I am frustrated with the internet. Although I am using facebook less and less these days, and its even been two weeks since I’ve posted here, I told myself that I would have a nice quiet evening tonight in my orange cushy chair with a book and a lamp nearby – it didn’t happen. I suppose its good to send emails to friends and have catch up aol conversations and to surf through blogs and read theology on the web (and now I am blogging), but it eats up so much time! How are we supposed to keep the life of the mind alive with this swamp monster called “technology” always pulling us under. Discipline, I suppose.
Oh well. Here is what you have missed in the world of middle school mayhem. Over the last two weeks, we have finished our short story unit. We’ve been doing a short story project where
they have had to brainstorm an idea, write it in three drafts, peer edit, and
print from their laptops to the network classroom printer. There was paper, glue, markers, and paper jams everywhere. I gave them sharp deadlines to meet, yet I could have managed their daily progress a little better. I assumed that my attempts to get the kids to self-manage (things like exit slips asking “what have you accomplished, what do you have left to accomplish?”) would have them all meeting the Friday deadline. Fourth block, only 8 out of 24 turned in completed, edited, illustrated and bound versions of their stories. Trouble!
I’m dealing with the anxiety of merging my personal touch preference with the interchange of 74 students a day. It is just not in my power to give them, each one of them, the academic attention they need. (Alas, so many tight ropes to walk in education.) I am not great in front of groups, although this is certainly helping me improve. I shine when I am one on one with a kid and I can point out what s/he has misunderstood. But when 25 kids are leaving my room, slamming papers on the table, and 25 more are pouring in – how do I orchestrate that into the beauty of learning. It really can lead to anxiety some days. I need to remind myself to leave the room during periods, stand out in the hall and just take a breath. Its also fun to point at kids walking by for no reason and say things like “I’m watching you, Carmichael!”
Here’s another thing. I have been learning how to hold my lessons in an open palm to the LORD. The reason you have to do this is because interruptions occur constantly. We had a tornado drill the other day out of the blue. A tornado drill! The kids had to curl into tiny balls and line the hallways underneath their lockers – for ten minutes. There was ten “precious” minutes of learning gone. Or the teachers down the hall will sometimes play pranks (which is pretty funny if you think about it.) They’ll come by and get their kids to blitz our room suddenly, right when I am in the middle of what I consider to be a “teachable moment.” It certainly can be frustrating. But that’s because I assume I have the right to teach these children; as if I had earned it. Have I? Do I really deserve to be doing what I am doing? No, the answer is no. I have no right to demand “teachable moments.” So I hold my lessons in open hands, and I pray for them (or at least I try to) so that the LORD may do what he wants with them.
And there certainly are many precious moments. But I have to see them as gifts, not something I can work for. I have had some success getting the class to stop on a dime, and then completely engaging them to the point that kids will say “and what happens next! tell me tell me!” When I softly threatened to remove J. from class today for turning around and talking to a student behind her, another student blurted out “I want to stay in class!” I don’t know why he said that, I guess he just couldn’t keep it in, although he wasn’t the one threatened. But sometimes, when you do get the kids attention to the point that their jaws might hit the floor at any minute, you can feel a certain preciousness enter the room. It’s – forgive my cheesiness – the spirit of learning. I can see it in their eyes. Real learning is occurring, and its awesome when that happens.
But I definitely need some more
management tips. AH is really good at bringing down the hammer with these
kids – poking them with the sharp stick called truth. It is not ok when
they don’t have their do nows. It is not ok when they aren’t doing
work. It is not ok that they are getting out of their chairs and waltzing
around. It is not ok when they interrupt or blurt things out. It is
not be ok if they do half ass work. My tendency is immediately to forgive
and give another chance – but they will never learn and never benefit if we
don’t encourage them to improve – if we don’t address the failure.
And here, so it is with the nature of
God. Relating to others must be a mixture of grace and forgiveness, and
then sternness and standards. Different denominations emphasize
differently, but we can all agree that grace is real and judgment is
real. You will be held to a standard by the Lord for your free choices –
you will be judged (not for salvation) but for rewards by your merit and free
decisions to follow the law (one part being Love. The law is love.)
Yet we are always forgiven, always given a new chance, always loved the way we
are. So then the question becomes: why improve? After years of
asking this question, the answer is: in the end, we can’t prevent improvement
if God is truly in our hearts. “Love others as I first loved you.”
When we experience his love, we are filled, and we have no option but to give
and love others. This is the litmus test of true belief. We do not
truly believe until we are loving others in return. The belief is
primary, the actions are the secondary fruit. Loving others, in turn, IS
loving God. He has a better life for us, and he wants to help us change
our hearts. When we accept his gift of grace, we are filled with love,
and when we are filled with love, we follow his law and renounce doing things
our way. When we renounce our own way, we find more joy in him than we
So the connection with school is: I must love these
students and give them rewards they do not deserve and have not earned. I must start with that baseline, because that
is the gospel. Next, though, I must hold
them to a standard. Not to earn my love,
because they cannot earn it. I hold them
to a standard for their own good – for their better live here and now. They cannot grow without a structure to support them. When they meet the standards, they will stand
a much better chance of enjoying life.
They will be equipped for the real world after this place. (Perhaps we too will be equipped for heaven,
ready to handle all the glory that is out there, after we leave this place.)
Ok, so you’re probably sick of the philosophy. More stories you say! Well, we haven’t had too many in the last two weeks. We’ve been playing a lot of kickball. I love shouting out things like “Carmichael steps up to the plate, he’s been kicking a .231 this year and has 6 rbi’s.” Or “This 3rd inning stretch is brought to you by Ball Park Franks and the boy scouts from Troop 862!” I dubbed a student “The Math Ninja” the other day. Sorry, I can’t remember the context. A large banner fell off of the gym wall in a school assembly the other day and covered a good thirty students so they couldn’t see a thing. And my “duke of the 7th grade hall,” D., wrote a superb story for us about Me and Mr. Hastings as cavemen in, and I quote, “The year One B.C.” On the cover are pictures of Mr Hastings and I standing next to a Lamborghini – I am portrayed: Barney Rubble, and AH: Fred Flintstone.
The Future: am considering options for a real teaching job next year. My heart is calling me to europe actually. It would jump at the chance to teach in London or Edinburgh or Zürich or Milan, mostly for the exotic nature of anti-American Dream culture though. Yet I’m sure we all remember what Emerson had to say about travel. “My giant goes with me wherever I go…” all that sort of thing. It won’t nearly be the magic that I am dreaming it will be. I could just stay here in Charlottesville and get a nice easy job. Nevertheless, I am called to dream big. Prayer is a must, so that I may seek the heart of my Father and my will may be conformed to his.
But the LORD determines his steps.” Prov. 16:9
“Many are the plans in a man’s heart,
But it is the LORD’S purpose that prevails.” Prov. 19:21