Would you come with me on this beautiful, rugged journey of education as I attempt to learn from my failures, challenges, and successes? I invite you to pull on your best walking shoes, and gear up for the course. I guarantee it will be rough, scary, confrontational, and worth its full reward.
I walk you into this journey to a time when the challenges beneath my feet were ready to halt me for the long haul. I am walking you into my path three years ago. I was teaching a class of 18 first graders in a Title I school in Keller, Texas.
I was passionate about my calling. Radically passionate. I worked long hours planning lessons, reflecting on lessons, and striving to go above and beyond to reach every kid. I found myself ready to quit and raise my white flag and surrender my calling. Why would I give up a calling I was so passionate about, you may wonder. I tirelessly worked to instill a love for learning, a message of value, and a hope for a future within my students. They were more than my students, as I let them know. They were my classroom family. The moment my students made their names on my roster, I let my students and their families know they were a part of something BIGGER. It was bigger than me, and bigger than them. I needed them to know that I possessed no greater a part in my classroom than their child did. This hope was driving me, and I had seen the impact I was making. I had successfully connected with many students and families – helping children create goals for their own behavior and navigate their own success. Parents who had acquired caustic tastes towards education began to shift towards finding it more palatable, and I watched in awe as their tastes changed. Stoic parents let their guard down as they trusted me with their child and allowed themselves to be refilled with hope for education. Students whose behavior was disruptive to the classroom environment, gained emotional tools needed to self-regulate. I felt empowered and hopeful for the future of my students.
But, there were times this future did not declare its hope so brightly. The voice of hope began to be muffled in the ears of my heart that had led me so well. “You’re not making a difference,” my heart seemed to say. “They won’t stay changed,” the haunting thoughts seemed to be taunting me. One child’s behavior, in particular, seemed to push a button that made these thoughts even LOUDER until it was all I could hear. She came to me with a very troubled past, a stifled present, and what seemed an even bleaker future. The trouble was, I thought I had made so much progress in this child’s life, and it seemed I had. Towards the end of the school year, I learned they were moving away from our district and far away from Texas. Fear drowned out any voices of hope I had for this child. I nurtured these fears and coddled them until they grew so big, they were all that surrounded me. “Who will care for her when she moves away?” I cried to myself and to our school counselor. As her move approached and the school year’s conclusion intersected with this path, she began to act out worse than I had ever seen. “I just want to die,” she yelled one day in class. With heavy heart, I said good-bye to her at the end of the school year, getting her address and hoping to stay in touch.
The problem was, I had allowed myself to become disconnected from my source of hope. The voice of hope was so distant, I couldn’t locate it. Fears blanketed my ears like headphones drowning out any other voices. With despair, I sought prayer from my friends, asking them to pray for the future of this child who had woven her way into my heart. As tears began to fall, and I shared the pain and fears I had for this child, a little tap on my heart disturbed me from my grief. “Don’t you know that I care for her more than you do?” The Lord prodded at my heart. It was then that I realized I was not trusting the one who placed this child in my life along with the calling in my heart to take care of His own child. I was playing God, thinking I knew her future better than He. I surrendered my fears and felt the burden lift away from me, and as it did, voices of fears I had owned as my own tore away, as well. I realized, with great relief, those thoughts that muffled my hope, were not my own thoughts. There is an enemy who wants to destroy your hopes and calling, and he almost destroyed mine.
The Lord gave me the promise of 1 Corinthians 3:6 for my classroom, and that promise leads me with hope. It’s not my job to make the fruit grow. He will take care of the increase. It is my job to take care of the seeds.
Shortly after this hope was rebirthed, I learned a little more about the tap root of an oak tree. Did you realize it can take up to three years before you see the buds of the oak tree emerge from the ground? Does that mean it’s not growing in that interim? Certainly not, and when we don’t see the growth we want to see (or think we should see) in our students, maybe it’s because it’s growing beneath the surface like a hearty Oak Tree, whose roots must go deep. I’ll do my job to nurture the seed, and I am not quitting.
1 Corinthians 3:6 – I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.