Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Hope Not Seen

Remember how afraid I was a few weeks ago about starting to substitute teach? I'm not even sure when it happened, but recently I realized that subbing has become a delight. Once or twice a week, I step into the unknown with that familiar flip of nerves that I felt in my belly every morning as a 7th-grade Reading teacher: What challenges will I face today? But the unease is tempered by an exhilarating sense of possibility: What children and teachers will I connect with today?

Probably the best thing to come out of subbing is the opportunity to observe other teachers when I have a planning period free. When it first occurred to me to use my free time this way, I hesitated to request it, but not one teacher has turned me down. They've graciously welcomed me into the most mundane of daily routines and even into their most challenging classes, either when nothing exciting was happening, or when too much excitement was happening.

What I've learned is that other teachers struggle. Other teachers are ordinary just like me. And despite all the stress and the challenges, they love their jobs! Better still, all their hard work is making a difference, because they are loving and being loved.

In addition to collecting some creative, engaging lesson plans, I've also picked up some amazing ideas for classroom organization. Take this tower, for example. I never would have thought of something so ingenious.

Mrs. H. nestles a tower of portable shelves in the middle of each horseshoe-shaped group of desks. Inside the tower are all the supplies, books, and handouts for the day. She wastes no time at all on handing out anything, and everything goes back in its place at the end of the period. Only one problem: I'm gonna need me a label maker. I hope they aren't expensive.

Sometimes I get frustrated with the rambunctious middle schoolers, and discouraged by the aloof high schoolers who can't be bothered to converse with me. But then there are other kids who surprise me with a firm handshake or a warm, "Have a nice day."

I frequently feel rather invisible, but occasionally a student expresses a genuine interest in my story. My favorite conversation was with a sweet 10th-grader named Angel who wasn't even in my class. I passed a delightful half hour quietly visiting with her in a classroom that I was observing. She wasn't in that class, either, but apparently she's in the habit of eating her lunch there--because Mrs. M. is her favorite teacher ever.

The more students I interact with, the more drawn I feel to teaching. If you were reading this past summer, you may recall my ambivalence over my teaching interviews. I alternated between giddy excitement and gut-clenching fear that I might actually get hired. The waiting was brutal, and I don't like to admit how much sleep I lost to anxiety during those weeks. But nothing was worse than the crushing disappointment when I was not chosen--though it was tempered by just a teeny bit of relief that I didn't have to leave my comfort zone just yet.

At the end of a challenging day a couple weeks back, during which I'd worked really hard at engaging some unruly ninth-graders in a discussion about "The Scarlet Ibis," I realized something. Yes, this was very hard work, but it was so worth it when I captured the disrupters' attention with my dramatic oral reading, and when a difficult student made a shockingly perceptive comparison between a bird's journey and a boy's.

It felt so good to quietly compliment that boy after class and to see his sheepish pleasure.

Anyway, I guess that's when I crossed a line in the sand. "Yes," I thought. "This is definitely what I want to do with my life."

That same day, a fellow sub told me about a job opening at the district's alternative high school. There, students on the verge of dropping out of school can catch up on their credits in small classrooms where they can get one-on-one help and where they are held accountable to attend class every day. This was right up my alley! I applied without hesitation.

When I got a call for an interview last week, I didn't feel my usual trepidation. All I felt was a quiet trust. If this was the job for me, God would work it out. The next day, I got a call for another interview, in a different district. Both interviews were scheduled for this past Friday. Can you believe that? Two interviews on the same day, in the middle of October!

In my prayer closet one evening, I asked for what I literally saw as a miracle. "Please, God," I prayed. "I don't want to do what I did before. I don't want to get on the roller coaster at all. No, I want to enjoy this time of waiting. I know nothing is too difficult for you. I know that peace is mine because you promised it to me, and I don't want to let go of my peace this time. I know your plans for me are good, and you will open the doors--no, you have already opened the doors for me."

Indeed, nothing is too difficult for God. For the next several days, I rested in God's peace. I slept beautifully. I didn't worry about exactly what I would say, though I did prepare myself by reviewing all the questions which had been asked in my previous interviews.

I was kind of surprised when the first interview, at the alternative high school, didn't go that well. It's a different environment than I've ever experienced, and I couldn't give the principal any great ideas about how I would help students at multiple grade levels and at different points in the curriculum succeed. But I enjoyed my visit immensely and was quite moved by an assembly that I was privileged to observe. All 88(!) students and their 9(!) teachers gathered, along with the principal, to celebrate every credit that had been earned in the prior week. The teachers read their students' names aloud and threw Mardi Gras beads at them, and everyone cheered and clapped.

Oh, I'd love to work there. Who knows? I'm thinking of how unqualified Moses felt to lead his people out of Egypt, due to his speech impediment. But God didn't choose him for his eloquence. So maybe my awkward interview performance won't keep me out of my "promised land." If I got this job, I'd know it was through divine intervention.

The second interview, for a 7th-grade English position, went extremely well. I clicked with all three interviewers and actually answered most of their questions before they'd even asked them. I spoke with passion, confidence, and humility. I described what I've learned both as a teacher and as a substitute teacher. I shared my aspirations to become a mentor for new teachers one day.

The principal told me to expect a call around the middle of this week; she promised to let me know her decision either way.

Incredibly, I spent the next four days reveling in peace. I did feel a bit wistful about the high school position, but God reminded me through a friend that His plan for me is better than anything I could choose for myself, and I don't need to trouble myself with the details. It felt so good to just relax and trust my Good, Good Father.

Today was exactly the middle of the week. All day, I listened intently for that phone call, but it never came. By late afternoon, I felt pretty blue. "Why?" I asked myself. Didn't I still believe that God's plan was best?

"Yes," I prayed, over dishes. "Yes, your plan is best. But I wanted to find out something today. Even if the answer is no, I just wanted to know. I guess I want to see what the plan is."

For a moment, I beat myself up for being human. But I could feel God comforting me. I knew it was okay for me to want something and then be disappointed when it didn't happen.

"But, God," I prayed. "I don't want to let go of my peace. I want to feel joy."

In reply, I heard one word: "Praise."

As I put away the pans, I praised God. "I know your plan is so good. I know you see what I can't. You know exactly what I need. You know when I'm ready. You're still equipping me. You're teaching me to wait on you. Thank you, Father!"

I'd just gotten started when I felt an urge to look at the cabinet on my right, where I'd posted sticky notes with scriptures that helped me battle a bout of anxiety about a year ago. Most times, I hardly notice those sticky notes; they are just part of the background. If I do glance at the familiar blue, pink, and yellow papers, I know that they hold beautiful promises, and I don't even have to read them to feel encouraged and loved.

But today, my eyes were drawn to one sticky note in particular. I caught my breath as I read it aloud, and then I laughed with joy as I reread it:

"Who hopes for what he already has?" I repeated. "No, we hope for what we don't yet have. And we wait for it patiently! We wait for it patiently!"

Once again, I had a sense of the miraculous as I embraced hope in this simple, everyday struggle.

I walked around my kitchen and read several more verses. When I read this one, I shouted the last phrase at the top of my lungs:

And when I read this one, I shouted the part about His faithfulness reaching to the skies.

I marveled that my heart--my heart--is steadfast when I trust in God.

I feel so peaceful, guys. I don't know that I've ever felt this peaceful. I have a hope not seen. I don't know where, or when, my hope will be realized, but God knows. Now I get to wait patiently to see the plan unfold. I'm going to do it joyfully.

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