Sunday, December 6, 2015

I Want a Loud Classroom

Dear students:
I want a loud classroom.  I know, adults are always shhhing you.  Sometimes I am, too.  True, sometimes you need to sit in quiet focus.  Sometimes, I am talking and your silence speaks respect.  But the other times, I want to hear your voices.  I want it to be loud with the sound of laughter when we play a vocabulary game. Loud with the sound of enthusiasm when we start a novel or you learn something new.  I am even okay with loud frustration or confusion:  the sound of questions echoing across the desks as you muddle your way through new information.  I want a loud classroom.  I want you talking about our content.  I want to teach you academic language and then listen to you play with it.  Some of you only speak Spanish at home.  Some of you only speak Spanish with your friends.  You need practice speaking English—as much as you can get.  Some of you go home without anyone to talk to.  Or with only younger siblings to talk to.  Or with parents too exhausted for much talk.  You need to practice speaking.  Because if you can speak well, you can write well.  Because communication is a key to success, relationships, and growth.  Students, even if you are shushed everywhere else, I want my classroom to be a place where you can be heard.  So, I will no longer pat myself on the back if an administrator happens through and my class is silent.  No, instead, I will embrace the chaos, the messiness, the noise of learning.
Your (learning as she goes) Teacher

Monday, November 23, 2015

Love Me at my Darkest


Do you ever wonder if the work you're doing is meaningful?  For me the question comes up all too often.  It is easy to get lost in the monotony of grading papers, sending emails, and reminding kids, to "please get on task," again, and to forget the purpose of it all.  So much work goes into what I do every day.  I am pouring my heart and soul into this.  But is it worthwhile? Teaching kids to find characters' different Points-of-View.  Helping them to memorize new words.  Making sure they are able to tell a good story.  Does any of it matter in the end?

A couple of weeks ago, I bought myself a bracelet that reads "I loved you at your darkest," as a reminder of how Jesus feels about me.

The typical response I get when I tell someone I teach Middle School is, "Oh.  I can't imagine doing that."  In some ways Middle Schoolers are delightful.  I enjoy them every day.  They are old enough to not need me to wipe their noses, but young enough that they get excited when I bring out a game or put on some Disney music.  But in many ways, my students are at their darkest.  Their little awkward bodies are changing.  Did you know that Middle School boys have 1000x more testosterone running through them than adult males?  The world around them is constantly shifting.  Their lives are controlled by teachers, parents, more dominant peers.  They are questioning who they are.  They are wondering if they are loved.  Sometimes the way that comes out is making jokes at each others' expense--talking someone else down in a desperate attempt to build themselves up.  That often means that they forget nearly everything.  They throw things.  They make messes.  This can be frustrating when you are the one who cleans up after them.  They have the immaturity of children, and the angst of teenagers.  Being patient, kind, and gentle with them is a choice I have to make over and over again throughout the day.

Looking at my bracelet I am reminded that I am doing important work.  I am doing the--sometimes exhausting--work of loving people at their darkest.

The C-Word

No, I'm not talking about that C-word.  I am talking about something much worse:  cancer.  Reading that word today it feels so different than it once did.  I used to hear "cancer" as if it was a word spoken underwater.  Cancer was this blurry thing that happened on TV, or to people's distant relatives.  Cancer couldn't touch me.  It couldn't come near the ones I love.  It was off in the distance.  I didn't give it a second thought.  Until cancer forced me to pay attention.

Grandpa and Grandma with some of their grandchildren last Christmas.

First, cancer attacked my grandfather.  It was a few years ago.  He went through chemotherapy and everything was okay.  Until it wasn't.  See the thing about cancer is it can linger.  One day you think it is gone forever and the next you might find out that it has launched a full-scale attack on you.  "Grandpa isn't doing well," my dad vaguely said, "He's not doing well at all."  Chemo didn't work the second time.  The cancer has spread.  We don't know how long he has to live.    When I last visited my grandpa, he didn't look like my grandpa.  My grandpa has a light in his eyes.  He sneaks me popsicles.  The man I saw was pale, and thin, and hairless:  a picture of suffering.  Walking, talking, everyday life was painful for him.  He spent much of his time in the bathroom battling nausea.  But he still called me darling, still told me I was beautiful, and still made me laugh.  My grandparents are active.  They love to travel.  They golf together.  My grandpa takes photographs.  My grandmother paints.  Aside from this, they love each other.  I'll often see them holding hands or snuggling or teasing each other.  My grandfather once said about his relationship with my grandma, "Whatever we do, we like to do together."  I don't know what she'll do when he's gone.

Philip and I wearing purple for my brother, Joey who has pancreatic cancer.

The next victim was my brother.  My wrestling, red-meat-eating, veteran brother.  An unlikely candidate for a deadly disease.  He is all height, beard, and muscles.  One day, he felt a grapefruit-sized lump near his stomach.  We first heard that it was benign, but they were going to remove it just to be safe.  Then I got the call from my mom.  She said it.  The c-word.  It felt like the world became a silent film.  Like I couldn't hear our conversation.  I could only see it written in white font on a black background, and it flickered every once in awhile.  Nothing about cancer makes sense.  You hear things like, "They found more lymph nodes with cancer in them,"  and even though you have no idea what lymph nodes are, your mind instantly goes to death.  Everything means you might lose someone close to you.  Even if that someone is a perfectly healthy twenty-six year-old.  Or, rather they were perfectly health.  As I watch Joey suffer from a distance I see him maintain his sense of humor, dignity, and quiet eloquence even through great adversity.  I believe he is going to beat this!  Will you believe with me?

Callie and her sister, Becca.

Finally, cancer did the most unfair thing.  Like a sharp frost that withers a white rose, it went after the most perfect, innocent, untouched thing it could find.  Cancer found Callie: my friends' two-year-old little girl.  I have known Scott and Tabitha since high school.  We have attended and served at Ross Point Camp together for many years.  One time when Tabitha was a counselor and Scott was a camper, they asked me to walk them to campfire so that they would be "chaperoned."  On a worship night at camp, Tabitha held me for hours as I wept.  Years later we watched Scott and Tab get married at Ross Point camp, and dreamed about the day we would do the same.  Callie is one of the few little people that gives me baby fever.  Her demeanor is so laid back.  She is always smiling.    She enjoys the presence of anyone that she meets.  The last time I saw Callie, though, something was different.  She was grumpy.  She was tilting her head to the side.  She was stand-offish.  Her parents attributed this to a normal part of toddler life:  teething.  Because who would suspect something more serious?  Then they had to hear something that no parent would ever want to hear:  Callie has a tumor in her neck.  It turned out to be, you guessed it, cancer.  The community of support that has risen up around them is a testament to how amazing and loved this family truly is.

I wish I had something profound to say now.  All I can cling to is what I always cling to.    My hope is in Jesus.  God is bigger than cancer.  I can't make sense of this.  But I believe that one day we will be in a place where there is no suffering.  Where there is no pain, no disease, and Jesus will wipe away all of my tears.

If you want to support Joey or Callie as they fight the good fight--first pray!--second, here are links to their Go Fund Me pages:

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Springs in the Valley

Psalm 84 is beautiful.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, you should drop your computer right now and go find a bible and open it up to that passage.  Ok, since I don't want you to go breaking your computer on me, I'll just give you the passage:

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD of hosts!
2My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
3Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
4Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! Selah
5Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.b
6As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
7They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.
8O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
9Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed!
10For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
11For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
12O LORD of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you!

See what I mean?  So much goodness in there!  One part in particular, though, is really speaking to me lately.  Verses five and six say:

"5Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.b
6As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs."

Being the nerdy English major that I am, I had to unpack the figurative language in there.  Let start with the springs.  A spring is the place where water comes from.  There is a lot of water imagery in the Psalms.  Water is refreshing.  Water allows people, animal, and plants to live.  You could say it brings life.  Water represents baptism--entering a new life with Christ.  Water represents the Holy Spirit.  Water can be peace, or joy, or refreshment, or renewal, or change.  

 Then there is the valley.  A valley is usually referring to something bad.  Mountain tops usually mean success or good times or closeness with God.  A valley is in between the mountain peaks.  It could represent the good times between the bad.  The bible relates a valley to death and darkness.  A valley could be a place that seems far away from God.  A place where evil is occurring.  A place that is unholy, and broken.  

When I put that together, I read this passage as people who abide in Jesus can pass through a dark place, and make it a place that is life-bringing.  They get in the midst of hardships, and brokenness, and evil, and bring the Holy Spirit, and peace, and joy, and refreshment, and growth.  

That is my desire.  I desire to go to a broken place and bring life.  I desire to get my hands in the messiness and watch God's Spirit work.  I don't know what that will look like.  Maybe that means helping to bring hope to a broken school.  Maybe that means bringing the Holy Spirit to a bad part of town.  Maybe that means moving to the inner city and interacting with the poor, needy, and broken.  

All I know is that God has given me a desire to go through the valley and make it a place of springs.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I Am Not Enough

Dear Students,

I am not enough for you.  Every day I come to school with carefully considered plans.  I do my best to allow you to move--because I know you need it--to give you opportunities to share yourself, to make sure that you get what we're learning.  Even if you are still learning English.  Even if you have a learning disability.  Even if English is just tough for you the way that Math is tough for me.  Yet I look into your needy eyes and I am so aware of it.  You are desperately seeking love.  I know because you tell me your stories.  I know because you act out in class.  I know because, if I'm honest, I'm desperate for love and attention just like you.  Students, even though I wear myself out every day trying, I cannot give you the love that you are looking for.  Only Jesus can do that.  So, I pray that one day you will meet him.  That you will know, feel, experience his love.  That his grace will soak into all your broken places and make you whole.  But until that day, I will keep trying to show you just a glimpse of him.  I will pray over your desks.  I will smile at you and greet you at the door.  I will try my best to listen to your stories, to help you grow, and to not lose my patience with you.  And on that day when I let you down, I will remind myself that it's okay, because though I am not enough for you, my Jesus is more than enough.


Your (especially-tired-this-time-of-year) Teacher

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Would you like a slice of humble pie with that?

If you are feeling sad about how small your bank account is this month, the Lord just might put someone who is experiencing homelessness in front of you at church.  If you are annoyed with someone, the Lord just might use that person to pray for you.  In short, Jesus ain't afraid to serve you up a slice of humble pie when you need it.

Sometimes, what I get out of church has very little to do with the sermon.  I have recently been grieving our financial situation.  You see, Philip got a very small summer school paycheck last month.  He won't get his real teacher paycheck until the end of September.  That means roughing it for a couple of month.  Plus, little expenses come up.  Or maybe they're little to you.  They would have been little to me a few months ago, but at this point they felt colossal.  In a serious of freak events we had two flat tires in a row, which added up to a bill of close to $400.  To top that off, Philip and I have been irresponsible with our budget lately.  We've gotten used to having money.  If we wanted something, we bought it.  (okay by we, I mostly mean me).  If we wanted to go do something that costed money, we did it.  Because we usually have money.  This lead to draining our savings and even some of our Emergency Fund.

Fast forward to church.  I looked up and I saw him.  A young man who I know is currently living in a car.  Philip met him a couple of Sundays ago, and he spilled his guts about everything he was going through.  Seeing him sitting in front of us wrecked me.  I began to weep. This time, not in sorrow for my poor self, but mourning my selfish, materialistic heart.

Then, I knew I wanted to ask for prayer because the school year was coming and I was experiencing a lot of fear.  I looked up and saw her.  A woman who got on my nerves.  I didn't have a reason in particular.  It was just something about her that seemed fake to me.  She was the woman nearest me on the prayer team.  Everyone else quickly filled up, yet she was available.  That's when I knew that God wanted me to get prayer from her.  So I reluctantly made my way to the front.  She began to pray for me and I felt encouraged and loved.  My hope for the school year was restored.

Jesus gently reminds me when I am kind of being a brat.  I'm thankful that he doesn't just let me go on being prideful.  He often turns my perspective upside down.  He disciplines when I need it.  What a good dad.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

One Hundred and Eighty Degrees

"Through you the mute will sing."
-Newsboys' song, "I Am Free."

Isn't that just like our God?  He doesn't just make the mute speak, although that would be miraculous enough.  No, he doesn't stop there.  He makes the mute to sing.  He says, "You can't speak?  Not only will you speak, but you will sing.  Not only will you sing, but you will sing praises to me."  

Someone very dear to my heart has mild cerebral palsy.  There was a time when doctors told her she may never walk.  That's just not her story.  She is one of the best dancers that I know.  Her body moves so fluidly and naturally.  Not only that, but she teaches dance as a way to minister to children.  It's as if God said, "They say you can't walk?  Not only are you going to walk, but you are going to dance!  Not only are you going to dance, but you are going to use your dance as a ministry to me."

God doesn't just come into our lives and do a minor surgery, he raises us from the dead!  He doesn't just shift our direction a little but he causes us to do a one-eighty.  In my own life he has said:

"You feel worthless?  Not only will I show you how loved you are, but I am going to use you to show others how loved they are.  You will call out value in those who feel as worthless as you once felt."

"Your parents are divorced?  You are going to have a healthy, happy marriage.  Your marriage will bless others and show an example of my love."

"You and your sister don't get along?  I am going to make you best friends.  You will encourage and strengthen one another.  You will draw each other closer to me"

"You are bitter against your father?  You will forgive him and minister to him in my name.  One day he will enter into relationship with me.  You will enjoy being around him."

So if I were to contribute a verse to the song it might read like this:

Through you the disabled will dance.
Through you the broken will heal.
Through you children of divorce will flourish in marriage.
Through you enemies will become friends.
Through you bitterness will become love.
Through you my heart screams, "I am free."

I can't wait to see what other one-hundred and eighty degree transformations the Lord has in store.  What has he done in your life?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Girl of Sorrows

I am a cryer.  I am tender-hearted.  I am sensitive.  If we are friends in real life, odds are I have had to tell you that at some point.  Because the tears start flowing at awkward moments sometimes, and I feel as though if I don't explain myself people are going to prescribe me Prozac.  This detail has been the thing I've most often wished to change about myself.  (Unless we count Junior High where I most often wanted to change my cup size, but I got over that).  People get uncomfortable around crying.  Even my husband, man of great love and great intentions, still sometimes freezes up and doesn't know what to do in the sight of emotion.  Anger, he gets.  Disgust, he gets.  Sadness?  He doesn't always know what to do with that.  And he is not alone.

Did you see Disney's latest movie Inside Out?  The whole premise of the movie is that we live in a culture where happiness is the ultimate goal.  We can feel pressure to be happy all the time, to put a positive spin on things, to always look on the bright side of life.  The main character, Joy, can see the purpose of other emotions.  Anger helps us to stand up for what's right.  Disgust keeps us from being poisoned.  Fear keeps us safe.  However, to Joy, sorrow seems to have no purpose and just make everything worse.  Oh, Joy, I can relate.

One Sunday during the worship through music portion of the service I was praising God.  Like many a Sunday, I began to cry.  Once I started I couldn't stop.  What I couldn't express to God through words, I could pour out as tears.  I felt overwhelmed by his presence, by his great love for me.  I was thanking him and crying out to him and sharing my burdens with him all through the tender act of crying.  Then I heard his voice whisper, "Would you really want to give this up?"  I knew instantly what he meant.

 Through reflection over the years I have realized that my primary emotion is sorrow.  It is my natural response to turmoil of any kind.  Tears come easily to me.  All the times that I had wished to be different I hadn't realized what I would be losing.  Were I to be free from those moments when I make people uncomfortable by crying, my most pure, tender, sweet form of worship would also be lost.

Even though I have long despised it, I believe my sensitivity is a gift from God.  Sure it ruins even designer mascara, and I have to work to not take the mean things my teenagers sometimes say personally, but it has its perks.  For one, I can't help but be vulnerable with others.  If I begin to talk about how I'm doing I will often start to cry and have to spill my guts.  Being vulnerable with others frees them up to be vulnerable with me.  That is how closeness happens. On top of this, I am learning to weep with those who weep.  Likewise to crying about my own schtuff, as I listen to others share their hardships tears start to build in my eyes.  I have had friends tell me how that has made them feel understood and cared for.  Best of all, I can enter into a deep form of worship.  I don't really know how to explain it.  Crying in the presence of God is like a special place that I can enter into where I can express things to him that my words cannot.

It is okay to be sad.  That's not to say that we should let ourselves wallow, or fall into hopelessness.  But sadness has its benefits just like any other emotion.  Everything in me was designed on purpose, for a purpose.  God was intentional in the choices he made when he created me--my sorrow, my tears are no exception to that.  The bible says "Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy," and "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."  Towards the end of the movie *Spoiler alert* Joy starts to see the benefit of sadness.  She sees that it helps us to have empathy for others.  She sees that it helps us process life's hardships, and ultimately, move on from them.  I too have begun a process of seeing the value of sadness and tears.  And you know what, I wouldn't change myself if I could.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Summer Wardrobe Additions

I live in a place where we experience each of the four seasons.  Or so that's what I'm told.  To me, it is cold three fourths of the year, hot one fourth of the year.  But still.  I try to appreciate and celebrate each season.  It helps me feel more content.  One of the best things about a new season is an opportunity to wear that season's fashion!  Most of my wardrobe can be worn year round because that's how I roll.  There are some pieces, though, that just feel fall-y, or winter-y, or in this case, summer-y.  My first instinct is to buy everything in sight, but I find that adding just a few pieces that can be easily mixed and matched is a better option.  My husband would thank me for that.  Here are the additions joining my wardrobe this summer:

Some blue shorty shorts from Francesca.  I love the bow.  They can feel a little bit dressed up, but still so comfy and cool in the heat.

A chambray dress from Maurices.  I can totally see myself wearing this in fall with some leggings and a cardigan and, because it's me, probably a scarf.  I love how you can just throw this on and look chic with very little effort.  You can accessorize it with pretty much anything because its denim.  

A straw hat from Frenchesca's.  Need I say more?  I want to add this to every single outfit this summer.  It is practical at keeping the sun out of my face and off of my gingeresque skin.  Plus it is so cute.

Some moccasins from Modcloth.  I want to wear these all day every day.  They are super comfy, and great for a little pop of color.

How could I not buy a t-shirt with a shiny pineapple print?  I scooped this up from JCrew Factory.  It goes with literally everything.  This is comfy and breezy and the fruit gives off such a summer vibe.

Finally, a little summer makeup for my cheeks from Benefit.  I've always like Benefit's dandelion blush, so when I saw this adorable dandelion-inspired package I had to get it.

It has a few different products to keep my cheeks a subtle, cheery, pink.  To me, that is so summer.  I like to wear less makeup in the summer (partly because it will just melt off anyways).  And even if this is all I'm wearing it gives me a dewy complexion.

Happy Summer!  What did you add to your wardrobe for the season?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Active Learning Essentials

One of my goals for my classroom is that my students would be engaged in active learning as much as possible.  This means that they get to move, they get to talk (hopefully about reading and writing rather than about what they've been watching on Youtube lately), they interact with the material we are learning in lots of different ways.  The struggle I found this year in incorporating this is a lot of my ideas for active learning require stuff.  Like, stuff I have to buy.  And, every teacher knows that  our active-learning-stuff-budget is zero.  Of course, I had to shell out some money from my own pocket, but this year I was also able to receive a grant for $300 that helped so much. As the year comes to a close (eleven days and counting!) I have been reflecting on the resources that get the most use in my classroom.  If you are lucky enough to have a budget (I'm applying for your school!) or you are able to get a grant, or even if you have to spend some personal money (crazy that teachers are expected to do this) and you are looking to buy some materials that can enhance your classroom here are the things that I have found can get you the most bang for your buck. These are the items I've bought that I use ALL THE TIME.

Sticky Notes
My students have joked that I must have stock in Post-Its, or that I am single-handedly keeping them in business.

Uses:  Post questions on the board and have students answer on sticky notes and stick them near the question.  I've also done a variation with quotes related to the theme of a novel we were about to read which students then had to respond to on sticky's.  We've used them for taking notes while reading a novel.  My kids had to do five sticky notes a chapter and stick them straight onto the page they were written about.  I've used them for sorting and brainstorming.  For example, each student had to write down what came to mind when they thought about poetry on Index cards (one word per index card).  Then, they had to sort them into categories as a table-group and use sticky notes to label the categories.

Index cards
They aren't just for college students!

Uses:  you can have your kids create cards for studying vocabulary or key terms.  My students love quizzing each other and seeing how many words they can get right.  Again, I've used them for sorting.  Anytime you have kids list, group, and label doing this with index cards and sticky notes makes it more tactile than just writing it on a piece of paper.  I've also used them for Give-one Get-one.  When we learned about foreshadowing, flashback, and suspense they had to write down an example of each one that they'd seen in a movie or TV show or read in a book on a different index card.  Then,  I had them walk around the room and trade each of their cards with someone else and talk about their examples.

Paper bags
Whenever I pull out one of these bags a student asks if I brought them lunch.  The middle school sense of humor never fails.

Uses:  put a photo or object in there related to a story you are about to read.  Have students move from bag to bag looking/feeling inside and making predictions about what the story will be about.  Put pictures or words in a bag that you want students to sort into categories with a partner.  One I've used quite a bit is putting strips of paper in a paper bag and having students draw one out.  I've give them key terms and their definitions and had them walk around the room and try to find the person with their match (i.e. one person has the term one person has that term's definition).  I've used different examples of figurative language and had them move to a spot in the room labelled with a type of figurative language (one table says "Metaphors," several students have examples of metaphors and walk to this table, one table says "Similes" etc.).  I've also used this strategy for random selection of groups or partners.  Or to give them something to act out.  For example, I gave each student a strip of paper with a different type of conflict (man vs. man, man vs. nature etc.) and then they had to walk around and find their groups and create a skit in their groups that showed an example of their type of conflict.

Butcher Paper
Luckily, my school provides this in abundance so I didn't have to pay for this one.

Uses:  Post around the room with questions on each large piece of butcher paper.  Students have to walk around and answer the questions on the butcher paper.  Put a big piece at each tablegroup and have students work on something collaboratively.  For example:  Students had a poem in the middle of the butcher paper and had to draw imagery they saw in the poem and write down examples of sound elements (onomatopoeia, alliteration, rhyme etc.) all around the poem on the butcher paper.  This way, students can all work on their contributions at the same time and see their peers ideas to help them.  Butcher paper is also good for creating anchor charts on the cheap.

Individual Whiteboards
Warning... Do not spend all the money to buy pre-made ones.  Get yourself down to Lowes or The Home Depot.  Buy a large piece of what looks like a whiteboard (I can't remember what it's called) and have them cut it into one by ones.  Then, buy whiteboard markers in bulk and hotglue little fuzzballs to the top to act as erasers.

Uses:  You can use them for a quick check for understanding, to review a concept from yesterday, in identifying things, for vocabulary.   I put an example of figurative language on the board, students write down the type of figurative language on their whiteboard.  You can also have them sketch something on the whiteboard, or even do a quick response to a question if you don't want to collect their responses.  In order to hold them accountable in this case, after having them answer the questions have them share out in their table-group using Up Share Down (everybody stands up, once you have shared something you can sit down) or by choosing a person at random that will share with the whole class.

Talking chips
These can come in the form of marbles, rocks, pennies, actual poker chips or whatever you can find.  Mine were a bag of marbley things that I got from the dollar store.  I think pennies would be fun, because you could give them two and call it, "Put your two cents in," but I'm pathetically punny like that.

Uses:  I used these during Literature Circles and at other times when my students were discussing a novel we were reading.  Talking chips come in handy anytime you want your students to discuss something and you want to make sure everybody participates.  How they work is you give every student a certain number of chips (I usually do two or three) and every time a student adds something to the conversation they put their talking chip down.  When a student runs out of talking chips, they cannot talk until everyone at the table has used all of their talking chips.

What do you use to keep your students actively engaged?  Are there any items I should add to my list?  Do you have any other cool strategies I can steal to use with these materials?

P.S. If you noticed that my images look pretty generic and low-quality, surprise they are just downloaded from google images.  It is the end of the year.  Thinking about photographing and uploading pictures of my own stuff made me want to rip my hair out.  So, this was the best my end-of-the-year teacher brain could do.  Sorry, not sorry.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

You Can't Let God Down.

I was singing (in the shower, cause where else do you sing?) a few Relient K lyrics.  Back when I was an angsty teenager, Relient K was my jam.  "I so hate consequences, cause I know that I let you down, and I don't want to deal with that."  The most painful part was the, "I know that I've let you down."  It was all most too much to bear thinking that I had let God down.  That's when God broke through and told me this simple but sweet truth, "You can't let God down."  He's not let down when I mess up because he knew what he was getting into.  When he called us, he knew we were broken.  He remembers we were once dust.  That's not to say that when we mess up God doesn't notice, or even that he doesn't care.  It's just that he's not feeling hurt by what we've done.  He's not disappointed.  He's not thinking, "I had higher hopes for you than this, and you really let me down."  God is outside of time.  He already knows our past, present, and our future.  Yes, even our future screw-ups.  Therefore, it is impossible for him to be let down by us.  He already knows what's going to happen.  He knows we are going to make--let's face it--tons of mistakes.  Yet he still calls us.  I believe that what he is thinking when we do wrong or miss right opportunities is more along the lines of, "Let's become even more beautiful," or "I have something better for you."  It is so freeing to know that I can't mess up God's plan.  He is not phased by my weakness.  His will is bigger than my struggles.  There's nothing I can do to make him give up on me.  I hope that you too will find freedom in knowing that, no matter what you do, you can't let God down.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

When in Vegas

One of the best things about being teachers is...we get Spring Break!  And the children.  Yeah, the children.  Anywho, Philip and I like to getaway together during Spring Break.  It's the perfect time for vacation because A.  it's less crowded than summer.  B.  You get lots of "off-season" discounts.  C.  it helps us make it through that last, long stretch of school before summer break.  Our first trip was to Leavenworth.  Our second, was to Lake Chelan.  This year, actually having moneties due to actually having professional jobs, we were able to go a little bigger.  We went to Las Vegas for Spring Break!  We had a blast!  Being in Vegas made me feel free to make some bolder choices with my wardrobe.  Here's what I wore.  (P.S. I took most of these on my ipad, because I don't have a smart phone and it was easy and convenient.  Therefore they are not great quality.  Focus on the clothes, people).

What are you wearing lately?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Doing Zumba Helped Me Understand My Students

Let's talk about how I felt doing Zumba--awkward, gangly, uncool, the exact opposite of sexy.  It was so hard for me!

 I'm a fairly coordinated person.  As a child, I did a type of dance called "clogging,"  so I have some sort of dance-ish background.  I'm athletic.  I'm a fast learner.  I can't understand why I find Zumba so challenging.

This feeling of intense struggle while trying while trying to accomplish a skill isn't one that I'm very familiar with.  Academics have always come fairly easily to me--I credit my mom who read to me in the womb.  I tend to pick up sports without too much difficulty.  I even have some musical ability (I mastered both the bucket drum and the oboe in school).  But ask me to copy a Zumba instructor as she fluidly moves parts of her body I didn't know were mobile, simultaneously does some fancy footwork, swings her arms with the suave of an ocean wave and you may as well have asked me to turn mud into oatmeal.

 Even though taking a Zumba class brought up all kinds of insecurities, I'm glad I did it.  Why?  One simple reason:  it helped me to relate to my students.  In the district where I currently work there are a lot of struggling students.  There is a high population of English Language Learners and Special Education students.  Many children in my classroom come from language-deficient backgrounds.  Learning to read and write is difficult for them.

During Zumba, I felt frustrated.  I was trying so hard and I still wasn't getting it.  It seemed unnatural, foreign to me.  I wanted to stop.  Zumba doesn't really interest me, and I'm not good at it.  What if I was somehow required to take Zumba?  I would probably start to resent going.  Now, I can't imagine if someone was constantly nagging me to keep going, to practice at home.  Or accused me of being lazy because I didn't want to keep trying to get better at Zumba.

That's when I made the connection from how I felt doing Zumba, to how my students feel doing English Language Arts.  After one of my big, don't-you-want-to -give-everything-your-best-effort-pep-talks, a student said something heartbreaking, "Why try when you never succeed."  I am sure that he meant it.  He is a Special Education student.  He rarely turns any work in.  I knew there had to be a deeper reason for that kind of behavior, but I just couldn't relate to that!  I want to do my best in everything that I do.  But admittedly, most things come pretty easily to me.  Doing something that felt so unnatural gave me empathy for my struggling learners.  If I continuously tried at Zumba and never felt like I was making any progress, I wouldn't want to keep giving it my best effort either.

It gives me a new perspective.  What would I need in order to keep practicing Zumba and grow in it? I would need lots of you-can-do-its and I-believe-in-yous.  I would need to know that it was okay to fail, and that I didn't need to do it perfectly.  I would need to not feel compared to the others around me to whom Zumba seems to be second-nature.  I would need reminders of the benefits of doing Zumba.  I would need an overall atmosphere of a striving not for excellence, but for progress, for having fun, for doing the best that we can and that being good enough.

I suppose that these are the same things that my struggling readers need.  They definitely don't need to be met with anger or frustration at their mistakes.  They don't need an attitude of "you're just not trying hard enough."   My students need grace.  They need constant reminders that it's okay to be where they are.  That they are doing well.  That they are improving.  That I am proud of them.  That all their hard work will be worth it in the end.

As much as I hated Zumba, it gave me a gift:  the gift of knowing what it feels like to really struggle with something.  And I am a better teacher for it.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Reading Nook Round Two

We are renters.  We move around a bit.  We haven't put down roots just yet.    One of the things that's fun about this is that every time we get a new place I get a fresh start on home decorating.  The best thing about decorating our place this time around is we actually have money!  Hooray for jobs!

Up until now I've just been making do with what we had.  A couch that had been handed down three times before it came to us.  Used dishes and silverware.  The nice things that our generous wedding guests gave us.  Now that both Philip and I have professional jobs we've been slowing replacing some of these things.  It's so fun to upgrade!  I like pretty things!

Back two apartments ago I decided I wanted a reading nook.  But we couldn't afford to buy...anything.  So I used what I could find that we had on-hand including a butterfly chair from my high school bedroom, a canopy that we couldn't get to stay above our bed, and some Christmas lights.  I had some good times in that chair.  It was fun to pull the canopy around my face and read or spend time with God.  Our friends lovingly named it "The Jesus Chair."

This year we moved into a Triplex (like a duplex, but with three).  Something about it feels so much homier than an apartment, but it's still in apartment-price-range--score!  Plus, we have tons of extra space including a spare bedroom.  We decided to use this space as a guest room, and a place where we could refuge for a little alone time.  The corner by the window was the perfect place for a reading nook.

Here is my second chance at creating a reading nook.

I love this chair from Pier One Imports.  It was a bit of a splurge, but IT'S SO FLUFFY!  I made the pennant banners.  The lamp and side table are from Ross.  The suitcase, whiteboard, and letter 'A' (this blog post brought to you by the letter 'A') came from something called "The Piper Barn Show," a local event where you can get antiques and handmade goodies.  We use the whiteboard to write down things we are currently praying for.  I could see also using it as a welcome sign when we have guests stay in this room.

I love using this space to get away with Jesus, or just curl up with a good book.  I'm still working on the rest of the room, but having this vignette finished makes me feel so much better.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Presence and Community

I don't think I believe in New Year's Resolutions.   Sure, commitment can help change along.  Recognizing change that needs to happen and resolving to pursue that change is a solid concept.  Setting goals and taking steps to move towards them is sound practice.  I'm about these things in theory:  it's the application of them that I have my woes with.  As good as resolutions sound, I just don't think that we human-beings are very good at "willing" ourselves to become better.

Maybe it's just me, but saying that I am going to be less negative with my husband, be more secure, be less of a hermit, keep my house cleaner, doesn't mean I am going to actually accomplish any of those things.  I, personally, don't grow by saying, "I am going to grow!"  Still, I don't want to do nothing.  I see habits, patterns, attitudes in my heart that could use changing.  There's some ugly up in me.  And I don't like it.

I've been looking back on my life, on times that I have grown.  I can see times when weakness became strength.  Befores and afters that prove my confidence blossomed over a season.  Times I was able to let go, move on, and forgive.  I know that growth is possible.  When I asked myself, what has really helped bring about change in my life I kept coming back to two things.  These things have been present in every fruitful season of my life.

 In order to grow in many areas, I am going to pursue presence and community.  That's to say, I want to be in God's presence, and I want to live in closeness with other believers.  Being intimate with my Creator does something to my heart.  It affirms me to my core.  It moves me to action.  It rearranges my priorities.  Having friends who know God and know me seems to affect me as well.  I can't explain it.  Real, genuine friendships help me to feel loved, to experience God, and to see myself and my life through a fresh set of eyes.  There's something about being in community that makes my soul sigh in relief.  It's as if I know, somewhere deep in my being that I was made for this.

 So, in 2015 I am pursuing two things:  presence and community.   Is this is starting to sound an awful lot like a resolution? I want to focus on being in God's presence and living in community that those things might produce growth in all other areas.  Label it what you will.

Did you make any New Year's Resolutions?  What helps you to grow?
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