Friday, November 15, 2013

A New Branch on My Family Tree

Tory Nogle currently serves as a 6th grade teacher with Holy Family School in the St. Francis Center.

It is officially the season of being thankful. All around me, I see examples of people saying their gratitude for certain things or people. We are all challenged to think, "what am I really thankful for?"

In sixth grade, the religion curriculum is the Old Testament. This can be really tough to teach to sixth graders because the Old Testament is filled with stories of death and God getting angry. I am faced with a lot of tough questions about God's love after reading stories like Noah's Ark, where as a child it seemed so innocent.  When we read the real text we realize God was mad and he wanted to get rid of those who turned away from His love. Even though these stories can be hard to understand, we are able to pull out lessons that we can apply to our own lives. We learn about God's merciful love and the blessings He bestowed onto those who truly loved him.

Despite the challenging material and vocabulary that comes with the Old Testament, the students really love Religion class. I could chalk it up to I am the best teacher ever, but I would like to give some credit to my students as well because they are able to really think about the lessons and how we can apply them into our modern lives.

Once a week, we take our class time to have a prayer service. I am very honest with them about how difficult the Old Testament can be and how we need to take a break and experience our faith without the textbook in front of us. I have the kids sit in a circle, turn down the lights, and normally open with a reading from Psalms. I ask the students to think about something, someone, or an experience, really anything at all, that they are thankful for and then to also think about a prayer or intention they have. 

The first few times we did this in class, when we went around the room and said what or who we are thankful for, everyone's answer was the same. 

"I am thankful for my family and my friends." 

I was getting so frustrated, at first, because I thought the kids weren't really thinking deeply about this. It was an easy answer, of course, we are all thankful for our family and friends.

Then I realized this is what we all have, even when we have nothing, we have our family and our friends. When we have everything we could ask for, we still need a support system, people with laugh with, cry with, celebrate with, and even mourn with.

At the heart of life, is relationship. 

Starting new, across the country, has had its challenges. I am no exception for being thankful for my friends and family. And now, for the most part, that support system is back in the Midwest and there are times when that fact is painfully obvious.

For example, my birthday was last month. Back home, celebrating my birthday is always so much fun. My older sister's birthday is the day after mine so we always have a big family dinner and then we go shopping together. I was getting really excited for my birthday and my students were even counting down the days. The morning of my birthday came and I woke up to a phone full of texts and facebook notifications. I was overwhelmed how many people were already wishing me the happiest of birthdays. It was a little hard though to realize that I wouldn't get to give my mom or dad a big hug and my sister and I wouldn't be going on our annual birthday shopping trip.

My sadness turned to joy shortly after I got to school and the kids started arriving. One of my white boards was full of birthday messages from the students and I had received flowers, teddy bears, and even purple cupcakes from the kids!

Then, during one of my planning periods, I was sitting the conference room and there was a mom of one of my students and her math tutor working. The mom was acting so weird, very fidgety, constantly taking phone calls, and she kept saying, "This is such a wonderful day!" I was honored she thought it was awesome that it was my birthday, but she stared me down every time I got up to do something. Finally, she got up and closed the door and peaked back in and said, "you stay put!"
When I was retrieved, I walked into the kitchen to find a huge feast and a Minnie Mouse cake! I was almost in tears. The moms did this all for me and they have only known me for 2.5 months! Everyone at the center was conspiring all week just to make my birthday special.

Ever since I arrived in Redwood City, I have felt a sense of family with those I have met. When I am at home with my community, we are like a family. When I go to school, those kids and their parents have welcomed me into the St. Francis Center family. The parents ask me how I am doing and if I miss home. They tell me what is happening in their lives and they give me suggestions of things to do while I am in California.

At the center, I have become part of another family. All of the students and their parents have taken me in like they have known me for years.

I am extremely thankful for my family and friends here in Redwood City. My students really know what they are talking about. 
Ms. Nogle and her class on Halloween

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