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.

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.


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.


“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.”


For a Friday, I think we learned a lot.

2-3 AM


It’s amazing to me how often what I teach coincides with my world. Maybe its coincidence, but I doubt it. Literature is supposed to reflect the human experience and this week I am living proof.

It’s 2 am. I’ve become friends with 2 am. Not by choice, but by some weird insomniatic habit. It doesn’t seem to matter how early or late I go to bed, if I’m going to be hit by a bout of insomnia, it’s coming on at 2 am. Pop! My eyes open, I look at the clock and yes, 2 am. I have no explanation for it. I try to go back to sleep. Sometimes I try for hours with no success. Tonight, however, I don’t. I know why I’m awake tonight, so I succumb and I do the only thing I know to do to cope.

I write.

Earlier this week I read the Robert Burns’ poem “To A Mouse” with my students. If you are familiar with the poem, you’ll recall that it is an apology from a farmer to a field mouse for destroying her home right before the winter ‘hoar frost cold’ is about to settle over the land. There is much to glean from the poem. Empathy for creatures, unity with nature, but what strikes me the hardest actually comes in the last stanza:

“Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!”

I always ask my students if they think the poem is really just about a mouse after reading the last stanza and inevitably they always  say no, because they realize that the farmer is projecting his own worries onto the mouse. We speculate about what the farmer may be worried about, but in the end it doesn’t matter. The point is made. Humans are cursed. We worry. Beasts plan, thinking about the present and what must be done now with an innate sense of survival implanted in them that helps them survive in the future, but they don’t worry about the future. They simply deal with what is in front of them. Humans aren’t like that. The past haunts us. Memories, like cobwebs, weave through our heads trapping our thoughts in endless suppositions of “what ifs” and “couldawouldashouldas”. The future, though never attainable, is our constant goal. Like the carrot at the end of a stick, we keep lunging for it, thinking we are just about to get it, just for it to be jerked in another direction or for it to be just out of our reach, because the future is simply unknowable.

And yet, we insist on worrying about both the past and the future.

Constantly. Without fail.

And I know that is why I am awake now.

I find that I am frustrated with myself, knowing that worrying is foolish and a waste of time energy and obviously sleep. After all, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go askew”. But knowing it is one thing, being able to do something about it is another. So what do you do, when you recognize a problem and you can’t fix it?

You consult an expert.

It’s interesting that I know this particular verse backward and forward, but how well it relates to Burns has escaped me until now. Matthew 6:25-27 reads:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; Or about your body, what you will wear; Is not live more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

The idea of beasts not worrying is prevalent in the verse (birds, ugh, but point made). No past haunting them, not future looming before them. They are cared for. Then the stinger. Does worrying actually do anything for you?

No, actually I think science is even proving that it harms us; worrying is toxic.

These are big words, true words even, and easy to say. Not so easy to put into practice. So what do I do next? I’m currently suffering from insomnia, so obviously this is still a struggle of mine. But, I will tell you what I’m doing right now. I’m going to stop thinking right now about the past and the future and think about right now.

It’s 3am.  And I am thankful for…

Sunlight…Air…Hot, soothing tea…friends who listen…a God who cares…sleep…


What is lost/gained as cultural identity evolves?

One of the questions I ask my students every year is “What is lost and/or gained as cultures evolve?” The idea behind the question is to get them thinking about how cultural identity is constantly in flux, first of all, and second of all how even though a culture may be considered ancient, that doesn’t make it irrelevant.

Every year they surprise me with the depth of their insight. We don’t give the youth of today enough credit for their ability to think critically when given the opportunity. Yes, the digital age is severely handicapping our kids’ ability to communicate effectively, but as one of my students points out “an evolving culture can’t lose their identity without gaining a new one” and that is exactly what our digital age does for our students. It is providing them an opportunity to form a new identity for their culture. I hope they take this seriously, so as an educator it is my job to help them see past the “Mily Cyrus twerking and wrecking ball” farce of an era we are living in and help them create a future they can actually believe in.

So the question is: how do we teach our students how to build a future to believe in?

This goes back to my original question. Teenagers today need to know that many things are lost in a culture as it evolves so they can choose to retain the valuable, ditch the unreasonable and procure the resources necessary to build a brighter future for us all.

The first topic we discuss is inevitably technology. As products of a digital age, the symbol 2/3 of almost all my classes choose to represent the “typical American teenager” is always a cellular device (of course I have to mention my students who think outside of the box and want to represent teenagers with a “rock” or other symbol—but they wouldn’t be teenagers if one or two of them didn’t want to deviate from the accepted norm, right?).  In an age of phones that apparently are “smarter” than we are—my students are quick to recognize that we gain new technologies every year; they are just as quick to say that this gains us knowledge—until I question them on this point: does access to information actually gain you knowledge? And then crickets. With some perception shift, they begin to understand that “as [our] culture begins to grow we tend to drift, and every day we seem to lose more knowledge, as new technology comes out.” My point is then proved with a handwritten response to this question: “we seem to worry less, but on the down side we become to releint on contraptions that could mounfunction, and makes us hopless, we loose are level of indepence.” I leave the misspelled words in the response as I think it helps drive the point home—there is no spell check, so has this student lost his ability to sound out even basic words like independence and malfunction? In his own analysis, as a society we would rather let machines do the work for us, so we begin to lose our ability to think for ourselves.

At this point, I hope that “Danger, Will Robinson!” is beginning to flash in front of them (not that any of them actually get this allusion, but one can dream).

Unfortunately, this is not enough for students to completely change their generation. And sadly, we continue to give our upcoming generation mixed messages. On the one hand, we want to encourage them to think critically and more importantly for themselves. On the other, we keep shoving digital media in their hands and in front of their faces we begin to lose sight of what is really important in education: the mind.

I want my students to succeed, but in a world where success is mis-defined and quite frankly unappreciated, what will it take to turn that bus around?