Category Archives: Teach it

Teaching is a gift, not one to be taken lightly. Every day I thank the Lord for this gifting and humble myself that I cannot do it on my own.
James 3:1-2 :: Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

House Cleaning

House Cleaning: My journey through Psalm (90)

They say that life is short, so you should play hard. While I believe there is a lot of value in that aphorism, I’m not sure that’s what God wants us to glean in the 70, 80, 90 years we live on this Earth. Lately, I’ve had to come to terms with that hard truth in more ways than one.

This past week was my first full week back to work. I mean real work. Not workdays, but work work. As in for 8 hours every day I have to be at the top of my game, I have to smile when I feel like screaming; I have to listen when I want to nap; I have to stand when all I want is a nice bubble bath and a glass of Cabernet. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I love my students (more than they even realize), but the first week always feels like…the first week. My feet hurt. My back hurts. My brain hurts. And I love it. In my English 4 class, we read part of The Things They Carried, a fabulous book that chronicles the young protagonist’s time in Vietnam. It is painfully honest, and I focus on the chapter “On the Rainy River” with my students. These are seniors, who come to school this last year thinking they have it all figured out. Thinking they’re going to slack off and still walk across that stage. Thinking they’re done.

They’re not. And this short story helps me to prove it to them.

Let’s be honest, most our students know squat about the Vietnam war. Hell, I know only what I have researched. Even if you fought for (or against…) the Vietnam war, often there was so much confusion about WHAT you were fighting for that the reasons and logical sense of it got lost in the propaganda and manipulations. On both sides. Whatever sides those were. What my students DO know and understand is that no one, especially not 18-25 year olds, wants to be told what to do (side note, I know this from experience. I made some epic mistakes the past few years when it came to honesty and advice giving to this age group. I didn’t do it well. BUT I’m learning…). So, when a young man receives a draft notice, life comes at him quick in this short story and he’s left standing at a crossroads. What I particularly love about this story is the way that the protagonist addresses the paradox of decision making. For him, going to war was cowardly because he didn’t believe in the war and the only reason he went was that he was embarrassed by the possibility of people looking at him as a coward. Our society sees him as a hero for going to war and not running out on his patriotic duty, but he sees himself as a traitor to his own morality.

And life is like that.

It is short.

It is hard.

It is filled with decisions that will change the course of our entire reality; with peer pressure; with internal conflict that sometimes, will never be solved.

My seniors understand this.

I understand this.

I didn’t want them to just understand it. I wanted them to embrace it. Make it their own. So, the assignment was simple: make a map of the choices you have made over the past…4-5 years. It can even include choices you will make (like, after graduation). But you have to include the alternatives. You chose a path, follow that around, but reflect on the path you could have taken and how that might have made your life different. They don’t love this assignment. It forces them to reflect on things they may not like reflecting on. What they produce though, is pretty cool.

None of their maps are the same, but all of their maps show one thing: life is short. Our decisions matter.

I wish someone had given me the courage to look at my life this way as an 18-year-old, but it’s a lesson I am still learning to this day. And I think God wants us to embrace this. To understand that our decisions matter, so we should seek Him. Not so our journey can be easier. Nothing worth doing is easy, but so our journies matter. They become meaningful when we make purposeful decisions. When we ask God to “teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12), we make our lives matter. We make a mark.

So, yes, life is short. Don’t just play hard. Don’t just take risks. Be wise. Make a mark.

Why I teach Students, not English or Anything Else

I was recently at a conference and was asked a really important question:


Do you care about students, or do you care for students?


I’ll admit my mouth dropped open a little as I soaked in that thought. Don’t let any one ever tell you words are not important, because that one preposition shift changes everything.

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Humans are everywhere, but they don’t always live with a purpose. In fact, I’d argue that a large majority of people are lost. Spoon-fed on social media and misinformation and wandering the planet without focus or direction. They’re working for a dollar sign or in the case of students, grades. Both arbitrary uses of symbols that represent far less than what we should be working toward as a human race.

They don’t know why it matters.

Too often, they don’t even care.

It is up to those of us who DO have purpose and direction to TEACH these humans how to learn. Not just give them information, but actually TEACH them how to invest their time, energy and passion into something they TRULY care about.

But teaching people to care is about as fruitful as bathing suit shopping in January and as obnoxious as Christmas decorations in October. It isn’t something that will ever have meaning for people unless you first learn yourself how to care FOR those under your charge. And the burden shouldn’t fall on parents, teachers, preachers, and youth leaders alone.

I care about a lot of things:

  • Global warming
  • Politics
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Activities
  • Music
  • Health

I can care about a lot of these things, but I don’t care for them. I don’t nurture them. I don’t invest in them to the point that I am overwhelmed with emotion, needing to fix every little thing that’s wrong with them. I read a book. I cry, scream, or shout for joy–but then I put the book on the shelf and move on. I can care about them all day long, but until I actually invest my energy into them, I will never care FOR them.


Humans are the same. I can care about them, but until I invest something in them–a part of myself–I will never care for them.


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And they will never see the relevance in anything I say.

Especially kids–or young adults. They can smell irrelevance and in-authenticity from miles and miles away.

I teach maybe one or two kids who actually care about English as something that will impact their future. Maybe. On a good day. “I hate English,” one student tells me daily. Fair enough. I hate math. Not everyone will love the same things because no one is the same. And that’s OK–great even!

“I hate English,” he says, but then adds, “But I like you so I do it anyway.”

Wow. I’m not tooting my own horn or even trying to say I’m the greatest teacher. Hell, if I were trying to be a popular teacher the kid probably wouldn’t ‘hate English’. What I am saying is that even though this kid doesn’t like the subject matter, he knows that I care–not just about him, but for him. So during lunch, he slinks into my room, and we chat. Sometimes about school work, but more often about life.

Yet he hates English.

Knowing that someone cares for you is more motivating than any assignment I could ever give them.


Kids need adults who care for them. Not adults who listen for a moment, pat them on the head, then put them on the shelf and move on. They need adults to teach and mentor them them. They need authentic guidance.


The movement to hide kids away and shush them as though they were distractions like cell phones is damaging our society and silencing the voices that aren’t just the future, but the here and now. And ANYTIME you SILENCE someone’s voice, they’ll find it someplace else.

In drugs.

In alcohol,

In sex.

In violence.

We complain about what is wrong with society. We blame it on the media. We blame it on movies and TV shows. We spend so much time blaming the problems in our society on whatever scapegoat is most easily accessible at the time, we never stop to realize that individually we are ALL a part of the problem If we want to see real change in our society, a change in the future…If we want to make the world great, the answer will never be found in the government. It will be when, as a society, we learn to care FOR–not just about–each other and more importantly OUR STUDENTS, OUR KIDS, OUR NEXT GENERATION.

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Heroes amidst Hedonism

For years our self-indulgent society has been poisoning our sense of social decency and responsibility.

Instant gratification.

Instant pleasure.

Instant results.

If we wait for anything, we are impatient and cranky feeling an exaggerated sense of entitlement–we deserve to be served first, fast and well. The rest of the world can go straight to…well, you get my point.

Which begs the question…where are all the heroes? The selfless individuals who put others first and think of the reward…

And then I stop with that line of thinking too, because let’s face it–the heroes of the past, the heroes of today, everyone who has ever done anything at all that could be considered truly great…they’re all just humans. Humans with major flaws, but humans with big hearts too.

This week I had my students complete a character sketch for King Arthur, who (as it happens) is an legendary, Romantic hero who may or may not have actually existed, but the values he stood for are certainly very real–as are his very human flaws. Then, because Arthur is the ‘Once and FUTURE’ King, I had then do a sketch for a modern Arthur. It got real quick.

They said things like…

  • 20160218_113108He wants to see a world without war.
  • He sees a world that needs to be fixed.
  • He reacts to the opinions of others.

What struck me the most was the visual representations. In one, Arthur was naked save for a pair of boxer shorts. I don’t know if my students meant this to be as deeply revealing (no pun intended) of a hero’s character–but being stripped down to the skin keeps a person from hiding behind masks.

Masks made up of labels. Fabric. Materialistic nonsense.

It takes us back to a place where people are real. VZM.IMG_20160216_195330

Reminiscent of the garden, when Adam and Eve first introduced sin into the world and realized not only were the
y naked, but they were wearing their shame. Which is, really, what we need in this world. People, leaders, heroes who are stripped down to their core self to recognize their shame and own their true selves rather than continually trying to be what others have constructed for them.

Unfortunately, the world hasn’t changed that much. We say that we’re living in troubled times–but the world has always been troubled. It’s what sin does to the world. What makes the difference is the leaders and heroes we raise up during those troubled times. They don’t have to be perfect. They just need to be real. 20160216_184718 (1)

Never to be Undone?

“Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state. We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone.”


In The App Generation Howard Gardner and Katie Davis make this profound, but rather ominous statement about the generation of youth who are so focused on being virtually connected they may have forgotten what it means to connect in meaningful soul touching ways. Davis and Gardner present some rather alarming research in this book, but I’m not entirely sure I agree with the latter part of the statement.

Every day we spin our own fates—yes. Good or evil, yes. This is the responsibility we have been given. It is a risk we take.

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But never to be undone?

I shudder at the thought that once molded I can never be changed.

Is it infinitely harder—of course, but can you teach an old dog new tricks? Yes, you can. If the old dog wants to learn, the old dog can learn but it requires a radical heart change and that is not always possible or wanted, but we should absolutely avoid absolutes and never say never because you just never know what the future holds. And I for one am glad for that. What a boring, and quite frankly depressing place we’d be living in if “never to be undone” was absolutely true.

This is why I’m sometimes disheartened by my profession, though. As Howard and Davis state, “the light hearted version of this attitude is the all-too-familiar question, “will this be on the exam?” the nuts-and-bolts version of is, “just tell us what you want and we will give it to you.” Even tougher, “if you don’t tell us what you want and how to deliver it, we’ll get our parents out after you […] in our terms, the students are searching for the relevant app.”

I want my students to learn, apply, explore and risk something to find and answer and not to regurgitate information or press a button and poof! But education perpetuates this app generation with the overabundance of “accountability”. After a while…a little bit of your soul just starts dying each time you have to sell it to the minds that should be brightened in your room, not dulled.

And it makes me so tired.

We’re about to enter the testing season and it’s suffocating. I always feel like I’ve been shoved down in a box and my task is to get out of the box, but there is a giant hand on the box and the only way I can get out is to push the box on its side—can you do that with a giant hand on top of the box?

Which is why I can’t believe that “never to be undone” is true.

If it is…I’m a part of creating this beast of a generation, unable to take risks and be creative and independent.

If I believe it’s “never to be undone”, I’ll be physically ill. I don’t have a choice about the amount of state testing or having to prepare students for this testing—but I still have autonomy in much of the curriculum and how I present it. I just hope we can, as a culture, see the value beyond just “technology and testing” and get back to the heart of what it means to connect to one another and not just to a device.

It can be undone, but we have to want to undo it.

But Ms. Carmichael…It’s FRIDAY!

Yes, my children, I’m aware of what day of the week it is, but just because Friday it is, work we still must do. And, did you know that Friday is a regular occurrence? It actually comes once a week…

And thank God it does.

My students today, some of them, had some difficulty focusing on research. Thus the title and inspiration for this post.

“Ms. Carmichael,” one scholar gabbles as I walk by on my circular rounds through my ever studious class. “If someone gave you a million dollars, would you give them an “A”?”

First, this is a preposterous proposal. I should have ignored it…but it’s Friday.

“Absolutely not,” I assert with a superior moral air. “I cannot be bought.” Which is probably true.

They don’t believe me and immediately several of the less than focused scholars begin to protest.

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“Children,” I begin (they may be 18, but I still call them children…because, well, they are my children). “I assure you, I would not be able to live with myself if I accepted any kind of bribe and deprived someone of the education they deserve.”

I feel pretty confident this is true. I found $20 in the hallway earlier in the week. I spent a good deal of time trying to track down who could have dropped it. I ended up giving the money to a more worthy cause. I couldn’t keep it for myself. I didn’t earn it; it wasn’t mine; I felt guilty keeping it.

“But, Ms. Carmichael. It’s a million dollars.”

“Yes, but it’s not always about the money. And at the end of the day I do have to live with myself.”

“Which you could do a lot more comfortably with the money,” he sneers.

“Do you think I couldn’t make more money at another job if I wanted to? I didn’t become a teacher because I had to. I could have done a number of things. I graduated third in my class from high school and had  a near perfect GPA in college. I am perfectly capable of choosing a profession and excelling at a profession that could generate a much higher capital. I teach because I want to.”

Another student smiles and puts in, somewhat smugly, “And if you do what you love,  you’ll never work a day in your life.”

I turned to this student. “No,” I said. “That’s not true.” It’s total poppycock actually.

“But it is true!” he insisted. “Because if you are doing what you love, you aren’t actually working.”

“That’s a naive cliche,” I said simply. “I do what I love. Every day. I teach you all, then I go home and I write. But I also work my tail off.Constantly, without reprieve sometimes. Just because you enjoy your work, doesn’t make it any less complicated, hard or grueling–Life is hard. The only way to be successful is to work at it. Any thing worth doing is worth working for.”

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For a Friday, I think we learned a lot.