Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Yes! So Blessed

Two weeks ago yesterday, I embarked on a journey I'd been anticipating--and often fearing--for over a year. I quit my very good job as a training developer and signed on for a 12-week substitute teaching assignment, teaching 9th- and 11th-grade English.

Words can't describe the nervousness I felt on that first day, but underneath all that I knew that God was with me. I knew that I could never be enough for these 80 children, but I felt a deep assurance that the Holy Spirit would equip me for this purpose that He has called me to.

That first day, I fell in love with my kids, even the unruly and shockingly immature freshmen. I talked way too long about my expectations, but they forgave me after I laughed at myself for breaking my own rule about not talking too much. I believe they heard my most important messages:

  • Intelligence is not fixed. When you work hard and apply your mind, your intelligence grows. 
  • In my classroom, we will respect each other. We all have a voice, and when any of us shares our thoughts, the rest of us will honor that courage by listening. We will never, ever laugh at each other. 
  • Every day starts with a clean slate. I won't hold yesterday's mistakes against you, and I hope that you will extend that same grace to me, because I will need it sometimes. 
I ended my speech by pointing out a wooden plaque that I'd bought last fall for my classroom. It simply says, "Blessed." 

"There are bound to be days when you guys make me really frustrated," I said. "No, days when I allow myself to become frustrated. At those times, I hope that you will remind me that I am blessed... because I am so blessed to be here. It's an amazing opportunity, and I don't want to forget that."

The first few days were so chaotic that I was tempted to give up and go back to my comfy old job. It wasn't the kids; they were great, though they always kept me on my toes. No, it was being thrown into a position in the middle of a week on 24 hours' notice, with no instruction on all the procedures and software applications I'd be expected to use, and being without a computer for a couple of days when I'd planned on using it heavily. Also, I had forgotten the sheer exhaustion of juggling all those balls that a teacher must keep in the air. To make matters worse, I was so keyed up at night that I couldn't sleep. This went on for a full week. 

Thankfully, God gifted me with so many beautiful moments in the middle of it all, such as:
  • Warm, affectionate greetings from many of my new students each day, and shy smiles from a few others.
  • Open, honest communication during disciplinary conferences with a handful of students. I think these were the start of some rich relationships. It has given me great joy to keep my promise to extend grace. 
  • Working hard to capture their attention, and succeeding. During my dramatic reading of the French short story, "The Necklace," one student commented that I probably ought to be an actress. 
  • Turning a boring standardized test practice worksheet into a riveting competition in Kahoot, an online quiz game. I couldn't believe how competitive they were!
  • Meticulously planning an intricate group assignment on pre-writing for an expository essay, and watching it unfold flawlessly. Some of the groups collaborated beautifully, and others struggled but managed to work through their conflicts. All of them turned in some quality work, and I was thrilled to hear rich academic discourse as they wrestled with categorizing the ideas that they had brainstormed. 
The best moment, I think, was praying in my classroom with my new friend Bing. I told her about a discipline problem I was dealing with, and then I confessed that despite having the time of my life in the classroom, I felt that I was drowning in grading and paperwork. She reminded me that even though things may not always go the way I picture them, I need to remember the most important thing: forming relationships. With God's help, I can build strong relationships that will inspire my students to do their best, to be their best. 

As Bing prayed for God to use both of us, I remembered a conversation with Allyson months ago, on a night when I was filled with anxiety over this seemingly crazy career choice. I told her I was afraid that I would fall flat on my face, and there would be no one to help me up--just like the first time when I taught 20 years ago. 

To this, Allyson replied earnestly, "Mama, I know that God will send you a friend to help you and pray with you, wherever He sends you." 

Tears gathered in my eyes as I recounted the story to Bing. "God is so good," I whispered. 

"Yes, He is," she agreed. 

It's been a roller coaster, but there's no way I'm turning back. On my hardest days, when I think I have nothing to offer my kids, the Holy Spirit is faithful to work through my weakness. On my best days, my heart sings at the realization that I LOVE MY JOB! 

One of the best things about this experience is being constantly reminded that I am truly blessed. My most challenging class has latched on to my request from that first day. At the first hint that I might be feeling stressed, one of them pipes up, "Remember, Miss, you're blessed." 

"Yes," I agree with a dazzling smile. "I am so blessed. Thank you for reminding me." 

They've even started to tell each other that they're blessed whenever they squabble with each other. Despite the hint of sarcasm in their voices, I believe the message is getting across. We are blessed. So blessed. 

I re-purposed last year's family calendar to cover
my cabinet with the people I love. Seeing their smiling
faces gives me such joy each day. 

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