If I was your child’s teacher, I knew there was a reason we were connected. I welcomed your child into my class, but I wanted you to know that you were welcome, too.
Educating the whole child means we are a team. I know sometimes that school carries scars of hurt. When you were struggling to trust, I knew my job was to listen.
If I was your child’s teacher, your child will forever be in my heart. It will be hard to reconcile their grown up face with the kid I knew, but I will feel so proud. Sometimes we continue to see former students as they grow, but many times they leave for another school or it’s their last year at our school. There is always an “oh my goodness” moment when I realize who your child is after a few years. I am always in awe.
If I was your child’s teacher, I messed up a lot. There are many things I’d do over. There are many apologies I would make. No one is perfect, including teachers. Sometimes the mistakes I’ve made haunt me because I wonder if I’ll ever get to make it right. Mostly that is not going to happen, but I always vow to do better, be more patient, and try to remember what life is like through the eyes of your child.
If I was your child’s teacher, I prayed for you and your family regularly. It’s okay if you and I have different faiths or if you don’t have a spiritual faith. Respect is always key. I just hoped the best for you and your family. We hear so much about our students’ home lives. Don’t be upset, our own home lives have problems too!
If I was your child’s teacher, you and your child taught me far more than any content I was required to teach. I am so glad for that! Thank you for being patient and talking with me when you were upset. Thank you for donating granola bars during testing time and hot chocolate packets in the winter. When you went the extra mile, it meant so much to all of us. We will never forget it.
If I was your child’s teacher, they probably know songs like “Lean On Me” or “I Love a Rainy Night” by heart. They probably get a chorus stuck in their head if you say, “Knowledge is Power.” Singing brings us together and it’s no different in the classroom. When a familiar song comes on the radio, I hope you both smile.
If I was your child’s teacher, there’s so many things I did because I had wonderful teachers and their legacy lives in me. So many of us are teachers because we had educators who poured into us when we were young.
If I was your child’s teacher, when I look back, I remember the best things about you and your kiddos. Teaching siblings from the same family always made me happy! It was an honor when you requested me to be the teacher for your next child. Knowing I am part of your family history brings me joy. Thank you for entrusting me to help you educate your child.
This past month, I intentionally began and ended my bookchats with joy.
First up was Dr. Joy, herself, and her book Joy Works: 8 Lessons for Educators. This book is special to me because I helped contribute to the chapter on reflection. Dr. Joy has become a close friend throughout the last few years and I’ve watched her live out her message. She is real, she is thoughtful, and she continues to learn and grow. She is someone I can count on for truth and support. Her work reflects all of that.
The last bookchat of 2022 was with my friend Jillian DuBois. Jillian has also been on my bookchat a few times. But this time, it wasn’t about a book she has written or published. She designed a beautiful card deck about joy. Each sentiment is from one of her many journals throughtout the years. I can’t imagine allowing others in on such private thoughts, but Jillian has a courage that inspire. Each card holds a precious thought from her life and artwork that goes along. As she shares her soul, she encourages us to do the same.
Talking with both Dr. Joy & Jillian DuBois, we addressed what it’s like to protect joy, how hard it is to maintain, and lastly, how worthy the mission is for us. Regardless of your career or your roles, joy is what helps us get through the muck of life. It fuels our hope. The holidays aren’t merry for everyone. That’s okay. But there is still plenty of joy to be found, through the grief, gritty work, and triumphance. We hope these stories resonate.
“Dear Lord, as teachers, students, and families begin this new season, please grant them patience, wisdom, and protection.
Patience among the chaos,
Wisdom to see all as whole people,
And Protection against anyone seeking to harm.
I wrote this prayer a few nights ago. A part of me wanted to go into more detail, but I decided to leave it simple and broad because I know we can trust God with the details.
Patience Among Chaos
While this season can be fun and celebratory, it’s also a challenge to get back to routines. For some, new routines are just beginning.
The first time parent sending their child to kindergarten comes to mind. The parent who has multiple chlidren at multiple schools, trying to balance new schedules.
Educators are also enduring chaos. The first weeks of school set the tone. New students, new procedures, making sure all kids have lunches, a way home, and making sure their own children are off to a good start.
So many forces are coming together and chaos ensues as everyone struggles to find their equilibrium in the midst of it all. Knowing we each play a vital part in our school communities makes patience so important. We often run short on sleep and energy. That’s why this prayer request was on my mind. I know what it’s like in both roles and how easy it is to snap.
Wisdom to See All as Whole People
You and I are not one dimensional. We are not just teachers. We are not just parents. We are not just students. We are humans with interests and skills. We bring in worries. We bring in joy.
We are also scared… sometimes more often than we’d like to admit.
If we can keep this perspective in check, we know that our connectedness is paramount. We know that we can offer insight into solutions needed to help our community.
We know when we hurt each other, we are hurting those attached to us, as well.
Protection Against Those Seeking Harm
More than ever, we enter a school year with the pain of how the last one ended. We are nervous to send our babies off, knowing that some parents have endured their morning goodbyes as the final one.
Lord, protect us all. Stand in the gap and keep those wanting to hurt our loved ones away. Stop the plans from being carried out. Allow our children to learn with joy and not fear. Let us have each new day with our loved ones.
Keep In Mind
Four years ago, as a public school teacher, I entered into a new grade level after a summer where my husband had life-altering surgery and our youngest was still breastfeeding. I remember dreading back to school. I remember wondering how I would serve everyone in my life, my family and my students.
Our students might have had wonderful summer breaks or the exact opposite.
The tired parents on Meet The Teacher night might be doing their best to put aside grief and be present as much as possible.
When we see each other as humans, not just a label, we are filling this universe with love. It helps us to be more compassionate and empathetic. We even end up modeling that for our chilren and students.
I wish you the best this new school year. I hope you feel plugged in to a supportive community. We all need to feel like we belong. Our faith can help us with the details.
Today, I had to remind myself to just breathe. I don’t know what kind of day you are having, but maybe you are also feeling overwhelmed.
I invite you to just breathe. Take a moment and and inhale deeply through your nose (I’m a mouthbreather so this takes focus) and exhale slowly.
Next, focus on what is right in front of you. What is it that you need? I let my husband know I was overwhelmed. It felt so good to share this with him. Maybe you need to call or text a friend, someone you know who will encourage you.
This gave me the clarity for the next step. Sometimes looking ahead and thinking of all the to-dos is enough to keep me under the covers or frozen in place. When I stopped, shared, and took deep breaths, I was able to get to that next step. This might help you, too.
I have been on a long journey. On this journey, I constantly reflect. I examine my bias. I analyze why I feel defensive when others disagree with me. I question my emotions and intentions.
Sometimes, to be quite frank, my thoughts and actions come from a very selfish place. Knowing that helps me move beyond the superficial and keeps me from making some very bad decisions that would harm those I love.
Sometimes, to be quite frank, my thoughts and actions come from a place of indoctrination. Those are the scariest thoughts. When I explore them deeply, they seem absurd, judgemental, and self-righteous. They often come up when I don’t understand someone’s differences. I’ve learned to truly examine these thoughts and question the origin. Most times, after much reflection, these ugly thoughts are thrown away because they are garbage. They keep me from accepting others or loving what makes a person unique, and I don’t accept that anymore.
Learning how to like, love, and listen without agenda has been one of the most challenging journeys of my life, but also it’s been the most liberating.
This summer I have written about making sincere apologies, and today I share one of the reasons why helping others understand its importnce matters so much to me.
When I was a senior in high school, age 18, I had already spent a lot of years wrapped up in bitterness. My biological father, a pastor in my hometown, and his absence in my life left me feeling very bitter after years of trying to be so good just to catch his attention. But no matter that I maintained a 4.0 grade point average, played well in sports (okay decent enough to get by), sang in some amazing choirs, or even had a leadership role in my church youth group, my biological father was never going to notice me. Not even if his church was across the street from my high school. Not even if he happened to be eating in the same restaurant as me. In fact, he didn’t even know who I was when we were in the same place, and it happened a few times.
But I knew who he was. I remember meeting him at his sister’s funeral when I was five and I somehow always knew that I didn’t share genes with my dad who raised me. I knew that my friends at school, who also had divorced parents, still saw their biological dads. All those years of trying to be good enough to be noticed (I was also the typical middle child) never paid off.
In fact, for most of my teen years, no matter that I did have a dad who loved me, I was bitter. I took it out on my family, especially my older sister. The few times we were around my biological father, or any family member from his side, my oldest sister seemed to be the only one they wanted to talk to. I never felt noticed. I have memories of being ten, sitting in my biological father’s huge car when he decided to see us a few times, and him never saying anything to me. And I was just too scared to start a conversation.
Why am I revealing all of this? Because it hurt so bad. It turned into a cycle of hurt and hate for me. It still hurts when I allow my mind to feel the pain of a young girl and adolescent who felt lost and unloved, despite that I did have love in my life, but we tend to define ourselves as humans by the negative instead of the positive.
When I was 18, I realized I didn’t want to hold on to this hurt and hate anymore. The hate that I felt in my heart towards family members was unnatural. So I sought counseling with a licensed counselor in my church. When I explained to him how bitter I was, he asked me some questions of what I hoped for if I could confront my biological father. I wanted my biological father to beg me for forgiveness. I wanted him to feel my pain and beg me for forgiveness! That actually consumed me and I didn’t know how to process these huge emotions or get out of this painful cycle that was interfering with my life and my relationships.
Even though it was an incredible release to talk about this with someone who knew me, saw me, believed in me, my counselor loved me enough to tell me the truth. What I hoped for was not reality. My biological father was not going to beg me for forgiveness because it wasn’t on his mind like it was mine. He had removed himself from the situation. The hurt I felt was mine. And while I deserved an apology, the way in which I hoped it would happen was unrealistic and unhealthy to harbor. This was in a church setting I am being counseled in, remember, so please receive this in that light without judgement, but I was counseled to pray about it intensely and allow God to take care of the situation that was out of my hands and when the right moment came, I would have His wisdom to guide me.
And that’s what I did. I prayed about it for over a year.
That year I learned how to let it go and to forgive someone who hurt me deeply. In the process, I embraced my freshman year of college and continued to excel in academics. I made so many new friends, moved out on my own, and kept a job that I did well in. I appreciated and loved my dad who wanted to be my dad, and it seemed to be less and less important that we didn’t share DNA. The bitterness started dissipating over time and I enjoyed my life in a way that I had never enjoyed it before. It was freedom. Liberation. The bitterness lost to an overreaching joy that started to blossom and helped me to follow my dreams of moving to Texas and going to an out-of-state school.
But wouldn’t you know, that two months before I was to leave, I once again found myself in the same restaurant as my biological father. In fact, he walked right past me and I knew that even though I knew who he was, he didn’t know me apart from anyone else. Honestly, it stung. It hurt, even though I was transformed by the forgiveness that had taken root in my life; it was forgiveness he never asked for, and certainly didn’t deserve. However, a peace settled over me. This was my chance to face him before I moved away to Texas, and I knew with complete certainty that this was the moment I had prayed for. I no longer expected him to beg me for forgiveness, and I didn’t need that from him either. But I wanted him to know that I made it. I was living the life I wanted to live and the pain I had carried for so many years did not define nor hold me back in any way.
So I marched over to his table with both confidence, peace, and legs that felt like noodles! I introduced myself. He was very surprised and so were the church members who were dining with him. When he told them he was my dad, I corrected him to let them know that he was my biological father but I already had a dad. I told him I just wanted him to see me. I was doing so well in school and was about to move to Texas, but I wanted him to see me and know that I was real. After a few minutes of awkward conversation, on even shakier legs, I walked away and we left that restaurant. I was proud of how I carried myself. I knew that my prayers were heard. Forgiveness wasn’t for my biological father. It was for me. How he neglected his children was not about me in any way, though I felt the pain of that, but I was worth everything even if he wasn’t going to be in my life. It was healing.
The Cycle of Forgiving
Through the years, I have had to learn how to forgive him over and over. When I met my first class of fifth grade students the first year of teaching, and I felt the protectiveness of a momma bear, I thought of him and how he abandoned my family and I had to forgive him again. Every time I carried my own children inside of me, it triggered hurt that he could so easily leave us behind. I had to forgive him because the cycle of hurt and hate could easily consume me. He’s never said he was sorry. He probably never will. Although, I hope for his own soul, he will take ownership of his wrongdoing and I wish him well. He isn’t my burden to carry.
Forgiveness is a cycle. My biological father wasn’t the last person I’ve struggled to forgive, but the example of how I was able to move on without him uttering a word has helped me forgive others, too. It’s not easy, even right now, I know I need counseling to help me process emotions for another family member who has hurt me my whole life. I have been shoving the pain aside because I know they will never own their actions towards me, but I want to move on in a healthy and whole way. When we are hurt deeply, we develop triggers and those triggers force us to deal with the pain all over again.
It reminds me of the cycle of grief. Over time the triggers are further away and less intense, but it’s still there and sometimes takes me off guard. The recent triggers have forced me to make the decision to seek help. Like so many other educators, I am loaded down with responsibilities to help others learn. For myself, I want to unload this burden that I can’t remove by myself so I can enjoy more parts of my life, like teaching and my family.
Choosing to Forgive
I chose forgiveness for myself and I will choose it all over again, for my mental and spiritual health. Unforgiveness, for me, turns into bitterness, and I know it can spill over into the other relationships in my life. It is too heavy to carry. People depend on me, my children especially. I’ve felt the burden of carrying around dead weight and I don’t want it. I want life. Liberation. A more clear mind.
Forgiveness is most challenging when the hurt runs deep. But carrying around a grudge can impact our lives in unhealthy ways that break down our mental, physical, and spiritual health. Learning how to forgive is a process. Had it not been for my counselor and my faith, I would not have known how to move through it. I’ve relied on my faith for years so that I would not get sucked back into bitterness from actions others have done that I cannot control. Other times, professional help is necessary. You may find forgiveness and freedom in another way and I respect that as much as I respect my own path.
But that’s what I wish for you: a life of freedom from hurt that was never your fault.
Melody McAllister is a wife, mother of five, educator, and author. She and her family relocated to Alaska from the Dallas area in 2019. McAllister is 2017 Garland NAACP Educator of the Year and author of the I’m Sorry Story, a children’s book about taking responsibility for mistakes and making sincere apologies.
There was not one moment this summer when Mac & I found a good time to eat outside on our patio under the umbrella enjoying coffee & conversation. As soon as summer break released me from work, I began packing for our first family vacation. It was a beautiful & peaceful time spent with dear friends, but every mom knows that vacations are hard work! This was no exception. However, seeing our friends and visiting with our family in Alabama was worth every moment and penny!
Unfortunately the week we came back, my husband, knowing something was very wrong, headed to the ER and from there, our entire lives were altered. Having him home for the summer was always a dream, but not like this. After a life-saving procedure, complicated setbacks, and being separated from our kids for two weeks, it was time to come home and recover. You can imagine the challenges we faced with four rambunctious children at home along with a teething six month old.
We honestly wouldn’t have made it through without the support and prayers of our family and friends. My sister, Faith, and her family kept the kids. My close friend, Ivana, flew in from Florida on a day’s notice to help my Aunt Carol with our baby. Countless friends came to visit and pray with us at the hospital; Michelle, Margaret, Niloufer & Paul, Atesh & Mike, Ivette & Charlie, Laurie, Tacha & Annette, my sister-in-laws, Lisa and Kim, and two of my co-workers, Debbie and Ximena, came and sat with me during the eight hour surgery. My friend, Mel, ran errands, and my friends Allison and Michael picked up pumped milk for our baby, and my sweet friends brought me food and gift cards to show me I wasn’t alone. The care and support continued as we came home with dinners, a reclining chair from our friends Ami and Sean. And then my friend Cheri made a gofundme for us and a few friends may not even realize how much they’ve helped us financially! I know I’m not listing everyone who has loved on us, but please know that you made this time of healing easier to bear, and we will never forget it. I don’t know how other families would make it through without a support group like we have had. I hope I will be better at helping others in the future with the love lessons of servant-hood we have learned from so many!
But even with so many people loving and praying for us, depression was a real thing, cabin fever, insomnia, short tempers, and other complications threatened to steal our peace. Many days they did. Ugly tears…uncertainty…confusion, and so much more. And now another round of unemployment… while just a few months ago we had more than enough. Now, I’m trying to trust in God’s plan, but it is so hard! Are we being punished? Did we do wrong? Did we fail? Why are things so damn hard?!
Because. Life. No one is immune to this. No one escapes hard times. No one escapes desperate times. We will all face them, and it doesn’t matter our race, gender, financial status, education, religion… and maybe you, too, are facing these hard times as you read this post.
This past week, I downloaded the Bible App again and searched out this plan called “Trusting God’s Process” by Brittany Rust. And I’m so glad I did. It reminded me that trusting in God is hard. There are days when everything feels like it’s caving in, but God. I started to get panicky again last night, and the only thing I could think of is I can’t let my mind go down this trail. But God. One day at a time. He is not punishing us. He loves us. He has shown us through so many ways and so many people.
This Bible Study reminded me to pray with Scripture, and take one day at a time. When thinking about all that is ahead, I can’t escape the worry, fear, and anxiety, until the Holy Spirit reminds me, during hard prayers, that I won’t have the answers, and if I try to make it work, as I have in the past, I’m not truly trusting in God. All the ideas I have to make it through will not work, they will only lead me down another heart wrenching road, and I can’t go there! My family needs my husband and I to truly place our trust in God and let Him have the reigns.
So much easier said than done. But we are choosing to be faithful.
And I want you to know, Friend, when you see good things come our way, when you see our lives being transformed through the fire, it was because of Him. It was because we finally trusted Him with our lives and future.
I hope if you find yourself in a desperate situation, you will find Him, too.
Yes, there are consequences to making life happen in our way, consequences that hurt and lead us through situations God never intended for our lives…but God. He forgives, he makes a new way, and He will do it for me, and He will do it for You.
I am going to pray in faith, using Scripture to help me when my trust starts to slip away and my fear tries to take over. I hope you will, too.