Saturday, November 8, 2008

cracked glasses.

I never realized the magnitude of God in me being a teacher. Where I was a year ago compared to the life I live now is starkly different in comparison. I would be lying if I said I was on the same page as God when I started this Teach for America thing, I was as far away as I could possibly be. The beautiful part about all of this is seeing how right God was and how wrong I would have been. I realized even more recently that God's plan for me IS the best one, and HE really does have my best interest in mind. And while we are in the midst of living life, we don't see that so clearly. I have never felt so much love by someone before, because I've never had someone be completely selfless when it came to making decisions about my well-being.

When I first started the process of Teach for America I wanted to be a high school teacher. I wanted to teach secondary History and was convinced that I would end up there. I hated the idea of teaching elementary school kids mostly because they wouldn't understand me. Needless to say, I was assigned to elementary education. God went off-sides, and made a move completely off what we had rehearsed in the play books, at least in mine...

Then, as the reality of being an elementary school teacher began to sink in I realized that my new calling was only fifth grade. This became the new decision that I had made for God's plan for my life. Fifth grade was close enough to being in middle school and working with older kids. I had been doing youth ministry for middle schoolers for two years and was sure God wanted me to stick as close to that age-group as possible.

For the entire summer I prepped, prepared and got ready to be the most greatest fifth grade teacher there ever was. Then, two weeks before going into the classroom I got my cute little fourth grade classroom. God threw another low blow. I had finally become okay with being a fifth grade teacher and now he was turning the cards on me again. My entire world fell apart, I felt punked by my own God.

I didn't understand how our plan could have gone from secondary to fourth grade so quickly. These kids wouldn't connect with me, this would be a complete disaster, I wouldn't know the first thing at being a fourth grade teacher. This was absolutely absurd.

God never let go of his plan for me, even when I tried to wedge my own in there somehow. I had convinced myself that what I thought was in fact God's desire for my life was merely my own. And while I threw away any reasoning or faith needed to get on His bandwagon I just continued to try to reel him onto my little junky radio flyer. But I soon realized, with my fourth graders as an inspiration, how right he had been and how blind I was all that time.

I could not have handled high school and God knew that. I hear the horror stories of teachers getting punched, yelled at and students so far lost that only God could seep into their shattered worlds. I see the big difference between a fifth grader and fourth one. I see the challenge God had for me right in this very place I call home and fate now. I would have loved teaching secondary history much more than I do elementary, but God needed me to be apart of the 26 lives I teach now. And I could have only done that as a fourth grade teacher.

I am not crazy about what I am doing sometimes, but I am crazy about my God and His plan for my life.

God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called. So if tomorrow His plan for me was digging ditches for His glory he'd hand me a shovel, some boots and a bucket. And I will one day realize how when the picture doesn't turn out quite right it's because I was wearing a pair of cracked glasses.

Friday, September 19, 2008

violent understandings.

The fourth graders of Waverly Elementary have been struggling with violence lately. Having a nine-year-old nephew who knows nothing about what violence means, I am amazed at the reality of these children I teach. Their first instinct is to fight. In their world it builds power and dominance. For my nine-year-old children fighting is the life they know.

I have had to break up fights everyday this week. To be honest when I walked into school I thought for a moment that my children's lives were much better. I figured that since they came to school everyday the disparities I heard about in the city were just a figment of my imagination. I know a part of me wanted to hope that if I didn't address them then they weren't real. But now, as I see these kids so ready to fight and be contributors to a violent world, I am saddened.

I had an incident with a girl in one of my classes. As I entered the room on Wednesday she was ready to fight a boy who had done something she didn't like. She tried various other times that day to fight other boy students in the class. I was irritated and amazed at her desire to punch someone. I did not understand why she was being such a jerk, to say the least. At one point, she got in my face when I told her she needed to do her work. I know none of my children are bad kids. They aren't, period..and I know she is not, but I didn't understand this anger. I didn't understand this desire to punch someone's lights out. It didn't make sense to me.

Yesterday I spoke with her mom in person. Her mom apologized for her daughter's behavior towards me and the class. I looked at my student who was sincerely sorry for her actions, but I still did not understand why. What was going through her head? The mom then said, "She should know better, she has seen what domestic violence does in the home, she should know better."

My heart broke. My eyes began to tear up. My student wasn't fighting because she wanted some power trip or respect. She was fighting to stay alive, because that is all she ever knew. She has seen men beat up on her mother, she has seen the sadness of fighting. And the only thing she knows to do when that happens is to fight back.

My heart broke for my student. Realizing that some people's act of violence is not because they want to gain respect or power, but just because for them that means surviving. My children's parents tell them "tell two times." That means if someone provokes them they ask them to stop twice. If after then they haven't stopped then violence is what they use to solve the problem.

My children aren't bad, and I keep saying that because so often people write off inner city kids as these barbarians. I have never felt so attached to a group of children before. I have never felt so in love with the idea of showing someone what they are made of. I have never had so much passion for a human being before, like these children.

I told my kids yesterday, "you are better than a fight! you are better than a punch!" And they heard me....But on the streets and in the homes those punches and fights are who they are. It is the way to survive and win the streets. It is a part of the culture they were bred and born into.

And in my heart I ask, "why does it have to be this way?" Why does Baltimore City have to be this way? Why do students have to suffer these disparities? Why do my kids have to live like this? Consumed in violence, disfunction and sadness.

God's plan overwhelms me. I am reminded that as long as I let Him work through me these kids will receive something great this year; Not because of me, but because of Him.

I believe in every child in my classroom. I believe that Noah is one of the most brilliant kids I have met. Or that Kadiv is going to be amazing things in this world. They are only fourth graders now but I see them as adults, showing this world what God is made of through their amazing-ness. I see their futures as bright and beautiful as they want to make them. This is classroom 220. The small, cramped oasis that harbors 25 brilliant children. Ready to take this world by the horns and show it what they are made of...A whole lot of God-given talents....that's what...not violence.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Changing the good attitude at a time.

I was struggling with a vomit mouth for the first three weeks as a teacher. You know, when all that comes from your lips is negativity. I was only talking about all the bad things. I made life as a teacher seem, hell...I hit rock bottom last Tuesday. I felt so overwhelmed, so at a loss for understanding how any of this was worthwhile or even working for my life. I felt like a failure, a complete and utter disgrace to this world. As I went home that night I realized what my problem had been all that time...I wasn't handing the reigns to God.

Wednesday was a transformation. I went to school that morning with a prayer journal in one hand and the desire to not let Satan's vomit come out of my mouth. I needed to trust that God was doing His work in my life and this profession. Thursday was a little better than Wednesday and so forth.

I finally began to see children and not behavioral issues. I began to see dreams and not disappointment. I saw how God answered my prayers and so quickly changed the attitude I had let get so far away from His glory.

I have come to realize how blessed God has made me in this situation. I hear about the horror stories of other teachers in Baltimore City and I can see how much God is apart of my classroom and the things that are happening.

The most amazing thing in this world is feeling and seeing Gods presence in a moment that feels for dark. That Wednesday morning I felt God's peace fill my heart, and I knew that this was all going to be soon as I handed it over to Him.

I can't change the world if I don't see it through God's eyes. I can't change the lives of these children if I don't believe in the goodness in their hearts. I just can't.

I want to make a difference. And I will...with this new attitude and heart I finally have accepted from God.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

sucky teacher - that's me!

Teaching is....well, it's a whole new experience from any job I have experienced. I don't think anyone, who isn't a teacher, can understand what it means to be a teacher. To really be a teacher. I say that redundantly because it is true. Lately, I have gotten a lot of "You'll be great"'s and "you are a natural." The truth is, I royally suck. In all possible terms of the word, I suck. I suck at praising my children's good attributes, and suck at following through with consequences. I suck at getting things together and really understanding what it means to be a teacher. I suck at getting my reading center together and my grading system. Half the time I don't know where to start or how to go about doing any of it.

I have 25 fourth grade students, yet I only have 23 desks. My kids are messy, squirmy, and lack an essential in teaching - focus. Half the time they don't care because I am not interesting enough. And the other half, well they just rather talk to their friends. It has only taken me the past six days to realize that I suck.

I have never felt so low in my life before. So inadequate, so unqualified and so wanting and willing to quit God's plan for me. The past six days have been I quit days. I have cried a lot, been flustered, frustrated and upset. I feel like I am pushing a rock and it is not moving. Instead, my muscles get tighter, my hands start to hurt, and nothing comes from it. With each minute more of pushing the harder it gets and nothing comes from it. nothing...

The amazing thing about God's presence is in these moments His peace calms our hearts. Life royally sucks right now, kind of like my teaching. And yet God reminds me that the only person who will move that rock is Him. And the pushing, the agony, the pain HAS A PURPOSE! Each day I come home and heave and haw about having to go back the next day. I remember that God is working in this. That He wants me here. That He is building me up in Him.

One day last week, when I completely broke down. I had got lost coming home from work and ended up in a bad part of the city. It was raining. I was tired, I didn't feel well. Life just sucked, completely...As I drove down Northern Ave and listening to WRBS the lady on the radio said:

"Do you feel like God isn't around? That He isn't listening? Remember that God is ALWAYS with you. Maybe you are going through the pits of your struggle, but rejoice in the fact that you can relate to Jesus' suffering and struggles. This may be a time when God is building you spiritually."

WRBS has saved me these past six days. It has reminded me that, "I need to keep my eye on God and not on my struggles." It has reminded me that God wants me here, where I am. Even if it means being a sucky teacher.

I don't like teaching. In fact I hate it right now. I keep reminding myself that sometimes that despise-type-feeling is really just masking our inadequacies. I hate teaching because I am not good at it, and that is the only reason why. It is hard. I hate hard. Especially when I fail everyday.

Being a teacher is humbling. It reminds me of what is most important to God, His children. And it reminds me that no matter how badly I screw up, or suck He will always love me and be with me.

I have been struggling lately with being able to trust and go to God with my struggles. I find that my desire is to close off and be alone. Just seclude myself from everything, even God. I pray a lot less, which is the opposite of what I should be doing. I don't read His word as much as I want too. And I silently shun Him from my life. I feel so overwhelmed that I am not too sure what to go to Him with. I want to spend a day with Him only. Without the distractions, and really feel His presence.

As a teacher I am able to forget myself. I am able to make excuses for why I can neglect the needs of myself. I make myself feel bad for having needs. God is slowly showing me that I need to be healthy if I am going to do any good in the classroom.

My mind and heart are all over the place. My relationship with God is weak on my end.

Prayer for my relationship with God.
Prayer for me to start living God's plan for me instead of my own
Prayer for the warmth of humility.

And this story just beings to unfold.
Boy, what will happen as it ends in June.

Can't wait....

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How I got here.

So...everyone knows that I am a teacher in Baltimore City, but very few know how I got here. I also find that the most asked question is "Why Baltimore City?" And it is a legitimate one, but I never really thought to share my journey until now.

It was a crisp summer morning. My roommate, Carly, and I walked up Massachusetts Ave. to American University's campus. We were meeting our campus pastor and some other friends for a day of white water rafting. The seven of us piled into Mike's caravan and we made the three-hour trekk to Ohiopyle Pennsylvania.

I had just finished my Junior year of college and was officially a senior. This time next year I would be done with the four years of sweat, tears and struggles and on my way to a career. I had majored in International Relations with the goal of going into the security sector. However, upon moving to the East Coast God had other plans for my life. I soon realized my heart was invested in children and ministry. I found myself journeying towards service in youth ministry, of some sort. For an international relations major, this passion change proved to be quite nerve-racking. On top of that, I began to realize God's place for me was in Baltimore City. I spent most of my junior year figuring all this out, and it wasn't until now, in May, that I began to wonder, "how will I pursue these passions?" I was not eqipped with any real degree or skill that would give me the ability to work with youth or be in ministry. I had an international relations degree,hardly noteworthy of what I now felt called to pursue in life.

My friend Liz was sitting in the front seat of the van. Her, me and Mike engaged in a conversation about what she was going to do now that she had graduated college. I had mentioned my concerns with the predicament I now found myself in and she quickly asked, "Why not join Teach for America?" I looked at her puzzled. Teach for what? That made no sense to me, and I didn't want to be a teacher. She explained that it was a program through Americorps that brought graduates with no education background into the classrooms, as part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. I was intrigued and I felt a tug at my heart, that it was worth some research. Liz then said that Teach for America was one of the most selective companies in the nation, only hiring 10-20% of its applicants. For a mediocre student like me, I was sure that meant I would be a longshot candidate.

That weekend I researched Teach for America and something clicked inside of me. I realized first that I wasn't doing Teach for America for the program itself, but as the vessel in which I could serve Baltimore City with. I had learned that God had called me to the city, and I felt He was providing this opportunity as a means to accomplish that plan of His.

I did not waste anytime, I began preparing for the three month long interview. The first round consisted of an application, essays and test scores that I needed to submit. Before I began the application procress I prayed about it. I made the decision that I would put all I had into this process, but that only through God's will would I be a part of this. I found that making this commitment to leave it in God's hands made my experience so much better! And I saw God's hand work so much more! My Motto was "Prepare for Rain." And I trusted my instincts when it came to hearing what God needed from me during this process.

The night before my first application was due I re-wrote my letter of intent. I had spent two months working on this essay, but the night before I didn't feel like it was the one I needed to submit. So...three hours before I was to submit my application I re-wrote the entire thing! Looking back, it was one of the best pieces of writing I ever produced, mostly because God was in it.

I recieved an email a week later congratulating my advance to the next set of interviews. I was granted a phone interview! Again I left the results to God, I just did my best. I was notified a week after the phone interview that I had been accepted into the final round of interviews. This was an in-person interview. We, as candidates, were expected to pre-read particular articles and prepare a five minute lesson plan. This happened to fall during my mid-terms, which made the task even more daunting and challenging. None-the-less, I did my best and left the results to God.

I was so nervous that October day. I had prepared a 6th grade Lesson on the three branches of government. I remember being interviewed by Stephanie from the D.C. region. She asked me, "Why are you here? Of all the other social justice programs why Teach for America?" I took a deep breath and thought for a moment how I wanted to word my response. "Well.." I began, "I am very strong in my faith and part of the reason I chose Baltimore City was because I felt called to serve that community. I chose Teach for America because they believe in faith in the classroom, whatever that looks like for each individual. But Teach for America believes in passion and faith to accomplish dreams. I agree with that whole-heartedly."

I waited two weeks to hear from them on whether I had gotten the position or not. I was convinced that God was going to provide a secondary history position in the Baltimore region, for me. I was convinced.

I recieved a phone call that Tuesday evening from a perky woman. She greeted me. "Hey Amiee, I wanted to congradulate you on getting accepted with Teach for America! However, I wanted to call and talk with you as to why you were not placed in Baltimore." My heart dropped. I had told myself that if I did not get an offer in Baltimore I was not going to accept Teach for America. That was hard for me to hold true too now because I really grew to appreciate and love the organization. I kindly asked her what region I had been placed and she said, "Philadelphia." I tried hard to rationalize that maybe God was calling me to Philadelphia, but I knew I was called to serve the community of Baltimore City.

During this process of applying God had layed Baltimore City heavily on my heart. I began to research the school system, its salary, benefits package and other teaching fellows that I could potentially apply to. I was preparing for the rain I KNEW God was going to provide me with. I had done so much research that I knew how many college requirements were needed to teach in Baltimore. I knew that I was not qualified to teach high school history, however I still hoped something could happen to allow that. I realized after that I had so much faith in what God was asking of me that I prepared for it. I did not hesitate or doubt, I made sure that I had everything in line for when God gave me that job in Baltimore City.

I stood conflicted. I either took Teach for America in Philadelphia or waited for God to provide for me in Baltimore City. I was honest with the woman and told her I was thinking about rejecting the offer. That following week I had a Teach for America representative call or email me everyday. They kept telling me the pros of the organization and I kept saying, "Trust me, I want to be a part of this organization really badly, but I need to be in Baltimore City more." I tried emailing the organization about even getting placed in California, where I am originally from, but got a response saying, "Sorry, we do not accomodate region changes under any circumstances." I knew what I had to do, reject Teach for America.

My heart was heavy the night I clicked the "reject" button. I felt like I was losing a piece of me, something I had worked so hard for. But I did not regret the decision as I felt God was calling me to Baltimore City, and I wanted to pursue that. I had decided I would work two waitressing jobs until God brought that rain I had been preparing for.

A day after I submitted my decision I received a phone call from a local recruiter. She was not supportive of my decision and asked what it would take for me to reconsider. "Being placed in Baltimore" was my response. She told me to watch out for an email from her. That she was going to look into why I wasn't placed in Baltimore. I also recieved an email from a woman, Brooke, who was beginning the faith-based movement within Teach for America. She had heard my story somehow and wanted to speak with me, so we set up a phone conversation.

Brooke was by far one of the greatest highlights of my Teach for America experience. When I heard her southern accent on the other end of the phone, talking about her passion for Christ and her faith I was even more saddened that I could not be a part of this organization. Yet, I was encouraged to continue trusting in God's plan for me, knowing He would bring that rain. Before we hung up, she prayed for me and God's plan for my life. A couple hours later I recieved an email from the Vice President of Admissions with Teach for America. She informed me that I did not qualify to teach in Maryland. I did not qualify for secondary content areas and was 3 credits short of math on the elementary level. She told me that she was going to take my case to the state board to see if they would accomodate me. I instantly remembered the credit requirements for teaching in Maryland, I saw on the Baltimore Teacher Residency website. It clearly stated that I only needed 6 math credits, which I had. I emailed this lady back in response and asked if Teach for America and the BCTR had the same requirements. Apparently the state education board required TFA to have 9 math credits while the BCTR only needed 6. I sent them the website address so they could do their own research and waited for God's rain to come.

A week later I recieved a phone call from the V.P. of admissions asking if I would be interested in teaching elementary school in Baltimore. Apparently TFA was unaware of the different requirements and the state education board re-assessed the discreponsy. Thus, not only was I able to teach in Baltimore now, but other people who had encountered that same problem could teach there too. So...In that moment I became a Baltimore Teach for America Corps Member.

I was still bummed that I wasn't going to be teaching on the secondary level, but through my journey thus far I have seen God's hand in every place. I have realized that He has me teaching in my school, this grade level for His perfect plan. This is the one place in my life that I have given God complete control of. It is the one place in my life that I have found the most spiritual growth and maturity. I look at my experience and see God's hand all over it. I also realize that He could not have gotten me here if I didn't trust in His calling on my heart and if I didn't prepare for the rain I knew He was going to bring.

I sometimes forget this testimony, but when I think about it, my faith and trust gets grounded back in His Holiness. I begin to realize that He has a plan for everything and if I don't trust Him, He can't carry me there.

Pray that I can trust the Lord
that I can have faith, especially when the Devil exerts doubt.

He has carried me this far, why will he leave me now? He wont. That's what this constantly reminds me of.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

can I get through?

How do I lead my class when I am all out of everything? How do I walk into the classroom ready to command a classroom when I am tired, sick and broken? I have been wondering about this in the past week. I am on reserve. I am scrounging up all the energy I have to teach these children. 

And yet, all I can think about are the things in my life that seem to be falling apart at the seams. I am trying to show my kids what an inference is and in the back of my mind I am thinking about how she may not be here next week. How our evening movie nights will be one person short. How my weekends spent in the sun room with her will be memories I cherish so dearly. 

Every morning when I wake up I open up my jewelry container and stare at the cross earrings she gave me. And I can feel God's peace speaking into my heart, but I feel it shattering at the same time with the thought of having to say good-bye. How do I teach when I am a complete mess in every other part of this life I live? 

And yet, here is Teach for America telling me I need to push forward. I need to leave the "baggage" at the door and think about the children. I need to remember why I am standing in front of that classroom every morning; for them. 

Teaching is a hard job in itself. Yet, to add personal struggle and trial makes that so much more daunting. So how have I been doing it? What keeps getting me up in the morning? Why do I keep gravitating towards that classroom where 15 third graders sit? I come back for them. I find some way to compose myself enough to really try my best for their futures.  

I think of my student Khadeem. He has been struggling lately because he hasn't been able to see his mom. She deals with addiction and his step-father wont let Khadeem see her. Naturally, all Khadeem wants is to be with his mom, and he can't be. So he comes to class and acts up. And deep down I see that he is just trying to deal with this pain, this brokenness. I feel that pain with him. The feeling of knowing that someone you love can't be there with you. I see these children and their trails each day. I hear how they are labeled "basic." I see how the rest of the world looks at them. I see the doubt every one has in their futures, all because of this life they were dealt. 

I keep coming back every morning because they aren't basic. I keep coming back because to me they are the smartest, most precious things this world has. I keep coming back everyday because I believe in their futures, in fact I can already picture them. I come back because they don't need a saviour, that is Jesus, but my students need a cheerleader. Someone who is going to root them on in their darkest hours, encourage them, show them humility and write them an encouraging note on a bad day. That is why I can get up every morning. That is why I can some how fight back the tears, the exhaustion and keep going. I am doing it for them. Not for every child in this world, but for my fifteen kids. For Daimain, Dominick, Ashley, Khadeem, Nyja, Angel, Juan, Josue, Regina, Celeste, Ciara, Dianaliz, Elora, Esmerelda, Cassandra, Naomi...I do this for them. 

I still have bad days. Moments when I have to collect my heart. Wipe of tears and really try to get through the day. These kids have shown me what it means to be relentless, to persevere. These kids have taught me what it feels like to face adversity. Khadeem has taught me what it's like to hurt in a way that makes us wonder, can I get through today? And we can, he can. And we will. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


My day:

Wake up @ 535AM
Put on my flip-flops, grab my lunch box. 
Head down to fill my lunch box and grab breakfast. 

My lunch is the same everyday: turkey sandwich, apple, banana, water and chips. 
Breakfast has no variety: bagel and water and apple and banana. 

Arrive back to room @ 6AM
Eat my breakfast while I check my email.
Find a scripture for the day, to think about and pray over. 

@ 615AM
Get dressed, brush teeth and get ready for the day. 

Grab stuff and head off to the bus. 

Arrive at school. 
Check mailbox
turn in assignments
Head to classroom

prepare for lesson, math/literacy hour
distribute pencils for students
clean up lesson materials from day before
organize life...

Students arrive
Stand at the front of the class with my teacher face.
Hand out stickers to those who come in and sit quietly. 
Do daily stretches with kids. 

Begin Word Study and Reading lesson 

Finish lesson for the day, transition with teaching partner. 

Curriculum session

C.S. session ends, head up to classroom. 

Meet with Teaching Advisor to go over the day's lesson. 

Lunch! Time to breathe!

C.S session 2 begins 

Some other class, depends on the day. 

Session ends (YAY!) 
head to bus to go back to dorms. 

@ 515PM
Dinner time! (well, normally). 

Night workshops. 

begin homework for the next day

Get ready for bed, take a shower. 


I have never been so aware of every minute in a day before this experience. Now, I count every minute as valued, and realize that if my life is not micro-organized I am being unproductive. Well, at least in a Teach for America context.

I just wanted to give you a visual of what an average day looks like for me this week...

Prayer for strength, endurance and perspective, that I really focus on God's lens and not my own selfish one.

Thanks! More later, time to sleep.