Ode to the Apathetic Student

I wrote this poem during writing time in my last period of the day this year – a remediation class for those who have yet to pass the End of Course Assessment test for graduation.  A class like this is difficult since you not only have to work out the skills that they need in order to pass the test when they already feel like failures, you have to battle that failure attitude itself.  Who is going to try at something if the only thing they “know” to be true about it is that they “can’t” do it.  And that attitude permeates everything.  It was with this struggle in mind and these students in front of me that I wrote this poem.

That stale glare – I know it too well.

There you are fumbling from class to class,

nearly tripping over your own feet, you appear in a trance.

Your body slumped as though a thousand strings are tied to

your every joint and appendage, slave ropes dragging you to the floor.

When you do actually speak, negativity flows, but then –

this is no surprise, when you feed yourself negativity daily.

Negative thoughts, friends, attitudes, behaviors…

It’s all “garbage in, garbage out,” you know.

What keeps you this way?

How can you still go on after days of this drudgery?

– it’s amazing…

Does it take more energy to go through life this way?

– seems like it should…

Wouldn’t school be easier, or at least go by faster

if you just got involved – took an interest?

Success could be just around the bend!

You may have botched the start,

but you could still ace the finish!

Just try it for me.

– NO –

Try it for YOU!

Fix your posture, smile, think positive

– remember – “garbage in, garbage out”

Open your tired eyes.

Take a deep

breath.

Breathe in all the possibilities…

deep possibilities, waiting for you.

Breathe them in.

TRY…

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God-chat with a former student

Had one of THE MOST AWESOME adventures in teaching last night!  I had an opening to share the gospel with a former student.  He randomly began chatting with me on Facebook around 11 pm and talked about quitting school again, going for his GED.  The conversation went on and I asked him about whether or not he was preparing well for the test.  He said he had quit for fear of messing up.  We had a talk about the definition of “self-fulfilling prophecy” (lol) and continued on.  He reminded me that he was mean and not easily motivated even in my class (I remembered).

He also shared that he planned on enlisting and when I asked what branch and he answered “just the army,” I asked why the “just,” thinking that one should be fully committed to the branch one chooses for the military – can’t go in halfway, you know.  He answered that he wanted to change his life, become a better man, stronger, and he thought the army could help.  When I asked if he was sure he would like who the army would make him to be, he answered that he didn’t know and that he just wanted to become someone that his parents and others could be proud of.

By this time my husband had gone to bed and was calling for me to join him – we were way past his bedtime.  I started to wonder what kind of verse I could pass him.  This was an open door.  Here I had a young man who admitted to a screwed up life, knowing he needed to change his life, and wanting to try something as extreme as the military to find help in changing to become a new person.

And I had it!  Here is what I said to him:

“I need to head to bed, but I’ll leave you with another idea. If your main goal is changing, becoming a better person – someone you and others can be proud of, and you know you can’t do it on your own, try this one: grab a Bible and look up 2 Corinthians 5:17-21. God sent Jesus because he knew none of us could measure up on our own. If you admit that you can’t do it on your own, apologize for all the times you’ve ‘messed up’ in life, and believe that and trust Him to give you a new life, He’ll help you to get there – speaking from personal experience here, not just bible-thumpin’ ya.  Again – just sayin…

and I wasn’t kidding about the “care about you” part, man, I miss ya and I hope you make the right choices in life (especially this one). I’ll be praying for you.”

He thanked me, told me he would look up the verse, and said that he needed that talk.  He thanked me for being not only a teacher, but a friend.  I told him goodnight, closed my laptop, and prayed.  This morning I sent out a text message to multiple people getting them to pray for him too.

God, please get his attention, use whatever you want to show him you’re there and you love him and you’re waiting for him to seek you and find you.  Lord, please let that verse begin to open his heart and make him hungry for more.  Let him dive into your word and fall in love with you!  In Jesus’ name, AMEN!!

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The Summer Without a Jobhunt

Was there really this much time last year?  Wow… it really makes me wonder about the whole me being an introvert or an extrovert question from last summer – especially since I tested into “introvert.”  Soooo not true – I reeeealllly need human interaction!  I remember it being the same way last year in that respect.  Sitting at home alone and finding things to do is just not as fun as it used to be – or perhaps just not as fun as when I’m so busy that every extra minute spent lazily is treasured.  It’s just different for me, in the summer, not having to apply for jobs and not having to wait until the last week of the summer to plan my next year.  I have let The Scarlet Letter and To Kill a Mockingbird sit on my breakfast nook table for weeks without reading them – the same with my teacher’s edition of the freshman literature textbook.

I have so enjoyed teaching Composition Camp at Ball State this past couple weeks.  Other than getting me out of the house and exposed to human interaction, it has given me a number of ideas for future writing workshops in the classroom.

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Giving God his room

After taking part in Secret Church on Good Friday, I again felt the “unsure of my salvation” feeling.  I had the feeling that I was missing something.  That there was supposed to be a huge dramatic difference and I should have had this grand experience when I came to faith in Jesus.  This has been a struggle for me in the past mainly because I have been rather complacent in my relationship with Christ for the past couple years or so – steadily drifting farther, then closer, then farther.  The proverbial one step closer, two steps back. 

It is hard for me to look back at my moment of salvation and I envy those who remember their “rebirth date” and can tell “the story.”  I was 7.  All I remember is wanting to go where momma and daddy would go.  But then came 12.  I again don’t remember the moment or the story, but I DO remember the change.  Wanting to tell everyone about my best friend Jesus and how they too could know him and be his friend.  This gave birth into an uber-believer high school career when I was God’s and I made sure anyone who even looked my way knew it.

But after years of complacency, I began to question the faith I had once professed so faithfully.  Was God there?  Did Jesus die?  Am I saved?  Or was this all a lovely fairy tale told by sheltering parents and church friends?  After a summer riddled with doubt and fear, I came to the conclusion that I had seen God work in my own life and in the lives around me and I could not deny my own experience, even if I could try to deny what others told me of theirs.  But still, here and there doubts would surface.

I would run, broken, to my husband only to be reminded that it was Jesus’ arms I needed to run to.  No one could answer my questions but the one who gave me life.  Once again, after Secret Church, I ran to him and we talked about the “experience” thing.  He reminded me that within the simulcast when pastor David Platt had spoken on the point of regeneration, he specifically pointed out that this is hard for those of us who come to Christ at a young age.  We looked at the questions to ask to examine your heart to see if you are in the faith.  Questions like: Am I currently believing Christ for my salvation?  Do I love like God loves?  Am I obeying Christ and walking with him daily?  I realized that I do believe, I do love (though not as readily as I should), I just hardly ever obey. 

I was again broken.  I know what God wants – what He deserves – is ALL of me.  I have been tucking parts inside “my room” though.  Hiding “my stuff” away from God and unconsciously stating that He cannot go there.  One of the biggest things in “my room” is my classroom.  It’s “my” domain.  I have a boss, I have colleagues.  They aren’t that friendly to faith-filled ideas.  They talk politics constantly and cuss and “want a drink.”  I can’t bring God there.  It’s no place for Him.  Right?

Wrong.

He gave me this job.  It wasn’t posted, I didn’t apply.  The principal called me one day, interviewed me another, and hired me the next.  So, really, this is actually more God’s classroom than mine.  He’s the one who placed me here – for a reason.  He gave me this job – this opportunity – and if I don’t use it, He can take it away.  I immediately asked my husband to pray with me. 

“God, I’m so sorry for doubting you when you are constantly proving yourself over and over again.  I’m sorry for doubting your salvation when I’ve felt and seen the change.  I’m sorry for hiding and hoarding things that I should be surrendering to you.  Come into every corner of every room of my life.  I want you to have it ALL!  Keep transforming me, give me power and boldness to obey you and follow you closer daily.  Be LORD over ALL of my life!  I do love you, Lord.  In Jesus’ name, Amen!”

Yesterday was the first time in a long time that I didn’t feel compelled to “pray the prayer” right along with the pastor “just in case” or for any other reason.  Instead, I thanked God for His gift of salvation and prayed for Him to work on the hearts of everyone else there. 

The road ahead is to be long, I fear, “but there’s God!” as my friend Jonelle says.  I have this worry that, since I am such a creature of habit and routine (and have such a fickle memory), I’ll soon fall right back into living for me in my own strength and taking back God’s rightful place from Him.  I imagine myself like the student in The Dead Poet Society who finally finds his voice in poetry and then the teacher cups the student’s face in his hands, looks him square in the eye, and says “Don’t you forget this!”  I want to tell myself each time I encounter God, “Don’t you forget this!” 

I find myself REALLY wanting to paint an Ebenezer wall in Spar Oom some time over summer break.  In 2 Samuel, the Israelites built an altar called “ebenezer,” meaning “stone of help,” to mark how God had helped them to make it to that point.  That scripture gave me the idea to paint a picture of a stone altar on the wall of a room in my house so that I could write “the story” on each stone of different moments when I know that God has been there for me – for those times when I forget.

After taking this new stand, today I didn’t have any great God-talk moments with anyone, but I have been convicted that I need to do my job as to the Lord, not to my boss.  I was also convicted to drive the speed limit this morning, even if it would make me late–and it did by a couple minutes (I left around 7:23), but I felt God was telling me to do it.  I suppose I’ll need to leave even earlier from here out.  I’ll probably take the highway instead of the country roads as well; I’m thinking it might be easier if the speed limit is actually 55 instead of 40. 

Can arriving on time and driving the speed limit and doing your best at work really be obeying God through “good works prepared ahead of time for us to do”?  dunno.  Perhaps. 

But even if not — God deserves it.

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Chronic Monoannumitis

This is my self-created term to describe my own… state?  situation?  disorder?  predicament?  Whatever it is, it is getting rather easier to get used to.  It goes like this.

I am a “new” teacher.  Public schools today are victims of the economy.  The economy sucks.  New teachers have the least seniority.  Schools led by localized unions who find themselves needing to layoff teachers will almost always layoff those lower on the totem pole first and save those higher up.

For this reason, in the four years I have been teaching,  I have been “laid off” or “non-renewed” three times.  I call this situation of never staying at the same school longer than one year “chronic monoannumitis.” 

The symptoms of this include an acquired attachment to cardboard boxes and a hoarding of teaching materials.  You never know when you’ll be told to pack it all up and move out again.  Also included is a chronic detachment from professional relationships.  Why form attachments to people you will be bidding farewell to by the end of the school year?  There is also the bonus of becoming a connoisseur of interviewing techniques.  I once had 12 interviews in one summer (roughly at least one if not two interviews per week on average) before finally being hired the week before school started.  Oh, and then there’s that: never being able to fully plan a semester before having to begin it.

To be honest, I was actually hired back once (to an “alternative” high school–more on that in future blogs), but the school system had restructured and our program was in another building.  Thus, perpetuating similar symptoms of having to get used to new surroundings and new teachers in the positions of previous teachers that were not hired back. 

Still, I had the same types of students in a system with the same rules and two of the same teachers as the previous year–and the same dean.  This was a supreme blessing of a God-send.  The next year we were all laid off and “older” teachers with no experience in our alternative program took over the entire building.

This year, however, may just break the streak.  I find myself at a smaller school system that is not in debt or inevitable financial hardship.  Granted, nearly all public schools may eventually fall victim to the economy (especially in Indiana, it seems), but it seems that at THIS school… I may be safe?

To hear students say “I can’t wait until I have Mrs. Ivey next year!” and actually be able to smile with pride instead of contradict them with sad news…  To have students ask what Debate class will be like next year and actually be able to answer them with my own plans instead of the school’s plans of who is taking over that position…  To be able to truly connect with my colleagues and make plans for learning growth over even just a 2-year period…

These concepts are unknown to me…

But there also remains the fact that human beings get very used to repetitive things.  We are creatures of habit.  Will I get used to being in the same building for multiple years?  Being able to plan my courses over the summer and be ready for school come August?  Returning each fall to the same classroom, the same desks, the same curriculum, the same coworkers, etc.?

Part of me wonders.  The other part of me prays that I will be lucky enough to finally have the chance to find out.

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What will happen to my kids?

A passionate, hopeful response to the loss or layoff of nearly all alternative school teaching positions in ACS, quite possibly followed by the replacement of said positions with educators who know nothing about and have no experience in alternative school, but simply have more seniority.

What will happen to my kids?

When we’re all gone and the “new” crowd appears

When they file into classrooms and just know—

these teachers wanted something else

What will happen to my kids?

When, two weeks into school, there still aren’t clear schedules

When they ask teachers questions and just know—

these teachers don’t want to be here either

What will happen to my kids?

When they have their “bad days” and are disciplined like “normal”

When the dean sends them back to class and they know—

these people don’t care as much

What will happen to my kids?

When the semester is done and they remember nothing

When they’re bored and sleep and fight and curse and know—

these teachers won’t do nothin’

What about me though?

I was once the teacher who wanted something else

who didn’t want to be there, who didn’t care — not like I should have — who did nothing…

But then they got me to see them.

I saw their hurts, their fears, their loneliness, their passions, their joys, their experiences,

their hearts

and could stay blind no longer

So what will happen?

When their teachers come alive and see them

When my kids are taken to the hall and allowed to speak

What will happen?

When they hear the words

“I always knew you had greatness inside you, dying to come out!”

and they finally, for the first time, know it’s true

They’ll see these teachers anew and how these teachers changed them.

But they’ll never know…

It was they who changed their teachers.

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Finally got a job… at an alternative school…

As I sit here waiting for myself to fall asleep, I try to think of what else I need to do before I am able to finally go home.  I have prepped the sub plan for Friday, erased today’s board notes, begun tomorrow’s, copied information from the main board onto the side board for tomorrow, and now I still need to write tomorrow’s Word of the Day and plan out the day step-by-step.  Oh, and grade a million things (already) and plan the rest of the year. 
 
This is a different setting than I expected.  I am so drained at the end of the day.  Why don’t we have a clear schedule of classes?  Why can’t we just follow our schedules?  Why are there 35 kids in this class?  WWhat are we doing with English 11 and 12 in the same room at the same time?  Wait, my schedule says Film Lit–should I be in here too?
 
I don’t know.  I don’t know anything.
 
Wow… but, really, that’s how I feel.  If this is how some of the country does “school,”  even “alternative school,” I don’t know anything.
 
I was supposed to be teaching Theater and English 9 at one of the large high schools in this district.  Instead, they gave me the opening at the alternative school.  Attitude, behavior, and attendance problems.  Those kids.
 
I remember watching The Freedom Writers, Dangerous Minds, all those, and thinking, “I could do that!  Making a difference every day and getting to see lives change for the better–God, give me those kids!”
 
I am laying in wait for the moment when I will feel like I’m accomplishing something–making a difference of ANY sort with those kids… granted, I am only two weeks in and today felt better than yesterday, but I’m still left tired and wondering.
 
Maybe tomorrow…

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