A great group of kids who gave me a great year at Saipan SDA School. From L to R: Aya Sato, Hovig Makidessian, Holly Delacruz, George Moses, Nicole Rios, Wylie Paez, and Ara Tasmajian.
“There was reclining on Jesus’ breast one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.”
You ever wonder about that? This disciple “whom Jesus loved.” Did He love this disciple more than the others? Or was it just that this disciple simply thought Jesus loved Him more than the others? I mean, Jesus doesn’t have favorites, does He? That doesn’t seem right.
And yet there it is, John describes himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. He does it in that same funny, third-person way that Moses describes himself as the “humblest man who ever lived.” But I suppose we all must agree with John’s description of himself, after all he is known as John the Beloved.
But what does that mean? For a long time I didn’t understand, but now. . .now I think I do. Teaching, like parenting, teaches you a lot about God, and it was through my years of teaching at the Saipan SDA School that I think I’ve come to solve the conundrum of the “Beloved Disciple.”
Just as God is supposed to love everyone—and He does, teachers are not to have favorites—and they don’t (at least as much is possible given their imperfect human nature). And yet there were those particular kids, those particular classes that just found their way into my heart in a special way. It had nothing to do with how well-behaved they were, how good their grades were, or how many apples they brought me (perhaps a lot of it was that these were the types kids that knew I hate apples). I’ve realized that what makes the difference is not how I feel about them—I love them all. What makes the difference is how they feel about me.
Teachers understand that their students aren’t always going to like them. Being “hated” comes with the territory at times, and you accept it because you know your own heart, you know you care for them, regardless of how they feel about you at the time. Teachers also recognize that they are the adults, hopelessly uncool (with a few exceptions—but there is nothing more deadly than trying to be that exception. You either are or you aren’t. And the ones that are the exceptions usually don’t even know it. Start trying to be cool with kids and you’re done as a teacher, because now it’s about you, not about them), and they recognize that their students’ lives are centered not around them, but mainly around their friends. But teachers are also still human beings, and it’s a special bonus—one that keeps you going through the dark days—when you have students who seem to connect with you, who like you, respect you, and seem to enjoy your company—students who in short, reciprocate the care you have for them. Don’t get me wrong—they’re still the students, and you’re still the teacher—we’re not buddies (though great friendships have developed with a few of my students long after they’ve left my classroom), but there is a rare and special quality to that student/teacher relationship.
There are two classes that come to mind with whom I was blessed to have this type of relationship during my time in Saipan.
The first was the 8th grade class of 2000, who I taught for 7th and 8th grade and then as their ninth grade homeroom teacher for the first year that Saipan SDA School offered a ninth grade in 2000-2001. This was the first class that I had for such a length of time and we developed a real bond. Many of them were also part of the drama class, and REAL Christian Theater’s first season. Babs and I, along with kindergarten teacher Charis Bushey were their 8th grade class sponsors, and took them on a memorable trip to Australia. Many of them shared the special experience of being the first 9th graders at SDA and many of the 9th grade academic activities and traditions began with them.
What really sticks out in my mind though, was the last day of school. For the first time in three years, I wasn’t going to be their teacher anymore and these lovely kids wanted to make their farewell meaningful. They planned a surprise good-bye party for me on the last day of school. Somehow they got me out of the room, and when I came back in and opened the door, they yelled “Surprise!”, flipped on “Back Here” by BBMac on the CD player (which was lyrically incongruous but still somehow touching, and to this day always reminds me of those kids and that day), and let the tears and hugs flow. They spoke meaningfully about what I’d meant to them and feted me with gifts. One of the most precious, was a CD of songs that had been popular during “our years” and one of the most extravagant was a new computer from one student and her parents! I’ll never forget that day and how appreciated I felt. It will come as no surprise that these students have continued to stay in touch with me over the years, even now that they are adults and no longer “my kids.” Their occasional comments on Facebook and Myspace as well as the occasional reunion when we were in Saipan remind me that they may be former students but they are still good friends.
Here's me with my kids from the class of 2000 in their ninth grade year--the first ninth grade class at Saipan SDA School: From L to R, Anson Smith, Manny Sablan, Nei Satur, Danny Schwarz, Abbie Algier, Jimmy Arriola, Jessica Bezzant, and Shoko Harada.
Another class that comes to mind is the 8th grade class of 2002. I taught most of them for a couple of classes for a couple of years, but we really hit it off when they became my homeroom class in 2002-2003. It was actually this half of the class (their were 16 in their graduating class, and eight came back for the 9th grade) that I bonded with in one special year. Oh there were hard times to be sure—two of the girls used to drive me nuts with their constant complaining (they know who they are! :) ). A couple of the boys were constantly hovering at the edge of academic disaster and I was constantly hectoring them to get their work in and study for their tests. But on the whole this class really clicked with me.
Beyond schoolwork we did a lot of fun things together. One of my favorite memories, another last-day-of-school, was our trip to the Nikko Resort for a full day. We swam, ate, swam some more, talked and laughed and just had a good time. I’ll also fondly remember when Babs and I had them to the house a few times for movie nights. Many of these students have stayed in touch with me over the years as well, and those communications have always been marked by a special affection and care. One of the great rewards of teaching has been having students who keep me posted on their lives, thus allowing me to see them spread their wings and fly, pursue and accomplish all the dreams I had for them. I am proud of them not just because they have accomplished this or that, but because they are truly wonderful human beings.
High School Graduation Reunion, June 2006 at Capricciossa's Restaurant. I've long had a tradition of taking my former students out for dinner as a graduation gift/reunion when they graduate from high school. It's always a nice time together getting caught up with the kids, and reliving the old days. From L to R: Wylie Paez, Kevin Rejano (he was in 8th grade but didn't come back for 9th), Aya Sato, Holly Delacruz, George Moses, and me.
It’s through these classes, and other students like them, that I came to understand Jesus and the disciple He loved. It wasn’t that Jesus loved John more than the others, or that he played favorites. It was that John put forth an extra effort to be close to Jesus, and as a result He ended up with a special relationship with Him, one that was available to any follower of His who took the extra time and interest. John was “Beloved” simply because he loved Jesus more, not the other way around.
And so to these classes and to the many more individual students who have also made the extra effort to reach out, and who have warmed my heart in much the same way--and I don’t need to name you because you already know who you are; after all, you’re reading this blog! To all of you kids who’ve taken the time to write a note of appreciation, to send off an e-mail update, to stick around after class to shoot the breeze a bit, who have shown your care, to you my “beloved disciples”, I simply say: Thank You.
High School Graduation Reunion, June 2004 at Tony Romas. From L to R, standing: Babs, Andy Sutton (my student for 7th and 8th grade but not for 9th), me, Jimmy Arriola. Seated: Ian Babauta (my student for 7th/8th but not 9th), and Shoko Harada. Nei and Jess couldn't make it so Babs and I had a seperate dinner with them at the now-defunct AJ's Restaurant and Piano Bar.
Nei Satur at her 8th grade graduation, 2000. Nei just wrote on her Facebook wall that she's back for a visit and hoping we could get together. Unfortunately we just missed her!
Shoko Harada and Jessica Bezzant at their 8th grade graduation, 2000.
From the ninth grade class of 2002-2003, George Moses chowing on some delicious local food. I just ran in to George at Costco the weekend before we left Saipan. He's taller than ever and enjoying life!