Stories of Teachers' Impact

If you're a teacher and need some encouragement and validation, or if you're not a teacher--but appreciate the good work teachers do, check out this post I recently published on my PLN blog. It's an excellent tribute to teachers!


Thoughts from Hebrews

This morning I settled in for a cup of coffee and quiet time. My soul has been unsettled this week. One of my favorite bands, Wilco, releases a new album on Tuesday, and NPR had a sneak peak of it a few days ago. It's a perfect album for the confused mood I'm in. In the moment, I thought I was simply stressed. But after my quiet time today, I think it's more than stress.

I've been studying Hebrews, one of my favorite books of the Bible. I've studied it a few times, but this time has been different since I'm in a newer Bible, still void of my scribblings, highlightings, and musings. It's allowed me to look at Hebrews in a new light. Today I studied Hebrews 11 which contains a run-down of the faith greats. This has always been the portion of Hebrews I've keyed in on the most--the stories of Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, etc. But today found myself underlining and starring different verses. Here's what jumped out at me today:

"All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did NOT receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them" (Hebrews 11:13-16).

I have to confess---for too long I've looked too much like the world. I've been wrapped up in my job, I've focused too much on achieving worldly success, people haven't been as important to me as they should. My eyes have been set not on my heavenly homeland and extending that to others but have instead been focused on what I can do to further my career. I hate that I've fallen into this trap. I felt myself slipping into it last spring, and I've let it sweep me up again. These verses are a great reminder to me that this world is not my home. I have a serious lifestyle change ahead of me. It's not going to be easy.

Here's another set of verses that jumped out at me today:

"By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back from death. But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and hols in the ground. All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us" (Hebrews 11:33-39).

The verses in bold print have been tough for me. This week I've thought a lot about our adoption. We haven't received any calls yet about meeting any birth parents or bringing home any babies. When we were placed on the list of available adoptive parents back in July, I secretly believed some of the comments people made when they heard we were placed on the list, comments like, Oh, you guys are young, you'll get picked right away! Or, Two teachers--who wouldn't pick you?!? It's only been a little over 2.5 months since we were approved, and most couples we've talked to were on the list for a year or longer. But as crazy as it seems, somehow I thought we'd be picked by now. I worry that we'll never be picked. That we'll remain childless forever. It chokes me up to type that. That's why the bolded verses are hard for me to grapple with. The faith greats I've read so much about did not receive all God had promised them. Some were tortured, others were isolated, and some would've received respite had they only turned from God. But they didn't. They kept their hope in an eternity spent with Him. They knew what God had in store for them was way better than anything they could have here on earth.

My unsettled soul is a result of more than just stress. God's teaching me some tough lessons this week that have shaken me up a bit. It'll take time, diligence, and prayer to struggle through these in order to become all that God wants me to be.


Blogging, Bacon, and Beer

This evening I carried in bags of ungraded quizzes and left behind 27 journals that need read, I have missed one training day this week, there's a sticky note to-do list on my laptop that seems to be growing longer and longer by the minute, the dust layer on the piano is getting mighty thick, the bed has gone unmade for days, I still don't have a location lined up for the 7-12 writing festival I'm supposed to be spearheading, my cough is hanging on strong, I have a presentation next week for some of my former high school teachers (scary!) that is not yet created, the stress of doing the coaches show for the first time (by myself because the head coach is out of town) tomorrow morning is hanging over my head, and my PLN blog is looking pretty sparse. Oh, and I haven't spent any time with my husband this week because I've spent my evenings coaching and grading. I came home in tears tonight and told my husband that I'm not sure I can be the best at everything. I can't be the best wife, teacher, coach, grad student, advocate for the NeWP, writer, runner, etc. I don't know what my problem is. A few weeks ago I made a personal vow to not be ruled by productivity. And here I am again, blogging, eating bacon and drinking a beer in my rickety rocking chair trying to calm myself down. I've run myself to the ground when I still have a marathon left.

It's not necessarily that I feel the need to be number one at everything I do. I have so many interests and so many things I want to invest in, but I can't possibly do my best (which is what I feel God wants us to do) at everything. I confess that I have placed my job first--way above my spiritual walk and my relationship with Nate. I've been a terrible friend and family member. I know there has to be a lifestyle change before bringing a child into our home, and since I don't know when that day will be, I feel the need to prep myself now. But what compromises do I make? There are obviously a few responsibilities and commitments that will stay: my relationship with Christ and my marriage. But how do I decide which role to cut back on?

I'm at an overwhelming crossroad in life...it's not the first time and it certainly won't be the last. So, I'll continue to eat bacon. Just kidding. Actually, I think the first thing I must do is take a break...with my husband. All week I've been running and working, leaving Nate to do sink fulls of dishes. As much as it kills me to walk away from the 160 ungraded quizzes, 26 ungraded notebooks, unfinished lesson plans and projects, I will do that tonight. Tomorrow I'll hit the road running (literally since we have Saturday practice) at 6:30. I'm hoping a new day will help put things into perspective for me.

A Minor Breakthrough

Had a small, but incredible breakthrough with a student today. I have an ELL student in class this year, and we have no ELL services. Needless to say, it's been a challenge! We've relied heavily on Google Translate and the translate button on Google Docs. Today over lunch he came in to my classroom with about 15 minutes left in the period, and I think he asked if he could be in my room. I told him he could, and then we proceeded to have a conversation the best we could. In those 15 minutes I found out that he is living here with his dad. His mom and brother and sister are still in Mexico. While in Mexico and California he witnessed many deaths due to drug trafficking via aviation. This kid is so young but has already seen so much.

Our journal prompt today was: give three reasons why you want to go on living your life. After I translated it for him, he wrote, The three reasons I want to live my life are my mother, my father, and my siblings. He came up and showed me and I wrote, hermoso (which Google Translate tells me is Spanish for 'beautiful') on his page. While my other students took a quiz over figurative language, I asked him to write his story. He typed it up so diligently on Google Translate and then would bring me the paragraphs translated into broken English. My heart swelled today as I read his work and listened to him try and speak in English. I can't even begin to imagine how difficult it would be to walk in his shoes, everyone around you speaking a foreign language all day long.

Before this I was frustrated about having this student in class. I was mad that our district doesn't have any services to offer him, I was tired of trying to adapt everything I do for him and then make accommodations and modifications for ten other students as well. I had a bad attitude. But today it faded. Today during journaling time I played Brandon Heath's song, "Give Me Your Eyes." The chorus really has stuck with as I reflect on my minor breakthrough with this student:

"Give me your eyes for just one second / Give me your eyes so I can see / Everything that I keep missing / Give me your love for humanity"

Teaching is exhausting. But this song is a great reminder of how to redirect my crabbiness and try to see situations and people the way God sees them.


"Waiting for Superman" Reflections: Part 2

After watching the last part of Waiting for Superman I realize that one way to affect positive change in education is by attracting good people to the teaching field, training them properly, and then retaining them.

During my undergraduate program I sat alongside other to-be-teachers, and wondered how some of them would make it. There were a few in my classes that I would never want teaching my kids. Yet--these people managed to gain acceptance into the College of Education and then managed to earn a teaching degree despite their massive degree of incompetence. I wondered over and over again, why are we passing these people through the system? I knew then as well as I know now that it's a money game. I know that many school districts (especially in my rural area) are desperate for teachers...no matter their competence level. But there HAS to be a change. We cannot keep passing inept people through education colleges.

In some institutions, the training of teachers also needs to change.* I had two excellent education professors in my undergraduate career. Both of these professors--Ken Mumm and Dr. Susanne Bloomfield--made me think, gave me experiences I needed to become the teacher I am today, and challenged my idea of quality teaching. The others tended to present watered down information from a textbook, weren't in the business of challenging students, and simply seemed to be collecting a paycheck or waiting for tenure. I didn't sense the passion for education. We need education professors who have spent time in the trenches of public education, who have first-hand experience working with students. We also need to create better partnerships between universities and public schools. I spent too many hours simply observing a classroom (some of this observation time was valuable) and received no hands-on experience working with students and teachers until I took matters in my own hands and signed up for my substitute teaching certificate. Without my substitute teaching experience, before student-teaching, my total time in action in a classroom was 45 minutes. 45 minutes. That's pathetic. How am I to even know if teaching is what I want to do with that sort of time? How am I to know if I'll even be any good at teaching after spending only 45 minutes teaching students about Frankenstein? Colleges and universities need to develop partnerships with schools so that pre-service teachers can get their hands dirty early in their education. Learning must be authentic. And for learning to be authentic, we must go beyond observing in a classroom or being told what to expect from a professor who may not have any experience teaching in a K-12 setting.

Finally, we must figure out a way to retain quality teachers. I've written several posts about this topic, and I still haven't found a good answer. I honestly don't think it would take much. When I think about what would keep me teaching in a district or in public education in general, here's what I want: freedom (within reason) in my curriculum and content delivery, support in my professional development pursuits, focus on students and not numbers, minor recognition of a job well done, fairness in teacher and extracurricular assignments, high expectations for both students and teachers, and a supportive environment. Is this too much to ask?

The problems of education will be around for a long while. But instead of waiting for superman to come save us (like the documentary implies), we must take action.

*Please note my use of the modifier, some. I know of many colleges and universities that have fantastic teacher training programs. However in other post-secondary institutions, there is room for improvement.

10 Years

10 years ago, almost to this exact moment that I'm writing this, I was in my 2nd period sophomore Biology class. I don't remember the lesson we learned that day.

I remember my Biology teacher checked her email and then rushed to the television at the front of the room. She turned on ABC, and we---a group of 25 15 year olds---watched reporters announce in horror the awful events of that morning. We watched planes crash into the towers. The only sound in the classroom was the television. 25 rowdy 15 year olds sat quietly, our young, immature minds trying to understand the significance of it all. I had never been to New York and had no idea the World Trade Centers even existed. I knew the events of the morning were bad, but I didn't know how bad. But when I watched my biology teacher, a peppy and thoughtful woman, sit watching the TV screen with her hand over her mouth and tears in her eyes, I understood that I was a watching a terrible historical event that would change our culture forever. I don't remember her saying anything to us except when the bell rang. She muttered something about never forgetting this moment. And I haven't. I don't remember the rest of the day in school. I remember the photos and the news reports. And I remember the lesson I learned that day in Biology--a lesson far more important than I could have ever learned in school: People are capable of extreme evils. I remember being so confused. I had read about evils committed during World War II and the Sarajevo conflict, but I never thought it could happen here, in the place where I lived.

As I reflect on this moment 10 years later, my attitude is different. I am still confused and upset by the events, but today I will not focus on the evils. Instead I will pray that the victims' families would be able to forgive the people responsible for murdering their family members. I will lift up the service members who have spent time and are still serving in the middle east working to make sure another attack doesn't happen. I will think about our cousin Kecia and her husband Scott--who both spent time in Iraq. I will think about their daughter Addison who is spending a year away from her daddy while he is again, serving our country overseas. Today as I reflect and listen to news reports on NPR cover the memorial services, I feel incredibly blessed that I live in the United States of America.


"Waiting For Superman" Reflections: Part 1

Tonight my husband and I finally popped in the controversial documentary Waiting for Superman.

After watching half of the film, I am so pissed. There's no delicate way to put it. I'm not pissed about the content of the documentary (these issues are nothing new as I've been following them for awhile now), I'm really pissed because, as a teacher, I feel I have no control. I can advocate for my students, teach what I know and what research proves is best for kids and in a manner I know is best for kids, I can write about corrupt leaders in the system and ineffective and detrimental policies, and I can send all the letters I want to politicians. But how much am I really accomplishing? Though I know what's best for students, unfortunately many (not all) of our leaders (appointed officials, school boards, as well as administrators within districts) within the education system do not. Many of these leaders are ill-informed or are too removed from the classroom, and these people often decide on the content delivered in a classroom, the time frame of the delivery, the often idiotic and micro-managed policies we adhere to, and sometimes even write the crappy tests we have to give our kids. So what power do I have? Don't get me wrong and think of me as a power-monger. I just want to provide the best education possible to my students, but there are times that I can't do this due to lack of control. Though I am fortunate enough to teach in a rural school where I am given a good deal of freedom in my curriculum and delivery, I am aware that if I stay in education long enough, I too will feel the same constriction and tightening many of my urban counterparts are experiencing.

Honestly, it's depressing and disheartening to be a teacher in our current society, and this documentary (well, the first part anyway) affirmed this fact. It's a good thing I receive so much joy and fulfillment from my work in the classroom, otherwise, I'm not sure I'd still be teaching.


I don't wear a cape and I don't have a giant S on my chest

Author's Note: This post is not intended to condescend anyone who has responded with phrases similar to the ones described below. I simply want to lend insight to adoption.

When we tell people we're adopting, most people respond with enthusiasm fraught with an air of curiosity because adoption is unknown territory for most. Some have even been blatant with their curiosity and have asked why, right up front. These responses don't bother me.
Here are the responses that rub me the wrong way (even if they are sincere): You guys are so great for adopting or It's so awesome that you'll be giving a child a better life. I typically respond with a smile and a politically correct, Yup, it's pretty exciting! But here's what I really want to say:

Actually, we're not that great. We, like most people, want to have biological children. And while I dream about the child God will give us through adoption, I still long to have a child that has my husband's nose and eyes and my insanely long fingers and toes. Adoption is our only choice to grow our family. And I am no superhero donning a cape and a giant S plastered on my chest simply because I am adopting. The real superheroes are the birth parents who are honest and courageous enough to choose adoption.

I don't want people to think I'm some sort of martyr because I'm adopting a child. I'm simply a woman who desires to be a mom, and adoption is the path God has chosen for me to fulfill this desire.


A new school year is underway

Well, the second full week of school is over...I made it. Barely. Yesterday afternoon I left school with no voice and zero pep in my step and headed straight to the doctor's office to confirm my suspicions: sinus and ear infection with a fever. I went home, put on my pajamas, took some meds, choked down some soup, and slept from 7 until 7 this morning. I'm still feeling crappy (but not as crappy as I did yesterday) and couldn't run with the XC team this morning (which makes me sad). Here's to hoping this is the only bout of sickness I encounter this school year!

Sickness aside, this was a pretty good week. I have some new challenges this year: one student who speaks very little English (in a small district without ELL services), a higher number of SPED students than I've ever had before, and a few classes with through-the-roof energy. So it's been interesting, but...I did notice a few breakthroughs this week, and I'm starting to make deeper connections with students, so I'm feeling encouraged.

This week we had our first XC meet of the season. On Thursday we made the long drive to Goodland, Kansas in a bus with no AC on a day where the temperature climbed to a steamy 102 degrees. On the drive up, I looked back at the team a few times and when I saw their red cheeks, I felt awful for them. It seemed their energy was being zapped before we even arrived at the course. But I've learned over the past year that runners are troopers---they're some of the strongest people I've met. The hot bus ride and even warmer running conditions didn't stop our team from trying their best. Our girls team won the meet for the first time in five years! I was ecstatic for them as most of them are new to the team; it was incredible to see their hard work pay off. Our boys team came in 2nd place, breaking their 12 year winning streak at Goodland. But, I truly believe they ran their best, so I am proud of their efforts. I think the older boys especially were disappointed with their 2nd place finish, but I'm praying that God would use this to teach them humility and more about what it means to work for God's glory, to use their talents to glorify Him and not for man's recognition. It's a tough lesson to learn for sure, one I'm still learning myself.

We were supposed to go hiking with friends of ours today, but my sickness is keeping us in Ogallala. And we're missing our godson's birthday party today as well, so I'm a little bummed. But...I'm hoping to sleep and relax enough today so that I can maybe sneak in an easy run later tonight. The Market to Market relay is only four weeks away and I've already missed three training days this week. I don't want to lose the progress I've made in the last four weeks!