Monday, March 6, 2017

The Lord Will Fight For You.

Wow. It's been an awfully long time. Longer than long actually.

I've missed my space and the friends that pop by here and share their thoughts on my thoughts.

A lot has happened since I last posted on August 31. A lot. In fact, my life has changed in two very significant ways since that day, and I'd like to tell you about one of them now. I have been writing and planning this post in my mind for months and months, and this week three different people have told me they miss my blog posts, so I decided it's finally time to tell this tale. I think, if you read it all, you'll understand why I wasn't able to write these past few months.

Those of you who have read this blog or known me for a while probably remember this post when I announced I was answering God's calling to be a teacher, quickly followed by this post where I announced I was answering God's calling to be a teacher RIGHT NOW.

Over the past 2.5 years, I have consistently taught sixth, seventh, and eighth grade Language Arts, as well as fifth and seventh grade religion and seventh grade social studies at various times. There have been some very low times, but there have been many more wonderful moments, and I have never doubted (okay, MAYBE after my very first day!) that being a middle school teacher is God's plan for my life. I can't imagine ever doing anything else.

Do you remember at the end of The Wizard of Oz movie when Oz is talking to the Scarecrow? Oz says,

Back where I come from we have universities, seats of great learning -- where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts -- and with no more brains than you have.... But!  They have one thing you haven't got!  A diploma! 

Well, for the past 2.5 years, think of me as the Scarecrow.

I was doing the same exact thing every single day as teachers all across the nation, but they all have one thing "I haven't got! A diploma!"

I started the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Marshall University at the exact same time I started my first year of teaching. I was taking a full-time graduate load while also being a teacher. There were many times at Marshall that my Catholic school -- and sometimes me personally -- were seen as lesser than because it wasn't public school.

Nevertheless, I continued with my classes, taking full-time loads in fall of 2014, spring of 2015, summer of 2015, and fall of 2015. I did everything that was requested and required of me: wrote lesson plans, presented projects, went to class, earned Clinical II hours in a local high school. All the while, I'm a first- and then second-year teacher, prepping about 35 lessons per week.

Then came the pivotal moment. Spring of 2016, so last year at this time, I was scheduled to complete my full-time student teaching, followed by earning my degree in May. Teaching students who are working full time in a public school are allowed to use their jobs as their student teaching, and West Virginia state law says that private school teachers can only do so if their university offers a one-credit special topics course, covering things that one might see in public school but not private school. (Which is mostly silly, but I digress.)

At first, Marshall told me I could not use my full-time job as my student teaching. This, of course, was devastating to me, because I loved my job, loved my students, and didn't want to leave them. Then, after having a conversation with my principal and superintendent, Marshall told me I could use my job as my student teaching hours, and I would begin that in January with my classmates. I left for Christmas break, thrilled that I could continue working at my job. I also filled out the required paperwork for a student teaching license from the state (yes, you need a student teaching license to teach at your own job), paid the fee, and also got fingerprinted and paid the fee for that too.

HOWEVER.

On January 5, right after I returned to school after Christmas break, and right before Marshall's semester was slated to begin, I received this email. In fact, it came in right before my eighth grade students were returning to class after lunch.

After quite a bit of conversation between Dean Eagle and the WVDE, it appears that what we were originally told about you being able to do student teaching at your current job was incorrect.  After a phone discussion this morning, it was clarified to us by the WVDE that we cannot do that.  According to Policy 5100, 6.4.b.6 candidates who complete their clinical experience in a nonpublic school must also “complete a course which is a component of the institution’s  WVBE-approved  educator  preparation  program  that  provides  information  sufficient  to prepare  the  prospective  teacher  to  demonstrate  competence  to  teach  in  the  public  schools  of  West Virginia.”  Marshall does not have a course of this nature as part of its approved program.  For this reason, if we did allow you to student teach in a private school, you would not meet the requirements for certification.

At this point, you have two options.  We can place you in a public school so that you can finish your program and certification this semester if you want to go that route.  We already have tentative public school placements lined out.  If you prefer to keep your current position and not student teach at this time, I completely understand and will take you off the student teaching list.  Please let me know what you want to do.

Please imagine you are me. Students are getting ready to come in, the graduate school semester is about to start, and all of a sudden you receive a big JUST KIDDING from your university. (You also have to understand that Marshall had been very difficult to work with, to say the least, from the very beginning. This was just one in a VERY long line of things that had been exhausting. I'm a rule follower, and don't believe I am above the rules, but everything I had done had been by the rules I had been given. Also, please understand I am speaking specifically to the Master of Arts in Teaching program, as my Master's in Journalism is from Marshall, and those people were wonderful.)

Seriously?

My principal talked to Marshall about adding the one-credit course as a special topics option for me, but, to make a long story short, they wouldn't.

In my humble opinion, teachers who leave their students mid-school year without a VERY good reason are highly questionable. I would never do that to my students. They don't deserve it. (And I loved them and wasn't ready to leave them. I'm still not ready to leave them, and they've been gone almost a year. :) )

After I taught the eighth grade that day, I went upstairs to my principal's office and just stood in her doorway. She had received the email too. My principal, who has been AMAZING during this process, just told me it was going to be okay, she had an idea.

So I went back down to my classroom, crushed. And then I did the only thing I could do. I prayed. I told God that I started this job in answer to what I believed He was calling me to do. I understood that He had been covering all my mistakes and shortcomings for me. I told Him I would hand all this over to Him, and I trusted He would show me what to do.

And then I hung this on the wall behind my desk, where it still remains today:


Oh, how many days I've looked at that quotation.

My principal, who is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University, a Catholic school in this state, had already reached out to people she knew there to see how they could help. It turned out that Jesuit, while not having a Master's program, did have an Accelerated Certification for Teaching program, which would suit my needs fine, and which would allow me to continue to teach at my school and earn my license.

FANTASTIC.

I bet you think you've reached the end of the story, don't you?

You have not.

It turned out that it was too late for me to begin student teaching at Jesuit last spring, so I would have to wait for the fall. It also turned out that they required a class that Marshall hadn't required, so I had to take (and pay for) yet another course, which I took online last spring.

Still not done.

Because student teaching licenses are only valid for six months, I had to apply for (and pay for) another student teaching license from the state and also pay to get fingerprinted again too. Fine.

So, if you're still awake and not bored to death by this convoluted and incredibly long saga, to recap -- I applied for my student teaching license to work at my job and began a new school year this past fall. I also took the required student teaching and special topics courses at Jesuit to accompany my student teaching experience.

If you think I'm done with this story now, you don't know me in person.

So, there I am, working away at teaching school and also going to school as well. I continued to check the status of my student teaching license online, and it said pending all the time.

Until one fateful day in October. October 21 to be exact.

On October 18, mid-semester, I reached out to the state to inquire about the status of my application and why I had heard NOTHING from them. I received this email in reply on October 21:

I regret to inform you that your application has been denied due to ineligibility. It does not appear that a clinical placement in Our Lady of Fatima Parish School with additional coursework (EDF 374) is authorized for issuance of the Clinical Experience Permit. You may want to communicate with your institution of higher education about opportunities for completing student teaching and qualifying for the clinical experience permit. We have been in communications with Jeremy Vittek in regards to this issue. I apologize for the confusion and appreciate your patience in waiting for a response.

The email came in at 12:12 p.m. If you're keeping score at home, I had paid my tuition to Jesuit, had completed my coursework, and had paid for fingerprinting and another license application. I had done my 90-page teaching portfolio. AND THE SEMESTER WAS ALMOST OVER.

To say I LOST MY EVER-LOVING MIND would be an understatement.

I called the director of my program and was more unprofessional than I've ever been because I was basically crying and at a total loss. Luckily he was nice. He explained what happened. And I just sat in my car, in my pink raincoat, listening to his explanation in shock.

You might recall that I mentioned that I needed a special topics course per state law because I was student teaching at a Catholic school. Jesuit offered that course, I HAD BEEN TAKING IT, and it was a course they had offered for years. Apparently, however, Jesuit had not filed the proper paperwork with the state to, I don't know, re-register the course? Renew it? At any rate, the state said the course was invalid. The plan was, according to the director, they would hopefully get the course approved, and then the state would retroactively approve my student teaching application in time for me to graduate in December.

Once again, please put yourself in my shoes. As Atticus Finch would say, climb into my skin and walk around in it.

I'm not sure how I continued to teach classes after lunch that day, but I'm a teacher and that's what we do. We teach. No matter what is going on in our personal lives.

No matter who is trying to tell us that we aren't really teachers.

I kept going back to that sign on my wall. Over and over. I prayed. I asked others to join me in my prayers.

Then, right before Thanksgiving, (that's right, a month later), I received this from the program director:

I just heard from the WVDE and the course was approved! I will get in touch with the certification officer to see what the next step is. 

And then right before Christmas, this arrived at my house:



After all of this. ALL OF THIS. 2.5 years OF THIS. I had gotten that certification.

The next step was to apply for my teaching license, which I did as soon as my transcripts were official. I applied for my license on January 10. I was notified by the state I was missing Form 7, then told my transcripts from my undergraduate institution, Shepherd, weren't on file, blah, blah. I checked my application online every single day.

One afternoon after school, February 27 to be exact, I logged online yet again, in hopes I would see that my Shepherd transcripts had arrived. Instead I saw this


My friends. There are no words. Absolutely no words. I am a words person, I LOVE WORDS, and I have none. No words, no font size, no anything could convey to you how I felt in that moment.

To say it was the greatest day of my life might be an understatement.

I had done it. God and I had done it.

Providentially, the person I first told, the person standing in my classroom when I saw it, was none other than last year's class clown, the trash can kid, back for a visit. His first reaction? "MISS LAFFERRE THAT IS SO AWESOME!" His second reaction? "Are you crying AGAIN?"

I am a person with many shortcomings. I fail multiple times a day. I make mistakes as a teacher every single day. I am a sinner.

But if I can say anything for myself, it is this: I earned every inch -- every centimeter -- of that teaching license. I fought for it daily for 2.5 years. I encountered roadblock after roadblock after roadblock. I fought for that license on days when my students were killing me. I fought for that license on days when parents weren't nice to me. I endured these trials because God saw it fit for me to, and He knows best.

Upon reflection (teachers love that, right?), I realized why God asked me to go through so much for this teaching license. I believe it is because He wants to make sure that I never, ever take that piece of paper for granted. He wants to be sure that I never take the blessing of being a teacher for granted.

Even as I write this now, I am crying. I will never, ever be able to express what is in my heart about this license.

If you are a teacher, I hope this story reminds you why you are one and makes you proud to have that license.

If you are not a teacher but are a parent, I hope this reminds you that your children's teachers, for the most part, are human beings who love your kids and are doing the best that they can.

If you are neither a teacher nor a parent, then I hope the one thing you get from what I wrote is this:

The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still. 

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