Hey, can you send me a picture of you in your classroom to be featured on the GRIT Instagram account?

During a GRIT strategy meeting, I sent this text Natalie, one of my best friends, and a fellow Biola alumna (2013). When I think of Biola women thriving in their chosen fields, Natalie is one of the first people who comes to mind, and I thought a picture of her, plus a short description of what she does, would make a great feature on our Instagram feed.

Instead of a couple of sentences about her work, Natalie wrote the piece below—and I knew we'd need to give her beautiful words a bigger platform than an Instagram caption. Natalie's wisdom and passion consistently enrich my life—I know they'll do the same for yours.

The short answer to the "what do I do" question? I'm a special education teacher in East Los Angeles.

The long answer?

I started at Biola as an English major. English was always my best subject, but beyond that, I didn't have much of a plan. I was fortunate to have some incredible teachers when I was in high school, but doubted whether I had the personality (or the energy) to teach. Eventually after a couple switches, I found my way to communication disorders. I loved all of my classes, but it wasn't until the spring of my senior year I took a course about hearing loss and felt a pull, a drive to pursue a career in that field that I had not felt about anything before. Teaching elementary school was never on my radar, but now I couldn't imagine doing anything else.

My title now is "DHH teacher," or deaf/hard of hearing teacher. I teach a class of 2nd and 3rd graders who are deaf or have hearing loss. The catch? I don't sign. At all. My students use what is called the "listening and spoken language approach." Each of them wear cochlear implants or hearing aids, both of which are incredible technologies that allow them to access sound in a way they would otherwise not be able to. The world of deaf education is diverse and beautiful, and there are many different philosophies or approaches to working with students with hearing loss. I firmly believe that one approach is not better than another, that so long as each student has access to a form of language that allows them to communicate, as deaf educators we are all working towards the same goal.

In addition to teaching the elementary curriculum, I work with my students on listening skills, language development, speech targets, and much more. Because many of my students were fitted with their hearing technology when they were a bit older, often they demonstrate language and/or developmental delays and other learning challenges.

I was constantly plagued with "imposter syndrome," thinking that all of my peers really had it together, knew what they were doing, and I was just somehow getting by.

In my two years so far as a teacher I've encountered a hundred things I never could have learned without "doing." When I left grad school, I still felt like there was no way they were really going to let me teach a classroom of students by myself. Reflecting back on my Biola experience, especially in a competitive major, I was constantly plagued with "imposter syndrome," thinking that all of my peers really had it together, knew what they were doing, and I was just somehow getting by. Even when professors would encourage me, I still felt like they must somehow be fooled or mistaken.

To be completely honest, some days I still feel like an imposter, and the amount of responsibility I feel now as a teacher is something I don't think I'll ever be comfortable with. I think when I was at Biola, I was waiting to feel this level of settledness or comfort in what I was doing and now I'm not sure I'm supposed to feel that. I make mistakes all the time, I think of ways I could have handled things better all the time, and that's okay. I'm learning to show up, to be fully present--these are things I didn't know how to do when I was in college. I still don't, but I'm determined to never stop learning.

The other day, I came across a picture of myself on graduation day. I felt a little sad truthfully, remembering how I was feeling at the time. I wish I could go back and tell myself that it wasn't "the end," that my best days were ahead of me, and still are. That it was 100% okay that my only future plans on that day were to move home and find a part-time job. That the Lord would soon begin both some magnificent healing and some heavy lifting in my heart. That although I felt like depression had prevented me from forming the type of friendships it seemed like everyone around me had, a "village" would find me, regardless. That the process I began doesn't have a deadline or expiration date. I'm in process, in progress, and it's okay. I'm okay.

Okay, the really long answer.