Teaching: not so much a career path as an orientation of heart

I will instruct you and teach you
    about the direction you should go.
    I’ll advise you and keep my eye on you.

Psalm 32:8
– remembering 20 years as a teacher

Thinking back about those early days in the classroom in Atlanta, where those beautiful children kidnapped my heart and invited me into their lives (read, How I got to be a Teacher) I believe it was very much a prescient moment in terms of defining where and how God planned to use me as a “preacher’s husband.”

God was laying out not so much a career path as an orientation of heart. Rebekah and I were being called to serve, and to lead, and – most importantly – to bring light and love and mercy and grace and redemption and healing.

God was laying out not so much a career path as an orientation of heart

I was to be doing this for children in the classroom, yes, but also in the lives of the people God was calling us to lead in the church.

So this is Part Two of my story as a teacher. My relationship to children changed from one of temporarily helping out, and filling a need, to that of a call to address something in particular and devote the next two decades of my life to it.

The child who roped me in:

Her name was Juanita Verde. She was around nine years old and smart enough to be aware that she was cognitively impaired. In consequence she was constantly frustrated, very angry, deeply sad, and always on the edge of exploding. She would let nobody close.

On the plus side she liked to color, she loved Sesame Street – especially Kermit the Frog – and she was obsessed with rainbows.

She guarded her precious coloring (usually elaborate rainbows) and often tore her work to shreds rather than let the teacher see it.

So I learned how to play “Rainbow Connection” on my guitar, and I sang it to the class. I caught Juanita half smiling in my direction and I said, “It ain’t easy being green, is it?” and she smiled again because she knew that’s what her name, Verde, meant.

Over the course of several difficult months, the barriers came down and I became Juanita’s special friend. Eventually she even made a wonderful rainbow for Rebekah.

There is a lot more to this story, but this is just a blog post. What Juanita did that was so important in the great scheme of things was to fine tune my purpose as a teacher and invite me to work specifically with children who were unable to learn because of their emotions. Anger, fear, deep sadness, irrationality, behavior problems, social disorders, bi-polar, psychosis… and so much more.

Juanita invited me into the world of hurt and distress and overwhelm – her world – and she helped me to understand that while healing may be possible it is also extremely hard work for everyone involved.

The next step (after getting Rebekah graduated with her MDiv and us situated in our first call) would be for me to go back to University, this time to get my teaching degree and specialize in “E.H.” and “S.E.D.”

That, of course, is another post – DEREK

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