Yesterday I shared the first of three calls I know God put on my life. The first was this: “I want you to write for me” in 1986.
Three years later God gave me a second calling . . . through the odd circumstance of a dream . . . or rather, a nightmare.
Lest you think I’m weird, I just want to throw out there that Jesus’s earthly father, Joseph, was also directed to make dramatic changes in his and Mary’s lives because of dreams . . . THREE times, if I remember correctly. The first he learned that Mary would bear the Son of God. The second time he was urged to take Mary and baby Jesus to Egypt because King Herod was killing all male babies. The third time God encouraged him to return home to Nazareth from Egypt. So, I pay attention to dreams. Mostly, they reflect my fears, but sometimes I sense God nudging my spirit.
This was my nightmare. I was riding in a tour bus in the downtown Sacramento area with a group of dignitaries touring a new housing development that had replaced an unsightly slum. The new homes were beautiful with happy children dancing and waving from porches, rooftops, windows.
However, as I looked over this new neighborhood, I saw that all of the homes were on fire–and that the children were completely unaware that they would perish in the fires. Strangely enough, no one on the bus seemed to see the fires, and I could not get them to realize the danger.
Finally, I ran to the front of the bus and told the bus driver, “Stop the bus! I have to get off!”
From that dream I knew God wanted me to go into teaching. Since this was an occupation I had NEVER aspired to, clearly the direction was from God. I had worked for the prior ten years for Craig in his small town law practice. It did not bring joy or purpose into my life; it was stress-filled paperwork day after day.
The problem with this career switch was that while I had an undergraduate degree, I did not have a teaching credential. Also, my journalism degree would not help me much in getting credentialed in English.
In other words, there were a lot of hoops through which to jump. Within a month’s time I was enrolled at National University in a single-subject credential program in English. As online school did not exist at that time, that meant I drove three hours to Sacramento once a week, attended classes for many hours two evenings–leaving three kids at home with Craig and staying at my parents’ home two nights each week.
I also signed up for three massive tests–17 years after having gotten my B.A.–so as to prove I could teach secondary English. While I had taken as many English classes as I had journalism classes, I am not great at remembering literary titles and authors and plot lines. But God convinced me I could do this–especially after a friend dropped by and prayed for me like crazy. So, I bought a 1,200-page book that summarized classic literature and author bios, read and highlighted the whole thing, and memorized like I’d never memorized. After months of study and a lot of prayer, I passed all the tests the first try. A friend failed one of those tests three times.
I worked on school like crazy for three days a week and got caught up on Craig’s law office work the others. I made sack lunches for the kids for the days I was gone and filed them in rows in the fridge. Weekends I spent getting caught up on laundry and housework.
My local high school did not want me as a student teacher. That hurt. And I had to interview to be a student teacher in the community across our valley.
I remember the toughest question: “I see you were a journalism major. What makes you think you could be an English teacher?”
I think I mumbled something about my numbers of English classes and my ability to teach writing. And this: “The most important job I think an English teacher has is to teach her students how to think. If they can think, they can speak and write well.”
I got that “job” student teaching for the next semester and taught two English 9 classes, one English 10 honors class, and an English 12 class. I only got one graduate B–for an observation in an English 9 class that had pre-decided to screw things up for me. I chewed those kids out later, and we had a great understanding after that.
I taught one full year there the next year–English and history classes. Then I taught three years of a grades 4 and 5 combination class in the same community.
Then budget cuts led to my being laid off. That was hard. I knew I’d been doing a great job–my 4th/5th kiddos had the highest scores in the school. But I sat out that summer trusting God and collecting unemployment checks–which turned out to be a nice bonus, as contracted teachers cannot do that.
Two weeks before school started not just one but TWO local English teachers retired. I was offered the temp job, then interviewed and got the permanent job–teaching English 7, 8, 9, and 11. Midday I had to switch schools, and the assignment was challenging (my son’s 9th grade class blew spitwads when I turned my back).
But I eventually morphed into the English 11, 12 and AP teacher–with the added assignment of academic advisor. And four years ago I finally retired after 26 years in the classroom. I had achieved what I could to bring high expectations for students through the Advanced Placement program (a teaching peer and I wrote the grant to get it started) and other programs such as college visits, university library visit, and senior projects. I also elevated the quality of our school newspaper and served as advisor for the senior class and our chapter of the California Scholarship Federation.
Oh, and I scored and STILL score (I hope!) the high school’s home basketball games. And I serve on the board of trustees of The Sierra Schools Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that raises funds to provide extra programs for our small, rural schools that are underfunded for its needs.
That dream–or rather, nightmare–many years ago was absolutely convincing to me that God was calling me to be a teacher. I never wanted to be a teacher. My mother was a teacher . . . I never wanted to be front and center in a classroom. But God has a way of making you see things from his perspective. And I realized he wanted me to be that Catcher in the Rye figure I had read about in high school–saving kids from jumping off the cliff of life. I do feel I helped many young people over the years . . . and am thankful I can still be part of the educational community.
Tomorrow: The Third Call
Janet McHenry is a national speaker and the author of 24 traditionally published books–most of which she wrote while she was teaching full time. Two of those are bestsellers, including 50 Life Lessons for Grads: Surprising Advice from Recent Graduates; 37 of those grads were her former students. Janet loves to connect with readers: https://www.janetmchenry.com.
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