LOVE AND FEAR. What Students Really Think and Our Much-Needed Response
One wall of my high school Spanish classroom is covered in student work. It is currently entitled, “El Amor y El Miedo," which translates to “Love and Fear.” Most of my walls have helpful vocabulary, cultural decorations, or school news, information that is there for the students but not new to me. This wall, however, keeps grabbing my attention. I stand in front of it as if I’m in a museum, soaking it in. To me, it’s an emotional tug to my person but also a nudge to my academic brain, always seeking to understand the ever-changing minds of my students. What’s on the wall of Love and Fear? Love poems and scary drawings. The dichotomy of themes was actually by coincidence, but it provides a striking contrast as it hangs on the wall.
On one side of the wall—El Amor—are love poems. All of my students wrote love poems in Spanish around Valentine’s Day, but not run-of-the-mill sappy poems to their boyfriend, girlfriend, friend, or pet. The assignment was to write a love poem to an object, personifying it to a degree by describing what they love and why. The freshman had a template and got a lot of guidance, but were still able to be very creative. The seniors heard an example and from there had complete creative control. I am always so amazed at what they come up with, including the humor and creativity. While at face value the assignment seems materialistic, it is a good way for them to flex their creative writing muscles and for me to stay connected with the quickly-changing culture of youth in the United States.
So what do students love other than people and pets? Some mentioned their phones, Spotify, and cars, but overall they were not as tech-obsessed as the generational stereotype would suggest. More often it was a comfort object—a pillow, a favorite food, a photo, or their favorite chair. Often it was an object that they used for a hobby or sport, including everything from running shoes to a guitar to a library card. My takeaway? They are more likely to name something that connects them with other people than they are to name a device.
The other side of the wall—El Miedo—is not so lighthearted. Our reading for the Spanish 1 unit is an old, frightening legend called El Cucuy; it was used as a threat to make kids behave. The art on the wall is how they imagined the creature in the story, which was terrifying and indescribable. It is meant to spark good conversation in the target language, but it also gives some interesting insight into what they believe would be the scariest creature imaginable. Some drew figures that looked like ghosts, aliens, werewolves, or serpents. Others drew squid-like creatures, mythological creatures, or horned, fanged figures. Still others drew humans, but the humans were angry or yelling. Those were the most unsettling to me.
Before reading the story of El Cucuy, we began the unit by learning that we communicate our fears in Spanish not by saying “I am afraid of spiders;” rather, we say “I have fear of spiders.” In other words, the philosophy behind the language structure is that fear is something we have, not something we are. We talked about what this means. Fear is not our identity; it is something we have for a time but may not keep forever. We discussed how some of our fears are proportional to the actual threat while others can be overreactions due to trauma or misinformation. Trauma can come from life, from an experience of someone close to us, or even from watching a movie.
I had them create a list of fears. I told them that they could not list a person or a group of people by name, and they were only to list what they felt comfortable sharing. Some of what they listed lined up with the general population (e.g., public speaking, spiders, snakes, losing loved ones). These are fears that have been around since I was their age and before.
Fear of failure was mentioned a lot. I learned many students fear abandonment, dying alone, and estranged parents coming back. But I was shaken by the consistent mention of topics like pandemics, climate change, and inflation. These strike me as subjects that only adults should have to think about. However, there has been no way to keep them out of the ears and minds of our young people these last few years.
No matter when it was, it seems that everyone thinks their childhood happened during the best era in American history. This is probably because we were blissfully unaware of what was going on in the world as children because the adults in our lives protected us from it. However, we can’t seem to do that anymore, as the news grabs the attention of anyone with a device, which is most everyone these days. This has caused me to ask some important questions.
· Have we been able to shelter this generation of young people from anything?
· Are they growing up as the most fearful generation?
· Will they get to remember their childhood as innocent and fearless, or will they feel powerless, afraid, and anxious?
You see, I think sometime in recent history we—collectively as a culture—went from having fears to making them a part of our identity. We talk about anxiety and stress as if it’s who we are instead of a condition that we need to address and confess. The wisdom of the Spanish language tells us that you are not afraid. You just have that fear…for now.
One of the challenges of teaching elementary Spanish to high school students is that they have the thoughts of teens, but they have to communicate their ideas with limited vocabulary. Thankfully, by putting the right words on the board and giving them a chance to list their fears in English before I supplied them with all of the words in Spanish, we were able to have some really meaningful conversations. Throughout the unit we had good discussions about how our experiences affect our fear and anxiety. For example, dogs were a common fear (and cats even got a mention or two); on the flip side, however, some students absolutely LOVE their dogs! The same was true of driving, public speaking, oceans, heights, and more. One student would list it as their biggest fear, and others would express their love for it.
Once we established what scares us, I asked, “¿Qué haces cuando tienes miedo?” (“What do you do when you have fear?”) Their answers—lloro, grito, escondo, corro, llamo a mi amigo (I cry, I scream, I hide, I run, I call my friend.)
Educators have our share of fears—from school violence to our effectiveness as instructors and mentors. What does God want us to do when we feel afraid? The theme throughout Scripture is to trust in Him and not be afraid. It sounds so simple, but we must remember that simple is not the same as easy. Teachers get so accustomed to the heavy burdens of responsibility that we forget there are some things we can—we must—hand over and let go. God desires to take those from us, as He knows that we are not meant to bear it alone.
Here are some reminders of how the wisdom of Scripture guides us when we have fear.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? Psalm 56:3-4
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? Psalm 118:6
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27
As a Christian, I still struggle with fear and anxiety. I added some of my fears to the students’ list as well—small spaces, traffic accidents, and snakes. What I did not articulate was how much time I spend worrying about my loved ones, my health, and my own success and failure. As long as I have been a believer, I have struggled off and on with fear, all the while thinking how much worse it would be if I did not have my faith in Christ and the support of my Christian family and friends. So I write this not as a person who has it all figured out, but as a call to go to the Lord with our fears and anxieties so that we can shepherd this precious and hurting generation.
Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Luke 12:7