Reflections on teaching and why I sought a new platform

“You’re a bad teacher!”

The moment those words were spit in my face, I knew that my days in formal education were coming to a close.

She’s got high apple pie in the sky hopes

I used to be one of those kids that asked my grade school teachers for extra worksheets before summer break so that I could force my younger relatives to come to my bedroom turned classroom for play school. If anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would eagerly blurt out “Teacher!” before they even finished the question.

It didn’t take a spiritual gifts test for me to realize that my gift was teaching.

Even when I reached college, while everyone was changing their majors and reinventing their life missions at least thrice, I stuck with teaching. I may have bounced between interests in kinesiology, sociology, cultural anthropology, and English, but my goal was always to teach.

Finally, I settled on English (though I was more interesting in writing than reading). It seemed like a good fit.

During my courses in the college of education, I was the student that skipped to the board and stood in the splits when I taught my peer reviewed lessons and was described by the instructor as being “loosey goosey”. Making lesson plans was exhilarating and being able to construct lessons that students actually liked was a fun challenge for me.

Here, there, and back again

Then student teaching happened.

I was placed in a school with teachers that had been there a long time and didn’t really have an interest in being there much longer. Of course because of that, they had very jaded attitudes and no qualms about passing their negative opinions onto all of us student teachers. I tried to ignore it and focus on the students (I ended up making lots of great connections with the kids, some that have lasted to this day), but nevertheless, I became very disillusioned. By the time I graduated, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a teacher anymore.

It took less than five months in that atmosphere for my hopes of being a teacher to wither away.

Still, I had to make money once I moved back home, so I figured I’d substitute teach. One sub job in particular turned into a part-time position, which soon became a full-time gig. Slowly but surely, working in this new setting brought me out of my funk, and I began to love teaching again. For four years I came to know and love so many students, and I put lot of effort into building relationships with them. Incoming seventh grade girls were invited to my house for facials or craft parties, I took the majority of my female students out for lunch on the weekends (until I couldn’t afford it anymore, then I just had them come to my classroom for lunch), and I ensured my classroom activities were student-centered rather than teacher-centered. I had so much fun with those kids, so much that during one teacher evaluation the principal told me I acted more like a youth pastor than a teacher.

I didn’t think that was a bad thing.

I loved teaching and I’d like to think that my students enjoyed being in my classroom.

Some of my favorite people in the entire world.

Some of my favorite people in the entire world.

The turning of the tides

Even so, I didn’t feel as though I was “called” to stay there for a long time or to be a teacher in that kind of setting once I left. I just wasn’t sure when the change would happen or what I would do afterwards. An altercation with a student’s parent, based on a total misunderstanding, was a crippling blow to my self-worth and really became the catalyst in confirming the notion that maybe being a school teacher just wasn’t for me. So much good had come out of my experience at the school and leaving my kiddos was hard (their school pictures are part of our living room decor here), but by the end, I was tired.

It was fun while it lasted.

When we first moved to Kenya, Ray suggested that I apply for teaching jobs here, and I refused to the point of tears and accusations that he didn’t really love me. My teaching experience hadn’t ended extremely well, so I had no desire to go back into that field, especially in a new setting where teachers are supposed to be strict disciplinarians (they still cane here). I’ve never been great at being professional or maintaining a strict teacher-student distance in the academic setting in the States, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to cut it here. I told him my days of teaching were over and that I wanted to find something else to do with my life.

Finding a new sense of purpose

When God gives you a gift, I don’t believe it ever dies. (Tweet this)

You may be able to sit on it for a while, but sooner or later it will come out in some form or fashion. Through all my experiences, good and bad, I’ve learned that just because I have the calling to be a teacher doesn’t mean that I’m called to be in the academic setting.

I use my gift when I write, I use it when I lead Bible studies, I use it in conversations, and I’m most definitely going to use it when it comes to The Joshua Blueprint, our fledgling organization that will be partnering with children’s homes to provide access to arts and media training. We’re currently in the process of building curriculum, which I’m actually really digging, and then once we get started, I’ll be able to engage with kiddos in a classroom setting once again.

That’s my heart.

I love the thought of being my own boss when it comes to this organization and being able to engage freely with the kids without someone telling me I’m not being professional enough. Yes, I can be professional when it comes to leading board meetings and whatnot, but I can also teach while dancing across the classroom and let students learn the way they like to learn, because JB is all about creativity and letting creatives be creative, which generally can get messy. The best part is that the Head of our ministry enjoys the crazy creative process we go through to create personal expressions of worship, and He is more eager to engage with the kids in the process than I am.

I can’t wait to get back into the classroom and watch my students create.

It feels so good to have my heart for teaching feel alive again. It’s been quite a journey getting here, but I finally feel like I’m where I belong.

If you haven’t already, be sure to “like” our Facebook page to stay updated on what we’re doing with JB. You can also read my post on our first scouting trip to Kitale to get some more background information.

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2 Replies to “Reflections on teaching and why I sought a new platform”

  1. Michaela

    This is very encouraging for me Sam. I also met a lot of disillusioned teachers when I interned in OKC. It made me wonder if that kind of job just makes people jaded. But your post encouraged me that there are many directions to go with teaching as I pursue my degree.

    Reply
    • S'ambrosia

      I’m so glad to hear that, Michaela. Pursuing a degree in education pays off in so many different ways, you just have to think outside of the box a little. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply

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