Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sink the Sub - I Was the Target Substitute Teacher

My last day to substitute teach in the local city schools I became the target of the upper elementary game "Sink the Sub." These students were quite astute at playing and I am certain many subs lay in their graveyard of the sea of humans they have hit. A fourth grade class should not be such a big deal for a 51 year old. (Think again!)

This should come with every Substitute Folder

Know the Dangers

I deliberately knew what I was getting into. I chose to take to the waters of this dangerous sea. Only a month prior I worked half-day for a new teacher--an energetic, hardworking, determined twenty year old that was facing the turbulent waters of challenging students who themselves had been through their own individual wars in life. The first time I saw her I gave her a big hug; I wanted to be an encourager to her; she had enough behavior issues in her class of 24 that could make tsunami waves. She had to learn how to sail in rough waters and to remain the captain of her crew. And I was proud for her sticking in and refusing to be tossed overboard.

So when I received a text from her to take on a full-day, I agree knowing what I was getting into. Being a certified teacher myself, I had the skills to tackle any lesson plans I would be given and after teaching my own children K-12 grade though homeschool I had a wide range of subject matter knowledge. Also, I am compassionate. I love people, including children. I want them to be the best they can be, to succeed in life and to learn all they can to be the unique person they were created to be. And oddly, I really do LOVE to teach.

I deliberately came prepared with an art project and purchased the supplies of black paper, paint trays and q-tips to use with acrylic paint that I owned. I wanted to let the class know that we had a fun activity reward if we could successful get through the days work.

Have a Zillion Back Up Plans

All was basically smooth waters until intervention rotation began. Some of my students left and in walked a handful of new students who were sorted by reading level. The students entering my class gave me no problems. However, for a one hour period, I was to lead these students through a two page reading assignment on a copied handout that had four questions at the end. We finished in thirty minutes. It is great to get work accomplished, but it can bring the sharks circling if the sub's lesson plans do not include extra work. I had none.

The complication of having students that are at a specific reading level is that as a substitute teacher I have no idea what the students can and can't do. I don't know how to gear a thirty minute "out of the hat" reading plan for them or coming up with a reading lesson without a reading book. Sure, now that I am out of the shark tank, I can know think of hundreds of ways we could have tackled that two page handout creatively, but that is where I began to gasp for air. I was stumped, and the students smelt the tinge of red blood rise to the surface. That is all it took for their hunger to play "Sink the Sub" to unleash.

I stalled them through the thirty minutes and successfully made it through math intervention with a mixed group of students from all of the fourth grade classes. We tackled long division and I had enough work to keep them plugging along. But by the time my original class returned, I was still shaken and word must have gone out because the jabs and volleys of toying with the teacher were in full force. By the time I had the class lined up for lunch I was hold back tears and filled with doubts of my capability to ever had thought I could take on this challenge. I had lost emotional control of the class.

Bullying Need to Include How Students Treat Teachers

Recognize The Kind of Leadership

Returning to my class, I passed the principals office and through tears asked if I could speak to her. Unfortunately, she was a stern, slab of rock. Emotionless and undaunted by my tears, she said she would come to my class after lunch. Without one word of kindness, compassion or encouragement, she "off with my head" told me that if I couldn't handle the class she would sit in it the rest of the afternoon. Rattled I walked down the hall to my classroom, opened the door and intentionally made sure it locked behind me. Fragile, I pulled my lunch from the frig and headed to the teacher's desk to cry between bites of food. The twenty minutes felt more like two. I pulled myself up as composed as I could muster and headed to the cafeteria to pick up my class.

Thankfully, as I led them out I ran into the dynamic, assistant principal. He knows each and every student personally because he is driven by a desire to see each child succeed. I shared with him that I was having a rough day and he walked with me back to the class. Like a pro, he came to my rescue in a way that elevated my stature in front of the class. He honored me before the students. Next, he spoke to the children and asked them to self-access if they had acted appropriately today. He told the students who felt they had to stand by their desk. Amazingly, about half of the class stood, and the others properly knew they had not and honestly judged themselves. As he was carefully instructing them on behavior, the stonewall principal arrived.

She lectured the class, and indirectly me, on the reputation of the school and how she did not want me --whom she called a visitor that traveled around through out the city schools--to go talking about what a bad class and school they had. After her "cover my ass" performance, she exited and was never seen again.

I thanked the assistant principal and proceeded to make it through the rest of the day. We had a lot of ground to cover prepping for two test the following day. So together as a class we plowed through a History and Science review sheet. Fortunately, earlier that day I realized the teacher did not leave me the answer key so I asked the lead fourth grade teacher for it. I would have certainly drowned trying to find the answers in the chapters of the books. Yet by the end of the day I was still shaken to the core. I didn't sink, I floated on a rescue raft thrown out by the assistant principal but I was walking unsteady. I tried to tidy up the room and leave an honest note to the regular teacher about the day.

We Teach and Sub Because We Love Students - Believe it or Not.

Ready Yourself to Return to the Seas

Even though my confidence is shaken in my ability to handle any class situation, I have not fully raised up the white flag.

What I learned from the experience is that long ago, about twenty years ago, I realize now that I had a "stonewall" principal. Being a newbie teacher I didn't know a gentle, compassionate supporter from a rigid, slick head, but now I do. I can see clearly why my first year teaching was so difficult. I didn't have the helping arm of an administrator that knew her students/teacher or even cared to know their situations. I had a master of a cargo ship that was aiming on taking to the high seas to rise up in the ranks as far as she could go.

You see there are two kinds of leaders. One keeps at a safe distance and barks out expectations on how to sail. The other gets into the turbulent, rocking boat and helps guide you through the icebergs or sandbars with you, for a while, until you are back in stable waters. Anybody can be the first kind of leader, but it take a unique, special soul to be the second. Thank God I was blessed with one of each to learn what God wanted to show me.

It is about time for me to check the substitute calendar for new assignments for 2015. I am grateful that I write, because I am able to use it to talk myself through difficult situations, and maybe in turn it will help one or two other daring souls who substitute teach.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Is Jesus Enough? At Christmas and throughout the Year

Good tidings to you and all of your kin! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Joy to the World and Goodwill to all men! Peace on Earth! These are cheery exclamations we read and hear at this time of the year. And when I begin to write from my heart I feel like I am more like the Prophet Jeremiah writing a Book of Lamentations. No wonder I don't have the most popular blog and a thriving following of people longing to return to what deep, dark insight I will be sharing today. Alas, I am who I am and I must be true to that, so here I share for all who can bear to endure and maybe glean some insight to their own heart and thoughts of others.

Prayer Time

In my meager attempt to return to practicing being in the presence of God, I lightly pressed my hands upon my face as I laid in bed and turned my thoughts to Him. On Christmas Eve, at 9 a.m. my house was already active with noise. So I really had to work on concentrating, focusing myself on being with God. Hearing my teen son running up and down the steps, my husband putting dishes up in the kitchen, and of course, the TV was already on in the Living Room, I pressed in and through the distractions. I know if I get up, I will never come back to prayer with Him. I will see everything that is calling my name to be done and with the noisiness of an active household, I sadly won't hear His voice.

So as my thought meandered in His presence, particularly on Christmas Eve, I reflected about family ties. Before I went to bed last light I noticed some wedding pictures of families that I know through church. Like all the wedding pictures I see, so many people surround the couple rejoicing. The reception is very festive and in a barn (as is so common in 2014). There is great laughter with dancing, and I can tell that a very fun time was had by everyone. When I clicked through theses photos, I saw a family picture that included extended family, like the size you would see at a family reunion. In a beautiful outdoor landscape, about 75 people young and old stood with the couple in their wedding attire. It was a lovely photo and one not often taken at weddings that probably should be taken regularly.

Extended Families

Looking at the large family I had the same feeling I get so many other times when I see large, family-gathering photos; I feel a sorrow knowing my children will not have a wedding like that or a family photo like that. All throughout their life, it has only been my husband and myself that are their family. We alone attend their celebrations and milestones of life. I thought about how the bride and groom have sides for sitting and know our side would be very thin. At times of weddings and holidays, our thoughts, of course, turn to extended family. I think about what could be and what is. We can live all year as a little foursome but when extended family parties begin on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we are still a foursome. (We use to be five but my oldest son has chosen to not be part of his family).

In writing that last note in the parenthesis, I wonder if you my reader thinks what on earth is wrong with us that we are only four and have even "lost" our oldest son. For this article post, it is too complicated to explain the details.

I just saw someone's holiday photo entitled "Full driveway = Full hearts" and it tugged at my heart. It is what happens when we drive around and see a house that has cars all lined up in the driveway and down the street. We know someone is having a holiday gathering of family. Truly, I am happy for them but at the same time I feel a loss in my heart. I am wrong to be honest? I rejoice with my friends who have family coming home, but at the same time I hurt and know others who heart because someone special will be missing. That feeling of someone or something missing has been a permanent part of my children's life, they know friends have been gatherings of family and they do not. We have always tried to make the best of simply being together and sharing the time we have with each other in our own unelaborated way.

But in prayer today I heard God say, "Is Jesus Enough?"

The truth is we have no presents under our tree and the stockings at this moment are empty. We went on a Christmas trip and spent our money for gifts on spending time with each other. So the question is very poignant this year, "Is Jesus Enough?"

If in our family photo we have Jesus, is that enough to make up for all the extended family that are not standing side by side smiling and supporting the young couple. "Is Jesus Enough?"

At our Christmas gathering in our home, when it is just the four of us, "Is Jesus Enough?"

For me and my sweet four, He is more than enough! Jesus being the essence of our life is what we aim for in all we do, in our choices of how we shall live.

A simplified life is what I have always admired and this Christmas we could not be more simplified. We will miss my oldest son, and it will feel odd not opening presents, but the truth is "Jesus" is all we need and want. I am grateful to say, that we get to experience a Christmas this year that is totally focused on Jesus. We didn't plan it that way but maybe God planned it for us. I won't know what it will end up being like until it is over, but I trust it will be full and satisfying.

May you have a blessed holiday together with your family and may Jesus be in the center of your Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Heartache at Christmas

Christmas is a wonderful time! So many people enjoy it as their favorite holiday of the year. Some decorate each room of their home so beautiful. Americans even have nationwide contest for who has the best lighted property. People go through so much planning to make everything special.

And still, many others hurt deeply during Christmas.

The holiday highlights brokenness in family relationships; it brings the grief of those lost to death; it presents several occasions where individuals who do not spend much time together must share gifts, food and time. Holiday parties can be awkward and feel forced.

"Hallmark vs. Reality" 

Most people have a desire to have a "Hallmark" Christmas where even if things are not perfect, in the end everything works out for the best and love prevails in the most magical way possible. Of course, some families really do experience wonderful Christmases. They actually know and love each other deeply. They have meaningful holiday gatherings and enjoy deepening relationships together. These families are truly, blessed richly.

For the majority, reality clashes with expectations. Gifts are rarely our heart desires. Frankly, we often open up something that we never would pick out in a million years for ourselves and are saddened that dreams did not come true. We thank the giver and think about how to make it through the small talk to get through another family gathering without anyone getting upset. Some people don't even have gifts to open. They smile and act like it doesn't matter but it doesn't seem right and hurts. Even families that have tons of presents under the tree, more than anyone could imagine, still struggle with relationships that are strained. It seems no matter how hard someone can plan, people cannot be satisfied and feelings get hurt often by little comments, jabs or avoidances.

Truly we are a mess! Aren't we?

I shared the deep, secret reality of my Christmas feelings this year in this post, No Home For Christmas. It doesn't tell everything I am experiencing but it shares a lot; I sometimes wonder if I shared more than I should have. My filter for what to expose is not very strong. It is something I am still learning. It is my heartache this Christmas that my oldest son is choosing to not spend it with us because we disagree on life issues. As a mother, I feel a whole in my heart, but I know Jesus can fill all holes and heal all heartaches. This doesn't mean the relationship will be solved but it means that He will walk with me through it. I will not be alone in my pain.

As a Christian, I understand that Christmas is not about the tree, lights, wreaths, presents or cards. Oddly enough, it is not even about spending time with family and friends.

Christmas is a Holy Day that comes once every year to remember that Jesus entered this world as a baby to become our Savior so that we could be permanently reconciled to God. 

Christmas is a time to reflect on our relationship with Christ, a time to thank Him for lowering Himself from being all God to become all man, knowing that he would grow up to die for the penalty of our sins on the cross, so that we might no longer be separated from God.

Christmas actually takes place during or around the Jewish season of Hanukkah that celebrates the oil that miraculously did not go out giving the Jews the light they needed during the time of Maccabees. During the season of Hanukkah, Mary became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, while she was a virgin. (If you want to consider more about Mary carrying Jesus, you might want to read Baby in the Womb.) She became the host of Emanuel - God physically with us. During this festival of lights, the Light of the World entered the physical realm as a baby who would be called Jesus; He is the only begotten son of God.

We actually are celebrating the provision of God Himself--how He gave Himself to save us from our sins. 

We are celebrating the ministry of reconciliation: Jesus entered the world to save us from our sins, to give us eternal life, to provide a way for our own bodies to become a dwelling temple for God, the Holy Spirit. Like Mary, God lives within each of us who receive Jesus as the Lord of our life and Savior from our sins. We are separated from the world and unto God, apart from the world but together with God.

Christmas should be a time of reconciliation, a time to rejoice that because of Him we can forgive others who have caused us heartache, just as God has forgiven us of every sin we ever committed or will yet commit.

Christmas is a time to examine ourselves and to let His Holy Spirit to examine our spirt to see if their is anything within us that he wants us to change or address. You might enjoy reading "Preparing Your Heart for Christmas."

Christmas is a day to soak up the presence of God, to become filled up and overflowing with the love of God, to be thankful for all He has done and continues to do and to rest in Hope of knowing that HE  reigns and is in control, even though the world is spinning into evil and despair. He is the contrast to everything counterfeit being offered by marketers during this holiday that is suppose to bring joy, peace and goodwill to all men.

Jesus! He can't be put in a box. He isn't found in a stocking or under a beautifully decorated tree. He gives Himself as the eternal gift that never fails, empties, breaks, goes out of style or becomes unnecessary. He is a gift that is received once but that continues to supply all of our needs, that heals our hurts, that binds our brokenness, and that brings us into a state of becoming everything we were originally created to become. He is the gift that is perfect for everyone. He is not a quick fix, but a lifelong companion, a friend that never falters, and a person that is always with us.

So whatever heartache you might be bearing this Christmas, I invite you to receive Jesus, to know Him as Lord of your life and Savior of your sins. He is Christ! God's balm given to everyone in the world who will receive Him.

You might not get a "Hallmark" type of Christmas, but you have the potential for something better! So if you find yourself hurting this Christmas, turn to Christ and let Him be everything you need, let Him become the desire of your heart. See that you can really find peace and joy and love!

This is my prayer for myself, my family and for you.