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Jeremiah and Me.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

I was sitting in church this morning, praying before mass started. There is a situation at school weighing heavily on my mind. HEAVILY. I was praying and asking God for strength not to internalize it and for His help in making it better. 

Then comes the first reading, Jeremiah 20:7-9. 

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage is my message;
the word of the LORD has brought me
derision and reproach all the day.

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.

In layman's terms: Hey, God. I did what you asked me. I followed your call. And where did it get me? I'm mocked, and it has brought me derision and reproach. 

And I thought, man, Jeremiah. I hear you dude. Okay, okay. I am not in danger of being martyred for following God's word, but I'm struggling. I am doing my best to follow God's calling to be a teacher, and what has it brought me? This really upsetting situation that's made me question everything. 

Then the second reading, from St. Paul to the Romans. (My friend Ashley's favorite book, and perhaps mine too.) 

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. 
Do not conform yourselves to this age
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and pleasing and perfect.

Right. God's will. Pleasing and perfect. But, you know ... Jeremiah. And finally, the Gospel. Matthew 16:21-27. Which, in part, says:

Then Jesus said to his disciples,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me. 
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Take up his cross. Every time I hear that phrase "take up your cross" it reminds me of something I read or heard once (and I wish I could remember where) that said "Jesus said to take up your cross, and WHERE DID YOU THINK YOU WERE GOING?" 

Oh, right. Jesus picked up His cross and walked it to Calvary. Noted.

Point being -- God spoke to my heart this morning in a big way. And I will tell you this -- if God's desire was to draw me closer to Him, then there is no better thing He could have asked of me than teaching. I am dependent on God literally all day, every day. I need His help more than I have ever needed it before. I am surrendered to Him because I absolutely literally cannot do this without Him. 

One thing I've noticed since I have drawn closer to God is that I feel Him in a bigger way than ever before. Case in point: this morning I really felt the need to reach out to my friend Tracy, who actually had my job for  many years before I had it. I decided that after I did work at school for several hours and then went the store with my mom, I'd email her. 

Mom and I were in the travel items aisle at Target (shout out Cara!) and all of a sudden I hear my mom say, "Tracy! Hi!"

Yep, you got it. Tracy showed up exactly where I was exactly when I needed her. She actually told me she had just been thinking about me at church this morning! And, no lie, that lovely person talked to me in that aisle for AN HOUR. Her words made me feel a lot better. She told me many important things, but the ones I want to highlight are --

- God will meet you where you are. If you are giving 100% and doing all you can, there will still be holes in your ability, but that God will come and plug those holes. He'll take your humanness and turn it into what He needs.

- When He calls you to something, He will not forsake you. 

- That I am a force for good, and there will always be forces in this world working against that. That you would think if you are doing the right thing and working hard, things should be easy, but unfortunately that is not our world. (And if there's one thing I know I believe it's that Good will win.) 

- That you (I) need to rely on God completely and pray constantly and stay in incredibly close contact with Him throughout the day every day. It's the only way. 

The thing is, I am still in the middle of this situation at school, and it seems like I won't make it over the mountain. But today has really showed me that God has asked me to do this, and He knows I am doing everything I can to the best of my ability, and for whatever reason, this situation is in His plan.

I also remembered today that when you're worried about a situation you're in and thinking constantly about yourself that the best thing to do is something for others. So mom and I bought a few things for a local place that could use them, and I'm putting some of them into little individual bags tonight. (Coming your way, Jaye!) 

"Take up your cross and follow Me." 

I'm with You, wherever we're going. 


Research Methods, It's Been Real. See You Never.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

You know how people always say "God doesn't give you more than you can handle" anytime they are doing something that they feel is way more than they can handle? I've used that line myself. However this week was the first time I've ever seen in a super obvious way that sometimes God also sees that it really IS more than you can handle, so he takes it off your plate.

Allow me to explain.

As previously stated, my plan for this semester was to go back to school full-time. And then I also agreed to teach full-time too. However, I stayed enrolled in three classes: a teaching middle childhood class on Thursday afternoons, an online class in middle childhood curriculum and a Tuesday night class called Educational Research and Writing. This past Tuesday I went to class, which started at 6:30. As soon as I saw the syllabus, I was like no. No no no no no no no. Statistics, guys. Interpreting data. Chi square, regression analysis, literature review, methodology. Teacher comes in, starts writing crap on the board -- r squared and some kind of bell curve with dots, I don't know -- and I just sat there.

Like seriously. NO.

What you have to understand is -- I don't do math. At least not math at that level. I do not understand statistics, nor do I wish to, frankly. And, the biggest reason this was killing me, I have already taken an identical class. For my journalism master's I was required to take research methods. It was even one of the core subjects on my comprehensive exam. So I'm sitting there like 1. I cannot do this, and more importantly 2. I cannot do this AGAIN. I did great in my research methods class -- because I killed myself trying. And I honestly told God -- sir, I do not have it in me for another go 'round of this.

I thought to myself, I wonder if I can get out of this. Having already taken a graduate course on this same subject matter, why would I need to do this again? But I also took diligent notes, trying to convince myself that it was likely I would end up having to take this class, and that I needed to accept it. Somehow I'd find a way to figure it out.

That evening when I got home, I emailed my advisor and explained to him my thoughts. I pray, pray, pray, prayed, and Wednesday afternoon I got my answer -- WAIVED!

HOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In even better news, that means that I technically already have three hours out of the way, bringing my total needed to 36.

Friends, I cannot tell you my relief. Like I seriously have no words at all. NONE. Today I threw that syllabus and one page of notes away, and if I hadn't been in public I probably seriously would have danced it over and threw it in the trash can with all of my being.

So there is a lesson for you in God saying "No, but seriously, this is more than you can handle." Also, now that I'm thinking of it, God probably realized that me having to take this class (AGAIN) was more than HE could handle. Let's be real.

Pardon Me While I Energize Your Day With My Complaining.

Monday, August 25, 2014

You may have heard of things like 100 Happy Days where you pledge to have 100 happy days in a row and find something good about each day. And there are also people who tell you you should write down what you are grateful for in a journal before bed every night. I think these kinds of ideas are all great.

The thing is, for me at least, it is hard to be happy every day. Because some days I am not happy. Things go wrong or someone is mean or my lessons aren't working at all, and those are just not happy things. But one thing I've been thinking about a lot lately is that I am inclined to panic. About everything. I had a doctor tell me once that I tend to "catastrophize" things, and that person could not have been more right. It is very easy for me to go from I have a ton of papers to grade plus my own homework to do into MY LIFE IS FALLING APART AND I AM THE WORST PERSON EVER AND I WANT TO DIE. Laugh if you must, but it's so true! :) (If you know me, you know.)

Another thing I know about myself is that we are heading into the time of year that is harrrrrrrrd for me. I love fall as much as the next person -- I drive the pumpkin spice bandwagon -- but fall is a short slide into winter. And winter and I do not agree. It goes beyond seasonal affective disorder into something else entirely. The cold and the gray and the short days have the ability to change me completely, and I know just how bad that can be, having lived with myself for 30 years. So now, not only is winter bad, but I also fear its bad-ness, making it even more bad. Make sense?

I thought to myself the other day that I can be a bit of a complainer. The students did this or that, I have so much grading to do, these master's classes look ridiculously hard, my computer was going way too slowly, blah, blah. I honestly thought, I bet I'd be embarrassed to tally in a day how many things I say that are complaints. Oh, especially EVERYONE's favorite complaint "I'm tired." What a cliche now, right? Like it seems that we are all tired all the time. And that cannot possibly be true. I mean, feel free to disagree, but if we are all tired, all the time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (and we don't have some sort of illness) then can it really be true? It seems that "I'm tired" has become the thing we say when we don't know what else to say, and when did supercalifragilisticexpialidocious go out of style?

At any rate, I am in no position whatsoever to tell anyone else what to do. But I was thinking for myself that I am going to really concentrate on not being such a complainer. I'm going to see if I can go just one day without really complaining about anything. And then maybe I'll try to go two days, and then maybe a whole week! I'm also going to stop saying I'm tired. I'm tired is such a, well, tired phrase. And I'm also fairly certain that none of us ever felt more energized or more positive after having a conversation with a complainer. So I hate to think how much I've dragged other people's days down with my complaining. I'm sure there's a Berenstein Bears book about this I could read.

If you see me in person or talk to me regularly, please know that I am honestly directing effort into not complaining. Not about my life, not about the actions of other people, nothing. Will there be things that come up that are "worth" complaining about? Um, yes. Will I fail? Most likely there will be times I will, but I am going to give it all I have. I'll let you know how it goes.

This Post has No Title, or A Weird Tribute to The Twilight Zone

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Guys ... it's been one of those days. One of those days when you feel like you are quite possibly the worst teacher on the face of the planet. One of those days when everything seems like it's going wrong. One of those days when you are 97% sure only one of your 6th graders is completely independently aware of what the subject of a sentence is, although all in-class evidence points to the contrary.

It all started today with a clock. I kid you not. Our school clocks, which are calibrated to show the same time, starting going haywire today. The second hands started going crazy, and all the times got messed up. This might not sound like a big deal to you, but let me tell you something -- it was seriously like entering The Twilight Zone. All it takes is one distraction, something minor like a second hand going crazy, and you're done for the day. Also, when it's 2:33 p.m., but your clock is showing 11:33 (a.m. or p.m., who knows?) it seriously makes people insane. It's like sleeping in a bedroom with no windows -- you have no idea what time it is!

Suffice it to say literally everything felt off today. Ev-er-ry-thing. Basically all the kids I taught after lunch were just not having it. Actually, none of the kids I taught today seemed to be having it. Do you ever feel like you are just talking to yourself? That is totally how today felt, although I was talking to myself about compound subjects and predicates, something I'd never do. As my dad would say, today I felt like all I was doing was rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

I am so grateful for a supportive principal who is always full of encouragement, and also encouraging coworkers. Our kindergarten teacher took some of her precious free time today to come down to my classroom and encourage me, and so did our principal. Our principal was kind and thoughtful enough to share some compliments she had heard, which really made my day. As always, I'd be lost without my middle school co-teacher Sarah, who reminded me today that 1. I'm not the worst teacher ever and 2. That God's grace and forgiveness are endless, and that that is pretty much the entire message of the Gospel. (Also Sarah speaks my language, which is wine. :) )

In conclusion (isn't that how you are NEVER supposed to end papers or speeches?) why is it always so easy to remember the negative things people say to or about you, but to not easily call to mind the kind things you hear about yourself? I know I'm not the only person that struggles with this issue.

You want to know something funny that happened today though? If you're my personal friend on Facebook then you may remember a couple weeks back when I posted about how I had just found out that "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street," an old epi of The Twilight Zone, is required reading in 7th grade. As might be evidenced from this post, I am a fan of the TZ (if I could have any job in the world, it would be Rod Serling's, nerd alert). Near the end of the day I happened to flip my 7th grade literature book open, and it just randomly happened to open to "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street." Perhaps a reminder to me that I really was looking forward to teaching and that I really am loving it a lot. Even if that's hard to remember on the hard days.

This post has absolutely no point whatsoever. :) Just thoughts! If you are a person, a teacher especially, who feels or has felt the same way -- solidarity, bro. I'm on your side.

Words and Things.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Things said in Language Arts today:

- This morning one of my 6th grade students' pens fell apart and she asked me if I could get it back together. I tried a couple of different times until finally I told her to ask Mr. Burdick to do it since he teaches science and knows more about simple machines. No clue. Haha. One of my big skills is not how to get things back together.

- We did a book project last week where you brought in your favorite book and wrote down the first line anonymously on a sheet of paper. Then we all switched papers and students had to answer a series of questions based on that first line, concluding with answering whether or not they thought they'd like to read that book. I also participated, and students in both my 6th and 8th grade classes were super into my book once I told them what it was and what the plot is. I told them I couldn't loan anyone my copy since I've had it for a gazillion years and I read it at least every year, but I promised them I'd buy a copy for the class library. I ended up buying two copies so it could circulate through both grades simultaneously. The copies came in yesterday, and I took them to school today. There are now TWO WAITING LISTS for this book, one in each class. "Read fast," said one of my 8th graders to the 8th grader who ended up first on the list. I told the kids to not feel forced AT ALL to like the book, and, if once they start reading it and get a couple chapters in, realize it's not for them, not to worry about bringing it back to me since we all don't like the same things and that's okay. But I told them I hoped they'd all love it. Introducing new kids to my favorite book ... I love it! (Incidentally, the book is Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, which, basically, involves 10 murders. I discovered it randomly in 7th grade in the in-class library of my then-Language Arts teacher Mr. Strickland at Beverly Hills Middle School. Thanks Mr. Strickland!)

Things heard in Language Arts today:

- "Cinderella, who was as good as she was beautiful," "So it's Rumplestiltskin vs. the Miller's Daughter?", "... who is the fairest of them all?" "So was it when he got his sight back and saw her again?"

Yes, we're still studying fairy tales and are nearing the end of our lesson on fairy tales and short stories. It's been lovely.

And finally:

- I was talking to the 8th grade today about vocabulary. (They have a test tomorrow.) I was talking to them about their favorite words. I told them to be thinking about what their favorite word might be, and that one week I'm considering giving them a vocabulary test that is comprised of a favorite word from each of them, with some of mine thrown in there to supplement. I shared that one of my favorite words is "mercurial," someone else shared she likes a word that's the name of a scientific element because it's fun to say and one said "slab" because it sounds like what it is. Then another one piped up, "My favorite word has always been 'magic.'"

Thursday, for the win.


Be Kind, Rewind.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

You know how some people say that being around kids keeps you young? Well being around them might keep you young, but it sure doesn't make you feel young!

Let me explain --

I was continuing my lesson today on elements of a short story in context of fairy tales. We were talking about point of view and how changing the point of view of the story could change characterization. For instance, most fairy tales are told from a third person point of view, where we know the good characters are good and the bad characters are bad. I was making the point to the kids that some people have updated these stories by telling the fairy tales we know and love from a first-person point of view, oftentimes the point of view of the antagonist, which can change the characterization.

I wanted to share with the kids about a version of Hansel and Gretel I had when I was a kid that came from the witch's point of view, intending to make the point that the witch changed the characterization we're familiar with stating that Hansel and Gretel were basically house intruders who deserved what they got and she was misunderstood. So I said, obviously, "When I was younger I had this cassette tape with Hansel and Gretel on it ..."

(Might you see where this is going?)


To which one of my students replied, "A what?"

Yep.

I was like, "Ohhh, [student's name], I knew this day would come, but I really didn't think it'd be so soon. You know, a cassette tape. It is little and has those two holes in it and some tape so you could listen to something on your cassette player?" (Of course making the "stick a pencil in the holes to pull the tape back in" motion as I spoke.)

"Oh, you mean like a VHS or whatever?"

"Um, sure. Kind of. Like a little VHS. But you didn't see anything, you just heard it."

FYI, as a note, today's 8th graders were born in 2001.

You heard me.

My Favorite Exposition Statement.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I feel somewhat like a "real" teacher today. I know, I know. Just in time for school to have already started, right?

I got my first hug from a student today, a very sweet 6th grader. Said student also informed me that I was her favorite teacher! Well, sort of. She actually told me that Ms. Hayes (math and social studies), Mr. Burdick (science) and I (language arts) are her favorite teachers, so ... pretty much we all are. I'll take it. Haha.

I taught my first literature lessons today. We are studying elements of a short story in all three grades. (The kids read a lot of short stories and I decided that I'd teach one lesson to all three grades to ensure they all know the proper elements.) Unlike grammar, which honestly makes me really nervous to teach, I love talking about literature. (Or, as the Brits would say, lit-ra-chure.) Although I do have to say that you honestly don't remember that you actually know things until you are up in front of kids and saying things like "Predicates don't just show action, right? What do they also show? Anybody? State of being. They also show state of being." Wow I actually know this stuff! Go self. At any rate, because I am who I am, I am teaching this great lesson I found online that is elements of a short story using fairy tales. Fairy tales have plots that are pretty well known, so it's good that they can concentrate more on the elements of the story and not try and figure out what is happening in the plot. Today we went over the basics, where I felt like I was actually teaching. Grammar I may not know, but fairy tales -- fairy tales I know. Exposition Statement -- Once upon a time ..., Characterization -- How do we know the evil queen is evil?, Theme -- Don't talk to strangers, thanks Little Red Riding Hood!, Climax -- the glass slipper fits Cinderella's foot!

See what I mean? The kids -- 7th grade especially -- really loved hearing that in the original fairy tale the evil queen not only wanted the huntsman to cut out Snow's organs, but she planned to eat them.

GROSS!

I told the kids that tomorrow the plan is to read Little Red Riding Hood aloud and then examine it in context of short story elements. Then we'll split into pairs where each pair will examine another fairy tale and work together to determine then present the elements. One of my 7th graders said "That sounds fun" or something to the effect of I'm not the lamest teacher that ever existed on the face of the planet. I also gained about 2 points of street cred by asking the kids what the exposition statement of Star Wars is. (A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.) Solid.

My biggest concern at this point is the number of kids who claim they have never heard of Rumplestiltskin. Really dearies?

Schooled.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I think this is the longest I've gone without posting in a long time, and this is definitely one of those times that silence speaks louder than a post.

I'm pooped!

I'm on my third day of school, and also the Monday of my first full week. I've been working 12-14 hour days every single day, except for Saturday. I spent hours getting my classroom ready, and now I'm spending hours on lesson plans. Like I told my (also new) coworker Sarah, we have one full-time job teaching school and another full-time job preparing to teach school.

I honestly come home at night and collapse. Sadly, I am also in school myself, so that collapse has to be overcome and I have to pull out my laptop and textbook and get to work on Geography. In a couple weeks it'll be education classes on teaching middle childhood and middle childhood curriculum. (Those classes certainly can't come soon enough!)

The thing is -- teaching is HARD. I mean, I always knew teachers worked hard, and I have never been one of those people that think teachers get off work at 3:00 and get summers off. In my experience that is so not true. Maybe if you've been teaching 20 years it has a bit of truth, but even then every class is different and technology is always changing. I know that I, personally, get to school around 7 a.m. and usually leave around 6 p.m. Yesterday (Sunday) I worked from about 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. just preparing lessons. And then there's all that other stuff like how you set up a grade book, how you grade things, how you assign points to things the kids do, how you work the online grade book system, how you communicate with parents, where you go for fire drill, what the locker policy is, and, of course, the all-important issue of discipline and manners. That's especially important in a Catholic school, since that is a big reason why parents send their kids to our school.

I am blessed to have an outstanding principal as well as great co-teachers, especially my middle school co-teacher Sarah. I could honestly not get through the day without Sarah, and I think I talk to her more often right now that I talk to anyone else in my life! Along with our other classes, Sarah teaches the all-important subject of math, and I teach the all-important subject of Language Arts, so those things add an extra level of pressure.

Let me tell you something -- teaching takes everything you have. EV-ER-Y-THING. It takes every last thing you have and then you realize it's only 6th period and you have two more periods to go and somewhere you have to find the inner strength and energy to be everything the kids need for another couple of hours. It's emotionally exhausting, physically exhausting and spiritually exhausting as well. I don't know about other grades, but I know middle school is tough because those kids are all way too cool for school for the most part, you know? You honestly do not know how lame and hokey you are until you teach middle school. :) It's about the least cool job there is.

So those are my ramblings on teaching after the first couple of days of being a teacher. I appreciate even more now all the things the wonderful teachers I had over the years did for me. Dude, if you know a teacher, buy that person a coffee, seriously. Or maybe some Airborne. :)

When God Asks for Your Help.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ever since I've told people/they've found out that I'm starting a teaching job this year, one thing I've heard a few times is something along the lines of wow you've worked a lot of places, you've had a lot of different jobs, etc. I'm sure people are just trying to make conversation, but what it sounds like in my head is CAN'T YOU KEEP A JOB YOU LOSER?

Here's the thing -- I have had a lot of jobs. Since graduating college, I've worked as an English as a second language teacher overseas, at a start-up website, at a think-tank, at Macy's, at a Museum, at a magazine and now at a school. That's not even counting my years of babysitting and teaching dance. Maybe some people would say that that's jumping around too much. But, for me, it's really been about one thing -- finding where God wants me to be. I've said over and over that I never want to be someone who makes a decision -- or doesn't make one -- because of fear or complacency. I know there are no "perfect" jobs out there, but I believe that God asks us to be the absolute best person we can possibly be, using our careers -- whatever they are -- to glorify Him.

That's how I feel about teaching school. I sincerely feel that I am responding to God's call to do this. I have been increasingly nervous about the fact that I don't yet have a teaching degree. But I was blessed to speak to someone after mass this morning, someone whose child I will be teaching and whose opinion really means a LOT, who said "You have to not get hung up on the degree." (Thank you Mrs. Piaskowski for your ongoing prayers and encouragement!) We had a substitute priest at mass this morning, and I believe God put him here today because I absolutely needed to hear his homily. The gist of it was that God will use whatever meager gifts we have to glorify Him and work through us if we will just listen to Him. And I thought, the students I will be teaching are God's students. These are His kids, not mine. It's God who will be teaching them, and I just have to be the vessel through which He can do that. God has asked me to help Him teach His children, and although my gifts are small and humble, I have to believe that He will equip me with everything I need to do what He is asking.

Is this easy? No it is not. Frankly it is EXHAUSTING. So many times, this past week especially, I have said to God, "I don't think I can do this" or "I really don't know why You would ask this of me." Okay, okay. No, I am not being asked to birth the Savior of the world, but I still kept telling God that I really have no idea why He'd ask me to teach Language Arts to 6th, 7th and 8th graders with Him.

God's reply? This morning He also asked me to teach Religion to the 7th grade. I told Him I don't think I can do any of this, and He told me that not only can I, but I can do even more.

In my weakness and humanness I don't really have any reply other than tears because I'm still scared. But I remembered that I don't have to know what to say, because someone else already found the words:

Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word. 
(Luke 1:38)

She looks a little scared, doesn't she? 

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