Reflecting on the Message of Isaac Watts…

 

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

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Advice For Teachers

I’m not remotely a “veteran teacher” yet, but as I start off on year 7 of teaching, I have a few kernels of wisdom to pass along for those of you who find yourself becoming teachers. Or to those of you who need a refresher.

1- Most Importantly:  Enjoy it!

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Enjoy what you are teaching, because then your students will enjoy it more, too. You probably already know that, but it bears repeating.

2- Second advice nugget (or maybe it’s part B of that last one): Even (and maybe especially) the kid that drives you INSANE needs some positive encouragement.

So, Enjoy your students. Try your best to find something to like/appreciate about each kid, because not only will help you be more patient with them,  it is vitally important for them. Maybe the most important thing they’ll get out of your class.

3- Remember:  Good Teaching is hard work.

So: work hard, but remember to use your resources (books/curriculum, coworkers, the internet, teacherspayteachers, etc) and not to stress yourself out too much over a failed activity or a bad day. Just strive to be better the next time.

4- Don’t let it go to your head: RESPECT your students – You are in a position of authority . . . so don’t be an asshole.

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The worst teachers are the kind who abuse their authority to demean or belittle their students or perpetuate negativity. Don’t be that teacher. And if you have a bad day, which you are entitled to do because you are (contrary to popular belief) human, be up front about it. Tell your students “Hey, sorry guys, I’m having a rough day and I’m a little short on patience right now” – they deserve fair warning.

Also, if you (also because you are human) are a jerk and speak unkindly to a student or a class, apologize. You are not above apologies just because you are a teacher. Pull a kid aside and apologize to them 1:1 if you were rude to just them. Or, you know: Humble yourself and apologize to a whole class if you have to. Don’t let your role as a teacher absorb the nastiness that comes out of all human beings sometime and poison your classroom.

5- Fact: Your attitude sets the mood in your classroom.

Don’t underestimate this power. Wield it carefully, responsibly, and intentionally. If you can, set the mood firmly at JOY and go from there.

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6- I totally understand that it isn’t possible 100% of the time, but: Explain your reasoning for what you are doing in class!

Sometimes teachers give a directive that seems pretty pointless, but actually has a lot of purpose. Explaining the purpose of an activity can change the way a student views it/participates in it. I mean, you might know why you’re doing something, as a teacher, but the students might be sitting their like “wtf, this is dumb” unless you explain the actual reasons, at least from time to time! Now, whether it will actually help change students attitudes regarding classwork is also up to the student, but I think (sadly) teachers are prone to generally underestimate students’ intelligence – Give them the benefit of the doubt and help them see the why behind the what of the things that go down in your classroom.

7- Tip: Behave as if you are the only adult role model kids might have, because you might be. 

Hopefully, God willing, your students are from loving families that take good care of them and love them and help them grow up into responsible and healthy adults . . . but that is not even usually the case. Everybody needs stable role models – people to emulate. You might not feel confident about being that person, but you are in a position of visibility that makes it inevitable that people will look at the way you act/live your life. Please live accordingly.

8- Seriously: Don’t be afraid to have a good time in your classroom.

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LAUGH at things. We’re talking BELLY laugh. If somebody says something funny (and I do NOT mean unintentionally) then give yourself the freedom to bust out laughing at it! Laugh at yourself liberally. You are going to do ridiculous things as a teacher, and somebody might as well enjoy them!

9- VerbalizeSay the Good stuff.

If someone does a great job on something: tell them. If you like a student’s idea, tell them. If you think a doodle on a quiz is awesome: TELL THEM. Notice the good stuff, and do it out loud. I still remember some of the little comments that teachers said to me that made all the difference, even in something so little as noticing/complimenting my perfume. I also remember the bad ones just as clearly. . . so be cautious when you say the not-good stuff.

10- It might sound silly, but: Smell Good.

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By “good”, I mean clean and pleasant. No need to drench yourself in perfume or cologne. Also: Morning breath, coffee breath, days without deodorant? Don’t let these happen to your students. They deserve better.

11 – It’s Time to Come to Grips: Accept the fact that you ARE indeed a nerd.

You are a teacher. You became a teacher. You teach. THUS, you are a nerd. And not just a little bit. You are a huge nerd. Stop apologizing. Embrace it. Own it. Be happy.

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12 –I promise this is the last one, I wasn’t even going to write this many, but I have to in case anybody reads it: CARE

Just because a kid looks like they are doing okay on the outside doesn’t mean they are okay. Never type-cast your students as “lazy”, “slow”, “troublemakers” or “problem-children”. They are far, far, far more complex than some oversimplified label you might give them. You don’t know their whole story, and quite frankly: they don’t know you well enough to give it to you just because you’re their teacher. So, even if it’s hard, even if you’re sick of an attitude or behavior (which I do understand is rough – students sometimes act like you’re not human, and that’s tough to take in and not eventually dish back) please strive to AUTHENTICALLY care.

Offer to help a confused student. Or, if you can tell one student is having a hard time but know that they might be embarrassed to ask for help, find a creative way to help them out. Be understanding (careful, don’t hear what I’m not saying: this doesn’t mean be a pushover/giving up on all standards). Take a minute to express your sadness and empathize if a student shares that their pet died. Keep granola bars in your desk, in case somebody doesn’t have a lunch or missed out on breakfast. Ask if somebody is okay if they seem a little off – even if it’s just by writing them a note on a post-it and subtly sticking it on their desk. Just: be kind.

love is the answer

 

Psalmody: Refuge

The chaotic whirling kaleidoscope of summer has left me feeling a little bit like Dorothy in Oz, waiting to get back to the familiarity and sweetness of my home routines. I have so many things to write about, adventures to recount, and stories to tell . . . but they will all have to wait just a bit longer as I have only just clicked my heels and woken up in my own home at last. It’s quite disorienting, actually.

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I shall gather up the bits and pieces of my sanity and get back to you all soon enough. In the mean time, for the beautiful new day to come, a Sunday, I’ll leave you with a passage I found in the old Psalmody during one of my past trips home to Ithaca, NY. After re-discovering it recently, I decided it most definitely is fitting to share.

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My Extended Foster Family

Bethany and Julie

When my sister Bethany and her partner Julie decided to become foster parents, I wasn’t sure what to expect any more than they really were. I mean, I knew they would be great parents – it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that two people willing to wholeheartedly pursue careers serving kids with severe special needs would be excellent at loving and caring for children. No, the unknown element of the foster-parent-journey had nothing to do with the parents, as far as I was concerned, but everything to do with these unknown little people about to enter all our lives. Little did I realize what little heart-thieves they would all turn out to be, and that being a foster Aunt would wind up being probably one of the coolest things to ever happen to me.

Note to self: I should probably thank my sisters for that at some point. 

I live about 20 minutes away from my sister, her fiancée, and their beautiful family, and their collective love and humility never ceases to amaze me. If I were to say something complimentary to them, they would brush it off (and have on many occasions done so), but they truly inspire me on a regular basis. I kind of understand their humility, actually. I mean, when you’re surrounded by rabid toddlers, inundated with poopy-diapers, and listening to the Frozen Soundtrack for the fifty-billionth time, I’m sure you don’t feel like a hero. Nonetheless, heroism has never been so concretely made visible in my surroundings as when I am with my wonderfully-extended foster family.

Today, about three and one half years after their first foster child set foot in their home, their family has expanded and retracted many times, fluctuating from one child to five and holding about seventeen different children throughout those few years. Watching my loved ones go through the process of fostering has taught me a lot about what loving children looks like. Love is letting your heart break into a million pieces when your beloved child is sent back into the full custody of a broken situation, but not regretting the time you shared with her in your family. Love is crying in the kitchen when the baby you have watched since birth is leaving to join a new family. Love is setting stern limits for a little boy whose angry outbursts could, unchecked, easily spiral him downhill to follow in the footsteps of verbally abusive birth-parents; Love is showering him with affection, regardless of the number of frustrations he provides; refusing to believe the worst of him. Love is wishing for more room in your home so that you could take more children. Love is hours upon hours of doctors appointments, early intervention, and holding your shrieking two-year-olds down while you nebulize them so that they will breathe better through the night. Love is keeping in touch with families whenever possible and developing friendships with birth-parents so that – even after their children have left your home- there is a strong relationship ready and waiting to support and care, whenever it is appropriate to do so. Love is being willing to lay down in front of a truck for any child under your protection, even knowing that you won’t have the opportunity to protect them once they leave. Love is searching high and low for enough car-seats (not to mention a large enough car!) to accommodate 6 children at once. Love is making sure that there are a few extra outfits and some spare diapers packed and ready to go with kids who are headed for homes where they will have less material comforts. Love is accepting a new child into your home because they need a placement, even though you lost a child just yesterday and your heart is still scattered in painful pieces at the bottom of your soul. Love is laughing through your tears. This is the kind of love I have witnessed in Bethany and Julie. Fostering is different from regular parenting. When you have your own children, most of the horrifically painful labor ends when you leave the delivery room.

Not that parenting, in any form, is easy. I am neither so naïve, nor so experienced that I could ever even think such a thing! Good parenting is a herculean undertaking on the best of days . . . but foster-parenting is revealing a whole new brand of beautiful. It makes me want to talk in the terminology of gemstones, however unbelievably cliché; how diamonds are only formed under obscene amounts of pressure, and how these women who I observe are truly jewels of the highest order in our society. 

Someday, when I have better software and a faster computer and more skill, I will make a movie that might do this family justice, but for now, here’s a peek into the lives I get to observe:

Bethany recently started to chronicle some of her fostering adventures in a blog of her own, which everyone should probably read. It’s a great glimpse into some truly great lives.

I’m a [VALEN-]tiny bit excited.

love is a balloon

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When I say I love Valentine’s Day more than any other holiday, I get a multitude of reactions. Most frequently some version of this:

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Occasionally, I’ll get something more like this:

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But usually it’s more like this:

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I have ranted in the past about why I think people need to get over themselves with regards to Valentine’s Day, so I don’t want to get too much into it again. But I basically love Valentine’s Day like Buddy the Elf loves Christmas.

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Things You Should Consider Doing This Valentine’s Day:

1.) Give Unexpected Compliments to Unexpected People

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2.) Watch this Video, because THIS is a great example of LOVE!

3.) If you can’t think of somebody in your life to share the love with, then find somebody who needs a little extra love in their lives and DO SOMETHING about it!

Colin's Facebook Page

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There is a little boy in Minnesota whose birthday is coming up, but who doesn’t have friends at school . . . his mom made this facebook page, and you could always take a moment to write him a birthday card tomorrow!

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4.) Watch Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!

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This movie recently came up in conversation, and I remembered just how fantastically fun a chick-flick it really is. Plus, it’s not TOO goopy for a valentine’s day, even if you are single and feeling depress-y about the fact.

5.) Give somebody a valentine, for crying out loud! It doesn’t need to be a sappy one!

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Whatever you do, please remember to share the love, even in the Valentiniest  of ways! There are so many shoddy reasons that people celebrate any holiday, but what a wonderful thing it is to have an entire holiday devoted to showing the people that we care about how much we love them. If that isn’t worth celebrating, I don’t know what is.

[if you want to read more about my love of Valentine’s day, click here]