Tuesday, January 31

I Wonder If He Really Meant This

A sweet friend who isn't a teacher posted this CNN article on facebook the other day and applauded it.  After reading the article it rattled me and I couldn't let it slide.  My friend is working hard to get approval to take in foster kids so she's at the beginning of her parenting journey.  I commented that further down the road she may find this article to actually be offensive.

Of course, she wants to know why and my thoughts are longer than a comment box will allow.   So here is my comment:

*I am only responding to what this author is saying.  I am not assuming that any other teacher thinks the way he does or communicates their thoughts the way he does.  My responses are only to Mr. Clark's article not with the profession in general.  I have been teaching for ten years too.

The very first offense hits me before I can even read the article.  The title is all-inclusive and assumes that this teacher speaks for all teachers about all parents.  I am instantly off-put by this.  Secondly, this is published on a network that educated people read. It is never going to be read by the parents that supposedly “need” to hear it the most.  So those who might backpeddle and say, “Well, he’s not talking to every parent” or “He’s not, of course, addressing parents who care about their kids’ education.”  Yes, he is.  Otherwise this would have been published in People magazine for the general populous.

The story begins about a principle, not a teacher, which are two different careers.  So, it’s an interesting way to start because it seems to be pulling right from the big guns in an effort to intimidate the reader.  Apparently, her comment reveals, the standards by which the principle was awarded her accolades were not based on the needs or desires of the parents. The parents were upset with her but she still got an award.  Huh.  It’s the administrator’s job to relate with all the parents.  If that isn’t working, then they are just as at fault as anyone else. 

As stated in the article the average tenure for a teacher is 4.5 years. I generously figured that the maximum amount of time a teacher gets with my child during one school year is about 1050 hours.  And then they are done.  They do not have a commitment to the best for my child.  They do their time and they go.  That’s just reality.  On the other hand, I am committed to my child for life.  I see him in every kind of situation, track his development, coach and encourage him, know his tendencies, strengths, weaknesses and dreams.  Therefore, a temporary teacher is not an expert on what my child needs and when he needs it. 

We don’t need to "stem the tide."  The teachers who leave after 4.5 years due to conflict with parents should leave the profession because conflict with parents will not go away.  If you have students, you have parents and if you have students in a broken world, you have broken parents as well.  Allowing these teachers their leave creates more space for teachers who can muster through the tough stuff and successfully listen to what students and their families need from that teacher. 

The truth is that teachers leave because teaching isn’t working for them.  Some understandable manifestations could be that its harder than they thought, the administration side of teaching overpowers the a-ha moments in the classroom, they don’t see their students changing and they are pressured to produce results or any other reason.  But let's be real.  Teachers, like all of us, leave for their own personal discomfort.  Passing the buck to parents is cowardly.

The article takes on a condescending tone at this point, “We are educated professionals who work with kids every day.”  Wow.  So am I.  And even if I wasn’t, loving and nurturing kids and teaching them in a classroom aren’t even up for comparison.  “If we give you advice, don’t fight it.”  Like the advice that my child needed to be medicated so that you could have an easier time running your classroom?  Not a chance.  Like the advice that my friend’s child is struggling but doing well enough so she doesn't really need extra assistance?  Stick to making academics come alive -- this kind of advice is not on par with that of a doctor or lawyer as the author wants to assert.  If you can’t inspire and challenge then you are only babysitting.  

Some parents don’t listen.  That’s a given.  Some parents are also dealing with things deeper than you realize.  But are you listening to them?  Are you finding out their circumstances?   Are you finding out about your future students and their life circumstances before the school year starts and then caring beyond summer break?  If not, then don’t judge the parents and group them all into the same “disinterested” column.

The article sings the same song that I’ve always loathed:  The teacher is all powerful and all knowing.  Its tone is swimming in arrogance and obvious insecurity.  For instance, don’t question the student when the teacher brings up behavior problems.   Trust it.  Don’t ask for supporting witnesses to an incident. Trust them.  Drink all the kool-aid, don’t ask questions, let go of your brain and any form of due process.  Don’t demean the “relationship” you have with the teacher by looking your child in the eye and asking your child to confess or deny what has been alleged.  In that moment, teacher, it is not about you.  It is about parent and child and the years of relationship they have coming together to shape and mend and forge a new path.  That is a sacred space between parent and child.  The teacher doesn’t exist in that moment. 

“And if you really want to help your children be successful, stop making excuses for them.”  Fair enough. I live in this wisdom too.  But then the article goes sideways again, though it is still in the same vein of the teacher being in control … even of summer.  Summer reading assignments?   You mean other than the summer reading programs that my kids devour at two librarys?   The reading aloud we do with them through Narnia and Middle Earth?  Other than the NFL fact books, the nature guides, the inspirational biographies, the middle grade series’ and the constant swarm of picture books for my youngest one?  You mean to control our summer reading, family time and fun?  I think not.  My oldest son had to read Animal Farm over the summer.  I was okay with that because I wanted to re-read it too.  But summer is the time of imagination and growth, not assignments that are detached from life.

I have to quote this section because it saddens me to the core:

His mother chimed in and told me that it had been a horrible summer for them because of family issues they'd been through in July. I said I was so sorry, but I couldn't help but point out that the assignments were given in May. She quickly added that she was allowing her child some "fun time" during the summer before getting back to work in July and that it wasn't his fault the work wasn't complete.

Can you feel my pain?

Didn’t you listen?  It had been a horrible summer for their family.  Regardless of when your assignment was given, summer is not your time.  Summer is family time.  And if she has plans for her family your assignment will and should come second -- every time.  Keep your disappointment to yourself and show some real compassion.  Was it horrible due to their own poor choices?  Was it tragedy?   Was it relational discord?  It doesn’t matter because you are not her judge and human compassion is always appropriate.  The cold and condescending approach is completely unprofessional.  Good for that mom for doing what her child needed her to do; give him the space to grow and discover and learn the lessons of life.  No, I cannot feel your self-centered pain.

Without a doubt some parents do make excuses for everything.  But if it’s more than one or two parents in your entire classroom you might need to be the one to sit back and get a new picture of what’s really going on.  Your expectations may need to change.  You may need to customize.  Try new inspiration.  Search your own soul and dig deeper so you can teach out of who you really are, not who your district says you need to be.  You teach and all you can do is give good opportunity for learning to take place.  You don’t control.  There’s a difference.

I agree with some of what is said in the next section.  It is okay for my child to get in trouble sometimes because he hopefully can learn from that if the situation is handled correctly.  He also doesn’t have to make all A’s and I certainly don’t want his grades handed to him.  I’d love for him to get a scholarship one day and he needs to do it on his own merit, but more importantly I’d love him to continue to carry with him the love of learning.  Grades and learning are two different things. 

The parents who threaten to call a lawyer are few and far between.  They should not define your entire teaching career.  If these circumstances play into your insecurities, I’m sorry.  I fail to reach people sometimes too.  It’s just how it is.  But you can get through it.  There are so many more students asking for your time and energy.  If I blamed every person I serve for the faults of one or two, I’d be jaded and burnt out too. 

“I feel sorry for teachers and administrators these days whose hands are completely tied.”  So do I, but I think the hand-tying comes from overly fearful administration and school districts and not from parents as this article is stating.  I also feel sorry for teachers who can’t stand up for what is right and speak what needs to be said.  But it saddens me that this article states they are only concerned about losing their jobs rather than losing contact and influence with students.  One viewpoint treats my child as a commodity.  The other actually cares. 

So it's no wonder that the next statement strikes me as completely patronizing:  “We know you love your children.  We do too.”  Don't equate my love for my children with your general enjoyment or tolerance of them.  They are not both love.  Love sticks around for more than 4.5 years or 1050 hours.  It never fails.

Monday, January 30

Kindle 2012... So Far

Upon getting the Kindle last year for Christmas I knew it would not replace paper books, but it has become one of my favorite tools.  Besides reading books for free or cheap and being able to carry 60 or so around with me at a time, it has helped our schooling a little and it is my new home for the Bible and The Message.

I'm looking forward to reading through these works on my Kindle this year:

Life Gets Better: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing OlderSacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us HappyComing Home to Your True Self: Leaving the Emptiness of False Attractions  Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor
The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work" (Madeleva Lecture in Spirituality) Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline (Pocket Classics)

Interior Castle A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman
  Raising Motivated Kids: Inspiring Enthusiasm for a Great Start in Life  -     
        By: Cheri Fuller
 The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry
Souvenirs of Solitude: Finding Rest in Abba's Embrace Let the Great World Spin: A Novel Cutting for Stone PASSAGE TO INDIA

Saturday, January 21

Our Group's Co-ops

The homeschool group I'm part of here in Colorado has kind of a two-tiered structure.  There are several regular activities and gatherings that anyone can take part in.  But then there are co-ops -- classes or field trips that families set up and offer for the others.  The arrangement is that if you offer just one co-op then you have access to all the co-ops.  It's a pretty sweet deal.  This term (Feb. - April) there are about 60 classes to choose from.  It's always an internal struggle to say we won't sign up for one every day.

Here are the co-ops that B & S are interested in and that our schedule will allow for

  • Duct Tape Creations
  • 4 weeks of Metal Shop
  • Making Indian Pots
  • 2 sessions of Math Games
  • A Scavenger Hunt at our Nature and Science Museum
  • Outdoor Games
  • Silk Screening
  • Alpaca Farm Tour
  • Seedling Starts
  • Ancient China Experience
  • Fire Station Tour
  • Day Hiking
  • CYT's The Music Man
  • Chess

 Life to the fullest.

Saturday, January 14

If You're Going to Leave, Just Tell Me

I'm adding a new label tag today:  ministry.

It could be expanded into "Things that perplex me about ministry."  Or "Snapshots of the roller coaster of ministry."  Or "When ministry rips your heart out."  But it could most certainly not be called "Butterflies and sweet smelling fields of wildflowers and unicorn bells of ministry."  Because ministry has none of that.  No butterflies, no wildflower fields, no unicorns.  At least none with bells.  So, it's just ministry.  Those of you who are in it understand why.

We currently work in the local church.  We spent our youth preparing to serve the Church universal.  We live and breathe and think and chew church -- both of us, my dh and I.  We spend 75% of our day thinking about people in our church, present and past and even future people we haven't met yet.  Mostly present.  We invest, plan, prepare, anticipate, guide, encourage, wait and pray for all of these people.  The other 25% of our day must encapsulate everything else we must take care of (like the children we bore, the business of life, the families we left behind, the property we own, and the ever-loving pile of laundry).  If it can't fit into 25% of our day, it gets pushed to the next...o.k. sometimes the laundry waits weeks.

We do it with gladness.  Absolute and complete gladness.  It's an honor to get to be involved in so many people's lives.  Really.  We love this work of building community, of challenging others to become more of who God has designed them to be, of being present in their pain and their joy, of interpreting Scripture and creating clarity and trying to set things to rights.  It's crazy-silly that two flaw-filled humans get the pleasure of doing this kind of work.

We're in an interesting time at our little local church.  We've embarked on a new adventure, procured a new meeting venue, restated our purpose and are trying to give it feet.  We believe it was a divine appointment; that it wasn't our own idea, actually, really at all, but a compelling call to live with mission nearer to the core.  We asked our church to come with us and see what God will do.  It sounds exciting, right?  Well, whenever there's transition, there's -- ack, a horrible word coming up -- fallout.  (See, horrible).  And sometimes our smart, supportive people just don't see the excitement, the honor of it all and sometimes they simply don't want to go where we lead.  Sometimes a lot of them decide this all at the same time.


Let me change voices here because I've discovered something.  If you want to leave what it is we are doing here, be it with reluctance or relief, I'd love it if you would tell me (or us or some one of us who is giving their all to this body of believers) in person why it is you think it's time to say good-bye.  Really.  The in-person conversation is so much better than the email route.  I know it's so much easier to try to put it in writing at your convenience and I know you did so with painstaking attempts to speak it as plainly as you could.

But when I hear it from you in person I get to see your eyes and know if the flame is still there.  I get to tell you what you've meant to me.  I get to send you on to the next step of your journey -- even to help you do that.  And you get to see that I'm not angry.  That life after our church community means new life in a new church community.  I understand much more than you might anticipate.  I feel compassion for where you are at -- it's not an easy place to be, I know.  Most importantly, I get to tell you that it isn't good-bye.  We will always be there for you.  And I mean it.

You see, I'm human and the email route tempts me to read in-between the lines and when I'm reading things that aren't really there I get myself in trouble.  Or if I never get to see your email (which, to be honest is the case 99% of the time because even when you walk away your pastor (er, former pastor...sigh) keeps your confidentiality.) then you're just gone. I mean, poof, gone.  It's as if the time and effort we put into your lives, marriages, children, wholistic development, daily ecclesiastical operations and such simply never happened.

"Where have the so-and-so's been?  I haven't seen them for a few weeks."
"They left a little while ago.  But they wrote us an email."
"They did?"

Immediately following this comes the pang.  All at once, I feel the weight of your absence.  The stuff that was yet to be that I had imagined in my head gets instantly wiped away.  The shame I feel for not knowing this sooner.  Yes, shame.  The sudden mis-beat of my heart.  You're gone ?   There is a moment of silence inside me as I adjust to this new body-shape without you.  How do we continue to be the church we are supposed to be without x,y, and z of your gifts?  I know that others will, and may have already, taken up residence in the places you used to serve.  I know that the point of the church isn't to stay the same but to be transformed.  I know that God leads people differently.  I even know that your leaving may not really be about my husband's teaching (I'm gonna choose to believe that one, okay?).   But I didn't get to hear from you or speak to you or anything at all.

Sometimes you don't even email.  I don't even know what to do with that.

And then we meet again at the party of a mutual friend in a year or two and it's awkward and weird.  And I become ashamedly stinkingly human all over again.

"So, what have you been doing lately?"  (read: since you left our church)
"Oh, we've been busy!"
"Huh, yeah.  Us too.  How's your new married life?" (read: my husband did your wedding...)
"It's great.  We love it."

I know.  It's awkward and shallow.  It's hard to try and guess where the other person is coming from.  I can't ask you if you've found another church home because you never told me that you left ours.  (And if you haven't then I feel like everything in our past was for naught.)  I can't get to the deeper level of questions at all really because I'm not sure if I still have the right to meet you there.   It'd be so much easier if you'd just said something when you left.  That party scenario is so much better:

"So, how are you guys doing?"  (read:  I miss you, but I really want to know.)
"We're doing really well.  The kids really like such-and-such church.  And I'm involved in this and that and the other ministry."
"That's so cool.  Tell me what you love most about it."
And then you tell me and I get to enjoy the kingdom work that you're involved in.  I really do.  Because I'm not proprietary in my kingdom work.  You can do it with anyone.  And in that sense we're still really doing it together.

A friend and I had tea today and she (is the second person this week that) told me that her family would be leaving our church soon.  That our new venue and mission wasn't where they were at.  And the conversation that ensued was a blessing (to both of us, I think).  I loved that conversation.  And when I left to go to my car, I did not cry or pound the steering wheel.  I did ask God, "What next?  For them and for our church?  How do we all need to follow you next?  Please show us."  And I drove away.

Monday, January 9

Technology for the Ill-Prepared

When I closed up school for the weekend I made mental notes to find a read-aloud, a science book about blood, make out some lesson plans, and find my old lesson plans for this unit to refer to for ideas.

This morning when I woke up I had done exactly
of that.

Quickly searching the web catalogs of our local libraries I found a book that would work for our read aloud.  It's even on the shelf at our local branch.  But at 8 a.m. I'm not getting the boys ready to go out quite yet... hmm.

Enter Kindle's whispernet and free sample.  I downloaded the free sample instantly and we read the first 8 pages of our new read-aloud.  In a few minutes we'll head out to get the hard copy from the library and keep up with our reading for the next two weeks.  Mission accomplished and it didn't cost a thing.  

Now, that science book that I thought I could find this morning is, of course, nowhere to be found.  It's driving me crazy because it was exactly the resource I needed to teach with today.

Enter YouTube.  I had to do a little searching through some strange things (my search was "parts of the blood") but I eventually found a video explaining and diagramming what I wanted B to know.  We drew our own diagram, figured out the percentages of what our blood is made up with (perfectly tying in with today's math lesson... which is also online!) and had a decent science lesson.

Last Thursday when I brought out a video tape (yes, video tape) resource from the California Department of 
Water the tape didn't work at all.  I was disappointed because it had great paper workbooklets to go along with it which included some some neat experiments to view.  YouTube came to my rescue again that day.  I found the exact video presentation on the site and we carried on without much of a hitch.  And the video tape went in the trash.

I love how homeschooling is so much easier now than it was for me when I started 10 years ago.   It's not helping my work-ethic per se, but the world's knowledge is, indeed, at our fingertips.  

Friday, January 6

Dragons Forever Fiction and Poetry Contest

My friend Eisley Jacobs released her second book today in her middle grade series "Dragons Forever."  B and I read Book #1 Born to Be a Dragon late this summer.  He can't wait to read Book #2 Blink of a Dragon.  I just have to get myself over to her house to get him a copy.  YOU can order one through her website below or you can go onto Amazon (and maybe other online sellers) and purchase it.  OR you can take part in the contest below and win a bunch of copies, PLUS get published in Book #3 AND have a character named after you.

Let me tell you something about Eisley.  She's an inspiring woman who homeschools her kids, opens her home to displaced people, travels to Ethiopia on mission trips, and is bursting with enthusiasm, creativity and life.  Now, if you've been following me for a little while, you'll know that my son, B, is dyslexic.  When he heard he could have a character named after him he grabbed Born to be a Dragon and started reviewing it again because he is EXCITED to write his own entry.  Did you hear that? My dyslexic kid is excited to write.  I am amazed.  And I am grateful for a talented friend who has worked tirelessly to inspire him and other kids like him.

Here's the info so you can get in on all the fun!

Contest dates JANUARY 6, 2012 - FEBRUARY 6, 2012
In celebration of the release of the second book in the Dragons Forever series (BLINK OF A DRAGON), Eisley Jacobs is inviting you to take part in the BORN TO BE A DRAGON Fan Fiction and Poetry contest!
Who is elegible?
Children ages 4-99
What is fan fiction?
Fan fiction is a variety of stories about the characters or settings of a book as told by the fans. In this contest, entrants are encouraged to write a short story (200-600 words) about a missed adventure (something that could have happened but didn't) with any of the main or supporting characters in the book, BORN TO BE A DRAGON. Because it's fan fiction, this story does not have to follow the theme of the book, nor the characters' personalities. It's completely up to the entrant.
What about a poem?
Poetry is a form of creative writing in which language is used as an art. The poem can rhyme or not, it's up to the entrant, but it must be about BORN TO BE A DRAGON (or a missed adventure).
How do we enter?
You have from today until February 6, 2012 to write your fan faction or poetry. At midnight on the 6th, I will close the contest to prepare for the voting process. Voting will take place off line by a group of authors, parents, and teachers. The entries will be judged on creativity and use of BORN TO BE A DRAGON as their inspiration. Once voting is complete, all entries will be posted in the fan fiction area of Eisley Jacobs website.
Where do we send the entries?
Please send all fan fiction and poetry to Eisley.Jacobs@EisleyJacobs.com. You can also go to my website and fill out the form with the subject "Fan Fiction"(http://EisleyJacobs.com/contact/).
Teachers: If you'd like to submit all of your students entries at once, please email Eisley atEisley.Jacobs@EisleyJacobs.com and she will give you the proper address to do so.
What can I win? If your entry is chosen as the winner of the Fan Fiction and Poetry contest, not only will your entry appear in Dragons Forever - Book Three, but your name will also be tagged in the credits and a minor character will be named after you. ALSO, YOUR WHOLE CLASS AND SIBLINGS will receive autographed copies of BLINK OF A DRAGON, which means the more kids in your class you can get involved, the better all your chances are to receive the book. Homeschoolers, if one of you wins, you will receive 30 autographed books for the other kids in your homeschool group.
Contest Rules: This contest is open to U.S. residents only. All federal, state, and local laws and regulations apply. This contest is void where prohibited by law. Each child, ages 4-99, is allowed one entry, and each classroom/homeschool group has unlimited entries. By sending your entries to Eisley.Jacobs@EisleyJacobs.com they become property of Eisley Jacobs and cannot be returned. The winning entrant will have a week from the confirmation email to notify Eisley Jacobs with the names of his/her classmates or homeschoolers who will receive the books. In most cases, winning books are limited to 30 (some exceptions may apply).
This page and links can be found at http://dragonsforever.eisleyjacobs.com/fanfiction.html
If you have any questions, please email Eisley Jacobs.

Monday, January 2

Forty's Final Hours

My husband had a brainstorm recently that he confessed to me last night as he took me out for my birthday dinner and shopping.  He said he's just noticed that I get to have back to back introspective days.  Because New Year's and my birthday are so close together (my birthday is tomorrow) he imagined that I must spend a good deal of time each year pondering the old and dreaming up the new all at once.  Love that man.  

Yes, I do.

I spend so many hours at this time of year wondering, 'What could be better?' 'How can I tweak me?'
'How can I create a life that's productive, more satisfying, more purposeful, more congruent?'  As if my prior life were none of those things.  Making new goals as if the old ones had no effect.

But each year builds on the next.  Had I not been my prior person, I would not be my present person. Is there nothing about past me that I can be honored to have been? Is future me so amazing that I cannot be satisfied with and active about present me?  Who knows?

Having spent a good amount of time this year thinking about gratitude and finding God in good and hard, I realize that perhaps this year,or this half of life, I don't need to push so hard into 'what's next' but rather lean into 'what is.'  Where I am, who I am, why I live and breathe.  As Richard Rohr says, "The first half of life is about discovering the script.  The second is writing and owning it." 

So, until the script for this current production is written I think I need to focus here and now; take what I know and what I am and make use of it.  Looking ahead at positive change... that's all good, but at some point we have to stop forging and take a look around.  We'll never arrive at the destination, but the journey is always with us.

And so this is my year to lean in.    

Lean in to the middle grade dyslexic son that struggles to spell.  Let's work through it with the tools we have because searching for the right thing has left me doing barely nothing to address his real needs. 

Lean into the adolescent boy at the cusp of manhood as he manages new emotions (of fear mostly) and dreams.  I can lean into his heart, his fears, his identity and he can know that he's not in those places alone.  

Lean into the active kindergarten son who just wants to play a game with me.  He needs more 'yes' moments.  

Lean into mentoring and let it change me, being aware of my impact as the words leave my mouth, but saying the hard stuff too.

Lean into the women who join me in mentoring others.  I support them and feed them the wine and the bread.

Lean into the hard work of developing a new Bible study leader, teaching her discernment and dynamics.  And the harder work of letting her fly.

Lean into the fact that I do have a voice because there is character behind it.  No integrity, no voice.  And the voice needs to be God's voice, not mine, which means the character flows from him as well.  Which means practicing spiritual disciplines with that in mind.  

Lean into God rather than just his blessings or just his revelation.

Lean into marriage.  May there never be another period of disconnect.  May we continue to partner and support and love and touch.  Lean into his amazingness and our impact as one. 

Lean into random moments of influence among all my interactions.  God will work if I trust him to be there.

Make conversations go deeper.
Heal relationships.
Press harder into justice.
Pursue and create beauty.
Practice grace and love the grace-giver.

This birthday more than others I recognize that my life is not my own.  It was bought with a price. Why did Jesus do that?  In return I should offer a life that means something to him.  Not a fragmented life of half-finished projects and unfulfilled resolutions.  But a pursuant life.  One that works with God to continue and complete the work he's begun.  Because that work, he says, is good.

This year, I don't want to discount the goodness of that work, prior and present.  This is my memorial year and perhaps my year of feasting.  I have feet; let me move them. They already know where to go.