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  • Sep5Thu

    Substitute Love

    The best teachers aren't the ones who know the most. They're the ones who care the most. September 5, 2013 by Diane Stark
    Filed Under:
    Faith & Friends
    I was teaching Mrs. Green's class, but I wasn't Mrs. Green. She had just had a baby, and I was a 22-year-old fresh-out-of-college substitute teacher covering her maternity leave. The Grade 2 class was mine from spring break until the end of the school year.

    During my second week of teaching, Latisha, a quiet girl, asked me when Mrs. Green was coming back. I informed her that Mrs. Green was staying home to care for her baby.

    “She's not coming back at all? But I loved her!” the girl protested.

    I shrugged and said, “Well, she's not coming back. I'm here now.”

    That afternoon, Latisha interrupted my lesson twice to ask the other children if they thought I was mean. I had never had any trouble with her before and I was surprised by the rude outbursts.

    As the days went on, Latisha seemed to be intentionally trying to make me angry. Whenever I asked her to do anything, she refused. She constantly talked back and never turned in her homework. She was disrespectful to me and encouraged the other children to act the same way.

    When I prayed about the situation, three words seemed to resonate in my heart: Just love her.

    “I'll try, Lord, but this one's not easy,” I said.

    Tearful Confession
    One day, I asked Latisha to eat lunch in the classroom with me. As we sat down, I saw the look of curiosity in her eyes.

    “Latisha,” I began, “you and I have a problem. We need to work this out because I'm going to be your teacher for the rest of the year.”

    “No, you're not,” she countered. “You're going to leave us, like Mrs. Green did.”

    “Mrs. Green left because she's caring for her baby. She still cares about you and the other kids. But she has to be with her baby now,” I explained patiently.

    “Why aren't you going to leave?” she asked.

    “Because it's my job to be your teacher. Do you want me to leave?”

    “No,” she answered in a small voice, “but I know you will anyway.”

    “No, I won't. I'm your teacher now.”

    “All grown-ups leave,” she spat out bitterly. Tears were beginning to form in her eyes and I could feel a lump in my own throat. Help me, Lord, I prayed silently.

    “Latisha, why are you so upset?”

    She stared at me and finally answered in a single breath, “Everyone leaves me. As soon as I love someone, they're gone. I don't even remember my dad. He left my mom when I was a baby. My mom has tons of boyfriends, but none of them stay very long, either.” She looked down at her feet as if she wished she hadn't told me.

    “And now Mrs. Green is gone,” I finished for her. The child nodded. Before either of us realized it, she was sitting in my lap, sobbing.

    Now what, God? I thought. But those same three words came to me: Just love her.

    When her cries subsided, Latisha sat back down in her own chair and stared at the floor, embarrassed.

    Eventually, I said gently, “Latisha, I'm going to be your teacher for the rest of the year. No matter how you act, I'm not going anywhere.” I reached out to wipe a tear from her cheek and added, “I promise I won't leave you. No matter what, I'll be here for you.”

    When I stood up to retrieve a box of tissues from my desk and turned around, the girl was gone.

    The Salvation Army - - Substitute LoveSpecial Delivery
    I wasn't sure what to think of Latisha's disappearing act, but after our lunch together, her behaviour improved dramatically. I saw a different child now, a little girl who desperately needed someone to care about her. With God's help, I was going to be that person.

    Little by little, Latisha began to trust again. And when she treated me to one of her smiles, I knew I was making a difference.

    One morning, I saw a newspaper article criticizing our large, inner-city school district. We often received negative press for many reasons, including our poor performance on standardized tests. I read the article to my class. They were outraged that anyone would “knock” their school and took the criticism personally.

    As a class assignment, I asked them to write letters to the editor in response to the article. The children relished the opportunity. Most wrote things such as, “Our school is great and you don't know what you're talking about.” They read their letters aloud to the class and were proud of standing up for their school. Latisha didn't turn in a letter, but I decided to let it go.

    Before I knew it, the school year was over. At the end of that last day, each child hugged me goodbye. When Latisha hugged me, she handed me a folded piece of paper. It was filthy and wrinkled, but I smiled and thanked her. When everyone was gone, I opened the paper.

    It was the assignment I'd given several weeks ago. I'd assumed Latisha hadn't done it, but here it was in my hands. This is what she had written:

    “Dear Editor, You need to stop writing bad things about our school. We are a good school with good teachers who care about kids. I had two teachers this year. One had to leave to have a baby, but a new teacher came and she didn't leave. She didn't leave, even when I was bad. She didn't leave, even when I cried all over her pretty clothes. You should write something good about teachers who are there for kids, no matter what. Sincerely, Latisha”

    As I held her letter in my hands, I prayed for Latisha. I asked God to show her that there's Someone she can always count on, Someone who will never leave her, no matter what. I prayed for the teacher Latisha would have the following school year, that the person would realize what a special, but fragile, child she is.

    And I prayed that Latisha would help her new teacher learn the same lesson she'd taught me: that the best teachers aren't the ones who know the most. They're the ones who care the most.

    Photos: © Gabrysiak

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