Have I ever told you about the Russian Princess? I was reminded of her and our special story yesterday...so I thought I would fulfill my October Quest today by sharing that story with you.
It was the end of the summer of 2006 and I was preparing to begin my new career as a Homeschool Enrichment Teacher at a wonderful Christian school way out West. The night before I would begin this grand adventure...I was nervous. Sure I had taught my own children...but now I was taking on the responsibility of teaching other people's children and I was a bit...terrified.
I mean it's one thing to mess up my own children...but these were other people's children!
The phone rang that night and a sweet voiced lady (who would become a dear friend I affectionately call Praise Girl) let me know she was a mother of three of the students who would be in my class the next day. She shared with me that I would be teaching her two sons...and her brand-new-just-arrived-in-the-states daughter. This wonderful new addition to their family was 11 years old...had arrived just two weeks earlier from Russia...and did not speak English!
Let me say that again...just to make sure you understand what I was told the night before I was to step foot into a classroom for the very first time and teach a room full of fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. HER DAUGHTER DID NOT SPEAK ENGLISH!
Well, I don't remember that conversation word for word. I'm really not sure what Praise Girl said...or what I said for the rest of the conversation because ringing in my ears were the words: does. not. speak. English.
I fear I cannot convey in mere words on a blog how insane...impossible... and overwhelming those four words made me feel. I think Praise Girl reassured me...and I am sure I tried to sound professional and reassuring to her as well, but I certainly didn't feel professional or reassured when I hung up.
After I hung up, I did what any brand new classroom teacher would do when finding out the night before she is to begin her classroom teaching career that she will have a student TOMORROW that doesn't speak the only language the teacher knows: I called Mom and cried.
Mom has years of teaching experience and she did what Mom does best and encouraged me. She told me I could do it...she told me stories of teachers she knew with similar experiences...and she prayed for me.
The next day (after a quick stop in the school office where I freaked out a little...and a fellow teacher took me in her arms and prayed over me right into my ear) I walked into my classroom on wobbly legs, said a prayer, and took a deep breath. One by one my new students arrived. I greeted each of them and their parents with a warm smile as the butterflies danced in my stomach.
I was happy to meet the shy Russian Princess, her brothers, little sister, and her mom, Praise Girl. And I was greatly relieved when I realized they brought an interpreter with them. As we got through the first few hours of the day, my nerves started to settle a little.
Knowing the Russian interpreter would not be with us the rest of the school year...I tried to cover everything I could while she was there. I asked a lot of questions and took in everything she told me. She even taught me a few Russian words.
But the most memorable part of the day for me was at the end of the day. I met with the interpreter one last time to double check a few things with her. She patiently answered all of my questions and then she kindly reassured me with these wonderful words: "The student is happy here. She says she likes you because you smile. In Russia teachers do not smile."
That poor child...you know what I did...I smiled...and smiled...and smiled like crazy at that beautiful little girl. Bless her heart. I'm pretty sure I went a bit overboard on the smiles...but I wanted her to feel safe...happy...comfortable...and loved.
As the school year progressed, so did the Russian Princess. At first she did a lot of copy work as she practiced her written English...we did lots of hand gestures...we pointed...we made do...sometimes we got frustrated...sometimes we just giggled...and yes, occasionally there were a few tears.
Soon the Russian Princess was speaking English and the doors of communication opened up to her...her friends and fellow students...and to me. I delighted in every step forward she made. By the end of the school year she had settled into life in America with a new family...new friends...and she could read, write, and speak her new language.
Looking back I still can't believe I got to do that. And that experience lead to several other amazing experiences I enjoyed as a teacher. Thanks to a local church that helped families in that community adopt Russian children in need of a family, I went on to teach many more Russian students. Instead of crying and freaking out...my heart was filled with joy when I would hear that beautiful accent coming from a new student.
I do realize that not everyone gets to do these things. After that first year with the Russian Princess, I had confidence that I could handle each unique student that came into my classroom...not because I was some fantastic teacher...but because God equipped me with people and resources to guide me through each situation. And each time those students benefited from God's grace and I give Him all the glory for seeing me through each opportunity.
God did amazing work in both the Russian Princess and me that year. I will be forever grateful for being given that fabulous opportunity. It is a truly incredible experience that I will carry with me forever.