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.


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?

© neil conway | Flickr Creative Commons


Prepare to be amazed.  Or, at very least, pretend to be amazed.

Yep, that’s my luggage for an overnight trip.  What’s the big deal?  Notice:  no diaper bag.  I am actually away without my two little people.  That means I didn’t pack a single diaper.  No blankets, no little packs of snacks, no Barbies, no backup changes of clothes in preparation for a blow out.  Oh, and no one to (openly) make fun of my choice of luggage.  It’s just me, a change of clothes, a toothbrush, pillow, and sleeping bag.

Cue amazingly long sigh of peace, relief, and a very tiny amount of worry.

Jay has graciously agreed to stay home with Chica and Bubba so that I can attend this year’s Get Away.  He says he’s had both of them overnight by himself before, and he’s usually right when it comes to remembering things like that.  I just don’t remember this intense, strange feeling of freedom quite like I felt it last night.  Either way, I’m here, they’re there, and I’m eating it up.

Speaking of eating…can I just say that meal time without ANY kids is revolutionary?  I spend 2/3 of my life’s meals cutting things into tiny pieces, catching projectiles, trying to interpret very confusing baby signs, and begging people to eat.  The other 1/3 of my meals are woofed down while trying to keep 45 nine and ten year olds in their seat and to a mild roar.

So last night as I sat at dinner…and sat….and sat….I marveled at the novelty of not having to feed a single person around me.  And as I sat some more trying to decide what to have for dessert, there was no banging or throwing involved.  Call me crazy, but I think I’ve teared up now twice just writing about it.

Later last night, after worship and a conference, I walked outside to my car to head to our lodge.  I was struck, yet again, of the aloneness of it all.  I had no one to carry, no one to watch, no one waiting for me.  I walked very slowly.

In my real life, I am almost NEVER alone.  Yes, I know this is what I signed up for when I got married, made two babies, and became a teacher.  But I really consider myself a pretty extreme introvert who has learned to cope in an extroverted world.  So this, this being on my own time for almost 24 hours, is a massive, beautiful gift.

Tearing up again.  Sheesh.

Most Saturday mornings at 6:15 are reserved for family wrestling matches in our bed.  There’s lots of growling, tickling, and, “Don’t get too crazy,” reminders involved.  I spend 50% of that time enjoying it, and the other 55% of the time wishing for at least another hour of sleep.  (Mistake intended, Mom.)  But here I sit, 6:15 on this Saturday morning, typing, thinking, reading.


Operation Get Back The Weekend

So apparently I’m not the only one who regularly ends up spending weekends in a way other than they were intended.  Operation Get Back the Weekend won the most votes in my poll, so here we are.

Chica has a slight obsession with the days of the weeks.  She always asks what day it is and then proceeds to tell you the special event that occurs on that day.  Today is Wednesday, so she happily exclaimed this morning, “It’s choir day!”  Many months back we started referring to Saturday as Family Day, trying to explain to her the reason that we didn’t go to school.  The interesting thing is that Saturday has seemed to morph into Sit And Watch Movies All Day Day because Mommy has so much school work to do.

I’m over that.  Really over it.

So I decided for about the 59th time in my career as a teacher that I was going to try to tackle my grading a little at a time each night instead of saving it all for the weekend.  I realized this weekend that my new assignment as a math and science teacher makes this much more doable than my gig last year as a reading and social studies teacher.  The grading is considerably faster, and there are less project-ish types of assignments that take all week to complete.  Also, it’s super helpful to find on Monday that a kid is having a problem with a specific math skill instead of waiting until Saturday or Sunday to discover they’ve practiced it wrong all week.

So I’m three nights in.

Monday:  No problem.  There was no homework to check through, so I think I was done in 30 minutes or so.  I plopped down on the couch after I was all finished just oh-so-proud of myself.  I think I probably bragged to Jay three or four times in the ten minutes before I fell asleep, “Oh man….I’m so excited.  I got all my papers graded.   Oh man.  This was such a great idea.”  He’s a good sport.

Tuesday:  I did it, but it wasn’t pretty.  There was an assignment that we had been taking an eternity to finish. I decided that I would grade it as-is and then give it back to them to finish and correct….and I told them that.  So, I had to follow through with grading those plus the regular stuff.  I decided at about 10:30 when I was falling asleep with the checking pen in hand that it was time to call it a night.  I did finish them today in a few spare moments at school.  Two days in a row with all papers graded.  That is totally some kind of record.  I’m not even kidding.

Wednesday:  I haven’t started.  But I so want this to work, and I so want to spend my weekend with my family instead of my grade book, so I’m headed to the dining room table next, pep talking myself the whole way there.

This self discipline thing is funny.  I was thinking today that if I was a researcher, I would try to prove that there is an inverse relationship between the amount of creativity and the amount of self discipline that people have.  I just think that creativity gets in the way of self discipline AND self discipline can get in the way of creativity.  (Woah…that was deep for 10:02…and I hadn’t even planned that one ahead of time.)

I am really good at coming up with ideas of how to make something work better in my life.  And more times than not, that better solution involves me doing work regularly instead of all at once when it’s way too late.   But I almost never stick to my fantastic plan, and I end up right back where I started, plus just a little more frustrated with myself.  Here’s to hoping that papers every night….or even most nights….might become part of my routine and not just a wish.  I keep coming back to dishes and bath time.  I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit it, but a year ago dishes and a bath for Chica were not part of our nightly routine.  They happened when they happened….which usually was every two or three nights.  When Bubba came along, though, Jay and I decided together that this “whenever” plan wasn’t really going to work.  We did it.  We came up with a new plan, and we actually stuck to it.  Now the dishwasher runs every school night.  Every. Single. Night.  I realize that’s truly no big deal for most families.  Fine.  But that was big stuff for us.   And it gives me hope that my newest plan could actually go somewhere.

So I promised in my last post a few tips on how to appreciate your child’s teacher.  It’s related.  Stick with me.

Last weekend when I was actually managing to enjoy a little family time before the grading marathon began, I ran into one of my students and his family.  His mom, who works at another school in the city, thanked me for the effort that I put into giving feedback on their papers.  Be still my heart.  (Sheesh…am I actually tearing up recalling this moment?)  Sometimes I feel guilty for spending so much time on school work away from my family, and at the same time I manage to feel guilty for not doing enough as a teacher.  Ridiculous.  Her comment pushed all those feelings aside.  Instead I felt relief and appreciated.

So if your kid has a teacher that is doing something right…anything…will you tell her?  If you don’t get a chance to see her, maybe you could jot it in a note.  This week I got a, “I have to leave early to go to the dentist” note from a dad that started with a super eloquent sentence of thanks.  Just awesome.  If you don’t have time for that, how about one just okay sentence on the back of an old receipt?  Anything…anything…I tell you is worth it to a teacher.

Ok…I’m off my soap box now.  On to the papers.

She Knows No Fear

One good thing about school starting back is that Chica and Bubba get worn out during the day.  Both are in bed sleeping soundly, and it’s not even 9:30.  Life is good.

I would love to give you all of the details and funny stories about our first two days back at school for our family, but for now I just have time for a picture and a few highlights.

If you had peeked into my room at 3:45 today, you would have seen my fourth graders lounging on my rug observing our frogs.  They were happily discussing what to name them.  The best idea by far was Sweet Frog and Sour Frog, but I’m still going to let them vote tomorrow.

But look again.  There’s Chica squeezed in at the bottom, thinking she’s nine years old too.  Two of my delightful students have graciously offered to fetch her from her Pre-K class downstairs at the end of the day.  Today when we tried this arrangement for the first time without any real warning, she didn’t skip a beat.  She saw everyone crowded on the floor, and she shimmied her way right on in.  She knows no fear, and I think I love that about her.

On the first day when I dropped her off at the breakfast table, she didn’t look back, didn’t even hear me say goodbye.  It was me who stood there for an extra second, trying to convince myself there was no need for the tears.  I wish I was as brave as her when it comes to new people and new places.

One girl brought me a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies today.  Her mom wrote a note thanking me for helping her daughter feel welcomed to a new school.  A note or cookies by themselves would have been sweet.  Both?  Just awesome.

We have been asked to eat lunch with our kids this year.  As much as I miss sitting with my own friends during that time, I am choosing to view this as time I can use to build relationships with my students.  School friends, please just remind me of this when you see me at 11:24 ready to pull my hair out each day, k?

Want to know the most time saving ten minutes I spent this week?  Monday morning we were all ready to go but couldn’t leave yet because Bubba couldn’t be at school before 7:30.  I used that time to fold Chica’s laundry and match up shorts with coordinating shirts.  I’m sure this is what all organized moms in the world do, but I have just come to the full realization of just how fantastic this strategy can be.  I tell her, “Go get dressed,” and about five minutes later, she emerges finished from head to toe.  She’s allowed to add her creative touch with the socks, but at least the top and bottom will match.  Now we can avoid the question she got frequently in preschool:  “Ohhh….did Daddy dress you today?”   : )

I’m not sure how to end this rambling post, other than to say that the randomness of these thoughts is indicative of the craziness going on inside my head right now.  I actually love going back to school, and I’ve been blessed with a few moments this week already that help to confirm that I’m where I am called to be.  But the pace is quite a shock to my system after the months off.  I’m looking forward to the days when it feels more like a marathon than a sprint.

Our Day in Numbers

1  The number of flying blue My Little Ponies rescued from the post office.  It’s also the number of genuinely thankful four year olds.

$1.75  The amount of money we spent on today’s yard sale adventure.  So worth it.

2.4 and 31  The number of miles and minutes I ran in my brand new running shoes this morning.  Thanks Mom & Dad!

3  The number of cupcakes I bought from here in attempt to knock one more thing off of my summer bucket list.

3.5  The amount of teeth I see when Bubba grins at me.

 The number of times I thought, “What a bizarre sport!” while watching Olympic race walking.

 The number of empty water bottles sitting within arm’s reach of the chair where I nurse Bubba.  And yet I sit here typing wishing somebody would bring me another one.

 The number of Chica’s old Facebook videos Jay and I watched while marveling at just how much, yet how little, she has changed.

9  The number of empty Hot Tamales boxes I found as I sorted the recycling.  All mine.

18  The number of Cheerios and bite size pieces of food littered in and around the highchair after lunch.

34  The number of times Bubba must have squealed his eardrum piercing squeal while we were eating.  I hope we’re over this stage soon.

57  The number of times I’ve probably checked Facebook, WordPress, and e-mail already today.  Embarrassing.

250  The important number in a funny story Jay told me this morning about a parent of one of my students.  Ask him…it’s a good one.

Not enough.  The number of times I thanked the Provider for each of these blessings.

Image:  numbers © procsilas | Flickr Creative Commons

Why I’m Thankful I Got a D

Do you ever have those moments where you feel like you are supposed to write a letter to someone?  Maybe it’s a get well card for someone battling a nasty illness, a hello message for a friend I haven’t seen in ages, or a thank you card for a helpful neighbor.  I get those feelings quite often, but 99% of the time I just ignore them.  Maybe I can’t find the right kind of stationery, or if I could, I know I couldn’t find an address and a stamp.  I make really good excuses, and those really good notes go unwritten.

About a week ago I again had that feeling after reading the editor’s note in Real Simple magazine.  It was about thanking someone for a conversation that changed your life.  I immediately had a person in mind, but I began rationalizing that I would never find a way to contact her.  Well, a few Google searches later I had an e-mail address.  And I went for it…

Hello Mrs. Vaughan,

(I did some searching on Google and came up with this e-mail address. If you are not, in fact, the Mrs. Vaughan that used to teach at the Math & Science high school, please disregard this crazy note!)

This week the letter from the editor in a magazine that I read was about conversations that change your life. The author suggested that you write a letter to someone that influenced you through a conversation. So, here I am….almost 15 years later!

I have no idea if you’ll remember this, but you assigned us a paper to write about a Civil War novel. I hated history, hated the Civil War, and hated that I had to write a paper about something that I hated. : ) I didn’t actually finish the book, wrote the paper anyway, and promptly received a well deserved D.

I remember having to come to your room after school or during a free period to talk to you about it. I don’t actually recall the content of that conversation, but I clearly remember the outcome. You gave me a chance to rewrite it, and I decided to take you up on your offer. I stayed home from school to finish the dreaded book and write a much better second draft. When I received that paper back graded, I got an A. Not an A averaged with the D. Just an A.

Through that conversation, your encouragement, and your willingness to give me a second chance, I began to believe that I could actually write. Writing has actually grown to be something that I love to do….and I can pinpoint this assignment as the turning point for me. So…many years later, thank you.

I am teacher now too! This year I’ll be teaching math and science to 4th grade gifted students, but I’ve also taught 5th grade gifted students and fourth grade inclusion. This is the first summer I’ve had my kids home with me, and I started a blog to chronicle our summer adventures and misadventures. I guess this blog and the positive feedback I’m getting from friends on my writing is what made me think of you. If you’d like to check it out, the address is

I hope that you are doing well. Thanks again for a life changing conversation all those years ago.  Tracy

I fired the e-mail off sometime after midnight and promptly forgot about it.  I never actually expected to hear anything back because the website where I found her address was several years old.  Well guess what!?  She wrote me back!

She is retired now and enjoying spending time with her grandchildren.  She said that she connected to many of the things I write about here because of her time with her grandkids.  My favorite thing she wrote was, “Your message did remind me of the power people, and teachers in particular, have to help or hurt.”  So. True.  I’m hoping I’m helping more than hurting with the kids I teach.  Maybe one day I’ll get a crazy random e-mail from one of them reminding me of something I can barely remember.

So how about you?  Do you have anybody you need to thank for a life changing conversation?  Even if that person may never read your letter, I think there’s value in reminding ourselves of the power that our words really have.