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Thursday, May 3, 2018

Context: Jasmine, 5th Grade Teacher: He's betting on your passion

Jasmine hadn’t set out to teach fifth grade.  It happened like her marriage to Tim: she followed a detour sign.  Her dream was to teach high school drama and direct the high school’s show.  Since most high schools offer only one or two theater or drama classes, the drama teacher also teaches English.  Jasmine thought she had hit Lady Luck with a high school gig of drama, musical theater, three sophomore English classes, and Theater Director.  Theater Director came with a little extra pay.  But that was just for the two main performances.  Little did she realize how much more it involved.

Overwhelmed with grading essays proving the clichĂ© true – Johnny really can’t write – running the theater program, and taking on an abundance of “optional” extra performances, she finally had a face-to-face with the Principal.  “You could skip the cameos at the middle schools, the community centers, and even the Performing Arts Center your predecessors so diligently worked to set up,” he said, “but you might not recruit enough students and you might lose funding for the drama program.” 

“That doesn’t sound ‘optional.’  Can my pay be increased for this not-quite-optional ‘optional’ work?” 

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Greene, it can’t,” he replied.  He never calls me “Mrs. Greene.”   “We welcome and encourage your choice to continue the extra commitments developed by your predecessors, but we don’t require it, and we don’t have the funding to pay for it.” 

“So what happens if I skip the optional extras and we lose students and funding?”  “You need at least fifteen students in each drama class to keep it.  If you fall below that, we’ll cut the drama class, and if you lose funding, you either work on an extra low budget or do some fundraising.” 

“Doesn’t the school want to make sure that doesn’t happen?” 

“We hope not, but don’t worry, you’ll still have a job with us if it does.”  He added with a smile, “we have plenty of English classes that need a teacher.”

Then it came.  A whisper of mystery.  On occasion, and never when she’s expecting it, a whisper comes – some soft voice from far away, off her radar.  She’s learned to keep the whispers secret.  People don’t understand them.  Even Christians who are supposed to believe in the Holy Spirit neither get nor trust these whispers.  One time -- in fifth grade, of course -- Jasmine naively shared a whisper with some Christian friends, and they looked at her like she was from another planet.  She reminded them of their recent lesson of Elijah when the voice of the Lord was not in the wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but “in a still small voice” (I Kings 19:11-13).  They mocked her: “You’re comparing yourself to Elijah?!”

From that moment on, Jasmine learned to keep her whispers to herself.  None had come for quite some time, but just when the Principal told her the school was in need of plenty of English teachers, a whisper arrived: He’s betting on your passion.

Jasmine knew this was a whisper she should trust.  They had come since she was a little girl, and one of them, at age eight, had saved her life.  Her family had joined a few other families camping.  She and a couple of other kids, older ones, twelve or so, decided to go inner tubing down the river.  The older ones didn’t want little Jasmine tagging along, and let her trail far back behind them.  The water was so refreshing, the sky so blue, and the air so fresh from last night’s rain, she didn’t mind they left her alone.  She was reveling in her inner tube, floating down the river.  Then a whisper of mystery came: Hang off to the right.  Get out by that tree.  Jasmine didn’t want to get out yet; she wanted to keep floating.  But she had learned to trust the whispers, so she groaned and obeyed.  When she made it onto to land by the tree, she saw what lay before her about thirty yards ahead on the river: the start of a rocky, whitewater adventure she would never have been prepared for; then, another eighty to hundred yards beyond that came the nightmare scene: a waterfall.  Why hadn’t they told her there was a waterfall?! 

“Jazzie!  Jazzie!  Where are you?!”  I turned back and saw my dad racing toward me and I called back, “I’m here, Dad!  I’m okay!”  He raced to me like a sprinter at the finish line, picked me up, twirled me around, hugged me so hard I almost lost my breath, planted a big kiss on my cheek, and then hugged me again.  Then he let the two twelve year olds give me a hug too.  Their faces were pale, ghost--like, and one of them, head bowed, croaked, “We are so sorry,” and the other one nodded, head also down, eyes big, and face white.  I nodded, “I’m okay.”  Dad looked at them and said, “That’s what matters.  I hope you two have learned a lot from this.”  Big eyed, they both nodded.

That night, lying in her sleeping bag, listening to the crickets and reviewing the image of the waterfall, Jasmine prayed thanked her whisper and promised to obey.  She had kept her promise too.  What about this one? What does the whisper mean?  He’s betting on your passion?  She recalled the principle’s last words, “We have plenty of English classes that need a teacher.”  He spoke as if he didn’t care one way or another if the drama program was lost.  Jasmine asked the whisper what it meant, but whispers only came when they felt like it, not when Jasmine wanted them.  She turned it over in her mind  again: He’s betting on your passion

The interpretation hit her hard: he wants the drama program, and he wants her to do everything in her power to make it strong, and he’s “betting on her passion” that she will.  He wants her to be paid by one thing alone: her passion.  Maybe her passion should say “no.”

A week later, Jasmine’s husband Tim came home from work where he works as a Child Protective Services case worker, across the street from Jefferson Elementary School.  He often joins some of the teachers at lunch at the Crescent CafĂ© next door.  “Do you think you’d ever like to teach fifth grade?” he asked. 
 “Fifth grade?  You know I’m endorsed for secondary.  I don’t have an endorsement to teach fifth grade.” 

“That might not matter.  Jefferson Elementary just lost all of its fifth grade teachers, and quite a few of the other teachers too.  Eight teachers, including all three fifth grade teachers, started the day together with a joint proclamation that they will not be renewing their contracts for next year at Jefferson Elementary.” 

“You’re kidding?  Are they that mad about the fences going up?” 

“They’re that mad.”

On the local evening news, one of the fifth grade teachers was being interviewed: “We’ve been calling for a reasonable plan to prepare for terror emergencies, but the school barricaded our grounds like a prison. We won’t be coming back.”  Then the Principal was interviewed: “We understand the teachers’ concern in light of last month’s shooting threat, but this is the most ‘reasonable’ solution we have right now.  We hope they’ll change their minds.”  “And if they don’t,” the reporter asked the Principal, “will you be able to hire eight teachers by August?”  “We have a beautiful school; we have wonderful children; and we feel confident we can recruit strong, qualified teachers,” he affirmed. 

Standing in front of the fence for an ironic jest, the reporter closed the story, “If you are looking for a teaching position, beautiful Jefferson Elementary is hiring.  I’m Rachel Snowden reporting to you from Colorado Springs.”

Rachel Snowden.  Jasmine knew a Rachel Snowden.  In fifth grade.  She looked at her again.  No, she couldn’t be the same one.  But it was a sign, a neon, blinking detour sign. 

© 2018 by karina.  All rights reserved.  Please use only with permission from the author.

Continue to next Context selection: Be FILLed Forever
Start at Beginning: 1: Why did Noah let God drown the world?

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