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"NO OFFENSE MISS JOANNE, but you should really work on your raps." Well, of course I should. I don't even like rap. But Jose, one of my inherited fourth grade students, seemed to think it necessary for my survival in Camden, New Jersey to be culturally adept in the music scene. All I was trying to do was create an interesting way for the children to absorb the information. Based on their vocabulary test scores, and despite Jose's criticism, I'd say it worked.
Two weeks ago I wouldn't have been alone in front of a classroom of 18 nine- and ten-year-olds. I was an aide in this classroom — the nice one. I went from desk to desk helping stragglers with problems scribbled on blackboards and enlightening inquiring minds with the spelling of words such as amphibian. When an educator suddenly took medical leave, and the fourth grade instructor was indefinitely bumped to that class, I was asked to step up as the new fourth grade teacher for the remainder of the month. I took the job.
I have gratefully adopted the philosophy that it is only through challenge and an occasional bit of discomfort that we can discover ourselves more fully. The eight full days that I've spent in the loudest classroom at St. Anthony of Padua School have taught me to trust in God to create a purpose from the chaos into which I had been thrown. The behavior of attention-deprived, hyperactive, prepubescent children provoked a need for discipline, organization, and leadership. God equipped me with the necessary skills and rescued me by softening my heart to the reasons these kids act as they do. Just observing their actions could send any substitute unable to see beyond the disarray running for the door, but it has drawn me closer to each of the students' hearts and permitted, for me, a glance into each of their personal lives.
Next week sometime I will be serving my last day. I won't be bringing in 2007 as a full-time teacher, and I'll be able to resume my role as the aide in the classroom. It will be tough to hand them back over, just as it will be to leave all of my Camden ministries down the road, but I can check teaching off my list of things to try. I'm now a little less fearful, somewhat more daring and undoubtedly reassured that God will never place upon His children any burden too heavy, any task too daunting.
Now I ask for your prayers and support as I move into my next adventure — learning to rap, of course.
• Joanne, Camden '06−'07, '07−'08
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