Tag Archives: teaching

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.

20161104_073259

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.


20161104_073746

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.

20161103_071153

The Hubris of this Generation: My journey through Psalms (52-53)

“Why do you boast of evil, you might man [woman]?” Psalm 52: 1

I spend most of my days in the company of teenagers. As such, it has become a habit for me to end each week with the following statement: “Be good, have fun and make good decisions!”

It is a well known fact that teenagers often make very poor decisions, but what I couldn’t fathom was why they wanted to brag about the stupid things they were doing. I mean seriously. Every time a super-villain stopped to explain his ‘brilliant’ plan, he or she gets caught and defeated. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. So what should that tell you about bragging and boasting of your stupidity? I just don’t understand, which is what inspired this decision making flow chart for my students.

Still, the bragging continues.

“I refuse to look at that chart, Ms. C,” one student tells me. And when I question this student, the answer is simple: “Because then I would have to actually think through some of the things I am doing. Where is the fun in that?”

Insert groan here.

We like to believe that as a culture we are more civilized than the barbarians of yester-year, but are we? In many ways we are still as barbaric as our ancient ancestors. In my English 4 class we have talked a lot about heroes lately, comparing ancient civilizations to modern culture. Interestingly, in most cases, what leads to the hero’s downfall?

Boasting, bragging, and pride–often in the stupidest things.

Hubris.

So why don’t we learn from these barbaric heroes? Why don’t we live smarter?

I used to hate the story of Romeo and Juliet. Glorifying teenagers for making stupid and impulsive decisions seemed like the worst story you could ever teach to impressionable teenagers.

Until I realized this story is exactly what they need–if it’s taught with a different approach.

I don’t teach it as the greatest love story.

Because it’s not.

It’s a warning to the younger generation. A warning that could maybe even be traced back to the first impressionable person who decided to make an impulsive, stupid, emotion-driven decision.

David’s time was not the first, nor was it the last, moment in history where God looked down and saw that people had turned from him. Turned from wisdom (53:2).http-www-pixteller-com-pdata-t-l-541870

As a culture, well even as a species, we need to stop glorifying people who make decisions like lovesick teenagers who can’t spot wisdom even if it punched them in the face.

We need to value those who seek wisdom (not just learning, but TRUE wisdom) and boast about good decisions people make rather than making celebrities out of people who kill, get drunk, abuse drugs, abuse people, and live in a narcissistic bubble of selfish desires. We not only need to be olive trees flourishing in God’s house (52: 8), we need to teach the future generation HOW to do this, and more importantly, WHY it is important and VALUED.

We value the wrong things.

We think if we prove we are right on a topic, then we win. But we don’t stop to see how we’ve pursued our quest to be right. How we hurt others. How we’ve set an example for those who are searching for value and we ripped that rug out from beneath them because we need to be validated.

We never stop to think that it’s maybe not so much about being right as it should be about living right.

The decisions we make shape the future.

Even if we don’t realize it.

 

 

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)

The Artist’s Way Week 8: Created to be Creators, Ashley

Not that long ago, I was on a date. Inevitably we were talking about our professions and I had to confess: I am an English teacher.

Whenever I tell someone my profession I can expect one of two responses: “Wow” accompanied with wild-eyed shock, bewilderment and confusion. Stuttering, and maybe a bit of awe.

Or something that resembles disgust, an evoked memory of sorts surfacing and as I watched this man’s face fall, almost contorting, I was sure a second date wasn’t in our future.

It wasn’t long before I found out why: “My senior English teacher,” he said, bitterness dripping from his tongue to the now cold chicken, half-eaten parmesan on his plate. “She crushed me. I spent hours on a paper and when she gave it back to me it bled with all the red, judgmental ink. An F, for all that hard work.”

He poked at the chicken. I wondered whether or not you could taste the tangible bitter drippings.

I don’t remember how I responded, I don’t suppose it really mattered. I wasn’t the English teacher who crushed his creative soul, but I might as well have been. I know I have done the same. Not on purpose, of course, but by the very nature of my job—I deconstruct, I judge, I take apart, ripping work to the very seams. It’s what I’m paid to do. I quantify creativity that is never really meant to be quantified and for students who actually work hard to produce that piece, it can be debilitating to their creative egos.

I never get to appreciate my student work for what it is—a beautiful process of self-discovery.

Granted, this process is supposed to help them improve on their process of self-discovery, but as an academic I have to be careful. There is a fine line between butcher and doctor, destroyer and healer. Like a tightrope walker, one step in the wrong direction and I will plummet taking delicate psyches with me.

Through the process of reading The Artist’s Way I am beginning to understand not only more about myself, but the importance of what I do as a teacher—not only of academics but of creative aspirations. Not all of my students are writers, readers, or academics. But all of my students have creative souls, in some way shape or form, because they are all humans and it is a basic human need, maybe even a right, to create.

If we are created in God’s image, then we are created to be creators.