I wasn’t always the cleanest kid. When I was in sixth grade, I’d smell test my clothing, forget to brush my teeth, walk around with my bushy, curly hair, and wear high water pants while having my shirt tucked in. My glasses were thick, my socks were worn high, and wearing deodorant wasn’t on the top of my to do list in the morning. I’d carry all my books in my backpack and wear it up high. I’d forget to do my homework and come to class unprepared. My braces would show every time I smiled. I was the perfect target for bullying and as luck would have it, I was.
I was laughed at and called names by my classmates and I heard them talk badly about me. A few even pushed me to the floor when the teachers weren’t looking. I’ll never forget the day I came to class without my homework. My classmates laughed at me while the teacher watched as I cried, and did nothing to stop them. Not once did a teacher come to my aid, and my classmates knew that. I’d come home crying everyday and was stuck in a never ending cycle of abuse. The bullying affected me so much that I developed Shingles, a skin disease that is caused by high levels of stress. The boils itched and were sore and it wasn’t until I showed my mother that she pulled me out of public school and enrolled me in Catholic school for a semester. I despised Junior High. I wanted nothing to do with anything related to that time in my life.
Years later, I decided to become an elementary school teacher. After a year of searching for work with no luck, I fell to my knees to pray. I prayed earnestly for an opportunity somewhere. Little did I know that God has a sense of humor. The only open door for me was to work as a substitute teacher at a Junior High, in the exact same school district that I attended. As I taught, God shone a light on the opportunity that he presented me with. I understood what these students were going through. The scars I bared were still fresh in my mind and I was able to connect with these students on a totally different level. I’ve been able to share my testimony and give hope and stop verbal abuse multiple times in my presence.
One day, I had a student come up to me after class and thank me for stepping in. He told me that I was the first person to ever do so for him. It was then that I told myself that I would not be like the teachers I had when I was their age. I would stand up for these kids and give them hope, encouraging them to reach out and talk to a counselor or loved one.
In the book of Proverbs 3:5-6 it says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” By completely trusting in God to guide me, he led me back to the place that I had run from for so many years. It has allowed me to heal and to be a witness to these children who desperately need someone to tell them more than “It is just a phase, in a few years you’ll forget.” I acknowledge the emotions and pain the child is facing and tell them that what they feel is very real, and they are loved.
Today, I am proud to say that I’m not only a certified elementary school teacher, but a junior high teacher in not one subject, but in four. My journey isn’t over and although I’m not where I thought I wanted to be, I know in my heart that God placed me exactly where I need to be, and I love him for that.
Alejandra Rodriguez Clark has worked with youth at summer camps and schools for over eight years. She's a certified teacher and pastry chef currently working at Sharyland North Junior High.