A Perfect Job in Hard Times
Brooke Cheng—Chicago, Illinois, USA
Having been away from the
workforce for more than thirteen years, I am now back working full time. In
today’s recessive economy, it is a miracle that I have been able to start a new
career. It was a big change for my family and me, but God’s grace made all the
On the surface, God has helped me
start a new career. But on a much deeper level, God has taught me how sweet it
is to trust Him.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths. (Prov 3:5, 6)
BECOMING A SCHOOL TEACHER
I never considered teaching as a
career. God gave me the opportunity to be a RE (religious education) teacher
after I moved to Chicago shortly after marriage. Teaching RE was great training
for my spirituality and servitude. I also realized I enjoyed being in the
classroom with children.
Nevertheless, my true calling came
when my husband’s business began to run into trouble. I wanted to help bring in
income for the family, but I was absent from the workforce for more than ten
years. After much consideration and research, I knew I needed to own a new job
skill to secure an income source if my husband’s business was to fail
Teaching came into my mind. At
this point in life, I wanted a career that was rewarding. Becoming a teacher
would also be good role modeling for my children. I decided to pray to God to
see if He would bless my wishful thinking.
Obtaining teaching certification
is a two-year investment of time and money, and I simply had no confidence that
my husband’s business would last that long. Even if it did, finding a teaching
position afterwards was a big uncertainty. I also hoped to teach somewhere
close to home so I could be home early to care for my children after school.
The first step towards eligibility
for enrollment in a teacher program in Illinois is to pass the state’s Basic
Skills test, which is a grueling five-hour test of reading, writing, and math.
I heard that many people had to retake the test numerous times before they
In prayer, I asked God to allow me
to pass the test in one sitting. Then I would know I made the right decision to
go into teaching. If I failed the test on my first try, then I would know it
wasn’t meant to be.
Taking the Basic Skills test and
the subsequent tests until I was finally certified were all nerve-wracking
experiences, and I felt under-prepared each time. Nevertheless, I passed all
the tests without retaking. With the success of each test, it was clear that
God was guiding me.
Some might think I was just lucky.
I knew when I looked at the questions that they were not easy. But I was able
to remain calm throughout the exhausting tests and came to educated guesses
after re-reading the questions. That was how I knew God was helping me.
THE LONG ROAD TO THE JOB PREPARED FOR ME
Two years of school and student
teaching was intense but rewarding. I finished my certification program in
spring 2008. At that time, my biggest concern was that my children would have
both parents working long hours. So I signed up for substitute teaching at
For two years, I had a vague idea
that my husband’s business was struggling in the worsening economy. But amazingly,
it survived another year. We continued to pray that God would preserve his
business. I had to believe that if God had guided us so far, He would sustain
us until I found a real job.
Substitute teaching turned out to
be an important learning experience. Teaching in different grade levels and
classrooms allowed me to build up the experience I desperately needed.
I learned that even a substitute
teacher needed to network. Without good relationships with the school
secretaries and classroom teachers, I wouldn’t receive many assignments.
Without a steady stream of assignments, the income for a substitute teacher was
small and without any benefits.
I also learned to be versatile and
flexible. Since I was new to the district, I often didn’t receive assignments
until late at night or early in the morning. Hence, I always said a prayer
before I left for work, asking God to give me enough wisdom to know how to deal
with a new group of kids and curriculum.
I also prayed for the safety of my
children because I needed to leave the house much earlier than them. That year
was a good training for the two of them to get ready for school on their own.
At that time, my son was in sixth
grade, so he was old enough to be responsible at home without parents for an hour
or two. I’d leave notes for them, and we made a big poster listing all their
responsibilities. Thank God, they were never late for the school bus or forgot
to bring their lunch boxes.
By the winter of 2008, I realized
it was only a matter of time before my husband’s business would close. The
notion of losing our sole source of income made me realize the urgency of
finding a permanent position.
There was no more time to bargain
with God. I needed to find a real job. Teaching was no longer a fallback plan—it
was about survival. I couldn’t be choosy anymore.
I changed my prayers. I told God
that I would go anywhere He wanted me to go. I would even move to another state
Around the end of January 2009,
the coldest time in Illinois, the hiring season began at the school districts.
I was determined to be more proactive and assertive in applying for jobs.
I continued to polish up the essay
application questions and I applied to many districts. After many prayers, I
finally worked up the courage to approach the new principal at the school where
I student taught to ask for an interview opportunity.
I went to teacher job fairs, where
I stood in line competing with many new college graduates for a five-minute
interview with each district. I needed to show God how much I wanted to work
In February, I finally got my
first formal screening interview with the district where I substituted. Maybe
it was the talk I had with the principal, maybe it was the sub experience.
Whatever it was, I was just elated about this opportunity.
I tried my best during the
interview but my nerves got the better of me. Two weeks later, I received the
rejection letter. I was completely dejected. I had no more connections left.
The last door had closed on me.
When I shared the news with the
resident pastor in Chicago, he encouraged me, saying, “God has already found
you the job, you just have to wait for it. Don’t give up!”
I told myself that I was allowed
to mope for two days, and then I needed to move on. The failed experience was
another learning experience. Next time, I would do better.
From then on, I just kept praying.
I held onto Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who
Indeed, when all human doors are
closed, God’s door of grace is opened. In March, I was referred to a district thirty-five
minutes away to be a one-on-one aide to a student who was recently adopted from
Since it was just a temporary job
until the end of the school year, there were no benefits and the pay was even
less than a substitute teacher’s daily rate. I took the job anyway. I
considered it more training from God, and I could put this new experience on my
The Chinese student turned out to
be extremely challenging. She had never been in school before and had physical
and psychological disabilities. Every day was a new challenge with her. But the
principal appreciated my effort and offered to look out for job opportunities
for me. I felt much encouraged.
Shortly after I started as an
aide, I received news that a district nearby opened a position in a middle
school for a Chinese teacher. Although my certificate was for elementary
education and I did not have a middle school endorsement, I updated my resume
and submitted the application anyway.
With this opening, a brand new
door was opened for me. My certificate would allow me to teach in middle
schools if I completed just two more courses equivalent to six credit hours.
Most of all, the pool of applicants would imaginably be much smaller than for
regular teachers at the elementary level.
GOD CARRIED ME THROUGH
In April, I received the call for
an interview. I was extremely nervous and asked friends at church to pray for
That was the most challenging
interview I ever experienced. There was first a forty-five minute writing test
with three essay questions, then an interview that was videotaped.
As it happened, the staff was
friendly. The principal was warm and laughed at all the jokes I made. During
our conversation I was able to refer to my student teaching experience and the
work with the Chinese student.
I received the invitation for the
second interview the following week. I was told it was down to the final three
candidates. This time, I met with the chair of the foreign language department,
two parents, and the principal. Two days later, I received a call asking me to
teach a mini-lesson to a group of sixth graders.
God carried me through the whole
process, and the school offered me the job within two days. The day I went to sign
the contract with the district in May, I listened to the praise song “I Saw the
Light” in my car. I finally saw the light at the end of the long tunnel. The
waiting was over, and I sang along:
“I saw the light I saw the light
No more darkness, no more night
Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord, I saw the light.”
For me, it was evident that God
created the job position for me. “For I know the thoughts that I think toward
you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and
a hope” (Jer 29:11).
As I yielded to the possibility of
moving anywhere God wanted me to go, He placed me right back in a school that was
a mere fifteen-minute’s drive away. I had secured the contract even before I
registered for the courses for middle school endorsement. God had given me this
assurance even before I was completely certified.
In the summer, I took the state
content area test in Mandarin to qualify for teaching Chinese and completed the
courses. Everything was ready before school started in fall.
But that is not all. God’s grace is
so much deeper and wider. Looking back, my husband’s business continued to run
in spite of the market downturn. It held on just long enough for me to complete
my teacher’s training.
When the business closed, my husband
was able to receive unemployment payments until I started working. By the time
I received my first paycheck in September, his unemployment had expired. God
The first year of teaching is
tough. I often feel exhausted but I remind myself to do my best to glorify
God’s name. Thank God that my husband is now home with the kids, as I often
stay late after school. I don’t have to worry about them missing the school bus
in the morning, or that no one feeds them after school.
I know I will survive as long as I
continue to trust in His guidance and ask Him to bestow wisdom and strength on
And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your
heart. I will be found by you, says the LORD… (Jer 29:13, 14)
May all glory be onto His name!