Dancing with the Teacher

Miss N. is holding out for a season of Dancing With the Teachers.  It’s funny how serious she appears about this, because the truth is that she doesn’t relish the spotlight … at least not when it comes to her job as a teacher in a high needs class room.  In my eyes, what she does is quite remarkable, so I take the risk of embarrassing her in hopes that your heart will be as moved as mine.

Consider this snippet from one of her recent stories:

So… I get home and waiting at the bottom of my steps… sitting on his bike was one of my special rugrats … I was surprised and not …  all at the same time.
Me: “Hey Bubba!! Whacha’ doin’?”
Bubba: “I don’t know”
Me (I walk up my steps and he proceeds to follow): “Hold on kiddo… why don’t you have a seat on the steps. I’ll throw my stuff inside and we can visit.” I come sit down and he’s just staring at the ground. After a few minutes of silence I ask… “Whatcha worried about?”
Bubba: “Do you think Mr. M is gonna like me?”
Me: “How could he not? I adore you!!!”
Bubba: “Ya, but you like weirdo’s. We are all kind of weird in your class and you still like us.”
Me: “Bubba… I don’t just like you… I adore you!” I proceeded to tell him specific things that I treasured about him.
Bubba got real quiet… then says: “I’m not as weird as I use to be…”

We sat there in silence for a few moments… I asked if there was anything else he wanted to talk about.

Bubba: “No… Can we just read together?”
Me: “You bet.  We can sit out here and read together”
Bubba: “You have to go get a book. I brought a Goosebumps and you don’t like scary stories”
Me: “You’re right… I’ll go get my book.”

We sat there in silence for 30 minutes and read. Well… I tried… between trying to choke back tears… Oh man… if that kid had any idea how treasured he is…

Miss N. teaches in one of the toughest types of classrooms in America (a type of classroom that, tragically, is growing in number and need).  She has the kids whom nobody wants … or at least whom nobody knows what to do with.   These kids (and they truly are kids, 8 and 9 years old) have been emotionally traumatized in ways that we wouldn’t want to hear about, making education more about surviving the day than about what knowledge they are going to go home with.  In fact, going home is something that some of them wish they didn’t have to do.

A typical day for Miss N. involves helping kids who are ready to explode with anger finish a task, learn to apologize, and use healthy emotions. A horrible and haunting day involves picking up an electronic device left behind and discovering that it contains evidence of a student being put into a sexually abusive situation.  Unfortunately, though, not with enough evidence for law enforcement to act.

I met Miss N. over a decade ago.  She was a youth pastor, deeply loved by students and parents alike.  Juggling two or three jobs to make ends meet, she was advised to apply for a sub job as a paraprofessional in the local school district.

… the day I dropped my (sub) package off at the school, I got a call literally 30 minutes later asking if I was willing to take on a long term sub. I of course said yes. The secretary was hesitant and said, “I have to tell you it is in the ‘behavior’ class, but your resume says you worked with the gangs in L.A. so I thought you would be good for this.”

I needed the job so I reaffirmed that I was up for the challenge… but was instantly curious.

That next day, I showed up to a room with twelve 3rd – 6th grade kid thinking, “How hard can this be?” Well… I was in for a rude awakening… BUT… I FELL IN LOVE!!!!! That sub position turned in to a full time position.

The principal pulled me into her office and asked, “Why are you wasting your talents?” She reminded me of the parable of throwing your pearls before swine and pulled out the pay scale of para’s vs. teachers and very firmly said, “For you to remain a para is wasting your gifts. This field needs you … you need to go back to school and become a teacher!! I’m going to be on your tail about this til’ you get it done.”

It took me a couple of years, but I did it. I went back and earned a MA in teaching with a K-8 endorsement and a K-12 Special Ed endorsement.

The church lost a youth pastor while the troubled kids in our community gained a ferocious advocate.  Sadly, her passion for these kids has a birthplace in her own past. Miss N. too is a survivor (she says, “victor”) of traumatic, life threatening abuse.   “I remember one night crying out in tears… ‘God… if you just get me through this… I will spend the rest of my life working with kids the way Kevin and Marybeth do.’ Looking back, I see that He always put people in my life and I can see His hand rescuing me.

Dancing with the teacher blog

Her story reminds me that it’s not the lack of blemish that makes a difference … it’s letting our rough edges meld into the rough edges of other broken, needy people that makes us whole. I often wonder what would happen if more of us would join Miss N. in the lives of these messy, messed up kids. Actually, what I really wonder, is what will happen if WE DON’T join her?  Whether in the classroom, the Boys & Girls Club, children’s church, youth group, or our own neighborhood, what future awaits us if we don’t stop this slow bleed of demoralized, hurting kids?

Miss N. asked for prayer for the new school year.  Even though my classroom is nowhere near as challenging as hers, as a teacher, I covet similar intercession.  (And am pretty sure most of my colleagues do as well.)

…  I’m ready to meet my new little rugrats… for those of you who pray, I covet your prayers. My category of special ed can be HIGH stress, and I struggle to find balance and maintain my stress levels in healthy ways. I need prayer to not make excuses to opt out of workouts. I need prayer to not bring problems home I have no control over. I need prayer to deal with dysfunctional families (parents) in healthy, grace-filled ways. I need prayer to know that when I’m being triggered, I can get help from healthy people. I need prayer for better, stronger balance this year. In my category of special ed  the percentage of kids coming to me from trauma and abuse backgrounds is HIGH… HIGH… HIGH. I also need prayer for wisdom EVERYDAY as I handle and work with crushed spirits and broken little hearts.

Yes, let’s pray. And Miss N.,  even if Hollywood doesn’t call, your kids probably will, so keep on dancing!

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