect from our school year. Then the world shut down.
My entire thinking about how school should be turned into thinking about what school could possibly be. While I attempted to wrestle LMS into some kind of submission over spring break and the following weeks, I was also considering how I could possibly transfer my classroom into a virtual environment without losing what I loved so much about teaching at The Academy.
In Desiring the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith writes about culture liturgies and how education involves so much more than transmission of knowledge. Even if they are not aware, educators shape the hearts and minds of their pupils through, “a constellation of practices, rituals, and routines that inculcates a particular vision of the good life by inscribing or infusing that vision into the heart (the gut) by the means of material, embodied practices.”
These embodied practices, or liturgies, are easy to curate in a classroom. When my students spend every weekday with me, they learn to value what I value, and I take that responsibility so seriously. My sweet students know that being a fourth grader means working hard, celebrating kindness and having quite a lot of fun. Even though they are only ten, they know they are part of a community that accepts and challenges them to seek the good in others and to be more like Christ.
It is clear that the consistent rhythms of a classroom do shape students, but it turns out that helping shape students’ affections for truth, goodness and beauty is much harder to do through a computer screen. We lost so much sweet time together during the fourth quarter of last year, and I think most teachers went through an interesting grieving process for what we didn’t get to have with our students.
I missed our daily D.E.A.R. time where students read whatever they find enjoyable for fifteen minutes after lunch and recalibrate for the afternoon. I missed discussing the challenges of starting a new country as we studied American history and digging into the Gospels as we learned more about the life of Christ. I missed laughing over the silly antics of fourth graders and our classroom mascot Monty the Cactus.
However, with the great help of parents and with the Lord’s constant, consistent mercy, we finished our year together well. Liturgies are powerful and can adapt even when a teacher isn’t sure how they will. The kids were well-trained, and we formed new virtual liturgies; Monty the Cactus even made appearances on Zoom. My students knew they were part of a great community doing something special.
As we begin the new school year, I find I am teaching my students from a place of gratitude for the time we have together right now. Even though this promises to be another special year, I do not doubt that we will continue to be a school that teaches students to live well and love the Lord better. Having seen love guide our practices for the last four years, I have no doubt that for my fifth year and beyond, whatever happens, God will be glorified, and our students, teachers and families will know they are loved.