BITTER SWEET 1971
“Kathy, look at all these resumes I’m sending out this weekend,” said Suzanne as she fanned a thick stack of envelopes. “These days you can’t depend on finding a job back home. You have to do your homework and find other city schools’ addresses in order to find one teaching position! Teachers are a dime a dozen, you know!”
I guess I looked at her dumbfounded because I couldn’t believe she had the extra time and money to do all that. With my schedule, I hardly had time to read and get my assignments in, let alone create a resume and find school addresses and extra cash to buy stamps. I smiled and congratulated her on her great accomplishment.
Later, my friend Carolyn gave me two addresses of schools looking for an elementary education teacher. It didn’t take long to write my short resume. On that warm fall evening my hands shook as I stood in front of the mailbox. I said a quick prayer as I squeezed the two letters to my chest:
LORD, you know I trust You to put me where you want me to teach. And, just between You and me, I know prayer trumps a hundred resumes.
Would you believe within a week I got an acceptance to teach fourth grade at Burnside Elementary outside of Somerset, Kentucky? They wanted me to come the last week in January to relieve the regular teacher for the rest of the school year. Meanwhile, my three roommates wagged their heads in unbelief at my good fortune. I didn’t say it, but I knew it wasn’t luck or good fortune!
I still had to do my student teaching block for the next three months before I went to Kentucky to teach fourth grade. I kept wondering why I had to wait four years before I did my actual practice teaching. I knew I loved being around children but what if I’m only a good babysitter and I end up being a lousy teacher?
At the beginning of my student teaching in a local school I was assigned to observe a boy named Delbert who was in fifth grade for the second time. The unkempt boy needed plenty of attention and help the teacher told me. While I observed and helped him I made a list of his strengths to better praise him and his weaknesses so I could help him. So he wouldn’t suspect, I helped other children as well. I was nicely surprised when he always accepted my correction with such a good, natured smile. My unprofessional guess was he was suffering from home neglect.
A month into my student teaching I still wasn't doing any student teaching. The teacher kept doing all the teaching while my jobs were reading the morning Bible story, checking attendance, collecting the lunch money, and only teaching Delbert. Either the teacher didn’t understand the student teaching block requirements or she was bound and determined that Delbert would pass fifth grade.
My disappointment in not practice teaching the whole class grew into silent anger. If I complained the teacher might think I was ungrateful and dismiss me and cost me my degree. I decided to accept the situation as it was because Delbert was worth it.
After the New Year I left my home in Ohio and drove the lonely, cold trip to Somerset, Kentucky. The next chapter of my life stood frigid like the hood ornament on my Pontiac; so close but out of reach! I was finally catching on that God was never in a hurry to answer most prayers! However, in a hopeful corner of my mind I was eager to see what God had up His sleeve behind door number two in Somerset.
Carolyn’s apartment was so tiny we spent most of our time over at her Aunt’s and Uncle’s big houses. I loved her cousins and they accepted me right away. I was especially fond of Carolyn’s cute cousin, Lee, who was a jokester and a flirt but I didn’t mind because he was younger so I didn’t take him seriously.
The day Carolyn returned to her teaching job at Pulaski High School, I sneaked over to Burnside Elementary School. It was freezing cold as my car sloshed through the wet snow. I slid into the school parking lot and parked near the front door. I smeared Chapstick over my dry lips. On purpose, I hadn’t call ahead to let them know I was coming. I figured they would discourage me from coming but, they didn’t know… I only had three weeks to learn how to teach.
The smell of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches reminded me I had not eaten. I ignored my growling stomach and quickly found the school office. I introduced myself and told the secretary I was there early to observe Mrs. Morrow’s class before she took her leave of absence at the end of January. The friendly principal welcomed and escorted me down to her room. Before I knew it I was meeting a pretty, middle-aged lady who put me at ease right away. Mrs. Morrow seemed appreciative I had come early to observe her class.
I was in seventh heaven as I watched this fantastic teacher teach her adorning students. I learned how to teach each subject and how to keep the distracted pupils focused! After a week she let me start teaching a new subject each day until I was teaching all day. Soon, she felt comfortable enough to leave a week early to take care of her sick husband.
I, Miss Wilcox, would be on my own teaching 24 fifth graders until the end of May. God had answered my prayer by letting me learn how to teach from the best teacher. I must have proved myself because she trusted me to take over her class!
I loved teaching and I loved the kids! After lunch and recess I would read a chapter book, or tell a joke, or sing Elvis songs like Old Shep or Love Me Tender. One Friday afternoon I had six fun centers set up around the room to review what we had learned that past week. Without notice, a woman from the school board knocked on my door and said she wanted to observe me teaching. I smiled and said that would be fine.
The noisy classroom made the woman frown but when I flipped the lights she was impressed how quickly the children got quiet. Had I known she was coming I would have had our usual structured class but this was FUN FRIDAY! All the classroom giggles and wiggles made her leave early.
I didn’t know blonde headed Randy was one of my favorite students until he challenged me one day by talking back to me for the fourth time. I told him to get the wooden paddle and wait for me in the hall. I gave the class an assignment then went to get the teacher next door as a witness.
Randy’s body language of fear almost cut my anger short until I saw his fake smile. I took the paddle from Randy and gave a short sermon on why talking back is wrong. I promised myself years ago I would never lecture a student or my own child like I had been lectured growing up.
“Yes, ma am, I won’t do it again”, Randy said with a quiver in his voice. My stomach trembled as I raised the paddle and gave the boy three hard whacks on the behind. He took it like a soldier and walked back into the classroom without a word. When I came in the classroom, Randy rose half-way off his seat, rubbing his behind. He announced to the class, “You all better obey our good teacher, Miss Wilcox, because I didn’t and my butt is still burning!” I was glad I never had to paddle another student. Randy’s parents were supportive that I had disciplined him for talking back. They said he was behaving much better at home because of it.
Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light. A yoke and a burden are heavy but with Christ in us they can feel easier and lighter! It means during the bitter, hard times we can lean on Jesus for strength until the sweet time comes again. During my recent knee surgery recovery I noticed this pattern. One day was bitter with pain. The next day sweet with longer sleep. Another day was dark and lonely; but, the next day someone called and cheered me!
What kind of bitter sweet have you noticed in your life? Share in the comments below. It may help somebody. Thanks.
Kathy M Storrie/author/writer