I’ve been working through Priscilla Shirer’s Bible study, Jonah Navigating a Life Interrupted. Priscilla talks about turning life’s interruptions into divine interventions. You see, Jonah saw God’s command to go to Ninevah as an interruption to the direction his life was going. He didn’t want to go to Ninevah. He wanted to stay in Israel. But, when Jonah finally submitted to God’s direction, God did a mighty work through it.
As I’ve pondered this idea of viewing life’s interruptions with new eyes, I’ve had the opportunity to practice. Just a couple of days before school started, I received an email that J’s mom had requested an IEP meeting which was to occur at 2:00 pm the day before school was to start. My first reaction was irritation. I even complained, “I’ve got a plate full of tasks to get done. I do not need this interruption now. Can’t this meeting wait?”
Well the meeting was not going to wait, so off I went. J. is new to our school. He has learning disabilities and struggles with articulation, which makes him difficult to understand. I sat there as his mom shared about his past school experiences, which were filled with trauma and difficulty. In first grade he would get frustrated because he didn’t understand what was being taught. He didn’t understand how to do the assigned work and reading wasn’t making sense to him. He tried to communicate his difficulty, but his teacher could not understand him. He would shut down, putting his head on his desk and refusing to work. The teacher would try to coax him out of it, or force him out of it, until he became so overwhelmed he bolted out of the classroom. The principal would track him down and when he refused to go back into the classroom, she would call the police. Why she didn’t call his parent, I don’t know, but here would come a big, tall police officer in his dark uniform staring down at J. who had no way to speak for himself. Even if he tried, the officer couldn’t understand him.
This scenario repeated itself 3 times that year. Finally, his mom pulled him out of school and home-schooled him to the best of her ability. He made some progress, but it was obvious that his learning needs were great. In 2nd grade she decided to try again with similar results. Every time he shut down, the principal kicked him out of school and eventually his mom took matters into her own hands and back to home schooling he went.
They moved across town and decided to try again. We sat in that meeting and my mind was whirling in several different directions. Talk about an interruption! My classroom was already full of several high-maintenance students and now here was J. What was I going to do? Like it or not, I was stuck with him. Then I remembered Jonah. Here was my opportunity. Was I going to see this as an interruption or a divine opportunity to be used by God?
Later that afternoon I met J. for the first time. Fortunately his mom was with us so that I could understand more of what he was saying to me. One of the first things he said to me was, “I can’t read.”
I looked at him and said, “That’s okay. I don’t want you to worry about your reading. You leave that up to me. It’s my job to teach you how to read.”
We got to the classroom and I showed J. his desk and the little sticker chart that I had taped to it. I showed him how his day was divided into 5 smaller parts and explained how he could earn a sticker for each part of his day, and that 10 stickers would equal a reward. He smiled some. I knew he liked sticker charts from his summer school teacher.
He opened his desk and pulled out his math book. “That’s your math book,” I said. He grunted something that I didn’t understand. “Do you like math?” I asked.
“I don’t like big numbers,” he said.
“That’s okay,” I said. “We’ll start with little ones.”
Then J. took a step toward the window, turned around to face me, held up three chubby fingers and said, “I got kicked out of my old school three times.”
My heart broke. Here school hadn’t even started and he was already worried about being kicked out. I got right up close to him and said, “Look at me J. Are you looking? Pay close attention now because what I have to say is real important. I’m not going to kick you out J. You’re too special to kick out of my class. You get to stay all year. We might have some rough spots, but if we do, we’ll just work them out together. We’re going to have a great year.”
I looked up and saw tears welling up in his mom’s eyes. We chatted a bit more and then he departed. As he and his mom walked away I prayed, “God help me.”
“He needs to feel safe,” was the reply.
“Okay Lord. Help me to help J. feel safe. Help me to make school a safe place for him.”
J.’s first day was fabulous. He ran out to meet his mom after school and his first words were, “I didn’t get kicked out.” Then he went on and on and on about our day, talking so fast that his mom could only understand about half of what he was saying. His last words of that conversation were exuberant, “And I’m going back tomorrow!”
J. has actually done a few assignments independently. That’s a first for him. His IEP says that he refuses to do any paper pencil tasks. He’s done every task I’ve asked and has even participated in partner and group sharing that has required him to talk to others. The students are rising up to be supportive and caring and J. and I are getting along. Will we have some rough moments at some point? Probably, but we’ll work through them.
Another teacher told me about a conversation she had with J.’s grandfather. He said, “J. told me, ‘Grandpa, my teacher likes me.’” He said here he was a 60-year-old man crying great big crocodile tears.
I don’t know how things will play out with J., but he’s right, I do like him. Just this week the school psychologist told me that J. qualifies for special day class. The special day class at our school is 4th-6th only. J. is in 3rd grade so he would have to go to a different school for the special education class. Tears flowed down my cheeks and I said, “No, he can’t go. He doesn’t need another new school. He’s had too many bad experiences already. I want to keep him. He can go to special day class next year when he won’t have to change schools. I’ll do my best with him, but please let him stay. He needs a good year in the same class.”
The psychologist handed me a tissue and said, “We were hoping you’d feel that way because that’s what we were thinking as well.” Never did I think that I would actually beg for a special education child to be in my class, but God’s doing something here. He’s given me a divine opportunity with J. and I don’t want to pass it up.”