Notes from a Year of Learning

So, at the end of last year, I was set up to be a church youth director.  Life happens.  That didn’t work out.  What did work out was me signing on to teach eighth grade an hour-long commute from home.

In many ways this has been the longest year of my life, both in miles and moments.

While it has been long, it has also been good.  Deeply good.  No, I am not teaching there next year.  Much to my life-long farmer father’s chagrin, I will have yet another new job.  Yet he always supports me no matter what.

I have taken a little rest from posting here, giving myself time to heal up a bit.  As things wind up–before the new begins–we are gifted with a shining time to give and receive gratitude.  So after this year of learning, here goes:

Thank you to my green geometric curtains, for being the first thing I put up in my classroom.  Even when everything looked hard, you were a welcome change from the white cinderblock walls.  As I took you down on the last day, we were both a little worn, but both still here.

Thank you to Audible and my Podcast App, for being my carpool lifesaver.  Many audiobooks and myriad podcasts later, it’s been a year of good reading.

Thank you unique eighth grade interests for teaching me about guitars, dabbing, Jon Cena and so many video memes (Doge, Smells like meat, and others).  I didn’t know these things were so critical to my knowledge base.  I get more cultural allusions than I ever would have hoped for without you.

Thank you seventh period study hall for talking with me about politics, helping me to see things in new ways and helping me learn to listen.

Thank you eighth grade students for being my educational professors.  With all the learning I’ve done about education, there is still so much I don’t know after this year.  No matter how hard we try, we can not “research based best practice” this animal into submission.  Submission, after all, isn’t the goal.  Learning is.  And learning is alive.  There is an artfulness to teaching.  Alongside my questions, some things I do know.  I know we need to 1) take care of one another and 2) keep asking what is best for the kids.  By kids, I don’t mean achievement scores; I mean the multi-faceted human beings who are the key part of this.  Their unique interests and passions are not the problem that deters my lesson, but the secret sauce that brings the classroom to life.  And yes, the test scores have their place, but I want the central piece to be our shared curiosity.  Humans want to learn if we keep asking, keep digging up patience, and keep searching for connection.  When I wondered, I tried to ask, and with a few filtered exceptions, the student answers were honest and heartfelt, showing passion for their life and learning.  Thank you for daring school and me to be real.

Thank you eighth grade journal writers, for your words.  I wish that I could help all those hurts that don’t go away at the end of the year. Thank you for your doodles and real questions, and connections to books written so long ago, and for your ability to write contrast instead of black and white simplicity that it seems the world wants us to see.  Thank you for making grading fun and alive, even when a large stack of composition notebooks seemed to glare at me.  Half way through the pile your words always reminded why I teach.

Thank you to my amazing bearded hubby for helping out SO much this year as I often came home a zombie, like a used-up rubber band stretched one too many times.  With a one and three-year-old in the evenings, the long days were even longer.  You were and are a gem.

Thank you to my #1 babysitter (Grandma) for taking such good care of my kiddos each day.  If every mom had the peace of mind I feel while dropping their kids off, we’d have a lot fewer stressed-out mommas.

Thank you Ashland for giving me grace as I worked there only a year.  I could have been met with snarkiness easily, but each and every one of you were pure grace in wishing me well.

Thank you God for sending me down this road of calling.  I thought I knew how this would all play out as I looked up at the blue sky after signing up to be a youth director.  You, like always, had something more creative in mind in this curriculum of awe and wonder that you have me traversing.  I have learned a lot about how calling works, and it’s not an upward ascent.  My favorite things each day are almost always an unplanned surprise; this year was no different.  I could not have predicted or planned the student who wouldn’t write on day one, who wrote me and wrote me and wrote me things toward the end of the year, opening up a floodgate of sometimes troubling words hidden for so long.  Thank you for the responsibility of shepherding this young one for a season.  May there be new caring adults in the next leg of the journey.  Thank you also for the ones who never wrote, no matter my tricks.  May my seeds grow into something later, for someone else to harvest.

These kids.  I keep coming back to this motley crew of eighth graders who were so alive.  Some days I wanted to run out the door, but at the end of the day, they were each a litmus test that reminded me to be present and honest and fair and kind, always willing to give it to me straight when I was not being present or honest or fair or kind.  A middle schooler is a lot like a toddler, always wearing their heart on their sleeve.  These young people understand justice in a way we adults should listen to.  It is their superpower.

Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Through a really challenging year, I have been softened around the edges.  I am more easy going.  I am more willing to listen.  I am different.  I am also sterner, more willing to state my piece.  These things that are so hard, these things we wish to change, they are doing something with us, if we would just breathe into them, listen to the Goodness shining beneath, hold dear to that which we hold most dear and take the next step.  We will make it there too, and it will not be what we planned.  We will be better, if not a little more worn like my green geometric curtains.  They are folded in a pile, taking some time to rest this summer, waiting for what’s next.

“What the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

Today’s Thanks:
Bright green apples in a white bowl
Teacup from a teacher friend
Ollie saying,  “I love you momma,” before anything else today
A pink tin watering can
My pack loaded for hiking
Your turn. . . 

Living the In-Between

It feels like this week has lasted fifteen days.  

I am writing this near the end of the school year, and my students are writing their names on my marker board during study hall, all wound-up after state and unit testing.   It is ten minutes to the bell, and I don’t have the energy to remind them one more time to sit down.  These last days of school can seem like non-days, almost like a hoop to jump through before the real living begins with summer vacation.

As long as it is “today,” we are living a day that matters.  Today is a day to encourage someone.  Today will be etched in eternity.  This can be hard to remember as we anticipate weddings, new babies, grandchildren, retirement, events, or the end of the school year.  But these days of waiting, these in-between days matter too.  

In these days that seem like mere check-off’s on the to-do list of life, I can be tempted to rush things, to jump from one activity to the next.  With that attitude we can miss it, we have the total capacity to turn away from living our own life if we aren’t mindful.  Maybe you’re with it today, feeling God’s presence and call in your life.  Maybe you’re a step off the path, or maybe you’re so far away you’ve forgotten what your path was even supposed to look like.  No matter where your choices have taken you, God is here to.  God was here, and God will be here.  We might miss it, but God won’t miss us.  

So live today, this one, not some far off day in the future when you’re finally rich enough, or free-scheduled enough, or good enough, or graduated enough, but live here right here, right now when you are already enough in the eyes of God.  Each day we are presented with opportunities for good, with moments where we can encourage others.  What would it look like to slow down enough to notice? 

How can we come into our lives today, into these spaces and see?  How can we turn back?  My sense is that when I go looking for the good, it finds me, usually in an unexpected place.  Even now in this crazy study hall I not only see rambunctious students, but I notice the beautiful mess on my marker board.  It was really so boring just minutes ago. 

This is the day. . . ” – Psalm 118:24

Today’s Thanks:
Looking back on an old draft
A fun weekend with girlfriends
Coneflowers in bloom
Spinach and artichoke dip
Your turn. . .