Hiatus

Life is fabulous! I am settling right in to the pace and wonders of kindergarten and LOVE my new school! I am beyond grateful for the many amazing opportunities I am being given right now to grow as a teacher and as a person, but let me tell you… my life just went from zero to sixty (make that ninety). I’m afraid this means I’ll be a little less vocal on the blogosphere in the coming month, but don’t you worry. I’ll be back. 🙂

I didn’t bother to list that silly, repetitive thing called a full-time job on this calendar… but you get the picture.

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Let me tell you something

Once upon a time there was a young woman, full of hope and fueled by change. She leaned into the wind and rushed around corners. What’s next, world?

She was soaring, skimming the surface of life while flying through college, marriage, first jobs, friendships, graduate school and family. She often looked down at her reflection, thrilled by how fast she was going, always looking for something new on the horizon. Then one day the wind failed. Forward momentum slowed and then stopped. She touched down hesitantly, confused. At twenty-three she had landed in adulthood. Out of luck and heart-broken.

That was my story this year. That was my crash-landing into the real-world. No one ever told me that I could be perfectly responsible, logical and intelligent and still have my head in the clouds, but there I was: completely baffled that life had not gone my way. And when I really faced the fact that school had started without me, I had just one question. One prayer. God, why did you bring me here?

And day by day He showed me the chinks in my armor, the extent of my weakness and the depth of His love.

Let me tell you something: this story has a new title.

That’s significant. I wouldn’t dare call myself over-educated now that I’ve floundered in my own ignorance. And, friends… as of this week I can no longer call myself under-employed. If you’ve been following this story of the undaunted, relentlessly self-involved, reluctantly humbled twenty-something, you know that this is a big deal. But I really can’t tell this story without God.

I don’t know what you think about God. For the most part you’re an anonymous reader, but I can’t lie… I get the impression that somewhere out there is a skeptical heart behind a computer screen saying “Whatever, Adrie, with your God stuff.” I was totally there… okay sometimes I even drop by for a visit. But I can’t deny the incredible force of love and understanding that I have experienced this year. And it defies all logic. Changing my career path from psychology to education was a U-turn in my life that I can only attribute to God. He brought me here… Because I trusted him with my life, I spent a year and a half worth of “someday salary” to get a degree and become a certified teacher. And then, I trusted him again when I knew that the job market was impossible… my God can part seas, he can handle public sector bureaucracy. But he didn’t. He brought me to this point, let me crash and burn with a few interviews, and made me sit still for five months. I felt a lot of things during that time, especially rejected. When I look back on that time I recognize it as one of the most painful periods of my life… but somehow also the most tender. I was forced to just let go. Forced to reckon with the fact that what I am is not enough. It’s not enough. And Praise God it doesn’t have to be. Whatever God calls me to in this life it will never be more than I can bear. I was strengthened beyond measure by this quiet solitude on the island of waiting.

I can always identify God working in my life when something happens that is beyond the most amazing thing I could dream up for myself. I dream big, people! I am a dreamer… so if something happens that’s more than I can imagine for my life, I know it’s God’s will playing out. Danny. Becoming a teacher. Countless other less meaningful things that validate my trust in the ultimate Adviser. I blogged in December about the almighty gates of CPS opening just wide enough for me to sneak in! I went to that interview and sat down in front of a pleasant looking administrator who breezed through five years of my life on paper like he was scanning a fast food menu. I was prepared to wow him with my classroom management skills and anecdotes for tricky substituting situations from which I had emerged gracefully. Instead he asked me:

If I were to walk into your classroom, what would it look like?

If you were given $10,000 for your classroom, what would you do with it?

Do you consider yourself a creative person?

Do these sound like questions that would help him determine if I can simultaneously come up with a math lesson from scratch while students attempt to get away with everything they never can in the regular teacher’s presence? No, not to me either. But I answered them… and to my alarm, instead of talking researched-based teaching practices and positive reinforcement, I was talking about my interest in integrating more performance based assessments into my classroom, inquiry based learning through innovative astronomy software, and art-based learning activities.

At the end of the interview he introduced himself as an administrator at one of the most successful and longest running magnet schools in the city. A magnet school with an emphasis in fine-arts and technology where he felt I might be a great fit. He requested my resume and explained that he was interested in considering me for a full-time position… three days later I was being contacted by his school and their affiliate school. I interviewed with both (back-to-back due to Snomageddon rescheduling) and, after a brilliantly-executed demo lesson, was offered a position as a kindergarten teacher through the end of the school year in their newly-opened affiliate school. Praise God! And it gets better. This school is expanding each year, so this is a trial-run for a full-time teaching position next fall. My own classroom. I can’t tell you how significant those words are to me.

So now you know. It happened. I start Tuesday. The few people I have shared this with have said to me, “When it rains, it pours!” So true. But there’s more to grasp than that. When you’re waiting, He’s waiting too. When your soaring, He is that wind. When you’re broken, He will rebuild you stronger than before… if you ask Him. Like the binding on a book, I can’t tell this story without sharing how God has held me together this year. I am so grateful that he will be with me during the frantic and notorious “first year of teaching”… but of course I couldn’t name my blog “First Year Teacher”… I’m so much more than that.

I am elated, and rockin’ the bright pink shades.

Ambushed

I’ve been lying in bed for an hour at the end of an incredible day. I can’t sleep. Fears and panic have completely consumed me by replaying scenes from one of the most painful events in my life. And I can’t even tell you why it’s so painful, why it can’t heal… aside from the fact that it involves a lie… and I was never proven innocent.

The summer of 2008 was a pretty exciting time. I had just graduated from college, been accepted into a graduate program in Chicago and moved there, along with my husband. I had a clear understanding of my calling: to work with children, to teach – despite the fact that I had never done either. The first part-time job that I applied for was a substitute teaching position at a private preschool in Lincoln Park. I walked in and was charmed by the primary colored walls and incredibly bubbly director. She was incredible. Talking to her was like getting a hug by exactly the right person at exactly the right time. She called me the next day and within 10 days I had filled in seven times. The children were amazing. They climbed up into my lap without inhibition as I read them stories – a new voice for every character. I picked them up when they fell, helped them work through conflicts, and received supernatural confirmation that I was exactly where I was meant to be. Everyone else agreed. I was hired on the next week as an assistant teacher in the 3’s and 4’s room with two incredible teammates. Miss T was sweetness personified, yet wonderfully down to earth. Miss M was sincere, outrageously friendly, and saw the best in everyone. We worked beautifully together. I never felt less because I was just an assistant; doing most of the dirty work and little of the “teaching”. Everything is a learning experience in early childhood education, especially friendship.

I had never put so much of myself into a job before. I had never done something that meant so much to me and gotten paid at the end of the month. This position brought out a part of me that was rarely revealed in the world of adults. Sheer, unadulterated joy; pouring your heart into something; believing you are good at something… those experiences wouldn’t last for two seconds in the “real world”. And though it lasted longer there, my perfect place was shaken.

I wasn’t the only staff change that school year. Several new assistants were brought on, there were new lead teachers, and that little ray of sunshine that was the director bought the company. One of the teachers replaced her and, with the promotion, reinvented herself from the “criss-cross applesauce” sitting preschool teacher to the director of a prestigious preschool, baiting Gold Coast parents the best way she saw fit: in couture. I was still on my teaching “honeymoon” and, though I noted the change (and began to feel a sense of intimidation), I didn’t think much about it. I settled into the position and there were moments when I realized that children are not always beautiful and teaching was not always rewarding. I enjoyed my co-workers, who comprised the majority of my new friends. I felt a sense of comradery with our shared love of kids and passion for teaching, though the degree to which that was true varied from person to person. One of my friends, a fellow teaching assistant, kind of crashed and burned. She rubbed the new director the wrong way and was catty in her interactions with her, frequently talking about her just out of earshot. I should have recognized the danger.

On the Friday the school was celebrating Halloween, this teacher was called into the office… the school was open enough that I realized this, but I didn’t really think about it. She returned to her classroom a while later and then… I was called in. They shut the door. New, intimidating director is there with old, happy director.

New Director: We called you in because we need to talk to you about your behavior. You are too negative with the children.

Me: Too negative?

ND: You are constantly using phrases such as “no” and “don’t” and I have observed you multiple times using a negative tone. We do not use those words at this school.

Me: I don’t understand… did (my cooperating teachers) feel that I was being too negative with the kids?

ND: This has nothing to do with them – they would probably not have said anything even if they did. Do not tell me this hasn’t been happening. I have listened on the other side of the wall and heard you doing this.

My heart was pounding. I’ve never pretended to be perfect – but I loved that job and I loved those kids. I was new to the world of interacting with children, but it came so naturally. My cooperating teachers, parents, and the kids themselves seemed to love me. Naturally, I started to cry.

Old Director: Miss A, I don’t know what happened to the person I hired. I don’t know if there are some personal issues taking place in your life, but I hired a warm, bubbly assistant teacher and I don’t know what has happened to her.

Ambushed. That’s the only way I can describe it. I cried for the rest of the meeting. I cried until the end of my shift – could barely articulate to my co-teachers what had happened (they were equally confused/surprised). Did it matter that the new educational director who trained me had felt that telling me “we use positive redirection” was sufficient training on the matter of dealing with misbehavior? No… the fact that I may have simply not known that those words were “not allowed” was not considered. Not to mention that I had heard other teachers use those words (of course, since it’s nearly impossible not to). Or what about the fact that she had gathered evidence on the matter, seemingly for days, without offering some “positive redirection” to me? Instead they stage an intervention. The terrible, awful, irresponsible teacher is called in and rebuked to the point of tears AND it is insinuated that this trouble arises from her own personal life.

On Monday we worked something out… I assured them of my commitment to the students, assured them that I would not continue to “be negative” with the children and that I had enlisted my co-teachers to tell me immediately when I had spoken incorrectly, and promised them that I was indeed the person that they had hired and that it was painful to let them down as I had. From them on I walked on egg shells. I had nightmares for months. Simply being in the directors’ presence was painful. I was so intimidated of her it was almost crippling. I could barely look her in the eye. It seemed that she looked at me in disgust at times. Some teachers were gently and lovingly encouraged by her, others were like me and seemed to rub her wrong, but not nearly so wrong. I feared her, but couldn’t respect her. When she did things wrong (and everyone does), made inappropriate jokes in meetings, or escalated her heels to four inches I memorized it in an effort to convince myself that she really wasn’t any better than me… since she nearly had me convinced.

There was never any follow up meeting to say “we’re happy with you” or even “we don’t think you’re a terrible person”. I got my summer class schedule in February and it conflicted with my work hours. I went to them to request that perhaps they might keep me on with different hours, but it didn’t work out. Understandably, the assistant position doesn’t offer much flexibility. I worked my heart out until May, but much more carefully. I never sacrificed my demeanor with the students, and continued to have wonderful relationships with my co-teachers and the rest of the staff. When I left, I had a list of parents calling me to babysit and I am still close to two of those families. Fortunately, those families never had any idea what had happened behind the scenes.

My last year of grad school went by quickly, and I would often draw upon the innate connection that I experienced with those first students to build rapport with the 2nd and 5th graders I worked with at my internship site. I healed… somewhat. I even subbed every once and a while and was greeted warmly during those visits. It had been a year and longer; I never had to see her again if I didn’t want to. The past is past.

When I graduated and began looking for full-time teaching positions I realized that I would need to use that work experience as a reference. It was my only paid teaching experience. I tried to bypass the issue by utilizing the educational director as a reference; we had always had a wonderful working relationship and she saw me in the classroom more than any other administrator. She was willing, but I could tell she was hesitant. I had an idea where that hesitancy came from. She knew my strategy… and they shared an office. Nevertheless, she wrote me a lovely letter of recommendation. The first school I did extensive interviewing with asked me back for a teaching demo (which meant they were considering me and only a few other applicants). Two weeks after my interview passed with no contact. After inquiring I was told they went with another candidate. The second school I had an interview with was absolutely ecstatic about me as an applicant. The principal confided that she felt I was exactly what she was looking for. A few days later I received an impersonal voice mail that they had gone with another applicant.

It could have been anything that tipped the scale out of my favor. It could have had nothing to do with me. It could have been the budget, the other candidate, anything. But two-and-a-half years after being called into that office, I am lying awake terrified that it was her.

 

I did a pretty good job talking myself out of this line of thought until October. I hadn’t found a full-time position and saw that the sister school to the preschool I worked at was hiring an assistant teacher for the exact age-group I had worked with. I called. Old Director picked up. She’s so happy to hear from me. She has the director at the sister school call me back. We schedule an interview for the next afternoon. The interview is canceled, which was fine; she needed to meet with a parent. But it was never rescheduled. She never responded to any of my calls from that point on. Once again I had left on good terms with just one thing left undone; a reference.

If I could turn around to 20 or 21 year-old me and say one thing, I would say, “Adrie, sometimes people aren’t going to like you. You’ll be exactly who you are (because you don’t know how to be anything less) and they’ll hate you for it. But usually… usually that won’t happen. Either way don’t stop. Grow, get stronger, but never stop.”

Self-talk or no. Hindsight or no. I have two serious interviews this week. I can’t wait to show them everything I have to offer… but I’m terrified of this skeleton in my closet. This shame for a sin I never committed. And I don’t know what to do besides pray… and blog about it of course.

It feels good to tell that story. It’s like revealing a scarred part of myself. I hide it, pretend it’s not there… but it needs to breathe every once and a while. Keeping a rosy outlook takes guts.