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.

Words you can’t take back

Sometimes Ray makes me so mad.

It’s in those moments of anger that a green tint comes into my skin, I grow to be 10x my size, I can destroy an entire room, and unlike the Hulk who was tragically mute, the vilest words come flying out of my mouth. Spit is probably the best way to describe the way these words shoot off of my tongue, because what I do conjures up images of snakes spitting poison on a target. You don’t want to be in the way when the poison finds its mark.

Greater insight for good or evil

Being married to someone means you have the privilege of knowing them inside and out. I know what moves Ray’s heart, what makes him smile, and what grieves him. Unfortunately, it also means that I know the best ways to hurt him.

As a teacher, I used to give my students the love language quiz for kids  the first day of class to help me connect with each of them better.

  • If their love language was gifts, I would give them candy or let them have extra “recess” time. These kids were the ones that would wear the hair clips I made for them for Christmas or the bracelets I brought back from my first visit to Kenya until they disintegrated.
  • If their love language was physical touch, I would give them a hug when they came into the classroom or sometimes they just liked for me to put my hand on their shoulder while I talked to them. It was funny when the 7th grade took the quiz though, because some of the boys scored high in physical touch, but once they realized what the quiz was for, they erased their answers so touch became their lowest love language.
  • If their love language was words of affirmation, I would write special notes on their papers and praise them in front of their peers.
  • If their love language was quality time, I would have them come to my classroom for lunch or take them out on the weekends or just sit and talk with them a bit when there was free time in the classroom.
  • If their love language was acts of service, I would make a special effort to help them with work before, during, and after class. I don’t recall many students having this love language though. Most were gifts, affirmation, and quality time.

Whenever I used the students’ love language to express admiration or satisfaction, their behavior and work ethic would improve dramatically, but if I used their love language to express disappointment, the impact could ruin an entire day of instruction. Say I have a student that needs words of affirmation. If I tell her that she didn’t quite make the mark on a piece she wrote, or I have lots of corrections on her paper with limited words of encouragement, her entire countenance will drop, and she’ll sit at her computer and stare at the screen until I dismiss the class.

Likewise, words of affirmation is one of my husband’s love languages; therefore, when I talk on and on about how much I think he sucks, it literally stings. This basic need that he has to be affirmed can be used for good or evil, and all too often I choose the latter over the former.

Taking it to the net

I’ve had my fair share of Facebook vomited statuses and still find myself posting things only to take them down two minutes or two hours later. I really wish someone would explain to me what the draw is to broadcast personal issues via Facebook status. Why is it that when I’m mulling over something that upsets me, I form fifteen different statuses in my head, each one more vicious than the last, to post on Facebook? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

Now I’ve been on the receiving end of some positively nasty Facebook posts. You wonder how people could speak so illy of you, put you on blast like that, and still be a Christian. It’s very easy to cry foul in those situations. But I try to be sneaky about it. I opt for the more vague approach. I try to write my rants figuratively so that most people will believe I’m talking about topic x instead of my dear husband. It’s all the same though. I am still disrespecting my husband publicly, adding insult to the private injuries I had already given him.

One piece of advice that my good friend Dana gave me before marriage was to ensure that I fought fair. Now that I’m ankle-deep in the throes of marriage, I can totally vouch for her sage advice. It’s so important to take time to calm yourself before engaging in an altercation with a spouse or even before logging on to Facebook, because it’s so easy to say the wrong thing, the most hurtful thing and cause damage in a your relationship that may take a very long time to bounce back from. Erasing the status, especially after the person has already seen it, and saying “I’m sorry” don’t have the power to cure these wounds either.

Before we got married I did a 30 day challenge with Revive Our Hearts to speak encouraging words to and about Ray. I think it’s about time I started that again. I want to get into the habit of using his love language to build him up, not tear him down. You in? If you take the challenge, be sure to leave comments of how it works out for you along the way. I’d love to hear your stories.

P.s. Now that I’ve written this post, you all have permission to call me out if you see me writing any negative statuses on Facebook. That is, if my conscience doesn’t get me first.

Addendum: Be sure to read Erin Jone’s comment below. She gives some really good perspective.