A Heavenly Reminder…

HeavenisforReal

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 sucks 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 the movie is coming out this week!) 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 

 

 

 

 

Power, Presence and Promises

CarnivalTicket

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

The Written Word

Nursinghome

Words of encouragement and hope…that is exactly what these Christmas cards were intended to do. My fifth grade class created them for residents of a local nursing home as a class holiday project. Many of the residents are very ill and are living out their last days. Some of the residents have no family members to visit them during this time of the year and suffer from loneliness.

As soon and I introduced this annual project, several of my students enthusiastically asked if they could make two or three cards. Of course, I said “Yes.” As I walked around the classroom, I witnessed beautiful expressions of hope from each student- encouraging words, creative pictures and the excitement of knowing their creations could put a smile on someone else’s face. Children just seem to have the motivation intrinsically to want to be an encouragement when offered the chance.

After school, I delivered the cards to the nursing home. The activities director took the bag of cards and said she planned to distribute them at their Christmas dinner. She told me that every year the cards from my students are sometimes the only cards some of the residents ever receive. The mood of the room changes instantly and, for at least that evening, the residents are encouraged by the written words and the idea that someone thought of them and took the time to demonstrate it.

LIFE LESSON: Written words can be powerful and offer hope at just the right moment to a soul who needs it. The Christmas story is the ultimate display of hope. God, at just the right moment in time, sent His son Jesus, the “Word of Life” (1 John: 1), into this lost world on a mission to provide hope and encouragement for every soul and to demonstrate His eternal love for humanity. He will come again soon to fulfill God’s ultimate promise of salvation to all who believe in Him and His Written Word.

“And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.” Romans 15:4

“You’re Worth More Than Gold…”

After watching this music video by Britt Nicole entitled – “Gold”, asked my fifth grade students to respond in writing. We just had a class discussion the day before on the differences between low self-esteem and high self-esteem and about ways they could build their self-esteem.

Here is the response I received from Regine:

Gold

Regine came to our school two years ago from Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake demolished her home. She was at school at the time of the earthquake and had to be pulled out of the rubble. After being rescued and relocated to South Florida with her family she was placed in my classroom. I was teaching third grade at the time. She knew no English, but worked hard to learn it. She struggled emotionally and academically that year adjusting to her new life in South Florida. She also struggled with her self-esteem about how she looked.

This year, when I received my class list I felt blessed to have another opportunity to be her teacher – this time in fifth grade. Her writing and language skills had improved immensely. She was always so excited to show me her written work. She still struggled with her self-esteem and self-confidence, but I was seeing some improvement. Three days after she wrote this response, I found out she was relocating to another school. I quickly had the class make her a farewell card. As she was packing her book bag for the last time, I told her I would miss her and loved being her teacher twice. I told her to never forget – “Regine, you’re worth more than gold…” She smiled. I’m so grateful that her last memory in our school was one that built her self-esteem.

LESSON LEARNED: Throughout life there are many reasons why we may develop low esteem. It could be due to poor body image, intellectual ability, athletic ability, negative criticism, bullying, physical abuse or lack of achievement or personal expectations. There are also many opportunities for us to encourage others and help build their self-esteem. It could be a compliment about their appearance, a written expression of appreciation or something as simple as a song that portrays a positive message. God never makes mistakes and intricately designed us the way we are for a reason and a purpose. We have to believe His word and understand that the way the world may look at us is not the way God looks at us. 

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Psalms 139: 13 -16

 

“Brag Bags”

BragBags

The first day of school is supposed to be exciting – a new class filled with new challenges. This year, however, for the first time in ten years of teaching elementary school, I did not feel that excitement. I did, however, feel overwhelmed with the implementation of new Common Core standards and the multitude of new textbooks that accompanied them, the continual oppressive nature of standardized testing and the growing number of administrative expectations that continue to be placed on teachers. I actually had to force myself to open the new teachers’ editions to begin learning all the new lessons and to begin searching for resources to use in my classroom. In the past, this was always something I enjoyed and worked on over my summer vacation. Was I losing my passion for teaching? This was the question I posed to God in prayer. I didn’t receive an answer.

As I continued through my first week back to school I found myself getting easily frustrated with everything I had to accomplish. My negative attitude was getting the best of me and I continued questioning my passion for this profession. I went home hoping that rereading parts of my book – What They Have Taught Me… Encouragement and Hope from an Elementary School Classroom would reignite my passion for why I became a teacher. While reading the lessons on love, kindness, patience and faithfulness that my students have taught me over the years I began to realize that I had been overlooking the most important component of teaching – my students.

As the first week of school came to a close, I was still struggling with uncertainty and doubts. I sat at my desk and watched as my new class of 23 fifth graders presented their “Brag Bag” projects. Each of them were so proud to share the items in their bag that best represented themselves. There were chess trophies, dance medals, sports awards, favorite books, pictures of loved ones and pets and most of all smiles. Then one of the boys got up and the first thing he pulled out of his bag was a picture of his dad. He said, “This is my dad. He is so special to me and I miss him.  I have not seen him in over a year.” He then looked over at me and then back to the class. My heart ached for him as I could see the hurt in his eyes. (I later found out that his parents divorced last year and his dad moved out of the country and has minimal contact with him.) As he continued to share the rest of the items in his bag with the class I felt in my heart that God answered my prayer….”You are right where I need you.”

Although I know there may continue to be moments this year when I feel frustrated and have doubts, I believe this reminder confirmed that for now, this is where I need to be. I know, just like in past school years, there will be ups and downs, good days and bad, but part of being a teacher is the ability to look beyond the present to the future with hope. I have 23 reasons this year to be hopeful and to keep moving forward…

LIFE LESSON: There are moments in life when we all may doubt our passion, purpose and the bigger picture in it all. I have been reminded that our purpose and passion come from within our hearts and regardless of how we may feel, it is being worked out of us as we face each new day and year. If we trust that God has us where He needs us at this particular moment in time to accomplish His purpose, then our doubts will be transformed into encouragement and hope.

“God who began the good work in you will keep on working in you until the day Jesus Christ comes again.” Philippians 1:6