Payton Cherry is a 2019 graduate of Shorter University’s Christian Studies program. We asked her to give us an update on how God was using her in her new (and unexpected) job.
This year has been a rewarding but trying one. In just a year’s time, I have graduated college, gotten married, moved ten hours away from my hometown, and started a new job doing something I never in a million years thought I would be doing. Out of the many changes, the Lord saw fit to bring my way, the most unexpected and challenging is my new job. Throughout my life, I have had many people who have told me they could see me becoming a teacher. These well-meaning suggestions always received a nervous laugh and a quick “yeah…that’ll never happen.” Boy was I wrong. Long story short, I applied for a head softball coaching position at a local high school because I knew I wanted to coach in some capacity. Fast forward five months…I am a full-time ESE English 1 teacher and head girls softball coach in a high school with double the student population of Shorter. Yikes. Needless to say, I felt prepared for the softball gig but the teaching part was a “fake it ‘til you make it” type of thing…and yes I still have to fake it most days.
Kids are difficult. Teaching kids is difficult. Controlling kids is…I can come up with a lot of stronger words than simply “difficult”…most days. To every education major that could possibly be reading this, I have one question: how on earth did you intern in a classroom and still WANT to teach kids every day? If I knew what I was getting myself in to, I probably would not be sitting in Mrs. Cherry’s classroom typing this. But the Lord knew I needed these students and all the difficulties of teaching in my life.
A lot of the kids I teach did not grow up like me. Some come from broken homes. Some get passed around to different relatives. Some have been abused in ways unimaginable to my naïve mind. Some only eat Monday-Friday because it’s free at school. Some can’t read. Some fight at the drop of a hat. Some cower at the thought of having to look someone in the face and have a conversation. Some have no family. Some come to school filthy because their home has no running water. Some live in cars for days at a time. The list continues.
I do know that these realities are not specific to my area, but no one could have prepared me for the things I would learn about these kids. They were names without faces when I was hired for this job, but the Lord knew my heart would be moved when I got to know the lives behind these names.
As I learned what these kids went home to every day, it became harder and harder for me to justify teaching things like “literary terms” and “how to write an essay comparing two short stories,” you know, the regular English 1 class curriculum. Nothing wrong with the curriculum, it just didn’t seem relevant to my audience. I became angry. Like big mad. I was mad at the Lord. I was mad at myself. I was mad at these situations. I cried. I still cry. I told God I was angry. I still tell God I’m angry. But, you know what His Word tells me? It tells me that sin is ugly. It tells me that sin breaks things and that it is dark and that it hurts and that it destroys absolutely everything it touches.
That’s what I was seeing.
I was seeing the ugly effects of sin and a fallen world full of fallen people like myself. I went through a period of dread going to and from my job every day. I didn’t want to go to bed at night because I knew the next day I would wake up and go to a job that was so heavy and trying on my mind, body, emotions, and spirit. I would literally cry tears to the Lord because the job seemed much bigger than me…I think that’s one of the Lord’s point to me.
The things we deal with in life are ALWAYS much bigger than us. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we can handle it, and sometimes the Lord makes sure we can’t say, “This is something I can do on my own.”
Most of these kids I teach are lost and confused, searching for fulfillment in dangerous and empty places. At first, I was frustrated by this and grew in bitterness. I viewed this job as something that could purely function in the secular. I was frustrated at the environment I was in and felt like I could have no real impact on these kids I teach every day. But the Lord has shown me time and time again that no matter my doubts, He is, in fact, Lord over public education as well. He has been so gracious to place me in my job as an educator because it makes me grow.
He has allowed me to experience His grace in new ways. He has allowed me to somehow make connections with students who were hostile to me just a few short months ago. He has affirmed over and over again that the world is His, no matter if it is deemed secular or sacred.
Even typing this article overwhelms me because I keep asking the question, “Why me?” There are better educators, people with more compassion, more captivating speakers, and people with much more experience. But for some reason God chose me. He chose me to be a vessel in this particular place and at this particular point in time. He chose me to have the opportunity to love these kids with the love of Christ in a way that through word and deed proclaims His restorative power.
We don’t always know why God chooses to use us where He does. But I do know that because the Lord has chosen to use me, then use me He will. Praise God for that truth: the world is His.