Which polygon has 10 sides and 10 angles? Who was the leader of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War? What city is the capital of Arizona? What organ system circulates blood throughout the body? These were some of the questions my 5th grade class incorporated into their board game projects which they created during our last week of school. It is a tradition each year in my classroom. The students were divided into teams of three and had to design their own board game and create questions on the subjects and topics they learned this school year. Once the board games were completed, each team rotated throughout the classroom and got to play each of the games. It was interesting to watch their reactions when they landed on encouraging spaces such as “Move Ahead” or “Switch Places With Any Player of your Choice” and when they landed on the discouraging spaces like “Go Back to Start” or “Lose a Turn”. The change in circumstances allowed some of them to move ahead joyfully while others were left stuck and frustrated. I only gave the students about twenty minutes to play each board game so in most cases they did not get to finish playing each of the games.
As the last day of school arrived, a fellow fifth grade teacher gave me a letter from one of her students who I had taught two years ago when I was a third grade teacher. She had her class write letters to their favorite teachers during the last week of school. The boy who wrote me the letter struggled during third grade due to the fact that he almost lost his mother that year. He was already a student who suffered many emotional and behavioral issues and this compounded his problems. He would often act out in anger and frustration and would deny his behavior when confronted. He would often have to be removed from the classroom and taken to the office. It took every bit of my energy to redirect him daily and to try and provide him structure. He didn’t show much effort academically even though he was very capable. He did, however, have a caring heart and so wanted attention and love. After he left third grade, I would constantly check up on him with the other teachers and assist in anyway possible. Those teachers as well poured their hearts into trying to change and encourage him. During the last few weeks of fifth grade, he was suspended for ten days for his behavior. I became very discouraged since I knew he would soon be leaving our school where he had received so much love, structure and support and be going to middle school. I wondered if he would make it. I struggled with thoughts of how I could have further helped him. I immediately surrendered those thoughts in prayer. As I read this excerpt from his letter, I believe I received confirmation in my heart that he will make it if he trusts God to deliver him and protect him like he did in 3rd grade…
“Dear Mr. Fiore:
I remember in 3rd grade when you helped me through some tough times and I’m truly thankful for that. I think God put you on this earth to help me and protect me. Mr. Fiore you are my angel…”
LIFE LESSON: Teaching is so much like a board game. There are times you feel encouraged when your students move ahead or get it right, but then there are those times when you feel so discouraged when you see them move backwards or lose a turn. You hope their circumstances will not leave them stuck, but able to move ahead without giving up. Just as my students did not get the chance to finish playing their board games in class, I as their teacher most likely will not get the chance see how far they make it here on earth. They come into our lives for a period of time, just like the young man who wrote me the heartfelt letter, and then they make their next move. I believe his letter confirmed for me that I was a “Move Ahead” space for him as I hope I am for all my students. When I struggle, as many teachers and parents do, with discouragement about how our children might finish, I find hope in these words from the Creator of “LIFE”…
“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
As a teacher, I feel this is one of the most discouraging times of the school year. All my fifth graders seem to do each day is “drill and practice” test prep worksheets and logon to test preparation websites to help prepare them for the upcoming state standardized tests in reading, science and math. It is what we are expected to do by our school district to help assure the students perform well so that our school can maintain its “A” ranking. It is also critical they perform well since their placement for middle school is based primarily on these test scores. If that were not enough pressure, then add in the fact that 50% of our teacher performance evaluation is based on the performance of our students on these standardized tests. I have no issue with being held accountable as a teacher and I understand that students need exposure to standardized tests especially as they grow older and prepare for college. My concern, however, is that it drains the life out of teaching. Even though I try to be creative by using games/activities and tracking charts to help encourage friendly competition with the test preparation amongst my students, it still leaves me feeling empty as a teacher. I know the students feel the same way.
Over the last week, I have been reading the book “Heaven is for Real” by Todd Burpo. I felt it would be a great way to help temporarily escape the discouragement I had been feeling in the classroom. The book is about a young boy, Colton, who has a near death experience during an emergency appendectomy and visits heaven. (I don’t want to give away too many details since a movie has been made about this amazing story as well!) As I read pg. 106, I was reminded once again why I became a teacher. Here was my heavenly reminder…
Colton would wake up in the morning and tell me: “Hey Dad, Jesus told me to tell you, He really loves the children.” Over dinner that night he repeated, “Remember, Jesus really loves the children.” Before bed, I helped Colton brush his teeth, “Hey Daddy don’t forget,” he’d say, garbling the words through a mouthful of toothpaste foam, “Jesus said he really, really loves the children!”
LIFE LESSON: It is so easy to get sidetracked and discouraged and to forget the real reason why children are placed into our lives. It is not just to teach them, but also to learn from them. I was reminded that Jesus places an extremely high value on the life of a child. I was reminded that heaven loves children unconditionally. This revelation reminded me just how blessed I am to be a teacher and to be surrounded by children each day, even though each day may bring with it some challenges and struggles. Our earthly world may not consider teaching or being a parent a prestigious job, but the truth encourages me…heaven considers it one of the highest honors.
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Mark 10:14
After many weeks of promoting and planning, the day of our school carnival finally arrived. It had rained for the past several days, so seeing the beautiful Florida sunshine and feeling the warm breeze was already a blessing. As I drove up to our school grounds early on Saturday morning, I was amazed at the army of volunteers that were already at work setting up booths and displays. Our wonderful PTA sponsored the carnival as a fundraiser and each grade level created a booth. Our fifth grade booth featured a Hawaiian theme with a hulu hoop contest. Local businesses and community organizations also had booths in support of our school.
After watching hundreds of students hulu hoop their way to win a lei, I took some time to walk around. I witnessed so many powerful expressions of commitment to our school community. PTA volunteers arriving at 6:30am to set up after weeks of selling tickets and promoting this event in every way possible. Teachers and staff sacrificing their day off, away from their own families, to spend time in support of their school family. Businesses and community organizations incurring promotional expenses to offer their goods and services to help our students and to assist our school with raising funds. Finally, families spending quality time together with their children, away from their busy weekday routines, cell phones and video games to make memories they will hopefully cherish for years to come.
As the hectic day drew to a close, I helped pack up our booth and then started my drive home. As I reflected on the day, it was not so much the material success of the event that touched me, but the power and presence of a community gathering together for children.
LIFE LESSON: It is so easy these days to avoid connecting with others. We can text instead of calling and hearing a human voice, we can email instead of meeting someone face-to-face, we can avoid making a commitment to a cause because we “don’t have time” or “don’t feel like it.” I was reminded that nothing can replace the power that is unleashed through human presence. When we gather together for a purpose beyond ourselves to help others, as we were designed to do, it honors God and He promises His presence. I believe His presence was evident through the beautiful weather, joy and smiles on the childrens’ faces and the feeling of purpose and sense of fulfillment many of us felt by giving of ourselves and gathering with others.
“For where two or more are gathered together in My name, there I am with them.” Matthew 18: 19-21