Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Me

There
Never was I

Here
Are you

Beyond
Went She

Under
Hid slyly He

But,

Me
They all Saw

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Book I'm Going to Assign My Kids

This past weekend I read a book I found on someone's reading list on her blog.  The book was Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

I loved it.  I'm glad I read it and I want my kids to read it.

The book is about a girl named Ally who struggles in school.  She's been in eight schools or so in seven years because her dad serves in the military.  Ally has an older brother, Travis, who has her back.  Their family is a healthy family, but Ally's dad is deployed during the story.

This book is a story about not judging a book by its cover.  Ally's MO is to distract whenever a teacher or school administrator asks her to read or write.  Because... Ally has dyslexia.  Over the years, her teachers missed it.  Her brother struggles with dyslexia as well.  Their parents know school is hard for them, but her dad likely had it as well and encouraged his son to compensate for it in auto class.

Dyslexia often runs in families.  A few years ago, I began learning a lot more about it and asked one of my friends a few questions.  I asked her if she'd ever been tested for dyslexia.  She asked her parents and they said no.  So, a few days later, she went online and took a test.  Turns out, two separate sites confirmed that she has dyslexia.  This story about Ally could have been my friend's story.  She had teachers who treated her like Ally had been treated.  We began talking about it--I asked her the question Mr. Daniels asks Ally in this story, "Do letters move for you?"  And my friend, like Ally told Mr. Daniels, told me that they always move.  My friend is now teaching her own children and I encouraged her to consider helping her children learn how to read using what she learned about how to compensate.

This story made me aware of several things.  First, teachers should read this story.  But, parents should too.  And I want my kids to read this story.  None of them struggle with reading, but reading this story will give them an idea of what it's like for someone who does.  There are other issues, too that are brought up.  One of Ally's friends doesn't have any food in the refrigerator at home.  Bullying comes into play as well.  There are some adults who are wrong in this story in how they treat the kids.  But, there are adults who try to love kids well, too.  The principal even apologizes to Ally after she learns she has dyslexia.  This is the world we live in.  It's the world the kids my life in.  I feel like so many books make the issues of this world too heavy for kids to handle.  But, this one brings up some of the tough parts of life in an age appropriate way.  The book is rated for grades 4-6, but I think this is a great book for students in grades 5-7.  I think it could stretch either way up to grade 8 or down to grade 4.  The reading level is 5th grade.




Monday, July 11, 2016

A Bunny

The grass swallows your paws
As you sit
Still

Not a sound

But, I want to see
How God made you

Hop little limber bunny
Hop

Walking closer
The bunny skitters
away

Without a Sound

Connected

For the past two months, I've been teaching my 2nd-5th grade Sunday school class about the Beattitudes.  I've been using a curriculum, The Kids Travel Guide to the Beattitudes, that I haven't been that happy with, actually.  I had used a previous book in the same series and really liked that one.  But, this one...  it has felt like there's a lot of fluff.  So, I end up taking a few ideas from the book and writing my own lessons each week.

Yesterday, I only had a half hour in which I needed to prepare my lesson.  I'd been taking care of my family's needs all day and that was all there was.  I prayed and trusted that the Lord would help me put the pieces together.  One of the pieces came from an unexpected place...

A few months ago, I agreed to review a Christian Living book because all of the author's books have been encouraging to me.  The book is The Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges.  A few months ago, this man passed away in the same weekend that another well known Christian author and preacher died.  The biographies of the other pastor were prolific.  It was easy to find details about his life.  But, when I tried to find out more about Jerry Bridges, I found very few details about his life.  This struck me as interesting at the time.

When his book came to my mind yesterday afternoon, I realized just why this was the case.  The Blessing of Humility is about the Beattitudes--which I hadn't realized!  I had felt for several weeks that I needed to pick up this book, but I kept pushing it off because I wasn't sure that I wanted to delve into this topic.  How would this book affect me?  I looked at the book as if it was bad tasting medicine that I knew would be good for me.  Of course, it turns out that it doesn't taste as bad as I thought it would and of course, God knew just what I needed.

I've just begun reading this book, but I have been very encouraged by it.  My eyes opened to a huge piece of the puzzle that my Sunday School curriculum hadn't shown me.

The Beattitudes are a sermon.  But, just like a conversation, all of the verses are connected together and build upon one another.  All of my life, I have always isolated each verse from one another.  Instead, this sermon is all about Salvation, forgiveness, and realizing the greatness of God!

From the ESV:  Matthew 5:1-5

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes

He said:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Poor means in need of something.  When we are poor in spirit, we realize that we need God's spirit.  When we realize this, we come to Him and accept the gift of salvation.  Those who mourn, mourn because they realize they are sinners and God comforts them in this with His forgiveness.  The Meek--are gentle and humble.  We find ourselves humble when we see the greatness of God and what He can do and what we cannot.  We cannot forgive our selves.  We cannot make it rain.  When we are saved, we are coheirs with Christ--we will receive the blessings of this life--seeing what God does for us and how He takes care of us.  

What I discovered in Bridges' book that I had been missing the past few weeks is how these verses are connected!  Each one builds on the next.  They are not separate verse, but rather parts of a whole.  

In contrast, I was a part of a Bible Study discussion Saturday morning about the book A Praying Life by Paul Miller.  I have  enjoyed this book and two verses brought out by the discussion guide has been very helpful to me.  The verses are Matthew 23:13-14  “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in."

What does that mean to shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces?  It is the opposite of humility.  The scribes and pharisees wore their good deeds on their sleeves.  Literally, the Jews wear a black box with portions of scripture on their foreheads and a second black box with a black strap on their left arm.  People are put off by the contradiction between preaching and "talking the talk" of a Christian if the fruit doesn't reflect love and kindness--the fruits of the spirit.

The verses preceding verses 13 and 14 (ESV)

23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,[a] and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi[b] by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.[c] And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

When we as Christians parade our good deeds, we shut the door to the kingdom of heaven to others!  When we do acts of service for others, people can see our motives--whether we say them or not.  Years ago, I thought I could hide the anger in my heart from other people but I learned after God washed my heart clean that I hadn't really been able to hide it because a friend told me so.  She had seen it.  She'd also seen the change when God washed the anger from my heart.  And I felt it.  I had tried for years to fix my heart myself, but I couldn't.  Only God could.  

Juxtaposed next to the Beattitudes, the picture is clear of how God desires us to live.  

Ephesians 4:1 "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called"

In The Blessing of Humility, Bridges talks about when the lightbulb turned on his head during one Bible study over 60 years ago when a teacher told him that "The Bible is meant to be applied in your everyday life." (pg. 1)  
I know that my Sunday school students are the ones that were supposed to be learning about the Beattitudes, but I feel like I am finally learning what they mean and what Jesus was preaching.  
We are to seek God--understand that we need Him, see our sin with sadness, see how Great God is and "walk humbly with our God." (Micah 6:8)






Friday, July 8, 2016

High School Book Units

I'm starting to do some research for my oldest daughter's literature curriculum.  I plan on using a combination of short stories from a literature book and book units.  I've found that there are several sites with free units for high schoolers.  Here they are...

Harper Collins Teaching Guides
Penguin Teaching Guides
Glencoe Teaching Guides
Emily Dickinson:  There are a few questions, links to the particular poems (which you can print) and then discuss.
Random House has a few, but not many that I'm interested.  I did find this one on The Lord of the Rings Trilogy... you can find it HERE.
A Wrinkle in Time guide links on the author's site. (6th grade book), but I noticed that many sites use middle school books in high school as well.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

How to Make a Teacher

Two weeks ago, the current issue of the Economist arrived at our house one afternoon and when my husband saw it, his immediate comment was, "Ah, the article that will irritate my wife in a thousand different ways!"  I chuckled and wondered what the Economist magazine would have to say about the state of teaching in America and the world today.

So, later in the evening I sat down to read the article.  I knew a couple of things it would probably say because of the title--1)  The issues with education are because we have bad teachers and 2) we need good teachers.  That was actually exactly what the article said.  There was a second article that expounded the idea more in-depth that good teachers are made/taught, not innately formed natural teachers.

The premise of the second article is one I partly agree with, but as with most things the picture is a lot more complicated than it seems and it can't be simplified as much as people would like.  Politicians want to blame teachers--the system.  We live in a world where people don't want to take responsibility for their own actions.  Who is willing to blame parents for why kids struggle in school?
No one.

There is a faulty assumption underlying all of this.  That assumption is that if I can just reason and show someone else why my vision is better than theirs (better economically, emotionally, or socially) then they will agree with me.  I used to believe this.  Teachers are indoctrinated with this idea that in education programs across the country.  I was.  I believed it whole heartedly.

Until this year.

I thought that if a middle school kid understood that I wanted the best for them, if I was engaging as a teacher, if I didn't embarrass them in class, if I explained to them and showed them that writing was the crux of all communication from this point forward in their scholastic careers, then they--would believe me.  And they would do their work.  They would value what I was trying to give them--how I was trying to help them.

But, I learned something that my best friend, who is in her 60s, told me years ago.  Home trumps daycare.  The discipline and rules at home trump what a daycare worker tries to teach the children in her daycare--even if she has them for a greater percentage of their waking hours than the parents do.  And the same is true of school.  Home trumps school.

There are exceptions of course, but those are just that--the exceptions.  Two of my favorite movie scenes are from "He's just not that into you."  At one point, a bartender tells the girl that every girl wants to believe that they are the exception--not the rule.  At the very end of the movie (spoiler alert!), she reminds him of this, to which he responds that she is his exception.  Ah, the exception.

We want to believe that the exception can become the rule.

The article addressing how teachers should really be taught said several things that caught my attention.  One was that parents were never talked about.  And the schools they sited--well those schools talked about in the article are charter schools.  A significant, very significant factor that is unmentioned.  Why is it significant?

Children go to charter schools because their parents care about their education.  Therefore, the kids care more.  They see a value in it.  The parents care.

Why don't I teach in public schools anymore?  The honest answer is that I, like a large number of teachers burned out before the three year mark.  Three years!  I didn't make it.  I substitute taught, I taught K-5 computers at a school for a year, taught middle school for a full year, and then taught one more semester at a horrible middle school.

It was a combination of the administration, parents, and kids that made me want out--out as fast as I could get out.  I'll never forget having a parent berate me for 45 minutes in front of a assistant principal and the assistant principal telling me afterwards that "sometimes you just need to let parents get it off their chests".  I still remember calling to speak to a parent about her manipulative teenage daughter and the daughter lying to me that her mom wasn't home while I heard the parents in the background.

Yes, middle schoolers can be manipulative.

My first middle school was tough, but I had the administration's backing and support.  We had a teacher on staff to help the teachers with materials and to improve their teaching.  We had counselors on staff that had been teachers and parents so they understood both sides and could help parents and teachers understand and listen to each other when conflict arose between students and teachers.  (At the other school, the counselors had never been teachers which made a huge difference.)

But, I digress.  I met an art teacher at the pool yesterday.  My question for her was whether she had a curriculum dictated to her as other teachers now have where I live.  She explained that that was why she wanted to teach art.  She works with a set of objectives and concepts she must cover, but she gets to be a teacher--design her lessons, teach to her students where they're at.  She gets to be a teacher.  She recognized that content teachers don't get to do that anymore with the introduction of common core (but honestly it was already happening in the county I live in).

The biggest problem I have with the Economist's article is that it doesn't realize that in most schools' teachers don't get to teach.  There's a variety of reasons--it isn't as cut and dried as the two page article would have you believe.  For many, it is because the curriculum is being dictated to them.  High school teachers in my county lost a whole month (plus another week or two in some cases) of instruction because of testing.  When I was a teacher, I spent 25-50% of my time on classroom management.  My kids didn't care about being there and they didn't want to work.  Why?  That's the real issue.  This was the case across the board at my first school.  Education policy is written by politicians without taking into account that kids aren't robots and won't just do "what you tell them to do".  When it comes to kids, plugging in "x plus y" won't automatically get you "z" every time.

I learned a lot in my teaching program.  I earned my degree fifteen years ago and yet I can say that it was challenging and difficult.  The Economist was still operating under the assumption that my dad had when I was a kid--that teachers only teach because they can't do anything else.  That's not true.  It is really tough to be a good teacher.  I wish the people who had written those articles had done some hands-on research and had substitute taught at non-charter public schools for a week in lower socioeconomic schools.  I think it would have given the writers a much more accurate view of the state of teaching...

Here are two articles about the importance about parents and education :)
References: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3020099/
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1126&context=edpsychpapers