Miserable Teaching with 20 boys & the Toothless Wonder

20 boys and the toothless wonder. story of my first week of teaching

***This post is part of the Real Army Wives series, which runs every Monday on storiesofourboys.com. For last week’s chapter click here.***

Sunday, Aug. 17, 2003

Oh, Alan,

I missed you the MOST today!

We had “Back to School” night, where we meet the parents. Everything was fine except instead of 22, I now have 25, and also this grandparent with two children in my class stayed after and basically threatened me.

Yeah. This ignorant, toothless wonder, with a strong cigarette odor about her, told me, in a menacing tone, that her kids will break all my rules, and if I get on to them too much or hurt their feelings, she will come down to the school and yell at me, and she assured me she will yell so loudly that everyone will hear. (Yes, I only wish I were kidding.)

Well, I didn’t say anything in response to that. I dryly and quietly said, “Well, hopefully we won’t have any problems. Did you see their homework folders?”

I drove away from school bawling, not just because of that one parent, but also from so many emotions. After coming home and talking to both of our mothers on the phone, I started feeling better. Then I actually got a lot of work done.

But I’m so exhausted, and I have to get up at 5:30 tomorrow. It’s 11 already, so I’m going to bed. I wish you could give me a massage tonight! I need you! I love you.

Love, April

 

Tues., Aug. 19, 2003

Alan,

Hey! This was the 2nd day of school, and I survived! It wasn’t even torture! It was fine. Yay!!!

I’m so exhausted though.

Today was SO much better. The administration has just been incredibly supportive. I had my kids write about their first day of school today, and that was very interesting. They thought they just had a fun day of school. No one said that I had no idea what I was doing or anything.

But Alan, out of 25 students, I have 20 BOYS!

I wonder if God is preparing me to have lots of sons! Oh, dear! But you know what? Out of 20 boys & 5 girls, I have already seen THREE kids cry, and they were ALL boys.

Andrew cried because he’s just whiny. Michael cried because he didn’t have his breakfast money..Oh!.. Make that 4! Chris cried because he didn’t know if he was supposed to ride the bus or not, and Matthew cried because I gave him a “warning.”

The student that really breaks my heart is my reading L.D. student, Tyler, who sits quietly in my class everyday and when asked what he wants to learn this year, he will tell you the same answer every time:

“I want to learn how to read.”

He tries so hard. Oh, it just breaks my heart. He needs one-on-one help so badly, and no one will give it to him. He is a fourth grader, the age of a fifth grader, and I wish he were spending a reading hour each day with the special ed teacher. That is what he needs, but she seems to have no plans to work with him at all.

Meanwhile, Alan, my friends and family are all being so supportive, and I’m thankful.

Most of all, I’m thankful for the prayers that you and others were saying for me. Let me tell you, God was all over my class today–all over. I have never felt such sincere gratitude towards my Heavenly Father as I do today.

And to you, Alan. Your phone call last night was on my mind all day long. You are just like one of my angels, no matter how far away you may be. I love you so much.

But it’s 10:50 pm, so I HAVE to get to bed. I love you!

Your silly wife,

April

 

I had little time to spend with my Army Wife pals during this phase, but Sarah would often show up in my classroom after school and help me get everything ready for the next day. I don’t know what I would have done without her!!

That First Week

It seemed like I couldn’t get anything right that first week. I had about three boys who were so unruly, I did not know how to keep them under control. All day I felt like I was having miniature heart attacks. I would get all worked up, my heart would pound wildly, and I’d have these adrenaline surges, but there was nothing I could do with all that energy, which left me just wanting to scream.

This was probably the beginning of my heart problem, but I did not know that then, so life without beta blockers went on..

There were two AmeriCorps workers put in my classroom to observe, or maybe to help, but I had no clue as to how to utilize their help because I was only figuring things out myself. AmeriCorps is an organization much like Peace Corps, only they work here in the U.S.

The sweet AmeriCorps lady, probably in her late 30s, reassured me day after day.

“I feel so bad for you. I know you’re struggling, but you are so nice to them. They need this. Many of them don’t have anyone like you, who is sweet to them. Don’t be discouraged.”

That was true, and it should have been encouraging, but instead I felt like I was drowning in this job. I only had the AmeriCorps workers that first week. After that, they moved on to help in the high school.

There was no planning period, so I was with the children all day long. They didn’t even leave the classroom for lunch. Trays were brought to them, and they ate at their desks.

Alan had been right when he’d said I had not actually spent much time with children.

I enjoyed reading to them and even teaching wasn’t bad, but keeping order felt impossible.

From the very beginning, every single day was a countdown until summer and freedom from this misery. Why had I ever thought I wanted to teach???

Each night I’d stay at school until 6:45 or so, trying to get caught up. Then when the weekend came, I still needed to grade papers and work on lesson plans.

That first week my washing machine also quit working and flooded my kitchen completely. With my work schedule, it took me 14 hours to get it completely cleaned up.

Are there really people who love teaching? I wondered.

I was literally a square peg trying to shove myself into a round hole.

But it was only the first week. Surely things would improve, right?

When it rains, it pours.

My teacher gig did not improve much as the weeks went by. The toothless wonder turned out to not be too big of a problem since half the time she didn’t even bother to send her children to school. Naturally, their grades were suffering.

Another parent kept grilling me with questions about “the curriculum”. Gracious, I barely even knew what curriculum meant. I was making up my lesson plans as I went, which is definitely not what I figured I should tell her…This was my student teaching year! Only because Texas had a teacher shortage, I was a student teacher with no overseer, other than the assistant principal.

The Second Week

The second week of school, Mrs. Brown started sitting with my class during lunch. I was so ecstatic for this 30 minute break from the classroom!! I practically leaped into my Grand Am and sped off to the Dairy Queen for a cheeseburger, feeling like a convict being let out of prison.

Meanwhile, the phone calls from Iraq slid to a screeching halt. Casualty rates were rising, and something was going on with the phones. Almost every time Alan tried to call me, he was cut off after “Hello.” It was heart-breaking.

My neighbor, Shelby, must have been going through something too because she was screaming and cussing people out on the phone even more than usual, so I got to go to bed to the sound of that coming through my paper-thin master bedroom wall each night.

I rarely had any time to spend with my friends anymore. It felt like the lights had gone out on me, and I was suffocating and losing 5 pounds/week, when I was already considered “underweight.”

When you find a job that is your calling in life, or you’ve always known it was something you wanted to do, or you have a knack for it and enjoy the challenge, I think you are better able to handle the negatives of that job. Part of my problem was that I had no true desire to even be a teacher. I knew going into this that trying to control other people stresses me out. Managing people is not my gift.

The truth was that I never actually wanted this career in the first place.

Teaching doesn’t bother me, it’s the crowd control that was killing me, but that’s a big part of being a successful classroom teacher. I wrestled with this in my heart. I hated my job and missed my husband so much, but I had no idea what to do about it.

 

Come back next week to see how I handled this!

Click here to read last week’s chapter of this story.

 

 

 

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It was not a failure, though I thought it was at the time.

It was not a failure.

*This post does contain some affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through my site, I receive a small percentage.*

I’ve been dealing with my own feelings of failure for a while now. Have you ever felt that way? I read this story this week, and I poured tears as I contemplated my own “failure.”

There was this man. He was from out-of-town. He wanted to teach people about Jesus. That landed him in prison, and not just prison. First, he was stripped and beaten, and then they put him in prison.
He got out though.
And then you know what he said about that trip? He said, “It was not a failure.”

Public humiliation. Beaten! Imprisoned!

That was not a failure?? He was basically chased out of town. He can’t go back there.

But that man was Paul, and that town was Philippi. You can read more about that story in Acts 16:16-25 and 1 Thessalonians 2, all of chapter 2.

“You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.”    1 Thessalonians 2:1-2

It was not a failure because they STILL did share the gospel, as they set out to do. When we tell people the good news, that Jesus loves ALL of us and wants to save and be a friend to ALL of us, we aren’t responsible for how people respond to that. That doesn’t mean be a jerk and don’t care. That means don’t be obnoxious. Share it, and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

Public disgrace does not equal failure.

Things not ending as planned does not mean we failed.

Being physically destroyed is not failure. It’s not.

You are not a failure either. Think of your most recent failure, and then consider. What did you learn? What good came out of that?


I was reading about all of these things in Children of the Day, by Beth Moore. It takes books like these to help me understand things like Acts 16 being tied to 1 Thessalonians. Believe me, I’d never figure that out on my own. Every single Beth Moore Bible study workbook I have ever read has been a massive blessing to me.

This one is no exception. She just HAD to go and ask us what our most recent failure is. She left a little blank space for us to write about it. Ha! I got out my spiral notebook and filled up a whole PAGE.

I wrote, and I thought, and I cried, and I prayed, and in the end I was reminded.

“Though a righteous man falls 7 times, he will get up, but the wicked will stumble into ruin.”  Proverbs 24:16

Failure stings when it’s something that means the world to you. It stings like getting stung by a HIVE OF BEES  or 50 fire ants.

I set out to home school those two years with two objectives:

  1. I wanted to give them that one-on-one boost with their academics.
  2. I wanted to improve their character. No, I can’t improve it myself, but I wanted to promote it. I wanted to provide the right environment and the right tools for the boys and God to work that out.

I was not able to accomplish what I wanted, academically, and to make it worse trying to be a teacher, homemaker, blogger, and mom all at once made me MISERABLE. It was heart-breaking. Even as I write about it again, it’s like my heart is all ripped up and bleeding. I want to pound my fists to the wall and then lay my head against it and cry until there’s no water left because no matter how hard I tried, everything felt like failure.

I love these children with such intensity, I want to fix every single problem that they have, but that’s not possible, is it? The ability to fix everything was so far beyond my control.

So I failed. Or so I thought. But you know what? I did not fail. They didn’t fail either. Nothing failed. There was nothing wasted here.

In those two years, I saw their character bloom. I saw love, humility, honesty, justice, kindness, and goodness in my boys.

Caleb was saved and baptized, of his free choosing during that time at home with me. I even heard him teaching his friends about Jesus.

There was spiritual warfare waged over the souls of my children those two years, and God won.

I grew to understand the boys’ strengths and weaknesses. I came to terms with my own limitations. We emerged a different family than when we went into this.

I failed in some ways in order to learn. Sometimes we have to fall to learn, to grow, to become.

We saw it happen with my children too. We watched them overcome the kind of adversity that would have CRUSHED me at their age. I would not have handled it with the strength, dignity, and courage that I watched my son display.

That’s not actually failure is it? But it sure feels like it when you’re laying in a wad on the ground.

So no, we have not failed. We have only fallen and gotten back up again, and we too shared the gospel in the process.

All of these thoughts led me to this song, and I can’t get it out of my head. Its “fall down and get back up” message resonated with me. Yes, we are trying EVERYTHING. It’s a fun song, and my favorite line is this one:

“Birds don’t just fly. They fall down and get up.”

You’ll have to click the link below to go to YouTube to see the lyrics and hear this song. It’s worth it.

 

Ok. Your turn to answer Beth Moore’s heart-wrenching question. Failure. When did you last feel it?

“Ask yourself: Did we do the will of God as best we perceived it? Were we authentic before God and man?”    —Children of the Day, page 41, Beth Moore

And I would add, what did you learn? Then maybe it’s not such a failure after all, and even if it is, get back up again.

 

REAL life starts again tomorrow. Oh, yes, the kids are going back to school!

REAL life starts again tomorrow. Oh, yes, the kids are going back to schoo

Yes, my dad let my three-year-old drive his wheelchair. But boy, did he have fun!

We just finished the longest Christmas vacation ever. 3 weeks!!! Full weeks!! It was a blast.  It was genuinely fun because we didn’t spend the whole 3 weeks in any one place. We went south, then we went north, then we went home, then we went back south, then back home. We had a good time with it!

REAL life starts again tomorrow. Oh, yes, the kids are going back to schoo

We watched pretty much every Christmas movie ever made.

And we were terrible.

Truly terrible.

We let the kids stay up as late as 10 some nights. I know. The shame! Other nights we put them to bed at 8, but there was one night we were at a big reunion party. It was an hour and a half from home, and by the time we got home and got the boys all in bed, it was after midnight!

I know!!! We are never this shocking. We are such boring people normally.

REAL life starts again tomorrow. Oh, yes, the kids are going back to schoo

Some people skip stones…..we chunk boulders. (Don’t worry. Only into the water, and no one got hurt.)

I don’t think I got out of bed before 7:30am a single morning.

Discipline? I would say we were the opposite of disciplined…

We took the kids to two different movies. We let the boys sleep as late as they wanted, and for some of them that was actually until 8 or 8:30am!!

A disproportionate amount of corn dogs, candy canes, and chicken fingers was consumed.

JD has about quit napping completely.

The boys played so much Skylanders they’ve already beaten the new game twice.

 

REAL life starts again tomorrow. Oh, yes, the kids are going back to schoo

decorating the Christmas tree cookie cake

We built Lego creations, we colored, we ate ice cream, we played with cousins and friends. We got spoiled by grandparents. We completely forgot about reality.

I kept saying things like, “Tomorrow we HAVE to get back on schedule. Tomorrow we’ll all go to bed at 8, and I’ll set alarms and get up at 6….”

Never happened. Never.

REAL life starts again tomorrow. Oh, yes, the kids are going back to schoo

Dan and I found this centipede(?) on a walk. I’m not a bug expert. Centipede was my best guess.

And so tonight we didn’t even bother to put everyone to bed until 9 or 9:30. I made coffee and did the dishes. You will be happy to know that we did actually make them shower.

Alan is furiously re-immersing himself in work emails. He took a ton of time off too.

I laid out my clothes but totally forgot to lay out THE BOYS’ clothes. Who knows if we’ll be able to find anyone’s shoes or belts tomorrow.

I set my alarm for 5:30am…..but you know I’m the worst EVER at getting up when my alarm goes off. I set my alarm, and Alan actually laughed. Sigh.

I’m scared y’all. I think we actually had too much fun on our break. I don’t think we can go back to real life. I’m afraid no one will be able to wake up tomorrow morning!!!

I don’t think this is an irrational fear.

We played Star Wars. Ha! Just kidding. THEY played Star Wars. I’m not that cool.

Why does real life have to be so very very real and strict and work-like???

Ah, but it does. You can’t train children for the world without upholding standards in their childhood. You can’t expect them to go to college if you don’t first teach them elementary math. And have you seen elementary math??? It’s not all that easy!

Tomorrow is the big day! Are you ready?? Were any of you as big of slackers as we were??? Tell me we are not alone!!!

Well, if you were, we would like to wish you all the best of luck. I’m sure everyone’s shoes will be clean, dry, and easily found. Everyone will be on time, and no one will cry. Well, maybe me at 5:30am. I might cry. I’m just not so sure I “got this”!!!

Okay. Deep breaths. We’ll be fine. What’s a good verse we can recite to ourselves?? Oh yeah.

Joshua 1:9

 

Have not I commanded you? Be strong and of good courage. Be not afraid neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Gotta go. The Benadryl I took to make myself go to sleep earlier is finally starting to kick in…

 


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