When you are called to go out of your comfort zone and to another country.
She asked me if I was going to teach when I got back to the U.S. I told her no because in the U.S. you need to be certified and I am not a certified teacher. She asked me how I learned to be a teacher if I’m not certified. She said I seemed like a professional teacher who has been teaching for years. I told her I thought it was a “calling” and that certifications are good, but a piece of paper cannot make someone a good teacher. I told her that I had always wanted to be a teacher, but for various reasons, I was never able to do it. As I sat in a coffee shop in Siguatepeque, Honduras with one of my student’s parents, speaking to her in relatively fluent Spanish, I began to think through the events in my life that brought me to this place.
From the time I graduated high school, the thought of being a teacher was always in the back of my head. Throughout my 20’s I thought I’d have time to figure it out later. But in the mid 30’s, I started to worry about my future. I did not worry about money or a job. I worried about my purpose. I started to notice that my friends had homes and marriages and kids; and, I looked around and realized that I didn’t have those things. Then, I understood I didn’t want those things and began to wonder why I did not want them. It wasn’t long before I rose to worry that I would live a purposeless life. That, I would end up working in Government contracting until retirement, never having done anything truly purposeful. I thought teaching was my purpose and I started making plans to do whatever I could to explore that before it was too late.
Finally, in 2014, the year I would turn 37, I got what I thought was an amazing opportunity to move to New Orleans and teach. At the time, I was living in Florida and having bought a house less than two years earlier. But, decided to sell it and move to New Orleans. I was so excited, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought I was finally going to live my dream. Experienced teachers are probably laughing at this point. That first year, was the worst year of my life to date. I struggled more than I have ever struggled with anything in my life. I would even go so far as to say I hated it. I know this because when I think back to the things I’ve done, there are a lot of things that I wouldn’t mind repeating. This is the only event in my life that I would never repeat.
Don’t get me wrong; I loved my students. But, I hated what I had to do every day. Every day, I went to school and tried to teach my students something that always seemed so irrelevant to their daily lives. I wondered why I should teach them about verbs and nouns when they hear gunshots at night. I wondered how knowing about the American Revolution was going to help them when the lights get cut off at their house. I wondered how I was going to teach a 7th grader, who can’t read (or hate reading) when they want to drop out. Every day, I wanted to do a good job. So, every night, I worried all night and couldn’t sleep. During the day, I was exhausted. Because I was exhausted, I wasn’t myself. Then, there would be a fight, or one of my students would bomb a test. I would go home and worry and over think everything I did and not sleep. I was in this cycle for almost the entire school year.
When that year was over, I thought I would never teach again. Thinking back to that time, I think I should have been sad at what I thought was the end to my life’s purpose, but I was relieved. I had always had this “fear” of living on a teacher’s salary. I grew up poor, and I did not want to be a poor adult. I wanted things, and I knew I needed money for this life. So, I thought this was a sign that I could finally live my life as a free single person with disposable income. After I left teaching, I spent that next year buying things and lived in an expensive apartment. I was looking to buy a newer, better and bigger car (even though mine was three years old at this point and was paid-off). I decided to leave New Orleans for the DC area, so I could find a job that had upward mobility (e.g., more money).
One day, in May 2016, I was at my computer looking for apartments in Ballston/Alexandria, VA area, when an old acquaintance/co-worker messaged me and asked me if I would consider teaching at a bilingual school in Honduras. My response was “I have to pray about this because I am excited about my plans for August.” But I’m a “good” Christian; so, I knew that’s what I had to say. Sadly, I was not interested. I had already pictured myself as a wealthy single woman, living in an expensive apartment somewhere with a great view, and an excellent neighborhood. But, I couldn’t sleep that night. I couldn’t stop thinking about how this might be THE opportunity.
Kahlilah Hammond is a seeker of knowledge and purpose. Always learning, always asking, never satisfied with the status quo. Kahlilah has been teaching fifth and sixth grade at a bilingual school in Honduras for the last two years and is currently trying to figure out what her next move is.