Thanks to Facebook, I was recently reminded that I left my year of service in South Africa about four years ago. For those of you who don’t know, following graduation, I lived in SA for a year through the Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program of the ELCA. Every July and August I find myself thinking about my time overseas, the current YAGMs who are returning from their service, and the ones who are getting ready to leave their homes in the States. I am realizing that the timeline of my life is definitely broken up as pre-YAGM and post-YAGM. I think there are a lot of reasons for this, but the most obvious would be that I did not come back to the United States as the same person that left. I learned and grew and was inspired in ways that I never could have imagined and that have changed my life. If you want to read about my time in SA you can look back at previous posts but this post is not for that reason. The end of summer has always been a time of transition, and, with the new changes happening in my life, I thought this was a great time to get some thoughts on paper.
So, what have I been up to? When I returned from South Africa I took a position as an Early Childhood Special Education para at a local elementary school in Lincoln. Although my degree was not in education, I had previously worked summer camps and at before and after school programs so being with children was nothing new to me. However, the special education aspect was definitely a new challenge for me. I was able to work with kids who have down syndrome, physical and learning disabilities, and autism. Although there were many challenging days, seeing the students’ growth and progress throughout the year made the tough spots worth it. However, the majority of my time was spent with individual students instead of being part of a larger group. While I knew I was making an impact on those few kids, I was also feeling pulled to do something more. Thanks to the help of one of the special education teachers I worked with, I was pushed towards going back to school in order to have a greater role in the classroom. Next thing I knew, four years after graduating, I found myself back in a classroom at UNL.
I found an accelerated 14 month graduate degree program which not only offered me a Masters degree but would provide teaching certification as well. I started taking classes last May and have just recently finished up my final course and will graduate in August. I was in class the majority of last summer before starting practicum teaching and methods coursework in the fall. This spring I was full-time student teaching before taking my capstone class this summer. It has been a hectic year but I was fortunate enough to be offered a contract with LPS and eventually a 4th grade position at Saratoga Elementary School. Luckily for me, I student taught in a 3rd grade class here so I will know the majority of my students when they enter my classroom in a few weeks.
And so, where am I now? Currently, I’m lying in the reading corner of my classroom where I have spent countless hours this summer getting my room ready, creating a theme and environment to inspire learning, and incessantly thinking about ways to motivate and engage the kids. I want so badly for my students to do well, as learners and friends and kids and human beings. I think there is something truly amazing about having the chance to make a difference in someone else’s life every day and I feel very fortunate that I will be able to do that with my students. I might only be a part of their lives for 180 days, but I have seen what a year of being challenged and encouraged and pushed and cared about can do for someone. As much as this is about me being there for the kids, I know that I will be able to learn from them as well.
I was recently talking to a fellow YAGM alum about teaching and the classroom that I was setting up when she stopped me and said “You just seem so happy.” And, to be honest, that was one of the best things I could have ever heard. I hope that when I talk about my job that people are able to see that it makes me happy. I recently came across a Brian Andreas writing that is exactly how I want to be:
Look, I’m not dumb. I know this year is going to be hard. I know there will be times when I need to vent about kids not following directions or putting in effort. I know there will be mornings when I wake up, think about how terrible everything went the day before, and fight to get up and do it all over again. But I know these kids are counting on me to be there and that is a responsibility I take on whole-heartedly. I also know I'm not doing this alone. I have unbelievably amazing friends and family who have supported me through the craziness and who continue to push me to be greater. I have an incredible group of cohort members who were in the trenches with me the last 14 months and have become great friends. And I have an awesome team of teachers and staff at Saratoga who are willing to help with anything.
I had a long stretch post-YAGM where I was really searching for a purpose in my work and life. I was seeing friends be wildly successful and who were finding the joy in their employment, relationships, and activities. And while it was easy to be happy for them, it was not always easy to be happy for myself. I applied for many jobs at churches for youth and mission positions with no success, I applied for educational jobs with no success, and I applied to various graduate programs including seminary. I now see why none of those seemed to be the right fit for me. It is nearly impossible to explain but nothing felt as right as this does. As the quote that this blog is named after says, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Teaching isn’t for everyone but I’ve finally figured out that it is for me.
I am not sure what shape this blog will take from here on out but I plan to post some reflections on the highs and lows of my first year of teaching because I’m sure it will be one crazy ride.