May 30, 2023

An Educator’s Journey

I love serving God, and I love teaching, plain and simple

Emmy Rodriguez Harris

Heart thumping, I walked away feeling as if I had been given a terminal diagnosis. My academic advisor’s words rang in my ears. “I’m changing your assignment. You’ll be finishing your student teaching at an inner-city middle school for the remaining time.” It was bad enough that he had added “teaching certification” to my master’s degree. Now this? Sending me to the very school that had derailed the dreams of numerous other teacher aspirants? “Just four weeks,” he’d said. I felt sick.

I had always wanted to be an attorney. I had wanted to travel the world and save humanity. People told me all the time, “You would make a great teacher!” I couldn’t see it. I knew where my life was headed, and teaching was not a part of it! Despite my doubts, my advisor convinced me to give teaching a chance. As I nervously walked into that inner-city middle school a few days later after being spoiled in an affluent suburban elementary school, my life was changed forever.

There in that school, where police officers roamed the hallways, where students came from broken and dysfunctional homes, where empty stomachs were the norm, where students spent evenings hiding from flying bullets, and where the name “Ms. H” was born, I found my calling from God. This place, so far from my original dream of being an attorney, was where I realized that to teach was to breathe life into the next generation.

I graduated, and my husband received military orders to South Korea and then Japan for several years. I was a missionary teacher in Korea and taught elementary students in Japan. They were not very different from us. They worried about the same things, stressed out over tests, and struggled with math.

Back in the States, I taught in an Adventist academy. I loved the freedom of teaching Christ to my students, but juggling a multigrade classroom curriculum and getting desired and needed resources was challenging at times. As the military continued to move us, I changed my focus to sharing God’s love in public schools. Resources and classroom support for special needs, English learners, or gifted students were readily available. I taught only one grade at a time. The pay was better. But I was often exhausted and overwhelmed with the ever-growing requirements from school districts and the government. I continued to pour everything into my students—”my kids”—and frequently ran on fumes. 

The stress of teaching through COVID-19, compounded with increasing demands to teach material contrary to my Christian beliefs, played a role in my recent return to Adventist education. Working at a K-10 Adventist academy as a 6-8 teacher and school principal can be intense. The pay is still less, multi­grade teaching is still challenging, and resources still don’t flow as readily. But it was never about the money, and God always provides what’s needed. Most important, the benefits from our wholistic educational program far outweigh the challenges.  Being an educator, a light to young people in a public school or an Adventist one: that’s my passion. I love serving God, and I love teaching, plain and simple. Eyes closed, I smile—grateful that my “terminal diagnosis” turned out to be my calling from God.