Welcome to part 3 of Lessons from Substitute Teaching: How a Job Helped Me Lose My Selfishness. If you missed part of the series, click here for part 1 on My identity in Christ and here for part 2 on Do Something You Can’t Do Well.
Joe’s shirt was dirty, always. And he sat in the back corner, doing his work, quiet. The kind of kid a sub adores. When he finished, he drew. Graffiti art. Always in black and white. He was good at drawing. It was obviously therapy. As the day progressed he would start telling me stories. With all the excitement a third grade could muster he would tell stories. My girls tell stories in the same breathless way about soccer, pets, funny things their dad does. This boy told me stories about new put-downs he learned from a sibling, fight moves from an uncle, headlocks and swear words. To my girls, I respond with excitement. To Joe, I had to ask him not to talk about those things because they were not kind.
On Friday, he picks up a backpack from the office. It is full of food that he can prepare himself–a way to make certain the boy can eat all weekend. The end of the day is the worst. Tony who sits in the opposite corner of the room, tries to make Joe angry. Having behaved himself all day, Joe has no self control left, he is an easy target. Joe moves rapidly into a world beyond reason. It is full of rage and anger. Almost too late, I realize that if both boys remain in the room there will be a fight. Quick movement and words prevent fist throwing, still, I lose Joe. He grabs Tony’s hat, throws it on the floor and grinds it into a pile of shoe dirt, then he runs out of the classroom.
There were two teachers, only I was a sub, in that computer lab full of kids when I looked up and saw a hormone driven boy, the kind who is laughably small and hasn’t grown into his arrogance yet, squeezing a girl close to him. Her name was Grace. And with foolish confidence the boy stared down Grace’s shirt and then took his hand and reached in to hold Grace’s breasts as she giggled. I put an end to the situation and sent the boy away with a follow-up note for the principal about the willing girl. I didn’t want to send them to the office together.
As a mom, I’ve worked hard to construct the daily world of my girls. Protecting them while they are young and while I can still teach them about Christ and what it means to follow him is important. Someday they will venture forth without my protection and it is my job to get them ready. I monitor and discuss friends, clothes, books they read, progress on schoolwork and chores and the attitudes they have when they do them. Daily we learn together about everything from nutrition to manners to the meaning of thwart and hold it all up against God’s standards. And because I have dwelt in this place of construction for so long, I can be self-focused or at best family-focused.
I know about the high unemployment in my city, about the crime, the drop out rates, and the general feeling of hopelessness that residents breath. But I am too busy in the world I construct to notice. And while constructing sometimes I linger in a place of pity, wishing I had a part time job or a better this or a different that.
Subbing is changing my selfishnes. I have new gratitude for the hope of Christ I can daily access, and for the freedom I have to spend my time on my family. Subbing has created a God-given heartache. Every time I sub, I meet kids, shining with the light of potential, who are making bad choices and getting dimmer. What happened to Joe that his rage is so powerful and that things he gets excited about are so evil? What happened to Grace that she is willing to let a mousy boy touch her in the middle of a classroom? Who is caring for these kids? Who is teaching them beyond the school walls? Who is constructing the world they experience? Who is praying for them? I don’t know. Maybe no one. So I do the only thing I can, expand my prayer list. The kids and the teachers in these local schools are now on my list. I know that no amount of money is going to fix the education of these kids. They need the hope of Christ. And I need a great love for the world around me.