Remember the Why

Even though teachers have existed for hundreds of years, we have not found a way to make teaching easy. That’s because we’re dealing with people, and people are always changing. In spite of this, it’s one of the most important jobs in our society. It’s not only about feeding students information, but it’s about helping kids become better people.

Like any job, I sometimes get caught up in all things I need to do. I need to create lesson plans. I need to grade this set of tests. I need to call this parent. When this sort of task list consumes me, it’s hard to see the truly important things happening with my students. It’s hard for me to find the drive to reach deeper inside myself to give more when interacting with students. Teaching becomes, well, hard.

Lately the principal at my school has been pushing for all the teachers to remember why we do what we do. After a series of emails and staff meetings, I’m thinking it’s finally getting through my thick skull. That’s why I’ve decided to start writing in my blog again. I need a place to reflect and recall some of the good things that happen in my classroom. I need a place to put down all the positive things that kids say and do. As I cling to “the why” and jot down the noteworthy interactions with students, it will help me brush off those bad days and press onward at school.

Here we go…

Noteworthy moment from this past Friday: One student, normally passive in the classroom, saw another student that was having a bad day and decided to do something about it. Her eyes unglazed, she stood up, and proceded to spend a little time listening and quietly counseling her classmate. Was she off-task from the lesson? Yes. Was she out of her seat? Yes. However, sometimes there are moments when a little relationship investment pays off. The rest of the students in the room, previously distracted by a girl’s breakdown, were able to ignore the quiet whispers and move on with the lesson. Learning happened, a girl’s bad day was turned around, and a student showed me she’s not quite as passive as I previously presumed.

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Surprised By Life’s Simplicities

SOME BACKGROUND…

In the spring of 2005 I was a clueless undergraduate.

I was about to finish degrees in Spanish and International Service at Valparaiso University. It appeared that my best prospects were to work at an NGO somewhere in Latin America. As a 22-year-old person at the time, that seemed a bit daunting and ambiguous. So what does any lost undergrad do at moments like this? The answer: Go back to school!

So that’s what I did, and it turned out to be a good decision. I went on to complete the LEAPS Program (also at Valpo), which was basically another form of Teach for America. This not only gave me a useful set of skills, but it helped me discover that one of my gifts was teaching. After two years of teaching in Cleveland, my wife and I moved to Hong Kong, and I taught at the International Christian School (ICS) for four years.

Unfortunately, I let my teaching license expire two years into my time at ICS. Since ICS never asked any questions about it, I simply ignored the problem! (Yes, I realize how ridiculous this is now that I’m typing it) I continued to ignore this fact for two years and seven months.

NOW, THE POINT OF THIS POST…

Recently, Kristin suggested I begin the process of renewing my teaching license. My first response was less than mature. I knew how difficult this process can be, and I dreaded the amount of paperwork to complete and the hoops I would have to jump through. However, I realized that I’m trying to be a better and more responsible man, so I set forth on this process, most of my grumbling set aside.

I logged on to the Indiana Department of Education’s website, and it was quite daunting. Form upon form and endless links and potential tasks laid out in typical governmental officialdom, lacking all aesthetic appeal. [grumble, grumble]

I settled upon one form that seemed like the best place to start, filled it out, and submitted it. Message: “Your form will not be read until you pay a fee of US$35.” [grumble, grumble]

PAID.

I’ve learned that when lost, it’s a good idea to ask questions. I sent an email to licensinghelp@doe.in.gov explaining my situation, asking for logical help. Someone responded in one day! Unheard of in the civil service! Maybe it’s because I mentioned that I already paid the form fee. Ha!

Wrapping up this story, after a few emails and submitting a letter of recommendation from the ICS middle school principal (a rock star btw), I not only renewed my teaching license, but I was also upgraded to a five-year license!!! It was one of the quickest, most painless processes I’ve ever experienced in education circles. Praise God for such a good surprise!

I wonder what this means for my future… [feelings of content, feelings of content]