Surprised. adjective. To have discovered unexpectedly; being led or brought unaware.
Student teaching is over. After a week, I’m still blinking, looking around in wonder.
Back in November, when this last leg of student teaching was beginning, I clunked through the transition. I didn’t feel ready for new: a new school, a new group of faces to remember, a new schedule to learn, a new (earlier) start time. Everything felt overwhelming. But I had to go. So I put on a brave face and downed some caffeine and showed up.
The first day was okay. The next day was better. Then, slowly, middle school surprised me.
I grew to know the students in that windowless ELA room. Not just their names, but their personalities. Which ones should not sit in a pod together. Which ones would always volunteer answers, and which ones rarely would. I learned that one kid would like to be famous for eating the most gummy bears in a year, that most think the best teachers give out food, that some twelve-year-olds are stressed by unnecessary noises just like me, and that 7th graders are curious about topics ranging from what’s inside a bowling ball to how planes stay up to “how the world started (besides Jesus)” to whom they’ll marry. I overheard conversations about whether or not Bill and Hillary Clinton are married, about “dabbing,” about how eye size doesn’t change from the time a person is a baby until they’re an adult. Their spurts of wisdom, of enthusiasm, of vibrance, made me grin.
I began to take over more responsibility. My cooperating teacher was gone one day, and it was me (plus a sub) against the world. We survived. The kids didn’t go bonkers. They might have even learned something. We started a research unit. I circulated the room during work time, answering questions with my hair on fire. The hour blazed by and I was not bored once. The teacher shoes began to fit, molding to me. I liked them. It was harder than expected to give them back as my nine weeks ended. For once, I felt like a real teacher. My cooperating teacher had told me early on that I was doing well. It took time for me to actually believe her. But I began to.
One of the miracles of teaching is the hidden growth students sometimes make. The blossoms don’t appear immediately, and their blooms take unexpected shape. When I was leaving, one of the boys from my hardest hour came up to me. He had been a quiet one, distracted, reluctant to write unless he could dictate his thoughts. I thought I had annoyed him more than anything. “I’m really sad you’re going to be leaving,” he said. “I am too,” I said. Then I found a thank-you card from him in the pile I received. It was short, neat, written by himself. It touched me more than most. Among the other notes, another girl had written a sweet, thoughtful letter. Among her sentences: “You always helped me when I needed it, you were sooo cheerful and happy and it honestly made my day better.” She, too, had been quiet in class. I had no idea.
On that scared morning at the beginning, I did not anticipate any of these exact things. I couldn’t have. That’s the stickiness of new adventures. Though I suspect that good might come, I always always always want to know precisely what to expect.
It’s undoing me right now, now that student teaching is done, now that I am waiting. Waiting on everything. On my plans for tomorrow and whether I’ll have a sub position or not. On my plans for next month and whether I’ll have a job. On my plans for next fall and whether I’ll be here or across the world. I long for sketched-out plans for my relationships, for my career, for whether I’ll be able to pay rent at the end of the month. Instead, I have nothing concrete for the rest of my life.
But I’m learning, with agonizing slowness, that not knowing, that openness, that waiting, leaves room for God’s surprises. When I let go of my narrow visions of what life could be, it creates space for him to work ordinary miracles. My loaves and fishes look like groceries and job openings and friendships and a car that mostly works.
The unknown, the waiting for assurance, scares me. But so do all great adventures, if they truly deserve the word. I can trace God’s unexpected hand in these past nine weeks of student teaching, if I look. I’m choosing to trust that, in this new season, he’ll surprise me again.