Educated Decisions (Part Two)

A year ago, I would not have foreseen myself working in the educational system.

Although throughout my life I considered being a teacher, and even spent a few semesters of college playing with the idea of continuing for a masters in secondary education, that was not the path I settled on in my final semester of college, when I was supposed to “have things together.”

Just over a year ago, I met with someone from Teach For America to talk about becoming a corps member. I was intrigued by the mission to provide high-quality education in under-served areas, the fact that I could gain experience in education without having studied it in college, and that many alumni went on to work in the non-profit sector. I decided to attend a “field trip” where I and other interested individuals from around Indiana would visit Teach For America schools in Indianapolis.

The visit was an eye-opener. I saw why Center Township (the area being served in Indy) needed passionate individuals to promote education in the community. However, I was disappointed in the breach that I saw between the TFA teachers and the teachers who had gotten their certification during their post-secondary training. I was concerned that, despite a common goal, this wall would create roadblocks in the system. Additionally, I wasn’t sure I wanted to work with an entire classroom-full of students, only addressing their academic needs. I decided that this would not be the path for me.

My decision was only confirmed by my experience as a tutor in a bilingual immersion school that same fall as part of a service-learning class on immigration. At this IPS school, I worked with first graders as individuals or in small groups. I appreciated that I was better able to target a child’s needs, and to get to know them better than I would if I were teaching to a whole class. I got to talk with the students about their home lives, and my heart ached for every kid whose parents didn’t care about their education, or worse, whose parents weren’t able to live in this country with them. I wanted to help these kids in so many ways beyond what their teachers could do for them in school. So, while I took great joy in inspiring kids to love learning, I thought I needed another way to care for them.

Along the way, I’ve been shown other opportunities to address the needs of children. Of course, in Honduras I’ve seen what just a little love and time can do for a child. Through training as a Girls On The Run coach, I realized that you can inspire a child’s physical and emotional well-being while teaching them important life lessons. And, finally, all my experiences with children have only reaffirmed that I am called to family life someday.

So, after praying for a unique position that would allow me to care for kids’ total well-being, why did God lead me to become an instructional assistant in a public elementary school? As of today, I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that in the past three weeks I have become determined to help my students develop their literacy skills, but also to be a role model to them. I want to be someone that they can respect, and someone who can inspire them to learn everyday, even if it’s something outside my lesson plan. I want them to see the good in the world around them. I see the good, and potential, in the world in them, and am learning from my time with them more than they may be learning from me.

Working For Or With Kids? (Part One)

The thought of taking care of children used to intimidate me. “What are you supposed to do with kids all day, and what do you even talk to them about?” I wondered. Although I contemplated becoming a high school history teacher, it never would have crossed my mind to work with younger children.

Then, two summers ago, I had a couple of experiences that made me do a 180 degree turn. First, I went on my first visit to Honduras. My expectations for that trip were to work hard alongside the local Hondurans; to labor from sunrise to sunset. I didn’t realize we’d be spending much of our time not only for the kids, but with the kids. My friend Lauren, who had been to Nuevo ParaĆ­so before, inspired me by her enthusiasm to play with the kids during every spare minute she could find, or make. As the week progressed, I grew so very attached to the children there, and rarely a day goes by where they don’t cross my mind.

A photo of me & one of the little Honduran wonders, courtesy of a friend.

A photo of me & one of the little Honduran wonders, courtesy of a friend.

Second, I began to babysit regularly for a seven-year-old girl upon returning from Honduras. A few times a week I would pick her up from swim lessons and spend the rest of the day with her until her parents came home. I found out that conversation with children actually comes very naturally to me, and we were never bored. We would play school, swim at the pool, host (failed) lemonade stands, go on picnics, and just have a blast. I honestly would have done it for no money, and still enjoy spending time with her and her family to this day.

In the following months, as I entered my junior year of college, I began to seriously reconsider my career path. I thought less about becoming a teacher, and more about finding a way to work with children to address a wider range of needs, one that would allow me to care compassionately and holistically. I also started to think that I wanted a job that felt more like the wonderful volunteer experiences I’d had; the things I did because I loved them, and because they brought good to other people rather than simply money to my bank account.

I believed that the non-profit field would be my best chance to find such an opportunity. Fast forward to early 2013, when I landed my first “big girl” job at Project Lead The Way, a national STEM education non-profit. While I believed in the mission of the organization, and felt very passionate about serving the students, the position there lacked one thing: it did not put me into direct contact with children. My time there was a learning opportunity in many ways, not the least of which was a chance to reevaluate my professional and personal goals, many of which overlap.

While looking for my next job, which I thought would be in Louisville, I was thrown a curve ball and offered my current position at Huntingburg Elementary. It both is and isn’t what I had in mind for my next job; it does let me work directly with kids, in an age group that I love, but it doesn’t meet the idea of the “non-profit” I had in mind, even though it is in the public educational system.

Upon reflection, the path I began down two years ago is nothing like what I imagined, but I am grateful for the experiences God has sent my way, and am intrigued to see what else He has in store for me.

Stay turned for Part Two, where I further explore my surprise at working in a public school.

Hills & Valleys

Unlike where I grew up outside Chicago, southern Indiana has vistas of rolling hills. As a runner, I know that racing downhill is actually more difficult, and more dangerous, than going uphill. Going downhill is frightening; you’re speeding downward, slightly losing control of your body, not quite knowing what to expect once you reach the bottom.

The past few months of my life have felt a lot like running hills.

Back in June, I sat down to make some difficult decisions with my fiance. I knew that in July I was coming to the end of my contract at Project Lead The Way, and that my lease was also going to be up on my house. On top of that, my fiance was to begin at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry. After weighing the pros and cons, and after much prayer, we decided that I would begin my transition from Indianapolis to Louisville mid-July.

When that time arrived, I bid farewell to my co-workers and packed all my belongings in my car. Suddenly, I felt lost. I wasn’t currently working, didn’t have my own place to call home, and wasn’t going to be seeing my fiance as often. (We have chosen not to live together until after we are married in December.)

I started to feel like I was going downhill. Even little things seemed to come along just to try me more, including a hip injury that put me out of running for two months. My stress reliever had become a new source of stress!

Though I kept praying for God to guide me down the path laid out for me, I admit that I was skeptical of what he had in store. I tried to remind myself that I need to trust God not only when he sends blessings, but when he sends trials.

A week ago, I was feeling really down in the dumps. I’d moved in with my fiance’s family to be closer to Louisville, and was hoping to substitute teach in the district while continuing my job search, but I was still having difficulty with God’s direction. Then, last Thursday, I received a call.

The elementary school had seen my information at the district office and wanted to know if I would like a job as a Title I Instructional Assistant for this semester. They told me I would work part-time, Monday through Thursday, with Kindergarten, first grade and second grade students.

Though for a while I haven’t anticipated working in the educational system, I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity to serve children, a personal and professional goal of mine, and to develop my own skills while still searching for the next step in my career path.

O ye of little faith! God answered my prayers just in time. Before tumbling down into the valley, He lifted me to crest the next hill.

As all runners know, the only way to get stronger at navigating hills is to run them.