Monday, March 30, 2015

Doing Zumba Helped Me Understand My Students

Let's talk about how I felt doing Zumba--awkward, gangly, uncool, the exact opposite of sexy.  It was so hard for me!

 I'm a fairly coordinated person.  As a child, I did a type of dance called "clogging,"  so I have some sort of dance-ish background.  I'm athletic.  I'm a fast learner.  I can't understand why I find Zumba so challenging.

This feeling of intense struggle while trying while trying to accomplish a skill isn't one that I'm very familiar with.  Academics have always come fairly easily to me--I credit my mom who read to me in the womb.  I tend to pick up sports without too much difficulty.  I even have some musical ability (I mastered both the bucket drum and the oboe in school).  But ask me to copy a Zumba instructor as she fluidly moves parts of her body I didn't know were mobile, simultaneously does some fancy footwork, swings her arms with the suave of an ocean wave and you may as well have asked me to turn mud into oatmeal.

 Even though taking a Zumba class brought up all kinds of insecurities, I'm glad I did it.  Why?  One simple reason:  it helped me to relate to my students.  In the district where I currently work there are a lot of struggling students.  There is a high population of English Language Learners and Special Education students.  Many children in my classroom come from language-deficient backgrounds.  Learning to read and write is difficult for them.

During Zumba, I felt frustrated.  I was trying so hard and I still wasn't getting it.  It seemed unnatural, foreign to me.  I wanted to stop.  Zumba doesn't really interest me, and I'm not good at it.  What if I was somehow required to take Zumba?  I would probably start to resent going.  Now, I can't imagine if someone was constantly nagging me to keep going, to practice at home.  Or accused me of being lazy because I didn't want to keep trying to get better at Zumba.

That's when I made the connection from how I felt doing Zumba, to how my students feel doing English Language Arts.  After one of my big, don't-you-want-to -give-everything-your-best-effort-pep-talks, a student said something heartbreaking, "Why try when you never succeed."  I am sure that he meant it.  He is a Special Education student.  He rarely turns any work in.  I knew there had to be a deeper reason for that kind of behavior, but I just couldn't relate to that!  I want to do my best in everything that I do.  But admittedly, most things come pretty easily to me.  Doing something that felt so unnatural gave me empathy for my struggling learners.  If I continuously tried at Zumba and never felt like I was making any progress, I wouldn't want to keep giving it my best effort either.

It gives me a new perspective.  What would I need in order to keep practicing Zumba and grow in it? I would need lots of you-can-do-its and I-believe-in-yous.  I would need to know that it was okay to fail, and that I didn't need to do it perfectly.  I would need to not feel compared to the others around me to whom Zumba seems to be second-nature.  I would need reminders of the benefits of doing Zumba.  I would need an overall atmosphere of a striving not for excellence, but for progress, for having fun, for doing the best that we can and that being good enough.

I suppose that these are the same things that my struggling readers need.  They definitely don't need to be met with anger or frustration at their mistakes.  They don't need an attitude of "you're just not trying hard enough."   My students need grace.  They need constant reminders that it's okay to be where they are.  That they are doing well.  That they are improving.  That I am proud of them.  That all their hard work will be worth it in the end.

As much as I hated Zumba, it gave me a gift:  the gift of knowing what it feels like to really struggle with something.  And I am a better teacher for it.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Reading Nook Round Two


We are renters.  We move around a bit.  We haven't put down roots just yet.    One of the things that's fun about this is that every time we get a new place I get a fresh start on home decorating.  The best thing about decorating our place this time around is we actually have money!  Hooray for jobs!

Up until now I've just been making do with what we had.  A couch that had been handed down three times before it came to us.  Used dishes and silverware.  The nice things that our generous wedding guests gave us.  Now that both Philip and I have professional jobs we've been slowing replacing some of these things.  It's so fun to upgrade!  I like pretty things!

Back two apartments ago I decided I wanted a reading nook.  But we couldn't afford to buy...anything.  So I used what I could find that we had on-hand including a butterfly chair from my high school bedroom, a canopy that we couldn't get to stay above our bed, and some Christmas lights.  I had some good times in that chair.  It was fun to pull the canopy around my face and read or spend time with God.  Our friends lovingly named it "The Jesus Chair."

This year we moved into a Triplex (like a duplex, but with three).  Something about it feels so much homier than an apartment, but it's still in apartment-price-range--score!  Plus, we have tons of extra space including a spare bedroom.  We decided to use this space as a guest room, and a place where we could refuge for a little alone time.  The corner by the window was the perfect place for a reading nook.

Here is my second chance at creating a reading nook.







I love this chair from Pier One Imports.  It was a bit of a splurge, but IT'S SO FLUFFY!  I made the pennant banners.  The lamp and side table are from Ross.  The suitcase, whiteboard, and letter 'A' (this blog post brought to you by the letter 'A') came from something called "The Piper Barn Show," a local event where you can get antiques and handmade goodies.  We use the whiteboard to write down things we are currently praying for.  I could see also using it as a welcome sign when we have guests stay in this room.

I love using this space to get away with Jesus, or just curl up with a good book.  I'm still working on the rest of the room, but having this vignette finished makes me feel so much better.




Saturday, January 10, 2015

Presence and Community

I don't think I believe in New Year's Resolutions.   Sure, commitment can help change along.  Recognizing change that needs to happen and resolving to pursue that change is a solid concept.  Setting goals and taking steps to move towards them is sound practice.  I'm about these things in theory:  it's the application of them that I have my woes with.  As good as resolutions sound, I just don't think that we human-beings are very good at "willing" ourselves to become better.

Maybe it's just me, but saying that I am going to be less negative with my husband, be more secure, be less of a hermit, keep my house cleaner, doesn't mean I am going to actually accomplish any of those things.  I, personally, don't grow by saying, "I am going to grow!"  Still, I don't want to do nothing.  I see habits, patterns, attitudes in my heart that could use changing.  There's some ugly up in me.  And I don't like it.

I've been looking back on my life, on times that I have grown.  I can see times when weakness became strength.  Befores and afters that prove my confidence blossomed over a season.  Times I was able to let go, move on, and forgive.  I know that growth is possible.  When I asked myself, what has really helped bring about change in my life I kept coming back to two things.  These things have been present in every fruitful season of my life.

 In order to grow in many areas, I am going to pursue presence and community.  That's to say, I want to be in God's presence, and I want to live in closeness with other believers.  Being intimate with my Creator does something to my heart.  It affirms me to my core.  It moves me to action.  It rearranges my priorities.  Having friends who know God and know me seems to affect me as well.  I can't explain it.  Real, genuine friendships help me to feel loved, to experience God, and to see myself and my life through a fresh set of eyes.  There's something about being in community that makes my soul sigh in relief.  It's as if I know, somewhere deep in my being that I was made for this.

 So, in 2015 I am pursuing two things:  presence and community.   Is this is starting to sound an awful lot like a resolution? I want to focus on being in God's presence and living in community that those things might produce growth in all other areas.  Label it what you will.

Did you make any New Year's Resolutions?  What helps you to grow?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Being Your Teacher Makes My Heart Bigger

Dear Students,

Thank you for being off-task.  Thank you for blurting out inappropriate comments.  Thank you for cheating on your assignments.  Thank you for complaining about having to play a game.  Thank you for breaking the rules even though you definitely know them by now.  Thank you for pretending you don't like me.  Thank you for throwing the school supplies that I spent my own personal money on.  Thank you for fighting with me about doing your work. Thank you for wandering around the classroom.  Thank you for leaving papers on floor.  Thank you for damaging the books.  Thank you for all of the very childish things that you do, because the truth is that you are increasing my capacity to love.  I made a commitment to love and serve you guys.  Some days, you don't make that easy.  Some Many days my reaction is anger and attempts to control.  You see, my heart is broken.  It doesn't work the way it was supposed to work.  I have to re-learn how to extend grace.  How to control my emotions.  How to love unconditionally.  You might not realize it, but you are helping me to do that.  Thank you for all the opportunities you give me to not love you.  It is choosing to love you in those moments that is changing my heart.  Your manifestation of the broken human condition reminds me that the ugly show you sometimes put on display lives in me, too.  The song and dance of sin and immaturity that you do on the daily  reminds me that we are one in the same. We are both messed up inside.  The good news? God loves us.  He loves every bit of us.  He loves us at our worst and our best.  There is nothing we can do to make him love us more.  There is nothing we can do to make him love us less.  God is teaching me how to love you that way, too.  Being your teacher makes my heart bigger.  For that, I am grateful.

Love,

Your (growing) Teacher

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Moments


"Here Miss.  I couldn't find an apple."

There are lots of tough moments in teaching.  Moments where kids disrespect you.  Moments where you feel like you've messed up big time.  Moments when no matter how hard you've tried a student just doesn't get the concept you were teaching.  But then there are the sweet moments.  Moments when a student expresses to you that your activity really helped them to learn something.  Moments when you hear brilliant, thoughtful answers in a discussion.  Moments where you get to just enjoy their unique, still-forming personalities.  One such moment happened on my birthday (about a month ago).  A student--not an easy student--came up to me with a bruised, misshapen orange.  "Here Miss," (what they tend to call me), "I couldn't find an apple."   From anyone else this gift might have left me puzzled at best, but from this student this was huge.  He is a special education student.  He struggles in school.  He is very disorganized, and constantly forgets things.  From this student the gift of an orange in lieu of an apple on my birthday was an extremely thoughtful gesture.  I knew that moments later I'd be trying to coerce him into doing his assignment, and filling out his planner, and trying to help him to remember that there are other responses to bullying besides revenge.  But that one sweet moment let me know that I had built a connection with him.  I can only hope that I am making these little connections with my students.  That they feel my love and care.  That in my classroom they will have bonded with one stable adult.  I have to hold onto these moments through the painful ones and hold onto the belief that somehow amidst the chaotic mess of teaching and learning that I am making a difference.
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