by Diane Thrush
As I turned 40, the seasons of my life began to change. The years of staying home with young children were ending as my children approached middle and high school. I had done all the volunteer work I could find and find meaning in.
It was time to work outside the home and help my family financially. I had a perfectly good degree in education, and teaching offered the best job ever for a mom – the hours, the vacations, a schedule as close to my children’s schedules as possible in terms of working full time. And so off I went to teach school.
I found a job quickly in the barrio. No problem, I would teach whatever children came to me. What I was not prepared for, though, was how much public education had changed since I had taught before having children. Very quickly I was bored beyond belief with the rigidity and lack of creativity that I found teaching in Texas at that time. I hated my work, and going to school each day was a hard task for me, especially spiritually. I knew God had given me gifts to teach and a love of children, but there was little room in the classroom to exercise these gifts at that time in public education.
Then my principal created a special program in our school for children who by fourth grade were considered “At Risk.” All the programs for students designated as such were in middle and high school. She felt we were getting to them too late and that starting in 4th and 5th grade would get us ahead of the curve. I found myself completely drawn to this program – a call? Yes! Teachers were not clamoring to teach these kids, so I had the job for the next school year. And so I entered the mission field.
I co-taught these students with another teacher and a teacher’s aide. We were given a portable building out in the “back forty” of our campus. The water table was very high, and so with four drops of rain, we were in a lake. We had to use pallets to make a ‘bridge’ to walk on when the lake appeared so we didn’t wade ankle deep to get into the building. But, the good thing was that we were left alone out there. As we were told, no one liked our kids, so no one came out there unless they had to. We had more freedom than possible in a regular classroom, no more than 15 children in each class, and the ability to be as creative as we wanted.
Yes, these children had behavior problems. They had already failed once, most had limited English proficiency, extreme poverty, and virtually no role models. Now this was teaching I could get my teeth into. We were free to love on these children, set firm boundaries through an in- depth behavior modification system, and be very creative in the curriculum as we sought to find alternate ways to teach children who didn’t fit the learning mold. The understanding of how children learn was exploding at that time, and we sought to implement as many new practices in our classroom as we could. We took lots of field trips as our children had never been outside their barrio. We tried to show them another world. What was then Southwestern Bell started a mentoring program, and we were the first classes to have these professional men and women to mentor our children. I could go on and on in the many ways we found to intervene in the lives of these children.
God had shown me a way out of the boredom and frustration that a regular classroom was for me. God had given me a rich ministry to this special group of children. It was remarkably rewarding and I tried never to forget I was doing a ministry on the South side of San Antonio. Each day as I traveled across town to school, I prayed for my students and my partners by name. I prayed all the way home to leave behind the frustrations, heartaches, and angry words heard that day. I wore a bracelet that I could see and touch to remind me of the God who encircled me. I had special icons, some blatantly Christian, others not so obvious in my room to remind me whose mission I was on.
After 10 years in this program, new leadership arrived in the district. With dollar signs in their eyes they decided to eliminate our program because it was not “cost effective.” Good for students, yes, but the money could be spent in other ways. Facing the end of this program that meant so much to me, I realized my mission was at an end, my call to this special work was closing. I spent that whole last year praying for what my next call would be. Due to the timing in my family life, I was now free to think about God’s next call for me which might not include teaching school. By late spring, I knew that this season in my life was ending. I didn’t know what was next, but with prayer and guidance I dove off that diving board trusting God would direct me. I have always looked back at that time in my life with a sure and steady sense that I was living a call from God in the midst of an ordinary life – teaching school. It was indeed a remarkable season!
Diane Thrush is a retired chaplain and a member of
St. Luke’s, San Antonio. Reach Diane at firstname.lastname@example.org
The rest of the story:
After Diane left teaching, she went on to become a chaplain at Methodist Children’s Hospital in San Antonio.
Of that work, she says,
“I was at Methodist 12 years. And when I interviewed for the position at Children’s, I was asked what I thought gave me credentials to work there. I replied that I believed after 14 years of teaching school, I knew how to work with children and their parents. It turned out to be a huge benefit to my work. I knew how to interact with children, and I understood their developmental patterns. The staff at Children’s Hospital are specifically trained about children and these issues, and I brought that same training as a chaplain beyond the traditional chaplain training.
“I have said many times, everything I have done built upon what went before.”