“One day, Joni Smith, you are going to do great things.” I never heard those words as a child but the thing is I never needed to hear them….I wanted to hear them but I didn’t really need them because I have this great thing called faith. My faith in Christ has always been the foundation on which I plot my course and the drive which lies within me to encourage and enrich the lives of the students that I am blessed to call my own. I am reminded that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). I know this to be true because I am living proof of this phenomena.
In my youth, I wanted to break the mold and defy the statistics. I didn’t want my traumatic past to determine the steps of my future. I have suffered through so much pain and it took most of my childhood to recognize that with God’s help, and the help of the family and friends that He has provided, I have been able to overcome the odds that were seemingly stacked against me.
Like me, many of our students face overwhelming odds, and we as educators, mentors and advocates are responsible for encouraging and nurturing these young minds. Our babies need someone to tell them that they are capable of doing amazing things and that they are worthwhile and valuable; I wish someone had spoken these words to me. It wasn’t until years later that I developed the faith necessary to trust God and finally believe that I CAN DO ALL THINGS.
The adversity I faced early in life definitely generated a tremendous growth in my character. It’s difficult to believe that I would one day become a successful science teacher, when as a third grader at Northside Elementary I was coping with becoming an orphan and struggling in school daily. No one could have predicted that an emotionally lost 6th grader at Denham Springs Junior High that was being neglected in foster care would go on to be recognized as the Louisiana State Teacher of the Year. Who could have known that a quiet 10th grader at Live Oak High School that was depressed and yearning for parental love and support would one day stand in the oval office and be commended by the President of the United States.
It’s been said that teachers have superpowers. Well my superpower is helping students carve their own path no matter how difficult their childhood may have been. We learn from our pasts, our mistakes and move forward not allowing any label to adhere. We learn to trust and believe in ourselves to grow and be successful.