Teaching as Witness

            I keep trying to bear in mind why I’m here. To teach English, that’s the first-level answer, and not a bad one. That is why I came here, and what I’m doing. But then I can ask again: so why did I come here to teach English? This whole idea is supposed to be for God and for the Russian people – so how does teaching fulfill that?

            Of course there is the hope that I may be able to witness to students or others with whom I build that significant a relationship. But those opportunities will not be frequent, and only God knows what will come of them. Whence, then, will come any fruit from my living here? I think I really like the idea that even before I open my mouth to speak the Name of the Lord or tell of my faith, my life and work should be a witness. If I work as for God, not for man, the results will speak of the reason. Teaching in particular is a great avenue: it offers numerous daily chances to care for students and show interest in them, to behave with diligence and integrity, and to strive for a standard in front of people who need what I can offer, and can see with what kind of character I bring it.

            But that only works if they notice. That’s in God’s hands, not mine. All I can do is serve where He has put me, do it as honorably and lovingly as I can, and let Him move in students’ lives. Daily I pour out my attentions and perseverance and intellect and patience and stubbornness and passion and heart on the incredibly demanding job teaching is, especially in a first year, and wait on God to approve the sacrifice I offer and bring forth fruit.

            But maybe I can see a little bit. Maybe they do notice. All my students notice some differences. I smile and laugh in the classroom. That’s not the standard for Russian teachers. I expect them to talk, encourage them to be imaginative, even silly, and get excited for them when they start getting it, and never come down harshly on mistakes. None of that looks like Russian education. But it also says a lot less about faith than about theoretical models for language acquisition.

            There’s more, though: they can see how much I want for each of them to succeed, and how I give attention and encouragement to all. I read and comment on all written work. It’s time-consuming, but an excellent way to offer individual encouragement and feedback. Many students have personally addressed  me in their work to thank me. They know how much work that is, or at least can guess, and realize that it says something about me giving more than a minimum of care for them and my work.

            Last week, two students – not those pictured – missed most of my class and stayed after to discuss why: they had to attend to a situation from another class, which arose because of a professor who was regularly insulting and highly demanding of time, whether or not it was their time for another class.  They said he was impossible to deal with and uncaring of anything except exerting his will as an authority figure. And, they said, this was pretty common here. I'm not perfect either: with this class in particular, I've been terrible about learning names and returning homework promptly, both of which I feel are important for a good teacher, the first especially -- but most teachers here don't try hard at either, and they certainly don't apologize like I have. These two showed admiration for my very different approach, and said more teachers should be like me. They were, as were many students, touched by the thoughtful comments on journal assignments. Now, when I hand work back at the end of class, most students read feedback right away and thank me before leaving the room. The two students in this story, incidentally, both had turned in consistently fantastic work on journals and received exuberant comments from me. When I asked this week about how their other class was going, they couldn’t believe it – few of their teachers would ever bother to ask a student something like that.

            I’ve never told them about God or asked them what they believe or why; it’s likely I never will. But if they see some bit of Light dimly reflected by me from God to them, it will be enough. Most of my classes have asked me why I’ve come to Russia, and when I say that it was to teach, they’re starting to see that it’s not just any ordinary job, or an idle international adventure, it’s a calling. May that become ever clearer, and may God make Himself known to them. If it comes through my daily witness of teaching, so be it.