BY JUSTIN VERWOERD, EDUCATIONAL ASSISTANT
When I started my job at ACS Middle, I thought it was perfect: work starts at 8:00 am, meal breaks at 10:30 am and 12 noon, and the weekly schedule is generally unchanging.
I was cruising. The perfect job for me.
Well, anyone who works at a school, has children, or really, whoever has ever been a child knows that my perception of a school day had somehow been terribly skewed in the 9 or so years since my graduation.
Seems Simple Enough
As I end my second year as an educational assistant, I can confidently say that my hopes have been dashed, my comfort shaken, and my mind fundamentally stretched to oblivion.
And I’ve loved every minute of it.
Somehow, I’ve grown more in love, more confident and happier than before.
Before I started this job, I thought kids’ lives were simple. Just do your work at school, and you’ll be fine. Be a good kid; you’ll get by. Somehow, in my adulthood, I had forgotten the stress and uncertainty of humanity for a twelve-year-old. Lucky for me and my love for simplicity and regularity, the stresses of the students in my care often fall in some way or another on me.
Just a Typical Day
Here is a quick snapshot of what I hear on an (almost) daily basis:
“Justin! You forgot to do the dishes!”
“Mr. Verwoerd, can you unlock the classroom?”
“You forgot to sign my agenda yesterday, Mr. Verwoerd!”
“Mr. Verwoerd, can you remember to tell the teacher I’m afraid of bees?”
“Mr. Verwoerd, Chelsea’s chasing me!”
“Mr. Verwoerd, Bobby hit Chelsea!”
“I don’t feel good, Mr. Verwoerd.”
“Mr. Verwoerd, Tom puked in the bathroom!”
“Mr. Verwoerd, can you watch my classroom for a bit?”
“Want to switch supervision, Mr. Verwoerd?”
“Mr. Verwoerd, you didn’t tell me I had to study this part…”
“I’m not having a good day, Mr. Verwoerd.”
“Mr. Verwoerd, I don’t think I can ever understand this!”
“Mr. Verwoerd, I think I want to drop out.”
“Mr. Verwoerd, I don’t fit in here.”
“I want to do bad things to the school, Mr. Verwoerd.”
“Mr. Verwoerd, my parents don’t love each other anymore.”
“Mr. Verwoerd, I don’t think I believe in God.”
“Mr. Verwoerd, I hate you.”
“I’d rather be hit by a truck than be here, Mr. Verwoerd.”
These aren’t frivolous things. The stresses these kids endure can’t be quieted by “being a good kid” or working hard.
They are real.
Love It and Chuck It
I would gladly lay down my life for any of my students without hesitation and yet when I think about the future and staying in my position; things become a little foggier. My chief responsibility is not only helping students with academic improvement; it’s taking on the insecurity, chaos, and uncertainty existing in my student’s lives. Maybe that is scarier than death.
But somehow, however unscheduled and simply crazy this reality has become, I adore my job, and even more, I adore the children making my daily routine an utter mess.
I think it works that I hate uncertainty as much as I do. I think it helps me work as hard as I can to help heal some of the stress in my students’ lives. I’ll take on my kids’ “stuff” as long as I need to in order to help them, and at the end of the day, if my backpack full of tween stress is too heavy, I’ll chuck it and do it again tomorrow.
I encourage my kids (and myself too) with some words from James 1, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
I take the daily chaos as an opportunity, not only to help grow the students under my care but to produce perseverance in my own life.
Besides, I work at a school; I get the weekends off.