Teaching as Subversion

Note: this is just a rambling piece of writing that I used to process through a discussion we had in class early this summer. It’s not quite finished, but it’s a piece that has been ringing in my head throughout the summer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what a teacher mentioned one week in class--her question of, where is the book that encourages teachers to step outside the walls of their own classroom and engage in changing education? I’ve read so many pedagogical books that are critical but are solely focused on classroom practices. These are helpful books, but they aren’t doing much to change the educational landscape. The truth is, research shows that kids in the US are actually performing better than they have in many years. There are teachers and administrators across the country who give their lives to kids and who care about helping kids to become critical, passionate, creative people. While the state of education is not falling apart, there are, however, major cracks in its foundation. When a building has cracks in its foundation, it becomes structurally unsound….I fear this for the state of education in our country. Running schools using a business model, a push for seemingly all students to attend college, keeping teachers from having a part in creating school, district, state, and national level policies and standards, a heavy emphasis on assessment, the devaluing of creativity, inequality in resources based on tax base, treating teachers as paper-pushers rather than the professionals they are….the list of problems is overwhelming.

In my experience when teachers do step out, voice concern, or attempt to enact change, they are labeled as subversive, insubordinate, disobedient. For many, these labels are terrifying. They can damage one’s teaching career. I tend to be idealistic when it comes to teaching, so I think being “let go” from a job and labeled as insubordinate may not destroy a person’s career entirely if he/she can justify the insubordination and back it with sound and acceptable research. Is stepping out risky? Of course. But what happens when nobody says anything? Historically, when people are silent about inequity and injustice, the gaps of inequality widen and the injustice spreads like ringworm in a wrestling room. I want my son to attend public school, but if we continue to sit back and let things get worse, what will education look like in ten years when he enters high school?

I believe it is teachers’ responsibility to not only be engaged in their classrooms but outside as well. Most teachers devote much of their lives to teaching and helping kids. They go early, stay late, make phone calls home during their personal time, drag their families to games and concerts and performances, stay up late to create lessons, grade papers during any free time they may have left. The families of teachers often get put on the backburner just when teachers are meeting their daily obligations. My own son has said, “Mom, you always grade papers.” Granted, he’s five, and things are very black and white for him. I really am not always grading papers, but the comment did cause me to halt a bit, step back, and rethink my priorities. How do we balance our families, our jobs, and being an activist? Ultimately, I do want my son to see his parents as involved in his life AND involved in the lives of others. I want him to see his parents as people who fight to make a difference for the good of others because that’s who I want him to become.

There’s not an easy solution to these dilemmas. But, my parents always told me that nothing worth fighting for comes easy...


Making time for the important stuff

This post will not reveal anything earth-shattering, but it's where I'm at this morning. I felt like I needed to dump this all out before I could move on with my morning.

Since my early college days, I've always been a morning Bible reader. During my freshman year at UNK, I got into a habit of reading my Bible in the cafeteria while I choked down Chartwells' food. The habit continued into my married life. I tried reading at nights before bed, but always found myself falling asleep a few verses in (no offense, God). As much as I despise rising early, I know myself well enough to know that if I don't get in my Bible reading before my day begins, I won't get it in. Now, this has proven challenging with a child. I don't eat by myself anymore. During the school year, Nate leaves by 6:30 to get to school for his zero hour class (suck!), so he gets J ready while I get ready. Then J and I eat breakfast together before we leave. While we eat, I try to read at least one chapter or half of a long chapter each day in between Jon's morning musings about trucks and the shape his cereal is taking that morning. It sounds bad, but I've kind of learned to mostly tune him out and let him just talk while I read the Bible. It's not that I'm totally checked out from him or that I don't care what he has to say--I just have to make reading the Bible a priority in the morning. I think it's important for kids to see their parents in the Word. So this is also a good time for modeling. Sometimes I'll read out loud to him while he eats. It's not been perfect...I don't get my Bible reading in every day....like today.

Yesterday I spent an afternoon planning with another teacher for a college class I'm teaching. It was incredibly productive, but there is still a lot to be done for it. And when my to-do list is long, I tend to get zoned in on it. This morning I slept in until 7 since it's a rest day from marathon training. After grabbing breakfast for Jon and me(Nate was on his way out the door for a meeting), I did not reach for my Bible. I opened my laptop. Bad idea. Once the laptop is open, there's no going back to the Bible. I ate my breakfast while working on our class website--it's typically a simple process, one I've done loads of times, but this morning I was clumsy and had to undo several stupid mistakes. Soon, the clock read 7:49--we had to leave by 8:30 to get to J's last day of summer camp. I was still in pajamas and disheveled. For the next 40 minutes, I raced around the house like a crazed woman barking orders at J. We pulled out of the garage at 8:31. At 8:32 Jon asked if we could listen to Wagon Wheel, but because I was stressed, I needed a more calming song...so I vetoed his request and opted for my song. By 8:45, it hit me how incredibly awful I had been this morning. If someone had been watching me, they would've assumed I didn't really enjoy my child.

This is what happens to me when I put work or personal things in front of my time with God. I become this selfish, crazed, uncompassionate, impatient being. I get so zoned in sometimes on my to-do list, that I push God aside and then end up pushing my family aside to cross things of a stupid to-do list. A pastor once told me something along the lines of: make time for God a priority and watch how He adjusts your time. (At first I thought God would give only me an extra hour in the day while everyone else remained frozen...not really, but I thought this would be nice of God to do). I'm not sure God adjusts our time, but I think making time with God a priority definitely helps us to prioritize better. We have better perspective.

On my walk from J's summer camp to a coffee shop, I read half a chapter of Matthew and apologized to God for shoving him off. I'm praying this week that I'd have better discipline this year even during busy seasons.


The wanderin' blues

Recently we went on our first family vacation--we trekked to Hasting where I sang with the Platte Valley Skunk Runners at the Flatwater Music Festival, made it to Parks for a few days to see my brother and sister in-law, enjoyed a few days hiking and bumming around Rocky Mountain National Park, and ended our travels by spending time with our dear friends in Ogallala. It's no secret that I miss living in western Nebraska. I often have these romantic recollections of our time there, and these (and the pleas from families, students, and friends) often fuel the desire to move back.

But when I'm honest with myself (which doesn't always happen because being honest with oneself is quite the ordeal), I'm not sure moving back to Ogallala would be the right thing to do. Nate and I have talked about it, and there'd be a lot of cards that would have to fall into place---A LOT. Then there's the fear that we'd always compare it to what it was when we lived there nearly three years ago...part of me doesn't want to spoil these memories. When I'm honest with myself, I think what I really want is not to move back to Ogallala--but to be in a place that has some of the same values and themes (so to speak) as Ogallala. I've never been one to set down roots what with my nomadic tendencies, but now that we have J, I find myself longing to set aside "the wandering blues" for roots---maybe not deep ones, but roots nonetheless :)

Omaha is a cool city. There's lots of cultural opportunities, and we're starting to build some good relationships. I'm just not sure it's where I want to set down roots. I thought it was before Jon. Now that we have a living, breathing child, I question everything I thought I ever wanted for him when he was just a hypothetical notion. What I want for him is to attend a small school where he knows all or most of his classmates. I want him to be involved with many activities if that's what he chooses (in big schools, it seems there's not a lot of crossover between athletics and fine arts). I want to know his friends' parents and maybe even their grandparents. I'd also like him have access to the outdoors--to play, to run, to climb, or just to sit and be amazed at God's creativity. I want him to be exposed to people who are different from him so he develops a cooperative spirit, a soul of tolerance and acceptance. I want him to have opportunities to create if that's what he chooses to do. I want him to feel safe. I want him to be in a school that engages him and sees even his challenges as opportunities.

I'm not sure I can have all of this in Omaha or Ogallala. Sure, we can meet all of these by living in one place and then traveling during the summer. And maybe that's what we'll do because I don't know where we can live to have all of these desires met in one location. Perhaps I'm being an idealistic parent...but I think it's important to be deliberate about the values we instill in our children. I think the next year or two or three will be a time of exploration for us. Before we decide to pick up and move and tear Jon away from the only city he's ever lived, I want to explore Omaha more. We need to be deliberate about breaking out of our "Burke bubble" venturing into other pockets of the city. After our trip to Colorado this summer, Nate and I began talking about the possibilities of living there, but this is quite the move. There's a lot of research to be done before we can even consider this as a possibility to avoid regrets.

While I want to set down roots, part of me wonders if I'll ever "quit my ramblin' ways..." Will my heart ever feel settled? That's the question of the day, folks. It must be exhausting to be married to me...Nate, thanks for being a patient dude. I'll leave you with a song by The Be Good Tanyas that pretty well sums up my gypsy soul (if you watch the video, you can go back to the trends of the 90s...spaghetti strapped midriffs, wide legged pants, and clogs....).


Marathon #2

I am nearly one month out from my second marathon. On a whim, I signed up for the State Fair marathon in Grand Island that happens on August 23rd. It might be  It will be difficult. It's central Nebraska (which is "fortunate" enough to have some of the eastern Nebraska humidity) in August. On an out and back course. And it's the first marathon GI will hold. This could all translate to humid, boring, and poor crowd support. I knew this signing up, but I wanted to run another marathon and I knew I couldn't train during the school year. So, here I am--about a month out, three stupid-long training runs left. Here's what I'm learning this time around:

  • Getting older sucks. For the first time since I hit puberty two years ago (sarcasm), I can feel my body change. I can't eat three bowls of cereal for breakfast and drink two dark beers before bed like I used to without feeling sluggish on my next run. I'm also discovering that the aforementioned diet leads to a stomach pooch that is more difficult than ever to tone. 
  • Being a mom means my priorities have changed. Meticulously planned fartlek runs have been swapped for helping little man sound out words while he reads books, settling simply for an easy 3 miler. "Early" morning long runs that start at 8 am now start at 5:30 am before my little guy rolls out of bed. A strict diet means I can only have 2 packs of fruit snacks with 10% fruit juice instead of 4. 
  • Long runs are better enjoyed solo. During my first marathon, I trained with Kristin--the best running partner in the world. Now, I'm happy to hit the road for 3 hours or more by myself because it means...well...time alone. I've loaded my phone with audio books, podcasts, and soothing music (instead of pump up music) because this solo time is rare and vital for me to attack the day. 
  • Having a small group of folks to run with every now and then is helpful. On Wednesday mornings I have a mid-length run (7 or 8 miles), and I've joined a small group to help keep me accountable. We are all at different stages in life, but it's nice to have company to keep me honest and running early. 
  • Sometimes it's okay to rip the shirt off. I've been a runner for over 7 years now. Before this year, I've only ran once without a shirt. Now that I'm training in high humidity, I have little reservations about letting all the goods hang out.
  • Slow runs are okay....and are needed. Gone are the days when I could pull a 10 minute mile for 15-16 miles. I'm learning the art of negative splits---conserving energy the first half so I'm not dead the second half. It's making my recovery time much quicker. 
  • Hydration is vital. I've had to teach myself to drink while running. Before this marathon, I'd drink and spill water all over my face. If I drank more than 6 ounces, my stomach bounced loud enough for spectators to hear. With time, I've learned how and when and what to drink during long runs. I now drink at least 24 ounces of blueberry-pomegranate Gu Brew during 2+ hour runs.
This weekend I have 18 miles to cover which will bring me to about 40 miles total this week. Then I'll only have a 19 and a 20 miler before I begin a slow taper. If you're out and about in Grand Island on August 23 at 6 am with nothing to do, come out and support the runners with noise makers and funny signs. We'd appreciate it.