Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Monday, April 29, 2013

Dear Journal,

This is so true...

The true teacher can impart to his pupils few gifts so valuable as the gift of his own companionship. It is true of men and women, and how much more of youth and children, that only as we come in touch through sympathy can we understand them; and we need to understand in order most effectively to benefit. To strengthen the tie of sympathy between teacher and student there are few means that count so much as pleasant association together outside the schoolroom....The sacrifice demanded of the teacher would be great, but he would reap a rich reward. 
Education pg. 212

I am more and more convinced that the best chances a teacher has to eternally impact students are outside of the classroom. Students expect teachers to give them time in the classroom. They expect deans to give them time in the dorm when they are on duty. They expect work supervisors to work with them when they are working.

But what really means something to them is when teachers, deans, work supervisors genuinely desire to be with them when they don't have to.

Yes, the sacrifice demanded may be great, but the reward? It is cheap enough.

Sunday I was on duty in the dorm. I have correspondence classwork up to my ears and graduation day is looming like a 2000-foot cliff that I'm hurtling toward at 100 miles per hour and my brakes don't work.. Desperately hoping to be able to get some things done, I settled down with my laptop only to be interrupted a hundred times by the ringing phone, or a girl with a question, or somebody that needed their room unlocked... you name it. Finally, in the afternoon most of the girls left for a wedding and the dorm got quiet. I eagerly grabbed my computer and started getting into focus mode. Just as I was starting to grasp the concept of encomiums well enough to do something with it I was discovered by the only two girls still in the dorm.

"Miss Beth!! We're BORED! Can we do something?"

I suggested doing homework, but that went over like a lead balloon.

I could see their faces appraising me; their little minds seemed to wonder if I was so obtuse that I didn't see or care about their needs. I could feel stress rising in me, I really needed this time to work... It seemed so unjust that they couldn't understand the pressure I'm under. But how should I expect them to understand? They know nothing of the pressures of adulthood. How woud it look to them if I said I couldn't be bothered and sent them away to entertain themselves? So, the laptop clicked shut and we went to Sarrs house and played table games and made chilaquiles for supper.

Those couple hours worked a phenomenal difference in my relationship with those two girls. We laughed, we talked, we teased each other and just enjoyed ourselves. Later in the evening when one of them had an emotional breakdown I was allowed into her circle of trust enough to be of comfort (she hasn't let me that close in weeks.)

Correspondence work? well, maybe I won't get it finished. But even if I don't, it will have been a small sacrifice. Far better that I understand the work of a true teacher than that I understand encomiums and epthalamion.

This is the full life.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thursday, 4/25/13

Dear Journal,

I hope that when I am 20 years into my teaching career and I'm officially an "old pro" I won't have forgotten what a powerful tool prayer is in the classroom.

Today some of my computers class were trying to choose what topic to do a research presentation on. I had given them a fairly broad selection of topic ideas to choose from:

·      Research an EASEA school, giving the history of how it started, what type of work program and academic program they have, what type of mission service they do, where they are located, etc.
·      Research a person in history and how they have made the world a better place
·      Research a charity and make a compelling appeal for funds
·      Research a harmful food substance and explain why it should be avoided
·      Research a doctrine and create an engaging bible study
·      Research benefits of exercise and craft a compelling appeal for people to exercise more
·      Research a disease and how it can be cured
·      Research a current issue in society (i.e. child abuse, the financial crisis, high-school dropout rate, abortion etc.) explaining the issue and your solution for it. Your solution must be something plausible (that could really work and would actually change the situation) and you need to explain why/how it is plausible

But, bless their hearts, one or two of them caught on really quickly that I was covertly seeking to limit their choices to uplifting topics, and they took offense to it.

"Uh, hey Miss Beth? Can I do it on ASAP Rocky? (Rap artist) He made the world a better place 'cause he gave us good music ya know!"

"Can I do it on breast cancer? I just really care about all the breasts in the world." (this from a young man..)

20-20 hindsight shows clearly that they were just trying to get me in a verbal headlock... they just wanted to get a rise out of me, and to some extent they did.

Rather than stop and think of the best way to handle it, I responded with an almost knee-jerk response, "Um, no!"

Of course that triggered the defense response and soon I was hearing a rapid fire volley of, "Well what about...?" "What's wrong with...?"

The best thing to do from the start would have been to just smile and say nothing. It would have made the questions appear as the silly questions they are and would have stopped any further discussion. The kids would have chosen a better topic and got to work.

But here I was, trapped in a mess of my own devising. And I was annoyed.

Annoyed at them. Annoyed at myself.

So I stopped and prayed.

And you know, a miracle happened.

Not in my students.. they kept badgering to see how close to the line they could come.

A miracle happened in me. Cause all of a sudden it didn't bother me anymore. Self didn't need to be justified anymore-- I had given my rights away.

And all of a sudden, I loved those kids fiercer than I've ever loved them before.

In a friendly, embracing way I was able to help them find a topic that they were interested in and motivated to research that wouldn't jeopardize their eternal life.

I misrepresented Jesus in that classroom today. Jesus would have stayed quiet, He would have seen beyond the question to the heart, He wouldn't have spoken in a belittling tone, or entered into argument, He would probably have asked an expertly crafted question that would have drawn them to feel their need in a loving way because He would have been in constant communion with His Father and He would have brought the perfect words to His mind the moment He needed them.

And perhaps, when I am 20 years into my teaching career I will still have moments where I misrepresent Jesus.

But I am confident that if and when I do, He will still work miracles in me the moment I call for help.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tuesday, 04/23/13

Dear Journal,

Oh it's so hard to be tough..

My students in computers have been working on finishing up several assignments about PowerPoint. They were to work through tutorials, complete certain items and take quizes at certain points. They have been working on this for weeks and last Thursday was the deadline cutoff for finishing them. For two weeks, I have begun every class period by reminding them what the deadline was, and that after Thursday any tutorials and quizes left incompleted would receive a zero grade.

So today, the first day after the cutoff, Miss Cheerful showed up to class and asked to take her quiz. "Oh no....that was last Thursday?? I thought it was this Thursday."
(Uhm...not sure how she missed that... I believe her...but I did announce it clearly every class period, with the calendar date included, and I had gone to her computer encouraging her multiple times and told her directly on Thursday that it would be the last time she could turn in tutorials and quizes..)

"So I can't do them anymore?? Nooo, Miss Beth!! I have a C!!!" and then, as if her heart was breaking, "Oh why, WHY didn't I take the quiz?!"

What else could I do? I feel horrible for her, but I can't see my way clear to give her an extension when the reason that she didn't get them finished was because she spent the entire first two weeks of the project browsing the web looking for the perfect PowerPoint background...

So I said no... because I know that hard lessons can be so very, very beneficial..

But the nurturer in me is still having a tough time with it!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sunday, 4/21/13

Note: To better understand this journal entry, you may want to read this article about learning styles.

Dear Journal,

As a Type 4 learner, I have long struggled with the typical school system. It is very difficult for me to make any sort of meaning out of a lecture, and I see little purpose to cramming meaningless dates, facts, and information into my mind in order to reproduce them on a test. I struggle to keep from resenting a system that assigns a numerical value to my worth as a person based on how well I am able to memorize which exact word the teacher wanted me to remember for a Fill-in-the-Blank quiz, when I can think of any number of words that would fit perfectly well in that blank and even express the desired thought better than the one on the review sheet..

I have learned ways of compensating, I have learned to create mind-maps during lectures, incorporate the facts on my review sheets into things that were meaningful to me, and share, share, share what I'm learning in every way I can. Unfortunately I never have, and doubt that I ever will, find a way to make analytical written summaries meaningful... and I will confess that in more recent years, I have somewhat given up the fight and taken C's and D's in my classwork so that I could throw my energy into more meaningful learning. I learned that, after all, the letter grade doesn't determine my value as a person and for that I am very thankful. Just because my report card is a mess doesn't mean I'm not intelligent, creative and imaginative, it just means I'm fed up with the system.

With this background, sometimes it seems ironic to me that I'm willingly entering into a lifetime of working in the system that I despise so much. But here I am, signing on heart and soul.


Because I have a vision.

I want to create a classroom where the textbook/teacher isn't the ultimate authority, and where tests are based on how well you can perform rather than how well you can memorize. 
As a student I often dreamed of that classroom where meaningful learning happened-- where creativity was celebrated and students were encouraged to experiment for themselves. I envisioned myself as a facilitator of learning, merely setting up a framework in which students could discover meaningful connections and apply information in real-world applications. I wanted to be the teacher I always wished that I could have. It was highly shocking, then, to discover that not everybody wishes for that kind of teacher.

In my freshman year of college, I was managing a group of students in the school bakery, where I worked. At some point in the friendly banter that morning, I said, "I'm sorry guys! I'm just not good at explaining to people what to do!" One of my crew threw back, "And you're trying to become a teacher??"

It was like a bolt of lightening struck and everything froze for several moments. It had never occurred to me that a teacher was supposed to tell people what to do. I hate it when people tell me what to do! I want to figure it out on my own in some kind of meaningful way. But most people aren't like me. Some people want clear, concise, factual, detailed explanations...

Suddenly I was afraid of the classroom. I had never been fearful of it before. I had thought of it as a place of boundless opportunity and potential to try, and create, and develop, and watch people come alive-- now it seemed like a frightening, scary situation where people would be expecting me to give clear explanations, and know all the details and facts. They would be frustrated with me and upset that I didn't just lecture them and give them a regular test like they were used to.

My 4's and 3's and 1's would love me, of that I was reasonably certain. But how would I ever teach my 2's? 2's are used to easily excelling in a classroom because classrooms are designed for them and my classroom wouldn't be. Would they be able to deal with this out-of-the-box, slightly scattered, spontaneous teacher? Would they be able to learn anything in my classroom?

This year of teaching, both at Laurelbrook and Ouachita, has taught me a lot about myself, but up to this point I haven't had any satisfying idea of whether or not I was reaching my 2's.

My 4's? Oh, they love my classes. This past week, as I worked after-hours with Miss Vociferant on her PowerPoint (Mrs. Walden, she's the one at the computer in the back by where you sat. Yes, that one.) she paused in her hundred-miles-an-hour talking and said, "Miss Beth? I'm so glad you're our teacher. You get us. Nothing against the teacher who taught this class before, but he would give us tests like this thick. (She measured off an inch-and-a-half with her thumb and forefinger.) And we had to take one every week. And he would just stand up in front of the board and go blah-blah-blah and we were somehow supposed to remember every single thing! Class is so much better now that we actually work on stuff."

But my 2's? One of them in particular worried me. He sat in the back of the classroom, disliked group work and activities, and frequently sighed heavily when I gave directions, "I don't get what I'm supposed to do" he would say. I felt badly for him and spent sleepless hours at night pondering what I could do to help him and the other analytical thinkers get something out of class..

But apparently it wasn't so bad as I thought. (Seems like most of the time it isn't..) Yesterday, the dear boy went and told Mr. Sarr that he was disappointed that I won't be teaching Bible anymore. "Miss Beth makes it so clear and easy to understand. She explains things so well. Ms. Wanda is really good too, but Miss Beth is a better teacher!" (LOL!! yeah right kid!)

Obviously a heavy dose of fickle teenage feelings going on there, but regardless, it lets me know that he wasn't entirely frustrated and that he did learn something in class, and for that I am thankful.

I'm more convinced than ever that different methods of education can work effectively in our schools. Some people look at my classroom and see chaos-- and, well, I can see how they would think that! My computer class is generally a controlled bedlam of noise. If you had looked into my Bible class the other day you would have seen students milling around the classroom in a game of Mingle-Mosey. How on earth can anyone think clearly enough to learn in that environment?

I don't know. But I do know that their retention level for the test was fantastic. I sat down with Firecracker (definitely the student who paid the least attention out of the entire class!) to study for the Bible test last week, and to my amazement all I had to do was ask the right questions and he pulled everything out of his brain. He remembered it all and he was barely paying attention in class!

Yesterday, the freshman class delivered a heart-gripping presentation for church on the Sanctuary. I wrote none of it. They created their own model furniture and each one presented a portion of the message. I got to sit in the back and just smile with a full heart as I heard them express the meaningful connections they had made over these past few weeks that we've been learning together. They got it. And they're not likely to forget it any time soon either.

I'm convinced. I'm sticking with my dreams to be the teacher who teaches different. I will never be a lecturer. I'm not going to try to cater to my 2's except that I will always strive to improve my own analytical skills. I will be confident in the methods that are comfortable for me, because I know now that those methods work.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dear Journal,

It's been a few weeks since I posted anything. That was due in part to having two weeks of Spring Break and a couple weeks where journaling was not required. Coming up on the last weeks of my placement now, I'm again directed to journal my experience.

Perusing back through these journal entries, I can already see how I'm not the same as I was just a couple months ago.. I'm firmer, bolder, more confident, and more compassionate. Still a bit disorganized and struggle to articulate the picture-thoughts in my brain into words, but I can see growth and for that I thank Jesus.

Today helped me see that growth a little clearer.

Today I gave a Bible test to the freshmen. This was the second test I have administered for them. The first test had ended in a bedlam of noise and all my best attempts at shushing meant didley squat.*
Today's test went smoothly, the students worked quietly until the end of the class period, respectfully walking up to my desk to whisper questions to me when needed.

Many things played into this I'm sure, but one stands out as particularly significant..

My downfall in the first test was my love of bantering with my students.. Sometimes I just can't help myself. I have a classroom of very, very funny students! And bantering back and forth with them every now and then wins such huge credit with teenagers. It makes them comfortable, communicates a heart-load of "I like you," and opens up the door for trusting confidences later on. (Granted, it can also close doors when the tongue slips and says something wrong, but that's not the point of this entry!)

I have learned that much as I like bantering, I have to be very cautious when I indulge in it in the classroom.
In the case of the first test, I made the mistake of bantering out-loud with a student at the beginning of the test. I lost the class...not at that express moment, but later, when some had finished with the test and just felt like talking! How could I expect them to listen to "Shhhh" when I myself was not demonstrating it?

Today, I announced at the beginning of the class that there was to be no talking during the test. Then I immediately set them to work, and began speaking in a whisper myself. When persons talked out loud, (or grunted like a baby piglet like one girl did!) I first tried Shhh. If that didn't work, I caught their eye and did the eyebrow thing. If that didn't work, I sauntered over to their desk and laid a palm down on top of their test and whispered, "Hey! you need to be quiet over here, young _____!" with a smile. It worked.

But the neatest thing to me was that I didn't even realize I was doing it until I got to the end of the class. It was just the natural, comfortable thing to do. I didn't even have to think about what to do before I did it.

I think I'm becoming a teacher...

*Didley squat = corny way of saying "nothing"