Diego Turned Angel

On Child's Level.pngI’ve never considered myself to be certifiably insane, but – deciding to be a long-term sub for the last month of the school year? – maybe I should reconsider the state of my mental health.

After I resigned from my cushy (and soul-numbing) corporate job in April, I took a three-week long term substitute teaching assignment at a nearby elementary school. I figured it would be a good opportunity to learn some key teaching skills before I started my full-time teaching job in August. And I was right.

What I hadn’t taken into consideration were the facts that:

  • These 5th graders in my class had already finished their state testing and so felt like there was no more learning to be done.
  • They believed that they ruled the world (as the oldest grade in their school).
  • Summer (and graduation from elementary school) was less than one month away.
  • It was a Title I school.
  • I had basically zero experience with classroom management.

Suffice it to say, I nearly died those first few days. I had kids threaten to have their parents sue me when I said the wrong thing, had kids tell me they hated me and I was the worst teacher ever, had parents calling in wanting a parent-teacher conference because they believed their child was being bullied, had to get a counselor involved because a fifth grade boy was following girls into the bathroom and touching them inappropriately… It. Was. Madness.

But I survived. And I am better for it. And, looking back, it was actually a lot of fun. Because – for the first time in nearly eight years – I actually had purpose. I actually felt challenged. And I finally made an impact.

Diego was one of the kids I nearly sent to ISS the first day I subbed. He talked incessantly and, as soon as I got the class calmed down and on task, he (as a natural leader and the class clown) had the power to get them all off task again. I felt like I was constantly battling him for the class’s attention.

And Victor. He was the most simultaneously hateful, cynical, apathetic person I have ever met in my entire life. He loved to argue with me in front of the class just for argument’s sake. He knew I couldn’t physically touch him, so he openly defied me on a daily basis when I asked to speak with him privately outside. He refused to go in the hallway, and I couldn’t physically force him, so for a long time, I lost the daily battles of power struggle with Victor – the most arrogant, abrasive student I can imagine I will ever have in decades of teaching.

But as the weeks went on and I learned students’ names and personalities and values and insecurities, I slowly learned how to individualize not only my teaching but also my motivation and discipline of each one.

On my last week of subbing, the students were supposed to be engaging in silent reading time. Diego repeatedly got off task, reading out loud in an intentionally loud voice and distracting other students. When I asked him to read silently, he claimed not to be able to read without saying the words out loud (this was a lie). He – like Victor – refused to go into the hall with me, so I knelt down on his level and whispered to him quietly.

“Diego,” I sighed. “I know you think I don’t like you, but I do. I think you’re adorable. You’re smart, funny and a natural leader. You have so much potential!”

I shrugged my shoulders and continued as I knelt beside his desk on his eye level. “You are not a bad kid. But right now you are making bad choices. I can see the kind of man you could be, and I really want to see you reach your full potential. You are natural leader with a lot of power to do a lot of good in the world. But in order to do that, you need to start making better choices.”

To my surprise, Diego’s eyes started to water. He was tearing up, and I realized he probably had never been told by anyone that he had potential; that he had value and worth and power to do good in the world. So I went on, “It’s really up to you. I only have a few days left here, so it won’t affect me either way. But every day, you make choices that have consequences, and those can be good or bad consequences. I hope for your sake – and the world’s – you choose good.”

Diego just hung his head and wouldn’t make eye contact with me after that, so I left him alone, but he was surprisingly quiet the rest of the day.

The next morning, the class was working individually on a math worksheet, and – to my surprise – Diego raised his hand and asked for help understanding how to add fractions. He’d never expressed interest in learning before. Encouraged, I knelt by his desk and gently explained to him how to find common denominators so he could add (or subtract) fractions easily. I watched the lightbulb flash in his eyes as he “got” it, and he worked a few problems on his own to show me that he understood the concept.

Later that afternoon, some girls got in trouble for selling homemade “slime” (that ended up clogging the school toilets), and a lot of the kids – exposed to this entrepreneurial spirit for perhaps the first time – were trying to figure out how they could make some side money selling something at school. Diego came up to me and asked simply, “Will you give me five dollars?”

“Why would I give you five dollars?” I asked, not unkindly.

Diego looked thoughtful. “What if I gave you something?”

“Like what?” I asked, forcing him to think through what he was asking.

“Hmm… like a cake?” he suggested.

“That sounds nice,” I told him. “What kind of cake?”

He furrowed his brow, thinking hard. “Maybe chocolate or strawberry?”

I smiled. “Diego, if you bring me a chocolate cake tomorrow, I will give you five dollars.”

I had little to no expectation that the little man who’d given me so much trouble would actually follow through in baking a cake, but the next morning, Diego bounded into my room, beaming with delight he tried to hide a bit as he dashed up to me holding a little 9″x9″ foil pan.

“I brought it!” he exclaimed, and I peeled back the foil to see chocolate icing covering what looked like a homemade box cake.

I smiled at him and pulled a $5 from my wallet. “Here you go,” I told him. “You earned it!” His delight as he accepted the money made me smile all the more.

In retrospect, I probably couldn’t have done that exchange with Diego if I was a full-time teacher or if I hadn’t been about to leave that school campus, but I’m thankful for the way it worked out because not only did I finally make a meaningful, positive connection with a formerly disruptive student, but Diego also learned some important lessons about entrepreneurship, determination, and the power of our choices. He finally had someone show him tough love and believe in him for becoming more than he was.

The next day was my last day, and I had essentially no hope for a reconciliation with Victor, but even he surprised me. Early in the day, I kept Victor outside of the computer lab to talk with him before he went in. I gave him a similar speech to the one I’d given Diego, and like the other boy, Victor started to tear up. I don’t think either one had ever experienced a loving “I believe you for better” heart-to-heart. And at the end of that school day, Victor – the thorn in my side and bane of my existence – was the first to volunteer to stack chairs on the desks before recess. He picked up loose papers and helped me tidy up the classroom without being asked, and my heart was warmed by his transformation.

After a tough few weeks, God gave me two amazing reminders of why I’m going into teaching. It’s going to be hard but good. It’s going to be challenging but worth it. There are days I will want to cry in frustration, but I believe there will be great purpose and impact on individual lives. And that’s what I want to be about in this next year and in this next season of life.

A few weeks later, Seth and I were at dinner with some friends – old and new – and one of the new girls asked what I did for a living. After a few moments, we made the connection that she had formerly been a teacher at the elementary school where I’d subbed. “Oh my gosh! You’re THAT sub! I heard you did an amazing job, and all the teachers there want to have you back as the sub for their classrooms!”

I smiled and thanked her, storing up those words in my heart. As we drove away in his truck hours later, Seth turned to me and said with a squeeze of my hand, “Your reputation precedes you. I’m proud to have you by my side.”

I’m glad to be there. It’s nice to be appreciated.

Authentically Aurora

A Job from Jehovah-Jireh (Part 5)

Job Offer.png

I woke up in the pitch black of early morning on the day of the Kl*** ISD career fair. I pulled on a blazer over my white blouse and applied mascara to my sleepy eyes. Why am I putting myself through this? I already have a job offer. But I climbed into my little blue Beemer and drove north toward my childhood home.

Having attended three teaching career fairs at that point, I felt like I knew what to expect, but I was surprised when I pulled into the high school parking lot and saw hundreds of people marching toward the entrance like little ants in business suits. There were definitely over a thousand people in attendance – my largest career fair yet.

I waited in line for 45 minutes just to get in the front door and check in at registration. Then I waited in line at each of five junior high booths just to hand in my resume and ask if they had open math positions (three did; two did not). Of the three with math openings, one was my alma mater. That interview went very well, with one of the assistant principals coming over to sit in on my interview with another staff member because it looked like we were having so much fun.

They loved that I’m a former Warrior and spent half of my interview recounting how many of their current staff are alums, asking me if I knew one teacher or another. It turned out that I knew the head of their math department – a male teacher whose first year of teaching was my 8th grade year. He helped out with the math club when I was a student, and – in the words of the assistant principal – “he’d be thrilled to have you on his team!”

My alma mater wasn’t conducting second round interviews until one week later, and when I explained the fact that I had to make a decision about my Land*** offer by Monday, they nodded in understanding. “Well, you’ll definitely be getting a call back, but we can’t push up the timeline, so it’s up to you if you want to take the offer in hand or hold off and come to our final round interview.”

I walked away feeling pretty confident in my decision. Although some people might like working in their former junior high school, to me it felt a bit odd, like I was moving backwards in life to a place where I spent my most awkward years. Still further, even if I went to final round interviews, there was no guarantee I’d get the job. I would take the offer from Land*** and forgo further interviews with my alma mater.

My second of three interviews with junior highs that morning went fine but not great. The interviewer was a young math teacher who was not warm and friendly but also not cold and distant; she was just going through the motions, and the interview felt somewhat rote. I wrote off the rote interview and moved on to my last interview of the day: an open math teacher position at Ul**** Intermediate.

Petite Firecracker.jpgI liked the principal from the moment I shook her hand. A petite blonde with a pixie cut and energetic personality, the principal herself was the one to interview me. Like me, she had entered the world of education after working in industry, and we hit it off immediately. She loved all of my responses to her interview questions, and before long, we were going off script. “You know,” she began, “with your engineering background and creative interests, I’m actually thinking you would be a great fit for our new robotics program. This will be our first year to implement robotics at Ul****, and it will just be one class period, but would you be interested in teaching one class of robotics as well as math?”

I was ecstatic. What a fun opportunity! To get to teach a brand new program and make it my own, combining my love of math with hands-on creativity? It sounded perfect, especially when I remembered that Seth had taken 2nd place at a national robotics competition in college. I knew he would love to be a guest speaker and come help the kids with their projects.

When our time was up, the principal told me that her one concern – my heart sank – was “that I’ll lose you to another school.”

Relieved, I smiled; then laughed and added, “Funny you should mention that…” I explained about the offer from Land*** and that I needed to give them an answer by Monday.

“I was afraid of that,” she said with what I’d come to learn was her usual intensity. She leaned forward, elbows on the desk. “You’re a catch, Aurora. And I think you know that. You’d be an asset to any school you choose – and you can have your pick of districts. What you need to decide is what you want. Do you want to be at – ” she named my alma mater “- where all the kids are upper middle class? Or do you want to be at Land*** and a Title I school?”

Leslie explained to me that Ul**** has a mix of students from all walks of life. Some students came from mansions, others live on farmland, and still others come to school from trailer parks across the tracks. “It’s a mix, and that’s part of what I love about this school.” She added that she wasn’t sure she could get me an offer by Monday, but she was going to try.

“There are hundreds of people here,” she told me, “And you’re the only one I’ve wanted to give an offer to on the spot. I want you, but I don’t have an official offer to give yet. But I can tell you that it is coming – if not by Monday, then definitely by Tuesday.”

I thanked Leslie for her candor and let her know the feeling was mutual. “I know having good administration is absolutely key, and I think I would really enjoy working for you.”

Leslie shook my hand, told me we’d be in touch, and then – on my way out to my car – my phone rang. It was Leslie, asking if I was still around to meet the district’s Head of HR. I turned back around and met up with Leslie and the Head of Human Resources who reassured me that working for Leslie would be a dream job and that he could personally back the fact that an offer would be in my hands by Tuesday if not Monday. “You must be quite a catch for Leslie to be so impressed by you and willing to give you an offer on the spot!”

True to their word, I had an offer on Monday afternoon. So that Monday – April 3, my last day of an eight-year career in oil & gas – I sat in a corporate conference room, called Land*** to turn down their offer, and called Leslie to accept her offer as a 7th grade Pre-AP Math teacher for the 2017-2018 school year.

Mere hours later, I walked out of that corporate skyscraper for the last time ever. I walked out into the sunlight, never unemployed for a single moment, and marveled at the perfection of God’s timing. Our omniscient, omnipotent God is so intimate and compassionate toward His creation. He truly is Jehovah-Jireh: God our Provider.

Authentically Aurora

Seeking my “Timothy” (Part 4)

Phone Interview

At the very end of March, going into my last weekend of being employed in oil & gas procurement, I had one job offer teaching 8th grade math at Land*** and another interview scheduled with a second S***** Branch junior high school. Having agreed to give an answer to the Land*** principal by Monday, April 3rd (which happened to be my last day of work), I went into hyperdrive.

I called both W***er junior highs (where Seth hoped I would teach out in the country), called ******* Christian High School (where Dani had given me an “in” with the principal), and I reached out to the other S***** Branch junior high to try to bump up my interview with them. I wanted to keep all my options open and make the best decision possible.

I really liked Land*** initially, enjoying my interactions with the assistant principal at the job fair and loving my interview with the principal and two of the other teachers on the interview panel. But the third teacher – the head of the math department and my possible partner teacher – seemed like she would be very unpleasant to work with, and I suspected she was the reason the position was open. Another point of consideration was the fact that the school was very old, rundown and decrepit (as well as a Title I school). I felt badly counting this against Land***, but if I was honest, I figured it would be a smoother transition into teaching without these added barriers to success.

After spending most of my Thursday afternoon calling around to touch base with each of my other open teaching opportunities, I was surprised when the end of Friday came and I hadn’t heard back from either of the W***er junior highs or the other S***** Branch school. The only school that made any effort over the 48 hour period was ******* Christian High School, where a kind administrative assistant spent a significant amount of time speaking with me, praying with me, and setting up a phone interview with their principal for Friday afternoon.

I felt loved, appreciated and encouraged through my interactions with ******* Christian High School, which just stirred up my excitement about the possibility of teaching at a private school where I could openly share my faith with my students and be supported by other teachers and administration who shared my beliefs and values. My interview with the principal went well, although he was more stilted and formal than I expected, not coming off over the phone as warm and friendly as either his assistant or the principal of Land***.

Especially after my God-orchestrated meeting with Dani, I half expected to be a shoe-in to this private Christian school, but the principal’s first comment to me during my phone interview was, “So, looking at your resume… you don’t have any teaching experience?”

Flustered, I pointed out that – as outlined in my resume – I spent one semester volunteering to teach art at an after school program, another semester coaching a math club, three years teaching Sunday school at church, and had been substitute teaching since October. “But you are correct that I don’t have any formal, full-time teaching experience.”

He asked about what math courses I took in college, asked if I’d be competent and comfortable teaching calculus, and also mentioned a new engineering program with hands-on projects that he would expect me to be able to teach if I were hired. He asked about my beliefs and faith background; my testimony; why I wanted to teach. I explained that I believe everyone needs a Barnabas and a Timothy. The Apostle Paul had a mentor in Barnabas and a mentee in Timothy, and I believe each of us as Christians should follow suit. I am currently in a women’s mentoring program at church where I am poured into by older women, but as of now, I’m still looking for my “Timothy”, and I would view my students as my ministry and collective “Timothy”.

Overall, the ******* Christian principal seemed satisfied with my answers, adding near the end, “This has been helpful for me. Anyone can write the right answers on their application, but hearing you explain your answers over the phone gives me a better feel for who you are.” He agreed to give me an answer by Monday morning so that I could make a decision about Land***, and by the end of the day Friday, I had decided that if ******* Christian offered me a job, I would take it, but otherwise, I was content to teach at Land***.

With a job offer in hand – and potentially another one coming Monday – I was emotionally checked out from continuing to interview and job search, but my mom called me Friday night to make sure I was still planning on attending the Kl*** ISD career fair the next morning. I personally attended K-12 in Kl*** ISD, and my parents were excited about the possibility of having me teach in the suburbs near where they still live.

“You could move in with us to help you save on rent,” my mom offered, but we both know that would be detrimental to our otherwise loving relationship, and I told her so. “Well, the house next door is for sale,” she suggested as an alternative. “You could move in next door to us, and that way you wouldn’t have to see us every day.”

I knew she meant well, but the more we talked, the less I wanted to attend the Kl*** ISD career fair the next morning. I felt like my mom was pushing it on me, and I tend to buck when I sense something being forced on me. But, partly to keep the peace and partly to finish strong and explore every possible teaching opportunity, I planned to wake up early the next morning to attend one last career fair.

Authentically Aurora

Discernment Required (Part 3)

Teaching Panel Interview.png

On March 23rd, I’d attended the S**** Branch career fair, but at the time I was dealing with all of my anxiety over my three H*****y Public Schools interviews, I still hadn’t heard anything at all from the S**** Branch schools I’d visited at their career fair.

Of the eight junior high schools in S**** Branch, there were two schools that seemed like the best fit for me. I enjoyed the administrators I’d met at their career fair booths, they had math teaching openings, and I felt like I’d be a natural fit in the culture of these two schools. But I hadn’t heard anything back…

…until Monday, the day after Dani prayed with me at church. I’d just turned down the three H*****y interviews when my phone rang, and it was the principal of one of my two favorite S**** Branch schools. They wanted me to interview on Wednesday, and I was ecstatic.

A few hours later, my phone rang again, and it was the principal of the other S**** Branch school I’d hoped to hear from. We scheduled an interview for the following weekend. Of the eight schools in that district, there were two I liked, and those are the exact two schools who offered me interviews. Amazing. But I didn’t get those two interview opportunities until after God convinced me to operate by faith, turning down the H*****y interviews and trusting Him to provide.

He’s teaching me a lot about faith these days; releasing control and trusting Him rather than trying to do everything in my own power. In this season of life, God is clearly teaching me about the futility of my own efforts and that I should instead declare and embrace and celebrate my dependence on Him! Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus… And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4).

That Wednesday, I went to Land*** to interview, and – short version – it went great. I loved the principal, a fun-loving, high-energy man in his late 40s. Two of the other teachers on the interview panel were equally fun and engaging. We laughed and talked for nearly an hour, and I felt like I fit right in. After a while, it stopped feeling like an interview and just seemed like a conversation with new friends.

But near the end of our time together, a third teacher came in. This heavyset middle-aged woman shuffled in with a grumpy look on her face and an irritable demeanor. She was introduced to me as the head of the math department and the woman who would be my partner teacher if I took the open position as Land***’s new 8th grade math teacher. She only asked me one question during the interview: “If you had an issue with someone on staff – ” she laughed unhappily, “- let’s be honest, if you had a problem with ME – how would you handle that?”

Somewhat taken aback by the question and her tone, I explained that I think open communication is key and that I would want to sit down and talk through the issue with her directly, making sure she felt heard and that we both had an opportunity to explain ourselves. I’d asked the principal earlier in the interview the reason the position was open, and he said evasively that the prior teacher had decided Land*** wasn’t a good fit. After meeting the math chair, I suspected it had something to do with this woman.

At the end of the interview, the principal walked me out, shaking my hand and telling me pointedly, “You did great in there.” He gave me a knowing look and said, “I know you’d be a great asset to our team. My assistant principal who spoke with you at the career fair said you were an amazing candidate, and you proved her right today. We’ll be in touch. You can expect to hear from me by the end of the week.”

But he didn’t make me wait until the end of the week. I was still working in corporate procurement at the time, having given my two weeks’ notice but not yet reached my last day of April 3rd. So when the Land*** principal called me a few hours later, my phone was on silent, and I missed the call. He left me a simple voice message asking me to call him back. Since I didn’t get the message until after 5pm, I decided to wait to call until the next morning during work hours, but when I logged into my email the next morning around 7:30am, I already had a follow-up email from the principal. “Good morning! I wanted to let you know that the interview committee thoroughly enjoyed visiting with you yesterday. Can you please call me regarding the position at your earliest convenience?”

Surprised at his persistence, I called as soon as I finished my morning meetings, stepping into a private conference room about 9am. “Hi, this is Aurora. I’m returning your call about the 8th grade math position at Land***.”

“Aurora! Great to hear from you!” The principal’s magnetic personality filtered across the phone line. “I just wanted to let you know that we all agreed yesterday that with all the interviews we’ve done, you were the bright shining star that clearly stood out from the rest. There was no competition. We know that you would be an amazing addition to our team here at Land***!”

“Wow, thank you so much! That’s great to hear,” I replied with a smile.

“Yes, we are excited about the possibility of having you join our team,” he added, pausing for me to reply.

“Thanks. The feeling is mutual. I really enjoyed meeting you guys yesterday. It was a great conversation.”

“So…” the principal paused, seeming to be confused at my response. “To be clear, I’m calling to make you a job offer.”

“Thanks,” I said again. I wasn’t sure what he expected me to say. I appreciated the glowing review, reiterated again and again, but I was waiting for him to lead us into an “offer” conversation. I’ve worked in procurement for eight years, and I expected him to outline the scope of the offer.

We were both dancing around the offer at hand, and our circular conversation started to get stilted and awkward. I didn’t understand why the principal wasn’t directing the conversation toward outlining my proposed salary, start date, professional development I’d be expected to do over the summer, benefits information and the like.

“So…” the principal hesitated, his initial enthusiasm starting to fizzle at the sudden awkwardness of the conversation. “Do you accept?” he asked finally.

I laughed uncomfortably. “Accept what? We haven’t outlined the terms of the offer.”

“Um… what do you mean?” he seemed confused that there was more to be said than just “I’m making you an offer of employment at my school. Do you accept?”.

“I mean, we haven’t discussed salary and benefits. I don’t know the scope of the role and the associated terms.”

“Salary and benefits are public information and can be found on the district website,” he told me, seeming exasperated and perturbed by the direction of the conversation. Was he second-guessing offering me the job? I really liked the principal initially, but I was shocked by what I viewed as his lack of professionalism.

“Okay, great. I’ll have to take a look at that,” I told him, assuming he understood this meant I needed some time to review the district website, but he pressed me again, “So… do you accept?”

I laughed uncomfortably again. “Well, I’d like some time to review the district website. I realize salary and benefits are standard across the district and don’t vary much between districts, but I would still like to do my due diligence.” I was going to ask for two weeks to make my decision, which is standard in my industry, but the principal pushed me again, “Can you give me an answer by Monday?”

Monday was my last day of work at the corporate oil & gas company where I’d worked for eight years. I’d given my two weeks’ notice without so much as an interview, and now I had a job offer with a principal asking me to make a decision by the very Monday that would be my last day of work at a career that had held me for almost a decade.

I agreed to have an answer by Monday, and I was amazed at the way God worked out the timing. But then again, that’s the character of our God. He stirs up amazement, awe and wonder in those who know Him and follow His leading. He was just waiting on me to take a leap of faith.

Authentically Aurora

 

Provision Through Prayer (Part 2)

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“Are these high-tech engineering charter schools the only ones who will hire someone like me?” I wondered to myself. After attending three job fairs – and feeling like I’d had successful conversations at each – only H*****y Public Schools had called me back for interviews.

This charter school system focuses intensely on math and science curriculum as early as elementary school, so I understood why they would be interested in a career engineer transitioning into teaching. But after everything I’d read about H*****y and the sense of darkness I’d felt at the career fair, I was distraught at the thought that they may be my only chance to start teaching in the fall.

“Would I rather teach at a H*****y school or be unemployed?” This was the question I mulled over for the 24 hours following the career fair. And I was seriously considering unemployment. “I could continue substitute teaching. The pay isn’t great, and I wouldn’t have healthcare benefits, but I could find something to bridge the gap.”

My anxiety was doubled when I found out that the H*****y interviews were teaching a 20-minute lesson in front of an actual class, while the school principal looked on to evaluate your teaching style, ability and effectiveness. I’ve volunteered to teach math and art over the years, and I’ve been substitute teaching on and off since October, but to be under the microscope on how I teach for purposes of an interview had me nearly breaking out in hives.

Thankfully the H*****y career fair was on Saturday morning, so I took comfort that the very next day I would be surrounded by loving encouragement at my church where I would get to fight my anxiety and hopelessness with truth and prayer, buoyed by the hope and peace of fellowship with my church community.

Saturday night – hours after the career fair – Seth and I babysat for Crisitin again. We love watching her four kiddos; it brings us joy and is one of our favorite date night activities. While Seth talked with Cristin’s husband in the moments before the couple left for the evening, Cristin and I caught up about my job situation. She’s a great listener and patiently listened as I poured out my heart regarding H*****y and the other schools I’d hoped to interview with.

When I finished, Cristin gave me a hug, prayed for me and asked me gently, “Do you think you’re supposed to go to those H*****y interviews? Even though you don’t have any other interviews lined up, it’s okay to turn them down if you have this much unrest about them. Not every open door needs to be walked through. There’s wisdom in knocking on doors of opportunity, but there’s also wisdom in being discerning about when to say no. God is going to provide and put you where He wants you.” She encouraged me to pray and ask God for direction specifically about whether to put myself through going to the H*****y interviews or to just walk away.

At the end of our services, my church has a time set aside where anyone needing prayer can come to the front and talk with a prayer partner. Every week, dozens of people come forward to receive counsel, encouragement and words of truth spoken into the lies they’ve been believing. The week prior, the sermon topic covered finances and being a good steward of all we’ve been blessed with by God. During prayer time following this sermon on financial stewardship, many people went forward for prayer regarding their financial situations. Whether praying for peace to battle anxiety over a financial situation, requesting provision to have financial needs met or something else entirely, everyone was welcome.

Although our pastor didn’t tell anyone to give financially, that week I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to be the answer to someone’s prayer. I have received bountifully from the Lord, and I believe everything I’ve been given has been given with a purpose. I want to walk out the good purposes God prepared in advance for me to do, and I believed that morning there was someone God wanted me to bless with an outpouring of generosity, not to glorify myself but to glorify God and be a reminder to someone that God still provides; God still hears prayers, and He is swift to answer – sometimes through His people and sometimes supernaturally.

I wanted to be an encouragement to someone through very practical means, so that Sunday morning I went forward and was redirected to an associate pastor who, the next day, connected me with a widow who is struggling to make ends meet as she tries to raise two children by herself. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you (James 1:27). 

Fast forward one week to the Sunday after my H*****y career fair; the day after Cristin reminded me that not every open door needs to be walked through. I don’t typically go up for partner prayer during worship time at church, but my spirit was so tumultuous within me that I dashed up the aisle almost before the sermon was over. I knew most of the prayer volunteers, and I wanted to meet with someone new – someone who could offer a fresh perspective without having their words colored by what they already knew of me.

Prayer PartnerI saw a young woman with long, brown hair standing up front and made a beeline for her. She looked about my age with kind eyes and a warm smile. When I approached her, she reached out her hands to take mine and squeezed them gently when I introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Aurora.”

“I’m Dani.” She hugged me as I leaned forward to speak into her ear about my situation, projecting my voice over the sound of the worship music playing behind us. When I finished explaining, I pulled back and was surprised to see delight on her face. “I’m not sure if you noticed,” she said, rubbing her belly, “But I’m pregnant and taking some time away from work this fall. I’m a 9th grade math teacher at ******* Christian High School. You should take my job.”

I was stunned. Dani’s eyes danced joyfully as I gathered my thoughts. “I’m not certified for high school,” I told her, still marveling at her words.

“That’s okay,” she told me with a wave of her hand. “I’m not either. It’s private school, so your certification doesn’t matter that much.” I told her my background and current teaching certification, and she told me that I’d be perfect for the job.

“I’ve been trying to help my principal find the right replacement for me,” Dani explained. “I’m so glad God brought you to me. Here’s my contact information,” she scribbled her name, number and email address on a piece of paper she pulled from her purse. “Send me your resume, and I’ll make sure my principal sees it.”

“Wow. Thank you so much!” I floated back to my seat, Dani’s paper gripped in my hand. She’d given me a job opportunity, but more than that, God had used Dani to give me hope again. I wasn’t relegated to teaching at a public charter school with discriminatory practices. There were other opportunities out there. I was free to say no to H*****y.

Just as God had worked through me to answer the prayer of a widow the week before, God had worked through Dani to remind me of His provision. Whether this job at ******* Christian High School panned out or not, it was a reminder to me that God is able to do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine. He’s a good, good Father who loves to give good gifts to His children.

Authentically Aurora

A Trifecta of Job Fairs (Part 1)

career-fairs

The past week month has been a whirlwind! Starting back in March when I gave my two weeks’ notice, I wanted to chronicle my search for a teaching job, but SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED that I’ve been drowning in an influx of stories I wanted to tell with no time to actually sit down and do my story telling!

Let’s start at the beginning. On March 5th, I went to my first teaching career fair ever. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Seth was rooting for it to go well. Of course he wanted all of my career fairs to go well, but he had particular interest in this one because W***er is a school district situated far out in the country away from town, and Seth can’t wait to get out of the city.

So I showed up in a black pant suit with a bright blue top and matching earrings, portfolio in hand and covered in prayer. When I walked in the door, I was greeted by school cheerleaders who directed me down the hallway to registration. The woman at registration welcomed me warmly and, when I admitted it was my first job fair, she cheerfully explained the layout of the cafeteria where I would see various booths, each representing a school where I could interview that day.

They’re interviewing today?! I hadn’t been mentally prepared for that, and Seth was really hoping for me to land a job out there in W***er. I walked down the hallway to the cafeteria, taking my time and collecting myself. Student artwork was posted along the walls of the corridor, so I took some time to look over them. I love art, and there were some really talented kids at this school.

“They’re talented, aren’t they?” I heard a friendly baritone voice behind me. I turned and found a tall man in his fifties, temples just starting to grey and a smile on his face.

“They certainly are. This one is my favorite.” I gestured to a portrait of a black horse with farmland in the background. The man beside me studied it a moment, agreed, and turned to shake my hand. He introduced himself; then added, “I’m the Director of HR here at W***er.”

“Oh! Nice to meet you.” He and I spoke at length about my background, why I want to teach, what I want to teach, and what I could expect at W***er ISD. At the end of our informal conversation, he shook my hand again and said simply, “I hope we get you. I know talent when I see it, and I know you would be a great asset to any school you choose. I hope it’s us.”

Stunned, I smiled and thanked him; then I floated through my interviews with the two junior high schools in W***er. Everyone was kind and friendly; warm and welcoming. I genuinely enjoyed my interviews, and I was surprised to find that I could honestly see myself working out there in W***er.

That Sunday after church, Seth was so excited about the possibility of my teaching out in W***er that he suggested we drive out “just to look around the area… you know, to get a feel for what could be.” He drove us around the school and stadium; then he surprised me by driving us through neighborhood after neighborhood, looking at houses and starting a discussion with me about what I liked and didn’t like about each style. We were both pleased with the big lots of land – an average of about 6 acres per house – as well as the affordability of being so far out in the country. Seth timed how long it would get him to get to work (35 minutes), and at the end of that afternoon together, we each agreed with beaming expressions that we could envision raising a family out there. “This could be a nice home for us.”

My second job fair wasn’t until nearly three weeks later on March 23rd. By that time, I’d already given my two weeks’ notice to the major oil & gas company where I’d worked the prior eight years. At the time I turned in my resignation, I didn’t have any job offers yet. I didn’t even have any interviews! And going into this second job fair, for the first time, I started to consider the possibility that I might not land a teaching job for August and the start of the school year.

I’d tried to leave that OG company countless times, but nothing ever seemed to work out. I was trying to be wise and prudent and not give my two weeks’ notice until I had another job offer in hand. Everyone told me it was foolish to quit a job until you had another job lined up. So I stayed. And stayed. For EIGHT YEARS. Last February, I even had an offer from a consulting firm and was getting ready to quit, but oil prices tanked, and the job offer got revoked just days before I gave my two weeks’ notice. It was exhausting and frustrating, and finally this year, I decided to forget trying to be “wise” and “prudent”. I decided to take a leap of faith instead, trusting that God would provide a job for me.

So on March 20th, I gave my two weeks’ notice with no job offers on the table and no interviews in sight. I was disappointed not to have heard back from W***er, and I was nervous about my upcoming career fair at S***** Branch. But I just kept praying for God to provide the right job at the right school with the right students and the right administration.

The S***** Branch career fair on March 23rd was completely different from W***er. Immediately upon entering the building, I sensed the corporate atmosphere. It was obvious I was back in the city. There were no peppy cheerleaders greeting me; instead I was faced with polished, professional adults in full suits handing out pamphlets with no smiles on their faces. The lines to speak to each school were longer, and most of the principals were ruthless. There were no private interviews like there had been at W***er. Principals talked to applicants right there in the gym in front of everyone else waiting in line, and one of the applicants in front of me was pummeled by an overly aggressive principal on a power trip.

“Why should I hire you? My math teacher who is retiring has had 95% pass rates for all his students on state exams for the last decade. And look at this stack of resumes – look at it! I have sixty other resumes right here – ” he patted the stack triumphantly ” – of other applicants who want this job. Why should I give it to you?!”

It was a fair question, but the arrogance and abrasiveness with which the question was asked made me certain I didn’t want to work under that principal. These interviews go both ways, buddy, and you just failed mine.

At another school’s booth, the principal started off her questioning by asking me, “What makes you want to teach at an IB school?”

At first I thought she said “Ivy school”, like an Ivy league school. Then my brain registered that she’d said “IB”, and I knew I’d heard that before, but – being new to the world of education and having gone to a normal public school myself – I wasn’t sure what that meant.

“Sorry, an ‘IB’ school?”

She rolled her eyes at me. “You really should do your homework, shouldn’t you?” Her scorn was evident on her face and was dripping from her tone. “You don’t know what an IB school is?!”

I calmly gathered myself and retorted, “The reason I’m here is to learn about your school. So why don’t you tell me about what makes an IB school unique.”

She huffed and answered my question, but neither of us could wait for the exchange to be over. Another principal who failed this two-way interview. 

Of the eight junior high schools in S***** Branch, there were only two I’d consider working at. And I wasn’t sure how well either of them liked me. Was the feeling mutual? Time would tell.

Two days later, on March 25th, I went to my third teaching career fair. It was for a public charter school system called H*****y, and (learning from my interaction with the scornful principal at S***** Branch) I decided to research H*****y beforehand. I just Googled the name of the public charter school system, and I was stunned and disappointed to read article after article about how, for the duration of 2016, this school system was under investigation for preferential treatment and discrimination. Apparently it was started by a group of Turkish PhD students, and there were repeated cases of preferential treatment shown particularly to Turkish teachers.

I decided to attend the career fair anyway, having still not heard back from any other schools and becoming more discouraged by the day. But I regretted the decision immediately upon entering the school cafeteria where the booths were set up. I was definitely in the ethnic minority, and every teacher and administrator I interviewed with was a Turkish male. Unlike W***er or even S***** Branch, none of these interviewers ever smiled, and their eyes were dull and dark, without any joy or sparkle. I felt honestly creeped out the entire time I was there. I’m not overly charismatic, but my spirit definitely felt oppressed there, like I was surrounded by spiritual darkness.

I went ahead and interviewed at all three junior highs; then got out of there – back into the sunlight and open sky. A mere three hours later, I got the first of what would be three phone calls: All three junior highs wanted me to come back for second-round interviews. And my spirit sank.

Authentically Aurora