. . . (continued from yesterday)
So, while I was awaiting my Peace Corps country assignment (that never materialized), I knew a needed a job. As a side note, those three-odd months I spent unemployed were the worst. That was the longest I'd been without a job in years, and it drove me absolutely mad to have no shape to my day.
I looked on the USD 497 employment website and found that I was eligible for some jobs as a paraeducator. This is a really fancy name for a teacher aide. I applied, interviewed, and was accepted at Hillcrest Elementary. Working at Hillcrest was kind of a blast from the past. It wasn't my elementary school (sadly, Centennial closed while I was in college), but I knew lots of friends from high school that had gone there.
Most of my job at Hillcrest was to be a general assistant to Kim Walker, who taught first grade. I rotated around a bit, sometimes helping in kindergarten, sometimes in second grade, and always monitoring recess. I also spent some time each week one-on-one with a boy named Ziad who has autism. But the lion's share of my time was with these amazing small people:
Hillcrest is very close to the University of Kansas, which is a large public school that attracts many international students. Naturally, some of those international students have children who are also international. Thus, about two-thirds of the children you see above were learning English as a second, third, or fourth language. Hillcrest has a special focus as an English language learning school.
I had been quite apprehensive about taking this job, because I'd never really seen myself as a "kids" kind of person. I am the youngest in my family by a stretch, and I never babysat or put myself in situations where children were around. I didn't know if I would be able to reach the children, or if I would be able to communicate in such a way that they would understand.
It ended up being the most positive experience of my life to date. The year I spent with those kids was truly magical. I say magical because they were like a tonic for my soul. Their optimism, the freshness of life for them, their zest for learning and fun . . . it was like being a little kid again for me too. Best of all, the job was one where I could work all day and then completely leave it at the school. I mean, of course the kids were on my mind, but I didn't have to make any lesson plans or have meetings or go to conferences. I just did what I was told and enjoyed myself.
That year, I focused on healing from the death of my mother (and helping my stepdad work through some of that as well), working out, yoga, writing poetry, hanging out with really good friends, singing, and being around young souls. And I began to hone in on what God seemed to be saying to me about my life's work. I had been denying a call from God for some years at this point, and without a lot of the noise that had been in my life previously, I was really able to hear it clearly.
Sometimes I wish I could go back to that year, but it is a moment frozen in time. They say you can't step into the same river twice, and I know that's true. But the lessons I learned from teaching first-graders stay with me: work hard, then run it off at recess. Sing silly songs. Ask if you don't understand. Keep your hands to yourself. And the kids gave me a great gift: feeling confident in the knowledge that I could handle one of these myself someday: