Due to the multi-national SCO Summit taking place in Qingdao this week, our school year was forced to finish (even earlier than the timing we were first told) on Tuesday, June 5th. This meant after “The Jungle Book” ended, it was a dangerous short track speed skate to the end for me and my students!
Amidst the chaos of classes, late nights, and hours of grading, there have been many "End of the Year" Events to mark the completion of my first year of teaching abroad! Here are pictures and stories about most of them!
HIGH SCHOOL SPRING BANQUET
After going through the buffet line, I sat down at my table and realized that I had been given only a fork, spoon and knife as utensils. I found myself surprisingly annoyed and even a little frustrated to discover there were NO CHOPSTICKS TO BE FOUND! As soon as I voiced that thought out loud, my whole table began laughing hysterically. I realized in that moment that perhaps, I really have settled down well here in China.
"THE JUNGLE BOOK" T-SHIRTS
MIDDLE SCHOOL ACTIVITY AFTERNOON
LADIES FAREWELL TEA
END OF YEAR BANQUET
My favorite parts of the night were the testimonies shared for two special families leaving our school this year. The first was for our Head of School and his wife (who teaches second grade). After 14 years with ISQ, they are moving to Shanghai to work at another school. A little fifth grader who has attended our school since she was in kindergarten came up and read a speech about how both our Head of School and his wife changed her life. She shared the impact their "hellos", teaching moments, and constant kind words have had on her young heart. I am telling you, it was a beautiful testimony and I doubt there was a dry eye in the auditorium. It reminded me again how precious our students are. Amidst the stress of grades, lessons plans, standards and formalized testing... to know that you have made an impact in a young person's life makes teaching the most rewarding and important career in the whole world.
After that, our Middle School B-ble teacher and his wife came up. They have been with the school for almost 25 years. He has taught every age group and almost every subject in his many years at ISQ. He has also become my friend and someone whom I look up to and respect deeply. We worked together quite closely. In the fall of last year, he was one of the other chaperones on the 7th Grade Fall Trip with me. One of my students told me that I was "the second funniest teacher in the school" only behind him, haha.
He came to China as a single man and met his wife (who had also moved here from another country) while here. Their children (one a senior and one an eight grader) have attended our school since they were in Pre-K. The person who spoke for them is a national member of our custodial staff. She has been at our school since it first opened, and therefore knew the family since their start here in China. I was absolutely blessed by her sharing (in her native tongue which was then translated for us into English). Her words were so heartfelt, touching, and genuine. She shared how when he first arrived she couldn't comprehend why a young, unmarried man would move across the world to teach in a small school for foreign students in her country. She then explained, as she got to know him, that she was more and more inspired by his heart for people and doing his Father's work.
Tears welled up in my eyes as she shared this. I thought of the film "Dances with Wolves". My mother has loved that movie for as long as I can remember. I recall her once telling me that the film was a beautiful story about building relationships that go beyond cultural boundaries. The protagonist, an American officer, befriends and integrates into a midwest Native American tribe (Sioux). The bond that is built is one that surpasses both cultures. Despite their differences and the dangers they both face, at the end of the film the Native Americans tell the man (played by Kevin Costner) that he is no longer an outsider in their eyes, instead, he is a brother.
In the same way, this custodian's words spoke words of family and love toward this incredible couple. In their many years of service, they had forged a bond with China in a way most people cannot dream of building. These were relationships of love and trust and a close bond of one KNOWING and being KNOWN. I was inspired by their commitment, their faith, and now their obedience in leaving behind the only world they've known as a family. Their oldest just graduated and they will be moving to the States (for the father this is the first time in over 20 years; for the wife it is the first time ever). I cannot imagine the many emotions their whole family must be feeling. Yet, I can see their faith and their assurance that this path is not one of unknowns, but instead a path blanketed in the comfort of a Heavenly Light that guides them.
I do not know how long I will be in China. I do not know what my Father may ask me to do in the coming years. I do know that someday I hope someone will speak of me in the same way these two couples were spoke of before their obedient departure.
8TH GRADE SUNSET CEREMONY
This ceremony includes the opportunity for the eight graders' teachers to speak to the strengths and growth of each individual student, as well as, praise the class as a whole. This was my first "Sunset" ceremony and I was touched and thankful that my school is so focused on providing a solid foundation for our students. My Father was in the entire ceremony and it was so fun watching these young people walk across the stage signifying the setting of the sun on their middle school life. Now, when the sun rises again they will be high schoolers. Some of our students will not be returning to ISQ next year (this will forever be common in international communities), so this ceremony was also an opportunity to bless and give these students the proper farewell they need.
I am very proud of these students and thankful for the impact they have had on me as a teacher. I SO look forward to seeing who they become as they step into the high school and the rest of their lives.
CLASS OF 2018 GRADUATION
The reason that is meaningful to me is because for the past three years prior to China I taught 12th Grade English. In my last year teaching in the U.S., I remember standing at graduation with tears in my eyes because I realized that I had taught 96% of the senior class (shoutout to LHS' Class of 2017). This graduation felt different because for the first time none of these kids were "mine".
Yet despite this fact, I was blessed to realize that I had developed relationships with a number of these graduating seniors even whilst not having officially taught them. This realization was so beautiful to me... because if I was still teaching in the U.S. I never would have even crossed paths with students of other "school" levels. However, because I teach at a small international school in China... these cross school/grade relationships are made possible. In that small graduating class, which had the representation of at least 11 different countries, there were students I knew and loved.
The keynote speaker for the graduation encouraged this class with inspiring words and I would like to share a particular portion with you all.
"In the Greek and Roman Empires, humility was considered one of the worst traits that you could have. A much more important trait was honor. This idea that the more strength you show, the more glory and honor you get for yourself, your family, even your nation. This meant that people very rarely did anything that could be seen as weak. You would only do something nice for the poor or those inferior to you if it got you honor in some way.
But J-SUS chose to put others before himself. Over and over again he chose to give up his honor to serve those who were considered inferior [...] J-SUS chose humility. He chose forgiveness [...] So, as you move on from high school learn to be humble. Learn to put others first. Learn to value everyone..."
You can watch 6 minutes of his speech during of the graduation ceremony HERE (see: 00:00 - 06:00).
A FEW THOUGHTS
Here I am.
My first year of teaching middle school finished.
My first year teaching in China complete.
I can only describe the emotions of my heart as being relieved and thankful. I did not finish this year on my own. My Father walked with me. He's always been faithful to me. My family in the U.S. spoke words of support and encouragement into my ear on the hardest days. Many, many friends pr-yed for me in a way I have never experienced before. Last of all, I had a team of G-dly and wonderful community members here in China cheering for me every step of this journey.
As we head into summer, I find myself strangely excited for next year already! I love where my Father has me in life right now. I am far from where I hope to be, but I know that I do not walk alone and that being wholly in the Will of my Father is the safest place I will ever be.
Thank you to all of you who supported me through this first school year in China. It is the hardest thing I've ever done, but I am overwhelmed with the knowledge that I am exactly where G-d has called me to be.