I kept a blog while in Mozambique to share with my supporters what was happening an ocean away. I always intended to start a new one when I returned to America. The problem is that for a few months I was suffocating under the cloud of “reverse culture shock” and had no personality. No one wants to hear from a bitter critter ranting and raving on a blog. Plus, teaching English and coaching basketball was so overwhelming for a while that I would repeatedly let myself collapse into the fetal position in the teachers’ lounge when no one else was present. I would arrive home after dark completely drained.
Now, however, basketball is over, the cloud has lifted and I feel like writing again. My Mozambique blog had become my journal; my spot to record and reflect on what God had been doing and teaching me. I’ve missed that. The blog held me accountable to strive to learn new things and forced me to acknowledge God’s presence in my every day occurrings. I miss these times of reflection and thus, keeping a blog has become somewhat of a spiritual discipline for me.
Since my first year at Valley is almost over, I thought I’d share some confessions thus far from the 2008-2009 school year.
1- I confess that I almost burned down the school in September.
During 2ND period it suddenly began to reak of burning hair and got super hot. “Miss Hardeman! Something is burning!” “Miss Hardeman I’m sweating.” Crap. Terrified that my flags which I had hung over vents were causing an internal fire, I did what any rational person would do. I calmly evacuated the class and told my aid, “Yeah, could you find the janitor and tell him I think room A1 is on fire? Thanks.” We practiced vocabulary while I kept one eye on my class, all the while waiting for it to burst in flames. Turns out someone had accidentally flipped the switch which turned on the heater which smells like burning hair and turns the room into an instant sauna. Here are pictures of my second period class on character day and class color day. The monkey and chicken are hilarious but both have major ADHD and drive me bonkers.
2- I confess that during my Freshman English class I wrote “victum” on the board.
Of course those eager beaver freshmen quickly shot up their hands, “Miss Hardeman, isn’t victim spelled with an i?” “Why yes, yes it is. Good work.” It’s times like these I wonder how it is that I am an English teacher.
This is mainly because there is a group of teachers who communicate with each other throughout the day about the super important educational issues like students farting in class. One of the greatest things about Valley are the teachers- there are a bunch of girls/ladies who are hilarious. They recently let me in on their secret ploy to distract the ultra-annoying. They send that kid on a wild goose chase to find a certain color object. For instance, most recently the poor soul was looking for the “purple folder.” He was sent to one room to find it and that teacher, in on the plan, sent him to another teacher, who sent them to another. 15 minutes later the hyper chap is tired out from walking all around campus and returns empty-handed and still clueless. I can’t wait to try this out. The first picture is of four teachers (2 are my roommates) dressed as the cast of Gossip Girl on character day. The second picture are the very professional teachers chaperoning the sports-themed Sadies.
4- I confess that I let loose a blood-curdling scream in class yesterday.
Usually I try to act tough and don’t reveal that bugs creep me out. I lived in Africa so surely a few creepy-crawlers won’t phase me. Wrong. Last week there was a spider on Jessica’s desk and while she squirmed, I bravely squished it with a tissue, secretly screaming and cringing inside. So when 3rd period pointed out a giant daddy long legs clinging to the whiteboard, I confidently strutted to the board, removed my flip-flop and ‘SMACK!’ Except I missed. “AHHHHH !!!” It flew right at my face so I ducked, covered my head and screamed so loudly that I scared the kids who weren’t watching. So much for being tough.
5- I confess that a few months ago I screamed so loudly a teacher came running to check on me.
Luckily no students witnessed this embarrassing moment. I had gone to the bathroom to change into my practice clothes and during that time, Trent, who is my assistant coach, showed up to my classroom and decided to hide and scare me. Oblivious to his arrival, I threw open my door, waltzed into my room, and Trent jumped from his crouching position and yelled “ah!” He was rewarded with my loudest and longest scream ever. I literally flew into the air, jumping away from him and landed in the fetal position and then finally stopped screaming. He collapsed into laughter and I remained curled in the ball, letting my heart recover and laughing so hard I was wheezing and tears streamed down my cheeks. Thankfully I had just emptied my bladder and had dry pants.
6-I confess that a student will be getting a disgusting surprise in a few weeks.
A few days after the infamous scare, Trent brought tamales to my class which we scarfed down before practice. One problem. No napkins and no silver wear. We were both sitting in desks so I grabbed the vocab book under the desk, checked the name- Arielle, thought, “perfect,” and proceeded to wipe the green tamale sauce on the pages near the end. Trent pointed out that it appeared as though someone had covered the page in crusty boogers. My only regret is that Arielle switched classes at the semester so I won’t get to see her look of horror when they get to Unit 12. Here she is looking smooth as he points at the camera but her facial expression will be quite different when she finds my surprise.
Yeah yeah we are not supposed to have favorites but after spending countless hours with them, I have a special bond with these girls. I nearly gave Kari a heart attack the other day when someone handed her a piece of gum. I happened to be standing close by so I smacked her hand, sending the gum flying and yelled in my best German accent, “No gum in class!” (I actually do let them chew gum but couldn’t pass up the chance to scare her)
Not exaggerating. Literally- 62 times. I have the pictures to prove it. It was a two day photo shoot because I was sweating so much after jumping off the desks 40 times on day one that the sweat was showing in the pictures. The thing is I was too embarrassed or proud to ask someone to take the picture for me because well it’s kind of a strange request and I knew it would take quite a few takes. So I opted for the self-timer which means I have over 30 pictures of me knees bent, standing on a desk staring intently at the camera, ready to pounce. Or pictures where I’m about to jump but just look like I’m walking off the desk. Proof.
The next is possibly my favorite shot because my injury was caught on tape. For some reason, while in the air, I forgot that my feet needed to land first and I landed on my knees and got major rub burn. My knee was all torn up and I had a good laugh by myself, thankful no one had walked in.
Today I can say in all sincerity that I love teaching at Valley but this was not always the case. When I’ve described the effects of “reverse culture shock,” I’ve often said it feels like a cloud was hovering over me. I wasn’t depressed but I was not content. I felt out of place, lonely, and frustrated, all the while putting on the facade that everything was great. It wasn’t great. Not only was I adjusting to the American culture, but also to the “Christian school culture” and it was like being sucker punched by a double whammy. I missed Africa. I missed my students and my life there and I didn’t like my white students. They all looked alike and for the first time, I couldn’t remember names and couldn’t relate with the kids. I had no problem remembering Ji Soo, Sun, Ping, He, Hun, Ude, and Oko and other syllables thrown together to create beautiful names but Lauren and Kristie? Nope. Couldn’t remember for the life of me. I would have been friends with these students when I was in high school but one major symptom of reverse culture shock is that one gets frustrated with their home culture. So here I was, surrounded by very white, often very spoiled Christian school kids and I didn’t like it. “Why God? Why not just bring me back to Rowland? Did I make a mistake? Did you really want me here? If so, what were you thinking?” Fortunately for me, God is not offended by my questions and doesn’t give up on me when I shake my fist at him or doubt Him.
I questioned God’s wisdom and I was often angry with Him during this time, but I knew He was leading me somewhere. I knew He was teaching me something and if I could just endure the unpleasant period of adjustment, I would experience the rejoicing that comes in the morning according to Psalm 30:5. Unfortunately, the “weeping” that remains for a night, lasted longer than just one night. It would take months for me to readjust and the cloud to lift.
So I gritted my teeth, shed many tears, curled into the fetal position numerous times and endured a very lonely, frustrating season of life. I knew James had said to consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith developes perseverance. (James 1:2) but I did not consider it joy at the time- how I could I be joyful that life was sucking? Now I know how. I do consider it joy now that I struggled through that rough time because I did indeed develop perseverance. I see now that God was working on me- maturing me in the midst of my misery. First Peter 1:6-7 says, “…though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” In hindsight I can see that indeed my faith was being refined and proved genuine. I don’t fully understand how those months of suckiness will bring praise, glory and honor to Jesus but I do know that I came out of those months with a greater understanding of Christ’s love for me. It seems I learn the most and grow the most when I am weakest. I guess I can understand a bit more what Paul meant when he said, “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10)
By the start of second semester the cloud had lifted and my fake smiles were exchanged for genuine ones and I finally felt like my quirky self again- ready to socialize with others and genuinely enjoying my students. However, I’m fearful that now that the cloud has passed, I will fail to acknowledge my weakness and will rely on my own strength again. It is so easy to do this in America. In Mozambique, I had no choice but to rely on Him but here it is so much easier to be self-reliant and ignore God. There is such danger in this because I can already envision myself tyring to steal the glory from God whenever there are accomplishments in my life. I fear that I will fail to recognize my intense need for Him. So although I am so incredibly grateful that the “season of suckiness” as I like to call it, has passed, I hope that this does not mean my faith will grow stagnant. I hope that my faith will continue to grow and I will not start believing the lie that I can do anything on my own.