I begin my second year of teaching on Tuesday. From the outside, not much has improved since last year. I have no idea what my schedule will look like, since it has changed three times already; I am teaching subjects that I have never taught before to an age group I have never worked with before; and I am testing a new system of classroom organization that could very well crash and burn before it even takes off. I have a new MTLD, and although he is great, I will miss the relationship that I built with my previous one. Perhaps scariest of all, this is the first year in which the state test will determine graduation eligibility, and I am now teaching the students who will be taking that test next year. In short, I have every reason to be anxious about Tuesday.
And yet, I am not. I approach this year with a confidence rooted partly in my refusal to be phased by student craziness, partly in my ability to improvise when necessary, and above all in the steadfast love that God has already demonstrated so many times in the past year (Lam 3:22-23). I know that my second year will not be easy by any means; but even if it ends up being more demanding than my first year (which it may, at this rate), God will be faithful to carry me through with serenity and strength.
I also approach this year with a clearer understanding that this is not about me. Metrics such as academic achievement and college admittance are undoubtedly important, but it is too easy for them to become self-glorifying. My vision for this year focuses far more on ensuring that students learn to become compassionate leaders who pursue personally meaningful aims—leaders who think critically, live with integrity, act with professionalism, endure with perseverance, and abide in joy. At this point last year, I worried myself sick over how to invest students in “80% mastery” and the college application process. This year, my vision and big goals will flow more naturally into my teaching because they are fundamental to how I live my own life, and I hope students will be all the more transformed because of this.
And now, because I enjoy a certain degree of nonlinearity in my thinking, here is a random reflection from this afternoon.
According to modern physics research, the best candidate for a universal “theory of everything” is string theory, which posits that elementary particles such as electrons and quarks (the constituents of all matter and forces in the universe) are in turn manifestations of 1-dimensional “strings” oscillating at various frequencies. (Picture the oscillations of a violin or guitar string, with each note corresponding to a different elementary particle.) The mathematics are complicated, going far beyond my undergraduate introductions to topology and field theory, but they are consistent inasmuch as physicists and mathematicians have been able to test them. Stephen Hawking, cosmologist extraordinaire, has gone as far as to claim that string theory is the only candidate for a complete theory of the universe.
Admittedly, this all sounds a bit wonky. Given our macroscopic existences, human beings have trouble fathoming atoms and molecules, much less the particles that comprise those atoms and molecules. And yet, as both a musician and a believer, I find string theory deeply appealing. I envision the universe to be an orchestra of invisible strings in a perpetual dance, a cosmic aria singing to God’s glory (Ps 19:1-3). I imagine the atoms in my own body, once the stuff of stars and supernovae, straining to return to that empyrean symphony. I may be stretching the theory just a bit (physicists, please don’t shoot me), but the beauty and elegance of string theory just seem right to me.
Back to lesson planning. Tuesday approacheth!