Blocks of Clay

Listening to podcasts and radio in my car is probably one of my favorite things.  I can laugh hysterically and no one will judge me. There are several that I enjoy thoroughly and Brant Hanson on Air1 in the afternoons is probably one of the funniest and most insightful that I listen to.  Okay, so I know that Christian radio can be super cheesy, but sometimes there are snippets of wisdom that stick out and are so encouraging.

One thing I heard recently was a story of a young woman who had emancipated herself from her parents at a young age because of their drug and criminal problems.  She lived on her own and worked three jobs to put herself through high school.  In one of those jobs she became friends with a girl, whose family later asked her to move in with them for her senior year of high school.  See, this family wanted the young woman to really enjoy her senior year and not have to stress so much about making enough money to pay bills.

Later on, this young woman was able to go to college, get a bachelors and masters degree, find love and raise a family.  Sure, there might have been other factors, but probably one that made a huge difference was this family seeing the potential in this young woman and they wanted to grace for her to help her reach her potential.

See, the reason this made such a huge impact on me was what the radio host said afterwards.

An artist looks at a block of clay and sees the sculpture or sees the painting on a blank canvas.
This family saw the end result in this young woman and made it possible for her to get there. They chiseled away part of the block of clay in order for her to become the piece of art that God intended.

As a teacher, I have to think like an artist

In my classroom full of squirrely middle schoolers, I really have a bunch of blocks of clay.

I have to see past:
their rude and disrespectful comments
their constant taping of pencils
their incessant need to talk ALL the time
….and see what kind of pieces of art they might become.

If I think like an artist, I am able to show them grace in those moments of frustration. I am able to see that a kind word instead of a reprimand would go a lot further.  It will help me say no and set limits for them.  It would mean giving them grace in their immaturity and shrugging off some of those unfiltered thoughts.

This is hard to do, because I sometimes feel like a crappy teacher if they aren’t always compliant and quietly listening to my instructions. I have that fear that my boss will walk in and see the chaos and think I have no classroom management skills. [Sometimes even if students are quiet and compliant doesn’t mean that they are learning.]  And sometimes in the midst of chaos, giving grace and loving them might mean letting them be themselves. 

Also, I guess if I am thinking like an artist, I am to enjoy the process of creating right? So I have to enjoy the process of them getting there.  I can’t measure myself on how perfectly the process is going. [I am sure Picasso, Monet, and Rembrandht made mistakes along the way. ]

This applies to myself too! I have to think about who I want to be in 10 years and how maybe having grace about my life circumstances or my mistakes help me live in freedom.  Perhaps this will untangle things in my heart and help me get on that road to where I want to be or open my heart to what God wants to do with me. 

So I know all of you aren’t teachers, but where in your life should you think like an artist,where do you need to think about the end result and extend grace right now, whether to others or yourself?

I want to quit

Some days, I leave school and I don’t want to come back.

Not because I hate teaching
Not because I hate my students
Not because I hate my coworkers

But because right now, all of it… really hard. 

For some reason, everything seems impossible, another mountain to climb, another obstacle to overcome.  And I am so weak. And I feel so alone in all of it. (I know that I am not, but it certainly feels like that.) Every day I wake up and I am faced with the reality that I have to get out of bed and do it all again.  I sometimes put off going to bed because I know I will have to get up in the morning.

Maybe I am being a bit dramatic, because my life is a little crazy with grad school and the other myriad of things I have committed myself to.

And I am so weak.  And I don’t have the strength.
I am and I don’t.

Thank goodness for Jesus.  Thank goodness that he lived the perfect life so I don’t have to.  Thank goodness that his blood covers all of my weakness and failings. Rom 5:8..”but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

You know what reminded me of that.  My students….the ones that I had 4 years ago, when I was fresh out of college and was just trying to survive, but in a different way. I went to a high school football game and I was reminded that God does things even though I fail completely. 

The attack hugs, the shout outs, the smiles….they reminded me that God might have used me in a ways that I can’t even comprehend. 

I left the game with a happy heart and a grin, because these students who couldn’t remember to bring paper and pencil to class, the ones that talked when I didn’t want them to, and failed to do their homework, were marching in a band, photographing the game, leading cheers, and scoring touchdowns. 

They are on the precipice of life and it is amazing to watch. 

So….I will go back on Monday, because I am weak and I don’t have the strength, but I serve the God who does and who will work in the gaps of where I fail.

 ” My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Psalm 73:26

Medals of Honor

Many people make comparison between teaching and being at war.  Being a classroom teacher is compared to being in the trenches. Teachers are referred to as soldiers and warriors.  Some days it sure feels like it. 

This week sure felt like it.

This week many of my co-workers deserve medals of honor.  Many of them deserve accolades such as those given to warriors doing heroic things in defense of our country. 

In many ways, what I witnessed my fellow teachers doing this week for our students was just as heroic. 

The hugs, the comfort, the kind words, all were serving our students as we moved through an extremely difficult week. 
I witnessed teachers continue to teach and challenge our students despite distraction and tears.
I saw the exhaustion and the grief and the hurt in their eyes, but when they interacted with students you would never know. 
They opened their ears and their hearts to students trying to make sense of their grief. 
They sacrificed their time, energy, and even money to our school and community. 
The went beyond the call of duty.

They deserve medals and awards and recognition, but they wouldn’t accept them.  Perhaps, that is what makes them more amazing, they do this for the kids.  They do it because they are called to be there.  They do i,t not for the money, for the security, the summers off, or even because they couldn’t get a job doing anything else. They do it because they care immensely for our students.

This isn’t a post in defense of teaching or to say that we work harder than any other job.  This isn’t a post to rant about legislation or politicians who slam our profession.

This is a post about some amazing people who work in the background of the lives of young people.  People who hold drowning students so they can breath and have life.  This is about teachers, counselors, administrators, paras, and all those that work in schools that strive to be life lines to students who might not have anyone else.

If you have had a teacher like that, thank them.  They really need it, but will probably never ask for it.  Goodness, they are probably busy processing decision making with another student. 

When They Come Back

This past month has been rough, with school beginning and with my grad classes starting.  I also moved, to a house, with new people.  I have been overwhelmed and stressed out a lot. 

However, I am not going to list all the things that stress me out. 

Instead I am going to tell you all the great things that happened this week.  Some of which I had control over, some I did not.

#1. I ran more than 3 miles and survived.  I have been injured and was really worried about finishing this race.  However, my sister, bro-in-law, and a friend came in town to run and it was a lot of fun.  A friend from work also ran with us. (Actually, she finished sooner, but I still consider her a part of the group. 

#2 My students began reading for their literature circles.  There is nothing like busy students to warm a teacher’s heart.  One kid even spotted a metaphor on his own and asked if he should write it in his notes! YES YOU CAN DO THAT!! 🙂

#3 I was able to workout this week without pain in my feet or shins!  Praise the LORD!!

#4 I finished my homework early! After spending 2 evenings working in a coffeeshop and catching up on things, I finally was able to get something done ahead of time.)

#5 Library day! Nothing like a day where students are free to sit comfortably and read in the library to make my heart happy! (We also gave a quiz, and they did great!)

#6 I spent an afternoon this week with 2 students who have been struggling in my class and I was able to help them get ahead and understand some concepts they didn’t get before!! I MADE A DIFFERENCE!!

#7 I spent an evening at home listening to it rain and relaxing and ……wait for it…..went to bed EARLY! 
So amazing how much better you feel when you get more than 6 hours of sleep.  I actually woke up before my alarm 2 mornings in a row!

And finally….#8
I was actually going to leave school earlier than usual on Friday and 3 of my former students stopped by.  Best reason to stay late ever!

They were from my very first group of students. 
They are juniors.
One is starring in the musical at the High School.  She was one of my faithful drama club members.  SHE IS THE STAR….I can’t wait to be in the audience for that.
One is a cheerleader and taking dance.  She is wanting to dance with Kansas City Ballet. 
One is a cross country runner.
They are taking Advanced English, Calculus, Chemistry.
They have part time jobs. 
They drive!!! 
They are talking about college. (of course they are thinking about K-State)

My heart just exploded talking with them.  They dished about who has turned out cooler than they ever thought.  They talked about the couples.  They talked all about their struggles.

They are just so beautiful.  🙂

I am SO excited for them and their lives ahead of them. 
I am so excited to see the amazing women they will turn out to be. 

I walked away so encouraged and hopeful, not only for them, but for my current students.  It isn’t always easy to see their future, it isn’t always easy to see past the moment in 7th grade. Maybe someday something I teach or share with my current group will point them in the same direction as these girls are headed!

I cannot tell you….how much I needed that 45 minutes with them.  God is so good to me, to provide me the encouragement just when I need it the most. 

What good things happened in your week? When was a time when you received some much needed encouragement?

Feels like yesterday….

Many of my students were not even born or they may have been 8 hours old when the planes crashed into the towers.

But they still know about it.  Some were profoundly affected by it.  They are growing up in a world very different than the one I grew up in.  What they know about the world is very different than what I knew at their age. 

We talked it about it today, before I showed them a rap video about common and proper nouns. 

I almost didn’t expect them to bring it up, I knew that I couldn’t do it justice, so I wasn’t going to have some activity to go along with it.  The pressing needs of grammar and novels distracts me sometimes from these great teachable moments. 

However, I can’t sometimes breeze past the comments and the questions.  Just like my teachers in high school didn’t breeze past the comments and questions.  They faced it head on and used it to teach us.  To expand our world a bit.

I think about it sometimes, the fact that I can remember exactly where I was, what I was wearing, the fact that it was picture day and I was wearing my favorite jean skirt.  We watched news coverage on a small TV in one of the teacher’s closets.  We didn’t do much work, but we certainly learned a lot.

I think about the fact that I had no idea what the World Trade Centers were.  I had no understanding about the conflict in the Middle East.  I think about Mr. Bauer, a great world history teacher, who used that moment, in the midst of us learning about Napoleon Bonapart and war, to teach us about a different war. 

Like many other tragedies that I have addressed with my students in the last year, Newtown and Boston, these incredibly heart breaking and weighty moments are important for our students.  The world we set them loose in will be very different than the one today.  How we respond to these events will impact how they respond.  

I certainly will always remember how my teachers acted and responded to local and world tragedies and I am forever changed by them. 

Not the Same

As I am on the eve of the 1st day of my 5th year of teaching, it is sinking in that I am in this.  I am no longer just fresh out of college just trying to survive from day to day.  I have chosen this as a career path. (I am even going for more degrees in education.)

It is sinking in that what I do is important, it is weighty and powerful.  As much as that could cause me stress and anxiety, it is actually exciting. 

Exciting… because I have an amazing opportunity to impact lives in a very real way.  I have the opportunity to love and care for students at a vulnerable point in their lives.  Good or bad, I am there in their lives everyday. It has taken much of the summer for me to get back to this point after a stressful year.  As I set up my classroom and began plans for the year, I began to feel the excitement build.

I am not excited because I want them to remember me or everything from my class.(Let’s me honest, they might seem like they are forgetting everything we teach!)  I could care less if I get the credit for changing their lives. (If I wanted credit, I would have gone into the entertainment industry.)  I honestly care more if their lives are changed at all.

 I don’t want them to come out of my class the same way they came in. 

This year, our district theme is “I teach, what is your superpower?” At the end of our convocation, they showed a video about past district graduates and where they are now.  These past students mentioned lessons they learned from their teachers.  These were people still within the community and spread around the country.  After watching this I realized that what I do matters and can change lives, even if it is a little bit at a time.  (I was also crying along with all the feelers in the room!)

This video made me realize that by just being there I impact and influence my students, maybe in the long run  the world. And isn’t that what Superheros are about? Saving the world?

Maybe Beyonce is on to something here….

Small Wins

I frequently read the Biggest Loser Olivia and Hannah’s blog and recently they talked about the Bad Days.  …..the days that we fall back into old habits
…..the days that we are discouraged
…..the days when all we want to eat is…well everything we see. 

In this video, Olivia mentions something that was something I never though to do.  Make a list of all the things you did right.  If you are like me and get to the end of the day and can only think about all the ways that you didn’t meet your own expectations or others for you, this could change your life.

So instead of making a list of all the ways I have failed….I am going to make a list of the things I did right…the small wins!

Here are 3 ways that this idea has begun to change my year: 

1. My job: As a teacher of 12-13 year olds, I constantly feel like I am losing the battle to win their attention, their focus, and any ounce of academic success for them.  I feel like I have been losing the battle for the past couple of months.  

Thursday as I drove away from school, I wept because I felt that I had let down my students by harboring frustrations from hour to hour.  My impatience grew when they didn’t understand something I thought I had explained clearly and the apathy they showed to this assignment I was excited about, drove me crazy!!

Today, could have been about the same, but I am choosing to celebrate the small wins.  The little things that went right today.
– I didn’t have to write a detention or referrals today.
– The student who didn’t do anything yesterday in class, completed his assignment today with little prompting.
– We had library day, which meant that they worked on a fun activity.
– I got all my grades updated.
– I make Certificates of Awesome for the kids who did great first semester!
– Created a rubric for in class debates on Monday.
– Our newest ELL student who doesn’t speak any English seemed to make some friends.
– I found out that I would look really cute in hipster glasses. (All the girls at least thought so!)
– My 7th hour were very concerned with whether I was having a good day today.
– I had fun!!

2. Mental/Physically: Over the past 3 months, I have gained about 10 lbs back from where I was.  Big picture, this is not that big of a deal.  However, I was so close to my goal weight and I got off track after I ran my 3rd Half marathon this fall.  As I try to get back on track with eating well, (Let’s be honest, that is the hardest part of losing weight and I am a stress eater!)  thinking about the small wins of the day helps me be more positive about my progress. 

So this week instead of thinking about the gummy worms that I ate on Monday night, I want to think about my small wins!
– I worked out 5 days this week.
– I ran outside on Wednesday!
– Resisted the 2 offers of doughtnuts on Thursday (This was the stressful day!)
– Instead of getting Chipotle with friends on Friday night, I made an omelet! (Saved me money too!)
– Had salads 2 days for lunch this week!
– I didn’t eat anything after dinner 4 times this week.
– Resisted buying snacky foods that keep me munching!
– No cookies or chips for me during a meeting today at church! (It wouldn’t have been worth it.)
– Got up early this morning and ran with a friend. (Big win since I usually like to run by myself!)

3. 2012 Reflections: Don’t get me wrong 2012 was a great year and ended with a fantastic trip Down Under, but I started thinking about all the things that didn’t happen instead of all the things that did. 

So here are some good things that happened in 2012!

– Made a lot of new friends!
– Ran 2 Half Marathons
– Traveled to Denver to visit one of my favorite people in the world.
– Took 7 hours of Grad classes
Survived year 3 of teaching.
– Made it very close to my goal weight!
– Put myself out there and went on a few dates! (Didn’t turn out too well, but it was a good first step!)
– Stepped into a different role at church
– Said yes to a lot of things! (Color Run, going to Concerts, going to Australia!)
– Traveled halfway around the world to AUSTRALIA!
– Took on a lot of new things for my job and personally.

See I would say that 2012 was a great year.  I easily discredit it because not everything I wanted to happen happened….but whose to say that God doesn’t want to spread out the good things.

Ultimately, making a list like this brings to light the fact that as much as a fail, God is so abundantly gracious to me and does not leave me alone in that failure.

    For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
(Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

In what areas would it be helpful to make a list of your small wins?  What are some ways that you can practice grace to yourself or others around you?

One Step at a Time

My senior year of college, I had a lot of things going on.  I was an Resident Assistant, taking a full load of education and theater classes, leading a bible study, and was highly involved in a campus ministry, on top of that was dealing with slight depression.  (Okay, now that I type it out, it doesn’t seem like that much compared to now, but at the time it was a lot.)

I have this distinct memory of driving back from a leadership meeting with one of my best friends and now roommate.  We were both overwhelmed with life and still unsure of what our futures held.  We had senioritis but were no where near close to then end college.  We had to make decisions regarding the next year, but didn’t know what to do first.

Then this song came on and it became our anthem for the year.

You wanna show the world but no one knows your name yet 
Wonder when and where and how you’re gonna make it 
You know you can if you get the chance 
 In your face and the door keeps slamming
Now you’re feeling more and more frustrated 
And you’re getting all kind of impatient, waiting 
We live and we learn to take
One step at a time there’s no need to rush 
It’s like learning to fly or falling in love 
It’s gonna happen and it’s supposed to happen 
That we find the reasons why, one step at a time
This song echos something that my mother (oh, she is a wise one!) says to me often! It doesn’t always translate directly with a large to do list, but I think it is important to live the life you have now and not get to far ahead of yourself.

One thing at a time! 
As I begin my 4th year of teaching, I am overwhelmed at all the things that I have going on in my life, whether it be the commitments at school, or grad school, or at church, or just maintaining my relationships with my friends.  I have to remember to take one thing  at a time.  Then the future, my to do list, don’t seem so daunting, overwhelming or frustrating.  
Most of these things are good and I want to do them, and perhaps I over commit to things, but still the only way to get through is take on one thing a time.
Yes, I have a lot of things on my plate right now, but the best thing that I can do is take one thing at a time, start somewhere or I will never get anywhere. 
Anyone else like me and get overwhelmed with life?  What other things do you tell yourself when things get to be too much? Do you have an anthem that you sing when you are stressed out?

Are you capable of more? A post on the Olympics!

Like every other person in America, I am OBSESSED with the Olympics!

Before going further, there is something you should know about me.  I am NOT a sports fan….usually.  I do not go out of my way to go to sporting events.  I never went to a college football game in all 5 years I went to KSU. (Towards the end it got to be a point of pride to make it that long without going!)

Sure, I played sports up until middle school.  The only sport I was ever good out beside channel surfing was swimming.  Perhaps had I lived a different life I would have been a competitive swimmer.  (Though I am now more appreciative of sports than I was in college, because I am different than I used to be.)

So it is a rare occasion that I watch a game of any kind in entirety. My friends check the sky for flying pigs whenever this happens.


However, during the Olympics, I turn into a different person, shouting at the TV and everything!  Not sure what it is?  I wouldn’t say that it is patriotism, nor the glitteriness of Olympic sport. (I am sure Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps are a draw!)

Look how stupid his grill looks!

No, I think that during the Olympics….anything can happen…anything!

  • The Underdog can come from behind.
  • The hopefuls or sure things can fall from their pedestal in devastation.
  • The swimmers who have never swam in an Olympic sized pool can bring pride to their country and get the loudest applause.
  • The young athletes who defy odds in everyday life, overcoming poverty, hardships, heartache, and injury can shine and defeat those who might have had everything handed to them.
  • The athletes who have no country to claim as their own compete with proud an honor of their own story.
  • Competitors strive to beat the odds and go further or faster than anyone before them.

My favorite moments are when the reporters tell the stories of these athletes.  These young people who train their entire lives for these Olympic moments.  When you get to see their proud parents and their joy in the fact that they have made it to the one place that has been at the end of their journey.

Why do we admire these athletes?  Why are we entranced by their stories and their abilities?

Because when I see those gymnasts defy gravity and fly through the air or Michael Phelps swim, we are in awe of human capabilities.  I am blown away by the fact that we are always able to do more than we believe.  

These athletes have trained hard and pushed themselves than we are even able to understand for this moment every four years.  For some athletes this is the only chance they have.  This is their chance of a lifetime.  And sometimes they surprise themselves. Because……
……we are always capable of more than we know.

For me that is why I love the Olympics, because it proves to me that we are made for more than we even know or can fathom.  Perhaps that is the message the anthem of my school year, the message I want to share with my students. 

Missy Franklin, isn’t she adorable! I wish I could have her as a student!

Why do you watch the Olympics or sports in general?  (Maybe I can be convinced to watch more sports more than every for years.)

I Didn’t Know

Last Thursday, the buses pulled away and we waved, then cheered when the last one slipped out of the lot.  I was close to tears, but at the same time felt relief and elation.

3 years ago today, I couldn’t have told you where I would be teaching or whether I would be teaching at all.  I had only one interview.  I was searching for a summer job, I was scraping by one day at a time.  I had no idea what my future held.  I didn’t know about these kids or this place.  I was hoping and praying for something.  I just wanted someone to give me a chance.

Sometimes, when I sit and reflect over my 3 years of teaching, I shake my head in disbelief that I haven’t crumbled or jumped out a window.  There are moments when I just don’t know if I can come back and do it all over ago, and I don’t just mean after the year is over, but daily.

However, as I look through pictures of my students, I think about those moments when they make me laugh hysterically, it makes the fight worth it.

…..those moments when they share their heartbreak and I want to weep but hold to together to be strong for them.   …..those hugs that they awkwardly gave me when they left.  …..those Valentine’s they wrote me. “Don’t worry Ms. Spare, you aren’t alone, you have us!”

Those are the moments that make my job the best job.  My students make my job worth it.  I told them just that.

They asked if I was going to give them a sappy speech on the last day, “Of course, I will have the last word!”

Even though I know it might go in one ear and out the other, I still them that I care about them.  I tell them that they make my job better.  I tell them that they have so much potential and I am excited to see what they do with their future.  I tell them I am going to miss them.  I tell them that as frustrated I can get with them and their behavior, they will always have me in their corner.

On that last day, tears weren’t a threat, until one of my students who I am closer to, walks up with flowers.  “I told you that you were my favorite teacher,” she says as she hands the flowers to me.

Tears threaten to spill out, but I hold it together and walk into class as the bell rings.  And for the last time, I raise my hand and wait for them to get quiet and work on their bellwork.

There are days and events that make me question my profession, but I think everyone has those.  If you didn’t question what you did and why you do it, I think you can get too comfortable.

Looking back 3 years ago, I don’t think I could have predicted that my heart would get so attached to these students and this place.  Even if they don’t ever fully realize how much I care, it will still be worth it.