A Journey in Teaching
I've been told I need a filter…

Dec
12

Roughly 5 years ago I faced the moment that almost all history majors must face.

“Should I become a teacher?”

And so I signed up for a year teaching English in a country I didn’t know with a roommate I barely got along with. That decision was the motivation to start this blog.

After a year overseas I realized 2 things. One, I didn’t want to live overseas permanently. Two, I would become a teacher in the US.

So I got home, applied to graduate school and last May completed my Masters in Education in History (Grades 8-12), getting my teacher’s license in the process.

And then I began my job search for the summer.

At one point I had over 30 applications pending. The number ballooned because by August I realized a job in a high school history classroom would probably not happen for this school year. I applied to long-term sub jobs, middle school jobs and finally paraprofessional jobs. I had two interviews all summer and no job offers.

The week before school started a classmate told me a school was looking for paraprofessionals. I emailed them and a day later I had an interview and a job offer. I would be a paraprofessional hired specifically to help a student with autism and severe developmental delays navigate his school day at the high school. It paid poorly but was full-time with benefits. I took the job.

The job was both alternatively awesome and incredibly frustrating. The teachers I met were fantastic, kind, and totally supportive of me being there. I was respected as a teacher even though that was not my actual position yet. The student and his classmates were lovely kids whose innocence and personalities were truly infectious. But ultimately the job was not fulfilling. I rarely got to see other students in the building and usually the simplest tasks I asked of my student were simply impossible. I cared for those kids to my utmost and the teacher I worked with saw that but it was difficult each day. People who work with students of special needs deserve a medal. It is tremendously rewarding but also unbelievably challenging. I knew I needed to keep looking.

In October jobs started to be posted online for long-term subbing jobs for this school year. I applied to a few just for the heck of it. A few weeks later I got an interview request from a school an hour away from me. Longer than I wanted but you do not turn down an interview. I drove the hour and felt like I botched my first answer as I was still answering. When I left I saw good points but could not see myself getting a job offer. I even forgot to send a a thank you until 5 days after the interview. There was little hope in my mind.

A week after the interview the principal emailed me and asked me to call his office. He wanted me to come in. I had a job offer.

Today I went in to meet my students for the first time. It was just a day to hang out, observe and start thinking about when I start after the winter break. The kids have had a substitute the last two months. She has done her best in incredibly difficult circumstances but she does not have formal training as a teacher and the kids know it. The kids were generally loud, disruptive and inconsiderate. And yet as I sat there I could barely contain my excitement.

I’m going to be a teacher. I’m going to teach 8th graders US history until at least June. It’s been a long journey to this point but here I am and I cannot wait to continue the next step.

Aug
30

The VMAs were this past Sunday, MTV’s ode to just about anything except music videos. This years show provoked a storm of commentary thanks to Twitter and its always-pushing-the-boundaries choice of performers. By most accounts this program was largely panned as the morally bankrupt extravaganza that it was. From Lady Gaga to Robin Thicke to Miley Cyrus there was surely little that could be redeemed from this epic failure of entertainment, right?

However I saw something while watching that I thought was important, was good,  and was in fact (at least partially) redeeming to the rest of the night. The pair of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis teamed up with Mary Lambert and Jennifer Hudson for a stirring rendition of their gay rights anthem “Same Love.”

For many Evangelical Christians this was the nail in the coffin for the evening; the last straw on a night that promoted far too much promiscuity and lewdness. Just another sign that the “gay agenda” has taken over our culture and our society, to the detriment of real, Bible-believing Christians.

This viewpoint, however genuine and sincere, is misplaced. “Same Love” is not an attack on the church, it is an appeal that the church can do so much better.

The line in the live performance that really resonated with me was something that was added in. Ms. Lambert and Ms. Hudson end the song by simply repeating back and forth to one another, “No more crying on Sunday.”

As Christians we talk about the gospel  as something filled with joy and hope and love. We talk about sin and death and sacrifice too of course but within all of that there is hope. Hope that Jesus does love us, did come to earth and did die on the cross. We preach that lives are eternally better when those lives live for God.

And yet even with all that hope and ministry and truth there is a tremendous blind spot for those who are LGBT individuals. For them Sunday is all too often not an oasis from the pain they received during the week from family, friends or others. In fact, Sunday is often the source of their agony, a huge blaring siren call that, in fact, they will never be good enough, they are irrevocably sinners, and so God cannot forgive them, or love them, or even bother to help them.

And so we have what you might expect. Gay teens are five times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers. This is shocking, as it should be. But the real travesty is that the conservative evangelical church has not only ignored this problem but has now claimed persecution for themselves.

I realize many decent people are concerned about same-sex marriage. I realize that there are legitimate concerns about religious liberty and how it connects to gay rights.  But there needs to be a discussion backed up by solid steps to help these youth who are left with so little hope that they take their own lives. Preaching the gospel should lead to salvation, not suicide.

Macklemore’s song is a scathing indictment of the church’s treatment of LGBT people and youth up to this point. But I have hope that change can come not only from outside the church but from within. For this I am thankful.

Aug
15

I’ve worked at summer camps 7 of the last 10 summers. I’m pretty biased when it comes to how awesome they are for kids and as simply great places that exist in the world. However as anything that provides short-term care and ministry it also opens itself to criticism. People ask (in both well-meaning and mean spirited ways) “What about the other 51 weeks of the year?”, “What about follow-up?”, “What about the cost involved? Is it worth it?”

I only spent a week at a summer camp this year but it crystalized in my mind why summer camp ministries are in fact, “worth it.”

Summer camp is for a large group of kids the only spiritual experience they get growing up.

These kids will never set foot in a church during their adolescence. Their parents are at best dysfunctional and at worst abusive. But for whatever reason, grandparents or scholarships or parents just wanting to get rid rid of them for a week they end up at camp every summer.

And they have a blast.

They have fun and make friends and learn about God but most importantly they feel loved and cared for in a way that for a million different reasons they do not get at home.

I have volunteered with middle schoolers the last two years at my church. I’ve enjoyed it and I think most of the kids I hang out with enjoy it a ton too. I would love to see every broken kid I have seen in the past end up in a safe place like a church youth group. But the reality is they won’t.  These are kids who every day is a struggle. They may become Christians at camp, they may not but whatever happens when they go home it is hard to maintain even a semblance of a spiritual life. But still, camp is all they’ve got. And I’ve seen too many kids grasp for that rope with all their might.

If one’s goal is to see as many kids as possible loved and cared for and given an opportunity to see Jesus as that ultimate reality that provides that than I cannot see another way. Supporting summer camp and other parachurch organizations is a must.

Jun
12

I don’t like Sundays.

I like church. It’s kind of funny. The one thing most people dread about the day I actually don’t mind. I like it for a whole list of reasons but that’s not why I am writing this entry. It is the rest of the day that stinks. 

Sunday. It’s the day you realize the weekend is over and the only thing you have to look forward to is…Monday. Jeez that stinks. When I lived in the Czech Republic Sunday afternoons were the hardest. A weekend of friends and/or travel was over and I returned to my little apartment in my little remote town and I usually just felt like dying a bit inside. Once my week started and I could distract myself with teaching and planning I was fine but Sunday afternoons…gosh…just awful.

Being back at home things have changed a lot but I still dread the week on Sunday afternoons a bit. But other things have changed too. Drastically. Let me explain.

Here was my typical Sunday a couple years ago. Church at 9:15 or 11. I go to a big church. It’s easy to walk in and out without talking to folks. I preferred this. Keeps life simple. I was out by 12:15 at the latest and home by 12:30. Cue nap, then running and then relaxing the rest of the day. Simple, uncomplicated. The way life should be.

Two years ago I started volunteering with my church’s middle school group as a small group leader. About a year ago I started dating one of the other leaders. Let me explain what happened this past Sunday.

Out of bed at 8:15am. I’m running late. I went to the middle school meeting at 9:15am. Over a 100 kids each Sunday and this week I did the main talk. Hooray for responsibility. 11am go to main church service (subject: True Sex. How racy!). Drove to my house at 12:30pm to pick up a cake that I had baked for middle school end of year staff party (I am a man who bakes delicious things from boxes. Deal with it.) Went to party from 1pm-3pm. Went home for precisely 15 minutes. By 4pm was on way to my girlfriend’s sister’s birthday dinner. Ate food till 6:30pm. Then went to see Star Trek at 7:30pm (IMAX 3D!) I was home by 10:30ish.

So yeah my Sundays have changed a little bit. I am not 100% sure how to process all these changes but I will say this: I’m not complaining.

May
13

I finished student-teaching this past Friday. I got written feedback from all my students, the department head got me pizza for my final lunch and as an extra bonus the incredibly pregnant wife of the teacher I worked with all semester made me cupcakes. It was a pretty awesome day.

With a month of full-time teaching in America under my belt and less than a week away from graduating with my Masters in Education I offer a couple points of reflection that the past few months have taught me.

1) The biggest risk as a teacher is becoming jaded about your students.

I want all my kids to succeed. I want them to believe that with hard work and effort they can do anything. I really want them to believe that they are not stupid. But even in just 14 weeks I found myself at times standing in the middle of the class judging my students. Harshly.

It is shocking how quickly the negative feelings build up. I am a teacher, a highly-educated professional. How can this be happening? I realize that no matter how disengaged and uninterested and unimpressive a student or class may be that does not give me excuse to put them in a box. It is very clear. If I begin to not like my students as a whole, I need to stop teaching. The next point grows out of this point and is equally important.

2) I can never, ever give up on a student.

The senior sat in the front row. He rarely if ever spoke in class. He liked talking to his buddies nearby but that was generally it. He was absent 1-3 times a week. He rarely did work on time and if he was present the day of the test he did poorly. This behavior got worse in the last month. He missed or ignored nearly every major assignment. He was absent the last 3 days I taught. Entering this past Friday his average stood at a 28 for his final term.

The second to last period of my last day he walks in. He had an old homework assignment and had his project which he had put online a few days before. He presented his project and made up a test. We also had a conversation. I learned that he was a Muslim from India. He had come to America when he was 11 speaking no English  He spoke 4 languages fluently but was still considered an “English language learner.” I had happened to teach about Islam just a few days ago but he did not say anything because of the recent Boston Bombings. He was going to go to mosque that afternoon because Friday is the holy day in Islam.

After our conversation he shook my hand and left. A relatively small interaction but it completely and utterly changed my view of him. Instead of a bad, lazy nonentity he was a true individual with his own set of challenges and motivations. Unfortunately I had hardly tapped into anything this student found meaningful until the final day of my last week.

Now to be clear, this event did not change his absence record, it did not improve his quality of work and it did not take back all the times he slept in class. But it vastly improved my insight of who he was as a student who I had the responsibility and privilege to teach.

It does not matter how bad or disengaged a kid is. It does not matter how much they show up. It does not matter if their home life is an utter shambles. That kid can do awesome work, he or she can work hard, that kid can be educated. And I cannot ever give up on trying to make that from happening.

All that is to say I am still very much in my idealistic new teacher phase. Bring on the job interviews because I feel like teaching some students this fall.

Apr
15

I have a week vacation from student teaching and I expected to spend this afternoon applying for teaching jobs. With the idea that writing one’s thoughts can be therapeutic for author and reader alike I offer some thoughts about today.

Patriots day is arguably the best weekend of the year to be a resident of Massachusetts. Celebrating the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord and the start of the Revolutionary War, it is a great weekend filled with events, patriotism and fun. It is like a version of July 4th specifically for Boston. Monday is the cap off with a mid-morning Red Sox game and of course the Boston Marathon.

Most people might think of a marathon as fairly unexciting for anyone who is not running in it or knows someone who does. Growing up near Boston though this event is the talk of the town. It is the oldest continuously run marathon in the world. It is televised from start to finish on local TV. Terms like Hopkinton, heartbreak hill, Wellesley, and Boylston St. are well known markers and subjects of conversation. I always watched it when I moved back here in middle school. When I became a runner in high school, I dreamed of running it officially. Many of my high school friends ran it as unqualified “bandits.” My dad had run it a number of times when he was younger. Boston loves its marathon.

To qualify you have to run an entire other marathon in a fairly competitive time based on your age and gender. In 2009 I qualified and successfully ran in the Boston marathon. Friends and family were at various points on the course. My mother and her best friend were in the bleachers at the finish exactly where today, 4 years later, the first explosion ripped through.

My finishing time would have me safely on the way home with my mom at that point but that gives me little comfort for the pain and destruction wrought today. I hate that this happened. I hate that it destroyed such a wonderful celebration of this city and our country.

I ran a road race today in Lexington. I did warm up strides on the green where the “shot heard round the world” occurred. I ate ice cream and relaxed in the beautiful sun off main street afterwards. And then I got in my car, turned on the radio and heard that two explosions had occurred.

I have heard back from as many family and friends as I can figure might have been there and all are safe. Of course some people are not. Tonight we will pray for them, think of them and grieve for them. But no matter how awful today has turned out I still love this weekend and this marathon and all it represents. May we be given peace in these thoughts at least.

Apr
02

Anyone on Facebook last week surely noticed as profile pictures changed at a rapid rate to the red-tinged logo of the Human Rights Campaign. I was actually confused at first thinking that perhaps this was an anti-gay marriage move simply by virtue of the color motif. In fact it was in support of gay marriage, provoked by the Supreme Court hearing arguments on two cases related to the issue. This phenomenon got me thinking (and reading) about many of the issues surrounding this subject. I find one argument put forth by anti-gay marriage folks to be particularly striking as a teacher and a Christian and this is what I address here.

The argument relates to how the legalization of gay marriage will effect education. Conservative people (mostly Christians with a background similar to my own) are recognizing how the existence of gay people is changing and will continue to change how homosexuality is addressed and considered in the classroom. The clearest word I can use to describe their worries is “indoctrination.” That is, children will suffer indoctrination at ever younger ages about sexuality and its proper role in society. Homosexuality will be (and now is in many places) normalized and along with it, gay marriage.

This concern highlights a massive disconnect that many conservative people and Christians are facing with the rest of society. What they see as indoctrination is seen as fairness and justice to an ever growing majority of society. If Conservatives and Christians do not figure out how to properly process this disconnect quickly I see very little good coming from it.

Homosexuality needs to be taught and accepted in schools not to indoctrinate children but because it exists at the very core of many of the children that in only a few short months I will be professionally responsible to teach. Some students are gay. Some students have same-sex parents. Am I supposed to ignore, separate or disparage their existence in the classroom because other students (or their parents) find them to be morally offensive? It would be unethical, unjust and (for me personally) unconscionable to do so. For good measure it would be unconstitutional and illegal as well.

This ultimately is not a question about the Bible, or sex, or even morality. It is about what is right and just. It pains me to say it but the conservative Christian who cries “indoctrination!” is on the wrong side of this argument. Christian leaders and pastors need to take a step back and seriously consider these issues again before spouting off ever more violently incorrect and hurtful rhetoric.

Some might read this and ask loudly, “But what about OUR children?” All I can say to that is, “Indeed, what about them?”

Mar
29

A day off for Good Friday allows me to write a bit about my current experience as a student teacher this spring. Some background first. My last step in my Masters program is a full-time field experience working in a teacher’s classroom for almost 4 months. I started with observing my teacher’s classes and slowly started taking over lessons. For the past 3 weeks I have taught 3 of his 5 periods. In a few weeks I will take over all 5 and teach them for the final month. I get officially observed by a professor from my university this time and am filling out a excruciatingly thorough form for the state providing “evidence” that I know what I am doing. Baring any set backs, I am due to graduate with my Masters and teaching license on May 18th. Pretty exciting.

First thought. No matter how much time you spend in a classroom, the first time you teach to a new group of students is nerve-wracking. The first lesson I taught a couple months ago went fine but regardless, 15 minutes in I realized my plan was not as good as I had hoped and I could not stop sweating. In February. Things have gone smoothly since but this reiterates my second point.

Teaching, even when it isn’t hard is never simple or easy. Now I do not want to be that guy who waxes on and on about how hard teachers work and how selfless we are and how big my future pension will be because I deserve it. But I am working. Granted my official “work day” is under 7 hours but as I have taught more I have watched my desk grow in piles of paper and attempted (and failed) organization schemes. How many piles do I need before I reach paper-usage nirvana? In any case here is my point. I don’t have the luxury of posting status updates about how I wish it was Friday already. I cannot zone out for 15 minutes because the lesson plan I created is boring even me. I am in front of skeptical young person who are complicated, diverse, disengaged and distracted. When I stand up in the front of class I have to perform and my performance better have some substance because they will call me out (mentally or otherwise) if I do not. Genuine teaching is the real deal and we should not let politicians or friends or society say otherwise.

Finally, things are going really well. I am pretty busy. I am trying to lesson plan, test create, grade work and get to know kids everyday. The “get to know kids” part is by far the best and being in a classroom everyday is a pretty fun experience. They can be funny and entertaining and sometimes even annoying and petty but bottom-line working with young people is totally worth it. I look forward to having my own classroom hopefully in the fall. Let the ridiculous craziness of this career begin and begin soon.  

Mar
08

ImageI have a snow day off from student-teaching today. I have glorious plans to relax and catch up on lesson plans and job applications. In reality I am busting up my twitter feed and getting inspired to write blog entries after checking out Facebook for too long.

So I lived in South Africa for a year. The place I lived is no longer owned by the organization I was with because that organization no longer exists (long story). The place I lived was an incredibly beautiful game reserve turned mission base. Three mountains, hundreds of acres and various South Africa animals including blesbok, zebras, ostriches and wildebeest. The hotel style room I shared with two roommates was literally on the side of the mountain you see in the picture above. Simply gorgeous.

An American pastor I met when I was living there is back for a visit and photos were posted on Facebook of him in front of the very rooms where I lived. Looking at the photos memories came flooding back of how awesome living in such a uniquely beautiful place was. I remember morning runs, the sun just peeking over the horizon far to the East, as I disturbed groups of wildebeest as I ambled along the trails. I remember hikes to remote parts of the property to think, take pictures and simply let the landscape envelop me. I remember running up the mountain above in order to train for a local race, getting to the top, vomiting in front of some friends, than ambling delicately back down.

I am not likely to live in such a spectacular place again. But on a cold snowy day in New England I am thankful to take a moment to look back and remember the memories, the people, and the place where I lived. 

 

Jan
16

My blog about Louie Giglio last week was mostly inspired from reading other responses to the situation from a variety of perspectives. Some of what I found was thoughtful, some was depressing. What troubled me most was some of the word choices that conservative evangelicals seems to use in all their entries. The words we use are important. They are how we communicate and connect with others. James talk about how important the tongue is of course and regrettably some evangelicals are using words that are unhelpful, inaccurate, and deeply hurtful. I offer three examples.

Agenda- Many evangelicals love to bemoan the fact of a “Homosexual agenda” that seeks to undermine Christianity. Giglio himself falls into this in his statement declining the invitation when he states, “…it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration.” The implication is that the LGBT “agenda” is somehow “less-than.” The reality is LGBT people and advocates view their work as more promoting themselves as opposed to being “against” anything. Some LGBT people are faithful and genuine Christians. Of course where is the most fervent opposition to anything seen as “pro-gay” coming from? You guessed it, Christians. If you want to keep calling LGBT people’s calls for equal rights and recognition an “agenda” you can but evangelicals should at least be honest about the agenda that various conservative evangelicals leaders, groups and churches are leading themselves. Of course lamenting a gay “agenda” leads invariably to calls of…

Persecution- Many blogs are highlighting about how this incident is undeniable persecution of Giglio and his right to free speech in the public square. This is inaccurate on multiple levels. A website found an old sermon of his that they found repugnant and called him out on it. Rather than hold firm, renounce the sermon or defend his beliefs he offered a simple statement and backed out. If he had been arrested maybe persecution would be accurate. The ironic fact of the matter is that Giglio is benefiting immensely more from NOT speaking out than if he did. He is now able to go back to his pastoral duties and his ministry work. As I noted in my last entry, If he had renounced his sermon he would have likely lost all his leadership positions he currently holds. The persecution would come solely from his fellow Christians. Giglio is still allowed to work at and preach about whatever he likes. The fact that more people in the public square vehemently disagree with some of his beliefs is not persecution, it’s America.

Bullying- This is perhaps the most shocking word I have seen used but evangelicals have even used it in the titles of their blogs about Giglio. Just as many liberals know little about evangelical subculture, the use of this word to describe this situation shows how painfully unaware most evangelicals are to the experiences of LGBT people. LGBT young people more often report feeling unsafe in school and skipping school than almost any other group. Suicide rates among LGBT youth are tragically high. In the last few years, an “It gets better” campaign has started online where famous people tell young people that if they can survive school things will be better when they reach adulthood. To compare what Giglio has experienced to the torment many LGBT kids face on a daily basis is not only ludicrous it is unimaginably hurtful to LGBT youth and those who are seeking to make their lives better. Giglio was confronted on his beliefs, he was not bullied. He will continue leading an amazingly blessed life while too many LGBT kids see no alternative to their suffering.

If we want to have a conversation about the religious, political and social implications of the Giglio event, I support that.  I think we can have a serious conversation about the balance between religious liberty and individual freedoms in this country. But as long as the evangelical establishment (my personal faith) continues to demonize, undermine, and ignore the very real concerns of LGBT people and their advocates I see few positives occurring.

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