During the 2013-14 school year, I was a full-time substitute teacher at Avon Park Middle School in Avon Park, Florida. It was my only year doing that kind of work. But it was also a fantastic experience for me!
Here are some lessons I learned while there...
Listen to people who know more and have more experience. I was a rookie. This was new to me. Fortunately, I was able to learn from a couple of good ladies! For part of the first semester, I worked with Ms. Davis. Then, for part of the second semester, I was paired up with Ms. Girofalo. Both of these women were skilled, likeable, and helpful. Also, they were top-notch educators who knew exactly what they were doing. Fortunately for me, both of them helped me learn more about working with middle school kids.
We can go through life thinking we know it all and never taking advice from other people. Or we can be humble and listen to those who know more and have experience. May we all welcome guidance and instruction from people who know more than us.
Realize that all people want to be treated with kindness and respect. My first semester, I worked with 8th grade language arts. These students excelled academically and were at the top of their class. My second semester, I worked with another great group of kids. These boys and girls had some special needs and faced a few challenges in life. They were fun to be around and very thankful for what others did for them. I enjoyed both semesters and I had a ball with both groups of kids.
Even though I was working with two different groups, I realized they all had something in common: Every one of them wanted to be treated with kindness and respect. They longed to know that they mattered to someone and that their life was worth something. That was the common thread that ran through both groups of kids.
We can go through life being harsh, rude, and condescending to people. Or we can be a breath of fresh air in their lives by treating them right. A good rule to live by is this: Treat other people the way we would want them to treat us. Regardless of who we are dealing with, let's bless them and make their day a little better.
Learn your strengths and focus on them. I loved Avon Park Middle School. The faculty and staff were awesome. And the kids were amazing. But I learned after a while that I was just not middle school teacher material. But that was ok. I needed to understand that. I remember the exact moment it happened: I was working with the 8th grade language arts kids one day and we were going over their homework. I was using a teacher's answer key to help me give them the right answers. A boy in class told me something he had written on his homework, I looked at the answer key, and told him the correct answer was something different from what he had put down. He looked at me and asked, "Can you tell me why I'm wrong?" And before I could answer, he said in front of the whole class, "Come on man, teach us something!" I thought to myself, "I wish I could, kid. I really wish I could." See, I knew how to write. But I did not know how to teach them to write. That moment confirmed in my mind that I needed to be doing something I was more equipped to do.
So what did I do? A few months later, I got back into pastoral ministry. God opened up a church for me to serve, and I returned to doing what I loved the most. And I was thrilled to be back doing what I was called in life to do.
Avon Park Middle School taught me to get back into pastoral ministry. It showed me that I needed to be using what God had invested in me. And it motivated me to do a much better job of it the second time around.
Learn who you are. Identify your strengths. And serve in the role that is best suited for you. Don't try to be something you're not. God made you the way you are for a reason. So just accept it and go with it. Life gets better when this happens.
Thank you, Avon Park Middle School. You all were beyond great to me. And you gave me an awesome few months to learn, grow, evaluate my life, and prepare for my next chapter.
I will always be thankful for my time at that fine school!