On the Monday before Ash Wednesday, the first week of Lent, my daily routine completely changed: I began a 9-week teaching practicum and was suddenly thrust into the ‘real world.’ Though I had started the process to get recertified almost a year earlier, the opportunity to complete my teaching practicum – the final step in the process – was sudden and unexpected. There was little time to think or prepare for what was happening: I was heading back into the classroom after nearly 20 years of being away.
I was excited but nervous. What would the kids think of me? What about the other teachers and staff? Would I be able to cut it? I felt like a brand new teacher all over again. Moreover, I had requested an assignment in a Catholic school, thinking at least one thing would be familiar to me. But that wasn’t the case – God had other plans. Instead of the comfortable existence I’d made for myself, I would be teaching grade 5 in a public school.
Suddenly, I found myself interacting on a daily basis with all kinds of people – with Christians and non-Christians, with Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus, with married people and single people, both gay and straight. To be certain, there was nothing extraordinary about this scenario. For anyone living and working in Canada, it was a perfectly normal situation. But for me, it was a dose of the real world, one I hadn’t encountered in quite some time.
I realized I’d been living in a bubble – surrounding myself with like-minded individuals who mostly shared my views. Now I couldn’t make any assumptions at all. There were those who shared my values and beliefs, but there were also many others who clearly did not. For the first few days, I felt like Dorothy, after the tornado. You’re not in Kansas anymore! It was a bit unsettling, and I wasn’t quite sure of what to make of my new surroundings.
Yet the assignment – and God’s timing – couldn’t have been more perfect. I met interesting, caring, and wonderful people who were willing to help me with whatever I needed. Once I got to know them, I discovered that the divide between us wasn’t nearly as great as I would have thought, and I truly came to see many of them as friends.
About halfway through the practicum, my husband asked me what I was learning from the experience, fully expecting me to respond (I’m sure) with something related to subject matter or teaching pedagogy. But I told him the most important thing I was learning was simply how to be with people, especially those who didn’t share my views. I could see the goodness in them – Christ in them. I was learning to appreciate and understand their struggles and motivations, their good and their not so good qualities.
There was nothing new or novel in my approach. I simply tried to treat everyone I met with dignity and respect. For years I’d been saying how important it was to “meet people where they are.” Now I was living it. It occurred to me that if I’d been in a Catholic school, I might have assumed (wrongly) that we were all on the same page, that everyone shared the same beliefs. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been as gentle, as compassionate or understanding. But in this setting, my purpose was clear: to help close the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – to find commonalities and points of connection. And there were many!
When I stopped to think about it, I realized how much God wanted me to simply be the best witness to my faith that I could, versus wanting me to do anything in particular. He wanted me to see that being a Christian isn’t all about me, the things I can do. Rather, it’s about Him, how He touches our lives in new and unexpected ways if we’re open to His grace. Most of all, the Lord showed me how important it is to truly live my faith versus merely talking about it. Living in the real world has its challenges, but it’s the only way we will ever be able to impact it or make a difference.
– Kelley Holy