Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I've Been There

I tell my students all the time, "Guys, listen. I've been where you're going. I've been to 10th grade English, and I know what they expect you to know. I've been to the SAT, and I know what you have to be able to do. I've been to college, and I know that the quality you're turning in now won't cut it then."

I tell them I've been there because they need to know I'm trustworthy. They need to know my methods aren't haphazard but are preparing them for what's to come. They need to know my knowledge of their yet-to-come determines my actions in their happening-right-now.

They need to know, and so do I.

I need to know my God is trustworthy. I need to know His methods aren't haphazard, and I need to know His knowledge of my yet-to-come determines His actions in my happening-right-now.

It's so tempting and natural for me to forget God knows. He knows what was and is, and most comfortingly, He knows what will be. The future is past to Him, and He is not limited by the space and time that bind me. Nothing I face surprises His heart, and everything I face passes through His hands.

When I lose sleep worrying about what I can't see, His eye is on the sparrow - and on me, too. When I fear all that is to come, He knows exactly what I'll face and has prepared me throughout my life specifically for it. Nothing in my life has been haphazard or without plan. 

If I, as a fallible teacher, plan ahead for what my students will face, how much more does my loving Father plan ahead for His child?

When my world-hardened heart tries to convince me there's something I need that I don't have, my always gracious God reminds me that " good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless" (Psalm 84:11).

When my weary body and restless mind convince me I cannot keep going, my understanding and encouraging God tells me, "Everything is possible for one who believes" (Mark 9:23).

When my pain and isolation whisper, "Nobody understands," my Savior and Redeemer says, "I will never leave you or forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).

When my trial feels unending, my God reminds me, "Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5).

Nothing reassures us quite as much as encouragement from someone who has been where we're headed, whether it's a class we're taking, an illness we're facing, or an age we're parenting. But sometimes there's not a person who can tell us we'll be ok. Sometimes we face waters uncharted by those we know. Sometimes we just don't know anyone who has been where we're going. It's in those moments that we can tell what our faith is really made of, and it's in those moments we can see if we really trust the God we profess. 

God has been where we are going. His throne "has stood from time immemorial," and He is from "the everlasting past" (Psalm 93:2). Even if no person we know has been where we're going, our God has. Not only has He been in and seen our future, He has ruled sovereignly over it. We can trust that He plans to prosper and not harm us in the hope and future that is to come. 

He is not only the teacher who has seen the future courses, He is the one who created them. He is also the one who made us for them, knitting us together to successfully navigate them all. 

Our God is the One who can truly say, "I've been where you're going," and He is the One who is truly trustworthy. His ways are not haphazard, and His knowledge of the future determines His actions now. When the fear of the unknown presses heavily into our souls, may we press heavily into the One who knows. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Veteran's Advice for Newbie Teachers

Fourteen years ago, I taught my first group of students, and recently I gave some advice to a practicum student under my supervision. Poor guy - he probably doesn't realize that classroom experience doesn't qualify me as an expert or even mean I halfway feel confident in what I'm doing.

Nonetheless, I decided to compile a list of my best advice. If you're a new teacher, here you go. I'm hitting you with my best shot:

1. Forget approximately 56% of everything your university just taught you. It's theoretical methodology that only holds water in ideal conditions with high-achieving, issue-less students. The students you face will not follow the formula, and each must be treated individually. There is no "one size fits all" method for your wee ones. Take bits and pieces of the best theories and combine them with your teacher's intuition. A teacher's gut is better than an untried theory any day.

2. Remember Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. If your kids are hungry, exhausted, or stressed from their parents' all night screaming fests, they can't learn. Period. Fix what you can and love them through what you can't. If their basic needs aren't being met, your love will have a much greater effect on them than any standard ever legislated. Be their safe place, and you will have made a difference.

3. Be funny. Only poor classroom managers say things like "You can't smile until after Christmas." If you can't laugh in a room full of children and simultaneously maintain control, you should never have been awarded a teaching certificate. 

4. Decorate your classroom. You will literally be locked in those four walls for hours at a time. Create for yourself (and your children) a haven that reflects your personality. Your school kids want to see pictures of your home kids, and they need something interesting to look at when you bore them. Which you will. (Sometimes you're boring. No offense. You'll even bore yourself). Teach long enough, and I promise you'll start to sound like the Charlie Brown teacher even to yourself. 

5. Never try to start a diet during the school year. Caffeine and sugar are food groups that will sustain you in this profession, and trying to give them up will only give you unbelievable headaches and a case of the grumps that will make your students (and colleagues) beg for mercy. Do everyone a favor and eat a Snickers. You're not yourself when you're hungry.

6. Stop trying to grade everything. Collect it all and assess only what's most important. If you try to grade everything they create, you will be a crazy person by week two. Trust me - I know. (Read this if you're currently trying to do it all. It will free you.)

7. Know that being nice doesn't mean being easy. Push those little boogers until they plead for mercy. They can work harder than they think they can, and they will never know how much they can accomplish until they have no other option. Forget giving them "Free Fridays" and "Ketchup Days." (Click here to read my thoughts on such things. Don't get me started. Don't even get me started). Don't reward laziness and a lack of responsibility with extra time to complete assignments or entire school days to play board games. When was the last time you were given Friday off just because you worked hard Monday through Thursday? Aren't we supposed to be preparing these kids for life? Jobs? Maturity? Come on, now. 

If you didn't get the grade you wanted, it's highly possible I didn't get the work I wanted.:
8. Learn the names of your janitors, secretaries, and support staff. They make the school run, and when you hypothetically lock your keys inside your classroom for the third time in a week, they will smile and unlock the door if you know their names and speak to them like the people they are as they sweep the floor of your trashed room. If you think you're better than they are, you need to quit teaching and work the long, thankless hours they do so you understand. (BTW - Mrs. Lizzie no longer cleans my room, and I am devastated. She would come in and we'd talk about books, my favorite thing. She always checked them out of my classroom library, and she'd take some for her granddaughter. Bless. I miss that lady).

9. For the love of paper clips and Rubbermaid containers - get yourself organized. You do not have enough hours in the day to be fumbling around trying to find the answer key you created for the vocabulary quiz. Spend time up front creating yourself a system, then use the heck out of it. You will love yourself for doing so, and your students will be grateful that you know exactly where their make-up work is. 

10. Use Google Drive. Thumb drives are so 2007. Google, that blessed miracle of technology, lets you access your files from ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. Begin a document at school and finish it at home. It's a wonder. If  you don't know how to use it, email me. Seriously. No shame here - you will drop to your knees and praise Jesus when you realize how handy the old internets can be. 

11. Get a hobby. I love to read, write, and run, and if I neglect any of them for very long, I become very grouchy and my husband begins to ask questions like, "Do you want me to watch the kids so you can go run?" Do something to unwind. You could devote 24 hours a day to teaching and lesson planning and emailing parents and grading. Don't. There's a time and place for working your tail off, and there's a time to let it go. (Stop singing Frozen. Seriously. Let it go). Let yourself be just you for a little while each day. You will be a much better teacher (and spouse and parent and friend) if you take off your teacher hat every now and then.

12. Don't analyze the kids' permanent records before you meet them. Seeing test scores and guidance reports and custody arrangements will give you preconceived (and perhaps wrong) ideas and will subconsciously impact your treatment of that child. Let the kids, not the documents, give you first impressions.

13. Wear comfortable shoes. (I am very bad at this. Teaching high school freshmen makes me want to be cute and fashionable, so I make unwise footwear choices. Case in point - today I wore tall wedges. My feet now look as swollen as they did when I was 36 weeks pregnant. I regret my vanity).

14. Only praise sincerely. Don't say their work/effort/answer is good if it isn't. If you dole out empty words, you will lose their respect (and invite mediocre work). Praise them when appropriate and encourage more work/effort/answers when it isn't. 

15. Be OK with students not making all A's. All A's don't make you a good teacher, and I used to fall into the trap of thinking they did. A's should indicate mastery, so if your students aren't yet experts on the material, they should not receive an A. If your students immediately master everything you "teach" and never struggle or need any remediation, are you even really teaching? 

16. Avoid the negative Nancy (Nancies?) in your building. You need people to lift and bolster you, not beat down and depress you. Find the hot-air balloon personalities and hitch a ride. Ditch the anvils. Ain't nobody got time to hear all the complaints. Be a solution-maker, not a complaint-giver.

17. Buy stock in Post-it notes. Seriously. You will think of the most random things in the middle of teaching, and if you don't jot them down on the yellow squares that substitute for your memory, you will forget to buy toilet paper on the way home. 

18. Keep a file called "Why I Teach" because some days, you'll need a reminder. Keep those notes, drawings, and emails. When you get down, these will lift you. You're in it for those highlight-reel moments, and if you're not intentional about remembering them, they'll get lost in the tough times.

19. Make your students think and not just regurgitate facts. This world needs people who question the status quo and who don't automatically believe what presidential candidates say just because they're on television. We need out-of-the-box thinkers and people who approach problems from an angle not previously considered. (Hint - this means your tests should not just be multiple choice - even though they're faster to grade.)

20. Talk about what you read. Each day, I open class with an excerpt of something I've recently read. I've shared novels, nonfiction best sellers, articles from ESPN . . . Remind your students - daily - that literacy is the key to the world you're preparing them to enter. Words - and the stories they create - bring people together and show us our commonalities, and sharing words is the fastest way to create community in a classroom. Give your students a word-rich environment that's exciting and fresh, and with any luck, they'll want to recreate one for themselves. 

So there you have it. You're in an incredible profession, and even though it's demanding and under a microscope, you can rest at night knowing that kids' lives are different because of your impact. (Well, you can rest if you know it's a good impact. Don't be that teacher who's remembered 30 years later for being a complete jerk. Don't be that guy). Do what you do the best that you can, and just love the kids. Laugh with them, challenge them, and be a real person to them. That's what they need - real laughs, real challenges, and real love. Maybe there is a formula to this teaching thing after all

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Just Do Your Assignment

There's been a whole lot of this in my life lately.

My firstborn - my 6 pound baby boy - is tackling and being tackled. He owns a helmet and knows about defensive plays, and I have to watch as boys built like men drive him to the ground.

Needless to say, my prayer life has changed.

He loves football, but this is his first year. Most of the other guys have been out there before, so he's had a lot of making up to do. He's had to learn positions and plays, and he also has what we'll call a significant size deficit. (He's a year younger than everybody on his team, so the poor kid is easy to pick out of the crowd.)

At this week's game, though, this happened.

He got one of the two golden game coins. After each game, the coaches choose both an offensive and defensive player to receive recognition. And my baby boy got one.

Now, listen. He didn't score a touchdown. He didn't catch a pass. He didn't do anything for which his name would be in lights.

He just did his assignment.

He was told to block, so he blocked. Play after play, every time he was in, he tried to block whoever was in his path. Nothing fancy, nothing worthy of a highlight reel. He just blocked. He just did his assignment.

When that coach announced his name, though, I swear to you I got a lump in my throat and wanted to yell (but didn't) "THAT'S MY BABY!"

Isn't that the goal we all have for our babies? To do their assignments? I don't know yet what God's purpose is for that child. I know it's going to be amazing, and I know it's going to be specific, but I can't tell you what it will be. Chances are high his name won't be in lights, and chances are high he won't be world-renowned. Regardless, though, I just want him to do his assignment. I just want him to know what he's been told to do and to do it. Period.

Sometimes I forget this applies to me, too. Just today, I was scrolling through Instagram after work, and I saw post after post of amazing, unique, and attention-worthy things people had accomplished while I was working. It made me jealous, and it made me want to do what they were doing. But you know what? I have an assignment, and my assignment is not what they are doing. For now, my assignment is to cherish and raise up the young adults in my classroom. So that's what I'm going to do. My name may not be in lights, and I may not be world-renowned, but that doesn't mean my assignment is any less important.

If a blocker doesn't do his assignment, neither can the play-makers. If I don't do my assignment, neither can the play-makers I'm charged with influencing. My assignment matters. It may not always feel like it, and there may be days I wish my assignment were different, but my assignment in the right-now matters right now.

Sometimes, our assignments must be done in the rain.

It doesn't matter what the conditions are. It might be raining, and you might be tired, and you might be praying for the clock to get to the final seconds. The assignment matters even then, and sometimes most especially then. When you understand the importance of the task you've been given, you keep going even in the rain. You keep blocking even when you're tired. And, sometimes, you might just get the golden coin that reminds you your assignment matters.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Bold Prayer

A Prayer as Our 21 Day Fast Ends:

"God, we've been through a lot these past 21 days. There have moments of enlightenment, times of frustration, and nonstop reliance on you. It's not easy to give up things that are such a normal part of life on this planet, and whether it was food or Facebook, substances or sleep, we all set aside something to hear from you more. We all abstained from something to grow closer to our Sustainer. As this time of deliberate separation from the world comes to a close, we pray that the real results are only beginning. We ask, God, that what you began in us during these 21 days will grow and multiply in ways we cannot imagine. Many of us were praying specific prayers, and we ask you to show us the specific answers we seek. Many of us were looking for breakthroughs, and we ask you to show us the paths we couldn't see before.

What BOLD prayers are you praying?  Don't stop praying because God is listening and waiting to answer!!!  Mark Batterson quote from The Circle Maker.:
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But we're also praying something else, God, and we're courageously asking it. We're asking you to show us both something about ourselves and something about you that we didn't even know would come through this time. We're asking for a divine revelation that completely takes us by surprise. Remind us that you are bigger than we dare think, and teach us that you can do more in us than we even know to ask for. Begin it even now, Lord. Sweep us off our feet, and leave us in awe of who you are."

Friday, September 11, 2015

Bags of Good Intentions

I had an argument with God today over trash, and He won.


I was innocently walking to my car after work, juggling three bags across the parking lot (because who doesn't need three bags full of stuff you won't actually work on over the weekend even though you tell yourself you will?).

And there it was. A piece of trash. Plastic littering the serene asphalt landscape.

I saw it and had that thought we all have: "I should pick that up." And then I had the other thought we all have: "Nope. Not mine. And my hands are full."

So I loaded all the bags of good intentions into the mom van and intended to head on my merry way. That's when I heard it. No, not the James Earl Jones voice of God booming from heaven. The quiet whisper of God in my spirit. "Go back and pick that up. Right now."

I didn't want to. I wanted to blast the air conditioning in that van and drive away and enjoy the beginning of my weekend. I wanted to let someone else's trash be someone else's problem. But I couldn't. So I didn't. 

The thing about God is that He's not bossy, but He's compelling. When He speaks, He will be heard. The thing about humans, though, is that while we often hear God, we often choose to ignore what He says.

For someone seeking to set herself apart for God, small matters like trash become great opportunities to practice obedience. Walking across parking lots provides opportunities to listen for the Spirit's words. 

There is no place we go and no action we take that is not important in our faith journey. Mundane Friday afternoons (when you think the important work of the day is already done) can be the most important parts of the week. 

Someone else's trash, when you take it on as your own, can escort you into the very presence of God.

So, Lord, thanks for winning the fight today. I guess you really do know best. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Time Out!

Today continues our 21 day series on setting ourselves apart for Christ.

Do you ever just need a time-out from your life? Do you ever wish you could press pause and freeze the action around you while you catch up?

Time is in short supply for many of us, and a 24 hour day just doesn't cut it (if you really feel that sleeping is necessary).

So much is asked of us that it sometimes seems impossible - truly not realistic - to get it all done and still maintain sanity.

Here's what I've discovered about time.

First - you cannot do it all. There really is a limit on your time, and only you can know how much is too much. Learn to say "no" and be unapologetic about it. The Lord has given you the ability to discern what is realistic and what is crippling. Ask Him, listen, and don't be afraid to turn down what you cannot do.

7 Simple Notes on Living with Less:

Second - time spent with people is always better than time spent on tasks. I am a list maker, and I can create tasks to do like nobody's business. Tasks are important and often must be done, but your friends and family need to take precedence over your to-do list. Make it a priority to step away from the to-do's and just be.

Third - you cannot be set apart for Christ if you don't set apart time for Him. Although you may have a jam-packed schedule from the alarm to the pillow, no minutes are better spent than those spent with Him. Meditating on His Word and spending time in prayer can transform the rest of your minutes into ones that feel well-spent.

We all have the same number of minutes in our days. Even when it feels like we don't, we have a say in how we spend them. Invite Christ in to your every moment, and even the busy ones will be filled with His purpose.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Just Do What He Said

Sometimes I wonder if Christians are irrelevant to the unbelieving world because we remove ourselves so far from it.

We recite one of our favorites, that we are to be in the world and not of it, and yes, that is true. But while we're in the world we can't just sit back on our velvety cushioned pedestals and rain down judgment and condemnation. We can't see the problems plaguing very real people and rest on our laurels.

What does it say of our faith when we have every comfort the American Dream can provide but our brothers and sisters around the globe are slaughtered for the very same faith? What message do we send when scores of refugees are fleeing imminent death, but we refuse them aid? What is revealed of our God when His people are best known for rejection, isolation, and materialism? What message does the world see when churches squabble with each other over minor issues such as contemporary music versus traditional hymns (and we do so by passively aggressively posting articles on Facebook rather than having actual conversations with actual people)?

People - real people - are starving to death and dying of preventable diseases and are being persecuted for following Christ, and all of that happens while we American Christians shoot daggers in each others' backs (ignoring life and death issues and heaven and hell issues) because we can't believe someone would dare wear blue jeans to church instead of starched shirts and ties.

No wonder so many people think we're crazy.

How about this for setting ourselves apart?

Let's do what Jesus said. Let's love Him and love people. Let's help those who need help and encourage those who are hurting and lift those who are down. Let's be light in darkness and salt in tastelessness and hope in despair.

Let's give our extras to those without, and let's think of how we can show love rather than show why someone's wrong.

Let's be like Jesus, for Pete's sake.

We make Christianity about a million little things it was never intended to be about. We strain out a gnat but swallow a camel and forget that love covers a multitude of sins.

Favorite Bible Verses | Corstina

Love God and love others.

The greatest commandment - the simplest one - and the one that we almost never follow.

Really want to set yourself apart today? Love. Just love.