I hit on 13 words of truth last week. Actually they were handed to me like a Café Americano for my writing enjoyment. You don’t see the miracle if you throw in the towel. I was able to write about the value of hanging in there in order to see God’s work through. It was about keeping the faith. My writing and Monday blogging factored right into it. But I also mentioned that there have been times that I should have thrown in the towel, but I didn’t. I wondered how I could share the value of giving up.
The incident that stands out was after we came back from two years on the mission field in Budapest, Hungary. I had taught English as a second language to public high school students. I came to like a lot of the kids that were considered troublesome by the rest of the faculty. I became known as a teacher not easily rattled and the more wild students took a liking to me. It’s quite an ego boost to come in as an inexperienced teacher from a small part of the world like Hawaii and do well in a big city in Central Europe. I was rather proud of myself.
When we got back to Maui I was able to finally get a job as a substitute teacher. To get into the computer system’s joblist I needed at least one school to sign me on as a preferred sub. The principal of an intermediate school who had once been my high school councilor remembered me and gave me a chance. I started teaching in October 1998.
It wasn’t long before I ended up teaching a class where the regular teacher was on long term disability. I was thrilled that I seemed to have secured a long-term job. The teacher taught math but had asked to teach art. So there were two math classes and four art classes and one prep period. I learned that there had been several substitute teachers in this position already who had given up. I soon saw why. Not only was there a tremendous amount or planning and grading, (what subs don’t normally have to do) but the kids were… I can’t think of a polite description. To put it bluntly, in all my years teaching before and after with rowdy Russian kids before and street gang members and emotionally disturbed kids after, the kids at this particular intermediate school were the worst kids I’ve ever encountered. They were rude and deliberately disruptive. Not all the kids, of course were like this, but enough that the whole classes seemed to feed in.
I thought that there had to be some good kids there that wanted to learn. I thought that I had handled worse. (I hadn’t) I made long-term lesson plans for the art class using art projects I had learned in college. I tried my best to teach algebra to a class of 30 something but couldn’t turn my back to write on the board without being hit with crumbled paper.
I came home to my little apartment each day angry and tired. Prajna was in her third trimester with Sarah, our fourth child. Harrison was having trouble getting along in kindergarten at the school that preceded the one I was teaching at. I should have walked into the office at my school and told them I would be leaving that class in two days.
Instead I took a week off when Sarah was born and then went back to work with the same class. Some of the teachers I worked with got me a gift card as a congratulations present for Sarah. The teachers seemed to appreciate me. Even some of the students seemed happy to have me back and complained about the substitute for me. But within days the bad kids were worse than ever. Finally one day a kid was sitting with his chair pulled up to some side cabinets pounding on them with his fists. I walked over and asked him to stop and he didn’t. I calmly tipped his chair and he tumbled out onto the floor, smiled and splayed out his arms and hands. I had technically assaulted a student. The principal came to my classroom that afternoon and dismissed me. I should have been grateful to that kid for that.
I should have walked away from that job as soon as they told me to do report cards in November. I was under-qualified for such a job. But I never would have admitted it. My pride kept me there as if I had something to prove. And something more than pride held me there, something I still struggle with today. I felt the need to be needed. I still struggle with this. It's called codependency.
There is no question that the school desperately needed a good teacher in there that would create some consistency and care about the kids. That’s what I tried to do in earnest. And I was doing that, but all the while it was taking from me more that I gave. No paycheck would have been enough for what I did without support from the administration and leverage in disciplining the kids. I couldn't do enough for that situation or for those kids and I didn’t want to admit that I was powerless and just needed to walk away. And there was a part of me that felt that need to be needed and every day I felt so needed.
And here is the amazing thing: One would think that there had been a satisfaction in that job. But there wasn’t. Because in an unhealthy condition like codependency if I try to fulfill my need to be needed in an unhealthy way it will just drain me and perpetuate the condition, just like any other addiction, hurt, hang-up or habit. There is no satisfaction in an unhealthy situation like that. And I just went back for more.
And what about that miracle I would miss from throwing in the towel? Truth be told, by not giving up, I was relying on myself rather than God. That’s idolatry. The miracle was that we would survive without me sticking to that job.
For the rest of the school year I taught at other schools. I ended up back at that intermediate school sometimes but never as a preferred sub and I avoided long-term jobs after that. At the elementary school that I had attended as a kid I did a lot of work for the fifth graders there and always looked forward to those kids.
And today I am learning about codependency and boundaries. It’s hard to need to be needed and to try to find a healthy way to be needed where I don’t get burned out at the end. It was a long and rather unpleasant story today. Those kids are all in their mid 20’s now and I wonder how some of them are doing. It was a hard lesson I learned from them and I’m glad I am where I am today, not just thousands of miles away from that school, but hopefully somewhat wiser too.