Friday, January 12, 2018

why teachers are tired...

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and assume that I'm speaking for a majority of public school teachers in the United States with this post. If you're in that category and you don't agree with what I'm saying, feel free to let me know. Honestly, I would love to hear from somebody who feels differently right now--it might help to restore my faith in our public educational system and the future of our country.

If that sounds a bit drastic, I'm sorry. Right now, though, my feelings about teaching, the students, the state of education, and the future of our country are all a bit raw and ragged. You see, I'm tired. If we're honest with you, I imagine any teacher you talk to would say the same thing right now.

First, we're burnt out. Yes, even those of us who have only been teaching for a few years, like myself. This is only my 4th year in a high school classroom, but I'm already in a place I couldn't have imagined myself being right now. I often leave at the end of the day feeling run-down, disappointed, and dejected. I ask myself on an almost daily basis if it's worth it. Is teaching worth the stress? Is it worth the tears, the sleepless nights, the shortness with my family? Too often, in too many situations, the answer is quickly changing to no for too many teachers.

We are in this field because we are people who have made the decision, for one reason or another, to spend our time teaching children. We want to make them smarter, more responsible, and just all around better human beings. We teach because it is the profession that was developed to touch every aspect of the future. The problem is, though, that is being taken away from us. Once, teachers were trusted to figure out the best way to reach the kids they taught. Teachers were seen--and rightly so--as experts in the field of education, and they were given the autonomy to make decisions that were in the best interest of the students they dealt with on a daily basis. Now, though, that has been taken away.

We are told what to teach and when to teach it. We are given standards (check over here for my view of those) and outlines and even, in some cases, scripts. That's the issue one teacher friend of mine is facing right now. This teacher has always been one every student loves, a teacher who focused on creative, innovative ways to reach kids and get them excited about learning. Now, this teacher is supposed to stand in front of a classroom of kids and teach them by reading from a script. Gone are the days of teachers being able to actually make decisions about their classrooms...

Teaching used to be considered "the noble profession." Teachers, after all, shape the future...right? As it turns out, that privilege (and great responsibility) is being taken away from us. Instead, it is the policy makers--people who haven't been in a classroom since they were students themselves, in most cases--who are determining the present status of education, and therefore the shape of the future. They hand down decisions based on the latest trendy ideas, and it seems like they never stop to consider whether or not those ideas will actually work in a classroom. They listen to big names and people who are making money off of systems and ideas and "teacher accountability systems" instead of the people who are in the trenches on a daily basis--the teachers.

And what about those ideas in themselves? What works in one classroom, with one particular group of kids, is just as likely to fail miserably in another classroom as it is likely to prove effective. The same goes for teachers--an approach that seems almost magical for one teacher is one that another teacher wouldn't be able to use in a million years. Take my husband and I, for example. Nathan dances around and sings in front of his kids at school. For him, it works. For the most part, I have those same kids in my classes (one of the consequences, for better or worse, of being in a small school). Ask any one of them what they would think if I started singing and dancing in class, and you would probably get a lot of answers that all had the same basic idea: they would think I had lost my mind.

What works for one teacher doesn't necessarily work for another teacher.

As teachers, we are now constantly being required to prove ourselves. It is almost as if our administrators are telling us, "You need to prove to me that you aren't a horrible teacher." If an issue arises, it seems the students are trusted before the teachers. If something goes wrong, it is automatically the teacher's fault.

~Low grades? Forget the idea that grades depend on the effort of the student; the teacher must not know how to teach the material.

~A student fails a class? It can't be because that student never did homework, never turned in assignments, and wrote "IDK" on half the test questions. It must be because the teacher personally had it in for that kid.

~Low Aspire scores? It can't have anything to do with the fact that the kids had already taken half a dozen standardized tests, or that they knew that their scores actually had no impact on them personally. It must mean that the teachers aren't doing their jobs.

We have dropped everything on the teachers. Teachers who are already stooped over from the weight of caring for kids they can actually do very little to help, in many cases. Teachers who are already over-worked and under-paid. Teachers who have to get more Professional Development hours than people in the medical field. Teachers who cry over kids who aren't theirs, who show up at all the ballgames because they know there won't be anybody to cheer for little Johnny otherwise. Teachers who stay at school for hours after everyone else has gone home, because they are trying to figure out a way to finish everything that is required of them.

While these things are bad enough for the teachers, we aren't the ones being most affected. We are, after all, adults. We can choose to walk away, to get a different job in a different area where the stress is different. We are making a conscious decision (whether it is a rational one or not is a different issue...) to stay in a profession that is slowly carving away pieces of our souls.

But what about the kids?

Sadly, that's a question that those making the decisions about education don't seem to be asking.

~What happens when you stop holding kids accountable for their decisions and actions?

~What happens to their future when they think the world revolves around their feelings?

~What happens when kids learn to think of themselves as entitled to things in life instead of as having the privilege--and responsibility--to earn things?

It used to mean something when you earned a high school diploma. My Papaw talked about being afraid to open his folder after he walked at graduation, because he wasn't sure that little piece of paper would be in there (it was). You had to work to earn it, and that wasn't something everyone had the drive and/or ability to do. Now, though, it seems to be a guarantee. Schools are judged based on graduation rates. Judged might not be the right word--bribed is probably more accurate. School funding is based on the number of kids a school has and the percentage of those kids who graduate. State and Federal groups hold the money over the school's head, with no thought for how that actually affects education. It used to be that disruptions in the classroom weren't accepted. Disruptive students were disciplined. The same goes for students who refused to turn in assignments. Now, though, we are told that we can't "drive kids away." Many schools have adopted "no zeroes" policies, because if a kid gets a zero, he may fail a class. And if he fails a class, he may get discouraged. And if he gets discouraged, he may drop out of school.

What gets left out is the end of that thought--the part that never gets mentioned, but is the reason behind the rest of it: If he drops out of school, the school loses money.

It seems as if those making the decisions about our schools simply see dollar signs when they look at our kids.

To be honest, we are failing our kids. It all gets dumped on the schools, and therefore on the teachers, but what are teachers supposed to do to counter the effects of a confused, chaotic world full of "adults" who live off of other people, never take responsibility, and require "safe spaces" to keep them from feeling offended?

I read an article that was written at the beginning of the 2012 school year that says the following:

"Deadbeat dads, pushover moms, vulgar celebrities, self-interested politicians, depraved ministers, tax-sheltering CEOs, steroid-injecting athletes, benefit-collecting retirees who vote down school taxes, and yes, incompetent teachers—all take their turns conspiring to neglect the needs of the young in favor of the wants of the old. 

The line of malefactors stretches out before our children; they take turns dealing them drugs, unhealthy foods, skewed values messages, consumerist pap, emotional and physical and sexual traumas, racist messages of aspersion for their cultures, and countless other strains of vicious disregard. Nevertheless, many pundits and politicians are happy to train their rhetorical fire uniquely on the teachers, and the damnable hive-feast on the souls of our young continues unabated. We’re told not to worry because good teachers will simply overcome this American psychic cannibalism and drag our hurting children across the finish line ahead of the Finnish lions.

Yeah, right.

Today, teachers across the land dutifully cast their seeds on ever-rockier ground. We were all told that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, and we all became adamant about education; but no one told us not to waste kids’ hearts or weaken their spines or soften their guts, and we long ago abandoned our traditional cultural expectations for children’s formation. I’m not calling for picket fences and Leave it to Beaver; I’m calling for childhoods that aren’t dripping with pain and disenchantment and a huge chasm where there should have been character-building experiences from the age of zero to five. That aren’t marked by an empty space where there should have been a disciplinarian. And a gap where there should have been a rocking chair and a soft lap waiting when the child was hurting. I am referring to missing ingredients that I now recognize as the absolute essentials, things I took for granted when I was too young to realize I had won the parent lottery.
Adults—not merely teachers—have caused these little ones to stumble, but journalists and nonprofits and interloping government experts offer not a hand to the young but rather a cat-of-nine-tails across the backs of their teachers. Injustice for teachers is confused with justice for kids." (

Those aren't the only things our kids are facing. Not all of our kids come from broken homes. In fact, a lot of kids have loving parents, safe homes, and warm food at night. Something else most of those kids have?


And within those phones, you'll find their lives. Those are lives of constant distraction, the constant seeking for attention, and constant need of approval. They are filled with social media, where a person's worth seems to be determined by how many reactions--good or bad--they can get from other people. Creativity, daydreaming, and just good old fashioned communication are almost a thing of the past. Study after study is showing how detrimental smart phones and other devices are, and yet almost every kid is carrying one around. I've seen kids who can't even talk yet who know how to use a tablet or smartphone.

And as a teacher, I'm told that I should use technology in my classroom. I'm told that since kids have shorter attention spans, I should cater to them by making my lessons shorter and more exciting. Instead of teaching kids to put the phone away, we're told, "The kids are going to use them anyway, so you need to find a way to have them use their devices in class." In a growing number of schools, there is even a push to have "1-to-1 capabilities", meaning we have our kids carrying around chromebooks or iPads or some other tablet around all day. What about teaching respect for others? What about the fact that studies are starting to show that there may be a link between social media and the rising rates of depression and suicide in teenagers? What about the studies that show people having "withdrawal symptoms" when they don't have their phones?

Teachers have been sounding the alarm for years, trying to warn of the harm that is coming to our children. What I'm afraid of is the possibility that things have gone too far. I'm afraid that teachers are too tired--

~tired of being blamed for problems they didn't cause

~tired of being told to solve the problems, but having their hands tied behind their backs

~tired of being seen as villains

~tired of being forced to do things that aren't in the best interest of the kids they choose to serve

~tired of having to pay for the bad choices and bad decisions of others.

If our society doesn't wake up soon, I'm afraid it may be too late.

I said at the beginning that this sounded drastic. To be honest, it doesn't even begin to do justice to the dire state of education in our country. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

one word 2018

"Brothers and sisters, in light of all I have shared with you about God's mercies,
I urge you to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God,
a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure;
this is your reasonable, essential worship.
Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image.
Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind.
As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills
and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete."
Romans 12:1&2

Sacrifice isn't a word we really talk about any more. I know for myself, I focus on what God can do for me, the blessings He gives, and all too often forget that I'm called to sacrifice myself to Him. My life is supposed to be His to do with as He wants. All too often, though, I try to control what He does with it. I struggle with wanting to know His will for my life when I've been told pretty plainly how I'm supposed to find it: deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him.
It's hard to stumble around in the dark, trying to find the path, carrying all the baggage of trying to become this idealized version of what I think I should be. It gets frustrating and I fall under this weight I've put on myself. Then I get aggravated with myself, because I'm further from the person I think I should be. So I pile on more weight--more expectations--and try once again to stand under that heavy load. You see, my focus is all messed up. I keep looking to myself, to my own understanding of what I'm supposed to be like, how I'm supposed to act, what I'm supposed to do--and maybe the thing with the biggest impact for me, what I think it looks like to serve God.

Instead, I need to lay everything on the altar: my expectations, my ideals, my dreams-- myself. If I give all of that over to God, I won't have anything left to focus on except Him. It its His will I'm trying to find, it makes a lot more sense to follow Him than to try to search it out for myself.

So for 2018, my focus is going to be on becoming a living sacrifice. I want to drop my expectations and preconceived notions of what it looks like to serve God, because my thoughts and plans can't even begin to match up with His.

 I know it's a week late, but here's my one word for 2018: sacrifice

Thursday, December 28, 2017

what is Christmas?

"Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking.
The Voice was and is God.
This celestial Word remained ever present with the Creator;
His speech shaped the entire cosmos.
Immersed in the practice of creating,
all things that exist were birthed in Him.
His breath filled all things with a living, breathing light--
A light that thrives in the depths of darkness,
blazes through murky bottoms.
It cannot and will not be quenched."
~John 1: 1-5

Unbelievable, indescribable power is displayed in God speaking all of creation into existence. This power, above and outside of everything we can imagine, simply had to breathe for life to begin teeming across the surface of the earth. Besides that, this Voice whispered the cosmos into being.
Think about that for a second. Taking a line from Star Trek (because I'm a nerd): "Space: the final frontier..." I'm not sure what the purpose of my physics degrees is or will be, but I'm thankful for the courses I took. Because of those classes, I've been given the chance to see just a bit of how powerful the whisper of that Voice had to be.

Generations of brilliant minds have been devoted to attempting to wrap their thoughts around how this universe works. They've stumbled across theories and equations ad principles that scratch the surface, and they attempt to dig deeper and figure out a little more, another little piece of the puzzle. But that's all any of it amounts to--little pieces, tiny glimpses of God's creation. No matter how much we learn, we just barely scratch the surface. Describing the intricacies of this universe quickly becomes a complicated process that even the best minds have trouble keeping straight.

The Voice spoke, and light formed out of darkness. The stars began to burn and spin in the cosmos. He spoke, and subatomic particles spun together to form molecules. Those molecules twisted into proteins, then cells and tissues and organisms. The ultimate power of creation was revealed in His Voice.

"The Voice took on flesh and became human
and chose to live alongside us.
We have seen Him, enveloped in undeniable splendor--
the one true Son of the Father--
evidenced in the perfect balance of grace and truth."
~John 1:14

All that ultimate power, and He laid it all aside and came to earth as a helpless baby, born in a stable and placed in a manger. He left the splendor of Heaven to be greeted by shepherds and watched by livestock. Yet in the midst of that, a star heralded His arrival and wise men from the East brought gifts--gold for the King of all kings, frankincense for the Great High Priest, and myrrh for the One who would give His life as a sacrifice.

The story of Christmas is not one simply of a baby born in a stable. It is the story of the Voice, the ultimate creative power of God, choosing to put aside His splendor in Heaven to come to earth. It is the story of the Creator choosing to become the sacrifice for the created. It is the story of the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

God, what do You want from me?

That question is in my head on a daily basis, roaring out over all the noise and chaos that fills my mind. It colors everything I think about--every decision I make. For years now, I've been desperately seeking God's will for my life. I've begged and cried and prayed for some answer, for just a hint of what it is that God wants me to do for Him. I've made decisions based on what I thought would work best for serving Him...and then felt broken when those decisions led to plans that fell through.

I've wondered just what it is that I'll do for God since I was old enough to ask that question. I want to know His plans for my life, because I know and fully believe that God sees what is in my future and is there to guide my steps.

I have this tendency, though (well, bad habit if I'm being honest) to rely on my own thoughts and opinions and ideas instead of letting go and listening to God. Don't get me wrong--I know that His plans are better than mine and that I can't even begin to understand His mind.

I know that, but for some dumb reason I keep trying to do everything my way.

At church Sunday, though, Pop pointed something out that I didn't really want to hear. He was talking about someone he used to know who was constantly stressing over God's will for his life, wanting to make sure each and every step was in line with what God wanted for him. He may as well have been talking about me. To be honest, he most likely was talking to me when he pointed out this verse:

"Now this is God's will for you:
set yourselves apart and live holy lives"
(I Thessalonians 4:3a)

That's it? No stressing and striving to figure out if each and every step I take is falling exactly where it's supposed to?

I want to go where God leads me, in ever aspect of my life. What I'm starting to realize, though, it that it's a lot easier for God to lead me if I'm close to Him. So instead of focusing on the path, trying to figure out the exact place for each step, what I need to focus on is drawing closer to the One I'm supposed to be following.

"Place your trust in the Eternal; rely on Him completely;
    never depend upon your own ideas and inventions.
Give Him the credit for everything you accomplish,
    and He will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead.
And don’t think you can decide on your own
what is right and what is wrong."
(Proverbs 3:5-7)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

I can do it myself...

I've spent most of my life determined to prove myself. I can't tell you when that started, but my mom has told me many times that "I can do it myself!" was a very common thing to hear me say when I was little. That hasn't changed much in the 33 years I've had on this earth.

Sometimes, that mantra is a good thing. Sometimes, my stubborn determination is what keeps me pushing through when times get hard. It's what got my backhandspring when I was doing gymnastics when I was little. It's what got my best friend and I to grit our teeth and push through basing an extension in cheerleading when we were told it was too hard for us. It's what got me through the initial shock of my brother's death. It's what got me through homework assignments that made my crazy and 2 physics degrees I never imagined getting.

The problem is, faith in my own abilities won't get me very far. Because, you see, knowing my strengths also gives me a really good view of something else--my weaknesses. And believe me, I know those all too well. I see them on a daily basis. I could go down the list of what I'm not good at and all the ways I've failed to live up to expectations (I have that list running through my head on a pretty regular basis).

When you're always trying to prove yourself and you have a front row seat to watch all the ways you mess it up, it's easy to start tying your worth to what you do. Or to be blatantly honest about myself, I seem to tie my worth to my failures.

I want my life to matter, to have some sort of significance. That desire has always been there, but I think it was magnified by my brother's death. Actually, that's not quite right. It was magnified by his life, but maybe brought to my attention by his death. I've gotten the chance to see just a hint of all the lives his touched, of the impact he made in his short 23 years, and it's made me examine my own life time and time again.

That, coupled with a youth that focused on learning about missionaries and a heart that breaks when I read stories of God's people around the world, makes me ask all the time if I'm doing enough for God. I'm so desperate for Him to use me, desperate to figure out where I fit in His plan and what it is He wants me to do for His Kingdom. I've had great men and women of God whisper in my ear, "God's got big plans for you," but so far I've just found myself lost...

But here's the thing--God's "big plans" probably don't have the same definition as mine. And besides, God doesn't actually need my help. He is full capable of accomplishing His will without me--He spoke all of creation into existence, so what would stop Him from simply speaking His will to happen?

So instead of focusing on what God wants me to do, I need to start focusing on who He wants me to be. Like the psalmist, I need to learn to say,

"My soul quietly waits for the True God alone
because I hope only in Him.
He alone is my rock and deliverance,
my citadel high on a hill;
I will not be shaken.
My salvation & my significance depend ultimately on God;
the core of my strength,
my shelter,
is in the True God."
~Psalm 62:5-7

Saturday, November 4, 2017

when it seems the bad outweighs the good

"Despite what you may think,
these ruling spirits are losing their grip on this world."
1 Corinthians 2:6b, The Voice
When you look around at this world, it's easy to see the bad. After all, that's what everyone is pointing out to us. The news is full of stories of evil and heartbreak. We see people hurting all around the world, often watching their loved ones get ripped away from them. There are threats of war, terrorist attacks, attacks on every value and ideal that used to be held dear.

And then there are the personal attacks, the bad things happening in our own lives that may not be evident to those on the outside. There are marriage issues, financial troubles, illnesses, and decisions that are simply the lesser of two evils.

Here on the new farm, there is sickness and injury and death and heartbreak right now. We are in a bit of a tricky situation, where we need the farm to succeed in order for us to afford to be home on the farm, but we need to be home on the farm in order for it to succeed. On Wednesday, we came home from a rough day at school to 4 dead goats. Then Thursday, we found another 5 bodies when we got home. We talked to the vet yesterday and went (again, after school) to pick up the vaccines and antibiotics he had suggested, then came home to 3 more goats dead, and multiple goats that were injured due to a dog attack--by our own family pet. That was after what, for me, had been one of my roughest days at school so far.

Sometimes it feels like the bad outweighs the good. It feels like Satan and his minions are winning the battle that is raging around us, and that we're just the casualties of war. It feels like God has turned away from us and is just letting the enemy do what it will. We feel forsaken.

Remember, though, you aren't alone in that thought. While Jesus hung on the cross, He cried out, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani—My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46). And those weren't just His words--in His agony, Jesus was repeating the words of David:

"My God, my God, why have You turned Your back on me?
    Your ears are deaf to my groans.  
O my God, I cry all day and You are silent;
    my tears in the night bring no relief."
(Psalm 22:1-2)

But what if just maybe, Satan is clawing like crazy for every small victory he can find because he knows he's losing the war? What if he sees the end getting closer, and that's why he is struggling so desperately against us?

Despite how this world looks, the war is drawing to an end. The victory has already been won, and the enemy is trying to get in a few final hits before they are vanquished for good.

While Jesus hung on the cross, I imagine it broke the Father's heart. I don't think God wanted to watch His Son suffer, and I don't think He wants to watch us suffer. But sometimes, I think He lets us go through the bad stuff because He knows that what's waiting for us on the other side is something better than we could have ever imagined.

Without the cross, there wouldn't be the glory of the resurrection.

Without the bad, there wouldn't be the beauty of the good.

In the midst of the bad times, may we be able to say like David did:
"Still, You are holy"
Psalm 22:3a

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Once upon a time, there was a school...

Once upon a time, there was a school. This school, like so many like it, was held in high regard in the community. When parents sent their children to this school, they had high expectations. After all, getting an education was a great privilege. And as is said, with great privilege comes great responsibility...and in the case of this school, even greater expectations.

When a student went to this school, he expected to work. His parents had often told him that nothing worth having came easy, so he didn't expect his education to come easily, either. He expected to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, but he didn't expect to do so without a lot of hard work. He expected long nights of studying and homework, time spent learning to do what he had to do instead of just doing what he wanted to do. He expected to compete with his peers for the top grades in the class--after all, competition is how you get better.

He expected his teachers to be strict and to to be tough, but his parents told him they were that way because they cared about him and wanted what was best for him. He knew better than to act up, because once the teachers told his parents, he would really be in trouble.

He knew that if he wanted to graduate, he would have to earn it. He would have to work hard to pass his classes, because they were designed to single out the best and the brightest. A diploma from his school wasn't something to be taken lightly, because having earned one meant you had truly gotten an education. That little piece of paper wasn't something you came by easily.

The students who went to this school had good reputations, because the school had a good reputation. Whether graduates went on to the university or went straight to work, they were known as hard workers who would push themselves to do better and to be better. These graduates had learned to be responsible for their own actions, and they knew that those actions--whether good or bad--had consequences. So when these graduates got out into the world, they knew how to take responsibility and to stand up and do the right thing, no matter the cost.

An education from this school was well respected. In fact, it was seen as world class. This school prided itself on taking boys and girls and turning them into young men and young women of intelligence, wisdom, and character. As a result, it helped shape the future through the students who left its halls to become leaders in their fields. It helped create a firm foundation for doctors, lawyers, electricians, teachers, scientists, preachers, entrepreneurs, historians, writers, and a whole host of others.

And then one day, this school was told that it had to change. It was told that it wasn't fair to single students out for excelling, because not all students were able to excel. It was told that the purpose of a school was simply to get kids to graduate--forget all that nonsense about teaching responsibility and a work ethic. It was told that the old way was too old fashioned. It needed to be progressive, to move forward, to change with the times.

So the school started letting kids get away with not working. After all, they couldn't punish a kid for not doing homework. They started telling the teachers that their goal should be to get every kid to pass. Forget the notion that not everyone is capable of the same things--teachers should be able to take kids who won't memorize multiplication facts and teach them to factor polynomials.

The teachers were no longer allowed to truly teach. Instead, their goal became to make everyone mediocre. After all, not everyone can be the best and the brightest. If you want everyone to be equal, you're going to have to lower the bar. So the teachers became discouraged. They started feeling like babysitters--and poorly paid ones at that. They still tried to teach, because that's what teachers do and who they are. They fought to teach responsibility and character, but they were reprimanded for correcting the kids. They tried to push the best and the brightest to do more and to be more, but they got in trouble for letting kids fall through the cracks.

The kids took full advantage of the system (because kids are smart), and they started slacking off even more (because kids, like adults, don't work harder than they have to). They stopped turning in work on time, because they knew no one would hold them to it. They stopped studying, because there was no reason to compete for a little piece of paper they were guaranteed to get, anyway.

When kids graduated from this school (which they did at an amazingly high rate), the colleges and workforce started turning them down. The kids didn't know how to work. They didn't show up on time, only put in a small amount of effort, and expected to  be praised for the tiny amount of work they put in. They blamed everyone else for their problems, and didn't know how to deal with the consequences of their actions. They thought everything should be handed to them--why work hard to earn something?

And for some reason, no one could understand why.