Telling the Whole Story

 In Sermons, Teachings
This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series The Prophets & Poets Mixtape

Sue Sweeney - January 15, 2017

Telling the Whole Story

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My first year of teaching was really rough. I mean really, really, really rough.

I was not an education major in college. I have what they call an “alternative certification” so basically, I started my first teaching job with very little training and no experience. I was given 4 class periods of 9th grade world geography and 2 class periods of 10th grade World History. I knew a lot about the content of those subjects, but nothing about how to manage a classroom of urban teenagers. Nearly every school night, I stayed up late- often past midnight to plan lessons and then

I would wake up early to commute nearly an hour from Rowlett to South Oak Cliff in Dallas to teach at a charter school that certainly regretted hiring me. I had a terrible year. The students did not respect me and the way they were growing up was a lot different than the way I grew up and I had neither humility, nor the patience at the time to try and appreciate or understand where they were coming from.

What I needed to be successful required an important bit of tacit knowledge I just didn’t have yet because I was so inexperienced.

I had a place at work, sort of, where I could find people in which to commiserate, but in education, like a lot of places, workflow is hectic and frenzied and there was not much time to talk about what we were struggling with. I started the job with several other coworkers who were also brand new to teaching. By the middle of the first semester, two of them had already quit. Quitting wasn’t really an option because I needed to stay through the first year to be able to offset the expense of all the extra coursework and testing I had to do to get certified. I remember a particular low point was one morning in the middle of the year, I was driving to work and I thought to myself, “If I just had a car accident right now, just ran off the road and a little and had a car accident by myself, maybe I would end up in the hospital and be able to finally get to sleep and get some rest.” So, that’s pretty bad.

It sounds like this is a point in my life where I could have used someone to turn to for advice and encouragement.

My friends and family were sympathetic. They tried to offer advice.  After a few months, I could tell they had grown weary of hearing me complain about work. So, my only option was to get out of bed each day and muddle through, miserably, trying not to make things worse. I felt very alone and like I had to pretend like things were fine when they really were not…fine.

We were attending a different church at a time, before we knew about Catalyst. You would think a church would have been the place where I could find the support I needed. But, at the time, that was just another place here I had to pretend everything was fine. If I wanted to make friends, then, I couldn’t be who I really was at that time – mopey, over-stressed and exhausted.

People do this all time, right? Pretend everything is fine when it isn’t.

Why do we do this? Probably because no one wants to be around a person who is negative all the time. What a drag. As a culture, we don’t tolerate a “Debbie Downer” very well because it’s not that we don’t care that some is having a hard time, we just don’t really know what to say to a person who is struggling. At best, you might come out with something genuine like, “I’m sorry this is happening to you. That must be really difficult.” At worst, and this is really the worst you have some “go-to” platitudes you like to use. For example, “take those lemons and make lemonade.” Or “it just wasn’t meant to be” you know if you’re like me and have been on the receiving end of some of this pithy advice, you just want to throw up your hands and say, “You just don’t get it!”

It’s true, when I was struggling in my first year of teaching, there was not really any platitude or magical advice that would suddenly make things at work less of a nightmare for me. What I was lacking was experience and I really just needed to get through my first year and then take the time to reflect and learn from my experience.

What I needed at the time was some people to make some time and space for me to be disappointed and frustrated- to let me pour my heart out and to help me process what was happening.

Join us Sunday as we consider how we can become a safe space for lament and thanksgiving!

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