"I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself." -CS Lewis, The Great Divorce


Thing #55: When students believe you

Today, I stayed after with some delinquent students who had missed two or more homework assignments. As part of their detention time, I went around and asked each student what had caused the breakdown in the homework completion. Most said that they didn't do much homework in middle school, and they hadn't developed a system for getting it done. I asked one kid, "What can I do for you to help you be successful?" His response was, "Could you sign my planner so when my mom checks it, she knows I wrote it down the right way?" Well, yes, I can. That was easy enough. Our conversation continued, however.

As we talked more, I assured him that teachers at Ocean Lakes wanted him to be successful, so they want to help. He shared with me that his middle school teachers didn't really answer questions, often saying, "figure it out." He said that he had learned not to ask questions. He had found that wasn't the case in high school, and he knew that I wasn't selling a bunch of bull (well, not in those words, exactly). What really got me was the way he looked at me like he believed I wanted to help him. He even shared that in math especially the teacher actually smiles - SMILES - when you ask a question, instead of shooting you down.

This comes from the same kid who said, "You explain things really well" last class. The smile on his face when I helped him to understand the story (and I didn't tell him anything, I just asked the questions so he could figure it out) made me realize how great my profession truly is. Even if it is just some days that I remember it.

It warms my heart to think that one kid - just this one - may actually believe that I have his success in mind when planning my day. I feel like I have succeeded in some small way if just he believes I (we) do my (our) job(s) to help the students.


Thing #54: Faithful Study

I am the queen of knowing what is good for me and not doing it. This goes for eating well, running, and working hard for all of my contract hours so I don't have to bring work home. Unfortunately, it also applies to my pursuits of knowledge of God and my faith. In college, I was surrounded by people who were far more diligent in their Christian studies than I ever dreamed of being; their presence led me to try harder to be faithful. Out in the "real" world, my attempted diligence amounted to nothing. I went to church, and when I moved back to VB, I found that the church young adult group was a delightful place to talk about God. I felt content.

But a lot of talk isn't always much action. I know I need more. I need to read, to study, to examine, to learn about God's message and will for my life. It needs to be intentional and deliberate and regularly done.

I have recently signed up for a class devoted to the study of Biblical principles for handling money. It's exciting to be reading, questioning, and examining God's will for our lives. It's also practical; I can take this study into my daily life to become a more faithful disciple. And my brain feels like it's moving again. Learning is contagious; it spreads from thought to action to speech to belief.

I started this Sunday with a little faithful reading, and I think my day is off to a good start. I feel awake and ready to learn. Lovely!


Thing #53: Students...reading

Each year I've taught at Ocean Lakes, I have assigned an independent novel project during the first quarter. It fits in well with our unit on short stories, and I hope that picking out their own books encourages kids to read. I'm not always sure that this is the case, but alas, I hope and pray.

Today was the library-book-check-out day. All three honors 9 classes took a brief sojourn down to the library (ooh ahh) to find a good book to enjoy. This includes the typical gossiping in between shelves and at tables after books have been selected. A fair amount of conversation revolves around the books, but often, the conversations fall to more pressing matters like boys and sports and did-you-hear chatter.

But today, I got the shock of my young teaching career. My third block, mostly pretty chatty and eager to learn girls with a few fairly motivated and insightful young men, went to the library. After a brief orientation, they selected books of interest. One by one, they chose books and sat down to flip through their finds. Suddenly, I realized it had become eerily quiet as the librarian and I conversed. I looked to my right, and there, sitting in careful spacing, were about seven of my students, heads bowed over newly selected books...reading. To the left, around tables I saw the same carefully bent heads over pages of literature.

My heart is still smiling at this amazing sight. How wonderful that these young students have found books that interest them and have heeded my instructions to begin reading immediately. I simply hope that some of them find joy in their selections.

Ok, even better about this - and I can't resist sharing - is what many of them did upon returning to the classroom. Before leaving, I told them to take the total number of pages and divide by 21 to figure out how many pages they should read a night. This would give them enough time to read and have a week left to work on the project itself. When we walked in, out came the calculators and the planners. They listened! They did what I recommended without reminder! They wrote in their planners! Oh joy! Oh happy day!


Thing #52: A deep breath

I get worked up easily. Actually, that's probably an understatement, but I don't know how to adequately word my propensity for quick flare-ups of extreme stress. Regardless of how I describe it, it occurs. I have learned many lessons throughout the years about this stress. One lesson: if you're going to stress about it, DO something about it. Otherwise, lay off the stress. This lesson was brought to you by Multivariable Calculus and a big fat D+ on my record. Another lesson: it's not that bad. This lesson was brought to you by...well, every daggone "I told you it wasn't that bad" moment of my life.

Today's re-learned lesson: Take a deep breath; it's not impossible. And it's not. I have a pretty blessed, obstacle-free life, but I work hard at it. I'm also my harshest critic, which makes success nearly impossible some days. (The "I finished 10 things on my to-do list, but there are still 15 things to do - I fail" days - really? That should be enough for a sane person.) So, today, I took a big ole deep breath and dove in to the stuff that was stressing me out (and called mom for a dose of "it'll be ok" reassurance). I (mostly) worked out a lesson for tomorrow, graded some essays, read up on potential new studies for small group, and created a few charts to round it out. You know what? I feel fine, and I didn't lose my cool. That deep breath kept me from teetering off the edge of productivity into pity-party paradise. Success!

This is probably proof that I am actually growing up. Finally. Now, if I remember to breathe deeply tomorrow rather than flip out, it will be proof that I am maturing. Scary. Very scary.

(and side note: I wish blogs had footnotes. I think that would cure my insatiable appetite for parenthetical comments or at least leave them for the end when you don't have to put up with my inner monologue.)


Thing #51: Dashboard Drum Kits

So, I'm tired. I'm running through the list of incomplete items (numerous) on my (extremely long) to-do list. I'm sitting at the light humming to the music, contemplating what groceries to pick up before my brief drop and run at home. I turn to my left. There is a rather wrinkly older gentleman. And he is crushing the drum solo of a rockin' song. We're talking snare, high hat, cymbal, and, no doubt, base drum, too. He was all over that car, making it bop along with his intense and (I'm guessing) practiced solo.

Which made me think, "What the heck is so important in my life that I can't rock a good dashboard drum kit solo now and then?" I promptly calmed down and smiled. A lot. And then I giggled for good measure.

That, if anything, is a good enough reason to be happy.


Thing #50: The Smell of Rain

I left my windows open a little last night. It was just too cool outside to justify shutting them and shutting out that beautiful beginning-of-fall smell. This morning, the rain is falling, which means throughout my apartment there is the smell of rain. It has a crisp, cool feel that we have long been missing. Summer rains smell lovely, but they are soon followed by suffocating humidity. No thank you. This smell, the one I'm talking about, comes only in the spring and fall when you feel like putting on your sweatpants and comfiest hooded sweatshirt.

What delightfulness. If it is going to rain and insist on being cloudy, it is a blessing that it is at least this delicious smelling kind of ickiness. I can handle that.


Thing #49: Friday Night Football

I am not a sports "fan" so to speak. I really could care less what is happening in a professional football team's season. However, I am drawn to high school and college football. There's a certain desperation in some games - the "notice me, I am great!" push of stars as they strive to find a slot in the next level of competition. There are also the mix-ups and fumbles and head-shakers, and that makes it more human, perhaps.

I also love a good Friday night game. Even in high school, I attended most of the home games (except in awful weather). It began when I was in band and was required to go, but it continued well into my junior and senior years. Now, I rarely miss an Ocean Lakes home game. It's as much social as it is football. I rely on the more knowledgeable people around me to shout out what's going on down on the field, but I do pay attention some.

There's just something special about a Friday night high school game, and I can't describe it in words. It's a feeling and an energy that seems unique to that event. And when the air is crisp and the sky is clear, there's no where else to be. No where.


Thing #48: The First Day of School Outfit

The first day always gives me a jittery feeling. When I go to bed, I have to be ready with all my stuff in a bag and the clothes laid out of the bed. The lunch waits in the refrigerator and the coffee maker has the delay start ready to go. The outfit is yet another way to feel prepared for whatever might come my way on that first day. I can remember almost all of my first-day-of-school outfits. In first grade, it included a lovely skirt made by grandma. On the first day of high school, I had Airwalk kicks with a reflective band. My first day of teaching, I wore a lovely teal printed Banana Republic dress. The first day is often momentous, and for many years, those first day pictures were mailed somewhere as evidence of our successful return to school. Unfortunately, some of these pictures (especially the high school ones) are out there...looming.

I used to spend hours trying on clothes just to find the perfect combination of new school clothes for the first day. Generally, I'd find my new favorite pair of jeans, a cute (loosely defined) top, and the new shoes for the year. I cringe a little to think about what I wore in high school, but I felt good, and that's what I remember most. I knew that I was my best in that outfit, and I could take on the world...or the day.

I have become more adept at selecting an outfit for the first day. I have also become increasingly confident with myself and what image I want to present, so that helps a lot. At 25, you'd hope that I'd have some of that under control. Of course, being the teacher instead of the student presents new challenges - like wearing heals for the whole school day. Still, I have found that feeling good in your outfit really is key to having a confident start to the year. It's probably just a mind trick, but to be fair, I love a good outfit.

Today's outfit felt particularly excellent - a black pencil skirt and a white button down with fabulous heals (that hurt...ouch). I felt powerful, and that was JUST the attitude I needed to take on my two classes of seniors and study block. Sometimes, clothes do make the (wo)man.


Thing #47: Finishing the Race

August 2008, I stepped out of the door and ran one mile and walked another. That was all I could do. By Labor Day weekend of that year, I had finished my first 3 mile run. In October, I ran my first real 5K, in November, my first 10K, and March of 2009 was my first half marathon. I am now entering into my third year of running. Shocking. 13.1 miles is a long way for non-runners likes me, but I have now completed it 4 times. This astounds me. I think it also means I cannot completely consider myself a "non-runner" any longer.

While most races come with a sense of accomplishment, the half marathon seems like a big one, especially since I have never run the race distance prior to the race. It's a kind of a question mark - "will I be able to complete all 13.1 miles?" And then, I cross the finish line (in awful shape, might I add), and I have answered that question. Yes. I am able.


Thing #46: Clean apartments

Ah. That is the contentment of someone with a clean apartment. I have scrubbed the bathroom, Cloroxed (nice verb, right?) the kitchen counters and stove top, vacuumed the two rugs, washed the covers of the couch pillows, and lit a very nicely scented candle to make sure it all smells nice, too. This makes me happy. I (as previously mentioned) like order, and my clean AND orderly home make me even happier. It is rare that everything is so neat and clean; therefore, it receives special recognition here.

Ah. Really really content right now (not to mention that the weather is great and I just consumed my first pumpkin spice latte of the season. Mmmm.)


Thing #45: Organization

I am not obsessive, compulsive, or otherwise mentally unstable. However, I am a bit...over-zealous in my organizational pursuits. I have to say, I am not always so stellar at keeping the organization up, but I am great at getting it started. There are currently two things that are keeping me afloat on organization good vibes: 1) my new office shelves complete with baskets and 2) my gradebooks for the upcoming year.

Let's start with the office. Before assembling and organizing my new shelves, I had piles. Piles are no one's friend. They can be seen by all, and they quickly dissolve into greater chaos. After all, what lies at the bottom of a pile is anyone's guess. The piles were haphazard and mostly just annoying and unsightly. Flash forward to the new shelves. They are neatly filled with the books formerly piled next to my other (full) bookshelf as well as delightful baskets. In these baskets, I am able to tuck away the unsightly messes that were my craft and wedding piles. I also have a new basket for the stationary and one for my paint. How perfect! Furthermore, this new organizational tool gave me an opportunity to de-clutter my desk and display more photos. Win.

The gradebooks are another beast all together. Office supply love is nothing new, so it comes as no shock that I adore the neat edges of a fresh binder filled with clean page protectors and new dividers. This year's binders are even fabulously color coordinated. A bright pink binder houses A-Day materials, and within its covers are delicious sections identified with pink paper. A purple binder contains all pertinent B-Day materials with likewise fantastic purple inserts. It is good to know the bones of classroom organization are in place; without a well-organized gradebook, sh** falls apart, if you know what I mean.

I breathe calmly with all of this happily organized junk. I will maintain this delusion of organization...and not open the desk drawer.