Some of the best “six minutes segments” of my day happens on the job. Nearly 20 years in a classroom, and I learn something amusing nearly every day.
We were asked in our teacher inservice to name a characteristic that we highly value in our classroom. My answer: “I love to laugh, and I love to see the kids laugh.” It is my belief that a happy, engaged, and curious student will turn into a whole adult who also happens to be a life-learner.
Granted, laughter is risky business in middle school – you have to be assured that kids are laughing WITH and not AT each other. Then there’s the whole matter of what kids will laugh at. Anything related to a bathroom and they snort and giggle, and I gag.
Nevertheless, an environment where you can laugh often and laugh well is an environment where dreams are launched. My goal is always to instill a love of learning – laughter is one of the staples. I have not always been successful to this end. In fact, I can hardly think of year when I haven’t started out musing, “If I only I had known this … been like this … tried this … last year or ten years ago.” I always second guess whether or not I’ve done enough … or hearing the difficult journeys former students have found themselves on, I have to ask, did I accomplish anything?
Teaching is tough because life is tough, but I believe with all my heart that next to what happens inside of a home, the classroom is the most vital room in our country. If you want to shape a nation, you shape the classroom.
If I am right, there are sobering consequences to the condition of our schools in light of the state of our very divided nation. Most of us feel helpless, because unless you are a teacher (and even teachers are often constrained), there seems little we can do to impact schools. From a distance that may be true, but then, that is the problem … distance.
I think we can improve our nation starting immediately. It commences with “adopting” a school – RIGHT NOW. If you don’t have kids in a school, pick one close by. Pray for teachers, administrative team, students, and families every time you drive or walk by. I anticipate that not only will their lives be touched, but so will be your heart.
And if you really want to change the world, get involved. Refuse to say you don’t have time, but find a way. Think about it … someone has found time to influence our schools. How do you like the results? Before we can complain, we need to check our own involvement. There is a long list of ways to engage:
Instead of going to a movie, how about going to a sporting event of an area High School? How about becoming a regular fixture at those games?
Volunteer. Or get a job … part-time jobs are listed all the time for bus drivers, para-educators, office staff, lunch room, referees, coaches, and more.
Talk to the kids at your church. Ask them them how you can pray for them and for their school. You may be surprised at the responses you’ll get. Then, FOLLOW UP. Let the kids know you’ve been praying. Ask them how it is going. Be ready for a whole bunch of new friends to be part of your life.
Be a safe person. Love schools and the people in them, because Christ loves them … right where they are at. Refuse to allow ulterior motives or unrealistic expectations to get in the way. Don’t go to argue.
Reach out to the teachers you know. Again, you don’t have to have school age children. What about the teacher who lives across the street or in the apartment above? Make a meal for her family during parent-teacher conference week (just make sure it doesn’t come off as a bribe if you do have kids in the school!). Or offer to do a chore that might save him some time. A couple of parents approached our middle school team one year and offered to wrap the Christmas gifts we had bought for our families. What a treat, and what a time-saver.
Really – don’t forget the teachers. A lot of teachers find themselves at odds with parents and even strangers because schools are seen as failing, and teachers are pegged as the reason. There is so much more to the difficulties of our schools than teacher performance.
The load that teachers juggle, especially in the public schools, is daunting and angry parents only make it worse. Just this summer, I’ve had three different people tell me they got out of teaching because of the parents. Wow! These were really good teachers, too. Imagine how positive and caring interactions with parents could make a difference in these teachers lives and therefore, in the lives of the kids they could still continue to influence.
Every day is not all joy and laughter. Sometimes everything from ridiculousness to apathy to vomit to snot shows up. It gets crazy. It gets tiring. It’s always adventurous.
I am not a great teacher every day. But I’ve got a goal. I’m out to make the world more whole … a safer, and a kinder place. It starts in my school … one laugh at a time. Come join me!
I’m so proud of this guy. He is tackling the unexpected and he is doing it with flying colors. Not bad for a guy who hates change.
Mike and I thought we had the roadmap for our life journey at least a little bit figured out. What we thought was the biggest risk of our lives came at the edge of our 40’s when Mike stepped out into a longtime dream and started his own business. Challenging, but fulfilling, it was our life’s course. And he was finding great success!
A decade later, windows started slipping shut. A crazy economy kicked door after door until all were shut. What do you do now?
Seriously, what do you do in your early 50’s with a college degree you haven’t been using for thirty years and a career field that you no longer fit? Potential employers slide their eyes to the line on the application that betrays your age and you see that look they try to mask. You know they see you as washed up … and you had just convinced yourself that you’re young still. And 50 is STILL young! There’s still lots of game in you, but bosses play it differently. What do you do now?
Well, Mike decided to become a teacher. Talk about a switch in directions.
And here he is. Weeks from finishing up his Masters in special education, I couldn’t be more proud of this guy.
Looking back … it all makes total sense … of course. The countless times he’s walked into my classrooms over the years … high-fiving the kids … swinging his hand so that they miss … making them laugh… engaging the kids who sit off by themselves … volunteering to teach a Bible class at our kids’ school … helping out the athletic teams as a sports trainer … subbing for my co-workers when his schedule allowed … all the kids who asked when he was going to come back again … the kids who never talked in class, until he came around.
There’s something about walking into a coffee shop, having a couple of moms stare at me oddly and then have one of them say, “Wait, you are Mr. Awesome’s wife (yes, that’s what he tells the kids our name is) aren’t you? My son had him in class this week. He’s thinks your husband is the greatest.”
Yes, he is the greatest. And I don’t tell him near enough.
Here’s a mini list of what makes Mike, Mr. Awesome:
Out the door at 5:30 AM to work with kids who don’t want to be at school and don’t want him there. (He taken an emergency subbing job at one of the toughest schools in Seattle … he’s a Spanish teacher until he starts his student teaching in January!)
Hours and hours of writing papers. (He hates writing papers … but has become very good at it.)
Hours and hours of doing online projects with people who don’t care – well … not all of them, for sure – but enough that he has been up until 3:00 in the morning re-doing poor quality work that would have affected the whole team.
Enduring observations in districts where no one, especially teachers, seems to care.
Coaching strangers on the phone as he convinces classmates that they too can make it … that the hard work will pay off … that they will be amazing teachers.
Juggling non-glamorous weekend and evening jobs along the way to make ends meet.
Encounters with lovely souls who spend their days on kids who take countless time and energy … kids who don’t understand the first, second, or fiftieth time … kids who can’t seem to stay our trouble. Yet these lovely souls love and serve without complaint. He’s come away inspired and he should … because he’s one of these souls.
Change smange … a lot of you, our friends, are in the midst of it as well. The 40’s and 50’s of our lives are not what we hoped for. The 60’s, 70’s and 80’s probably won’t be either.
So what do you do? You wait on God … you refuse to give up … and you stay flexible … and you end up making a difference. Just like this guy.
Oh … and to make this complete, a few of Mr. Awesome’s trademark sayings:
“Hey guys, it just doesn’t get any better than this.”
“You may have the freedom of choice, but you don’t have the freedom of consequences.”
“Wait! Let me see that picture! Is that a bald spot on my head?!”
It’s started! Adorable pics of back-to-schoolers are flooding FB.
This is my cue to focus my prayers toward young people and our schools in general. I believe prayer is vital. You probably do too, but do you ever find yourself stopping after asking for your kids’ safe return and that they make good choices because you’re not sure what else to pray? What if there’s more for them than being protected from bullies and staying out of trouble?
Some of us may have our kids in Christ-centered class rooms. Many of us do not. No matter where our kids attend, our prayers have the ability to shape them as we ask for God to be at work in everything that will encounter throughout their day.
Here are three themes that are at the heart of my prayers and at the heart of conversations that I am having with my students. For parents and teachers, alike:
#1 Pray that school is an opportunity for kids to find and and grow their gift.
Just a few days ago, a box-store cashier was complaining to me about having to be at work. “So this isn’t your dream job?” I queried.
“So what would you like to be doing instead?”
“I don’t really know … pursue my dream, I guess. Hang out with my kids more. Find a way to make more money.”
“But do you want to become some thing in particular? Go back to school? Pursue a passion? Make a difference in the world?”
“Not really,” he answered. “My dream is to have lots of money and play with my kids.”
As I walked away, it occurred to me, that Americans have become what I call “Disnified”; we look to live the dream … to find ourselves … to be true to ourselves … and if possible, to become famous … AND rich. The problem is that … well … the problem is that IT’S A PROBLEM!
The most fulfilled people I know are those who give have a sense of purpose. Their lives are not necessarily filled with ease, but they find contentment in helping others, in giving back to other people; even people who don’t seem very deserving.
Life has presented its rockiest challenges when I’ve felt directionless; when I’ve worried about having enough money, attention, and comfort. Truly, my darkest moments have a theme – “it’s all about me”.
I want so much more for our kids. I pray that as they sit in their classrooms and interact with others that they will learn that they have been “fearfully and wonderfully made”. I pray that their teachers will have the wisdom to point out their gifts of compassion, leadership, organization, discernment, hospitality, creativity, etc.
Whether or not we agree with all of the ideologies presented in many classrooms, school can still be a pathway to passions that will lead our kids to contribute to this world as scientists, engineers, care givers, inventors, builders, artists, teachers, entrepreneurs and more.
Father, You have given us gifts for Your purposes. I pray that our children will learn more about how You have uniquely gifted each one. May my daughter not be consumed with a beautiful appearance but a gentle heart. May my son not not worry about strength of muscle but rather seek to have strength of courage. May my child grow in the knowledge of what You have instilled in his life that will enable him to care for others. May my daughter be refined in her leadership gifts through the conflicts she faces. May Your will be done in and through my child today as he grows into whom You have made him to be.
#2 Pray for Wonder and Amazement
Father, whether You are directly or indirectly acknowledged in my child’s classroom today, I pray that my daughter (son) will walk away amazed. You have given us an incredible world to live in – intricate in detail and fascinating to explore. A world full of wonders. May every math equation, scientific discovery, geographical location and story of human behavior point back to You. We are fearfully and wonderfully made!
I pray that my child see the wonders of You in every page he turns. May she be curious … a life learner … a seeker of truth … a leader.
I pray that he will be taught to investigate … to seek solid information … to love what is sound and moral.
I pray that my child will have discernment. That she will recognize right from wrong. Please create doors of open communication as I seek to point her back to You even in situations where You are ignored or slandered.
Help me have the discernment to teach my children how to overcome the spiritual battles that await. Help me to teach them how to praise You and to trust You as a result of the experiences they will have at school each day.
#3 Pray for Compassion
Father, we live in such a hard-hearted, skeptical world. Bitterness and anger wait at every turn. I find myself defensive and self-absorbed. Will You break these tendencies in me and in our children? Will you teach them Your love for the people of this world?
As our children read about history and cultures and peoples from all over the world, may fears evaporate. May the education that they receive today inspire them to care about others. May they long to leave the people they interact with hopeful and encouraged . May they be known as a problem solvers … not trouble makers.
As our sons and daughters encounter meanness, selfishness, and lostness, may they react in an opposite manner. May they see beyond hurtful words and actions of others to the pain inside. Will You teach my child to recognize lostness and to then be patient and kind? I pray that my child will have eyes for the lonely in the lunchroom today; for the one who is always chosen last by her peers.
May he sit next to the new student. May she offer help to the student who doesn’t understand what the teacher is saying.
If my child feels alone today, may he be reminded that You are with him. Please use the moment of struggle as a pathway to compassion for others, rather than the start of a wall of isolation.
Father, You love my child … even more than I do. I trust You to be at work. May Your purposes prevail in every moment of her day.
What would happen if we committed to prayer in a fresh way and then recorded the process and the results? The impossible place of school just may turn into one of the most amazing experiences our children can have … all because of the power of God at work through our prayers. Let’s pray.
Tattletaling. My brother labeled me a tattletale when we were kids. Thankfully, I grew up and out of this despicable habit. Today, however, I relapse. Surrounded by the teenage world on a daily basis for many years now, I have, Dear Parents, a few observations … Continue reading A Little Electronic Tattletaling
Miss N. is holding out for a season of Dancing With the Teachers. It’s funny how serious she appears about this, because the truth is that she doesn’t relish the spotlight … at least not when it comes to her job as a teacher in … Continue reading Dancing with the Teacher
I love it when my students are smarter than me. (Nearly a daily occurrence.)
“She did?” echoed others, mostly the girls who like to challenge this particular student.
“Yup. You meant sandwich meat right?” He was referring to the story about my mom’s practical jokes. “Well you spelled b-a-l-o-n-e-y, which means nonsense.”
“Can’t you use them interchangeably?”
“Eh-eh. Not technically. Some people call them homophones, but they’re not. Homophones should sound the same, even though they’re spelled differently and mean different things. Bologna should be pronounced like the Italian city, Bologna (‘boloan-ya’).”
I was impressed. “Did I teach you all that about homophones?”
Well, I was glad that some teacher’s efforts had paid off and that my students were becoming grammar sleuths. Way to go C.S. That’s good stuff. (The grammar lesson, not the bologna.)