Slamming my dorm room door behind me after spending hours in back-to-back classes, I tossed my backpack aside and retreated to the comfort of my bed, temporarily avoiding the lengthy to-do list that taunted me from my nearby desk.
As my head hit my pillow, my mind wandered once again to the workshop that had been pervading my thoughts after returning back to campus from Jubilee — “Education, Faith, and Resistance.”
Unable to corral my thoughts so that I could nap, I grabbed my notebook from Jubilee and reviewed my notes from the workshop — again. The purple-penned words and phrases jumped off the page — race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, poverty, wealth, faithful advocacy, Jesus. They comforted and challenged me at the same time, just as they had when I first heard them in the workshop.
I am a white, middle-class woman from a suburban town in Central Pennsylvania. I have never experienced poverty. I didn’t grow up in a broken family. I have never even received less than a B in a class. But in that time of reflection, these wonderful blessings challenged and terrified me. How on earth would I ever be a faithful advocate for my students if I wasn’t even able to comprehend their backgrounds?
Closing my journal and silencing my to-do list, I picked up Katherine Bomer’s Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching from the Brilliance in Every Student’s Writing and started to complete my assigned reading. Within the first two pages, I was struck by one of the most profound and captivating sentences I have ever read:
"How oddly difficult for most of us to accept in our competitive, goal-oriented, Westernized culture, to believe that saying something is enough might actually be the most profoundly motivating word for a student to hear.”
All of my thoughts, feelings, and purple-penned notes converged into one sentence, into one word — enough.
While Bomer may have stated this in reference to students’ writing, it means so much more than that. What if my students knew and believed that they were enough, even if they were of different races? Or different ethnicities? Or came from different socioeconomic statuses? Or had parents who were divorced? Or had learning disabilities?
What if my students knew that there was someone who had the power to advocate for them and deem them as enough, even if the world was against them?
What if my students could know Jesus?
As my eyes carefully scanned each word of that sentence over and over, it hit me that Jesus is the best example of a teacher and advocate for children. From speaking in parables so that his disciples could better understand Him, to continually being in community with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners, to letting the little children come to Him when the disciples wanted to send them away, Jesus most perfectly demonstrated love and gave a voice to the voiceless. In His power, He deemed the inadequate as being enough.
I want my advocacy for my students to begin with Jesus.
Advocacy means admitting my inadequacy to teach or impact or love in my own power. It means embracing the fact that I cannot understand my students in my own power. It means relying on Jesus to make me enough — to give me the words to say and the love to give and the understanding to sympathize.
It means realizing that when Jesus died on the cross, He was advocating for me. He was advocating for my students. He was advocating for all of humankind. And He continues to do so amid the brokenness of this world.
I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter who I am, or who I am not. I only need to let children come to me, just as I am, and let Jesus speak impartial, loving, and encouraging words through me — words which contradict what the world says. I need to view my students through the eyes of the Ultimate Advocate, so that I can provide them all with equal opportunities to learn and grow, even on days when my flesh wants to play favorites, grade lazily, or react too harshly. These are words and actions which contradict what the world says — words and actions which always say: you are enough.
—Emily O’Donnell studies English Education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and expects to graduate in May 2019.