Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Teaching IS a work of heart!

        "Teaching is a work of heart".That's a slogan I had on a coffee mug that I used for many years as a classroom teacher. While teachers have come under fire for the current state of our school system, those of us in the classroom know the truth!
         Teachers teach through the swinging pendulums of what "the authorities" think is the right way to teach: centers, whole group instruction, phonics, no phonics, literacy circles, reading groups, whole language, new math, old math, spelling (no, I mean vocabulary development), homework, no homework...I learned to go with the educational flow. Today's teachers do the same.
       I  taught through the additions in curriculum: "Hands are not for hitting", "Everyone is special", toothbrushing, sanitizing, computer instruction, "Special friends", nutrition education, what to do about inappropriate touching...and then I adjusted to what was subtracted:  art, music, creative writing,...I had to find ways to supplement what "had to be cut". Teachers still do.
       I started teaching when children came to school rested, clean, and fed. Schools now have to serve breakfast, lunch, snacks, & hand out doggie bags of food for children who need it to survive their weekends. They are also mandated to serve through the summer months when schools are supposed to be closed for cleaning (ha) and repairs. Teachers can no longer count on teaching children who are rested either. Many children are allowed to stay up  late, with little or no supervision, and spend way too many hours on computers or watching inappropriate television. They come to school tired, irritable, and often late - if they get there at all.
       When I started teaching, supplies were provided. They weren't fancy but they were efficient. Today, teachers have to send home long supply lists and districts provide less and less support. (By the time I retired, I routinely spent at least $5,000.00 a year on basic classroom supplies like crayons and paper.) Every teacher I know buys curriculum support materials out of his or her own money as well as supplementing the Kleenex, snacks, & other necessities the children have to have.
       Then there are the 3 ps: politics, paperwork, & parents. Political correctness has taken the place of common sense. The idea behind "No child left behind" sounded good, but execution was impossible for the majority of districts - and the teachers became the victims. Classroom paperwork takes up hours of time that teachers could be preparing. Testing takes up weeks of instruction time - at least 3 weeks 3 times a year. Parents can be unreasonable, and usually the children with the most severe behavior problems have parents with the loudest opinions & most demands -  so we coddle them and put the children in program after program, hoping to counteract their lack of discipline and shaky home lives by additional attention. Then there are the children with the variety of learning disabilities, some which have been caused by alcohol & drug addictions of the parents, who want the school system to "fix" what they created! This is on top of the second language students who have their own distinct Federally-mandated plans. Regular classroom teachers teach these "special needs" kids for most of the day, taking away large chunks of time and attention from the rest of the students. Additionally, try planning a day of instruction when there is a steady stream of kids getting pulled out of class for remediation of one sort or another.  And don't get me started on the lack of respect... the rude behavior of some of the hottest stars on "favorite" shows is not the example that we should be condoning for our kids, and yet we laugh and expect that somehow what they're watching is not going to translate into their behavior!
       So there you are. Teachers have become the scapegoats for our "failing" educational system while factors way beyond their control have set parameters that are almost impossible to teach within. In spite of all those things, however, Every teacher I know works extremely hard for very long hours, with very little support, & with all of the above obstacles.( If you think I'm over-dramatizing, visit your local school for a day!) Instead of criticizing teachers, try giving them the encouragement & support they earn year after year. Volunteer, ask what you can do, provide supplies, send a Thank you note "just because", do what you can to help. After all, you couldn't be reading this unless some dedicated teacher had done her/ his job. The bottom line is this:  If teaching wasn't a "work of heart" there wouldn't be any teachers!!  Think about that as your kids & grandkids start another school year. And remember to pray daily for your kids' teachers - after all, they will be with your kids almost more than you will for the next 9 months!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"The Running Plan"

My exercise mantra has always been "When you feel like exercising, lie down until the feeling goes away". In spite of that, an article called "The Running Plan" caught my eye this week.  It was written to give beginning runners some strategies and to remind seasoned runners of some of the basics. As I was reading, I couldn't help but make analogies to the Christian life, which the Apostle Paul compared to running a race. Here are a few of the author's points:
1. The hardest part about running is the decision to start. Ignore those who tried but gave up, decide to make the commitment, and watch the exciting changes that begin to occur in your life.
2.  Keep your goals realistic. You're not going to magically go from couch potato to marathon runner. Huge expectations often lead to frustration, feelings of failure, and eventual quitting.  Negative thoughts destroy motivation.
3.  Pay attention to your form. The right posture has a lot to do with the body's ability to move efficiently and comfortably! Slouching often occurs as you get tired. And keep your eyes focusing on the road ahead. Looking back or away can easily & quickly lead to disaster!
4.  Gradually increase your duration. Check your breathing to determine your speed and distance. Injuries occur when you push too hard.
5.  Listen to your body. It will let you know when you're doing too much too soon. Fatigue undermines your best efforts.
6.  Be kind to yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. They may always be able to do more...
7.  Find a running buddy - it's safer and provides motivation but be sure to work at your own pace regardless of anyone else's prodding.
8.  Experienced runners may have valuable tips but always apply them to where you are at your personal level of activity.
9.  Focus on your smallest successes. Even if all you ever do is walk, you're better off then when you were sitting. You're doing good things for your body and your health.  Keep it up!! Even reward your mini-milestones - just remember #2 & keep the goals realistic!
10. Get out there. The old Indian proverb says the hardest & longest journey begins with a single step.  My father-in-law's sales adage correlates, "The hardest door to exit is your own."

Do you see the amazing Christian life applications? You decide to follow Christ, making the commitment to live for Him, regardless of others' opinions. Instantly there are changes that begin to occur. New goals & activities begin to emerge and you incorporate them into your life. Bible reading and prayer time become important, but don't expect to read and understand the whole Bible in a week, or instantly become a mighty prayer warrior. Work slowly, as the Spirit leads, to replace old patterns and habits with new ones, and keep your focus on Christ. Ignore distractions or the temptation to "look back" at past mistakes. At times you may be frustrated with your slow progress but keep on! The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. Don't worry about small trip-ups. That's what 1 John 1:9 (God's forgiveness) is for. Watch your witness because others are, but don't compare your spiritual progress or ministry with anyone else. God doesn't! He designed a wonderful life specifically for YOU.  Find partners who will encourage and support you, keeping you accountable. Listen to those with more experience, taking suggestions as they apply to you, sifting everything through the Word for credibility! When you begin to feel discouraged, recall how far you've come and the wonderful changes you've made. But most importantly of all, Just Do It. The hardest part is surrendering to God & making the commitment. Once you're determined to live for Christ, He will help you with all the rest!!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


On a beautiful summer morning like this, it is hard to remember the raging winter storms of years past. The lightning, thunder, drenching rain, gale-force winds, and biting cold seem distant and almost unimaginable. The treacherous driving conditions of blinding snow and black ice are lost in the glaring sunshine of the warm and glorious day! It's a season of peace...
Thank God for these times of refreshing and rest, for calmness and contentment. These are long, lazy days filled with good books, gentle breezes, sunbathing & cool drinks. They are filled with vacations, shopping, lunches with friends, and long walks. They are my season to regroup, rejuvenate, & revive my spirit and I take full advantage of them. I know that winter is coming.
Before many months have passed, rain will start. The amazing colors of Fall will turn to the barrenness of winter. Trees that are filled with fruit and lush green leaves will take on a skeletal form. The temperature will drop and heavy coats & boots will replace shorts & sandals.  The long days will shorten and the nights will grow long. Even during the day, the clouds will obscure the sun and the grayness will dominate. It's not something I want to think about right now, and yet I know it's coming.
Our walk with the Lord is so much like these seasons. There are times when all is right with our world. The cares and worries decrease as we experience seasons of peace and contentment. There are no serious storms to derail our faith or envelope us in fear. We coast along in His love, basking in the warmth of fellowship, refreshment, and relative ease. Then the storms come. A parent gets sick, finances fail, relationships end, illness attacks, a loved one passes away...there are so many things that can cause darkness to fall on us. We cower in uncertainty & cry out for relief. Where is God? Why am I having to deal with this? What do I do?  As the song says, "We are all just one phone call from our knees." And, ironically, that's where God wants us. Circumstances cause us to withdraw from Him or run to Him. We choose how to respond, basing that choice on one of several things:  our past experiences, our feelings, or God's promises. 
If we base our decisions on our own feelings or experiences, our trust is in ourselves. We become our own god and the outcome of that choice is disaster.  Our past is interpreted by a variety of factors and can't be trusted. Our feelings are unreliable and ever-changing. Neither of these will guarantee our success or safety. Only God's promises, found in His Word, are able to be trusted to shelter, guide, encourage, protect, and make all grace abound to us.(2 Co. 9:8) Our hope is in believing that His plan will be accomplished for our Good! (Jer. 29:11/ Ro. 8:28)
In my reading in Psalms this morning, there were two exhortations to take shelter under His wings. Like the story of the mother bird that stayed put through the fire, losing her own life in order to protect her nest, Jesus "stayed put" on the cross, although He could have chosen not to, in order to provide life for us - and not just existence, but abundant life (Jo 10:10). 
We all have our storms. The Bible doesn't say "If you walk through the water...if you walk through the fire."  It says "WHEN". The choice we make is who we will trust when the storms come! So, take a moment today to check your spirit.  Thank God if you're in a season of rest and refreshing, and take shelter under His wings if you're in a storm...He is always there with you, no matter what season you are in!!