As a first year teacher, the phrase I used most frequently was “I don’t know.” I was alarmed by how many questions students asked that I did not know the answer to. This was a humbling sensation, and frankly, not a comfortable one.
When I began teaching at Saint Martin de Porres, Cleveland’s Cristo Rey High School, I once again found myself confronted with a continual feeling of “not knowing.” This time, however, the gap in my knowledge was not about my subject matter but about the reality of my students’ lives.
I am a white woman who grew up in an upper-middle class family and I exist in a world vastly different from that of my students. I have learned during my time at Saint Martin that I am often not the authority in my classroom. Wisdom pours from my students. In reading their writing and listening to their stories my eyes have been opened to the truth of both their existence and their resilience. God shows up constantly in my classroom, always disguised as my students.
This week in Matthew’s Gospel we hear the story of the three wise men on their journey to find the infant Jesus. When they find him, they prostrate themselves before him.
This is a powerful role reversal. Grown men lay themselves at the feet of a child. They recognize that wisdom and truth lies before them and they pay homage to that.
As adults and teachers I think we often assume that we are wiser or know more than the young people who surround us. We forgot that when God entered our world, he entered it in the form of a child. We forget that the young people around have so much to teach us if only we’d listen. We forget that even as a young child, Jesus commanded the attention of adults in the Temple. We forget how much we “don’t know.”
Erin Conway teaches senior Theology at Saint Martin de Porres, Cleveland’s Cristo Rey High School. Prior to her time at Saint Martin, Erin worked at Xavier College Prep High School in Palm Desert, CA and Saint Ignatius Loyola Academy in Baltimore, MD. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2009 and earned an M.A.T. from Loyola University in Maryland in 2012. Her dream is for all of her students to recognize God at work in their lives and to embrace the very real ways they can work for justice in their own communities.