Monday, October 21, 2013

30 Days to 30

In thirty days, I will be thirty years old. Yesterday I asked some friends how they thought I should celebrate this transition, and the ever-wise Liz suggested I write to thirty people who have shaped my life and ways. Her suggestion resonated with something I've wanted to do for a long time with this blog: provide my readers with a sense of the great cloud of witnesses surrounding and sustaining me in my quest for Home. Over the next thirty days, I will post letters each day to a person or community that has helped bring me through thirty glad years of life.

Dear Students,

For twenty years, I waited for you. Coming home from kindergarten, I would set up schools for my dolls and teach them songs. Years later, as a college freshman I would slip into empty classrooms and cover the boards in sonnets and sentence diagrams. I taught myself by imagining you with me.

I met you first in China. You were Chinese, South Korean, and Uzbek, shy and respectful, eager to learn English. I was twenty and terrified, stumbling my way through each day's lesson. You plunged into our course, studied and struggled, laughed and wondered. You called me, "Teacher! Teacher!" slipped your arms through mine, and led me down to Yanji, guiding me through rainy streets. You were Misha, who would laugh, in that deep Uzbek accent, "Ah, you name iz Bear! The animal! But you are such a little bear!" You were Tak-Bong, who cried with me on the day I left China behind. You were Pu Zhen, who made me promise to visit your home in Tibet on my honeymoon.

With my students at Yanbian University of Science and Technology, Summer 2003

Three years later, you were Texans, green-and-gold Baylor undergrads.  I felt like a child playing dress-up in my heels and mascara, but when I asked a question you would say, "Yes ma'am." At first I wanted to giggle, but I knew you said it because your mamas had taught you well, and then I realized you said it because you thought I had a right to be there, saying words, grading papers, teaching. For six years you were my consolation, ballast against the weight of doctoral courses, exams, and dissertation. You taught me about humor and faith, diligence and deceit, apathy and ambition. You were gregarious, enthusiastic, lazy, audacious, flighty, courteous, beautiful. You were Abigail, who could always make her classmates laugh; Lincoln, brimming with excitement about music; Kirat, who decorated my hands with henna; Chase, who would linger after class with questions about Tennyson.

Autumn 2007: These Baylor freshmen had my class at 8 AM during my first-ever semester of teaching. Bless their hearts.

Spring 2012: My last group of Baylor students. Bright and joyful, all of them.

And now you are Southerners, raised among hills and coastlines I hardly know. You work hard, so hard I worry that you will spend yourselves too soon. You do brilliant things because you love excellence: class discussions and amateur theatricals, concerts and essays, mission trips and potlucks. When I interviewed here, you welcomed me, prayed for me. You come to my office and interrupt my grading or my reading and I do not care because your eyes are always so alive. You come to my house to bless my new home, or to roast marshmallows in the yard, or to ask questions about the midterm. You are Tiffany, who gathered her friends to carry boxes to my third-floor apartment. You are Amanda, who traveled to Italy with me. You are Anna quiet in class, yet with such wise eyes. You are Regis and Bethany, who asked if I would see family at Christmas, who worried that I might be alone for the holidays. You are Sara, now in Texas learning to teach on her own.  In so many ways, you are more than I can name.

Autumn 2013: Enjoying a houseful of students

I have often thought about how my own teachers shaped the person I have become, but today I realize how much I owe to you. In very practical ways, I spend most hours each week working for you: reading, planning, presenting, evaluating. For so many years I studied for the sake of studying, with a hermetic joy. Now I study for you. After so many years of hearing you call me, "Teacher," I have finally begun to believe that I can claim that name. You are my protégés, my judges, my audience, my agitators, my friends: my students. Thank you for all you have taught me.

Ever yours,

Teacher/Miss/Dr. Bear


  1. Miss Bear, you are a great teacher! When I first met you in my first, freshman English class, I remember being so excited because your name was so full of Baylor pride! Thanks for everything. Happy almost birthday!

  2. What a wonderful idea- I can't wait to read the rest!

  3. This is lovely, Bethany. And what a nice way to transition into your 30s.