What Do You Do?

7:45 a.m.  Fifteen minutes later than I like to be.  Eight things on my to-do list when I get there.  Two kids in the way back seat slowly driving me the rest of the way to crazy.  And I hear one quick story on the radio that snaps things back into perspective.  It went something like this:

A man looking for a new job was in the habit of asking people he met, “What do you do?”  One day he met a woman who told him, “I give people hope.”  When he inquired further, turns out she was a supermarket clerk, but she viewed her real job as hope-giver.  She tried to find the grouchy or sad person each day and give them a little extra attention.  Hope, even. 

Oh.

So I, of course, had to imagine then how I might have responded to the same inquiry…

I teach.
I write lesson plans.  I stay up too late searching for the next big idea.
I carry a bag of papers home each night.  On weekends I grade them.
I assess.  I record my assessments, and then I try to figure out what to do about it.
I often fail.
I write emails.  I write more emails.
I plan field trips.  I fill out three different pieces of paper with the exact same information.
I form stacks of paper that I never end up filing.
I make videos.
I dance.  I write songs.  I sing.  Often.
I run to the bathroom, holding my breath, hoping that I will be fast enough.
I teach self-centered little people how to be a little more other-centered.
I find missing pencils.
I bandage boo-boos.
I mediate.
I call parents when kids miss the bus.
I comfort kids.  I comfort their parents even more on some days.
I fix computers.
I use both sides of paper so we won’t be wasteful.
I hoard staplers and tape and pencil sharpeners and glue sticks.

And then there are the moments that I’m never proud of…

I yell.
I make kids feel bad for something outside of their control.
I shame.
I forget to do things I promised I would do.
I choose not to forget and move on.
I get short with my teammates.
I complain.

So what about the lady at the supermarket?  Something tells me that if she stepped into my shoes, she wouldn’t describe her job in any of these ways.  Her answer would be way better.  So after putting on my perspectacles and thinking about this today, here’s what I hope I do…

I inspire.  I cheer when I see them go home and keep digging for more.
I challenge.  I don’t let them give up on themselves or each other.
I connect.   Math to them, them to each other, them to the world.
I apologize.  I forgive.  I try to be an adult that’s not afraid of those words.
I love math, and I love learning, and I’m learning to love the kids even more than the math.

I love.

What do YOU do?

 

 

Three Memories

I promised myself time to write tonight after I answered all of my e-mails and finished planning for school tomorrow.  2.5 hours later, here I am.  Sheesh.  Whatever interesting ideas I did have for a blog post are long gone and clouded with directory edits, make up work for so-and-so that will be absent next week, and figuring out how I might possibly be in three places all at once on Thursday at 8 a.m.

So instead I have just two memories to report.  No, three.

One. Yesterday Chica came home with paint all over a brand new shirt.  Grouchy Mom asked, “What happened to your shirt???” as we were rushing into Kroger for dinner essentials.  Then Amazed Mom listened as Chica retold the magic that is Kindergarten.

“Oh…we painted.  And we didn’t have to use smocks.  We painted the Aurora Borealis.  I used three colors.  It was like dancing lights.”  And on and on she went about the Northern Lights and the poles and the magnets and the sun and the universe and her friends’ guesses.  Magic, I tell you.  Kindergarten is magic.  Who cares about the shirt?

Two.  What day is it?  It’s HUMP DAY!  And everyone at our (brand new, really awesome) dinner table declared that fabulous fact no less than 50 times tonight over dinner.  It just didn’t matter how many times Bubba said, “Hup Daaaaay!”  It’s funny every time.

Three.  Yesterday one of my sweet students found out I didn’t know how to play chess.  (I know, right?  That should totally be a requirement in my current position…I’m a little behind.)  Before the end of the day today, she had asked me at least three times if she could teach me.  While we waited for buses, she did.  The chess set she picked from my closet for us to use had little symbols on the pieces to tell you how you can move.  Apparently fourth graders can teach old dogs new tricks.  I was just about getting it when her bus was called.  I’m already looking forward to a rematch tomorrow.

How about you…collect any memories today?

Trading Frenzy for Focus

Skype an astronaut.  Assign weekly STEM homework assignments.  Create video lessons and three levels of practice for each math topic.  Figure out how to welcome and include new teachers.  And, and, and….

I spent Monday and Tuesday of this week at a workshop led by several NASA educators.  We completed design challenges, connected virtually with experts at Langley, learned new ways to model the vastness of the Solar System, accessed and analyzed real NASA data, and just barely scratched the surface of the resources they have created for teachers.  It was pretty awesome.  And just as it should be, I left pumped and ready for a new school year….possibilities and plans rolling a mile a minute as I drove home Tuesday afternoon.

But then I remembered:  This year will be different.  No, not because I’m going to be flipping every math lesson or because I’m finally excited about teaching science.  This year will be different because I will be ruled by peace.

And somehow (truthfully, I know exactly how) I realized that this frantic churning of ideas and worrying how will I get it all done is not at all peaceful.  Peace-less, actually.

So my goal-oriented, objective-focused self realized that lesson plans aren’t the only things that need to be written before this year starts.  I need my own set of goals through which to help me filter those frantic ideas.

I’m in the process of writing them….still at the brainstorming and maybe rough draft stage.  Here’s what I have so far….

1.  I know this needs to be a peace goal.  A Jesus goal.

And of course I couldn’t help but look to Colossians 3 first:  Set your minds on things above…not specific enough for me to apply easily to my daily routine.  Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…this might work.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…also a good choice.

Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  

I think this might be it.  I really like the fact that it leads me to consider both my words and my actions.  And reminds me to be thankful (a practice, I’m learning, that may keep me Awake to the important things.)  But I struggled at first to think concretely about the do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus part.  What exactly does that mean?

While mulling this over on my run tonight, I may have gotten an answer.  Or at least part of one.

What if I were to take any word or action and follow it up with, “I am doing this in the name of the Lord Jesus?”  There are plenty of words and actions where this would make perfect sense:  Taking the time to get to know a student or new teacher in Jesus’ name.  Extending unexpected grace to a student who expects a reprimand in Jesus’ name.  Reaching out to a struggling family in Jesus’ name.  Of course in my public school teacher role, this won’t be a spoken in Jesus’ name, but rather a conscious effort to work with a things above mindset, following Jesus’ example in word and deed.

Then there are those seemingly insignificant tasks to which I can add, “In Jesus’ name.”  What about grading papers in Jesus’ name?  Or giving instructions to an assignment in Jesus’ name?  Or covering lunch duty in Jesus’ name?  I think the key to these mundane moments lies in Colossians 3:23:  Whatever you do work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not human masters.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.  Wouldn’t it make a big difference to view all of those moments as service to Jesus and not just a school system, a principal, a classroom of students, or a group of parents?  I think yes.

But then there are those other moments as a teacher (or parent, or nurse, or salesclerk, or waitress, or whatever) that are just incongruous if we add in Jesus’ name.  I can’t very well berate a nine year old in front of his classmates for forgetting his homework in Jesus’ name.  Or complain, in Jesus’ name, about a snippy e-mail I got from a parent.  Or repeat the latest teacher gossip in Jesus’ name.  So that’s what I came to today while running….if the words I’m about to say or the action I’m about to take is incompatible with in Jesus’ name, then I need to check myself and make a new plan.  And if it’s too late, because it will be too late plenty of times, then I need to ask for forgiveness from the ones I’ve wronged (yes…often my students!) and take steps to do it differently the next time.

2.  I’m thinking this should be a goal about inspiring my students.  It sounds pretty cliché as I write it, but I want my kids to love learning and leave my classroom with the confidence that they are mathematicians, scientists, and most importantly, learners.  Sooo….maybe something like…

My students will learn to love learning math and science.  Or maybe Develop confident and inquisitive mathematicians, scientists, and learners.

Yeah…still working on that one.

3.  I’m thinking something along the lines of Facilitate the learning of SOLs in a deep and meaningful way.  I admit my focus in the past has been too much on just Passing. The. Test.  I cringe to think of the number of times I’ve said things like, “This won’t be on the SOL test, but…”  Ugh.  While I do believe all students can learn well past the minimum requirements in the standards, I am blessed to work with a group of kids that will get there much faster than the average classroom.  This year I want to focus on going deeper than just the required info…and I realize that I can rely on my inquisitive learners to get us there.

My hope is that once I have nailed down a few solid goals, then I will be able to use them to start weeding through the tremendous number of ideas that are swirling.  Keep the things that meet all three requirements.  Pass on the rest.  I’m looking forward to trading frenzy for focus.

Teachers, do you have a set of big goals that you have written for yourself or your classroom?  Friends in other jobs and roles…how about you?  I’d be really interested (and grateful!) to hear them…even if you are in the brainstorming stage like me.  Please share!

A Few Letters I’ve Been Meaning to Write

Dear New Mommy Friend,

I thought about you and your first week back to work when I was loading the dishwasher last night.  I had this memory of trying to squeeze 37 pump parts and bottle parts into the dishwasher every evening….and then trying to find a place for the real dishes.  This too shall pass, and I’m pretty sure you won’t miss it.  I’m guessing there were tears shed this week.  Those are tears well spent, my dear.

Dear Students,

I couldn’t be prouder of you this week.  When you decided as a group, without my help, to include that little guy (who is very hard to include) in your kickball game, I just stood there in amazement.  And you even let him take a turn as roller, the most coveted of positions.  You made his day, his teacher’s day, and my day.  You rock.

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Dear Neighbor Kid,

Bubba adores you.  And I don’t think it’s just because you wear sunglasses, but that’s at least one of the reasons.  He wants to be just like you.

Dear Weather,

I like you.  Do you like me?  Check yes or no.  You would think I would have learned my lesson with a very similar (and humiliating) note I passed in my sixth grade English class.  Guess not.

Dear Person Who Eyed My Belly and Asked If I Was Expecting,

I thought of you as I grabbed my third cheddar biscuit at church dinner tonight.  The only thing I’m expecting is a little self-control to show up one of these days.

Dear Bubba,

This evening when you hurled on my new shoes, your only shoes, and my Bible, at least you missed Daddy’s computer.  Thanks, and good aim.

Dear Jay,

Tonight when I was hosing the puke off the porch, I overheard your conversation with Bubba.  You told him that what I was doing separated the good mommies from the great mommies.  I thought the same thing about you (except good daddies/great daddies, of course) later as you calmly talked Chica down from her crazy fear of bugs for the umpteenth time.  Thanks for protecting all of us from the scary things.  I love you.

Singing in the Bathroom

I’ve come to a point where almost nothing that either of my kids says surprises me.  Saturday on the way home from the school carnival was no exception.

The PTO moms (and dads!) at our school know how to organize one heck of a carnival.  It’s big time.  The past two years I’ve signed up to help in the silent auction, but this year I decided to branch out a bit and face paint for my two hour shift.  After that, the rest of the fam joined me, and we enjoyed the carnival through the eyes of an easily pleased, almost five year lo

IMG_0318Face Painting–A monarch butterfly, per her request (“Because monarch butterflies travel 3,000 miles to Mexico, you know?”  Thank you, Wild Kratts.)
Pony Ride–Obvious first choice
Petting Zoo–It’s imperative to name each and every animal
Tattoos & Nail Painting–I sprang for the 25 cent manicure, too
Cotton Candy–You can’t follow the 5 second rule with this food, FYI
IMG_0314Pizza & Bake Sale–“I can eat this too??!  Now?”  (Translation:  What happened to my mommy?)
Bingo–We obviously need a little practice on what to do when you don’t win.  It wasn’t pretty.
Treasure Hunt–So much pleasure in digging through a bucket of bird seed.  Who knew?
Bobsledding–Definitely saw a third grader clothesline a tiny kid.  We got out of there fast.

There were a few other games, but you get the idea….a day full of a whole bunch of “yes” and not much “no”.  Those kinds of days are usually reserved for Grandmas, but mommies and daddies need them every once in a while too.  Fun.

So on the way home I was reflecting on all of the yes stuff, and I wondered what her best memory of the day might be.  “What was your favorite part of the carnival, Chica?”

I can’t say I was expecting the answer she gave, but I certainly wasn’t surprised…

“Hmmm…..let me think for a moment….Oh, I know!  It was looking in the bathroom mirror at my butterfly face while singing a song.”

Well, of course.

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Magic Pebble

There are just some moments as a parent when you have absolutely no idea what to do. You just stare at your kid, mouth gaping, thinking, “Who the heck thought I was prepared to handle this?” This week that moment happened exactly 2.4 seconds after Chica figured out her pebble wasn’t actually magic.

So let’s back up about 10 steps…

At some point during the beginning of the week, we began hearing about a magic pebble that Chica was making and/or pretending in her class. At four there is such a confusing blur between reality and pretend, so I’ve learned not to ask too many of those kinds of questions. Just go with it.

Much of our conversation driving home that day centered around brainstorming our best ideas for wishes when she had the magic pebble ready. She didn’t have to think too hard to determine her top two choices: #1 For it to automatically be her birthday. #2 For a real Rainbow Dash. I’ve never actually watched an episode of My Little Ponies, but I’ve heard her talk about it enough to know that this must be the main character. When she asked me what my wish with the magic pebble would be, I hesitated for a moment. Before I could get out an answer, she offered, “I know, Mom. You’d wish to get all your work done.” Exactly, Chica. Exactly.

We didn’t hear anything else about the magic pebble until dinner later. Unprompted, she begins a captivating retelling of the book her class has read, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. I know I am biased, but she is truly a good storyteller! I’m sure I have read or heard this story multiple times….actually, I think I may have even acted it out before….but she had me on the edge of my seat as Mr. and Mrs. Donkey finished their picnic on Sylvester the Rock. Jay, Bubba, and I all cheered when Sylvester had the surprise reunion with his parents.

Well yesterday Chica came prancing up to my classroom after school just dying to show me her magic pebble. It was about the size of a peanut shell and coated in a healthy layer of gold and red glitter. As if any clarification was needed, the Ziplock bag that held it was definitively labeled with her name and “Magic Pebble.”

She let me touch it, showed it off to a few of my students that were waiting for the bus, and then got busy with her wishing. I got busy with e-mails or planning or whatever it is that I do every day after school, and I forgot all about the magic pebble. Until…

Until she came back to me, still clutching the pebble that now had a few glitterless spots showing through. “It doesn’t work,” she choked out before bursting into tears…big, fast tears. “I wished (sob) for Rainbow Dash (sob), and the magic pebble (sob) didn’t work (sob).”

So that’s the moment. The moment where I have no idea. I can’t very well say, “Oh, Chica, your teacher was just playing with you….you know it’s not really a magic pebble.” That’s the magical thing about being four…you still believe every-last-thing your teacher tells you. No need to rush out of that. So my next thought is to tell her to keep on wishin’, but I quickly realize that I’m only setting myself up for even louder sobs and faster tears later. So I do the only thing a deer-in-the-headlights momma knows to do…hold her, let her cry, and keep thinking.

That’s when I thought of Bridge to Terabithia. I wish I could say I have read the book, but I’ll admit I’ve just seen the movie. Which was great, by the way….only movie during which I’ve stayed awake until the end in a loooong time. Anyway, I told her about that movie and how the kids in it pretended they had this whole other world to visit. After awhile, they got so good at pretending, that it actually seemed real. “So why don’t you pretend that your wishes came true, and after a while, maybe it will seem real.”

Yeah, so, that’s good in movies and all, but it didn’t work for Chica the Puddle. I totally thought she would buy it. So wrong.

So after a few more tears, she just got mad, decided to put it back in its Ziplock bag, hide it somewhere where she didn’t have to look at it, and move on to Wild Kratts (yeah, I don’t get this show yet, either). I let out a sigh of relief, got back to e-mails, and forgot about it too. Phew.

Today as I cleaned up my computer counter, I snagged the pebble and stashed it in my lunchbox. I’m not quite sure what to do with it yet, but you can bet it’s not going to appear for her to find anytime soon.

I guess maybe I should hold on to it just in case I ever find myself transformed into a rock trying to get away from a lion. You never know.

A Few Friendly Reminders

Students are people too.  Their moms get cancer and their grandfathers die and their parents make bad choices.  Cut them a little slack when you can.

If you have a temporary crown, you should not eat Hot Tamales.

If your temporary crown pops off, Vaseline apparently does the trick to stick it back on.

Oatmeal, when left on the table for a day, can be substituted for glue or even cement.  (No conclusion yet as a substitute for the Vaseline in the above situation.)

Four year olds know when you try to shorten a book by turning two or three pages at once.  In the end it only makes the whole thing take longer.

Four year olds, however, are still magically delighted with the most simple of Valentines.  $2 = Too much fun.

Thirty year olds with two kids should not stay up until midnight night after night.  This is hazardous to their health.

Even if you attempt to stall by writing a lame blog post, the dirty dishes will still be there.  Ugh.

Guest Post: I Love Teaching

I’m excited to share a guest post from a great friend, Ruth Erquiaga.  I’m hoping your positive comments will convince her she needs a blog too!  : )

P.S.  In case it’s been a long time since sixth grade for you, you might want to review this first.

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I love teaching. Some days are more fun than others, but I am choosing to write about today because I want to be able to remember it when one of those not so fun days shows up.

The day started on the way to school with Tres and Carrington. “Today is the second of November, and I would like us to be audibly thankful each morning on the way to school.” Tres says he is thankful for his family and his friends. Carrington is thankful for her talents and her family. I proudly announce that I was thankful for the commutative and associative property yesterday, and today I am thankful for the identity property and distributive property.  They both rolled their eyes and huffed loudly because they knew a mini math lesson was coming.  : ) Too bad we were in the parking lot, and I had to be in devotions in five minutes.

As much as my own children didn’t have to listen to my lesson, the 110 students under my tutelage did.  Sometime in the near future my students will be required to write a letter to God about why they are thankful for the four math properties. I’m hoping their letters sound something like this:

Dear God,

You are amazing and indescribable. We learn this every day in Bible class, but today we were reminded of it in math class. You are the God of order. If you hadn’t created the commutative property, then we would live in a world of chaos. Grocery stores would have massive fights always breaking out because the order that the groceries were rung up in would change the total that you owed. You knew when order should matter and when it shouldn’t. If we swallowed before we chewed or got dressed before we showered, we would be absolutely miserable. However, what I am most thankful for is that when we do things in the wrong order, not according to your plan, you don’t stop loving us. There are things that you have set out in scripture that should be done in a certain order, but we live in a corrupt world where people do what feels good and what is easy. Thank you for forgiveness. Thank you for your unconditional love. Thank you for the commutative property to remind us that you are a God of order.

The associative property says that though groups can change, amounts don’t.  This is a reminder that things change, but you don’t. If the associative property wasn’t true, then changing houses would change population. Switching friends at school would change the amount of students. It’s kind of mind blowing to think about how crazy this world would be if there wasn’t a creator behind it all. Thank you for remaining the same when the things around us are constantly changing.

For the Identity property, Mrs. E gave us each an ID card. She told us to remember that any number times one or plus zero remains the same. The very best identification that we can have comes from you. Once we are a Christian, we are identified as a child of God, and you promise us in your Word that nothing will ever change that. The enemy tries to make us feel like something less. He lies to us and tries to convince us that we are alone (1) and that we have nothing (0). Thank you for your promise that you will never leave us or forsake us. Thank you for your words in John 10 (there is that 1 and 0 again) that the deceiver will never pluck us from your hand. Thank you that I will one day live in heaven forever with you because I have become a child of the king. Please help me live each day reflecting you in my life that others may see my true identity.

After the Identity property, Mrs. E told us she was going to give us cookies. I am thankful for cookies. : )  She said she wouldn’t give us cookies until we came up with four different ways for her to do it.  It took us awhile to figure out what she was talking about, but we finally did. Then she paused and got this big smile on her face. She asked us to think about something that has been distributed to the entire world that we should be thankful for. We guessed land, water, people and some other things. She asked us to think about John 3:16. Oh yeah! God’s love! Thank you God, for distributing your love to all of us. Mrs. E passed out the cookies, and we watched as she got so excited about this giant equation on the board. It looked something like this:

God Loves The World
God Loves (N. Amer. + S. Amer. + Antarctica + Aust. + Asia + Euro. + Africa)
God Loves North America + God Loves South America + God Loves Antarctica + God Loves Australia + God Loves Asia + God Loves Europe + God Loves Africa

I get it God. I really get it. It doesn’t matter how we say it, the amount of your love remains the same.

You love us. You love them and me. You love them, and you love me.

Thank you for your incredible love and a math class full of reminders of it.  Help me love “them” the way I know you love “them”.

Your child, forever and always.

I love teaching. The activity today with the cookies and the class discussion was a reminder that I have so much to be thankful for. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I got home. I love laughing with my students. I love watching my coaches teach one of their final lessons before they become student teachers. I love being in a school where this lesson is not only allowed, but expected. I love when a student and his older sister stay after school to get help and leave smiling because they “get it now.” I love that God is in the details and provided this job for me. And, oh yeah, I love that when fifth hour was over today, one of my students said, “Mrs. E, if I were to rank all of my math teachers, you would be at the top! I hope you have a great weekend!”  Did I mention that I love my job?

Images:
CHOCOLATE CHIP SHORTBREAD COOKIES  
© neil conway | Flickr Creative Commons