Archive for October, 2010


teaching from the heart

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had some unsettling experiences in the classroom. As most of you know, I am a teacher. I have been for a while. It seems that with each year of teaching under my belt, you would think (as I often do) that I would have this thing figured out. You would think I would have my lessons planned far in advance. You would think that my classroom management would be impeccable. You would think that I would glide through my day, teaching those young faces that grace my room all about the wonders of science and the world around them.

In some ways, those statements couldn’t be farther from the truth. I am a better teacher every year. I know that. I feel it. But every year that I teach it seems that my job becomes more challenging in ways that I hadn’t anticipated before I left for the summer.

Last week, for instance, it was a normal day. Well, it was the day after a test, and in my classroom, that means that we look over the tests and the students are responsible for analyzing their score and making corrections to the missed questions. They have to explain themselves and fill out a form that details why they missed what they did and what the right answer was and yadda, yadda, yadda… So, I know that they do not love this… but it is a part of class and a part of class that I feel strongly about (We only learn from mistakes, right? So, I am working with my first period class on this (they are a great class), when out of nowhere, A student who I will call Jose, interjects, “what’s the point of this?” Not a big deal to ask this, middle schoolers do it sometimes, it is just annoying. I want to say to him, “the point is I asked you to, so be quiet and get back to work.” But I think I instead ask Jose, (who is an intelligent and likable young man) “if you’re not sure what the point of this is, then what is the point of coming to school everyday?” He replies, “There is no point, my mom makes me.”

I think by now I am in deep and don’t know it. Jose is a good kid, he has a good heart, and I don’t think I would have taken the statement seriously from many other students. But you know, at this point I started to break.

I honestly felt my heart breaking for this (these) kids. I mean, it is easy to read this and think, everyone is entitled to their own opinion… but for a kid to be years into the system and verbalize that they feel their is no point, it just got to me. And I did break. I got mad, and sad, and indignant, and just plain discouraged. And they all saw it. Every one of them watched me go to that point. I cried. And I told them to that I didn’t come to my job simply because it is a paycheck. That I don’t stand and wait for them by the door because my boss tells me to. I don’t smile at them because I am forced to. I am there not to teach science, I told them, but to teach each of them. They are my students. And I love them. And my job is no job at all without each of them. And I told them that it broke my heart to hear that some of them didn’t see the point in school. And I told them that I get that they aren’t overjoyed about tests and homework and studying and class and rules, but that damn it, there was a point, and that the point to all of it was them and their future. That the classes and tests and all that only exist to help them secure a job, a career, a life, and a legacy that they can be proud of and draw upon for years and possibly generations to come. I cried as I told them this.

Their faces were shocked. I was shocked. I didn’t know where all the emotion came from. I’m not sure why this one kid set me off with his questions.

I think that I was so disappointed to hear this from a student I felt held so much promise. It is so tough to watch kids adopt(or inherit) this mindset. They have little faith in themselves or the system to actually help themselves achieve some level of success. They are so hard on themselves to the point of when they achieve less than a  100 they give up. They have no guarantees because their parents haven’t navigated the system with success, nor do they know what lies beyond their world of little familial education. I understand all these obstacles and having a hard time overcoming them. But do students really feel this way as they sit in their classes?

God, it breaks my heart. What can I do for them to show them that there is a purpose to hard work, determination, faith, and relying on their good character. For the most part, almost all of my students are capable of achieving high levels of success academically. What they do not have are people who push them, challenge them, encourage them, and simply dream with them.

After they exchange, and my response, the students were quiet (not my point) but I needed some time to cool off. Jose looked slightly shell shocked. I sat at my desk and stared out the window, fairly unable to control my emotions. Now I felt a little humiliated. I have this hang up about crying. I hate to do it. I hate to make myself vulnerable, particularly to a group of thirteen year olds. I was ashamed I had gone to that place.

But as I though about the fact that I cried before them, the fact that I had let them in… I realized that I could not hide myself from them. The passion I feel for them is real. All the things I shared with them are true. They just don’t hear them from me often. I think that looking back on the exchange, I only did what I knew. I knew how I felt. I knew I needed to address what my struggle was instead of just getting angry, or punishing Jose.

I felt pretty drained after that. I moved through the day quietly. I tried not to make waves, and honestly, the students seemed to sense that I needed that peace.

After school, I was preparing to leave for the weekend, when someone walked in my door. Jose. He was the reason for all of this. I’m not sure why I care so much for that kid, but I do. I guess I care for all of them, I just don’t realize how much. He gave me a hug. Told me that no one had ever told him they thought he had talent, promise, the ability to chase his dreams. He was seeing that he was not just a student. He was my student. He had tears in his eyes as we discussed the morning and all that was said. He understood, but was still in shock, that he had drawn such a passionate response out of an adult. Told me he was sorry, again.

I realized right then and there, as I thought about how Jose had to make a special trip up to my room, late on a friday afternoon, that my passion for my students was not in vain. I realized at that time, that there was no shame in my tears. They were not borne out of weakness, but out of the strength in my conviction in the young people that I serve.

I would like to deny my faith in them. It would be much easier. But I just don’t think I can. Every year teaching becomes more difficult in a way because I get more invested in my students. I am more connected to them, and frankly, I have a hard time letting them go every year. I really do believe in them, even when they don’t.

Last week proved to me that of all the teaching methods that I have learned when sitting through seminars and training, the one method that cannot be learned is teaching from the heart.


what is most important?

I have been thinking about this question for a quite a while now.

I can answer the question for myself. And you probably know of course, what is most important in your life.

But the question I am asking is not directed towards you specifically, it is towards the children, our children, that are navigating the world today.

They know what is most important in their lives. I have asked the students with whom I am close, and the answers are typically similar. They feel their family, their friends, their pets, and their prized belongings are most important to them. The tangible items are the things they know hold value in this world. I completely understand.

But this question isn’t really directed towards those concrete fixtures in our young ones lives, but what is it most important that we can impart to them? What is it that these young people MUST have to be a success in this world? What is it that will make a true difference in the world?

What is the most important thing that I want my own children to adopt into their being? What is it that I would love to see my students turn up with five to ten years in the future? What kind of person do I long for them to become?

Young people today are moving through a world that we all know is increasingly invasive, careless, and impersonal. I know that they all yearn for connection…

But what can we teach them? What message are we sending about what is most important?

I know is easy to think of the virtues that Jesus, or maybe your favorite person, or even your pet embody… but what is it that we want our children to become in this world?

If we had to pick just one of two things that they carried to adulthood, what would that be?

Think on it… let me know.



The funniest thing about the post below is that when I submitted it to be published on this blog, I noticed after the fact that I posted it to my class blog, which students read. Luckily, I noticed within 5 seconds that I had it in the wrong spot. That would have made for an interesting classroom discussion. Ha!


hands tied

Today is one of those days. The days where you can’t hold your head as high as you want. When your head is foggy with doubt. When you are tired.

It’s a holiday. I shouldn’t feel this way. It’s beautiful, sunny, and warm outdoors.

I am healthy and I have a lovely life.

But this last week was extremely tiring for me. I have had a better than average year so far in my job. What that means is I feel like I am a better, and might I add, more effective teacher than I have ever been. It has been fairly smooth sailing for me thus far this year.

But I have been working harder than ever to be this teacher that succeeds with all students, not just some. I have been working hard to grade papers, provide feedback, and to try my best to make learning meaningful for the fourteen year olds I work with. I have been working hard.

And most days in the classroom are good days. They are busy and filled with the volleys of adolescence that are typical of the students I teach. The students are life-filled, in a way that reminds me that they are constantly at the precipice of learning something new about themselves and their world.

But Friday I was reminded of how all my hard work can seem to come undone in the matter of a 65 minute class period. I have one class that I will say is extra-challenging for me. It is a small class – only about 14 students, but they are 14 of the exact child that I would not want to raise myself. They are unmotivated, which at times is worse than falsely motivated. They are self-centered, like all students their age, but to a point that is disrespectful and destructive. Most of all, I think what bugs me is that they are entitled. That sums them up perfectly in my book. They feel entitled to what they want, when they want it, exactly. They wear me down.

Friday they wore me down so much I broke. I broke for them. I broke for the fact that they are so blinded by immediate gratification that they cannot help themselves, at all, whatsoever. They are stuck in a place of enablement and disengagement. They are enabled often by the system and possibly by me, their family, and this country. And they are disengaged because they are enabled.

They broke me to the point of showing my care for them emotionally. Literally shedding a tear to stand alongside a group of young people and watch them waste away, willingly. Where will they be in the future? Will they/do they treat all people as if they are unimportant and have nothing to give? How can you serve if you cannot allow yourself to be served? I shed two tears, one for them, and one for me.

For them: Unaware of the world ahead, wasting their chances, moment by moment, causing others to lose faith and turn away.

And me: My hands tied, unable to help the ones I actually want to help because the others are demanding my time. This sucks.

With two tears shed, I opened to them a window. A window into which they see a view of my heart, now exposed ever so slightly. I am scared of that window being open. It means they now know that they can hurt me/get to me/change me.

And it’s true. Hiding behind the exterior of this teacher is a human who feels/thinks/lives in a way that is bound to these young people.

I am afraid that is wrong. I am afraid of sitting in front of the other teachers in the lunch room and them seeing it, this weakness. I fear the fact that this puts me out there, for all people,  in a precarious position from which I can completely fall.

I guess the truth of it is dawning on me now, I am already there on the ground, in the dust, trying to clean myself up. I just want to be strong. I just want to move forward without feeling. I just want to look at those kids tomorrow and look past the fact that they are letting me down. How do I do that?

And that brings me to today.

I don’t want to go to school tomorrow. I want to hide. I want to hide in blankets of comfort and friendship and acceptance and respect. I do not, by any means, want to face people, fourteen year old people, who have no respect for themselves or others.

I am letting this get to me. I know I am.

But it will pass.

And I will move on from this. And so will they.

Being a teacher definitely isn’t easy.


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