Just as the Israelites were instructed to tell and retell stories of how God worked in their lives – to always remember – I need to write my story about the last couple months before I forget, before I become swamped in difficulties and challenges.
As I mentioned in my last post, I never, ever thought I’d be back in Houston teaching first grade. Never, ever. And I didn’t look for a teaching job either when I found out that I couldn’t return to Mozambique. In fact, I had decided that I would look for other positions abroad or maybe get a job at Starbucks just to earn a little cash but to do something mindless while I figured my life out. I also thought maybe I could substitute teach starting in January. Which is how I ended up on my old school district’s website one evening in November.
It was a bit early to think about subbing, especially since I wanted to take the rest of the year off. But something prompted me to do some research that night into what I needed to start subbing. I never did find out what I needed because in the confusion of the district’s website, I ended up on their vacancies page and saw two postings: third grade bilingual and first grade. First grade is what I had taught for three years. I clicked on the link and realized I knew the principal because she had been the AP at the first school I taught at. The deadline was two days later. I knew I needed to apply. It was too weird that I should come across that particular posting without looking for it. I immediately emailed the principal to let her know I’d be sending my stuff in.
I was jittery that night. In a sense, I knew I already had the job. And that scared me because I didn’t want to be in the States teaching. I wanted to go back to Mozambique. On the other hand, I knew there were so many positives to teaching in this season: earning some money so that I could buy a plane ticket to go to Mozambique in June to collect my things and say good-bye properly to friends and colleagues, gain some more teaching experience, renew my teaching credentials which expire in March, connect to church and friends for more than just a couple weeks, etc. There were many reasons why staying in Houston and teaching would be ideal.
A couple weeks later I went for the interview and felt an instinct to turn around when I walked into the school building. Thoughts of, “What am I doing here? I left this three and a half years ago! This can’t be my life again,” ran through my head. And I prayed, “God, you know I don’t want to be in Houston right now. You know I’m weirded out by interviewing for a teaching job. But I applied because I believe you brought this job to my attention. I will interview in my best ability. If you want me to have this job, give me this job, and I will gratefully accept it. If you don’t want me to have this job, please give it to the person who most deserves it, and I will also gratefully accept that.” It was a no-lose situation for me.
The next day, the principal called and offered me the job. I gratefully accepted it, but I also cried on the way home from a meeting I had been at as the reality of not going back to Mozambique and now living in Houston hit me. This is my life: I am once again a first grade teacher living in Houston. I couldn’t help wondering that if I’m right back where I started, what was my time in England and Mozambique about.
In the following couple weeks, I visited my new class several times to meet the kids and get a feel for their routines and curriculum. I found out that their first teacher had been fired, and they were on their second long-term sub. I would be their fourth teacher of the year. Many teachers stopped me in the hallway or came through the classroom and told me how excited they were to have me. The language arts specialist, who had been working daily with my class, was particularly enthusiastic. She told me how the principal had come to her one day and said, “You’ll never guess the email I got last night,” in reference to the one I had sent her letting her know I’d be applying for the job. The language arts specialist explained, “We were worried about filling that position mid-year.” I said, “Oh, didn’t anyone else apply for the job?” She said, “142 people did.” More affirmation that God wanted me to have the job.
During those days of observations, I also began to get a feel for the kids. Here were a couple conversations I had:
Boy: Can you help me write this letter?
Me: Sure, what do you want to say to your mom?
Boy: That I love her, even though she’s in jail.
Girl: Teacher, she said the t-word!
Me: I’m sorry, I don’t know what the t-word is.
Girl demonstrates by cupping hands around chest.
Boy: (Pointing to some snacks that kids had brought in for a holiday party) Can we take those snacks home?
Me: Then there wouldn’t be any for the party on Friday. Wouldn’t it be more fun to have a party?
Boy: But I don’t have any food at home.
I also found out that another child’s parents beat him, and a little girl told another teacher that her brother might go to jail for raping a girl. Her brother is 13. And this girl is six and knows what rape is.
It struck me that parts of Houston are as much a mission field as Beira. The issues are the same. There might not be AIDS orphans here, but there are “jail orphans” and hunger, poverty, and abuse. This week it’s been in the 30s, and there are several children in the school who do not have jackets.
My heart changed toward teaching. I began to get excited about developing relationships with my students, loving them, encouraging them. I began to get excited about setting up my classroom and doing lessons – using my creativity in ways I knew I was good at and hadn’t been able to exercise in awhile. I still struggle with “going backwards”, but relationships are relationships, and love is love, whether it’s with high school students in Beira or elementary school students in Houston. I want my heart to be open to that and remember Who brought me to Beira and Who brought me to Houston, especially when things start getting tough.