Parish People and Places: JJ Penny
This week I had the privilege to sit down with a member of our community, JJ Penny, to hear a little bit about her work as a 7th grade teacher at Kealing Middle School in Austin and how she sees that work related to participation in God’s mission in the world. I hope you are as blessed and encouraged by this window into JJ’s work as I was to hear it firsthand.
JJ has been a public school teacher for nine years. Her previous eight years of experience were with Pflugerville ISD and this is her first year at Kealing, a MS in East Austin with 1,200 students. JJ originally had no plans to be a teacher and it was only through experiences as a summer camp counselor, teaching waterskiing, that she realized she had a knack for explaining things to others, especially younger teenagers and recognized a particular bent toward coaching others. When I asked her why she wanted to be teacher she described a love “for putting together systems that help kids be successful and enjoy life.”
JJ suggests that teaching is more about problem-solving than most people realize, and that students are more shaped by the relationship they share with their teachers. She mentioned how students are more likely to remember interactions with teachers, their kindness or anger, as problems are encountered and dealt with. She described seeing her work in the context of God’s love for every individual, and the view that He is “a part of forming them intellectually and emotionally - and I (as a teacher) am a part of that. God uses people to form others.”
JJ also described how her faith empowers her to teach with freedom, not defined by the imperfections and failures of each week. This seems especially important in a context where the brokenness of the world, and its effects on her students can be so easily seen. JJ named how she sees the brokenness of society and families manifested in students striving and acting out. She also described seeing the brokenness play out in our educational systems where lack of funding, political motivations, and structural inefficiencies put stress on teachers and lead to anger and burn out among educators.
It was an honor to be able to spend a little time with JJ in her classroom and catch a small glimpse of her interactions with students. I was blessed to see the ways that JJ is a part of God’s kingdom advancing as she seeks to serve her students in the name of Christ. Please join me in praying for JJ and her relationships with her students, and with her fellow educators, for opportunities to bear witness to God’s love in Christ, to be present to and serve them. Thanks for taking the time, JJ!