Teaching with chalk has been such a unique experience. The little box handed to me when I arrived has become a prized possession. Its frayed-edges, taped-top, and bruised-sides are proof of its use over the weeks. Each time I pull out a freshly polished piece with its crisp edges and smooth contours, I know that it will be tattered and broken in seconds. By the time the bell rings, I will have exhausted its original shape and reduced it to various crumbled pieces. After class, my hands are covered in a milky-white residue that feels dry and sticky, a tactile sensation coats my hands like a glove. The sides of my pants are covered in trails of white from my constant whipping.
Chalk is much like teaching. You arrived fresh and crisp, excited for your opportunity to leave a mark on the board (of people’s lives). Then, after a few days, you find parts of you reduced and distributed to various students. A seemingly unwashable residue that forever reminds you of the lessons remains long after the final bell.
One of the beauties of teaching is that every day and every year, teachers are provided with endless opportunities. New classes. New lessons. New students. You are regularly afforded the grace of untold potential. Like crisp chalk, a teacher offers themselves in a hopeful act of service.
Teaching is also a lesson in profound humility. As I prepare for my final classes here at Saint Xavier High School in Bungoma, I realize all that is left unsaid, untaught, and yet to be covered. Details that I left out, lessons that were cut short, and discoveries yet to be made. Just as much as teaching provides endless hope for tomorrow, teaching also reminds you of the timeliness of life. We can hope for tomorrow and know that eventually, our tomorrow will not come, and the new day will rise for another. Like a piece of chalk reduced to powder, your opportunity to teach becomes no more, and it eventually becomes time for a new stick.
The most humbling aspect of teaching is the immortality that teachers are granted. For generations, teachers are remembered (some for good and some for ill). Their influence cannot be understated. I am often reminded daily of teachers I had decades ago. It’s a powerful reminder to be mindful of my words and presence with each student. The lessons I teach today will likely only bear knowledge long after I am gone. Like a piece of chalk broken and distributed for students to write on the board, parts of you remain unreturned and pocketed for use generations later.
The highest privilege of teaching is the blessing of the students. Each student is a source of limitless knowledge, skill, and prestige. Each day I enter a classroom, I am reminded that the students, not me, are the most intelligent and talented people in the room.
I’ve worked at various schools for the last several years, and one thing that never changes is that students are students no matter which school they attend.
Regardless of the setting, students are the same.
- They make inappropriate jokes (that I often fail to hide my laughter from).
- They doze off during the most inspiring and compelling lessons.
- They ask entirely random questions that have nothing to do with the day’s material.
- They have thought-provoking insights about the material and highlight points I overlooked for years.
- After school, students amaze me with their athletic prowess and stamina. Their ability to run faster, jump higher, and kick harder appears to know no bounds.
The relationship between a student and teacher also remains the same regardless of context. Students learn best when they recognize that their teachers care about them and their learning. When “enduring personal relationships” are formed between the students and their teachers, profound knowledge and transformation are fostered. Conversely, when those bonds fail to develop, each day becomes a grinding struggle.
As I reflect on my time here in Bungoma and recall encounters with countless students from various contexts, I am humbled to consider myself an educator.
Not every day is easy, mind you. Some days are a struggle. Students fail to cooperate. A parent calls frustrated about a grade. The principal asks you to stay after for extra duty. A bill arrives, and you are reminded of your measly paycheck. Yet, despite the days when the students, teachers, school, district, or whoever disappoints you, there is always at least one student who apologizes on behalf of his peers or thanks you for work—providing hope that your efforts are not all lost. Those moments redeem one’s vocation.
Adjusting to different curriculums, crossing language barriers, and learning cultural differences have created unique pedagogical circumstances in Bungoma. Nonetheless, I will never forget these students.
If I am being honest, these students (and, in fact, every student I’ve ever had) have taught me more than I’d ever be able to teach them. Collectively and individually, each student has made me laugh, inspired me with hope, pulled at my heartstrings, and intimately shaped my life.
With just a few pieces of chalk remaining and my box ready for the bin, I wonder what awaits the person who opens a new box of chalk. What future does this school hold? What potential will these students unlock? What world awaits these men?
I do not know when or if I will return to Bungoma, and I am uncertain if our paths will cross again. Still, I pray that our shared lessons will forever leave an unwashable mark on my heart.
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Watch these videos to learn more about Saint Xavier High School Bungoma, Kenya.