Nov 12, 2011

Band of Sisters

In Saipan there was a unique sense of camaraderie among the teachers—particularly the short term ones—that I didn’t think I’d find here in America.  I chalked it up to being so far from family; to not only working but living, playing, and worshiping together; to the shared experience of slogging it out in the trenches.  Most everyone was a new teacher, alternately thrilled and terrified, overwhelmed both by the enormity of the task of shaping young lives and the affection welling up in their hearts for those precious students.  Babs and I were the battle-hardened veterans who’d seen it all and served to comfort, encourage, and instruct those in our charge. While the sacrifices those young volunteers made often (but not always) paled in comparison to real soldiers, they were still very much in a battle where lives were at stake.  Like the “band of brothers” described in Stephen Ambrose’s account of the soldiers of Easy Company in World War II (and in the outstanding HBO miniseries based on his book), the teachers in Saipan shared the unique experience of those who struggled together in the thick of the fight.

When I we returned to the States, I expected that sense of kinship to be left behind on the front lines of the mission field.  And indeed, at first it seemed to be as I had expected.  Here in America the teachers’ lives weren’t defined so much by their work at the school.  We had families of our own, lives quite divergent from the school, and we rarely crossed paths outside of CAA.  Here most of the teachers were veterans in their own right, and if anyone was the newbie on the team, at least that first year, it was me.   It seemed to me that each of us was in our own world, occasionally hailing to one another a brief word of encouragement during staff worship or while passing in the hallways.  Like ships in the night, we shared the same space, but were essentially alone.

But this year, something has shifted.  What I thought was reserved for the mission field has blossomed right here—a sense of camaraderie and closeness, and the rewards of a shared struggle.  Once again, I have sisters in the fight (sisters because, as in Saipan, my fellow colleagues are entirely women; for those that assume such fellowship belongs only to men, I can attest that a man can find solidarity among sisters as well as brothers).  We’ve talked about it some, and we all sense this new unity, though we can’t put our finger on exactly what brought it about.   

As I reflect I see a couple of things that might have brought us together in a special way this school year.  First the enrollment at CAA has skyrocketed, and with the blessings come the challenges of increase.  And as the challenges have increased, so has our individual and corporate sense of need for the grace of God to meet these challenges.  We are all praying more, and sharing our struggles with one another and lifting each other up in prayer.  Lately, morning staff worship has become a lifeline.  On the days that I miss worship, I always feel the weaker for it.  For a little more or less than ten minutes we have church in that circle.  The spiritual insights shared, the words of encouragement, the Spirit-soaked prayers, and just that sense that we’re not alone, that we’re in this with each other and with God serves as a morning pick-me better than any cup of coffee and fuel that keeps me going throughout the day.  Despites the recalcitrant students and the jam-packed schedule these moments of morning watch together remind me that God is on the move in our school, moving in us and through us to reach our students with His love.

Another thing that has bound us together this year is our decision to start gathering on a regular basis outside of the school setting.  On the first Sabbath of each month we gather with our families at one of our homes for Sabbath lunch and an afternoon of relaxed conversation and time together.  Sure, we end up talking about the school 90% of the time, but it’s an agenda free gathering marked by lots of laughter and absence of workweek pressure.  We’ve only had two such get-togethers so far (we’ll be hosting the December gathering), but they’ve become a highlight of the month for me already.

It’s a nice feeling to once again be in the company of sisters; to sense that someone has your back.  I know that I can depend on my sisters to let one of my students sit in her classroom when a kid needs to not be in my room for a while.  I can count on them for a wise word of counsel and an “I’ll pray for you” that I know is not merely a courteous expression but a promise that whatever burden I bear she’ll help me carry before the Lord.  I know that they will be patient and flexible, always willing to make changes to accommodate the crazy classroom contingencies that are forever popping up.  I know that they’ll understand what I’m dealing with, what I’m rejoicing in, what I’m anxious about, because they are going through the same things I am.

This week when I jump back into the fray come Monday morning, I know I won’t be going into battle alone.  I’ll have Ms. Minisee, Mrs. Gray, Ms. Thomas, Mrs. Lavlas, Mrs. Lee, and our big-hearted, passionate leader Mrs. Arthurs right there in the thick of things with me.  In the heat of the struggle to liberate my students, to help them live, learn, love and grow, I know my band of sisters will be right by my side.

The Women Warriors I Work With: From L to R: Janelle Thomas, the newest member of our troop. She was hired after the start of the school year to teach second grade after Ms. Minisee's 1/2 classroom was split due to its size. She has a sweet spirit and so far seems to be holding her own quite well in her first year at CAA.

Brenda Arthurs is our principal. What inspires me the most about her is her passion for our kids--you should hear her talk to the students, even when she's delivering a stern reprimand there is so much love in her voice.

Renee Lee is the 5th/6th grade teacher. She and I work most closely together since we teach each other's classes for part of every day. She is so patient and I couldn't ask for a better team-mate.

Next, the man in the middle; that's me--the "token male" on the team yet again!

Wayna Gray our third and fourth grade teacher is longest serving teacher at CAA. Wayna is a straight shooter, passionate about her God, her family, and her work and determined to keep it in that order. Her words in due season are regular source of encouragement to me.

Alyssa Minisee teaches 1st grade. She replaced me last year as the newest and youngest member of the team. She always appear calm, cool and collected (even when she's not). Fairly often we help each other out with disciplinary situations by letting each other's students take a time out in one another's classrooms.

Not pictured is Lisa Lavalas, our kindergarten teacher. She always has an encouraging word to say, and from my very first year at CAA I always felt she was someone I could talk to. She excels in the classrom despite challenges that would have felled a lesser teacher.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer. . . .Bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the Law of Christ. . .Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you are also doing.”

---- Romans 12: 10-12, Galatians 6:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:11.



just jess said...

Sean! For some reason I decided to blog & check everyone's blog today and I was honored to see a post about Saipan that I can relate to. I mean, the post isn't about Saipan, but the first paragraph about working, living, playing, and worshiping together, with the newbie teachers (me!) I could relate to. That year had such a huge and positive impact on my life & you are a part of it! You, Barbara, & all the teachers are like my Saipan family, hope you guys know that even though I haven't been good at keeping in touch with you all, you're still on my mind! Miss you!

Anonymous said...

Sean, you're so handsome :)

Your sister,

Mai said...

I'm glad you've found a place you fit in to with a team that you can work in the trenches with! It makes me sad to think we're all not in Saipan anymore, but it's amazing to see where life takes us and how God has a hand in all of it!