Posted in Class, Education

Why English?

Personally I think English class is the most interesting and widely relevant subject taught in schools, but it can tend to get the rep of being boring and not useful. Today I tried to convince my students that English class is still useful for them even if they already speak English “correctly”. I do this discussion every year, but this year I had the added benefit of having a textbook that explicitly explains why English skills, such as analyzing literature and critical thinking, are important in a Biblical context.

Rundown of the lesson: We started with a five minute writing prompt answering the question “why study English?”. Then students read the preface to their literature book, which explained how Paul used his knowledge of literature to talk with the people who had a monument to an unknown God. Students were instructed to write what they thought was the main idea of the preface on a tiny sticky note. Next we watched a clip from John Greene’s spiel about why we read literature. He basically states that reading helps us develop empathy. Finally students reflected on how the skills from English class could help them in their future jobs.

Overall I think it got most students thinking. Hopefully it will convince them to pay just a bit of attention. An added bonus is that I got to talk with them about their aspirations.

Posted in Class, Education

Year Three

On Monday, I’ll begin my third year of teaching, and it’ll be a bittersweet day because I’ll spend the day with my first year of students, who are now seniors. This year has the potential to be really good. We have new curriculum for English, I’m teaching a fun elective, and I feel like I finally have a grasp of what I’m doing. Most of all I’m thankful I’m teaching at a place where I can share the true purpose for learning: growing closer to God and learning how to be his disciple.

Over the summer, I’ve done plenty of relaxing, but I’ve also spent some time reflecting. I want this year to be a year where I truly integrate my beliefs into what I’m teaching. In the past I’ve done devotions with the kids and occasionally connected our literature to Biblical principles. This year I want to be more cognizant about guiding my students and myself to think about all aspects of life through the lens of the Bible.

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I started with the word “love” on my back wall during my somewhat difficult first year of teaching. Last year, I expanded and added all of the fruits but spread them out between the front and the back. This year they’re all on the back wall because I want to remember to filter how I treat my students through those fruits. I want to be kind, gentle, good, loving, loving, joyful, and patient. I want to show self-control and be faithful to God.

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Academically this year, I want to inspire my students to enjoy reading and to grow in their reading skills. I’ve finished the literacy part of my master’s degree, so I want to apply some of those skills to the way that I teach reading and vocabulary skills.

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Personally, I want to keep my space neat, clean, and organized. The messy desk pest has often invaded my desk in the past, so it’s a goal to keep it organized and wiped down this year. I’m still looking for ways to better streamline my processes and stay organized.

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Finally, I want to spend less time on school stuff. Maybe that sounds redundant to put in a post about my excitement over school starting, but in the past school has consumed me to the point of stress. I place high expectations on myself, and I can neglect my friendships. That’s not healthy. I want to be the best teacher I can be, but I also want to maintain and grow the relationships in my life. This year will be about Philippians 4:4-8: Rejoicing and releasing my anxieties.

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Here’s to a good year!

Posted in A Letter, Book Review, Class, Literature

Dear me,

One beauty of summer break is having time to read an entire book in one sitting. I know it’s only June, but I’m already looking forward to next school year. One of my favorite writing projects of the year is the letter to your future self. At the start of the year I ask the students to write a minimum of five paragraphs in letter form. I give them a topic for each paragraph and review letter form. It’s a simple assignment with the purpose of reflection and to give me an idea of their writing abilities and style. It also serves as a great back up writing assignment for when students inevitably enter the school at the tail end of a larger writing project later in the year. I grade this assignment for completion, checking that they’ve addressed each part of the letter and followed letter format. Then we put the letters in an envelope and hide them away in the cabinet.

Watching the students read their letters, along with a letter I wrote to each of them, at the end of last year was sweet and funny. Some were pleasantly surprised to see they’d accomplished goals such as making honor roll or passing all of their classes. Some chuckled as they read their adorations of some guy or girl who wasn’t so important to their lives at the close of the year.

Even though I’d planned to do this writing assignment again, reading Dear Me sparked an idea to make this project more reflective. Dear Me by Warren Hanson is a 77-page series of letters between a young person and the older version of that person. The young person wonders about her future, while the older person gives general advice about how to live. It was quick read that left me thinking about reflection. After the students receive their letters back at the end of the year, an end of the year assignment should be to reflect upon this letter and respond with a Dear Younger Me letter. This could also be worked into a class wide letter to the upcoming sophomores.

I just love when my casual reading connects to my teaching life. Now I’m off to write my Letter to My Future Self and my Dear Younger Me letter for this point in my life. And of course I need to listen to Matthew West’s song of that title.

Posted in Class, Education

Kicking it today

I’m not a sports-minded person, but when I was in high school math, almost every Friday was football Friday where our math teacher drew a football field on the board and we played math football. I still don’t enjoy or completely understand football, but I learned a few rules and more math. For that reason, playing a variation of math football, disguised as ACT soccer, seemed logical. (Note of honesty: I still had to do quite a bit of googling to ensure I got terms and aspects of the game correct.)

So how’d it work? The class split in half and each person got a number. Each team got fifteen minutes to “warm up”, or answer as many questions from the packet as they could ensuring every person knew the answer. After a coin toss, a player was called and a question chosen at random. The player answered the question. Each team worked to get the ball to the opposing team’s goal. Once they reached the defender position, the player had the choice to pass the ball to the goalie box or kick a goal shot. If he answered the question correctly, the team got a goal. If incorrect, the ball went back to the middle and the other team got the next question.

The game was successful, albeit loud enough that the class next door heard. The kids got just as excited when they shot a goal as when they kick a goal in the real game. In the future I might tweak the rules about kicking a goal somehow to make it easier to get a goal. The kids did point out that in real soccer they can make a goal from farther up the field. In 30 minutes of play, no one scored. Thankfully I had enough cookies for everyone.

Posted in Class, Literature

I’m a [proud] bookworm.

English class almost always proves to be quite thought provoking. Today, in the second half of the class the professor proposed two questions:

Why do you read and value literature?

Why do you study literature?

I did not get a chance to answer during class, but I still have thoughts about these two questions in conjunction with one another. I see them as very different questions. I began reading at a very young age and continued probably to fill time. I was also interested in the story and the people in the books. I remember as a young reader having the bad habit of reading only the dialogue of novels and skimming the rest. Thankfully I’ve grown past that to appreciate all of the text. Now when I read for leisure, I still enjoy the story and the characters but for slightly different reasons. Now, the enjoyment comes from living another life, if even for a brief few pages. For example, a few weeks ago I was reading The Fault in Our Stars (John Green)It was one of those books and nights where I just could not stop reading (I knew that if I didn’t finish it that weekend reading for class would take over and I would never finish it). By the time I came up for breath, I was startled to find I was still in my bed. It was such a well written book I felt that I had actually traveled with the characters. Those are the moments I read to experience. 

Studying literature did not become a passion of mine until late high school maybe even early college. I knew I wanted to teach English but I didn’t truly appreciate studying literature until a while after that. Now I enjoy my English classes because I enjoy the puzzle of figuring out a good novel. I find myself trying to make connections to other works and analyzing characters even when I’m not reading for classes. I can’t read a book without a crayon in hand (or paper and pencil if I’m reading from a library copy). Anything I read, I find great passages that speak to me or that give me some clue and I want to annotate it. It excites me to figure out what social statement the author is really making with a piece of fiction. I even have an unfinished timeline of literature hanging next to my bed (it was there to study for the Praxis but now I just like to look at it). Studying literature has taught me much more about history or science than I have learned in those type of classes. 

What can I say? I’m a book worm.

Posted in Class, Movies, Music

Good Conversations

The semester is quickly (too quickly) coming to a close.  The classes I have had this semester have been enjoyable for the most part, and I am going to miss some of my professors.  I’m also going to really miss my friends over the summer, although I have some awesome plans for the summer.  There is one class in particular that I have enjoyed that covered theology as it is represented in films.  We watched some great films like As Good As It Gets, Cool Hand Luke, Benny and Joon, and To Kill A Mockingbird.  Most recently we watched The Third Miracle and my discussion group started discussing prayer.  We asked questions about what can be prayed for and how to pray.  The professor, who is incredibly intelligent, was in the group as well.  He made the distinction between praying for something and praying to see how God is already working and for the ability to join in.  For example, I could pray for someone to be healed or I could pray for the wisdom to know how God is working in that situation.  That reminds me of this song by Brandon Heath:

The other day I was having a conversation with a friend-acquaintance about God’s will and just God in general.  I wasn’t having the greatest day, and without having to know what was bothering me he just started talking about Jesus.  It was good and uplifting.  At one point he said that when he is feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, he starts praying.  He doesn’t complain to God but instead starts thanking God for what He blesses this friend with.  That reminds me of a quote by Jason Gray: “I think we are tempted to imagine it’s our circumstances that determine our quality of life or our joy but in truth I believe it’s gratitude that makes our lives sweet.  We may not be able to change our circumstances but we are empowered to nurture our grateful heart.”  That is good advice and I’ve seen it work.

Overall, I’ve just had some good conversations recently.

Posted in Class, Literature

Humbling Experience

Yesterday I had a very humbling experience, but first let me back up and explain why this experience felt so humbling.  I have been re-reading Captivating (John and Stasi Eldredge) recently.  I don’t want to simplify the book, but in many instances it talks about woman’s beauty, both inside and outside, and what she has to offer to the world.  It also discusses man’s strength, inside and outside, that reflects the strength of God and that he offers to the world.  Basically, woman and man reflects different parts of God’s character and we should use those characteristics to help each other.  Just read the book, because I am trying to summarize the thoughts across many chapters and these authors do a much better job of explaining the situation.

Anyway, one particular point of the book is that man offers his strength to woman but woman has to allow him to offer his strength.  That’s hard for me, allowing someone else, especially a man, to help me.  (I should clarify that most of the time they are referring to a marriage relationship but this concept can also apply to any situation).

Today while my class was canoeing, I was in a canoe with another female who was less experienced than me at canoeing.  It just happened that way; we didn’t start that way.  We fell way behind the rest of the canoes, because we had navigation issues and we just didn’t have the brute force to move the canoes as fast.  We were making it, but it was slow going.  It didn’t help that the wind was blowing us around as well.  I could tell my canoe partner was getting tired, but we had to get back to the dock so we kept pushing forward.  Just before we went around the last curve, two of the guys, happenstance the two that we were originally paired with, came back to check on us.  They offered to switch canoes and help us both out.  It was humbling for me, because I wanted to prove that we could do it.  I also knew that we were holding up the rest of the class because we were going so slow.  It was hard for me to admit that yes we could use some help, especially to admit that we needed some male strength.  I was grateful though.  We would have made it around the curve, but it was a lot faster with more experienced, stronger canoers in the sterns.  And they were helpful in getting the canoes back on the trailer, because I know I couldn’t lift that canoe that high.