When we think of prayer letters, we might immediately think of missionaries serving far away or NGOs facing overwhelming need. Think of the devastation after the recent 2022 Iranian floods - a movement of God is still needed in that recovery. Middle school math teachers, on the other hand, probably aren't top of mind.
"I got the idea from another Bryan [College] student," Stephanie Chavez, a Middle school math teacher in the United States, explains. “She’s also a teacher, but she teaches in Tennessee. When she started teaching, she sent out emails every semester updating people who are praying for her students and her teaching.”
Stephanie realized the value of creating a similar prayer letter for her class. Using the existing connections she made during a college mission trip to Zambia as a foundation, Stephanie created an email list and started sharing small glimpses into the challenges she faced as a math teacher.
I try to share "some moments, whether they're difficult moments or really sweet moments from the semester," Stephanie explains.
And soon enough, Stephanie's candid quarterly emails started gaining popularity.
"I have people all over the country, and maybe the world, praying for me and my students," Stephanie said.
“That's actually really encouraging,” she adds. “I've had some people tell me they pray for my students every single day.”
Stephanie loves sculpting the minds of her young students and helping them learn the skills necessary to live out their roles and shape.
"My role, I think, is to love them well," Stephanie explains. "And based on what students told me at the end of last year, a lot of my students, maybe all of them, know I love them, regardless of who they are, where they come from, and what they do."
"God has (also) created me to discover things and to pursue knowledge," she adds. "I feel very prepared to teach this generation that has like the most questions and the least foundation of Christianity in the history of the world."
Not only does Stephanie love her students, but her God-given shape has allowed her to share her passion for math as well.
"The reason I value teaching at all is related to the biblical idea of teaching the next generation to be leaders and thinkers," Stephanie explains.
“Mathematics itself is really, really beautiful," she adds. "The more that I studied math, the more that I see that God has given us such a beautiful creation."
But for Stephanie, it wasn't always so clear how to combine her love of math with her faith and love of Jesus.
In the beginning, "I was really struggling," she recalls. "I understood the purpose of teaching reading because you can teach someone to read the Bible. And then they can know Jesus, and that's great."
"But why the heck did God ask me to do math?" she laughs. "Like, I just don't get it?"
During her trip to Zambia, Stephanie encountered an Australian math teacher who, by pure coincidence, was also named Stephanie. Stephanie was happy to learn that her namesake had very similar beliefs about teaching math.
Seeing how God had helped a fellow teacher view her job and role as a math teacher through a bigger lens was super helpful in Stephanie's own journey of rethinking her work.
Later, during her first year teaching, Stephanie read an enlightening book on math education that affirmed what her namesake had told her earlier.
The book discussed “a different way of teaching math classes that allow for students to interact with one another and learn how to socialize appropriately and value each other's opinions," Stephanie explains.
"It's allowed me to teach math in a way where I can also teach my values," she added. "Like, 'you need to be kind to one another.' And 'you need to learn how to get along with people who are different than you and think differently than you.'"
Students often ask Stephanie difficult questions during class, but her love of math and education taught Stephanie an important lesson.
"I don't know," she responded when a student asked a particularly challenging question about God. "But I know how I can find out."
This more honest attitude about learning makes it easier for students to approach Stephanie with their questions, in both math and otherwise.
"Because I have enough of an understanding of mathematics, I don't feel anxious when I tell students to figure out how to do it in a method that works for them," she explained.
"Sometimes students will teach me new methods," Stephanie adds. "And then I can tell them why it works. Because I know the math behind it."
Through hard work and dedication, Stephanie not only managed to kindle an interest in math among her students, but she also started a bible study group at the middle school with the help of a fellow teacher who recently dedicated her life to Jesus.
Despite the success Stephanie's seen in connecting with and educating her students, the harsh realities of our broken world are ever present in her classroom.
"I could probably count on my fingers how many of my students have parents who are still together, and I have over 60 students," she recalls.
Naturally, this can lead to tension as students are often wrestling with all the challenges of growing up in a world that doesn’t always feel stable.
However, by being a steady and consistent presence in their young lives, Stephanie is a daily reflection of Jesus by investing in each student and showing up each day. Her prayer is that each student grows up to live a fulfilling life and might learn to love Jesus.
Stephanie believes that God has even used her own faith and professional journey – even the doubts regarding teaching – to create unique bonds with her students.
My "past has prepared me for when students ask me questions," she explains. "None of them are shocking or overwhelming to me, regardless of how far out there they are. I know where to go for resources."
Stephanie’s story highlights how God is using her unique shape to make a kingdom impact in the lives of her students every day, as a math teacher. But teaching is also hard, and Stephanie leans on the prayer support and encouragement of her friends and family thanks to her prayer letter.
Prayer is not just for the missionaries or ministers. So, why not consider starting a group chat or regular email with a few close friends or family and ask for prayer as you share what it looks like to be a Jesus follower in your workplace.
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Written by Johannes Haasbroek
Johannes Haasbroek is a freelance content writer living on the outskirts of Frederick, MD. With a bachelor’s degree in strategic communication from Liberty University, he has a passion for helping people share their unique stories and skills with the rest of God’s people. He is also on a mission to try out every restaurant in the Frederick area.