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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

THE SWAP

 He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged. Isaiah 42:3 (NLT)

     It was nearing the close of the second summer session.  I calculated that at the end of two more semesters and two summer sessions I would finalize all of my graduation requirements.  Up until now, I took classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with another night class to fill my load. That allowed me most days at home with my preschooler and I was there to see my three older children right after school.       
     This last round was going to take a lot more time away from home in order to complete my graduation plan and more time at the daycare for my preschooler. 
     I loved being a stay at home mom with my four children. I had appreciated the benefits to my children all of these years, but when my husband, a pastor of a small town community church, divorced me, our lives changed.  Now, I faced the fact that student teaching in the spring would take its toll on all of us.  
     For several days, my mind was in a whirl.  As I drove the hour back and forth to classes, I attempted to develop a plan to make this work.  
     One weekend, while the kids were visiting their dad, I took time to brainstorm.  Several plans were devised and I calculated the costs. I worked well into the evening that Saturday, but I could not figure out anything that came close to fitting into my budget.  
     My greatest concern was the WHO.   Who would be willing to come all of those afternoons and evenings?  I needed someone trustworthy with my children, but also someone who would show up every time without fail for this to work.
     Each month for three years, I put a little money aside to buy a more economical used car.  At this time, I owned a Lincoln Continental that cost an arm and a leg to buy gas for.  It broke down a couple of times, and if it hadn't been for the generosity of the members of my small fellowship, it would still be sitting around unused.  
     Blessings came our way through the wonderful families at Dayspring Church.  Grace, my pastor's wife, offered me her VW Rabbit to use while I commuted back and forth to Edinburg from Rio Hondo. 
     I bowed my head and sought answers from God for my dilemma.  Then, before bed, while I was reading my Bible, I ran across a verse in Isaiah, A bruised reed He will not break And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. (NAS)
     I picked up my guitar and sang this verse over and over from then on whenever I felt fainthearted at the tasks before me.  I knew he spoke this promise to me for the days ahead and it soothed me. 
     One day, when I pulled into my gravel drive, I parked the VW, facing our big Lincoln as usual, but today this thought crossed my mind, "The Lincoln...what am I going to do with the Lincoln, when I finally purchase another smaller car to drive?"
     My last year of school was so hectic, I asked my neighbor, Maria, who cleaned for me, if she would help me in the fall and watch my kids three days after school, in addition to cleaning.  She agreed.  Jennie, my oldest, reassured me that she was kind to them while I was gone, and I heard from my oldest son that her cooking was not the best, but she always showed up.
     Finally, I got up the nerve to ask her if she would be willing to provide child care everyday after school as well as two evenings, for the spring semester.  This time, I explained that I would still pay her for the cleaning, but instead of money for the childcare, I would give her the title to my golden Lincoln Continental if she did not let me down.  
     As I spoke, I saw her eyes light up.  It looked  hopeful.  Yes, she was thrilled at the idea and wanted to talk to her husband before giving me a final answer.  
     Right after supper, she ran over to tell me that he also agreed.  I breathed a prayer of thanks and all that evening the tune and my special verse ran continually through my head.  We said our prayers, and I stretched out on my youngest son's lower bunk. It took a while for the boys to settle into sleep.  All the while, my heart pounded with gratitude at the prospects for my student teaching.
     Months later, I organized some cookies on a serving plate in the big country kitchen.  My tea kettle whistled on the stove, ready for me to pour its contents into the teapot.  My pastor arrived and greeted the children, who quietly seated themselves on the carpet in the living room.  
     A second knock sounded at the door. My faithful sitter and her husband timidly entered through the doorway and sat stiffly some distance apart on my blue sofa.  Faithful Maria never left me or my children in the lurch. 
     I noticed though that they looked uncomfortable each time they eyed our pastor.  I had the feeling that they were afraid that I was going to renege on my deal.  I smiled and offered some more cookies.
     After we visited a bit, I began to thank them for the time they invested in our lives. It meant so much to me to become a teacher so that I could care for my children.  
     I reminded them that all those hours Maria only had a promise of a car for payment at the end of  May.  We did not even sign a contract concerning the arrangement.  
     I produced two sets of keys and the title to the Continental.  I stood and handed them over to Maria, thanking her warmly from my heart.  
     Smiles, and giggles followed.  Each of my children ran up to give her a hug.  
     Hope was the downpayment.  I hoped she would not let me down and that she would be present with my children each day and she hoped that I would not take advantage of her. 
     To this day, I marvel at the way God provided for every detail that we needed during those tough years.  
    
I am most thankful that in God's justice, he helped me acquire the qualifications I needed to take care of my little tribe and more than that, to discover that teaching was much more than a means to pay the bills.  More satisfying adventures lay ahead of me as I taught and shared time with hundreds of students in my classroom. 
       
Side note- The little monkey and graduation mug were a gift from my kids.  Since there was no graduation party thrown by any adults, my four children and their friends planned a surprise for me one day after school.  They baked a cake, decorated with balloons, and proudly presented me with my little graduation momento.  Jennifer, Nathaniel, Audrey, and Jonathan were my biggest fans and encouragement during this time.  My life is rich because of their love.

I also thank God for my sister, Diana, my brother-in-law, Don, for their belief in me and showering gifts and love on my children all during their childhood. David and Virginia Sissom, who watched my children for night classes as well as teaching them chess.  Susan Chandler, who sat through months of lunches once a week to listen and help me process the changes in my life.  Dayspring Church for aiding me with a vehicle to commute to college in, financially with a monthly love offering to keep food on our table, spending quality time with my kids, and encouraging me as I sang on their worship team.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

TRUE GRIT

 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.  I John 2:17

"Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." ~Einstein

     I walked into the interview at Cano-Gonalez Elementary.  The fact that I had taught the past eighteen months in a juvenile detention center near Edinburg intrigued the principal.  During the interview I soon found out that I was hired, and then I was given some information about a few tough kids that were going to be fifth graders in my class.  One was a very challenging boy who needed a great deal of help, and the other was a girl.  I will call her Laura.
     In fifth grade, the big challenge is to get ready for the state tests and to fill in the gaps to prepare kids for the rigors of middle school and on.  Laura floundered in reading and writing, so to take the focus off of her inability to perform well in these subjects, she got in trouble by acting out so that she could hopefully miss reading by being sent to the office.  I usually do not try to look at a student's history in their folder at the beginning of the year, because I believe every year is a fresh start.  I have high expectations that all will engage and learn and grow along with me. 
     However, information volunteered to me about Laura's past performance in class I could not shake off.  Since Pre-Kinder, she had been sent to ISS (In Campus Suspension) due to her terrible behavior and disruptions in classes.  She had spent more time in isolation than she had spent in the classroom.  Each year the gap widened and widened.  I began to realize that this young girl had been rejected, isolated, and had fallen behind due to her disciplinary plan.
     Then, I recalled a couple of seventeen year old boys from the Dallas area I taught at the detention center the past year.  Even at their age, they needed teaching in basic phonics, then kindergarten and first grade reading skills.  As we spent time together and talked, they shared more about their childhood. Their mothers slept in and did not take them to school during their foundation years for reading. They told me that they got into trouble at school so that they could escape the classroom.  Since they could not read, they did not want to be shamed or ridiculed for not being able to do the work or to read aloud in class.
     My heart went out to these boys.  When I thought of how differently their lives could have been if only they had known how to read. It amazed me how many teachers passed them to the next grade and never found out, or to took time to teach them to read.  How differently their whole childhood and teen years could have been.   
     There usually is a reason behind misbehavior in the classroom.  It might be physical, emotional, a home situation, or just silliness that needs to come under control, but many times it is a deficiency of skills or self confidence which take time and work to improve.
     Laura suffered from an unstable home, so I wanted our time in class to be a haven for her.  One time when she was interrupting a lesson, I took her out into the hall and I told her that her punishment was going to be to stay in the room with me, right beside me.  I made it clear to her that she was not going to spend the year wasting her time in ISS, but that she was going to learn to socialize responsibly in class. I wanted her there with me everyday, so she might as well begin to show respect.  
     Believe me, she never missed a day of school.  These kids never do.  Their parents are the first ones to drop them off and the last to pick them up, too.
     Silent reading for 20 minutes each day was a mandate on our campus.  Laura and I worked on reading skills while the others read independently.  It was a painfully slow process at first because of her negative self concept.
     Yet, over the weeks, she stayed by my desk and improved.  I found out that she was very adept in mathematics.  No matter what I threw out there, she aced every new concept once we had mastered the basic skills.  
     I used peer tutoring in my classroom.  I had a very large gap in abilities in reading and math. They ranged from brilliant gifted students with attention and behavior problems to kids with gaps in their schooling or language problems that kept them at a slower pace. So I used pair work to try to bridge the gap with so many who needed tutoring.  
     One day, I asked all those who understood the day's math lesson to stand on one side of the room and then all who did not to find a partner. This time a gifted student in my room ran over to be with Laura.  The kids were noticing how quick she was to understand the math.  Other students who struggled with division vied to be partners with her.  She had a knack for methodically explaining and giving examples for understanding.  After this, I saw a new girl emerge from her cocoon.  A beautiful girl, confident, well groomed, smiling, and interacting respectfully with all students and staff.
   At the end of May, we studied careers and discussed the basic skills needed for each one. Did they require math, reading ability, writing, science, social studies, technology, people skills?  Then the students wrote a piece about themselves and what career they would pursue with the skill set they had.  
     I loved reading these, but when I got to Laura's, I could not believe my eyes.  Laura wanted to be a teacher!  What a drastic change had occurred in her self perception.  I had a hard time keeping my composure. 
      It is so essential not to jump to conclusions about ourselves or other people before finding a niche in life. When we are asked to do things that we are not prepared for, or that are not in our skill set, just as Einstein said, we feel insignificant and have a low self esteem.  But when we finally see where we excel and how we can contribute to others in life, then we swell with a feeling of purpose and fulfillment.  We fit and life makes sense.
     So God, I pray that you will help me to find my area of expertise.  That area where I can flourish and interact meaningfully to bring harmony to the world around me.  I thank you for what I am going to discover even this week about myself. I pray that you, the reader, will more clearly see your strengths  and give you new purpose this year.