on teaching pt. 1

I always imagined my twenties as years of successful relationships, a marriage, and maybe a kid or two. Sprinkle in a glamorous job in a glamorous city, and these were the dreams that propelled me through college. I was ready to embark on that journey, one where I was sure I’d feel even more secure in who I was—I’d done a lot of soul searching in college—and have an even firmer grasp on who my people were. Essentially, I’d assumed I’d live in a cool city, rent a cute little studio, and live like the Christian version of Friends.

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Then, I graduated with my master’s with no set plans.

I’d wanted to write and had seriously considered the PhD route with a professorship in close view. It wasn’t the teaching that encouraged me; in fact, I was more interested in the research and would’ve rather stayed away from teaching. So, I did what many confused post grads do—I came home.

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That first year home was difficult. My hometown was nothing like I’d left it. I’d sped away five years prior with terrible high school memories and very few surviving friends. During the time I’d been away, my family had severed all ties with the church in which we grew up, loading pain on top of the confusion. I spent my days crying. My sisters, precious as they are, held me up (both physically and emotionally) while my parents encouraged me professionally and practically. I took trips and desperately tried to meet new people. I worked a terrible job in higher education government and my PhD track seemed to fork completely; I was no longer interested.

And then, I met a headmaster of a private school in what his wife and one of my dear friends named a “divine appointment.” I was sobbing, as per my usual. We were all grieving over the loss of one of our friends; she was moving back to her home in China. I was wearing my favorite (though tattered) dress I’d had since I was a junior in high school. My hair was dirty and I had no sense of direction. But in that room, in the most bizarre and unthinkable way, God called me to teaching.

Teaching had never been on my radar. In fact, I didn’t want to teach. If I’d ever considered it, my thoughts moved more toward teaching women the Bible after I’d gotten another degree at a seminary. High school was so not my thing and returning seemed like one big laugh. But, God called me to teaching. After I was hired, I don’t remember much for my first year other than bursting into tears in a department meeting. My favorite way to characterize that first year is “black out,” which still seems so accurate. I still find notes to myself from those first months I don’t remember making. The trainings others have assured me we’ve been through, I just don’t remember. Literal information overload.

Tonight, I find myself on the eve of my third year as an English teacher. I’ve taught composition and literature of varying degrees. I’ve cried in front of students, with students, and behind the doors after students have left. I’ve said things like, “Please don’t throw those scissors” and “Please don’t lick your friends.” (Yes, I’ve taught high school all three years.)

There’s a lot of media coverage on teachers and at least three of your Facebook friends have asked you to donate to their classrooms. It’s a weird life we live, man. And perhaps my voice is only adding to the clatter.

But, if I’ve learned one thing about teaching, it’s this important thing.

Teaching is a calling.

My school is of the Christian variety, so we have the opportunity to have these conversations openly and honestly. When my bosses encouraged us in a usual four-hour faculty meeting (bless), one was quick to point out that we’d made sacrifices to be here; this, he’d said, is our calling.

Brushed off at first as a thing Christian people say (we have the most funny way of saying things, don't we?), I didn’t think much about it. But later, as I was frantically worrying over my classroom (bulletin boards are from the enemy), and anxious over rosters (when should we really print those out?) and trying to avoid the iPads I need to disinfect, I thought about that proclamation.

This is indeed a calling.

When I think of that word, I think of someone going into battle. A young family asking for prayer before planting a church in inner city Chicago. A graduate raising support for a life of mission work in the deserts of the Middle East. I began rolling this thought around in my head trying to grasp it with two hands. And it gave me some relief.

Teaching is hard, guys. There are days I come home exhausted from a fourteen-hour workday. (We don’t really get out at 3:30, you know.) We see blood and vomit. I’ve touched more pieces of used gum than I’d ever care to admit or count. I’ve heard snot (yes, heard it) and smelled weird smells and it’s all just…well, really not glamorous. By the end of the day, I’m pretty sure the weird body odor is actually me and I’ve somehow reverted back to the weird 15-year-old I was as a freshman. But, we show up for kids whose parents have abandoned them. We walk through extreme cases of bullying, wishing we could somehow shield these small people with our own bodies (honest to God, I would if that wouldn’t be weird in the hallway). We have bags of emergency candy because 15-year-old girls who run from your room in tears need a Snickers bar, darnit.

It’s hard work.

And your work is hard, too.

Maybe you’re a teacher (God bless and keep you, friend) or maybe you’re a nurse (we really need to get capes for you guys). Or maybe you’re an accountant or a student or lots of other things. Work is hard because life is hard. It will always be (Genesis 3:17-23).

But, the good news is this. You were called to do this. Whatever this season, whatever this job, whatever this difficulty. You were called to be here, and even in the difficult times, the times when noses are physically and metaphorically bloodied and you’re so exhausted you can’t move one more inch before you collapse, you were called to do this. My dad, ever equipped with a quick little phrase to make hard things seem manageable asks me this question regularly: How do you eat an elephant? And every time, I know the answer: One bite at a time.

Jesus puts it this way:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?...Therefore do not be anxious…
— Matthew 6:25-32

So, friend, whatever this fall has your hands working on, I pray you remember the words of our Jesus when He promised to take our burdens. I pray you remember that regardless of the way you’re feeling, your supposed ability or disadvantage, you are called to do this. 

Have a great year. I believe in you.