Thursday, April 12, 2012

True Confessions of a Missionary Teacher; Mid-April 2012 Update

This has been a very different kind of week.  First, Vaughn leaves with about 35 others (mostly high school students) to travel 6 hours south (?) of La Paz to minister in 4 different villages doing various things; building, playing with children, music, etc. firs thing Monday morning for the entire week.  I stayed here and worked at the school.

The week has flown by as much of our time here in La Paz has.  One of my responsibilities is to substitute teach when a need arises.  Well, it arose Monday-Wednesday.  Monday and Tuesday weren’t too bad; I was substituting for the computer teacher and had elementary classes on those two days.  Then came Wednesday and I had Middle School; all three grades in the same day.  Sixth and Seventh grades – really no problem just a lot of talking.  Right after lunch I had T H E M.  The most dreaded class in the entire school, the class who doesn’t care and actually enjoys having the worst reputation.  The class that I “embraced” when I first came to Highlands, even going as far as having the girls over to our apartment to make pizza together, study for a huge math test and having a sleep-over.  I think that is where my problems with this class really started.  I began as a friend, not having taught them, it didn’t click that I was not starting out on the right foot (so to speak).  There is a line between being a teacher to students and a friend to them.  The line should not be crossed.  It is there (even though invisible) so that a certain amount of decorum and professionalism be observed.  Wednesday was not fun; I was in tears twice – once during the class and once immediately afterwards.

What ended up happening a few months ago is I subbed for the 8th grade class and they felt they could take advantage of our friendship.  It was a disaster.  I say that because they were all saying, in effect, what happened to you?  You USED to be nice and now this monster has appeared!  Not only did a number of the students in the class take advantage of our relationship, but they even went further than that and displayed blatant disrespect; even to the point of mouthing back, arguing with me and choosing to totally do “their own thing” instead of what was expected from them in the classroom.

That’s where I blew it again.  I was so appalled at 3 of the girls and their actions towards me one day when I was subbing, that I got “back in their faces.”  I lost control of my emotions and, even though they deserved to be sent out of the room, I raised my voice – yelled - at two of them.  Thankfully the Director of the school was in the classroom at the time and other students observed the actions of these three or I might have chalked it up to “old lady who just completely lost her mind syndrome.”  I had not sent a student out of the classroom at all until that class.  It is a tactic that many of the teachers feel is necessary in order to maintain some sort of order when one (or more) students decide to “act out.”  I had been able to handle things inside the classroom before that class, by other means of discipline.

The fact that these three girls were among the ones who had come to my home a few months before and were friends on Facebook (since then I have decided THAT was not a smart move, either and have had to make it a policy not to be friends with current students) made it all that much harder when two of the girls wrote mean, hateful things to me via Facebook email and then promptly “un-friended” me (blocked me) so that I could not carry on a conversation with them really “pushed one of my buttons!”  (And without me realizing it, I had gotten on their level and was acting like a middle-schooler instead of the adult professional that I am supposed to be).  So, a day soon after at school, I felt it necessary to discuss what had been going on with two of the girls.  That was a total fiasco and something for which I had the entire weekend to digest and because of what had occurred, I realized that I owed the girls an apology.  That has been harder than I ever imagined it would be to accomplish.  Not hard in regard to me not wanting to do it; I looked for opportunities first thing that next Monday morning - I have tried over and over, especially with one of the girls.  I was told a couple of days ago by this particular young lady, “Okay, I forgive you, but I will not forget.”  OUCH!  Cheap shot right to the gut.

I learned a lot of things these last few months with my interactions with this particular class.  Hopefully, I will not make the same mistakes with them or any other students again.  I have done everything humanly possible to restore relationships with the one gal, in particular (the other one forgave me the first time I talked to her about it, but has kept me at “arm’s length”).  I am not trying to restore the relationships that we once had – before I became their substitute teacher (over and over and over).  I am trying to get us to the place of mutual respect; one where the teaching that is to be done is not hindered by unresolved issues.

Being classified as a missionary does not magically or instantly transform one to some higher level of spirituality.  In fact, I have observed that my “rough edges” are actually magnified while on the foreign mission field.  I am not exactly sure why this is, other than I am in a totally different culture than I grew up in and I am on display more in these settings than when I am simply a church-going volunteer in the states.  I see so clearly things that I need to work on; things that I wasn’t aware of – blind spots, I guess you could call them.  I am thankful that I am aware of them, but also a bit overwhelmed at how far I still have to go.

There is a saying, I think it is even in a song or two - "I am not all that I should be or what I want to be, but thank God I am not what I used to be."  That is my prayer tonight. 

  P.S.  Vaughn gets home tomorrow!

~ Kathy

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