The Fish that Swallowed Me

After four years of teaching in a small, inner-city k-8 school, I have been forced to move on. The school is turning over to become a traditional elementary school and all the middle school teachers have been displaced–each of us sent to another school.

Many of us teachers were against the split from the beginning. Our school had seen huge improvements over the years and if there was ever one thing that our students do not handle well, it’s change–especially change with regards to teachers.

We had seen it over and over again in the past four years. As long as a teacher stayed and worked hard with the students, they grew academically, socially, and in maturity. But whenever a teacher quit during the year (which happened multiple times every year), the class became unstable; the students distrustful of adults, and unmotivated to learn. The thought of moving them all to a new school with a whole new staff just seemed like guaranteed chaos.

When asked if I would transfer with the students to teach at the new school, I politely said, “I don’t know” and quickly searched all available options. There were a few schools I had connections with, and I contacted them to ask about available jobs. I rewrote my resume and attended the biggest job fair in the area where I was given on-the-spot interviews with more than one school.

It was there at the job fair that I ran into one of my coworkers who was going to transfer over to the new school and wanted me to come with. “These kids need our strong team,” she said. “It will be chaos, but I think it’s what’s best for the kids.”

“God will have to swallow me with a fish first,” I said. We laughed it off and I went back to collecting business cards and contact info for as many places as I could, but as soon as those words had come out of my mouth, I knew that God was going to make me regret saying them.

That was back in May.

I had so many promising options, but none of them went through. By June, I had come to realize that God really had swallowed me with a fish. I had run out of time to find a different school and had resigned myself to transferring with my students to the new school, bracing myself for the worst possible scenario.

Now it’s October.

Our “new” school is up and running in a “newly renovated” building from the 1950s. When this place was first constructed, it was a segregated school, and with the exception of a few students, it still feels like it is.

The staff was given a very short amount of time to learn the school building, the planned procedures and schedule, or even each other’s names before we opened for students at the end of August.

To add to the anxiety and chaos, the number of students enrolling in the school blew past the expectation by nearly 75 students. That’s three classes worth of students without any teachers to cover them!

My class sizes are nearing 30 students–with only 20% reading on grade level.

But in spite of all of that, I don’t feel the panic or helplessness that I did four years ago when I started teaching in the inner city. God has given me a peace about where I am. The best part of my day is when I see my previous students who stop by the 6th grade hall to say, “Hi.”

My days are long and my students are exhausting, but they’re not hardened or mean-spirited. When it comes down to it, they really want to learn and they get frustrated when something is keeping them from learning (like constant fights and chaos in the hallways).

I’m genuinely excited about teaching them this year, and I’m mad that I’m surprised by that. I should know by now that where God has me is where I’m going to be satisfied. It may not be easy–ever. But that’s never what He promised me.



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