Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Wow--an incredible opportunity.

Fair warning: Lengthy post ahead. Hopefully instead of wearing out my welcome, I can build up the excitement. ...Perhaps not.

It was a school day this past January that found Oliver and I sitting on a bench in our garage-turned-schoolroom, the doors flung open, the wind twirling the paper snowflakes suspended from the ceiling (the closest we'll get to snow for awhile). She was admiring our "contraction kites", each displaying a contraction on the construction-paper body of the kite, and the two words that composed it on the tail's ribbons.

"I wish you could teach Ugandan teachers how to teach," she mused once again in that staccato African accent. "They don't do anything like this." She went on in topics we'd already discussed at length: how different it was to see our little homeschool engage my kids, how much they were learning with less effort. In my understanding, the average Ugandan high school student can be carrying 13-15 subjects, simply choosing in which he or she will succeed, since succeeding in all is virtually impossible. Students at boarding schools may rise at 4:00 in the morning in order to have classes in the school's facilities, or hold classes at 10 at night. The classes may have 100 or more students, many taught by a teacher standing in front, lecturing. Teachers are not atypically allowed to beat students for offenses such as poor pencil grip, poor test results, or not talking. The students who succeed are generally girls--thanks to their more extensive attention spans--and/or auditory learners skilled at testing.

Oliver seems equally amazed, if not more so, at the relative and slowly growing success of my son with two, if not three, learning disorders. I will hand much of that to God's incredible gift in the form of medication for our family, despite the negative criticism that may draw. But I'm humbled and fascinated by how God's used my son's disorder as a part of our family's story--of my own story. Until I was challenged to get a little more creative, a little more engaging in order for him to be a success, I hadn't tapped in to some of the gifts with which God had equipped me. I hadn't explored what teaching could be. I now spend delightful minutes on Pinterest, learning how to teach commas using macaroni, or printing off songs and board games for math.

But back to the garage, er, classroom. Oliver and I had also been brainstorming options for her education, possibly at the local YMCA Institute. That's when yet another wild hare hit me: What if I volunteered to teach, and Oliver got a discount, or even a free education? I’d been asking John and Oliver's opinions and praying about what local ministry I should get involved in since a couple of things cleared out of my schedule…and this got me excited. The YMCA has a minimum-tuition diploma program (not a degree) for people who can’t really afford to go to school, and they have a teacher education program.

So, as audacious as it sounds, I actually called the Y's registrar to see if I could volunteer to teach a class. (I was probably egged on by my sister's political science classes for Burmese refugees, for which she's written her own curriculum and which I highly respect.) The registrar wanted to meet with me the next day. That day found me frazzled from driving a couple of hours in heavy, characteristically death-defying traffic--and glimpsing a rather bleak program based on their graduating seniors’ displays set out in the dust on campus. They’d all had their “teaching technologies” laid out, which were incredibly resourceful—bottle-cap abacuses, cardboard letter dominoes and color bingo, letter cards covered with clear plastic bags in lieu of lamination. But everyone had exactly the same thing. Every one of the 180 students was to meet the same requirements. There was little creativity, spelling errors everywhere (a “flunnel board”, er, flannel board—phonetic with an African accent)--just somewhat discouraging to see.

But it seems the weary afternoon was worth it. I was flabbergasted when the department head asked me to speak to their graduating final-level students the following day. As in, within the next 24 hours. It felt eerily familiar to what had happened to my sister in Thailand that same week. It also seemed such an answer to my prayer for clarity and favor from God, and a desire to make sure the glory was pointed in the right place--a historical struggle in me. But I wondered if I was simply thinking of myself more highly than I ought, and failing to do things with excellence.

Still, God was incredibly faithful in all my weakness that next day. The session went so well...even with about 180 ladies. Feedback, especially in the form of smiles and faculty, was encouraging. Even more encouraging was that the class began with prayer, and the students seemed to respond postively to my faith references. John was able to hold devotions daily in the class he took (and will likely help lead this summer) at Kyambogo University, so I hoped to lead devotions that set up a basic theology of teacher, namely communicating grace in the midst of such a shame-based culture. Testing scores, for example, determine much of a person's available opportunities, and certainly status and level of confidence (or in most cases, lack thereof). I long to draw clear lines from grace to courage to creativity and each student's unique workmanship in the classroom. It would take my passion and create an avenue to share the gospel over and over. Really, Lord?! Could this actually happen? 

Bottom line? Today, my follow-up meeting with the department head and branch director indicated that I can begin teaching a five- or six-week course, two hours a week for about 50 prospective teachers, beginning in May. Hip, hip, hooray! Oliver's big grin when I told her the news was so satisfying.  

And though she won't be attending the YMCA, I am thrilled to hear of her plans to start at a good university this August--largely due to the kindness of those of you contributing to her education fund! (WOW!)

This feels like a big answer to prayer. It also feels daunting. I have about four weeks to complete my curriculum, and I have yet to predict the starting level of the students' understanding. I am humbled and incredulous at this opportunity. And I'm amazed at how God's taken an significant, continued obstacle for our family--a fairly severe learning disorder--and used it to once again make beautiful things for His honor.

Would you consider praying for me, that my curriculum and class would be entirely God-orchestrated? Thank you, friends, for encouraging us and empowering us to be here.

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