What My 88-Year-Old Grandma Taught Me about Teaching (and Life)

blackwhite-photography-36271551610464culnp4ww9y

Teaching is not rocket science, nor is pretty much anything else in life.  I read a book years ago where the authors explained some of the most complicated ideas, inventions, and concepts using only the the 500 most common words in the English language.  It was fascinating to see something like nuclear thermodynamics explained in such common, ordinary language.   

So there I was, sitting at a kitchen table, talking to my 88 year-old grandma about life.  I was soaking it all in as we have so few opportunities to catch up in person.  We were talking about history (of course) specifically World War II era and the Great Depression.  We were talking about how folks can have a positive mindset even through unfathomable circumstances.  Then she shared something so profound and so simple that I had to make a note of it.

“Today may be awful, but tomorrow could be wonderful.”

While I’m sure my grandma had her share of awful days, you would never know it.  She is always positive and always encouraging.  

Obviously this quote is a wonderful quote about life, but so much of teaching is simply about life.  Teaching is partly, if not mainly, about building character and grit and toughness and patience and empathy in these students that God has blessed us with in our classroom.  Clearly we have much content to convey as well, but the content of our character is just as important as learning the date of the invasion of Normandy.

You would be lying to yourself (and others) if you said your year of teaching was perfect.  Who are we fooling!  There were so many moments where I wished I could have a mulligan.  There were so many days where I was left wondering if I taught that lesson effectively.  

Teaching is all about having awful days.

But teaching is also about conveying the idea that tomorrow can be wonderful.  

We mess up.  We forgive.  We make a mistake.  We learn.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.

My Dad asked if we could pick up some lunch for my grandma.  She enthusiastically exclaimed, can we get McDonalds!  You would’ve thought she was about to mention a pancake breakfast (our favorite), at her favorite restaurant, as she spoke with such happiness.  No, it was simply, “I would love a frappe!”  Even when we have an awful day, something so simple as a frappe can bring such a smile. 

It is good for us to remember and remind our students that even on our most awful of days, we have something so wonderful waiting for us… heaven. 

When Student Enthusiasm Fades, Teacher Enthusiasm Must Soar

IMG_0399

Remember all of those first day smiles filled with the anticipation of the first day of school that you witnessed in the faces of your students?  Remember their excitement as they met new friends?  Recall the joy of seeing their new classroom, new books, and so much more?

If only that excitement of the first day of school could last the duration of the entire school year.  

However, very quick the realization of the work ahead sets in for many students.  Daily work, quizzes, tests, projects, and essays soon appear and the joy turns to thoughts of being overwhelmed.  

For students, parents, and teachers alike the excitement soon turns to the grind.

Continue reading “When Student Enthusiasm Fades, Teacher Enthusiasm Must Soar”

God Made You

IMG_3354.jpg

As teachers, every day we wear so many different hats.  Often times those hats may be tattered and heavy, and it may seem as we are making no progress in the lives of these children and their families.

The following story is a small encouragement for all of us that we are making a difference for His Kingdom each and every day.

 

A friend of ours was walking down a deserted Mexican beach at sunset. As he walked along, he began to see another man in the distance. As he grew nearer, he noticed that the local native kept leaning down, picking something up and throwing it out into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things out into the ocean. 

As our friend approached even closer, he noticed that the man was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time, he was throwing them back into the water. 

Our friend was puzzled. He approached the man and said, “Good evening, friend. I was wondering what you are doing.” 

“I’m throwing these starfish back into the ocean. You see, it’s low tide right now and all of these starfish have been washed up onto the shore. 

If I don’t throw them back into the sea, they’ll die up here from lack of oxygen.” 

“I understand,” my friend replied, “but there must be thousands of starfish on this beach. You can’t possibly get to all of them. There are simply too many. And don’t you realize this is probably happening on hundreds of beaches all up and down this coast. Can’t you see that 

you can’t possibly make a difference?” 

The local native smiled, bent down and picked up yet another starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied, “Made a difference to that one!”

10 Ways to Thank a Student

Image 12-6-15 at 8.06 AM
#3: Sticky Note Smile

10)  Tell Them

Nothing beats the ol’ fashion look ‘em in the eye and “thank you.”

9)  Stickers anyone?

Not as a reward, but as a quick and easy thank you.  Everyone loves stickers.

8)  Write Them a Personal Note

Stick it in their desk or backpack.  Better yet, if you are really proud of their work in a certain subject, tell them.  Slip it into the next lesson of their textbook so they can have the pleasant surprise all to their own.

7)  Tell the Parents

Trickle-down thankanomics?

6)  Display Their Work

Place their art work or strong assignment in a prominent place by your desk.  Perhaps, on the wall for a few weeks or in a frame right on your desk.

5)   Down Time

Encourage them when they are down.  Be specific and tell them how much you appreciate them.  This one can get emotional, especially if they are really down about something.  The more personal feedback the better.

4)  Have Lunch with Them

Make it a point to sit with them at a lunch hour, and have a conversation with them.  Try not to focus on school.  Focus on their life outside of school.

3)  Sticky Note Smile

Walk by their desk and put a sticky note on top of their desk while they are working.  It is unexpected and it is personal.  That is a rare combination in a classroom.  And seriously, does that take all of 30 seconds?

2)  Extra-Curricular Support

Show up to one of their events outside of school.  The ideas are endless.  Their basketball game, soccer match, football game, dance competition, singing recital, and gymnastics event are all examples in which you can show you really care and appreciate them.

1)  Hug it Out

If you don’t like a hug, then you need a hug.  This is especially important for male teachers who have male students who really look up to them.  They crave that affirmation.  They need to see that male example of care and kindness.  Remember, many of them may not receive any male affirmation outside of school.  The lack of a father in the life of a boy has reached an epidemic in this country.

Have another way to say thank you?  Share it in the comment section.

TED TALK: Every Child Deserves a Champion

Untitled

If you have never had the opportunity to listen to this brief TED talk from the late Rita Pierson, indulge yourself and do so!  Her passion for teaching and students is infectious.  Teaching is all about relationships!

The link to the TED talk

One Down, Who Cares How Many to Go!

student

Many teachers and students are wrapping up or have already wrapped up their first week of school. The first week of school is often filled with endless reviews of rules, procedures, and policies. Typically, students also enjoy activities, games, and some outside time as we are all getting back into the routine of school. 

Most importantly, the first week of school is filled with happiness. While I realize we are not living in a utopia, generally students are excited to be back and somewhat looking forward to the school year. I hope the same would go for the teachers as well.

This is now my 11th first week of school as a teacher. I love that first week of school. While exhausting, it just feels great to be surrounded by children once again. I look forward to my first history lecture, my first science lab, and my first religion lesson preaching Christ-crucified. It is exhilarating!

As our first week of school progressed, I made some general observations about what I saw and experienced.

Kids are happy

There is nothing better than hearing that good ol’ belly laugh and giggle from the children in your classroom. We preach that we are a family at our school, and we want to see our students happy, healthy, and motivated to learn.

Kids want to be challenged

So often, parents and teachers, assume that kids will take the easy way out. While true, at times, it always surprises me the amount of kids that love to be challenged. Many students thrive when challenged and held accountable. They want to do well, they want to please. That attitude is a great reminder to me, as a teacher, to always set my expectations high and to not settle for anything less. 

Kids thrive with structure

Without it, they are lost. There is a direct correlation between amount of structure and academic success. In an exceptional essay entitled, “Promoting Academic Success via Classroom Structure” the author points out, “The role of the educator in contributing to a safe and welcoming environment is critical. We are able, and indeed it is our responsibility, to provide a structure that clearly articulates and supports expectation for successful demonstration of appropriate behavior.” The value of structure cannot be understated, and it must be ever-present in our classrooms and schools throughout the entire school year. 

Kids want to please

It disheartens me when I hear teachers say, “these kids are terrible” or “so and so will never learn.” Kids want to make us happy. They want to be happy. The bigger question we must ask ourselves is are we equipping them with the tools and attitudes to succeed?

I pray that all of your first weeks went well. If you made any general observations during your first week, please share them with us in the comment section! We would love to hear from you.

 

Start the year positive, carry that positivity throughout the entire year.  

Overcoming the Teacher Chart of Doom

Boy Reading the holy bible

“If everything was perfect, we would already be in heaven.”

A new school year brings anticipation, excitement, and renewal. For many teachers, the first day of school is one of their favorite days of the entire year. When the first day adrenaline begins to wear, the real school year kicks in. The year often brings various highs and lows but generally it follows a fairly consistent pattern.

 phases of teaching 2

That pattern is displayed in the above graph. While a generalization, and therefore not perfect, much research has been developed by the New Teacher Center for this chart. Furthermore, while the graph is intended for the use of new teachers, it can also be used as a characterization throughout all levels of teaching experience.

Therefore, it is important for all teachers to be familiar with the pattern, to better prepare themselves for the year ahead.

One major area that jumps out at many educators who see this graph for the first time is the drastic dip that takes place in the fall and winter months. I think this could be even more indicative in our WELS setting as we prepare for the rigors of the Christmas service.

Now we don’t circulate this graph to cause depression, quite the opposite. If an educator understands that certain times of the year may be more challenging than others, they can better prepare themselves for the potential hurdles that lay ahead.

I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to assume this same pattern could apply to our students and their parents as well. Through years of experience, I have often found issues coming up in the months of January and February. Maybe some of you can attest to the same thing.

So the big question, how can we better prepare ourselves? After gathering feedback from other educators, I have a few, simple ideas to help keep you on track through the highs and lows of the school year.

Stay strong in His Word

Educator after educator stated this was the most important, I have to agree. Ultimately, He will always be there for us. He will never give us more than we can handle. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, He has called us to the unique settings and situations in which we serve. Mr. Jerome Wolff stated that during he worst times of the year he would find himself writing his own devotions. What a wonderful idea to keep our feet firmly planted in the reassuring message of the Gospel.

Stay Healthy/Make Time for Yourself

Several educators stated that staying healthy was near the top of their list. Getting a good amount of sleep, eating well, and exercise are all part of living a healthy lifestyle.

Perhaps the bigger idea is to make sure you allow time for yourself. Educators can get so bogged down in the day to day rigors of school. Mrs. Rachel Pierson commented that it is vital to carve out a hobby outside of school. This hobby can be anything. We must always remember that we also need time to ourselves. I realize this is much easier said than done. However, big picture is the healthier we are, the healthier our class will be.

My Corny Bad Day File

In my file cabinet in the office, I literally have a “Bad Day File.” This file is there for my worst of days when I knew I blew it, or things just did not go as planned. What is this file filled with? Notes from past students, cards from family and friends, a bible verse, etc. While corny, sometimes it is great just being able to pull that out and look through those reminders when everything else seems to be going the wrong direction.

Keep the Bigger Picture in Mind

Mrs. Brittany Trimmer added that it is important to keep in mind why we do what we do. At the end of the day, we have the incredible opportunity to share God’s Word with the children that He placed before us. Wow. Does it get any better than that?

Ms. Jodi Gilbert also reminded of that bigger picture with a bible passage, Isaiah 40:31. “But those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.”

Mrs. Brenda Wagenknecht did a perfect job of summing up the Teacher Chart of Doom. Brenda commented, “I think just having the chart would have been nice when I first started teaching. Knowing and going through a schedule and routine gives its own kind of comfort and security. It is like seasons . . . there are positives and negative aspects of every season and it helps to think about the approaching season and what you are looking forward to.”

I would like to thank all the folks who helped out with this article by sharing their thoughts…your support is appreciated!

                                     AVW

A Little Encouragement Goes a Long Way

A Little Encouragement Goes A Long Way

The first day of school is quickly approaching all across the United States. Perhaps a little bit of panic is setting in? Excitement? Celebration? Hopefully, not dread.

The first day of school is always one of my favorite days of the entire year. Everyone has a renewed sense of purpose and vigor. Ideas are flowing. Minds are ready. In many ways, it is like that first day of spring up north. After a long, cold, and dreary winter it is time for the rejuvenation and life that spring brings.

Encouragement is needed throughout the entire school year. Encouragement is needed on that first day, that 50th day, and on that last day.

Why encouragement?

Let me tell you a little story about the power of encouragement. I was never a star student. I worked hard, but not a lot clicked for me. I often struggled through math, writing, and literature class in high school and college. My favorite subjects have always been history and science. While at MLC, I took Professor Theodore Hartwig as much as I possibly could for my history electives. While many considered him a challenging professor who had very high expectations, I loved learning from him. I struggled in some of his classes, all of the reading and studying was, at times, very demanding.

The last class I took with Professor Hartwig was on the life of Martin Luther. At the end of the class we had to complete a 20-30 page paper/timeline on Luther’s life. Up and to that point, I had never worked on anything with that much focus in my life. Day and night, for weeks, I worked on that paper. Even though I had spent class after class with B’s and C’s, I did not want to disappoint him.

Professor Hartwig gave me an “A” on that project. However, that is not why I am telling you this story.

I was going to lunch the next day and Professor Hartwig stopped me in the hallway. He took me aside and told me that was the best work he had ever seen me complete. It meant the world to me and my future work.

It begs the question though, why did it mean so much?

   *It was sincere.
I appreciated it because I knew he meant it.

*It was specific.
He could’ve just said, “great job on that paper.” But he didn’t, he made it specific and made it     personal.

 *You had to earn it.
He was not the type of professor who just threw around praise. You had to earn his praise, which made it all the more meaningful.

     *He cared.
Professor Hartwig cared about the students he had. Believe me, I blew many of his quizzes and tests. He would lovingly call you out and get you back on track. That is what a great teacher does really well.

Professor Hartwig didn’t just teach me history. He taught me how to be a teacher. He taught me how to be a better worker. He, in a major way, gave me a life-long example of how to encourage others.

The student who receives the least amount of encouragement and praise in your classroom is probably the student who needs it the most. Who are you going to encourage your first day of school? More importantly, how are you going to encourage them?