Sometimes, we sing songs without them having a personal meaning. We sing it because we heard it on the radio, at home, or in the church. Young teenage me led a gospel song in my church’s young adult choir. It is called “New Life.” I led the song because I was told to lead it by my choir director, who happened to be my mom. ☺️ With my recent move, I was talking to one of my friends. She said “Carman, do you remember the song you sang growing up, Brand New Life?” I said yea. She said that’s what you’re living.” Later on that day and several moments since then, I have reflected on the words of the song. Now, “New Life” has a more personal meaning for the grown up me.
Verse one says “I moved from my old house. I moved from my old friends. I moved from my old way of strife. Thank God, I moved out to a brand new life.” Verse two says “He changed my old way with words. He changed my old leveled mind. He changed my heart and gave me new start. Thank God, I moved out to a brand new life.” Bridge.. “Can’t you see I’m a new man. Don’t you know I got a new name. And one day, I’ll live in a brand new land.” She ends it with saying. “I got a new walk. I got a new talk. I got a new look. I got a new name. I got a new heart. I got a new mind. I got a new home, and a new start is going my way. Yes, it is. Because I moved out to a brand new life.”
The lyrics are talking about how God changed the person’s heart from a sinner to now a believer in Christ. I thought about the words in a literal sense for what is going on in my life for the year of 2022 and the beginning of 2023. I can say that I truly appreciate the words to the song even more.
Often times when we reflect back in life, we ask ourselves the question if we saw ourselves doing a particular thing a year ago. I wouldn’t even have to go back a year. I can say if someone asked me these questions six months ago that my answers would not have been yes. If someone asked me, Carman, do you think you’d live in another state? I would have said no. If someone asked me if I was going to teaching English for over 125 middle school students, I would have quickly said heck no. Never in my life, I would not have seen myself doing either of them. Jeremiah 29:11 says “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord.” I am trusting in His plan more and more each day.
After being in banking for 25 years, it was harder learning something totally different. I had to shift my brain from bank customers to students. I had to learn new things.Banking has federal regulation that employees have to abide by each day. Teachers have state and federal regulations and laws too.
When I was reading or hearing a coworker speak of 504 plans, ESE, ESL, those things were like listening and learning a foreign language. All of them have certain things that the teachers must do in order to make sure the appropriate student is being treated fairly and ensuring the right accommodation/s are made in order for the student to be successful in the classroom. Initially, I was becoming frustrated because it was taking me longer to catch on. I prayed and gave myself a pep talk. I told myself that I deserved grace. I didn’t know banking the first day I began. It took time to learn those things. Why was I so hard on myself to learn benchmarks, IEP’s, and what a 504 accommodations in a week or even a month? As each day arrives, I learn a little more each day. As each day arrives, that light inside my brain clicks each day. As each day arrives, my understanding develops more and more.
Even in the short time that I have been teaching, God has blessed me. The school district had a voluntary writing contest about Dr. Martin Luther King. I’d told all my students about it and encouraged them to write. If you have or know 7th grade children, they don’t want to do anything that’s not mandatory. A couple of days before the deadline, the principal asked all teachers (not just the English department) to ask our students again if they would consider participating in the contest. Our school had won in the past, but how could we win again if we didn’t have anything to submit in middle school division? I have two advanced classes and some strong writers in one of my regular class. I asked all my students again and pleaded with those three classes. Out of more than 125+ students, I had two that submitted essays.
All submissions were to be printed and turned in to the central office on October 31 by 11:00 am. That morning, we experienced technical issues. My students were trying to email me their essays for me to print. They didn’t have me until 6th period. 6th period doesn’t begin until after 1:00 pm. We were trying to meet the deadline. They were going from teacher to teacher to get it to email with the attachment or have the teacher to go ahead and print it. Neither option was working. We were down to almost the last hour. Finally, it went through to one of the front desk secretaries. She printed it off for the students and gave them to Dr. Leatherwood (school principal). Dr. Leatherwood made sure there would be no technical issues with the students meeting the deadline. She had them driven to the central office.
One morning, during 3rd period, I was sitting at my desk and received an email. The subject line said “Congratulations.” I opened it to read. One of my students won the written essay contest in the entire school district for the middle school division. Polk County is the the 7th largest school district in Florida with over 150 schools. I screamed inside the class. My students said “Ms Long. What is it?” I told them that one of my students won the essay. Immediately, I called the principal and asked her to check her email. She made an announcement over the school’s intercom letting the student body and staff know of the accomplishment.
There was a banquet with all winners from K-12. The attendees were all the winners and family (1st-3rd place from every division), teacher (of the student with overall winner of the particular division ), and principals (from the perspective student) were invited to attend. There were employees from the school district, the sheriff of Polk County and some of his staff, and other local politicians that were attendance with us. The winners from each division read their essays to the entire crowd. My student and I were recognized on stage and had our picture taken for the school’s website. This week, one of the local newspapers came to the school and interviewed the two students from our school that won the essay, their teachers, and our principal. It will be printed this week. The Lord continues to bless.
A few weeks after the Martin Luther King award, I received another email. I was selected as “Rising Star” for my school, Citrus Ridge: A Civics Academy. The award is for first year teachers that are making a difference in their school. The award is given by a national women organization, Delta Kappa Gamma. I am not the only first year teacher at Citrus Ridge, but I am very humble and ecstatic about being selected. There was a banquet for it as well. After the ceremony, several came to me and said that my story was inspiring. I take no credit. I give all the glory to God.
As other schools in the US, Florida has state testing at the end of the year. During the school year, Florida has the students do practice testing for preparation. Teachers and administrators are able to see if students are digressing, staying the same, or progressing. For the majority of my students, they are improving. It makes me happy to see that they are trying their best. That’s what I encourage them to do on a daily basis. I have four classroom rules. The last one says “believe in yourself.” I do not allow them to tell me that they can’t do it or allow them to put themselves down. I will tell them quickly to read rule number four.
One of my students came to me on Friday. At the beginning of the school year, I could not get him to read or participate during class. Friday morning, he said “hey Ms. I studied for my test.” I said you did. I’m proud of you. Then, he asked when we were going to the library again because he had been reading at home for 30 minutes a day as I asked them to do. He was finished reading his book and needed another one. I told him it would not be until next week, but I had some on my book shelf that he could pick out. He grabbed a book about football. When he left my class, I began to cry. I know it seems minute, but it is really huge. A lot of the students are below reading level. This is not just for my school. It is all over the United States. If you look at statistics, you will see that America has a problem with literacy. https://www.crossrivertherapy.com/research/reading-statistics The thing is, he could have gotten two books when we last went to the library, but he only got one. Now, he has an excitement to go to the library and to check out two books. Yes. I was in tears because my prayers are being answered.
Before I stepped foot in the school, my prayer to God was that my classroom be a safe place. I prayed that the students know that they are loved. I prayed that I instill values in them. I prayed that they develop a passion to read and write. I know that I will not be able to have all 125+ on board, but I want as many as I can. As long as I am in the classroom, I will always give my best to the students. It is a learning process for me as well. I know together that we can do it.
Let’s keep living Carman. The only way to go is up. I’m thankful for the opportunity for a new job. A new home. A new location. A new me. A new life. .. #blessup