A Leap of Faith

*This article first appeared in the June 2018 edition of Pagan Pages Magazine.

Early in my teaching career, I was at a crossroads.  After three years as a public schoolteacher, I wasn’t sure whether I was cut out to be an educator.  I loved the kids and teaching, but it was clear from my run-ins with school administrators and colleagues that I was not on the same wavelength as them.  Even during my practicum work as a university student, I was told by my mentor that she would do everything in her power to make sure I didn’t become a teacher. I was upsetting the applecart with the new education ideas I brought with me into the field. Luckily, my faculty associate at university advocated for me, citing my willingness to take risks and try new things in service of my students as being essential qualities of a good educator. After a year of rough practicum experiences, I graduated with a Bachelor in Education and I was ready to enter the profession as a certified teacher. I looked forward to leaving these challenges behind me.

Years after this event, I was sitting at home one Friday night when I got a call from a teacher whose class I substitute taught in the day before.  I listened for fifteen minutes as she tore a strip off of me. She criticized my teaching methods and attacked my character.  I’d never even met this teacher before. What could have been a really good professional development moment where she got curious about my teaching strategies to learn more, turned nasty. She ended by saying: “They should never have certified you.  You are a horrible excuse for a teacher. I don’t know how you made it through your teaching practicums.” I never got a chance to say a word.

I didn’t know if she was right or not. I was in shock.  When I recovered, I reached out to one of my experienced teacher friends. He was outraged when I told him what happened and urged me to complain to the principal of the school and file a grievance with the union. At this point, I felt so discouraged and tired of swimming upstream in the education system that I quit all three school districts I was working for.  I needed to find clarity. I prayed for help and said to the universe: “If I am meant to be an educator, please send me the job that is right for me.”

At the encouragement of a friend who was a horticulturist with her own landscaping company, I started working full-time as an apprentice gardener.  Gardening and farming were in my ancestry; Portuguese people have a deep reverence for the land and find ways to create gardens wherever they live.  It’s not uncommon for apartment balconies to be filled with pots containing edible plants.  My paternal grandpa was a farmer in Portugal and continued that practice in his East Vancouver lot when he moved to Canada. It felt comforting to be walking in his footsteps.

Each day working with the plants in silence, I began recovering more parts of my soul that had left me bit by bit during my years as a public schoolteacher.  I got really clear in my mind about the reasons I became an educator and began questioning all the negative feedback I’d received from colleagues.  Why were they so threatened by my methods?  Why was it so horrible to include parents in their children’s learning?  Why were my students expected to follow unjust school rules?  Why did students have no say in their education and in helping to develop the school’s ethos?  I simply didn’t understand why we as educators couldn’t team up with children.  Why were we at war with learners and families when we didn’t need to be?

After a year of working with the plants, I developed a plan to open a small school. I started talking to professionals in the community who had already done this.  During my research, I found a school and learning philosophy I really grooved with.  I called the founder to see if he would meet with me and teach me how to begin manifesting my dream. Surprisingly, he said, “We’re already doing what you want to do.  Why don’t you just come work with us?”  That was in 2004 and the rest is history.  During our first meeting, I looked around at my fifty colleagues sitting in a circle discussing pedagogy and I knew I’d found the “staff room” I belonged in.  We were all on the same team and we all had similar values when it came to our work with children. I’d finally come home as an educator.

Most of all, I learned from the plants to accept myself as I was and to trust what I knew deep inside of me: I was a good educator with a passion for advocating for children’s rights to learn in ways that matched their sensibilities.  I found a place deep inside that I anchored into to draw strength.  Though I honour and respect my public school colleagues, I don’t regret my decision to leave and take a path less traveled.  Plants stay rooted while they reach for the sun.  They give life without asking anything of us in return.  They stand in what they know with tremendous trust. They showed me that what I was actually doing as an educator was aligning with life and its natural flow.  It paid off big to stop warring with the truth inside me, even though it flew in the face of conventional “wisdom.”

In the years since, I’ve worked with hundreds of children– many of whom are now adults who are thriving. They know who they are as people and they are aware of what their strengths and weaknesses are. They have learned the skills to excel in their interests with confidence. They are not afraid to follow unconventional paths in life. I am so humbled by the fact that I’ve been able to walk alongside them on their journeys for a short while.

Today, I know that I wouldn’t have been effective at guiding children if I hadn’t had the courage to take leaps of faith myself. How could I ask children to take risks if I hadn’t practiced that skill? All those early challenges had a purpose: to prepare me to bring forward the educator I really was in my heart. I learned that it is not how other people see you that determines your character or worthiness. We are all worthy. Today, I respect the kind of educator I am even when colleagues do not agree with my methods. Honouring myself­–like I do each of the vastly different children in my care–was the key that was there all along inside of me. I am grateful I found the courage to turn it and walk through the door into my new life.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Eileen Emer Stoupe
    Jul 02, 2018 @ 01:30:27

    So inspiring, Jen, to hear how you have developed as a “teacher”. I too found “normal” teaching practices restricting, as if I had to mould my students in a way that was acceptable to society but not necessarily anything to do with their development as human beings! In my case I left teaching but I strive to still be a teacher in the sense of helping people, especially young people, to become more open and have faith in themselves. Turning into a “wise old woman” at last! May you always find your way, love Eileen

    Reply

  2. Jen Engracio
    Jul 02, 2018 @ 15:19:38

    Thanks for sharing your story, Eileen. It sure is good to hear from you 🙂 We need more wise crones working with our youngsters. I am glad the youth of Norway have you. xo Jen

    Reply

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