Teaching is Activism

Abusive parents, feelings of abandonment, serious illnesses, death, stories of kids growing up way too fast, pressure to fit in, court cases, unhealthy relationships. I just finished reading a batch of student journals. Of course these heavy topics were sprinkled among entries about golf tournaments, learners permits, life philosophies, to-do lists, drawings of spaceships and talking pizzas, song lyrics and other light-hearted subjects. But it's the burdensome journals that stick with me for weeks. It's these that drive me to tears at my kitchen table with my trusty purple pen lingering over the paper as I try to come up with a set of soothing words to comfort each unique student. But somehow, "I'm sorry you have to deal with all of this. You shouldn't have to. Keep your head high and hold on to hope. If you ever need to talk, my door is open" just seems shallow and contrived. These entries keep me up late at night as I mill over what I should've done better to let each student know I care. These journals remind me why that one student sleeps in class and why the other never turns in his homework. Most of all---these journals and the students behind them remind me that to teach is to be an activist.

Anyone who is a teacher has these utopic visions of what teaching is like while they are an undergraduate student aspiring to be the next Erin Gruwell or John Keating. I never thought I'd deal with homelessness--run-away parents--abuse--and the other gamut of issues I deal with daily. I always thought I'd retire as a teacher. But now I'm not so sure. I love my job. I love my students. But I'm not sure how many sleepless nights due to that one "headache" child (who is a headache because that's the only time she gets attention) I can handle. I've heard that the life of an English teacher is five years, and after year three---I believe it. I've had it set in my mind that I'd do something different in five years--I'd go back to school full time to pursue a PhD so I don't have to deal with the hassles that sometimes come with teaching public education.

But if teaching is activism, then it's also service. And sometimes service sucks. Serving others isn't glamorous. It's not an 8-5 job. Serving sometimes requires us get dirty and wash grimy feet--to humble ourselves. And after reading those journal entries (even though it took me two hours to read 24 out of 75), I feel like I can't give up. My students need me to be there for them--to help them form productive words and actions that will spur change; they need me to be the voice that will speak for them when they can't or when nobody else will listen to them; they need me to speak about their amazing potential. I can't give up that responsibility. I can't walk away from them like so many people already have.

Unfortunately--many are leaving or will leave the education profession. Some, because they're not cut out for it while others will leave because politicians will push them out. And though it's emotionally and physically draining to teach in a day and age where teachers are not respected and students are treated as test-taking-robots, I'll continue to walk into my classroom with a smile on my face (though it may be burdensome) and love to pass out to each kid--even those who make me question my career path.


NETA 2011

Tomorrow after school I leave for NETA and I can't wait to get my nerd on and have my fill of technology! On Friday I'll be presenting a session on using Google in the secondary classroom in order to create more opportunities, more interaction and more motivation. I've created a website for the presentation---check it out if you feel like it :)


The need for a sense of community

In my graduate program so far, I've taken interest in the concept of community. I have worked hard in my classroom and my building to create a sense of community within in my classroom--a place where teachers and students alike feel comfortable in, a place they feel free to come to in the morning when they wait for the bell to ring, a place where they can open up and spill their guts out in words and speech. I think I've done a pretty good job of it so far, though I think most of my 9th graders last year felt this sense of community more than this year's group (several things have contributed to that--including my many absences from school due to conferences and adoption meetings).

But this morning as I began my study into the book of Acts (another one of my favorites), I realized that I don't have this sense of community I've been trying to give my students and fellow teachers. I've written about this before on my blog when I took the Place Conscious Education class last fall, but it's something that struck me again as I read the following verses,

"All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord's Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity---all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved" (Acts 2: 42-47).

I want this sort of community. I want to be connected with a group of people who are committed to fellowship, God's teaching, food and prayer---people who share everything and are selfless, people who don't value possessions too much. I think we all have an inner desire for a community like this. What seems so antithetic to me though, is my craving to be nomadic. It's hard to develop this deep sense of community when you get a three-year itch to move, to change venues. This is our third year in Ogallala and we haven't done a good job of connecting ourselves with a community outside of teaching and our students----we're starting to this year, but that itch is kicking in for me...so I'm conflicted.

Another thing that struck me as I read through these verses is a wondering if this community of believers accepted all or if they surrounded themselves with likeminded people. Part of why I think I've struggled to develop that sense of community in the past three years is because I've had a hard time finding people I can really click with---people who have a similar love for the written word, who love quirky music, have an affection for art and NPR, are committed to social justice, are intellectual yet goofy and pragmatic at the same time---people who share a similar set of beliefs and values. I think there are more people here whose interests line up with mine, but I struggle with putting myself out there. I'm terrible at it. I seem like an extrovert (and in some cases, I am), but I am pretty content at home with my books, coffee and computer. The old Simon and Garfunkel song comes to mind, I Am a Rock---here are some of the lyrics:

I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

But this sounds so damn depressing! I'm not really sure where this post is going--I feel like a rambler; what I think I'm getting at is that I need to try to shed off my hermit ways, fight through my nomadic desires and embrace others (even if they don't have an affinity for NPR) in order to create a community similar to the one described in Acts.


Freaked out about parenting

Today Nate and I attended an infant care class in North Platte taught by a nurse through the adoption agency we're working with. It was only two hours long, but it gave me a good picture of how much I don't know...how unprepared I feel to parent.

I haven't done a good job of learning about cribs, formula, car seats, immunizations, etc. First--I don't know where to start. Second--I don't know when to start researching. As prospective adoptive parents, we have no timetable. It could be three months until we're parents...it could be five years. It could be never. The final reason why I don't think I've taken the parenting research plunge is because I don't have that constant reminder that I'm going to be a parent like pregnant couples have. I don't spend my free time dwelling on parenting because, emotionally, I can't. Right now, because we have no timetable, parenting is not on the forefront of my mind. Maybe that makes me a terrible person....I don't know.

What I do know is that today I'm freaked out about parenting. What if we get placed with a child in the next coming months? Will we be ready? I know that we'll learn---I know that we'll do all we can to provide a loving, stable environment for our child---but it scares me (and at the same time fills me with joy) to think that one day we could be living child-free and then the next we could be bringing home a baby. What a mixed bag of emotions!


A Picture of Christ

I ran across this video on Don Miller's blog today and thought it was excellent. I typically don't like images of Christ; they just rub me the wrong way. But seeing the artistry that went into this image really struck me---the effort and time this artist (Jeremy Cowart) must have put into the image and the video's creation left me amazed and thinking that I need to use my talents more to glorify God. Enjoy.

A Portrait of Christ from Jeremy Cowart on Vimeo.


New Recipes

So....in honor of our musical's conclusion, I'm trying out new recipes. I LOVE cooking, but more importantly, I love cooking with fresh, wholesome ingredients. Last night I rifled through my cookbooks and the internet looking for a variety of new recipes to try out. Here's what's on the menu for the coming days in the Helzer home:

  • Rice noodles with peanut sauce---the recipe features fresh ginger, red peppers, carrots, green onions, natural peanut butter, rice noodles, broth and soy sauce.
  • Fettuccine with ricotta, tomato and basil---'nuff said!
  • Pita pizzas--this is cheating a bit because we used to eat these a lot in Kearney when we were poor newlyweds! Pitas are topped with hummus, spinach, peppers, olives, feta and whatever else we can throw on 'em.
  • Garbanzo bean sandwiches--the title sounds disgusting. Actually, it's a homemade hummus spread---garbanzo beans, walnuts, parsley, garlic, etc. Stuffed in pita pockets with red onions, cucumbers, tomatoes and LOTS of feta.
  • Chicken posole--a soup with hominy, rotisserie chicken, broth and tomatoes.
  • Quinoa primavera---I love quinoa and am always looking for good recipes to feature it! This particular one includes veggies, cream cheese, Romano cheese and broth.
  • Spaghetti Torte--spaghetti, ricotta, tomatoes and eggs to make a sort of pasta pie.
Tonight were trying the rice noodles with peanut sauce--the kitchen smells so good!


When Famous People Lie...

As I drank my morning coffee and browsed my Google Reader account for compelling stories to read on this overcast morning, I came across a NY Times article titled, 'Three Cups of Tea' Author Defends Book.

If you aren't familiar with the book Three Cups of Tea, I'll give you a brief summary: it's a memoir about Greg Mortenson's time in Pakistan and Afghanistan and what inspired him to create the Central Asia Institute charity that works to fund and build schools primarily for girls in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. This summer I picked up the young reader's edition in hopes that it might be a book I could teach to my Reading students. Though I decided against teaching it, I did love the book. It was a beautiful and inspirational story.

But due to a snippet on last night's 60 Minutes, today the headlines declare that Mortenson now has to defend some of the truth in his book. As I read the article, I imagined that people will be outraged about the possibilities that some of his book (a best-seller) might have been fabricated. As I read the article I wasn't outraged; instead I was dumbfounded--why should this surprise us? Why should it surprise us that he may have fudged on a few details of his narrative? We (common, non-famous, average joe folk) do it all of the time. Is it the morally correct thing to do? No. But what I'm trying to get at is sometimes we read books, listen to music and watch movies and take it all for absolute truth when, in all reality, it can't be absolute truth. We're humans...we have an inclination to fabricate. Nothing is absolute truth...well, nothing except the Bible.


An April Snow Day!

Thursday afternoon/evening/night we got dumped on with the most varied of weather conditions: rain, snow, thunder, and lightening. It was pretty incredible, actually. I took this photo Thursday evening; by Friday morning we had even more snow than this and the wind had picked up. At 6:15 both of our phones rang announcing that we had a snow day! Before we even answered the phones, we cheered.

So here's what we did on our snow day:

-Breakfast at the Sale Barn (they have AMAZING food, but we never get to eat there b/c they're only open during the weekdays from early in the morning until 2)
-Offroading in the Jeep
-Two hour nap
-Ate lunch
-Watched an insane TV
-Did a little bit of work
-Caught up with an old friend who also had a snow day
-Read a book

Now I'd like the weather to warm up enough to clear the streets of all the snow, slush and water so I can squeeze in my 8 miler today!


My mom

Me, my mom and my brother's girlfriend at Christmas time

At our house on Sunday night...

My mom is the best mom ever...seriously, she rocks. Here's one reason why:

A few weeks ago I was talking to my mom about how stressed I was with musical, school, grad classes and our adoption, so on Sunday afternoon she drove four hours to come see our musical. When we came home from striking the set, she had the table set and an amazing dinner and desert waiting for us. Then...she took Monday off so she could clean our house to help us prepare for our home inspection for our adoption! She left this afternoon while we were at school, but when I came home---the house was spotless, the table was set and dinner was in the crock pot. What a great woman with a servant's heart; a great example as we prepare to hopefully start our own family!

Thanks mom for all of your help!


Decreasing, Man's Approval and What We Spend Our Time Doing

Rather than posting my thoughts about my study this week in the book of John, I figured I'd just post the verses that I've been mulling over and let readers come up with their own thoughts.

"He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less" (John 3:30).

"Your approval means nothing to me, because I know you don't have God's love within you" (John 5:41).

"I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don't be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval" (John 6:26-27).

"The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63).

More Interaction, Opportunities and Motivation Through Google

In this session participants will be taken through life in a secondary classroom that has "gone Google." We will explore and discuss the processes and problems of moving assignments and your classroom online using tools like Blogger, Google Docs, Google Sites, and Google Reader.

This is what I'll be presenting at the NETA conference in Omaha in a few weeks. I actually submitted a proposal to present back in December and received the dreaded rejection letter in February (a director once told me that if you didn't have enough rejection letters to wallpaper your walls, you weren't trying hard enough!). But...I received an email yesterday asking if I would still be willing to present at the conference because someone had backed out. Of course, I said yes! Second-best is still okay in my book, especially with an opportunity like this :)

So...if you're attending the NETA conference, be sure to check out my session on Friday at 2:30!



Since starting musical rehearsals I haven't had a lot of time to sit and think--particularly about our adoption/infertility. But...on Tuesday we have our in-home home study visit with our case worker. So--we've been scrambling to try and fill out the piles of paperwork and get our house in some sort of order all while trying to put on a musical this week.

Today our adoption and infertility has really been on my mind. As I type, my breath is shortened and my heart is beating quicker than normal. These emotions catch me so off guard, and it drives me crazy. Maybe I'm thinking about this today because of all the pregnancy announcements, baby pictures from friends and blog posts about friends' kids that have been popping up like crazy in the past few months. Maybe it's because last night I had a dream about getting "that call"--the one where our case worker tells us she has a baby for us to come pick up (surprisingly this is the first time I've dreamed about this).

Over the years I've learned to cope with pregnancy or baby related news by either ignoring it or avoiding it. Unfortunately, this has hurt some of my relationships with friends and family---but that's not my intention. My intention is self-preservation--to keep myself from falling apart at the seams at the most random of times. Of course, not everyone understands this. I don't expect everyone to.

But today my emotions are a little different. It's not remorse at these wounded relationships. It's not remorse that we will probably never have children who look like us and it's not remorse that I will probably never get the experience of pregnancy. What I'm feeling today is fear. Fear that we may never be parents. Fear that we may never get to welcome a child into our home and watch him/her grow. As I try to swallow the growing lump in my throat, new fears arise. What if we do get that call that I dreamed of last night and we suck as parents? What if we are placed with a child who can't attach to us? What if we get that call and then the birth parents change their minds after meeting us?

I don't know why today is the day these fears have shaken my core. Maybe it's the rain...


Seussical the Musical

So...this is what's consumed our time since mid-February: our musical production of Seussical the Musical. Since this winter, we've been working with 57 students in grades 6-12 nearly 9 hours a week; lately we've been putting in 13-15 hour days pulling together loose ends for the production.

It has been enjoyable and stressful all the same time. Nate is the lead director and has devoted most of his time towards the show; he is so dedicated and wants nothing more than the kids to be successful and have a great time doing it. I came along in March to help with staging, costumes, set...the nitty-gritty of the show.

It's hard to believe that it's opening week already! Today our students ran the show in front of an audience of about 150 K-5 students from three different schools here in town. They LOVED it. Our Cat in the Hat did a fantastic job involving the kids. As I sat in the back and took notes, I choked up quite a few times out of pride for what these kids have accomplished.

Today our local news station, KNOP News, came out to interview a few students and take some video footage (all lined up by our Cat in the Hat; a 12th grader). The newsclip was on tonight---check it out below:

Show times this week are 7:00 on Friday and Saturday and 2:30 on Sunday. Tickets can be purchased at the door. It's a great family friendly show that teaches the importance of individuality and imagination--so bring out the entire family to the OHS Lecture Hall to see Seussical the Musical!


Thoughs from the book of John

This weekend I started reading the book of John again. Ever since I started to grasp the concept of having a personal relationship with Christ, I've been drawn to the gospel of John. Along with Romans and Acts, this book taught me a lot when I was a new Christian--and every time I read it, it comes alive in a new way...it's invigorating. I've only read the first two chapters this weekend, but here's what's stuck out to me this time around:


"God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He came into the very world he created, but the world didn't recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn--not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God." --John 1: 6-13

Last week a friend and I had a conversation about Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums...one of my favorites. He asked why I liked it; I explained that I was 17 when I first read it and it was a portrait of the life I always dreamed of having. I clung to the book and dreamed up different lives for myself--in one life I was living in downtown New York, acting in a few shows here and there, writing during the day, drinking and smoking with interesting people at night conversing about the probability of time travel and the beauty that lies within simplistic living. In another life, I traveled across the country stopping here and there long enough to make enough money to get me to the next destination. I lived primarily in the back of my vehicle or in tents high up in the mountains beneath a velvet, starry sky. I loved The Dharma Bums because I knew I wasn't ballsy enough to take the risks associated with either of those lives; I could live vicariously through the novel. I explained this condensed version to my friend and he responded with, "Let's face it, if it weren't for the saving grace of Christ you would be chained to a tree at a logging facility in protest, burning candles and chanting in between meals of all-natural yogurt and free-range wheat germ, all while stoned on cheap wine and expensive weed." And though this might be a slight (and humorous) exaggeration, it set my thoughts ablaze. Without that rebirth John writes about in his first chapter, I would be a totally different person....I'd be lost; it scares me to think of how far off I'd be without Christ. I'm continually amazed at the concept of grace...I am totally unworthy of the kind of grace God has given me; yet...I am His.


"Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. But Jesus didn't trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like."

I don't think this passage needs much explaining. It makes me think about the many times where my faith has been superficial and conditional--and dependent on a crowd and lots of obvious signs and flashy things. And thinking about these times makes me ashamed.

As I continue learning from the book of John, I'll try to post more of my thoughts. They'll be fragmented and not very eloquent, so if you are interested in that kind of thing...check back :)