Stay Calm and Do Your Best

Failed test

Tad* was upset. A quiet kid, he uttered no sound and bit his lip to maintain his composure. He had failed a test. The second one in as many weeks. Not used to that, it caught him off guard. He sat there, stunned.

I was heartbroken. Here is a kid who is as pure as the new-fallen snow, always gives his best, and looks dumb-founded when someone has the gall to be disrespectful or unkind. (He just doesn’t get why someone would act that way.) He is a well-rounded kid from a good home.

It was only a couple of minutes before the bell. I told the class to clean up. I didn’t want him to dwell on it. He quietly put his books away and adjusted his backpack.

When I dismissed the class, I motioned for him to stop by my desk and talk to me. Not really knowing what to say, I tried to encourage him by telling him that these tests were difficult. (Also, he tends to over-analyze questions and sometimes the answer is the obvious. He second-guesses himself and sometimes chooses the wrong answer.)

I assured him he would do better, and I would do all I could to help him achieve his goals. He smiled and thanked me. (What a great kid!) He asked me about the impact the test scores had had on his grade. I looked and told him he had a B in my class. His lip trembled again. He forced a smile, thanked me again and went to lunch.

The following Friday was mid-term progress report day. The grades had all been entered into the computer and reports printed. The last grade entered was the at-home reading grade for books they read at home and tested on at school. This grade was totally their responsibility.

As I handed out the progress reports to Tad’s class, I couldn’t wait to give him his. The reading grade had bumped him back up to an A. When I put the report on his desk, he looked at the grade, then at me. His face lit up like a Christmas tree. Made my day.

I said to him, “You did it. All that reading you did paid off! Well done!”

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then he just smiled. A satisfied smile.

After the class left, it dawned on me. Tad never complained, never cast blame, spouted off, or any of the things I do when I fail. He did his best in the face of failure. He continued to do right, to give his all, even when he thought it wouldn’t matter.

On that day, he was the teacher and I, the student.

*not his real name

I Didn’t Plan for That

As most of you know, teachers plan. Extensively. One type of plan is a curriculum map. We map out the entire year to make sure we cover the skills our students need to be successful. The idea didn’t start with us, nor are we the best at it. It started with Him. God plans.

…I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭29‬:‭11‬ MSG)

Sometimes the way is easy. We can see pretty well. We kind of know what to expect from life. We may need to shift our backpack to the other shoulder at some point, but it’s lightweight and easy to carry, so no problem. Like hiking down a shady country road. Pure joy. Great to be alive. Suck in that fresh air!

Country Road

Yes, life is good, until…

A mountain pops up, seemingly out of nowhere.

Oh, we kind of saw it coming, but we ignored the horizon, hoping we were wrong.  We weren’t.

“You need surgery.” or

“It is cancer, I’m sorry.” or

“I don’t love you anymore.” or

“Your position has been cut.” or

“I’ll see you in court.”

Whatever the catch phrase of the mountain, now we have to face it.

Walking here is not so easy. It’s rough, and sometimes we fall down, or tumble backward. Even the most lightweight backpack gets heavy. The light is dim; the air, foggy.  It can be scary.

Kenai mt3

We want to quit, just stop and sit down. Pretend there is no mountain.

But… then we’d be stuck.

No, we have to keep going. We look around for a path.

We pray more, seeking Him, wondering where He is in all of this.

He answers, “I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭29‬:‭11‬ MSG)

What a relief!

God doesn’t abandon us just because our scenery changes.

And though He didn’t put the mountain there – it is the natural result of a rumbling, ever-changing world-

He is not surprised by it. He knew it was there. And… He planned for it. Even if we didn’t.

His plan may involve mountain removal.  He could guide through the mountain pass, or maybe even reveal a path around it. Whatever the plan calls for.

He knows exactly what we need to be successful, and if we will follow where He leads,

His plan will give us the future we hope for.

Handling Disappointment

There I was, minding my own business, doing what I normally do the second week of summer. As I am a public school teacher, I was doing teacher stuff : planning for next year, reading material pertinent to my teaching assignment, thinking deep thoughts about how to improve attendance. We teachers are never really off for the summer, we just let go of one group of kids and spend the summer planning for the next group. I had heard wonderful things about the group coming up and visualized the amazing learning activities that would be going on in my classroom next year.

The phone rang. It was my principal. She reminded me that at the last faculty meeting she told us she may make some changes over the summer. “Do you remember ?”

“Umm, yes… ” (Gasp. Oh, no! What is she doing? Surely she is not going to change MY teaching assignment! I’ve been doing this for a long time! I love what I do!)

“Well, I thought about you teaching Language Arts at a different grade level. I’m having you and Ms. XYZ swap teaching assignments. She will loop up with her students and you will drop in and teach that grade. Same subject area, different grade. What do you think?”

The tantrum-throwing little girl in me was screaming, “No, I do not want to do that! Why can’t you just leave me where I am? I’m happy and comfortable. Besides, I’ve already made big plans for next year.” But the fully-grown professional woman in me stifled the brat and said, “I trust your judgment. You know what is best for our school. I’ll do whatever you want me to.”

“I appreciate that. Come in sometime soon. We’ll sit down and discuss the details, okay? You’ll be great in that grade level. Matter of fact, you could teach any grade level here. I have that much confidence in your abilities.”

“Thank you.”

“See you then.”

“Okay, bye.” I hung up and cried like a baby.

In the midst of the pity party that followed, I began to pray. Well, whine to God would be more accurate. “God, why is this happening? Was I such a failure as an eighth grade teacher? Why didn’t she just tell me what I need to work on? I didn’t ask for a move. Did Ms. XYZ? Why should she get what she wants?” At this point, negative thoughts were pummeling any positive reasoning that tried to intervene. I felt like a total failure. (BTW, Ms. XYZ and the principal are good friends of mine and didn’t deserve those negative thoughts.)

A few days later, while trudging through my daily chores, still depressed over the phone call, I stopped in the kitchen, poured a glass of 100% grape juice (good for you when you are stressed) and went out onto the back porch. My negativity came right along, dragging behind me like a five-foot-seven string of toilet paper stuck to my shoe. Plopping down into the cushioned porch chair, I continued to wallow. All of the planning I had done – out the window. Are the students I will have mature enough for the way I run my classroom? Definitely have to change the rigor. I have to change everything. Everything.

A wave of “I’m a failure; why else would she change me” hit me again and the tears fell. I closed my eyes. “Lord, help me. I kind of feel like Joseph when he was sent to prison. He didn’t do anything wrong, but yet he had to go to prison. Everybody I work with is going to look at me and ask why she changed my assignment. They are going to know I failed. I don’t even want to face them.”

PRIDE. Big bold letters flashed in my mind. (I’m a visual learner.) I agreed. And repented. Humble Pie is good for me, but I don’t like the taste of it. “Help me to accept this assignment, even though it’s a disappointment.”

DISAPPOINTMENT. Again, big bold letters. “Yes, Sir. That describes my state of mind right now.”

I watched as a hand separated the letters, moving the DIS to the left. My Counselor said, “Drop the S. Drop all the negative Stuff you’ve been thinking, all the lies you’ve believed about yourself since she called.”

“Gladly.” I watched the S swirl down and out of sight.

“Add VINE, because you are going to grow through this experience and reach some you would not have otherwise. If you will stay in the Vine, you will have fruit, good fruit.”

That excited me. DI + VINE. Right there on the stage in my mind were the words DIVINE APPOINTMENT.

Jaw drop. Worship. Tears of joy. Grateful, thankful heart.