Becoming a Teacher

By Lori Michelle

(I’m an award-losing author…and here is yet another edition.  In the attempt to get my writing “out there” I enter contests from time to time, and this is my latest award-losing entry.  But having my own blog means I have my own little forum for growing in my writing.  Hope you enjoy reading about how God taught me about being a REAL teacher.  If you would be so kind as to comment, or ask questions, I’d be so grateful.  Thanks.)

Two months after I graduated college with my BS in Elementary Education, I got my first job.  I became a professional educator, as in I was finally getting paid to do the job for which I received my formal education.

But I didn’t become a teacher until years later.

And my guru in the art of learning would be my own son.

Warren* was a feisty, friendly, full-of-life five-year-old the year we enrolled him in kindergarten.  When I dropped him off at school in the morning, I would watch my little toe headed boy with his yellow jacket and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle backpack bound into the school building without looking back.

After a few weeks, he began to change.  His exuberance and excitement about school diminished. He was overstimulated when came home from school.  He was grumpy and overactive and even sometimes violent towards his little sisters.  I noted the change, but felt it was simply an adjustment to school.

A few months went by and suddenly I began getting phone calls from the teacher concerning his behavior.  Warren had hit a student over the head with his lunchbox.  Warren had pulled down a girl’s pants in the lunch line.  Warren had spent yet another afternoon in the “time out” corner.

I began to wonder to myself, “There must be a pattern here.  There must be a reason.”  So I began marking on the calendar every time I got a call from the teacher or principal.

At the parent-teacher conference, I brought my calendar with me.

The teacher began to show me evidence outlying her concerns for my son.  It was March of his kindergarten year, and Warren could not write his name, much less any other letters of the alphabet.  Warren could not tie his shoes.  Warren spent more time in “time out” than out of it.

I brought out my calendar and pointing to the pattern that had emerged, I asked, “What happens every 10 days?”

The teacher surveyed my notes and exclaimed, “I change out the centers every 10 days!”

So every time my son had finally began to learn a new skill, the centers were changed and he had to start over again.  My son was frustrated.  Even though he was bright, he wasn’t learning at the pace of the other students.  The constant change and struggle to keep up was making him feel defeated and incapable and angry.  He acted out his exasperation the only way his five-year-old emotions knew how.  His behavior was communication…my son had unmet needs and required my advocacy, my voice, and my intervention.

So, I made a radical move.  I quit my job as a professional educator and decided to home educate my son.  That was in 1993 and homeschooling was not yet a “movement.”  At least not in the area of North Carolina where I lived.   (There were only a handful of homeschooling families in our entire county, and my resignation caused quite a ruckus in my church and among my teacher friends…but that’s another story)homeschooling

I said I will only homeschool for a couple years…just until I get him caught up.  After all, I had taught many children to read as a professional educator!  I knew just how to help him!

Except I didn’t.

I tried everything I knew from my years of being a professional educator.  I tried every curriculum or method I could find.

I read to him scads of books on all kinds of topics.  We did science experiments.  We took nature walks.  We spent hours at the library or at the museum.  He spent ages building, inventing, playing, and climbing.  Anything that stimulated his interest, we explored, from rocks to medieval castles to cooking.

Yet, in the fourth grade, my sweet son said to me, “I just want to go to the library and pick out a book and read it!”

Nothing I tried worked to help my sweet, bright, fun-loving, feisty son learn how to read!

I reached out to a Doctor of Education for help.  He performed a full battery of psychological and educational tests on my son.  On the day that I was to find out the results, I arrived full of hope and faith that this man would finally have the answer to my son’s learning difficulties.

In a nondescript room with only a small table between us, the professional educator labeled my son’s learning disabilities one by one.  He attempted to communicate to me the severity of the situation.  I kept asking him what could be done, but obviously, I simply wasn’t grasping the immensity of the problem. He finally burst out, “Your son is NEVER going to read!  Why don’t you just give up?”

I drew in my breath slowly and forced back hot, angry tears.

“Sir,” I began shakily, “I will not give up on him because I am his mother!  You are wrong.

  1. SON. WILL. READ!”

I collected my purse and my papers and I stood to leave.

I became a teacher that day.  I decided that I would do whatever it took to teach my son to read.

And I did.

By the end of 5th grade, Warren could read on the 2nd grade level.  By the end of 7th grade, he was on the 5th grade level.  When Warren was in the 8th grade, he decided he wanted to go back to formal schooling.

He graduated from high school when he was 16, and graduated from college with a B.S in Business at age 19.

Today, he is an Assistant Vice President for a major financial company in New York City.

When Warren went back to school, so did I.  I renewed my teaching credentials and went back to the classroom, too.

But this time, not as a professional educator, but as a teacher.  My years outside of the formal classroom with my son had taught me more about the true nature of education than all of my college courses and years of experience combined.

I now teach special needs children who have difficulty learning in the traditional way.  I believe in them until they can believe in themselves.

I treat my students as if they were my own son or daughter…looking for that unmet need that calls for my advocacy, my voice, and my intervention.  I utilize my knowledge as a professional educator, but I devote my heart as a teacher.


How Four Hideous Christmas Trees Saved Christmas

On December 11, 2007, my lawyer called and told me that my divorce was final.

2007 had been a horrible year.  The most devastating of my life.  Back in April, a singular ATM transaction led me to investigate the man I had been married to for 20 years.  The father of my three beautiful children.  The man who was on the short-list to be the next elder of our church.

No, he wasn’t perfect, but he was good.  No, our marriage wasn’t perfect, in fact we had been going through a rough patch the year of our 20th anniversary, but you didn’t throw away a 20-year commitment because times were tough.

But he had different ideas.  In his mind, heart, and intention, he had already left our family and had moved on to a new life…only I didn’t know about it until April, 2007.

Everything changed that year.  I had been primarily a stay-at-home mom for 17 of our 20 years, but now I had to work 3 part-time jobs to keep the lights on.  Food came from the various food pantries in town.  I sold any valuable item I could find in my house: furniture, jewelry, and collectables.  I even started charging my own children for using the cable and internet!

So as Christmas, 2007 approached, I knew that, along with everything else that had changed that year, the way we would celebrate Christmas would have to change, too.  I felt lower than a slug.  I knew I couldn’t buy my kids expensive presents.  Christmas dinner wouldn’t be the varied spread they were accustomed to. I couldn’t even afford the gas to drive down to North Carolina so we could celebrate with their grandparents!

It was hard for me and my kids to even feel like celebrating Christmas at all!  I was hurt.  I was lonely.  We had all been rejected, abandoned, and forsaken.  It hurt to know that my now ex-husband would soon be remarrying while I would likely end 2008 just as I was ending 2007 – alone.  And a bleary-eyed sadness had implanted itself in my children that I had no power to chase away.  The kids didn’t feel like setting up our Christmas tree with all of our old ornaments…too many memories.  “Let’s just not,” one of them said.

I decided not to wallow…my kids and I needed to MAKE some Christmas cheer!!

I scoured the sales circulars and found that Border’s Books had a 75% off sale of Christmas decorations.  There I found a miniature Christmas tree in every color (I guess all of the green ones had been taken?).  So I bought a pink one, a purple one, a blue one, and a silver one…one for each room in our home!

mini christmas tree

When I brought them home, my daughter, Savanna, cried, “Mom, those are the most hideous trees I’ve ever seen!”

I was undaunted.  I spread out all of our old Christmas ornaments and craft supplies on the dining room table.  With renewed inspiration, I started breaking apart and regluing.  Soon, one of my children joined me, and then another, and then the last one joined in, too. Suddenly, I felt a few twinkles of joy.

Eventually, we had recreated enough new tiny ornaments to decorate each of our new multi-colored trees.  We set about to decorate them, and soon decided on a theme for each one.  The one in the dining room got all of the little Baby Jesus’ while the one in the sunroom would get all of the flowers and bows.

Finally, it was decided that it would be okay, after all, if we set up the big, old artificial tree in the living room and decorated it with all of the ornaments that the children had made throughout their lives (I couldn’t bear to deconstruct them!).

On Christmas morning I wrote in my journal, “I’d say today was bittersweet.  Slow, relaxed, and somewhat enjoyable.  I cooked dinner and we opened our gifts.  The kids seemed happy; well, at least, not sad.”

It wasn’t exactly a Hallmark Christmas movie, but four hideous Christmas trees taught us that maybe, just maybe, expensive presents and a Better Homes and Gardens dinner spread wasn’t what celebrating Christmas was all about after all.

Image courtesy of Free Images

Grappling with Christian Community

friends foreverAt church on Sunday the preacher handed out little slips of paper to everyone with these words…”Christian Community is so important to me because…”

I felt my tongue turn to sandpaper and miniature droplets blurred my vision.  How could I conjure up a succinct, yet complete, response?

You see, I’m “in a relationship” with a new church.  Its official…I even posted it on my Facebook status.

It’s both scary and hopeful for me.

Scary because I’ve been hurt so often and lost so much.  Nearly two years ago I officially withdrew my name from membership from the church I joined when I was 16.  My mom and dad had not raised me in that church…I chose it myself.

30 years later,  I was done with church.  No, I was not done with God…not done with Christianity…just THAT church.  But the question remained…Why, when being a part of a Christian community had ruined my life could I want to be a part of another one…EVER?

Yet hopeful because I know what I WANT Christian community to mean to me.  I believe what it CAN mean.

I certainly don’t expect perfection or platitudes or even for the community to have all of the “answers to life, the Universe and Everything.”  But I do want it to mean connection…authenticity…challenge…growth…purpose.  I want to feel like I am a part of what God is doing…to be God’s hands and feet here on Earth.  I want to use my talents for teaching and writing and compassion and empathy and spiritual discernment for the Kingdom of God.  Here I am, Lord, send me.

But getting close enough to connect and challenge…to be real enough to stop pretending that I’m grappling with so many aspects of life…to be open enough to allow myself to stretch and grow and follow and agonize and love…to be foolish enough to reveal my dreams and wishes and fears and my million, billion flaws and ideas…and my humanness.

To risk being rejected (again), shunned (again), ignored (again), underestimated (again), used (again), and abused (again) seems impossible, actually inscrutable.  Why would I submit to such a thing?  Richelle E. Goodrich says, “Forgive and forget is a divine ideal.  Grappling with hurt while biting you tongue and struggling to refuse justifiable vengeance – that’s closer to human reality.”

That’s closer to my reality.

But I actually like this quote even better…

 “Laugh, even when you feel too sick or too worn out or tired.
Smile, even when you’re trying not to cry and the tears are blurring your vision.
Sing, even when people stare at you and tell you your voice is crappy.
Trust, even when your heart begs you not to.
Twirl, even when your mind makes no sense of what you see.
Frolick, even when you are made fun of. Kiss, even when others are watching. Sleep, even when you’re afraid of what the dreams might bring.
Run, even when it feels like you can’t run any more.
And, always, remember, even when the memories pinch your heart. Because the pain of all your experience is what makes you the person you are now. And without your experience—you are an empty page, a blank notebook, a missing lyric. What makes you brave is your willingness to live through your terrible life and hold your head up high the next day. So don’t live life in fear. Because you are stronger now, after all the crap has happened, than you ever were back before it started.”
Alysha Speer

So THIS is the answer I couldn’t write on my paper last week.  Here are the words it has taken me a week of tears and prayer and reading and meditating to realize:

Christian community is so important to me because…I want to laugh, smile, cry, sing, trust, twirl, frolic, learn, worship, serve, love, and experience God and this life, with God’s people.  And because of the crap that has happened to me, I am a lot better at all of those things than before.  And I now have strength, and insight, and compassion, and knowledge that I can contribute to a community, as we become more and more willing and able and bold enough to allow God to shape and mold us more and more into the likeness of His Son.

To read more about this topic, check out Why Do I Still Go to Church?

Telling My Story

I’m going to write it.  I will.  I’ve already started, but its hard.  I’m scared.

There is much I need to say that I’ve never said before…to anyone.  People will be surprised. What will my parents think?  What will my children think? Or will anyone even care?  All of the potential answers make me sink in my sandals and busy myself with housework, and schoolwork, and Facebook.

But I HAVE to tell it.  Because I cannot live if I don’t.  Because writing it is part of letting it go, of healing the wounds, of putting the clutter on the curb.  It is finally finding a voice after so many silent years; it’s part of moving forward.

Satan has always wanted to silence me.  I’m not sure why.  Because he dwells in silence, and secrets, and darkness.  He abides in clutter, and clatter, and in unforgiving hearts.  And because God has given me this voice…this gift of storytelling…this gift of teaching, so Satan has conspired to silence me with coercion, with guilt, and with shame.

My story is also a story of redemption.  Of God’s remarkable ability to create beauty from ashes.  He restores.  He heals.  He reconciles.  He Loves.  If my life and my journey mean anything, it means this: God is Redeemer!

This post from SheLoves Magazine resonated with me.  I love how she starts it with a quote from one of my favorite authors, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.” ~Anne Lamott

That’s right, Anne, they should’ve behaved better.  They should’ve paid attention.  Some, maybe most, knew not what they were doing.  Some do not know that I know.

So here is fair warning.  If you love me…you don’t know everything. We will talk.  I will tell you the things I’ve never said.  And maybe you will read my truth and hear my voice and listen to my story of love.


Just Hang Upside-Down and Hold On!!

 I always wondered if caterpillars endure pain during their captivity in the chrysalis.   It seems that every growth or period of change is accompanied by pain and loss.  Do future butterflies ever just give up mid-metamorphosis?  Do they ever long for their caterpillar days?  Or do they instinctually know that the butterfly existence will be worth the arduous struggle? 

And yet, in every caterpillar’s life, there is a time to hang yourself upside-down and hold on!  The transformation will not simply glue wings to your existing torso; it will reduce your organs to soup, and then recreate them completely into a new creature who inhabits a different world. 

It seems God has a similar course of reconstruction for those He loves.  Consider Abraham being commanded to sacrifice the Son of Promise.  Consider Joseph being sold into slavery or Daniel taken into captivity.  Or even Lazarus who had to become sick and die, then lie in a tomb for four days.  All organs-to-soup tales before God shows up and explains the design He had all along. 

God’s plans are beautiful when you are looking in the rear-view mirror.  They don’t always look so attractive when your guts have been reduced to gumbo and you are peering headlong into an uncertain blackness.  Is that dim glow you see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel or the beam of an oncoming train?

All those children’s songs that claim “the blessings come down as the prayer go up” are wrong.  All those seeming promises that life would work out if you only followed the rules.  It doesn’t work that way, Caterpillar.  The Bible never, ever promises its followers safe passage to the next life. Sooner or later, you’re going to find yourself hanging upside-down by your toenails and wondering what you’ve done to deserve this treatment. 

And that is what faith really is.  Faith is trusting that even when everything you have believed in and sacrificed for and built in your life is reduced to rubble and waste and lies, He reigns. God remains sovereign and mighty and good, even when we are in unending grief.  He doesn’t ask our permission to do His will; as inscrutable and frustrating as it may be.  You are not abandoned by God just because you hurt; in fact, when you hurt, He is closer than ever.

This is what Abraham learned on the mountain.  This is what Joseph and Daniel learned in Egypt and Babylon.  This is what Lazarus learned in the tomb.  That is what I learned through divorce.  That is what the caterpillar learns in the cocoon of becoming.  Faith does not equal clarity and certainty.  Faith is the CONVICTION OF THINGS UNSEEN.  Even when we feel abandoned and forgotten.  Even though we cannot see our way through, faith is making one slight movement forward anyway, believing that one day, somehow, your foot will fall onto the silver lining. 

You Will Survive Being Left

Sometimes I read other’s writing and I get really jealous…today is one of those days.  This article is very well written and I wanted to share.  Hope you enjoy it.


Does the caterpiller FEEL the changes in the cocoon? (Journal entry dated June 3, 2007)

I really feel myself changing.  I remember the night that you told me that I was in the “cocoon of becoming.”  How you wrapped me a in a chord and told my spirit that I was wrapped in your love and protection.  Yes, Rick’s love and protection was being taken from me, but I had yours.

Anyway, I wonder if the caterpillar FEELS the changes? actiasluna-5815399-h

I guess I always assumed that the caterpillar wraps itself in chords of silk and simply sleeps.  Then one day it wakes up a new creature.  But what if the caterpillar goes through a lot of effort, and work, and stress to get the cocoon just so?  What if it endures pain and discomfort while its changing?

We all know that babies cry as their teeth grow in.  Teenagers complain of aches and cramps and clumsiness during their spurts of growth.  It seems periods of transformation are accompanied by confusion and tears and even sometimes much pain.  Sometimes things even die before they are made new again (IE Lazarus).

I can feel myself changing.  I feel like I am a better me than ever.  I actually like who I am becoming.  I feel capable and functional and able to become who I want and able to allow God to work on my strongholds.

I love you, Lord, and I thank you for this time of change, even though it is hard and very painful.