Picture books are a wonderful resource to illustrate the various traits of writing with students. Recently, I read this book to my class to convey the use of descriptive words when writing. The book is about a Little Bear who finally gets to sleep in his own room away from Big Bear. As Little Bear snuggles down to sleep without Big Bear, everything feels different. His runaway imaginations lead him to be anxious and worried about who or what may be in his bedroom.
After discussing the descriptive words the author used in the book, I asked the class if any of them ever felt like Little Bear. Almost every hand went up. One of the girls stated, “I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and think I see someone in my bedroom too.” Another student commented, “I can relate to Little Bear because it takes me a long time to fall asleep since I worry about things.” Several more students shared how, especially at night, they feel anxious thoughts. We then brainstormed ways to help overcome these negative thoughts. Some of the suggestions were: play peaceful music, think of something that calms you, go to sleep with your mom or dad or turn on the lights and check around your room. My favorite response, however, was…”I pray and ask God to take away the bad thoughts and replace them with good thoughts and then I feel better.”
As we ended our discussion, I was reminded that no matter what age we are many of us struggle with negative thoughts and create scenarios and imaginations in our minds that can trick us into believing something that isn’t real. From a young age, we develop these thought patterns which follow us into our adult lives. These patterns can become habits and before you know it they disguise themselves as reality.
LIFE LESSON: It is so easy to be deceived into believing wrong thoughts, but it takes effort to think right thoughts intentionally. Our minds are powerful and whatever we focus on we tend to believe and become.
“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise…Then the God of Peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9
“Treat people the way you want to be treated” is the Golden Rule we teach children from a very young age. Children sometimes break that rule either intentionally or unintentionally. Hurtful words, notes or actions released from human nature often leave a scar on our spirit. As teachers, we teach children to apologize and hope they would show signs of remorse for their behavior. Most students do, however, the challenge for the one injured is learning to forgive. I was recently given this challenge myself in my classroom and was reminded what it truly means to forgive:
F – rees our spirit
O – bedient to God’s will
R – eminds us that God has forgiven us
G – ives us back joy
I – nvites peace
V – ictim to survivor
E – xtricates pride
LIFE LESSON: Forgiveness is giving up your right to hurt someone who hurt you.
“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32
Am I doing enough? Can I help this student truly make progress considering all that is against him? I recently came to this crossroads in my mind when assessing the academic progress of one of my students. He has continually struggled from the day he came into my class in all academic areas. He came to me from a third world country where his attendance in elementary school was infrequent due to the lack of a structured education system. Due to his age, he was placed in fifth grade, however, academically he continues to read at a third grade level. In math, he just learned subtraction and is still trying to master basic multiplication facts. His language skills are also well below grade level expectations, so it is difficult to communicate with him even with help from a bilingual peer. Despite all that is against him, he is trying hard and wants to catch up to his classmates. He diligently completes extra reading and math assignments I provide for him nightly with the help of a student from another class who so graciously volunteered to help him. He attends intervention groups with other staff members daily. He told me his goal is to walk across the stage and receive an award at one of our academic assemblies before the year is over.
As I was working with him along with a small group of students on how to add and subtract fractions using common denominators, I noticed something amazing. He actually began to help another student solve the problem. For the first time this year, he was the one offering the help. Although the other student had a hard time at first understanding him, she eventually comprehended what he had tried to show her. I congratulated him for not giving up and sticking with the lesson even though it had been difficult for him. I was also proud of him for making the effort to courageously communicate in English. Although the road ahead this year will continue to be a challenge for him, I feel a sense of hope in the fact he has made a turn in the right direction and that he is making progress on his academic journey.
LIFE LESSON: When at a crossroads in our way of thinking, we have two basic choices: YES, I CAN or NO, I CAN’T. Sometimes it is easy to get discouraged and make the decision to quit. Other times it takes people and experiences placed in our lives to help us believe we are moving in the right direction. I’m so grateful for being in an environment where I’m reminded with simple, but powerful examples like this one, that with Jesus’ help – YES, I CAN!
“I command you – be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
This is what confronted me next to each student’s name on a report of standardized practice test results I recently received. A few of my 5th grade students were flagged as not predicted to pass our upcoming state standardized tests in reading, math and science. Once my initial reaction of disappointment began to dissipate, I thought about the best way to explain this news to these select students and their parents. I’m always cautious when sharing results of how a student is “predicted to score” on a test because variables can and usually do change. I also despise having to deliver a message that could possibly dampened a student’s confidence or hope. Needless to say, however, I did have to have some uncomfortable conversations as most teachers do at times.
I set up my first conference. I knew it would be a difficult conversation because this particular student had been trying so hard to comprehend the math and reading skills throughout the year. I had been working with her in small group and she had been making gains. In fact, her class grades had improved in both areas. Her mom just commented to me a month ago about how proud she was of her daughter’s progress. I felt positive as well about her progress. As I revealed these recent practice test scores, I saw a look discouragement on both their faces. The student turned to her mom and said, “Does this mean I might not pass 5th grade?” Her mom deferred to me. Before I could answer, I was reminded of the biblical definition of faith from my book, What They Have Taught Me… ”Faith is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.” Hebrews 11:1. I did my best to convey a message of hope despite the discouraging news of the scores. I reminded both of them that these are just scores and should not define all the progress that has been made so far this year.
LIFE LESSON:As a teacher, I have to remember to be hope for my students even when I don’t always feel hopeful. The routine of a normal school day coupled with the pressures of standardized testing sometimes makes me question whether or not I will make the grade expected from my students. Thankfully, God does not grade us or determine our value based on our level of academic proficiency or outward performance. He looks at our heart and expects us to rely on our hope and faith in Jesus, the Ultimate Teacher.
” I can do ALL things through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13
I know you’re hurt and in pain but HANG IN THERE! You did what you could and in my heart YOU NEVER WILL BE FORGOTTEN. You know why you’re a soldier, because you love the U.S.A. and want FREEDOM! I hope you heal fast so you can see the ones you love this holiday season.
This was an exerpt from one of many heartfelt cards my 5th grade students sent to wounded U.S. soldiers as a part of the “Holiday Mail for Heroes” Project sponsored by the American Red Cross. As I read each card, I was reminded of the price that has been paid for the precious freedoms we enjoy. These brave men and women left their families and the comforts of home to serve our country with no promise of when they might return or in what condition they might return. Many are recovering in military hospitals this holiday season and may be feeling alone, discouraged and hopeless. My prayer is that these letters and cards sent by students throughout the United States provide these heroes with a powerful reminder that they are not forgotten.
I believe the Christmas message can provide our soldiers hope and encouragement along with each of us. After all, Jesus left the comforts of His home in heaven for a lowly manger in the middle of a foreign land. He gave up His heavenly benefits to serve. He battled many enemies, felt abandoned and lonely at times and endured physical pain and suffering. This Heavenly Soldier paid the ultimate price for the freedom of every soul that ever lived and will live. He successfully accomplished the mission He was assigned. His gifts of eternal love, hope, peace and joy are available to all those who choose to unwrap and receive them.
LIFE LESSON: Freedom comes at a high cost. Our wounded heroes have sacrificed much so we can live freely. Like them, many of us may be searching for hope, encouragement, joy and peace this holiday season. These spiritual gifts can’t be bought but they can be shared if we ourselves have received them from the Mighty Leader of heaven’s army.
“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on His shoulders. And He will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah: 9:6