How could I have made such a terrible mistake?
Alicia sat on the doorstep of the old farmhouse, finally letting the tears of frustration, suppressed for two weeks, fall.
I thought this opportunity to go back to work, to teach in a truly Christian school, was a wonderful gift from you, Lord. But those Grade Tens….’
She sniffed and wiped her cheeks dry with the heel of her hand.
Sam had gone to a lot of trouble with the meal; a delicious spicy concoction of meat and vegetables.
Going back to work has uncovered this gift in him and revealed my deficiencies.
The kids left the table and Sam collected the dishes. ‘I don’t believe for one minute that you made a mistake. Promise me you’ll talk to Brian tomorrow.’
Brian’s door was open, declaring his availability. Alicia knocked and entered with two mugs of coffee. She sipped slowly; trying to get the words passed the lump that had formed in her throat.
I don’t want to leave, Lord, but what a fraud I’d be to stay.
The principal smiled. His boyish grin and lock of hair that persisted in falling over his right eye hid a razor sharp mind. He didn’t look at his watch or at the pile of work spilling over the edges of his IN tray. He just waited patiently for Alicia to unburden.
She didn’t think she’d ever be ready but eventually she blurted, ‘I’m sorry. I made a big mistake. I shouldn’t be here. I’m a hopeless teacher. Those Grade Tens, they’re walking all over me. I feel so impotent.’
Alicia’s mug, clasped between white knuckled hands, shook as she tried to hold in the emotions that battered to be loosed.
Brian leaned forward in his chair, smiling broadly. ‘They are not mean kids; some of them have tough issues to work thorough. Some are neglected and, frankly, some of those boys are just boys struggling with growing into men. Testosterone. Unfortunately for you, as a woman, you have to earn their respect.’
‘How? How do I do that?’
‘You have to love them, pray for them and confront their unruly behavior - make them accountable for it. You have to ensure your yes is yes and your no means no.’ He set his mug down. ‘Here are a few things that you should know about some of those kids.’
The bell rang for change of lesson. I needed to get to class. ‘Why didn’t you put me straight earlier?’
‘What would you have done last week if I’d called you in and told you how to do your job?’
I bowed my head, hiding a small smile.
‘You needed to make the first move. Don’t worry, though, if it had gotten too bad I would have intervened. Then you wouldn’t have bitten my head off, would you?’
We smiled at each other.
Shane always sat in front of the teacher’s desk. The tallest, bulkiest kid in the class and until five minutes ago, Alicia would have said the laziest. He never, ever, got his book out. In the whole year she taught him English – or rather tried to teach him English – his desk stayed clear. What use had he for irregular verbs and literary fiction when his father had recently died after a long struggle with cancer? But, because he did work for Alicia in Art, producing gruesome pictures that enabled some of the anger to leak out of his spirit, she didn’t press him to work in English.
Andrew’s situation was different. His parents pastored a church and were rarely home. He was just a wild kid who needed to learn some self discipline. Consequently, under Alicia’s supervision, he and his hormonal class mates and a few talkative girls, spent a lot of time catching up with work they failed to complete in class.
That was Alicia’s sacrifice; fewer lunchtimes in the staff room with her pears, fortifying herself with coffee and empty carbohydrates. Her reward: a growing love for the troubled and troublesome kids and a marked reduction in tension migraines.
She was twelve years in that school. Enough to see many of her students married and enrolling their own children. At one wedding Shane approached her, smiling broadly, hugged her and introduced his pretty fiancé. Eventually Alicia asked about Andrew.
‘He works with the Mission, homeless kids.’
Thank you, Lord, for Shane’s hug. I’m in the place you want me to be. Thank you.
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