Reflections on Marriage

Roughly six years ago I walked into a bar in Boston to have a drink with my assistant coach at the time. Her sister was also there as well as another friend. When I first walked in I did not get a good look at him because he was on the other side of my colleague’s sister. However I quickly was introduced and we realized we knew each other. This was Andrew; he had gone to the same church as my family did when I was growing up in Delaware in the 90s. Our parents had been friends. My family had moved to the Boston area when I was in middle school and we had not seen each other since. It had been roughly 13 years.

I bring that story up for two reasons. 1) I had the singular joy and honor of attending Andrew’s  wedding this past weekend and 2) he was the man probably most responsible for me meeting my own wife, Jocelyn. Don’t worry the story gets even better. Buckle in this one runs a bit long.

Having reconnected and caught up on life (he had gone to college in MA and was now a youth pastor at my church; I had attended another college in MA and been overseas the better part of the past three years) I promptly did nothing to cultivate our relationship. To be honest I don’t remember talking to him for the next six months. However, I was now on Andrew’s radar and he did not let that slip by.

Youth pastors are always looking for good volunteers and he thought I would make a good one. In the spring of 2011 he brought me in to see a Wednesday night middle school event. I came, I observed and I promptly left a few weeks later to work the entire summer at a summer camp. Still he did not let my unintentional blowing off of his invitation deter him.

When I returned he still needed a volunteer leader for one of his small groups. He brought me in for another visit on our Church’s kickoff Sunday for the school and  ministry year. I met my future small group that Sunday. I also heard Jocelyn speak up front for the first time.

At the time Jocelyn was Andrew’s ministry assistant with the middle school. It took a while (another story for another time) but by the end of my first year volunteering she was my girlfriend. By the end of my second year of volunteering we had finished grad school a week apart and the idea of proposing to her had entered my mind and heart. By the end of my third year of volunteering we were married. By the end of my fourth year volunteering I moved up to the high school group where my friend’s future wife, Leah, was now leading. And by the end of my fifth year volunteering, this past year, we traveled up to New Hampshire to celebrate their wedding. A wedding between two amazing people my wife and I are lucky to have as friends.

My friend’s path to his incredible celebration with his new wife was no less complex or miraculous. I’d love to tell you all the zigs and zags of their relationship but that too is a story of another blog entry. The real reason I was inspired to write today was because of the remarks by the pastor during the ceremony. Anytime you go to a wedding is an excellent time to reflect on marriage and what a successful one might look like and this pastor’s words resonated with me.

Too many people today see marriage as a personal path to happiness or contentment. Many wedding venues and planners sell this idea as well. A perfect ceremony to start your “happily ever after!” Of course my wedding and now marriage has brought me incalculable joy and love between my wife and I. It’s beautiful. But this is not because we “complete each other” a la Jerry Maguire (this reference was from the pastor, not me.) It is because we have chosen to love and submit to one another over the course of our lives come what may. We sacrifice to ourselves because we have decided our life together, no matter how messy or complex or hard it might get sometimes, is worth it.

I am deeply grateful to Andrew for providing me an opportunity to serve that resulted in me meeting Jocelyn. I am ecstatic that this weekend we got to celebrate Andrew and Leah start their life together. The ceremony was beautiful, the food was delicious, the dancing was on point. But now the marriage begins. I am thankful we will get to walk this road together with two incredible women who are truly deserving of everything marriage requires.

Advertisements

Reflections on 179 Days of Teaching

PLT Massublic schools, by law, have to be open 180 days per school year. I started this past school year on the second day of school with the advice of “fake it until you make it.” 179 school days later I have finished my first full school year in the US. I finish this year not only successfully but having secured a full-time position at my school for next year too. I have to change grades which is exciting and challenging in equal measure but the prospect of no August interviews is what haves me absolutely ecstatic.

Having finished this year I thought some reflections were in order. Firstly, I have been struck by how tired I have felt this year. I think being in the classroom can sneak up on you with the constant interactions with students and the constant paper chase of creating and grading student work. When vacations came around I was passed out the first couple nights. I think in a few years I’ll have even more structures and lessons that allow students to work more while I facilitate in the background but this year I was really tired.

Secondly, while this year went mostly very smoothly and I mostly had great students I know where I need to improve. I’ve read many places that it takes about 5+ years for teachers to really master being in the classroom. With three years under my belt I am feeling that. I’ve had successes in every place I have taught but also recognize patterns where I need to improve. My biggest weakness at the moment is my overall classroom management. Really its how I present myself to my students. I have typically (and not always intentionally) been too lenient in what I let students do or say in my classroom. Part of this is always coming in as a “long-term substitute.” My students have always perceived as the replacement teacher instead of “the teacher.” Starting next year in my own classroom will go a long way to remedying this but I will need to begin with a strong place and structures in place to keep improving in this area.

Finally, the thing I am most pleased with about this year is the way I was able to be myself and impact students in positive ways. I want to share just one story about a student named Sarah.* Sarah is an English Language Learner (ELL), a student who doesn’t speak English at home or whose English is not up to grade level yet. Sarah was a sweet student who wanted to do well and put pressure on herself to do so but could not quite overcome obstacles in her way. What hurt her the most was she was usually absent at least once a week. Some students can overcome that but for Sarah that really prevented her from raising her grades.

Over the course of the year Sarah and I developed a rapport and I saw that she wanted to do well. Over the first three quarters though she was stuck in the C range. Recognizing that she seemed to enjoy my class I decided to try something I learned in graduate school: high expectations. I brought her over at the end of quarter three and said she should go for As in the 4th quarter. She thought about that for a moment and said “that’s a lot of work…” But without missing a beat she followed that up with “I’m going to do it!”

Her fourth quarter was a stunning reversal on her previous three. She started getting nearly all her work in on-time in all her classes. Multiple times during the final quarter she would mention to me how her grades were at the A- range. In so many ways she was a completely different student. She did struggle to get one big assignment in on time but her 4th quarter average was an A-. The picture at the top of the post was a gift from Sarah on the last day of school. She seemed surprised that I liked it but for a map loving teacher from Massachusetts it was
perfect. It will sit proudly on my desk for the rest of my career.

I love Sarah’s story because of how simple it is. She did all the work she just needed a little push forward. I wish I could have had a positive influence on a number of other, even more challenging students. But at the end of this first year I have much to be thankful for and much to look forward too.

*Not her real name.