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.

Organized Chaos

It’s funny the way, in such a short time, God has brought me to a point of acceptance of a future outside of Hong Kong. Less than a month ago, I was still in complete denial that I might ever leave the city that has captured my heart, provided me with deep community, and opened the gate to travel around Asia. The truly crazy part is that I’m talking as if this is a done deal. In reality, nothing is set, no decisions have been made, and I’m staying in Hong Kong indefinitely.

I realized the absurdity of how I’m talking about my future while at dinner with my accountability partner, Aaron. [SIDE NOTE shout out: Aaron is a tremendously, wonderful fellow that has made a better man out of me over the course of two years. Thanks Aaron.] Continuing, I’ve started speaking as if I’m planning to leave. And so has Kristin!

The signs certainly seem to point to us departing – Kristin submitted a fantastic application to Princeton Theological Seminary; all of her references already submitted stunning recommendations; her pastor is talking about gathering financial support for graduate school; our close friends and adopted parents are giving us the green light to go; my teaching license came through with swift efficiency and ease; my heart has been 'BIBLE IN OLD CHURCH' photo (c) 2009, carl & tracy gossett - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/changed about needing to stay in Hong Kong; I feel strangely content nurturing the idea of leaving youth ministry after such a ridiculously short stint; & Kristin is loving her online classes and only wants more class time. I’m sure there are more reasons, but I think any readers get the point.

As Aaron said, [I paraphrase] “sometimes God can be tremendously clear, and if all these things have come together for nothing, it would seem a rather cruel joke and ordeal.” Whatever happens, I know that God only has good plans and would never actually be cruel. I’m usually the one that needs to change my perspective!

Kristin and I have decided, long before most of this chaos, to dedicate the month of February to prayer. While praying, we’ve also committed to trusting all this to His hands. Please join us in the prayer as well. I’m excited to see where all this goes…

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]

Being a Teacher in a Christian School

[NOTE: small update below]

I’ve had a lot of thoughts lately on the pros and cons of being a Christian educator.

PROS

  • Kids are generally awesome and super well-behaved
  • I don’t have to tip-toe around my faith
  • I can learn about Jesus during school hours because it’s part of the job
  • Regular chapel with time to praise and worship
  • Many supportive parents that care about both education and a child’s morality and faith upbringing
  • Instant connections with other staff members because of a common foundation in Christ
  • I get to be a part of all the uniquely Christian things. If you don’t know what weird and funny stuff Chrsitians are into, learn by checking out Stuff Christians Likeimage taken from http://www.sparklingadventures.com/index.php?id=885

CONS

  • Though many staff members focus on the common bond or unity in Christ, some staff members make a big issue out of silly things like Harry Potter, going to a bar for a drink, or whether or not global warming is true
  • Sometimes your colleagues just hang out with one another – you lose sight of the rest of the world or where other people are coming from. We need to know non-Christians’ perspective. (READER: if you want to reconnect with non-believers, check to see where they might be coming from on the Friendly Atheist site.)
  • Reading the Bible and listening to messages sometimes become a chore rather than a joy
  • Related to the above, sometimes my time spent preparing for teaching Bible classes gets substituted for my personal quiet times with God. In other words, doing ministry can get in the way of being ministered to unless I specifically implement measures to avoid this pitfall
  • Teaching at a Christian school for a number of years can be a career killer if I were to ever become part of a non-Christian education system

Harry Potter photo © 2009 Danelle Bunker | more info (via: Wylio)
Still, I think I there are more and stronger pros than cons. I like being a Christian educator, and I really enjoy ministering to people. Regardless of where I end up in life, I know that I am called to live a life of integrity 100% of the time – whether in school, at church, while playing ultimate frisbee, at a bar, or even just walking the crowded streets of Hong Kong (I get too easily annoyed by people with poor walking skills. If you feel similarly, you will appreciate a post from the Phantom Future blog).

[UPDATE on 25 Feb 2012: I’ve learned how to deal with inconsiderate city walkers! You can learn how by watching this Japanese video]

image taken from http://phantomfuturedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/tourists1.png

I am a Christian and a Christian teacher. I’m cool with this. And I look forward to the many opportunities to shine brightly into people’s lives, wherever that might be.  🙂

Job Searching and Networking

I’ve been searching for a job for the past 4 months.

It’s amazing that, in spite of my qualifications, experience, and connections, that I still can’t find a job.

If any of my readers want to put me in contact with any schools, let me know, and I’ll send my CV and letters of reference to that school.

God has something in store, and I’m looking forward to finding out what that might be soon!