I said I’d never teach again…

In December of 2011, I packed up my belongings at North Side High School and left the profession of teaching for what I thought would be “forever.” I gave away nearly all of my teaching materials. After all, I was never going to teach again. Why hold on to all those things?

Fast forward to today: I am not only a teacher again, but I am a teacher at an international school in Uganda. God certainly has funny plans for us sometimes!

It’s been a year and a half since I’ve been a high school English teacher. I’ve had a year and half of teenage-free life. It’s been great, and it’s been sad. I miss “my kids,” as I so often call them.

Today was the first day of school at Heritage International School in Kampala, Uganda. All six years I taught in the US, I was nervous on the first day of school. But this, for so many reasons, was pretty horrifying for me. With God’s help, I survived.

5:00 a.m. I awoke to a mosquito buzzing in my ear. So much for that mosquito net around my bed. I could go back to sleep for another hour or just get up. I tried to go back to sleep, but the mosquito wouldn’t leave me alone, and my mind began to race with the typical first-day jitters.

6:30 a.m. I left the house and walked to school by myself. The sun was slowly rising, it was cool outside, and I had wonderful prayer time as I made the trek to Heritage. It was so serene as I thanked God for the simple things like palm trees and sunrises.

7:30 a.m. From the teeny kindergarteners to the towering seniors, Heritage was flooded with students of all sizes, ages, and nationalities. Many of my high school students greeted their teachers they were familiar with. It made me think of when I was at North Side and Troup, and students would greet me with hugs and high fives. Now, once again, no one knew me. I was just “that new English teacher.”

8:30 a.m. The morning assembly was well underway! We sang a few worship songs, prayed, and new teachers were introduced. After the primary grades were released, the middle and high schoolers stayed for additional information. I gave the presentation on the school’s “Honesty Policy” and had to talk about my Journalism class so kids knew what they were signing up for!

IMG_20130815_1048289:45 a.m. These kids already impress me. The high school was divided into four teams for “team building” out on the basketball courts. I experienced something I never once saw in the US from teenagers- encouragement and support. If someone messed up, someone else would say, “Nice try. You’ll get it next time!” It was clear that they look out for each other. They have a bond that students at large high schools will never understand.

10:50 a.m. The cool and dreary day turned into a wet one. Rain fell from the sky as I prepared my classroom for the 12th graders that would be there in 30 minutes. As if the thunder wasn’t loud enough, the pouring down rain on the tin roof of my classroom made it incredibly loud. Nerves started to come back as I anticipated the seniors walking into my classroom. There were only eight of them, but before they came in I started to feel like the little kindergartners coming to school for the first time.

11:20 a.m. The seniors naturally sat in the desks in the very back of the classroom. No problem- I just moved closer to them. What a group! They come from India, South Korea, UK, Germany, Uganda and Massachusetts! They certainly made me smile a lot with their questions and comments. One student and I especially hit it off. He is the one from the US, and he loves the NFL and NBA. The students got a chuckle when I high-fived him for liking “real” football.

12:45 p.m. Five students. You might think it’s a dream come true, but teaching that small of a class can actually be quite a challenge. The good thing is, they are great kids and have a great sense of humor. They come from the U.S., Canada, South Korea and Uganda. They asked lots of questions about Journalism, so I’m hoping lots of them sign up!

1:40 p.m. I sat at my desk in an empty classroom as yet another gecko scurried by my desk. My day was done. While I have to stay at school until after 3 p.m., my day of teaching was finished!IMG_20130815_104900

Now, after a long walk home in the rain, I am home with just our dog, Simba, and Domalee, our househelp. I am more than satisfied with my first day at Heritage. I know I said I’d never teach again, but I’m so glad that God’s plans for me were different!

From there to here. Not as easy as it looks…

IMG_20130801_093930I never once led people to believe I was moving to Africa to live in a hut and feed the poor. Anyone who had those ideas completely came up with them on their own.

My home here in Uganda is gorgeous. The school grounds are amazing. We have electricity (most days). I can Facebook and email on a daily basis.

The physical similarities end there.

I worked in my classroom all day without electricity. I was greeted by two lizards in my classroom- one behind a bookshelf and the other under my desk. I put up torn and faded posters around my room since I didn’t pack any, nor can I run to the store to buy any. Today I realized about a hundred things I still needed for my classroom and just had to accept the fact that I won’t be getting them until I’m back in the US next summer.

Transition. This morning at New Teacher Orientation we talked about transition. Anyone who thinks that because I have a nice house and a big classroom means I don’t have a transition to make is seriously misguided.

This is Africa. It might not be the Africa you pictured, but it is Africa. I don’t have a television. I don’t have unlimited internet. I don’t have texting. I cannot drink the water from the faucet. I have to take public transportation (a sweaty, crowded minivan or a boda) whenever I want to go somewhere not in my own neighborhood.

Transition. To say I’ve got a transition to go through is an understatement. This morning a teacher was telling us about holding his crying children the night before who just want to be back in America. Another teacher has left her husband in America until he can get his immigration papers cleared. Some of my co-workers are teaching for the very first time. Others, like me, have a huge adjustment to make going from a public school system to an international school.

But there are others going through transition as well… our students.

Heritage International School was originally just for missionary kids. It’s since opened up to locals. We have more than 25 nationalities represented in our student body. Let’s face it- not all of these kids are thrilled at the fact that their parents have moved them to Africa.

People seem to have this misconception that doing mission work overseas means only helping the poor. While I plan on taking trips to villages to do just that, the majority of my time will be working with teenagers. American teenagers, English teenagers, Ugandan teenagers, etc. etc. Do they need Christ any less because they are not poor and living in huts? Also, don’t they need someone to teach them while their parents ARE out in the villages helping the poor? IMG_20130806_120151_new

There are also a number of my students that are NOT Christian. The school, being openly Christian, gives us the opportunity to witness to kids who don’t know the Lord!

Transition. We’ve all got a transition to make. The teachers. The students. The parents. Me.

If you think this has been a walk in the park so far, it hasn’t been. I’m as happy as ever, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t tough. I’ve got a lot to learn and certainly a lot to adjust to.

As you pray for me, please also pray for my fellow teachers and my students, whom I will meet next Friday. Also pray for teachers and students back in the United States. Starting a new school year is a time of transition for everyone, but with God by our side, we know we can face it and be successful.

“And he said unto them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Mark 16:15

Such pride and disappointment…

That's me- cheering for the Troup Tigers at a football game in Georgia in 2007.
That’s me- cheering for the Troup Tigers at a football game in Georgia in 2007.

Having taught high school English for five and a half years, I had the pleasure of attempting to educate nearly 800 students. While I didn’t succeed at educating some of them, I certainly did succeed at getting to know my students and loving them with all my heart.

When I was teaching, I didn’t allow students to be my friends on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, for obvious reasons. But now that I’m not teaching, I’ll allow it (unless the kid was super creepy). Social media has given me the opportunity to see what my former students are up to.

Some make me smile.

Others devastate me.

I smile when I see the class clown as a Marine. So serious, so important, so driven.

I smile when I see that students who struggled to pass my English class are now graduating from college.

I smile when I see the heartbreaker has found the love of his life and is getting married.

I smile when I see the jock getting ready to open his own barber shop.

I smile when I see the yearbook editor doing mission work overseas.

Then there are the others.

I am sad when I see they’re doing drugs.

I am sad when I see them have kid, after kid, after kid.

I am sad when I see they pride themselves in being “thugs.”

I am sad when I see they love to advertise the fact that they have guns- and aren’t afraid to use them.

I am sad when I see that they clearly think that’s what life has to be like.

And then there’s the one you invested so much time in, only to see him a complete disaster down the road. I’ve seen my fair share of former students in the news, and not for good reasons.

If you’re a teacher who has a heart for the “bad” kids, you know who I’m talking about. For me, there was one specific “bad” kid I cared about so much my first two years teaching in Georgia. He won my heart over the first day of school. He even eventually got the reputation of “Miss Trout’s favorite.” He was a mess, no one believed in him, no one saw the good in him, but I did. Despite the fact that he was a drug dealer and whatever else he did outside of school, I loved him like he was my little brother. And I was going to save him.

One of the hardest things I had to learn in teaching was that you can’t save them all. While that doesn’t mean you stop trying to “save” all the ones who need it, it means you have to know you tried your best to make an impact on someone’s life and how they turn out but that sometimes… you don’t.

I shed so many tears over this kid when I was his English teacher for two years. He was never rude or disrespectful to me. Well, if he was, he’d be back later that day to apologize. I didn’t let him get away with things. I wrote my fair share of office referrals for the kid. But for some reason, I never stopped caring about him. Even when I moved back to my home state of Indiana, hundreds of miles away, I prayed for him. Still do.

And then a few weeks ago I saw on his friend’s Instagram, a photo of him with the words under it, “Free Marquez” (name has been changed). My heart dropped. I knew right away it had to do with drugs. The journalist in me did my research, though. It was much more than drugs.

There were actually six charges. Two of which were armed robbery and aggravated assault.

It made me cry. Was I completely crazy to ever believe this kid had a chance? I knew his home life. I knew the people he ran with. I knew that not long after I left Georgia, he dropped out of school. So why am I so shocked?

Because my heart is broken.

One of the things America has seen recently in the wake of what happened in Newtown is the fact that teachers love their students. They would do anything for them. As crazy as they are, as out of control as they are, as completely hopeless they sometimes are, teachers love their students. No matter what.

You would think this makes me give up on Marquez. What could possibly change now? Plenty. Here’s where my spiritual gift of Mercy comes in, and my faith in God. I’m still going to pray for him. I’m still going to believe that one day he’ll fix his life. He might not, and I might never know what happens to him. But I’m not giving up. Teachers don’t give up.

I might not be a teacher anymore according to the state of Indiana, but in heart I will always be a teacher. I still refer to my former students as my “kids.” Like a mother, I’m very proud of so many of them. Words can’t express how proud I am! And like a mother, I love my “kids” unconditionally. No matter what he’s done, that includes Marquez.