Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Teachers Who Taught Me To Love Learning

Teaching children to love learning-- while I really get psyched about the alphabet and teaching kids to read, my ultimate goal in teaching instill a thirst for knowledge in my students. I want them to learn how to learn, how to discover things on their own.

Throughout my schooling, I've had my fair share of teachers; both good and bad. Luckily, the vast majority of my teachers have been incredible people who have not only taught me content, but also taught me how to learn, how to love, and how to overcome. While I could spend days singing the praises of each teacher who has seen my name on their attendance lists, there are two teachers whose teachings still influencing my day to day life.

I started out on my Spanish adventure in Grade 8 when I had to choose between studying Spanish and French. I continued studying the language throughout all four years of high schools and four years of college. (And still not fluent-- gahh!)

I was in Señora Neumann's class for three out of my four years of high school and traveled to Mexico with her in the summer of 2006 on a class trip. Our AP Spanish class was comprised of the same students who were in the Spanish 4 class the year before, so we were a pretty tight knit bunch. Señora really worked on building relationships with each one of us and I whole-heartedly believe that even the shyest student in the class felt understood and appreciated by her.

Since I had studied so much Spanish in high school and scored slightly above average on the AP test, so as opposed to being in beginner/ intermediate Spanish upon entering high school, I was placed in a 300 level class. Grammar and Composition. I moved through the Spanish classes fairly quickly throughout my first couple of years at Ashland. Taking these Spanish classes also opened the door for me to work with Dr. Rathbun in the Spanish department for three out of my four years there. Between working in her office and being in a number of her classes, Dr. Rathbun and I spent a lot of time together. She pushed me so hard to take advantage of all the Spanish that I knew and to keep practicing. She was always, always, always encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone and to take risks. Whenever I would try to justify something by saying that it was hard, or I couldn't speak perfectly, or I was the only girl, she was always there with a story from her life that eliminated all my excuses. Dr. Rathbun wasn't going to let me take the easy way out.

And here I am, living in Honduras for the second year now. Speaking Spanish every day of my life. Stepping out of my comfort zone on a daily basis. There is no way that I would be here today without the influence from both Señora and Dr. Rathbun. Sure, I could have still studied Spanish and had different teachers, but their impacts would have been different on me. Señora and Dr. Rathbun both took time to get to know me, to pour into me as an individual, not only as a student.

I'm not going to be the teacher that teaches every child to love learning, in the same way that I am sure Señora and Dr. Rathbun aren't influencing every student who sits in their classroom the same way that they have influenced me. But they both reached one, they both reached me. And if I can reach one student, if I can pour into a student and push them outside of their comfort zone to reach their full potential, then I'll be able to look back on my teaching career and say that the whole thing was worth it.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

"What I Want the Parents Of My Students To Know"

As we are officially one week away from the first day of school (whaaaat?!), I've been mentally preparing myself for another year with my rambunctious babies. While working hard in preparation for the year ahead (read: perusing Facebook), I came across this article written by another teacher who seems to know exactly how to speak to the hearts of teachers.

What I Want the Parents Of My Students To Know

My refrigerator holds a list. Summer to-dos. Almost 20 items needing attention before school begins. Important things. Things like: Sort through financial records. Write my AP syllabus and book proposal. Take down Christmas lights (wish I was kidding about that one.) Clean, really clean, my house.

This year my list has six red lines. Only six crossed-off tasks. Six out of 20. I go back to work in two days. When all I want is to sit in the middle of my living room and cry. I mean really sob over my list that won’t get done. But I can’t. I have to take my daughter school shopping.

Then the school year begins. And I won’t sit again until June 2014.

So before the madness of the coming weeks ensues, there are some things I want you to know about your child’s teacher. Things which may spur you to pray for me over the coming year, or which may cause you to shake your head—I’m glad it’s her and not me. Things which sometimes need to be said.

I’m already tired. I’ve worked all summer. I’ve sat through workshops and certification classes and read journal articles on the newest teaching strategies and creative ideas. If I’m not physically working toward the next year, I’m thinking about it. All the time. I will begin the school year exhausted, leaving behind an incomplete summer task list.

Right now—I’m broke. My pockets are empty. Every spare penny has been used to purchase bulletin board materials, novels, and extra bookcases. Anything that will bring warmth and brightness to my classroom. The state or school doesn’t fund these expenses. My purse foots the bill.

The bell never ends my day. School hours don’t provide enough time to finish the job I’ve been given. Like a briefcase full of papers, I carry the cries of hurting students home. And then? When I walk in my door? I still must help my own children with homework, fix dinner, carpool to dance, finish laundry, and straighten the house.

I spend more time with your sons and daughters during the week than my own. And while I love to teach, my heart breaks a little each time I hug my baby and say, “See ya later, alligator!”

I’ve trained hard for this role—going to college and then graduate school in preparation to teach your child. You may have said, “How hard can it be? You learn. You teach. It’s as simple as that.” I want you to know it’s so much more than ABC’s and 123’s.

Because teaching is hard. Very hard. For just one lesson I can spend hours thinking through Piaget’s cognitive theory, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, anticipatory activities, appropriate pedagogies, exit strategies, scaffolding techniques, and hierarchically-ordered questioning. Each of these theories is necessary for one effective lesson. Not so easy.

I will make mistakes. Numbers get crossed. Eyes do too. After hours of grading, sentences can begin to run together. Something right will be marked wrong. But something wrong may also be marked right. Approach me with kindness, and I will right my wrongs. Because, I promise, even if I have a typo, I know proper grammar and mechanics.

I am in desperate need of grace. If I don’t immediately respond to an email or a phone call, it may be because I want to have all the information I need to give you all the information you need. Give me time. I’m human.

I need a chance. Please. Please, please. Approach me with a problem before you approach my boss. Wouldn’t you want someone to do the same for you? It may be a simple miscommunication. A miscommunication that could wrongly put my job in jeopardy. Did I say please?

I hate standardized tests. Not in the we-should-never-measure-student-growth way. But in the there’s-so-much-more-to-life-than-choose-A-B-C-or-D way. The learning box we are stuffing children into tears at my heart a bit each day. It’s wrong. And my hands are tied.

It’s not always my fault. Even if I sang every lesson while doing cartwheels dressed like my favorite book character, some students still won’t pay attention. I can beg. I can bribe. I can cry. But some of my students are already too hardened by life—they just don’t care. Yet, society tells me I’m responsible for every student who fails. Every. Single. One. This is an anvil around my neck.

I want you to know every year is a make-or-break year for me. It could always be my last. Because this is not just a job. It’s a calling. And there are some days I wonder if I’m still called. Because some days rip me to shreds, leaving wounds that gape and scars that haunt.

I feel responsible for the next generation in mind-blowing ways. This is a heavy burden. I sense its weight each time I step into my classroom. I understand—really understand—how great the task is that lies before me. The question Am I making a difference? is a constant.

But I know my job is worth it. I know this in the way I know my students are worth every ounce of effort in my body. And when I see the light behind a teenager’s eyes? Every fiber, every muscle, every tendon tightens and then soars. The light of knowledge is mine to bestow. The role is serious. Success is always just a breath away. Sometimes I’m holding mine. When my students get it? I can smile. I can breathe.

Because really, I’m teaching them about life. Each day. A new lesson teaching rhetoric, similes, or Thoreau is really a lesson about life. How we’re connected. How we’re living. How we’re breathing.

And you must know, you absolutely must know—I pray for my students. Their hurts break my heart. Magic wands and pixie dust don’t work in this real world. I know there is only One who has the power to heal souls. So my knees are raw from the bending and stooping over the desk of your precious one.

I love your sons and daughters. And while a need for education may be the reason they walk through my door, my deepest desire is that my students know they are loved. This is my goal. My objective. My mission.

Because they will know my sweet Jesus by my love. And even though His name can’t even be a whisper on my lips within school walls, I will love your children. I will love them because He first loved me. I will be His light in their darkness. And because I love your sons and daughters, they will learn. They will learn all that matters in this life. They will learn because they are loved.

By this all people will know that you are My disciples,
if you have love for one another

John 13:35 (HCSB).
I love, love, love the last two paragraphs. Right now I have been given the opportunity to teach at a Christian school which encourages its teachers to share their faith with the students. This may not always be the case. Wherever this life finds me, whoever my students may be--I want them to know Jesus through my love. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Missionary Problems: Part Two

Here at the Teacher's House, we frequently find ourselves talking about how we are missionaries. And how not one of us feels called, or qualified, to actually BE a missionary. We aren't living in stereotypical missionary housing, we have access to a lot of North American conveniences. Our day to day life doesn't make us feel like we are making these huge sacrifices in the name of Jesus Christ.

And truthfully, I don't actually know that we are. Nothing that is going to be visible to us anytime soon anyways. But then I read this article that I saw posted on Facebook and more than one point resonated with me.

So maybe, despite what I think I am capable of, I am being called to be a missionary to these wild, crazy, wonderful children. In my mind I'm "just their teacher", but maybe it's something more than that.

While I couldn't fully understand all of the points that were made in the article 8 Reasons You Should Never Become A Missionary, there were two that stood out to me.

Number One: Don’t Become a Missionary if You Think You Are Really Pretty Great, Spiritually-Speaking.
There’s nothing like moving to a foreign country to reveal all the crap that’s in your heart.  Seriously. I have cussed more, cried more, been more angry, had less faith, been more cynical and, generally speaking, have become in many ways a worser person during my last two years of serving in Asia. Call it culture-shock if you will, but I tend to think the stress of an overseas move thrusts the junk that was conveniently- covered before out into the blazing-hot-open.

Number Two: Don’t Become a Missionary to Find Cool Friends.
Now, I’m not saying you won’t find amazing friends– maybe the best in your life– but there is no denying that the mission field can draw some pretty odd ducks. {Of which, I, of course, am not one. See #7 regarding my natural humility.} Don’t be surprised, though, if you find yourself in a church service with ladies wearing clothes from the 80′s singing praise songs from your middle-school years like Awesome God, but without even the drums. Don’t be surprised, too, if your social interactions are awkward at best with many of your fellow mission-souls. Living out the in jungles for twenty years might do wonders for your character and strength and important things, like, oh, the translation of the Bible into another language, but it can sure do a number on a person’s ability to shoot the breeze in a church lobby somewhere.

I will whole-heartedly agree with both of these statements. My life is a living testament to both of these statements. My life has become messier and more socially awkward since my arrival to Honduras in August.

But at the same time it has been more abundantly blessed than at any point in my life.

It's Amazing What A Year Can Do.

Exactly 365 days ago I was embarking on my Honduras adventure for the first time. It has been 365 days filled with laughter, learning, heartache, homesickness, new friendships, new languages, tears, challenges, and love. While these past 365 days have been difficult while simultaneously being absolutely wonderful, I cannot help but to think back to this day one year ago.

I remember how I held it all together until I landed in Houston. Feeling the wheels touch the runway somehow solidified the whole adventure for me. I couldn't call anyone and tell them that I had landed in Houston because I knew that as soon as I heard a voice from home, from the life that I was leaving behind, the tears would begin to fall.

I remember walking to my gate in Houston (ironically, that's been the only time I've ever been able to leisurely walk to my connecting flight) so mad at myself for packing my sunglasses in my checked luggage. Because wearing sunglasses through the airport would have been less conspicuous than the tears rolling down my face.

I remember arriving at my gate and sitting between a Honduran man and an American woman. I was texting Lacy because I knew she was the only person who would understand my freaking out. The Honduran man was slowly inching away from me as a sobbed and the woman kept shooting me compassionate looks.

I remember looking forward to having a 3 hour flight spent looking out the window and crying to myself, but instead ended up sitting next to a boy who was about 6 or 7 years old. Hids dad took a nice three hour nap while the boy talked to me the entire way-- clearly unconcerned with my crying.

I remember telling myself to pull it together once I made it through security because I didn't want Dave and Lindsay to think that I was a big weirdo for sobbing as I got off the plane. And Lindsay asking if I wanted baleadas to eat, but not knowing what those were. (How times have changed, right?)

I remember the car ride back and Sigua and wanting nothing more than to close my eyes and sleep for days. And not panicking again until we pulled onto 21 when I realized that this was official official.

I remember having spaghetti dinner at Dave and Esther's house with all of the teachers. I really thought I had it pulled together and that I was being great and social. Until Cristian later told me that I was a total drag that night and all of the new teachers were so boring and unfriendly that he thought about going back to his old school.

So many things have happened in the last 365 days. I've cried, I've laughed, I've learned, I've taught a little (I hope). In 365, Siguatepeque has gone from an unknown place to my home. To a place that I have a hard time leaving.

Here's to the next 365 days.

Monday, August 5, 2013


After four long, wonderful weeks in the States I have returned to Siguatepeque for another year of adventures with my friends and with my students. Before the classroom gets set up and the students come, my sister and I spent one week raging around like fools and enjoying the Central American sun.

Flight from Atlanta to San Pedro.

Sarah's first baleadas.

Girl time with Miss Grace

My sister is my best friend.

Comayagua <3

Water Island. Whaaaat?

My sister is my best friend. Sigua is my favorite place in Honduras. Put them together and it was an unforgettable week with the two great loves of my life.