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  • janetmchenry

When Your Plans get Sidetracked

When I got my teaching credential years ago, I never pictured myself teaching elementary school students. However, that’s what happened when cutbacks occurred at the high school where I was teaching after one year there.

All of a sudden I found myself faced with the challenges of teaching not only English but also math, history, geography, current events, science, art, and P.E. And I was newly pregnant with our fourth child.

There were things I never imagined I’d have to do, such bulletin boards. My new modular classroom was not ready for me until two days before school started. And I had to decorate an entire brand-new modular classroom with All. Things. Clever. Help!

Help did arrive soon in the form of my mom, who had just retired from teaching elementary school–my brilliant, clever, ARTISTIC mom, thank the Lord. She drove 150 miles to our place to create my bulletin boards, including a giant tree that covered much of one blank wall, upon which we could put all my students’ names.

Hormones raged that fall . . . particularly as I tried to teach science. From the get-go my students begged to be taught space science, and I knew nearly nothing about Mercury, Venus, and the rest. I sat in tears one afternoon after school when my neighboring teacher Delia walked in.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

After I told her I needed to make my room look like the solar system by tomorrow, she said, “Come with me.” It turned out that Delia knew All. Things. Space. And that she had boxes of materials.

So, that month my students made their own solar systems and did the most amazing experiments I hope they still remember. One giant risk I took was using mud to create meteorite craters. Yes, I did–the mother who never let her own children do finger paint. We had a veritable mud mess in my classroom. And my parents thanked me immensely that I did not ask them to do any of all that at home.

I worked really hard those three years teaching a 4th/5th combination classroom . . . and my students had exceptional scores on their state exams. Those were years of “whole English” when you weren’t supposed to teach out of a grammar book. But I did. And those were years when you weren’t supposed to use a science book either–just let kids play with hands-on stuff. But I used both–first teaching them concepts using a text, then helping them discover the concepts’ applications with hands-on materials. They also learned both California and U.S. history that year. It turns out that reading challenging materials raises your vocabulary! Who knew? Me. The English teacher who later made other students read Shakespeare and dense poetry and nonfiction texts.

So, in many respects some of the most fun years for this English teacher were teaching those young people. It was not a jail sentence being assigned to an elementary classroom; I learned how to make learning fun. And perhaps some of that transferred to the rigors of teaching English to high school juniors and seniors.

God can use us wherever we are in whatever we are doing. Joseph learned that and just kept doing his best. We can also take a #lookingup posture and trust God for the results.

A former educator, Janet is a national speaker and the author of 24 books–including the bestselling 50 Life Lessons for Grads . . . a great gift book for high school and college students. She would love to connect with you monthly through her newsletter, for which you can sign up here:

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