All across the country parents are pulling out backpacks, replacing too-small running shoes, and wracking their brains for lunchbox combinations that won’t come home rejected. Teachers are setting up lessons and desks, preparing for the rush of noise, questions and energy that will wake their slumbering schoolrooms. It’s back-to-school time.
It’s no secret that we love kids here at Compassion. So in the anticipation of a new school year, we put our hand up and asked Miss Halina, a teacher from Québec with a huge heart for kids (you may remember her!), 10 questions about Canadian kids and what a compassionate classroom will look like this year. Halina shared some very profound and exciting thoughts that we know will inspire you as the wheels on the bus head around town for another school year…
Compassion Canada: Let’s start by getting to know you a little more. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? And, if you had to choose only one of the following items for the rest of your life, would you choose books, music or movies?
Halina: I am an introvert who loves quiet and time with my family, who are my closest friends. My greatest passions are people and stories. I love researching Compassion (a favourite procrastination of mine) and my sponsored children are very special to me. Growing up in Québec, six homeschool years, being part of a family in ministry, working summers at a Christian camp, university ministry in North Africa (6 weeks) and teaching in Cambodia (4 months) all had an important impact on who I am.
Books, music or movies? That’s a tough choice! I’d choose books for the stories, but can’t imagine a world without music, especially when it comes to worship.
CC: Let’s talk all about teaching! What grade do you teach? What was it that drew you to a career as a teacher? What do you love about your job?
Halina: I teach Grade 3/4 all subjects and Math Grade 5/6.
Teaching drew me for several reasons: the long-term impact on kids, the highly relational aspect of the job, plus the fact that I enjoy books, elementary Math, Science, and Gym class! I know children are significant and worth the investment. Building into a life takes time and teaching gives you a lot of time—almost a thousand hours in a school year! Kids are often more honest (and fun!) than adults, which is refreshing.
One thing I love about my job is the “aha!” moments when my kids understand a concept for the first time. I also love the more relaxed moments when my students can fully be themselves as we dive into a Read-Aloud or a class discussion.
CC: This has certainly been an interesting year for teachers and their students. What are some of the ways your job has changed? What has been the most challenging aspect of your role this year?
Halina: One important change was an increased priority on the kids’ well-being over academics. We tried to keep the kids’ learning as strong as possible, but problems were viewed through the lens of “school may not be the most important thing for this family right now.” As teachers, we always see family struggles—finances, conflict, lack of coping tools—spill over into school, but this year almost all our families were struggling in a noticeable way.
Teaching virtually and in-person at the same time was very hard. Trying to help kids understand and engage through a screen—“Hold up your paper again, please. A little to the left. The other left.” “Miss, I can’t see the board.” “Miss, Connor says his internet is not working”—is difficult. Add simultaneously teaching the kids actually in the room with me… Some teachers did it well. I found it frustrating.
CC: Has anything come out of this unique season that makes you excited?
Halina: The kids’ resiliency! Despite this past season being chaotic on so many fronts, the kids showed up. Their commitment to learning, building friendships, caring for people and having fun together kept me encouraged. If we could learn and do so much in such a difficult year, maybe “do good now” is always possible, regardless of what we face.
CC: Because you are a teacher, this has you interacting with Canadian children every day. What inspires you about the children you serve?
Halina: I’ve noticed children tend to live out what they understand. Kids internalize more quickly, “If (insert fact) is true, then I must (insert action),” so it affects their lives more deeply. Once they know something is true, they act on it. The results are often life changing. I want that efficiency of character growth in my own life!
CC: What is something you wish we understood about children?
Halina: Kids are not future people. They are a full person in a smaller-than-adult body. I think we as adults, churches and culture underestimate kids.
I remember feeling irritation in university when people asked my major. A common reaction to Kindergarten and Elementary Education was “Aw, that’s cute!” I agree, kids can be hilarious and adorable! But we often simplify childhood down to “cute.” Kids reason, challenge, mourn, delight, make choices, learn and grow in fully human ways. They have a lot to contribute and are wide open to receive.
One cool aspect of teaching is knowing my students over a long period of time on a very intellectual and personal level. Even in my small Grade 3/4 class, each of my students was an extremely engaging individual with a sharp mind who was fighting unique personal battles. Knowing each of them humbled me and taught me a great deal. My advice: Take the time to know kids and work with them as individual people. Discipleship and community are important for kids! Do not miss out on developing their potential because they are cute.
Immaturity is not connected to age as much as to lack of development. My kids often surprise me by how deeply they think and the character they demonstrate. Thoughtless behaviour or shallow character is something teachers regularly deal with, talk through and address in a classroom. Every year, I see kids grow and change as they engage with the world and their own choices. I see immaturity and maturity in conflict, and this has nothing to do with age.
In the church, kids can serve and grow! My advice: Take discipleship and children’s ministry seriously—the long-term impact can be huge. Also, are there roles kids can step into among the adults? To serve as welcomers, ushers and offering-takers, as Sunday School workers and prayer warriors—so many roles that often need volunteers, but we don’t look to the smaller ones because we underestimate their ability or the value of developing maturity among kids.
CC: We love how you and your class chose to do good last year. For those who work with children, how would you suggest shaping compassion in their lives this year?
Halina: Every educator or leader works in a different way, is inspired by different things and has different skills. To be effective, pick a strategy that fits your style. That said, here are a few general suggestions that worked for me:
Start small but think long-term. A big project takes energy but there are always small things I can do easily. All my students know I write kids through Compassion. They know their names and my class map has the countries labelled. I choose activities to fit in the Québec curriculum. We discuss the similarities and differences of Bangladesh, Canada, Honduras and Togo in Geography and Language Arts. We talk about poverty, wealth and having enough and what this looks like in each aspect of our lives (body, mind, relationships, etc.) as part of Health. When I teach letter writing, my example is a letter to one of my sponsored kids. I let my students know they can always give me artwork or suggest topics for me to write my Compassion kids. I share the letters I receive from my sponsored child Alice from Togo in French class. These small actions are ongoing and so build a longer conversation than a one-time activity.
Combine reflection with action. We often read a book or discuss a topic with children but stop there. Kids learn best by doing. Following up a book with a tangible activity, such as a small fundraiser or volunteering, will reinforce the ideas you discussed.
Combine action with reflection. Action is important! But “doing” on its own is often vague in its message—why do we do? Reflect on what you are doing, as well as how and why. Plan books, videos and discussions before and afterwards so the kids can engage with the ideas.
Try something. I love Compassion’s work and poverty alleviation so I try to do a project that takes a bit more effort every year or so, such as Step into My Shoes (adjusted for my school), a 5K relay race fundraiser, a Math situational problem where the kids must plan what they can afford, given different family budgets and needs, etc. Choosing one project that works for you in your situation and that you are excited about is a good goal. These projects have been met with varying levels of success (or unsuccess…) in my classroom, but I have never regretted it.
Compassion has many resources available: a great opportunity to build a well-rounded and healthy worldview with the kids you serve.
CC: How do you see Canadian children becoming advocates for children around the world?
Halina: Remember the ease with which kids absorb the “if (fact) is true, then I need to (action)”? Canadian children have great potential as advocates (many already are!) because they internalize the need for action quickly. Many kids, when faced with a need, react with: We need to do something! When we heard news that the dad of a family at our school died, the class sat shocked for a moment. Then one child asked, “What do we do?” at the same time as another asked, “Can we make cards?” Compassion in action is often easily developed in children.
Fundraising is a tool that children understand and often put to good use. Through their sacrificial giving and their passion to speak up on others’ behalf, children can indirectly challenge the adults in their lives to reconsider how they spend their time and finances. Just as parents model volunteering and giving to their children, I hope to see more children inspiring their parents to join them in compassion and generosity. Families volunteering together is a beautiful thing.
CC: What is one way that we can be praying for Canadian children right now?
Halina: There are so many ways to be praying for Canadian children! I wish each of my students had a “sponsor” like Compassion children—someone committed to speak into their life, point them to Jesus and pray for them regularly.
Here’s what is currently on my heart:
- Pray for children from Christian families to chose Jesus for themselves and start actively living out their faith.
- Pray for children to hear about Jesus and be able to really engage with the gospel. This is very difficult to do for teachers in public schools, so pray for other avenues—summer camps, church outreaches, media, other ministries, etc. One of the best ways for kids to hear the gospel is actually from other kids, so pray for Christian kids to share the gospel with their friends!
- Pray for tutors and help with academics. A lot of students need one-on-one help. Pray that kids who need help would not feel helpless but that someone would come alongside as a practical resource for the family.
- Pray for mentors. Kids get discouraged. They are often fighting battles or internalizing things they think are true about themselves or about the world that no one notices. Pray that God would put an adult in each child’s life who would speak truth and love to them.
CC: Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us and for what you do in your role as an educator in our country. We would love to be praying for you and for other teachers. How can we pray for you? For teachers across Canada?
Halina: For endurance. God gives endurance and encouragement (Romans 15:5) and teachers regularly need both. Pray that teachers would be able to do everything that needs doing and do it well.
For the Spirit. On any given day I quickly find myself out of patience, love or gentleness and have to exercise self-control… Teachers need to be full of the Holy Spirit as much as the next person, but kids have a habit of making you aware of it more quickly.
For wisdom. Kids come into our classes with so many struggles and needs that are invisible. We need wisdom so badly in all the little moments. Does this child in this situation require tough love or extra grace? How do I help this child understand this Math concept? What is going on under the surface or at home that is causing this behaviour? What do I say in the face of so much pain in this child’s life? How do I teach this child to love their classmate, even when it is hard? Personally, I struggle to lead, teach and guide kids well in important areas like racism or gender. The kids are so hungry for truth and I need the wisdom God provides.
Looking for a way to put compassion into action for kids or with kids this year?
Find your next step today.
Halina is a teacher and Compassion volunteer from Québec. She has joined us on the Compassion Canada blog before to share her insights on the impact of compassion and community for Canadian children. Be sure to check it out!