Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Do you see the chaos or the Creator?

It's easy to look around at this world and see the chaos. News reports are full of earthquakes, fires, shootings, wars...if there's anything bad you can think of, you're probably being bombarded with it every time you look at a screen. It's easy to get focused on all of that and get discouraged. I have to be honest--I get into that mindset quite a bit myself.

"Instead, pray."
 Philippians 4:6b

Instead of focusing on the chaos of the creation, turn your attention to the Creator.












"God is our shelter and our strength.
    When troubles seem near, God is nearer, and He’s ready to help.
So why run and hide?
No fear, no pacing, no biting fingernails.
    When the earth spins out of control,
we are sure and fearless.
    When mountains crumble and the waters run wild, we are sure and fearless.
Even in heavy winds and huge waves,
    or as mountains shake, we are sure and fearless."
Psalm 46:1-3



Sometimes when we look at all the stuff that's happening, we lose sight of the fact that all of creation is still answering to the Creator. No matter what gets thrown our way or what mess we find ourselves in, we can have faith that He is still there, still loves us, and can still calm all our fears.
 

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." (https://theeducatorsroom.com/the-exhaustion-of-the-american-teacher/)

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?

Phones.

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

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