“Brag Bags”


The first day of school is supposed to be exciting – a new class filled with new challenges. This year, however, for the first time in ten years of teaching elementary school, I did not feel that excitement. I did, however, feel overwhelmed with the implementation of new Common Core standards and the multitude of new textbooks that accompanied them, the continual oppressive nature of standardized testing and the growing number of administrative expectations that continue to be placed on teachers. I actually had to force myself to open the new teachers’ editions to begin learning all the new lessons and to begin searching for resources to use in my classroom. In the past, this was always something I enjoyed and worked on over my summer vacation. Was I losing my passion for teaching? This was the question I posed to God in prayer. I didn’t receive an answer.

As I continued through my first week back to school I found myself getting easily frustrated with everything I had to accomplish. My negative attitude was getting the best of me and I continued questioning my passion for this profession. I went home hoping that rereading parts of my book – What They Have Taught Me… Encouragement and Hope from an Elementary School Classroom would reignite my passion for why I became a teacher. While reading the lessons on love, kindness, patience and faithfulness that my students have taught me over the years I began to realize that I had been overlooking the most important component of teaching – my students.

As the first week of school came to a close, I was still struggling with uncertainty and doubts. I sat at my desk and watched as my new class of 23 fifth graders presented their “Brag Bag” projects. Each of them were so proud to share the items in their bag that best represented themselves. There were chess trophies, dance medals, sports awards, favorite books, pictures of loved ones and pets and most of all smiles. Then one of the boys got up and the first thing he pulled out of his bag was a picture of his dad. He said, “This is my dad. He is so special to me and I miss him.  I have not seen him in over a year.” He then looked over at me and then back to the class. My heart ached for him as I could see the hurt in his eyes. (I later found out that his parents divorced last year and his dad moved out of the country and has minimal contact with him.) As he continued to share the rest of the items in his bag with the class I felt in my heart that God answered my prayer….”You are right where I need you.”

Although I know there may continue to be moments this year when I feel frustrated and have doubts, I believe this reminder confirmed that for now, this is where I need to be. I know, just like in past school years, there will be ups and downs, good days and bad, but part of being a teacher is the ability to look beyond the present to the future with hope. I have 23 reasons this year to be hopeful and to keep moving forward…

LIFE LESSON: There are moments in life when we all may doubt our passion, purpose and the bigger picture in it all. I have been reminded that our purpose and passion come from within our hearts and regardless of how we may feel, it is being worked out of us as we face each new day and year. If we trust that God has us where He needs us at this particular moment in time to accomplish His purpose, then our doubts will be transformed into encouragement and hope.

“God who began the good work in you will keep on working in you until the day Jesus Christ comes again.” Philippians 1:6