Communities that Care

by Steve Tuit and Abby Zwart

When we came up with the idea for this issue last January, the pandemic was just coming into the periphery of vision for anyone outside of China. When we started planning it in earnest in May, COVID-19 loomed so large it was hard to see anything else. And now, we write this note just as the new school year is beginning with all its uncertainty. Some of you may retrieve this issue from your physical mailbox at school. Some of you won’t be in the building. Many have said that the most taxing aspect of this season is the unpredictability and inability to plan ahead even in monthly increments, and that will certainly take its toll on teachers this year—we of the color-coded planners and daily schedules and favorite lesson plans we repeat every year. But being a teacher also means being a great ad-libber. We’ve developed the skills to cope with last-minute changes, and with God’s help, we have the resilience and experience to make it through a year we’ll never forget.

So where did we learn those skills? Through practice, sure. Trial and error, failures that felt monumental, successes that we aimed to replicate the next time. We learned to balance a late-night grading session with no-technology family time the next day. We followed a science lesson that required hours of planning and setup with an episode of Planet Earth (the whole, blessed, hour-long episode). We vented about a frustrating administrative decision to our partners or our book club or our church small group, and then we listened to their gentle advice and reassurance. As adults, most of us have found ways to process our emotions and work through them productively. But our students are still learning these skills.

This issue is called “Communities that Care” because it is our job as teachers and leaders of our school communities to support our students and help them develop the skills that will allow them to thrive even in the midst of chaos, with the goal that they become healthy and supportive members of their own communities. In the issue, you’ll find articles on identifying students who are struggling mentally or emotionally (with things like anxiety or trauma) alongside articles that offer suggestions for helping them grow in a multitude of ways (mindfulness, mentoring, and art class).

Wherever you are this semester—physically, emotionally, spiritually—we trust that you have people around you who remind you what a truly excellent job you are doing in the face of adversity. As we help our students develop new social and emotional skills amid some chaos, let’s also remember to take time to foster those skills in ourselves.

One time I remember feeling cared for by a teacher was in college. There was one professor who, although he wasn’t my advisor, signed off on my every whim of course substitutions. He stopped to sit and talk every time he saw me studying or waiting for class in the department lounge. He commented on my writing in the school newspaper, even pasting favorite pieces to the door of his office. He wrote me a set of haiku about fishing. Though he only taught me in an official capacity for one semester, he spent four years nurturing a relationship that taught me how to truly be a Christian educator.

—Abby Zwart

It’s hard for me to single out one specific teacher who cared for me—there have been many. The most powerful act, which I experienced multiple times and from various teachers, was when someone would give me the blessing of naming something valuable they saw in me. Those brief moments helped me hear God’s call on my life and move toward His kingdom, and I try to give that blessing to my students whenever I can.

—Steve Tuit