Nineteen years is a long time! I had to use both hands – twice! – to count up the number of years that I have been teaching. The fact that I’m a teacher at all is a surprise to me! While cleaning out a closet recently, I came across a paper that I had penned in high school, “Where I’ll Be in Ten Years.” Let’s just say, that I am not living in a luxurious, high-rise condo on a big-city attorney’s salary. I did so much better than that! I’m a teacher to some of the neatest kids on the planet!
my first try – the awkward years
I am so embarrassed when I encounter one of my former students who I taught when I first graduated from college. I apologize for any lasting harm that I may have done to them, and ask for their parents’ forgiveness as well for all the homework I gave their children. I was a little overly zealous in my determination to educate my new students. Those first couple of years were tough. I was 21 years old, barely three years older than the seniors who I was teaching, and I was newly married. My zeal for educating their children was not exactly appreciated by the parents of my students.
After teaching for two years, I left education, determined never to return!
my favorite job – Mom
Oscar and I were married for five years before we had our first child. I remember waking Oscar up early one morning and telling him that I had dreamed about having a baby, and that if I didn’t have one soon, I would die!! Dramatic, I know, but my clock had gone off – literally overnight! Brennen made his appearance in 1992, and then Kayla joined us in 1994. “Stay-at-home” mom doesn’t really describe what I did; we did very little “staying home.” We visited Nana and Pop regularly, ran errand around town, went to parks with friends, and even traveled occasionally with daddy. I loved it, but I knew that it wouldn’t be permanent. Once the kids were old enough to go to school, I would be going back to work, probably as a paralegal, to help pay for their tuition.
back to teaching – what?!
“Lisa, I don’t know if you would even be interested in this, but…..our high school history teacher is retiring. I need a history teacher for next year.”
Proverbs 37:4 Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
Once upon a time I believed that this was a promise from God that if we loved God, He would give us our heart’s desires. What an immature and incorrect interpretation! I came to realize that this verse teaches us that if we “delight….in the Lord,” He will plant desires in our hearts to cause us to actually DESIRE to do what He has planned for us.
I remember my response to Mike. He had seemed a little tentative when he asked so I may have surprised him, “Wow! I really do want to teach again! I would love to come back next year!”
high school English and history teacher
The next seven years were really great. I taught middle and high school English, history, geography, government, speech, and even computer. It’s a Christian school – we do it all! I loved it that my children attended the same school so we could drive in together everyday and have the same holidays and summer vacation. I enjoyed my students and built strong relationships with them. I was determined to be a better teacher than I had been on my first round in education. I was more reasonable with the homework, and I developed teaching methods that I believed set my students up to be successful. I marveled at how many of my students flourished and learned – some of them without any real effort. But I was perplexed that others struggled and failed – despite their efforts.
Something as mundane as passing back graded tests could turn into heartbreak in a moment. As I walked up and down the aisles placing graded tests on desks, I was always careful to place them upside down to protect their privacy. Students who were pleased with their grades would immediately gloat. I hated this for those whose faces would go from hopeful, to downcast, as they would take a quick glance at their grade, and then slide it, upside down, under another book so their peers wouldn’t see it, and hopefully, not ask about their grade.
I tried studying with my struggling students after school, during lunch, and even weekends to help them prepare for tests. I was convinced that if they would just study harder…or differently….or longer…. or with me… that they would be successful. When they still failed test after test, despite our efforts, I felt like I had failed them. Other teachers, and sometimes even their own parents, accused these kids of being lazy or unmotivated. I knew this wasn’t true. If they were unmotivated, they wouldn’t have cared what their grades were, and they wouldn’t have spent their lunch time studying with me! Something else was going on.
graduate school – cross categorical special education
God was using Psalm 37:4 again. This time, the desire He planted in my heart was a passion to help those struggling students whose confidence was so low, they were tempted to give up. I was determined to discover everything I could about learning disabilities, and to acquire more effective strategies for teaching students who learned differently. In 2005, I enrolled in Regent University, and began studying for a master’s degree in Cross-Categorical Special Education.
When we moved to Raleigh in 2006, I had just finished my degree, and was ready to start using what I had learned to help kids with special needs – in a Christian school. However, I realized pretty quickly that most Christian schools had no interest in hiring a special education teacher. I sent an email to Dr. John McCormick who is the administrator of Hidden Treasure Christian School in Taylors, South Carolina, asking him if he knew of any Christian schools in Raleigh with existing special education programs where I could apply. When I opened his response, I could almost hear him shouting back at me through the computer, “NO! Have you considered that one of the reasons God may have for moving your family is so that YOU can START a special education program in a Christian school?!” I fell back into my chair with shock. There was no way I was qualified to do such a monumental task!
When I was feeling especially overwhelmed with exhaustion from teaching full-time, studying for another degree, caring for my family, and planning a move, I remember commenting to my mother and my husband, “If we get to Raleigh, and a pastor were to tell me that he’s been looking for someone to start a special education program in his church’s Christian school, I’ll know that I’m doing the right thing, and it will make all of this madness worthwhile.” Well, that happened! My father is friends with the pastor of the church that we had chosen to attend, and in conversation with Pastor Vradenburgh, my dad told him that I was finishing a degree in special education. Pastor’s response was that he had been “praying for someone to start a program at Friendship Christian School” because of the burden that God had given him for children with special needs. Wow.
Wake County Public Schools
We moved in the summer of 2006, and I easily found a job in a public middle school as a special education teacher. The understanding was that Friendship would be ready to hire me the following year. I had never taught in a public school before so I was in for culture shock! I learned more that year about children with special needs than I had in two years of graduate school, and I also saw first hand how damaging it is to remove God from their education. Children who were especially vulnerable to abuse should have been learning “Jesus Loves Me” and should have been protected by their teachers and peers. Instead, they were easy marks for other students who entertained themselves by encouraging them to learn perverted behaviors to show off to their classmates.
I found that I did not have the time in the classroom to actually teach an entire reading or math lesson to my special education students because so much of my time and energy was spent in simply keeping order and protecting some of my students from the more aggressive ones. This may not be the case in every special ed classroom, but my classes were a mix of students who had behavior disorders and oppositional defiance disorders along with students who had learning disabilities or ADHD. I was forced to spend much of my instructional time establishing and keeping order. Once I had established a routine and control, a new student would burst into the classroom, and destroy the balance I had finally achieved.
Regardless of the difficulties that I encountered there, I learned many valuable lessons and fell in love with scores of children – even the really naughty, dangerous ones. It was difficult to leave them at the end of that year, but I knew that God was preparing me for something else and would use what I had learned there to build something where His name could not only be used, but would be glorified.
Friendship Christian School
I started teaching a sixth grade class at Friendship in 2007, while simultaneously building the program that year with established Friendship students who needed additional academic support. In 2008, we launched the resource center with only five students. The Specialized Learning Center of Friendship Christian School now has six teachers and serves sixty students, and we have to turn away students every year due to space and staffing limitations. Obviously, there’s a demand for more Christian schools who will accept children with special needs, from minor learning disabilities and ADHD to more severe cognitive delays.
Parents who value Christian education are desperately seeking schools who will value their children as much as God does. I am so grateful for the pastor and administrators of Friendship Christian School who demonstrate their love for these children with actions and not empty words. They made the decision to hire me and to start accepting children with disabilities before having any idea of whether or not the expenses of the program would actually be met by the low fees we charged.
At Friendship, our kids are given the individualized education they require in a nurturing Christian environment where they learn academics at their own levels from a Biblical world view. They develop friendships with other children in the program, but they are also embraced by the rest of the school population. Some of our parents have shared with me that their children had never had a birthday party with friends nor were they even invited to a friend’s house for a play date until they attended Friendship Christian School and made friends for the very first time. Many of our students have gone on to college and are now serving in their local churches. When given the additional help they needed, their confidence grew and they achieved more than they had ever believed possible.
God heard the prayers of families with exceptional children, and He put the burden and willingness to help on the hearts of the pastor and the people of Friendship Baptist Church. And then He put us all together in the same place and time to start this special education program with the perfect combination of teachers, students, and families. I am humbled and privileged to have had the joy and fulfillment of seeing children of all abilities and disabilities grow academically, socially, and spiritually.
I am reminded of the quote by Samuel B. Morse (who got it from Acts 15:12) when he sent one of the first telegraph messages, “What hath God wrought!”