I was halfway through writing a word on the whiteboard for a student to copy when, suddenly, he said, “I’m not sure that I want to be a teacher when I grow up.”
I turned around and looked at him – a lanky five-year-old whose feet didn’t touch the floor – and asked, “What?”
“I’m not sure I want to be a teacher when I grow up,” he repeated. He looked troubled.
“Well, that’s the nice thing about growing up,” I said. “You get to choose what you want to do.”
His troubled expression changed quickly into one of baffled awe. (It’s a wonderful and terrible thing about being five – life is a constant roller coaster of extremes and you can never tell what you’ll find out next.) He exclaimed, “What?!”
“You get to choose what to do. You can be whatever you want to be.”
“Hm.” He tilted his head thoughtfully, blinked a few times at the ceiling, and then started to copy the word on the board, apparently ready to return to our lesson. I went back to writing, too.
I’m not sure what caused this brief existential crisis on a random Monday, ten weeks into the semester, but I’ve been grateful for it since then. It has been reminding me to pray for my students with renewed focus: for the patience to listen to the wise men and women around them, for the humility to respond with kindness when faced with a challenge, and for the wisdom, as they grow up, to make wise decisions about how to spend their time and energy. My student might not be a teacher when he grows up, but he will be something. I pray that, whatever it is, it is something good – a benefit to the Church and to his homeland, as we pray each day in chapel.
While it is definitely important that my Kindergarten students grow in their ability to read, write and count this year, it is essential that they begin more seriously to understand that their choices matter. They may be too young to decide what to be when they grow up, but they are making different kinds of choices all the time. Apologizing to their friend after accidentally flinging sand in their face is a choice. Holding back an angry word when someone else wins the game is a choice. Helping an injured classmate is a choice. Even listening to their teacher is a choice.
These daily choices look different as we age, but the basic principle remains the same: kind people are the people who choose, over and over again, to be kind. Considerate people choose to be considerate. Patient people choose to be patient. These choices, and the actions that are inherent to them, are some of the ways that we own our identity as God’s children. Whether we are elementary students or adults, we are all under His mercy. I pray that my students will choose, again and again, to cling to it.