Thirty-one years of joy, pain, smiles, and heartache were designed to bring me to this day…
The job for M.E…
On May 2nd I was abruptly fired from my employer of almost two years. The words on my termination letter read “…not performing the duties of the role…” but I always believed my dismissal was either due to my recent car accident (after five weeks without me, they realized they did not need me any more) or my “high” salary (freeing a salary cap). What else was I supposed to think? I had never been written up, placed on disciplinary warning, given a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), or any type of demotion. In fact, in my almost two years there, I had received two promotions and two pay raises- all on separate occasions. In my book, there was no reason to fire me. If there had been a problem with my quality of work, they never mentioned or documented it… so that means it never happened. Yet and still, on that Tuesday afternoon as I was about to head out of the office to install a Personal Emergency Response System in a client’s home, I was called into the HR office and fired. I returned to my desk, sent a few text messages to my loved ones, and packed my stuff. When I was finished, I walked out of the building with the biggest smile on my face.
See, what they did not know is that God was the reason that I was leaving that job. They did not fire me; God was telling me that it was time to go. When I got into that accident on Sunday, February 26th, I was told to miss a few days of work due to my pain. However, when I saw my doctor on that Tuesday, she told me to stay out for two weeks because of a bad combination of a long commute and a messed up back. During that first week, I was so nervous about the state of my job! I had called my boss and expressed my concern but she explicitly told me that I would not be fired and that I just needed to focus on getting better. That Saturday my employer even sent me an Edible Arrangement with a card signed by the whole team. I felt loved and cared for…but things changed, I guess! During week two of being out, my doctor and PT told me that I would need to be home for a third week because the pain was too great and my commute would put too much of a strain on my back (I was commuting two hours each way for work). Some where during week two the Holy Spirit came over me and comforted me regarding my job situation. I had no PTO and no STD so I was not getting paid during my time off, yet the Spirit told me that I would be leaving my job soon. When He spoke, I was at peace. I remember saying “even if they were to fire me, I would be ok. God said it’s time to leave so I must go.” When I returned after three unpaid weeks off, I had to return at a modified schedule and I could not work for more than five hours each day, for at least 10 days. So from February 27th-April 1st, I was basically a part-time employee….and when I was at work, I was in noticeable pain and highly discomforted.
By the end of April, it was time for me to move back home with my mother and I was still in a lot of pain, but I could no longer afford to take time from work…so I worked through the pain. So when I was fired three days after moving back home with my mother, I was happy for so many reasons, chief reason being that I would not have to commute for three hours each day with my persistent back pain. My employer could not have known how they freed me, but I knew and so did God.
I searched for jobs for five months but I rarely got my hopes up because I knew God needed to teach me something during this bout of unemployment that I hadn’t learned the first time I was unemployed…five years ago…right after returning from a car accident (see the similarity?). Because I did not learn it then, God allowed this to happen again so that I could learn these three things: patience, obedience, and faith. So yes, I applied to jobs, went on many interviews, but nothing materialized until God wanted it to.
And God chose substitute teaching as the door for me to enter.
I remember what I was like as a student. I was that good student who could cut up when improperly influenced. If you were to ask my Chinese teacher from high school, I’m sure he would tell you that he taught two different Michelles. There was the bright Michelle, with good morals (that’s what my Chinese name, Ming Xian, meant, “bright, with good morals”) that he taught in freshman year…followed by the disobedient, testy Michelle that he taught in sophomore year. I know how I used to cut up and I NEVER wanted to be a teacher, for fear that a younger version of me would be sitting in my class. Yet as God would have it, teaching is exactly what He was planning for me.
I randomly applied for the sub position with the county after hearing that the county was still in dire need of subs. Though I randomly applied, I only felt comfortable applying because God had been presenting me with various opportunities to speak and He was working on my public speaking, courage, and message delivery.
So I applied.
And then I was hired.
And then I was in a training.
And then I was in a classroom.
True to form, I gravitated towards special education because, professionally, I had always gravitated towards adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD). For someone with no patience, God had always given me enough compassion and love to be able to work with others who learn and live differently. And as it turns out, Special Education is just where my heart lies.
As I entered each school and each classroom, God continued to pull on some skill/concept/lesson that I had previously learned in my life to allow me to succeed in that current moment. I can honestly say that while teaching was not my first choice, it was apparently all that I had been learning for my entire life. Every degree that obtained, every class that I had ever attended, any bit of knowledge that ever entered my head has been used during my almost nine weeks as a substitute teacher. God literally combined all of my skills for this job that He had planned for me! He’s so intentional, right?!
But I wasn’t completely prepared….
So here I am thriving in my first 10 days as a sub, loving every moment, and then I get this offer to be a Long-term Sub for a special, Special Education program at a middle school. On an education level, I knew exactly what I was walking into…but on a socioeconomic level, I had no clue what was about to happen.
I walked in that first day and created a PowerPoint presentation for the class within 30 minutes and I felt accomplished! I even went on FB to boast about my accomplishment- like, look at me, look what I can do! That weekend (I started on a Friday) I went home and created lesson plans to carry me all the way until the proposed end date of my subbing. I felt good. And then I went back into the classroom on Monday and reality hit me. I was teaching 13 middle school-aged children who had an educational level of Kindergartners, First-graders, and Second-graders.
Some of the children could not read above a K level.
Most children could barely add, multiply, subtract, or divide.
None of the children could determine change for one dollar independent of a calculator.
None of the children knew how to write a complete sentence.
After realizing the individual learning abilities of the students, I realized why they were in this specialized program that teaches life lessons and skills, versus preparing them for a diploma… and then I realized my lesson plans would be entirely too difficult for them to understand. So I sat with God, and then the classroom aides, and I revamped my plans for the class. In revamping my plans, God showed me why I was really in the classroom: these kids needed love.
I am not saying that others did not or could not provide love to them, but I am saying that God needed M.E. and my particular method of love and consistency to be with these children. I was prepared to love on the kids- reward them for the slightest achievement, push my affinity for math on them, and pray for them every step of the way- but I promise you I was not prepared to be a mother-like figure to them.
In no way shape or form was I prepared for the moment when I had to talk to girls about the importance of putting on deodorant, wearing pads, and properly bathing/showering each day. I was not ready to talk to boys about how you cannot cover up the sour scent of funk with the sweet scent of cologne. I was not ready! But God made me ready.
Within these past eight days, God even allowed my love of doing hair to show up in the classroom as I opened “Ms. Michelle’s Hair Salon” every morning during the warm-up time. During this time, I bounced from student to student, de-tangling/combing and braiding their hair. Braiding hair comes naturally to me…and so does praying for the person whose hair I am doing. I tend to pray for God’s blessing and covering of the person as I comb and braid through their locks of hair, but with these kids, my prayers were a bit more detailed.
As winter break was approaching, I began to wonder about who would comb the hair of some of the students. I did one girl’s hair on Tuesday and she did not bathe/shower for two days…and she kept on the same under clothes. My kids (they are mine because they are in my heart) do not all understand or comprehend hygiene or its importance. And worst yet, some of their parents are not in the physical/mental/financial place to be able to teach this lesson to their children.
Then I began to wonder what my kids would eat during our 10 day break. Most of them depend on the two meals that the school provides every day. Their homes lack food and their parents lack resources to be able to feed them. When will they eat? What will they eat? Will they be satisfied/full? Will they go hungry one night? These are the questions that ran through my mind as the month began to wear on. They are in need of so many things and our classroom has been the provider of many of those needs for so long.
So earlier this month I sat with the other aides and asked if they would be interested in doing a party for the kids on the last day of school. I was still mentally healing from the Thanksgiving Meal but God had laid it on my heart to do this so I had to. It was done on a much lower scale than Thanksgiving, but God provided abundantly! He made it so that all of the kids were able to eat sufficiently in the classroom…and they were able to carry home food for during the break. It wasn’t much, but I do believe in a God who is able to take little into His hands, bless it, break it, and multiply it.
God placed this hashtag of #NotesFromASubTeacher on my heart a few weeks ago when a parent went off on me because I was trying to give her child homework (oh, excuse me for wanting your child to learn…but I digress…). But then last night He told me to use this same hashtag to share a truth of public education- children are in need of more than just an education. I naively thought that being a teacher was simply about the textbook information that I could teach a child. I knew math and English so I thought I would be ok…as it turns out, I needed way more than that in order to succeed.
As I look back on the past almost nine weeks, I can truly say that this has been the most labor-intensive job that I have ever had…yet it is also the job that I love the most. Ms. Michelle is firm and wants everyone to learn, but she is also compassionate and dedicated to improving your whole life. My current classroom has humbled me in ways that I can never truly explain. These 13 children have taught me more than any of my Alma Maters could ever teach me. Each day these children needed another facet of me, causing me to run faster to God’s throne. I constantly had to seek God, asking Him to pour into me, so that I could in turn pour into these children.
I DID EVERYTHING WITH GOD and accomplished NOTHING without Him.
As I said goodbye to each child today, I gave them a hug, wished them Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and whispered a short and silent prayer. If nothing else, my prayer life has definitely increased because of these kids and being a sub in general! As Christ gave me strength, I made sure that each one of those kids knew that we, the four adults in the classroom, loved them. God poured strength into me, yes, but He also poured love…so I had to pour it into the children.
So as I put Ms. Michelle away for a few days and disappear into a world full of naps, blogging, and preparation for my 2018, I want to leave you with one note:
Anyone can teach a subject, but it takes a special person, with a heart full of love, to teach a child.