When we turned up a school year without enough kindergarteners to justify a full teacher just for them, I was offered the opportunity to “float.” A number of my previous class of kindergarteners needed speech therapy; would I continue the work I had begun with them the year before? Sure. Because of my interest in writing (I don’t remember how they knew about that), would I be willing to teach a time slot three days a week of creative writing to the fifth and sixth graders? I would. Besides, interestingly enough, I had taught several of them in kindergarten a few years before. In addition, I could be available to be something that was a luxury to that setting—a substitute teacher within the school system itself.
That year worked out well, and in the course of it I substituted in almost every grade, including what we then called junior high. Meanwhile, the visa situation became tighter, and it didn’t look hopeful for securing enough teachers for the following year. During break times in the teachers’ room, we would joke about the first grade teacher covering K-2, the one who then had 3-4 would cover 3-5—and Esther Gross would cover 6-8! We all laughed together.
Then one day our principle (by then a personal friend, of course) called me in privately and said, “We’ve been joking about taking different classes next year. Would you consider teaching 7-8?” She wasn’t kidding. I said I’d have to think about it.
My teaching certificate covered K-8, so no problem there. But those two grades were different from kindergarten in more than just student ages. For one thing, they were a double grade. Both grades were taught in the same room by the same teacher. That of course was not a new concept in American education, but I had no experience with it. When I had subbed in those classes, I did okay. Maybe . . . If they could find someone else to teach math and science, I could probably handle English, social studies (ancient and American history), and Bible.
But . . . but . . . what if I couldn’t handle it? What if I “blew it”? What if I did a horrible job? As I thought and prayed about it, God had a message for my heart. If this was something He wanted me to do, then my task was to obey and do it. The consequences—how it turned out—were His problem. So I agreed.
Remember the kindergarteners I had again in grades 5-6 for creative writing? Many of them were now in junior high, so I taught them once again—and at the end of the school year, the principal gave me the pleasure of handing them their eighth-grade diplomas.
I don’t remember when I noticed that God again “grew me into” the job He had for me. I had decided to become a kindergarten teacher after I had children of my own that age. And what did I have now? Children of the age I was being asked to teach. My youngest would be an eighth grader in my class. Junior highers were not the terror to me that they had been years before when my only experience was with little ones.
And what that rule that students had to call their teacher “Mrs.” even if she was their mother? I remember fretting some about that over the summer. How hard would be it be get my son to do that? It wasn’t that he was a difficult kid, but I never found the courage even to mention it to him. The new school year started. A couple of times, Don Paul called me Mom, but no one paid any attention.
Then one day he wanted my attention and couldn’t get it. After calling me Mom a couple of times, he tried “Mrs. Gross.” His classmates busted out laughing. So . . . that was the way it was, was it? Apparently at that age, his classmates expected him to call me “Mom.” Anything else was strange and comical. The rest of the year proceeded without any further attention to the matter, and I never breathed a word about it to the principal. I wonder if now, thirty years later, I should refer her to this blog . . . .
After nine school years in Colombia, we ended up back in the U.S. for good. I continued working with the Children’s Education Department another sixteen years, writing curriculum and later doing layout and editing of newsletters that went to our people overseas. I did some moonlighting teaching English skills to students in a community college, and eventually I taught fellow missionaries in many workshops.
So my teaching career ended up (with the exception of high school) spanning from kindergarten through adults. It has been humbling to watch God lead me step by step and give me joy all along the way. I enjoyed each thing I did, yet when God nudged me on to something else, I never looked back with regrets.
And to think I started out not knowing I would like to be a teacher!