I just started a fantasy reading/writing unit with my 8th graders. Fantasy is not my favorite genre, but it is full of depth, struggle, quests, characters searching for truth; all of these are such relatable topics, which makes teaching fantasy really fun for me. As we were planning, learning, and understanding about fantasy this week, one of my students in a writing conference told me he hated fantasy and asked me if evil can win in his story. Here is what he and I have learned since asking this question…saving the best for last.
First, he discovered that he really just hates the “…and they lived happily ever after.” This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and in complete agreement with him, I told him that I hated it too. I needed to know more, the why. “It’s not real life, Miss Youtzy. It’s too perfect sounding.”
For me, I’m reflecting on this standard that we set for ourselves, our friends, our lives. Having all the answers and putting on a confident front…where did that even come from, and why is that a thing when it’s not even real? What about honesty, or anticipating the disappointment, or letting someone else be a better…whatever’s in your blank. I’m currently all about the risk. The determination that the end goal is more worthy than the fear. Than being “perfect sounding.”
Second, he learned that he just wants to show the struggle, that there is suffering, that there’s something in the struggle that’s good. We talked about how all fantasy has to be based in some sort of reality. The audience has to follow you to this place. And that to throw suffering in our stories you can throw your suffering in the story.
Recently I had a friend tell me, “You’re in the suffering, I can see it.” One of the hardest parts of my week was telling my dearest 7th graders I will be Assistant Principal next year. They wanted to celebrate…they hooted and hollered and clapped and cheered. And then I realized they didn’t get it. After explaining, one student even told me, “But you could do both, teach and AP, you’re Miss Youtzy.” And another, “How will I ever get better at reading and writing without you?” The push and pull of this semester.
My same friend also told me “We can only celebrate to the degree we are willing to grieve.” This semester I grieve leaving kids that I love and subjects that I love. Yet, I celebrate. I celebrate new beginnings of starting at Seattle Pacific this summer to get my Master’s and becoming the Assistant Principal of Highlands. I celebrate these four years I’ve been in the classroom and the students I’ve taught and that have taught me. I celebrate one of the best lessons I’ve learned…that I can’t be all business. The incredible moments I remember with the students are when there was no business. Today was no business. We celebrated The Carnaval holiday with water games and of course the epic teacher vs. student water balloon fight. The business drives me, but it is not all me. We have to take time to step into the story of others and invite them into our story. It’s innate. We were created for this.
Last and best, I asked him if it’s possible. If it’s real. If evil can really win? I knew this really wasn’t his issue or what he desired to show in his paper, but it was a good reminder. If evil wins, then everything is dark and hopeless. And so I asked him, “Does evil win in real life?” We already know the ending. Jesus comes back. He wins. Satan gets crushed and destroyed. Even the world’s best attempt at evil with the cross of Jesus turned into the greatest reversal.
Lately there have been so many “evils” in my organization, NICS. Our school in Afghanistan had to close mid-year due to elevated terrorists attacks. My heart is grieved for my friends and their students who lost their school, culture, and job mid-year. The inflation rate in Venezuela is creating havoc for our school and my friends who are trying to live there. North in Lima, a teacher lost his wife over Christmas break to an aggressive and late-find cancer battle. It seems almost weekly that we are adding another school to our prayer requests.
But, evil doesn’t win. God promises to use these things for His good. There are wonderful things coming for NICS. My bosses will be at our annual job fair the next few weeks, recruiting new laborers in the harvest. I’m praying that two of them are a principal (so I don’t have to be assistant to myself), and a woman of God who can step in to my HIS middle school role.
I leave you with a verse that has been on my heart this semester. Psalm 90:12 “So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Reality is flying by, but I know the wisdom is in staying present…in real life.