Coronavirus Diary #31: Back to School Edition

Click the arrow to hear me read this post.

My phone rang while I was watching TV last Sunday night. It was the director of HR from my school. I’d been in back-to-school professional development meetings the previous week, and she was informing me that I had had close contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid-19. I’d need to get a negative test before I reported for more meetings the next morning.

The students weren’t even back yet. Certainly this didn’t bode well.

Monday morning I got up and drove to a nearby CVS where I purchased two self-administered tests. I climbed back in my vehicle, cracked open a swab, and did what we’ve all learned to do over the last many months. I prepped my sample, set a timer on my phone, and started driving in the general direction of my school. If it was positive, I’d return home; if it was negative, I’d continue on to school.

I was slightly worried, because although I’m vaccinated, so was the person who tested positive. If I had Covid-19, I’d have to stay home for 10 days, and I would miss the first day of school. I didn’t even want to entertain that possibility.

Our students haven’t been in school since March of 2020. The last thing I want them to find on the first day of school is a substitute teacher because I’m out due to Covid.

As I waited for the fifteen minutes to tick away, I consoled myself. Kristin, you weren’t within 3 feet of anyone for over 15 minutes, but then I remembered that I had been in a coaching meeting with my mentor where we had sat desk-to-desk, masked of course, for thirty minutes. It was possible, if she was the positive case, that I had truly been exposed.

But surely since we were both wearing masks and both of us are vaccinated, our risk is very low. And that is what I held onto until the timer went off and I saw that I was indeed negative.

Phew! Thank you, God!

I have a feeling this won’t be the last time this year that I will have to swab and sit. My classroom is set up with 27 desks, and for most of the day, every desk will be full. Each 100 minute period, around 27 seniors will roll into my room, find their assigned seats, and hopefully engage in learning until the dismissal bell rings.

Typically during such a long class (we’re on a block schedule), I would move students into groups, have them working at the board or somehow getting out of their seats to break up that long time period and move around the room.

My classroom

Things have to look a little different in the times of Covid. Each room must have assigned seats and a seating chart printed out and kept in a plastic pocket near the door. If a student or a teacher tests positive for Covid, all students who have been within 3 feet of that student for fifteen minutes or longer will be considered ‘close contacts’. If those within close contact are not vaccinated, they will then quarantine for 10 days, receiving their lessons asynchronously via Google classroom. For this reason, we want to limit the number of close contacts each student has.

Can my students move around the room? Yes, but I need to keep that movement to a minimum. Can they work in small groups? Yes, if I keep those small groups within their already-established close contacts or if the small groups last less than 15 minutes. Can I rearrange my seating chart? Yes, but only at the start of the week because for Covid we trace close contacts two days prior to the onset of symptoms or the positive test, so re-sets need to happen over the weekend.

Are you confused yet? Exactly.

And we’re only, so far, talking about the seating chart!

All students and teachers must wear masks at all times inside the building, except for when they are eating. Breakfast will be served in first hour classrooms, fifteen minutes before class starts. Lunch is served in the lunch room, half of the 300-member student body at a time.

Windows will be open as much as possible, and rooms will be equipped with air filtration systems. All rooms are well-stocked with hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes and will be treated each night with a Clorox Total 360 electrostatic sprayer. Custodians will routinely and endlessly disinfect doorknobs, bathrooms, and other high-traffic areas.

But guys, Covid or not, we are going back to school!

Thursday, all staff started work a little later than usual because we were hosting our Back to School night from 3:30-6:30. As I was driving in to work, I wondered how many of our students would show up to get their schedules, to pick up their school-issued Chromebooks, and to sign up for their bus routes. After 18 months at home, how many would opt in to an in-person learning experience? We had no way of knowing.

However, when I arrived at school at 10am, the place was already buzzing with activity. Teachers were arriving to participate in active shooter training, the trainers were setting up in a classroom, a couple of new teachers were being oriented to their new surroundings, and….and we had parents and students touring the building, filling out registration forms, and preparing to be at school!

After a very weird year — arriving to a silent building each morning, walking to my classroom, and signing into my zoom room — this felt very back-to-school normal. Could it be?

I dared not hope that this buzz could sustain itself throughout the day and into the Back-to-School night. So, I leaned in to our training — active shooter, fire drill, and round three of Covid protocols. I put finishing touches on my classroom, and I printed and copied day one paperwork for my students — boldly making enough copies for everyone on my roster. If I print them, they will come.

As it got closer to 3:00, I ate the lunch I packed, cracked open a can of green tea to re-caffeinate, and started heading to the gym with my colleague to get our assigned roles before the students started showing up. We peeked in the principal’s office on our way. She said, “Please get all the teachers to the gym right now; parents are already arriving!” What? It was only 3:00. We weren’t supposed to start until 3:30!

My colleague and I split up and went down separate hallways to round up teachers, and when we got to the gym, we found clusters of people moving about, trying to get what they needed. We scrambled to each take a station and begin assisting parents.

Our principal directed families to please step back outside the gym, form a line, and wait their turn — we would get to everyone. And for the next three hours, families stood in lines, shuffled forward, got what they came for, and chatted with teachers and administrators.

Yes, everyone wore a mask. Yes, it was difficult to hear one another. Yes, it was a struggle to identify students who claimed they had been in my class last year, but guys, that gym stayed buzzing until after 6pm.

Is it going to be a challenging year? Of course! Are we going to have students and teachers who test positive for Covid or have to quarantine due to exposure? Undoubtedly! Will we be exhausted by protocols on top of instruction on top of adapting to ever-changing circumstances? Without question.

However, the activity in that crowded gym told me that we — teachers, students, and parents — are ready to give in-person instruction a try. So take that, Covid. We are going back to school!

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

Trying to be Kind

Always try to be kind to each other.

I Thessalonians 5:15

It’s really not hard — being kind.

It’s not.

For some of you, this is not a revelation. You’ve been being kind to others since your kindergarten teacher expected you to share and take turns: “First Johny gets to use the swing, then when he’s done, Susie can have a turn.”

Some of you said, “Oh, I get it!” and you went on to patiently stand in line at the drinking fountain, to raise your hand and speak only when the teacher called on you, to say “Please, may I borrow the stapler,” and “thank you for holding the door,” from that time forward.

You invited people to play kickball at recess, you put your arm around a friend who skinned her knee, you loaned a pencil to the boy who sat next to you, and brought an extra cookie in your lunch bag for a friend.

But some of us — some of us — lost our way.

Sure, we could wait for the swing, but when we got our turn, we stayed swinging a little too long. We didn’t care about those in line behind us and perhaps even found pleasure in making them wait. We blurted out our answers in class, talked over others, and pushed our way to the front of all the lines.

We had the answers, after all. We were strong, and we were right. We knew where we were going and what we were doing; why shouldn’t we lead? Why wouldn’t we speak? Why couldn’t we take charge?

It’s not that we were trying to be mean; we were just not trying to be kind.

We were doing what we knew how to do: answer the questions, get what we needed, take control of the situation.

But we weren’t always kind.

I, for one, confess to sometimes being downright mean. I’ve laughed at the expense of others and taken more than my fair share — of popcorn, of opportunity, of oxygen. I’ve been sarcastic, vindictive, and careless. I’ve shot off my mouth, sent daggers with my eyes, and literally shoved and swatted to get my own way.

When I could’ve — should’ve — been kind.

And when, after years of pushing through, overpowering, and taking more than my fair share, I was knocked down, benched, and sidelined, I sat there stunned, hurting, and unable to continue.

And what did I find? People who were kind. They showed up, called, sent flowers and food, listened, and cried with me.

And do you know what happened? I softened. I slowed. I began to discover myself being kind — finding space and time for others, sliding over, sharing my popcorn, shutting up, and listening.

It’s really not hard.

I find it quite interesting that the last two professional positions I’ve held have been with organizations that prioritize (even demand) kindness.

When I was hired by Lindamood-Bell, I was stunned by the celebratory and kind culture that I found myself working in. (I wrote about it here.) After having spent several months on the bench, luxuriating in the kindness of newly found friends, I found myself working in an environment where I was expected to practice kindness, positivity, and praise.

I’d lost my way through years of soldiering on, fighting my way through, doing what I knew how to do to make myself heard, get what I needed, and take control of the situation, and I was being given an opportunity to find my way back.

And I did find my way back. While working at Lindamood-Bell, my world crumbled apart. My family was in tatters, and I was lying amid the wreckage, wounded and weeping. I would drag myself out of bed, shower and dress, and autopilot my way into work, to find my colleagues cheering and supporting, offering gifts of tea and chocolate, extending a tissue for my tears, and rallying behind me as I healed. They modeled kindness for me and provided the space — and the expectation — for me to share that kindness to my students and coworkers. They helped me find my way back.

And now — now! — I find myself with Equity Education whose entire mission is to extend kindness to those who have been overlooked and marginalized. They do that by using a model called the No-nonsense Nurturer (NNN), which “empowers teachers to establish a positive classroom culture in which all students are set up to succeed.” Before I even entered the classroom, I received hours and hours of training in this framework which was then modeled throughout two solid weeks of collaborative professional development.

The NNN framework sets clear expectations and provides supports for students (and their teachers) to meet those expectations. It provides reinforcement for those who meet the expectations and firm but kind redirection for those who don’t. NNN is not focused on a few students getting what they need and rising to the top; no — its aim is to get 100% of students in every class meeting expectations that will lead to their academic — and later professional — success. It’s not for the few who would talk over the others and push and claw their way to the top. No, it’s for all. And any strategy that is focused on the achievement, the success, the well-being of all, is going to require kindness, patience, and encouragement.

Those who struggle won’t “step up their game” if they are brow-beaten and humiliated, but they will get off the bench and get back in the game when they are shown kindness — when others come beside them, encourage them, provide them tea and chocolate, tissue for their tears, and the practical and emotional support they need to take another swing.

When I was knocked down, no one shook their finger at me and told me that if I’d just tried harder I wouldn’t have ended up in that difficult situation. No one told me it was my own fault or judged me for landing on the couch, doubled over and in distress.

No, they extended kindness.

On Friday, I was in a Zoom Room with two freshmen. One shows up on time every single day with her work done and her questions ready. The other is late every time, has a young cousin raucously playing in the same room, has adults yelling in the background, and often needs me to repeat directions, support his work, and allow him extra time. I could take a hard line approach — I could say, “You’re late! Why isn’t your assignment done? Can’t you find a quieter room to work in? Come on, you need to catch up!” But wouldn’t it be just as easy to say, “I’m so glad you are here. Show me what you have. What do you need? How can I support you?”

Which way do you picture will yield the best results?

See? It’s not hard.

This lesson doesn’t need to stay in the classroom, does it? All around us are people waiting in line, crying on couches, and struggling to find the space to learn and to grow. It’s pretty easy to step aside, to let someone in, to offer a hand, to lend an ear, to encourage, to cheer… to be kind.

But Wait, There’s More, Changing Course, pt. 2

I have a confession to make: I like to apply for jobs. That might be an understatement. Applying for jobs has become sort of a hobby for me. I scroll through postings on Indeed and search school, district, and university websites to see what’s available, then I “throw my hat in the ring.”

Quite often.

I’ve been doing this for years — maybe close to thirty years, on and off, even when I had my most satisfying job ever at Lutheran North in St. Louis. I would burn off a frustrating day or month by applying at a community college or a public school. Typically nothing comes of all this applying, but once, about a year before I left Lutheran North, when I was quite sick with my first extended autoimmune flare, I applied for a job because I thought a different teaching position at a new school, in the city, closer to home, would lighten my load and be more doable in my weakened state. (I obviously was not thinking very clearly at the time.) I went through the interview process and received an offer but came to my senses and turned it down.

Shortly after that decision, my husband got an offer to take the position he has now, which afforded me an opportunity to take an extended break and begin healing.

When I was taking that break, I took applying for jobs to a whole new level. I did force myself to not apply for anything for the first four months, but then I started applying with abandon.

At first I applied for only part-time or gig work because that is what I felt up to. I applied to shelve books at libraries — can you imagine the bliss for an English teacher? I applied to fold towels at a gym — free membership included! I applied to proofread textbooks — I mean, come on — who’s got a better skill set?

While I cast a wide net, I found myself landing in jobs that have uniquely prepared me for what’s next.

I began by proofreading and tutoring which was like taking a course in grammar and MLA/APA style. I bent over ACT and SAT tests for hours with students, showing them patterns and strategies. I was constantly checking rules and then explaining those rules to students. I read and re-read college essays and coached students through AP literature and composition courses.

Then I worked a summer at Lindamood-Bell which gave me a framework and language for verbalizing my mental movie and teaching kids to do the same. It also helped me understand the nature of reading as two processes and how to spot which area was more difficult for a student.

I moved from there to the college classroom which not only let me apply some of my Lindamood-Bell language and skill to literature and composition courses, it also gave me a more realistic picture of university instruction, particularly through the lens of an adjunct instructor. I’d been romanticizing that role for a while, and I needed the reality check.

I worked two summers at the University of Michigan teaching students of means from all over the world how to write college essays. This experience reminded me that kids are kids are kids — whether they are from Manhattan or Turkey or Detroit. However, it also irked me — why should these kids get intense high-quality instruction in the summer when the ones who really need it don’t have access? Why should those who could easily pay for their college education get an extra leg up when it comes to admissions?

The next three summers I flew, along with thousands of other teachers, to score the AP Literature and Composition exam. I read over a thousand essays in the space of a week, each year, and the evidence of disparity in the United States educational system was palpable. Some students had been so well prepared — their analysis was mature and concise, their evidence vivid, their sentence construction well-developed. Other students wrote letters to whoever who end up reading their exams, “I don’t know what I’m doing. My teacher didn’t prepare me for this. We only read one book all semester.” I was reminded that while students who had excellent experiences in elementary and high school would inevitably go on to excellent college experiences, those from ill-equipped districts would not. Not without some kind of miracle.

I worked for another two and a half years at Lindamood-Bell. I went back when I realized that the adjunct instructor life wasn’t for me. Yes, it got me in the classroom, but unlike teaching in a high school, it didn’t allow me to form the kind of long-term relationships with my students that foster trust, growth, and transformation. Besides, it was a lot of work, and I felt isolated from other instructors who were all staying in their lanes, prepping their courses, grading their papers.

Lindamood-Bell was, once again, an excellent experience. This time around I was developed from an instructor into a leader. I took on more and more responsibility, had a caseload of students, and began mentoring other instructors. I was beginning to remember my skill sets — my ability to build strong rapport with students and families, my capacity to shift instructional gears in the moment based on student needs, and my deep empathy for students who struggle. Yet, it continued to eat at me that the students who were receiving this instruction — targeted one-on-one reading interventions — were mostly students of means whose parents could afford the high price tag of such instruction. What about all the kids whose parents could not? Who was helping them?

A couple of years ago, I was up late at night thinking such thoughts along with I just really miss the classroom! and I applied for a high school English position in Detroit. When I got an email asking me for an interview, I was ecstatic, so when I saw my husband at the end of the day, I blurted out, “I got an interview at a school in Detroit!” He looked at me dumbfounded and said, “What?” which is when it dawned on me that I hadn’t brought him along on the journey. He knew, everyone close to me knew, how I felt about inequity in education, but he didn’t know I had applied or that I was even considering the possibility of going back to the classroom. The days when I was so terribly ill were clear in his mind — he’d seen me lying on the floor writhing in pain, he’d watched all the experiments with treatments and medications, he didn’t want to see me go back there. How, he wondered, did I imagine that I could drive to Detroit every morning, teach a whole day, and then drive back home? Why did I think I wouldn’t end up right back in bed? Didn’t I remember the stacks of paper? the long days? the time on my feet?

Oh, yeah, I thought. He’s right. I probably can’t do that. What was I thinking?

But time passed. I continued to heal. I found myself working 40 hours a week at Lindamood-Bell, and though I got tired, I could feel my health beginning to stabilize, my stamina starting to build.

And then Covid happened.

And then George Floyd was killed by police. Ahmaud Arbery was murdered for running and being black. And Breonna Taylor died in her own home in her own bed. And people across the country walked out of their quarantine homes and said, “Enough is Enough.”

I looked at my husband and said, “I want to be part of this. I belong in the classroom. I belong with kids who have been told they don’t matter. I’m ready. I’m strong. I want to try.”

And he said, “You’re right. Let’s do it. Toss your name in the hat. Let’s see what happens.”

So, I tossed my name in some hats, and I can’t wait to tell you what happened.

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

Proverbs 16:9

Trajectory

Meet Blain: he wants to be a nurse.  He is currently enrolled at a local university.  He is focused, hard-working, and goal-oriented, but he has a problem.  Although he is fascinated with the human body and has no difficulty at all with medical terms or anatomy, he hasn’t been able to get into the nursing program.  Why?  Because he doesn’t know what a predicate nominative is.

In order to get into his school’s nursing program, he has to pass a standardized test called the Hesi A2, and he has passed it — all the sections except grammar.   His school requires that he get 80% or better on the grammar section of this test.

I know what you are thinking.  You are way back in paragraph one thinking to yourself, “what is a predicate nominative?  and what does it have to do with nursing?” Exactly.

Meet Conner:   He would really like to go to MSU’s James Madison School, or maybe Miami University of Ohio, or even Butler University.  He’s a delightful kid.  He plays soccer on a travel team, is respectful toward his parents, and is willing to engage in four hours of tutoring each week — after he’s already put in full days at school.  Why? Because his ACT score isn’t quite high enough to get into the programs he is interested in.

Then there’s Joe.  Joe’s parents are both career police officers. They have positions of authority within local law enforcement agencies.  He wants to follow in their path.  He just returned from a visit to the US Naval Academy — his dream school.  His eyes are gleaming with hope and possibility.  He wants to do just what his parents are doing — contribute to society by serving and protecting.  When I met him the first time in the foyer of the local library, I looked up at his imposing stature to see a smiling face topped off with a military haircut.  He was at once intimidating and engaging.  He was born for this.

But he may not get into the Naval Academy.  For good reason, the Naval Academy is very selective.  It is a four-year education paid by the United States government to prepare the future leaders of our Navy.  Like West Point and the Air Force Academy, it must select only the brightest and the best.  And although Joe has law enforcement in his DNA, he has experienced some learning difficulty.  He has done YEARS of interventions to improve his reading issues, but still, he struggles to get the standardized test scores that he needs.

Is he discouraged? Nope.  He greets me every week at the library, smiling.  He leans with me over an ACT prep book as we practice item after item, discussing rules and strategies.  He knows he has to work to achieve his goal.  He knows he has to have a backup plan, so he is also considering other military schools and ROTC programs.

Three guys I’m working with right now (names changed, of course) — all pursuing their dreams, all trying to overcome an obstacle in the path.

That obstacle? Testing.

I’m not against testing.  We have to have some way to determine which students fit in which programs.  Not everyone can be successful at Harvard — probably only those who score in the top 1-5 % of everyone in the nation. Not everyone can or should be a nurse.  And, when it comes to national security, I, for one, am glad that the armed forces have high standards for ‘officer material.’   Testing is one way to help individuals, and schools,  determine who has the aptitude or education for any of thousands of programs.  But it’s not the only way.

The three gentlemen I described above are all trying to raise their test scores, yes, but they are stacking the deck in other ways.  Blain works part-time as a pharmacy tech which gives him access to medical terminology and the world of health care.  Conner takes all AP classes at his high school and has worked hard enough to earn himself a 3.5. Joe? He is part of his community’s police explorer’s program.  He is taking every opportunity he can to expose himself to the career he hopes is in his future.

Do I believe they will succeed?  In one way or another, yes, if they are willing to accept that the definition of success is not fixed.  Certainly Blain may become a nurse, Conner may get into his top choice university, and Joe may go to the Naval Academy.  However, some or all of those goals may not be achieved.  Each of these guys may experience trajectory. And, I’m learning, the vehicle for that trajectory may be a test.

A score that is earned during four hours of testing on a Saturday morning can make the difference between attending the University of Michigan or attending Central Michigan University — both are great schools, both have thousands of success stories to their credit.  That score could also determine the difference between $10,000 or $1,000 in scholarship money — substantial to almost every college-aged kid that I know. The score could force choices that each of my students can’t right now imagine they are going to have to make. That score could cause — trajectory.

Will they be able to navigate that trajectory? My gut says yes.  Why?  Because each of these guys has not settled for the initial test score.  Each saw the score and said to himself, “OK, what now?” He didn’t curl up in a corner and decide that his goals were unattainable.  He made a decision to take action.

That decision tells me that he will take future bumps in the road with finesse.  If he doesn’t get into his desired program, I am confident he will research and find one that better fits his needs.  If he gets into his program but somehow determines that it wasn’t a good match after all, he will regroup and prepare for a transition. If somehow he gets into the program, completes it, and then discovers that his interests lie in a different field altogether?  No problem — he will have navigated difficulty in the past and will be prepared to ride the next, if bigger, wave.

What a joy it is for me to join these gentlemen on their journey, to watch their resilience, and to learn from them how to navigate trajectory.

Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds,

because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

James 1:2-3

Just Fifteen Minutes

It was just fifteen minutes of my afternoon. I sat inches away from a woman I had never met before as she brushed tears away from her eyes. Just fifteen minutes.

In those fifteen minutes I learned that she has a PhD in China, but is studying for a PhD here.  She is forty-five years old.  She moved here, leaving career and family, so that her daughter can go to high school here in the United States and subsequently meet the criteria to attend an American university.  Why is she crying? Because her own mother is fighting cancer back in China and she can not be there to help.  Because it is difficult to do PhD work in your second (or third) language.  Because it is extra difficult when you are 45 and raising your daughter alone in a country that is not your own.  Because that difficulty is compounded when you see your daughter struggling to fit in and find success in her American school — your daughter who is studying in her second language.

She doesn’t know me, but she found me on a website — a website that shows my photo, some of my credentials, and some student testimonials.  She contacted me yesterday and wondered if I would read some of her daughter’s writing — would I help her get published?

I read her request and thought to myself, “Oh, boy, another child prodigy.” I judged her.  She was one more parent who believes her child is amazing. (I am one of those parents, too, by the way.)  I told her I would be happy to meet her, but it is the policy of Wyzant  (the tutoring site I use) that she has to enter payment information before I can meet her.  I stick to this policy because it makes my record keeping simple; I never have to collect my own payment, and no one ever owes me any money.  It is clean.

She countered, “Wyzant won’t accept my Chinese credit card. I would be happy to pay you in cash or check.”

I replied, “I only accept payment through Wyzant, but I am happy to meet you tomorrow to see if we are a good match for each other.”  We set up a time and a place. Period.

Well, Wyzant didn’t like that.  They disabled my account about an hour before I was to meet her.  They sent me a notification saying that “based on some recent email correspondence, it appears that you have violated the terms of use.  We have deactivated your account.”

Gasp!

So I can’t access any of my student contacts?  Yikes!  I called them to inquire and the operator said she would “create a ticket” and that they would contact me within 24-48 hours to let me know if I can be re-activated or not.

Or not!?!?!?!?!?

Guys!  I have a dozen or more students that I see fairly regularly.  Yes, this has been a slow week, but I have six appointments scheduled for next week and no way of contacting these people if my account is not reactivated.

Now, I am guessing that they are just going to give me a stern warning with finger shaking, “Do not under any circumstances meet with clients who do not have payment information on file.”  Right, right, I know.  I have told almost half of my clients that I will not allow them to pay me cash because I have signed an agreement.  I really want everything kept within the boundaries of the website — it’s clean and safe and organized.

I had no intention of circumventing that policy.  I had no intention of charging this woman for a  fifteen minute meeting. In fact, when I met with her today, I helped her understand that she could open a PayPal account with her debit card and link it to Wyzant.  Because of the language barrier, that might have been difficult to convey through email correspondence.  We needed the face-to-face.

But not just to set up the payment information. We needed the face-to-face so that I could get off my high horse, stop judging her based on a couple of sentences in an email, and have some compassion on a mom who is feeling overwhelmed and all alone.

I’d do it again.  Ok, I might be a little more crafty in how I communicate time and place now that I know that Big Brother is reading my emails (or that he at least has some kind of algorithm to identify rebellious rule-breaking tutors).  Sometimes we have to be a little flexible. I don’t typically break the rules, but I do find ways to bend them a bit when needed.  I didn’t know this mom’s situation last night.  I wasn’t really trying to bend any rules.

But today, for fifteen minutes, two women connected without the blessing of Wyzant, and I’m not sorry for it.

I John 4:11

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Jumping in

I Samuel 15:25

Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me,

so that [we] may worship [and serve] the Lord.

Sometimes I get excited.  It’s kind of like when I was a little girl and our family drove to a nearby lake to swim for the day.  As soon as the car was put into P for Park, I leapt from the car and ran for the water.  I was too excited to think about applying sunscreen, grabbing my towel, or helping to carry the picnic basket or blankets to the sandy beach.  I was focused on getting in that water. Period.

This past week a friend mentioned a project she was getting involved in with another mutual friend — making hygiene kits for school-aged girls in Kenya.  She explained that it is not unusual for young girls to miss up to two months of school because they have to stay home when they menstruate due to lack of feminine supplies.  These girls use whatever is available, which may even be leaves, to protect their clothing. Such arrangements hardly make school attendance feasible. So, an organization has created a way to provide enough supplies in a small drawstring bag to be used, washed, and re-used for up to three years!  My friend explained that our mutual friend was leading the charge to complete as many kits as possible by March.

Later that day she sent me a link to a website and I was off and running!  Before I knew it, I had friends in three states enlisted for the cause, a Google spreadsheet to chart our progress, and a donation through Paypal to get us started!  Yesterday I took that money, went to a thrift shop and bought enough fabric for several draw string bags and ordered enough flannel to make a ton of pads for the waterproof liners that my friend is getting started on.  I heard about this project on Wednesday and by Friday night I had cut out enough fabric for 10 bags!  I was in the water!

My friend emailed me this afternoon and told me that her sister, in yet another state, would like to be involved, too!  And then it hit me.  This is my friend’s project, and I had bulldozed my way into leadership!  I had forgotten my sunscreen and towel! Now, my friend is very gracious — she hasn’t mentioned that she feels bulldozed, but my little internal red flag has popped up and is waving like crazy.

When I was a little girl, my mom would make sure I had a towel, lunch, drinks, and maybe even sunscreen (it was the 1970s, come on!) so I didn’t usually pay too high a price for my lake-side excitement.  Over the years, though, I have learned that when I don’t pause before I run in, I sometimes trample people in my path.  Now, I have made some pretty cool things happen in my life, but not always without hurting the feelings of the people around me.

So, let me go on record to say, I’m sorry if I’ve ever bulldozed you.  I love being excited, and I love when you are excited with me, and I really do want you to join me in making cool things happen.  So, I’m sorry that instead of joining you in your project I grabbed it and made it my project.  At least in this case, can it be our project?  I’ll try to calm down a little bit so that I can enjoy the journey and the people God has placed on it with me.  After all, it’s really His project, isn’t it.  Yes, Kristin, it’s my project. Not yours.  Oh, right.  It’s just a small part of my current assignment.

But guys, I am so excited about this project!  Maybe you want to get excited, too!  Here’s the link: http://www.daysforgirls.org/

Luke 3:11

Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none,

and anyone who has food should do the same.

The teacher gets schooled

Once upon a time there was a girl.  She really wanted to be a teacher.  She often lined up all her friends in rows and stood in front to ‘teach’ them in the yard, or the basement, or the garage.  In fact, when she was in the second grade, her teacher, Mrs. Anderson, assigned her the task of working with a classmate who was struggling to learn how to read.  The little girl loved showing him how to sound out the words.

Learning came easily to her, but she was drawn to those for whom it didn’t.  It was a challenge to figure out how to explain things in ways that they could understand.

Her experiences as she grew included babysitting, teaching Sunday school, working at a day care center or two, more babysitting, student teaching, and finally a college degree and teaching certificate.  As a young woman, she took her first teaching position as a teacher of learning disabled students in a little classroom in an old building in Detroit.

She moved on to resource rooms at two high schools and then a residential school for emotionally impaired teenagers.  In each of these places, she had the title ‘teacher’, but she was actually a student.  She was learning so much about herself, about her students, and about learning.  Yes, she had taken methods classes in college.  She had studied Shakespeare and Faulkner, Piaget, and Maslow.  But the real learning began amidst countless adolescents who would become her teachers.

And it didn’t stop there.  Her intensive training started when she married a man with a four-year-old son.  It continued when she gave birth to not one, not two, but three babies in three years.  She began an adventure in ‘homeschooling’ which again taught her more than it did any of her students.

The master’s program she enrolled in introduced her to topics like hegemony, code-switching, and mushfaking, sure. But her time in the trenches, two community colleges and two high schools, ingrained in her the knowledge that relationships are more important than curriculum, that process is more important than product, and that being is more important than doing.

And,  now?  Now is the advanced individualized course in self-awareness and reliance on God.  Some people take introductory courses in this topic, but this girl has been pretty darn busy in her other educational pursuits.  Alas, it is never too late for a girl to learn the basics.

She is learning them from The Teacher through His Word, yes, but also through experience, relationships, and the learning method that works best for her — writing. It’s a multi-modal approach, designed specifically for this learner.  It takes into account the other lessons she has had and allows for multiple assessments with an eye toward mastery.  Failure is not an option.  The Teacher has ensured it.

Matthew 11:28-30

Come to me, all who labour and are heavy-laden,

and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,

for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.