The Entire Presidential Race As Told by Characters in Macbeth

Let’s have a little fun, shall we? What if we cast Trump and Clinton as our favorite Shakespearean power-hungry couple, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth?

hillary

Trump, to the sixteen candidates he beats for Republican nominee:
“Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.” (Act V, Scene V)

Ben Carson, to Trump, after dropping out:
“Let’s briefly put on manly readiness
And meet i’the’ hall together. (Act II, Scene III)

Trump, when asked about proposed policy:
“Strange things I have in head, that will to hand
Which must be acted ere they may be scanned.” (Act III, Scene IV)

Trump, to no one in particular:
“I dare do all that may become a man;
Who dares do more is none.” (Act I, Scene VII)

The American public, upon discovering the two nominees for President:
“If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well
It were done quickly.” (Act I, Scene 7)

News Reporter: Trump, how do you feel about Russia and North Korea?
Trump: “Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear
The armed rhinoceros, or th’ Hyrcan tiger;
Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves
Shall never tremble.” (Act III, Scene IV)

Trump, to women: “Bring forth men-children only!
For thy undaunted mettle should compose
Nothing but males.” (Act 1, Scene 7)
Trump: “What sound is that?”
Attendant: “It is the cry of women, my good lord.” (Act V, Scene V)

New reporter, speaking to Democrat: Any words on the Republican nominee?
Democrat: “Not in the legions
Of horrid hell can come a devil more damned
In evils to top [Trump].” (Act 4, Scene III)

News reporter, to nearby Republican: How do feel about the Democratic candidate?
Republican: “I grant [her] bloody,
Luxurious, malicious, false, deceitful,
Sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin
That has a name.” (Act 4, Scene III)

News reporter: And your thoughts on the Republican candidate?
Women, Hispanics, Muslims, in unison:
“The devil himself could not pronounce a title
More hateful to mine ear.” (Act V, Scene 7)

Clinton, as depicted by Republicans (on hiding emails):
“Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires.
The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.” (Act I, Scene IV)

Obama, late in Clinton’s campaign: “Welcome hither!
I have begun to plant thee, and will labor
To make thee full growing…let me enfold thee
And hold thee to my heart.”

Clinton: “There if I grow
The harvest is your own.” (Act I, Scene IV)

Clinton, to the American public, on emails:
“Things without all remedy
Should be without regard. What’s done is done.” (Act III, Scene II)

Trump: You oughta drop out!
Clinton: “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” (Act 5, Scene I)

Democrats, when the FBI announces more investigation days before the election:
“If we should fail?”

Clinton: “We fail!
But screw your courage to the sticking place
And we’ll not fail.” (Act I, Scene 7)

Trump, upon hearing that Clinton has indeed been cleared for the emails:
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair!” (Act I, Scene I)

Republicans: “Let us seek out some desolate shade , and there
Weep our sad bosoms empty.” (Act IV, Scene III)

Democrats: “Each new morn
New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows
Strike heaven on the face, that it resounds
As if it felt with [America] and yelled out.” (Act IV, Scene III)

Young facebook activists: “What I believe, I’ll wail;
What I know, believe, and what I can redress,
As I shall find the time to friend, I will.” (Act IV, Scene III)

Pious non-voters: “Bleed, bleed, poor country!
Great tyranny, lay thou thy basis sure
For goodness dare not check thee; wear thou thy wrongs.” (Act IV, Scene III)

Disenchanted voters: When I go to vote, “yet my poor country
Shall have more vices than it had before,
More suffer, and more sundry ways than ever,
By him [or her] that shall succeed.” (Act IV, Scene III)

Half of America, day after election day: “I have lost my hopes.” (Act IV, Scene III)

A Poem: Teaching Heart Beats

I’ve been working on portions of this poem every spring over the last three years of teaching here in Indiana. It’s deeply personal, and for my students.

There are things left unspoken inside a teacher’s heart. After the grading is done and the lesson plans are printed and the meetings are over, some of us teachers go home, and myriad thoughts whirl around in our heads, long after the sun sleeps, and we lie in darkness praying for tomorrow.

In “Part I: Memories,” you’ll meet several students that are characters created from parts of students’ personalities from the past three years, collected into single characters. “Part II: Lament” grieves students’ loss of innocence, and “Part III: Credo” is a charge for Christian teachers. “Part IV: Invocation” is a prayer for my students.

I’m not particularly fond of this poem (obviously, as I’ve been continually revising it). But sometimes revisions are never done. So I’m putting it out here, meaning, it’s good enough, and it’s what I want it to be for now.

IMG_20160323_193537.jpg

Teaching Heart Beats

Part I: Memories

Once,
I saw you reach out.
Once, I saw you pray.
Once, I saw you put an end to the mocking.
Once, I saw you listen.

I see you.

They told me, “His name is Learning Problem.” “He calls himself Attitude.”
I try to see potential.
And buried in your sporadically-done homework, I once heard a quiet moral opinion from you.
I whisper-cheered through clenched teeth, at my desk, at 9:00 p.m.
“Yessss.” He thought today.
My hope is that you will think tomorrow.
And the next day.
And the day after that.

I see you.
You’re the one who demands A’s.
But I gave you a B
To teach you to think.
Writing is the measure of thinking,
Not silly test scores.

I see you.
You’re all alone at lunchtime,
The others gathered around in desperate cliques, animatedly eating.
And my heart aches for you.
I pray for you.
I think you are special. I think you are unique.
(If I were 14, we would be friends!)

I see you.
You’re the intellectual one.
You keep me on my toes when you fact-check me.
Your assignments are almost chilling in their brilliance.
You will be taking a road that not many of your peers will.
My advice: keep your social life and go play some volleyball. Get the B.
(Learning the art of friendship is also a lifelong study.)
Teaching you is one of my biggest tasks.
I feel a huge responsibility to guide you toward the big “c.”
College.
You will go.
Will you become bitter at your uneducated subculture?
When will you realize that Mennonite pastors and deacons are fallible humans?
Will you notice the uncommon fellowship of our subculture?
Will that fellowship be important enough for you to stay?
Will you find community, acceptance, love, or romance outside our culture, leading you away?
Will that acceptance change your morals?

I see you.
Wasting time.
Staring
At
The
Clock.
Creatively taking a long time to do anything besides your work.
Throw away a tissue.
Get a drink.
Go to the bathroom.
(I snicker at you.)
Know why?
Your vocab words still aren’t done. Even after all that.

I see you.
You had to stay in from recess.
Again.
You glance up from your book
And with your inquisitive face
You inquire
What this verse means
And how to deal with an angry friend.
Your thirst for wisdom is deep.

I see you

I see you all.

Do you know
…that your radiant face in 8 a.m. Bible class is inspiring?
…that your seriousness and bold attention in literature is startling?
…that your hard work and goodwill are so convicting?

You are skillful students. You clean, cook, work, and play with such excellence.

(Who do we think we are, trying to exercise your minds?)

To the students at UCS:
Your faces and lives stretch before me
like a promising Midwestern sunset

And I weep
on my knees
for the lives you will live.
I thank God for the pain you will endure in the next five years,
pain being the only thing God can use to empty you of yourself so that you cling all the more to Him.

What token, what gift, can I give to you who have given me so much?
This poem
is my photograph.
Keep a copy to glance at sometimes
and remember a teacher who saw you in this way.

Part II: Lament

I am weeping for you.
My heart is bleeding for you.
Oh my students.
The pain in your lives.
The hurts from your past.
Your broken families.
Your lost childhoods.

Part III: Credo

We will be strong.
We will be pure.
We will stand in the gap.
We will sacrifice our lives.
We will build up the church.
We will love each other.

We will not back down.
We will be good role models.
We will love Jesus more.
We will be disciplined.
We will be difference makers.

We will not be down-hearted, cynical, or hopeless.
We serve the God of all comfort.

Our task is not our task.
Our task is God’s task.
To bind up the broken hearted, to heal their wounds, to love.
God is our hope.

Part IV: Invocation

The wind whips and whistles through the early spring sunshine
Tries to dry the wet land and white lumps in the fields.

I know that spring is coming.
We are not surprised.
It always does.

So like spring
comes the enduring work of God.
And wherever His Word goes
It is not wasted.

Oh Jesus
Ravish us with the spring-dream of your unending faithfulness and blessing.
Amen.

How My School Ruled April Fool’s

You know, April Fool’s Day doesn’t fall on a school day for another three years, so my co-teachers and I planned a memorable day for the students.

First, the tired and trodden students ambled sleepily into the hallway only to be met with a Barrage of Large Objects in Their Path, and found themselves ducking under the high jump bars, around a very large caged bunny, moving past a fake tree, hoisting themselves over a massive, ten foot long, two foot high long jump mat, and proceeding down the hallway, filled with a roll-y cart, a commercial vacuum cleaner, and a table supporting a large bowl of…. onions. And a broom was sticking out of the library book return receptacle.

As students streamed into school, they asked our secretary who filled the hall.

“You tell me!” she retorted.

Confused, the high school students turned to our “slightly annoyed” high school teacher.

“Who filled the hall?”

“Well it was obviously some of the older ones, either the seniors or the youth group who rented the gym last night!” he sighed, irritated. (Our prank wasn’t just the hall-filling, but also convincing the students that we hadn’t done it.) The surprised students immediately began denying their involvement; THEY certainly didn’t want to be held responsible or have to clean up the mess. (We as teachers VOWED that the responsible parties would put everything away.)

“I wonder who it was,” the ornery students asked, in awe.

Students who attended the “offending” youth group’s gym night immediately began protesting.

“I’m sure it wasn’t us! We didn’t even have keys to the school! They school renter unlocked for us!”

The high school teacher brushed them aside.

“You could have easily gotten a key!”

“But it wasn’t us! You have to believe us!”

One conscientious student, on his way to class, approached the teacher and said penitently, “I just want you to know that it wasn’t me. You can call my parents. I was definitely home last night and there is no way that I did it.”

Meanwhile, the seniors headed to their second class and stopped the principal.

“Who was it? Who filled the hall?”

“Well it was obviously your youth group!” he retorted.

“It wasn’t us! We promise!”

“Well then maybe it was the senior girls!” he hurumphed.

The senior girls were getting visibly upset and started protesting louder,

“IT WASN’T US! Why do we always get blamed for everything?!”

“All right, come here, I need you to help me with something,” our principal said. He disappeared for a few moments, and then pulled up to the school’s front door with his car, of which he had taken off the side mirrors.

For the seniors, it suddenly clicked what was going on. They greedily helped him ease the car into the hallway. Just yet another Large Object in the Path.

Around this time, we teachers released the three BABY GOATS into the gym.

The poor little kindergarten class, whose classroom is right next door to the gym, heard a bleating sound. One small student excitedly announced to his pregnant teacher, “I just heard your baby make a noise!”

Next, our secretary asked a senior girl to “go get me something from the fridge.” A few moments later we hear screams of terror as she returns.

“MISS MILLER, MISS MILLER! THERE’S BABY GOATS IN THE GYM! THEY’RE RUNNING AROUND AND THEY SCARED ME SO BAD!”

Meanwhile, in the junior high classroom, we were having a surprisingly fun class. We had just played a game in celebration of finishing our annual research papers and had settled in to a monotonous grammar review. Midway through the review, I stopped.

“Did you all hear that? I heard a cell phone.”

No response.

“I was sure I heard a cell phone,” I said. “Does anyone have one in your desk?”

I cocked my head at a seventh grade boy and bored into him with my gaze. I marched over to him.

“I’ve talked to you before about having your phone in your desk instead of keeping it turned off and outside in the hall in your backpack.” I put my hands on my hips. “You’re going to have to give me your phone.” I returned to the front of class and threw the purple cell phone on my desk. I put my hands on hips and sighed angrily. Suddenly, I whipped a hammer out of my desk and began smashing the phone to pieces! Up and down and up and down I raised the hammer, hitting the phone to bits! Tiny pieces of glass spread over my desk and onto the floor. The phone nearly slid off my desk, but I reached after it smashing it over and over with my mallet.

Out of the corner of my eye, I grew startled by junior high students’ scared, apprehensive glances. THEY WERE IN LITERAL SHOCK.

I could hardly contain myself. I fought not to laugh, but all of a sudden I grew pained because I realized that my students were actually afraid of me in that moment, terrified at the monster I had become.

I gurgled and giggled nervously. “Uh, April Fool’s, guys.”

Only two students kind of giggled. The rest stared at me strangely, not believing what they had just seen. They sat in solemn terror. I tried to lighten it up by laughing and explaining how I had planned this at the beginning of the day with the seventh grade boy. He, of course, was smiling behind his hand. Once I was sure that they all got that it was a joke, we resumed English class, but they were all still a little shaken! They all sat quietly through the rest of grammar class, even as I kept giggling at the front of the classroom. By the end though, they were smiling shyly and me and each other.

Student 1: “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I thought: ‘She is WAY overreacting.’”

Student 2: “I was SOOOOO scared! I was shaking!”

Student 3: “I was pretty sure a guy wouldn’t have a purple phone.”

Student 4: “I knew he didn’t have a phone, so I was pretty sure it was a joke.”

Student 5: “I thought you had literally GONE CRAZY.”

IMG_20160401_100915.jpg

Down at typing class, our secretary had created her own fun by changing the autocorrect on all the computers so that whenever the students typed the word “candy” (a word from their typing exercise for the day), it would automatically change to rude name-calling names. How would you like it if the words you keep trying to type change to “Stinky Face” or “Liver-witted Hiney Squeegee”? (Tears are rolling down my cheeks right now.)

One high school teacher gave a test, with regular questions interspersed with IMPOSSIBLE questions that the students could never be expected to know.

A particularly conscientious student, quite confused, reasoned, “Mr. Yoder, I’m SURE we never went over these in class! And I KNOW they weren’t on the review sheet!”

“Are you sure?” he answered, calm and surprised. “Keep working; maybe you’ll find a question later that can help you with this one.”

That question being the last question on the test: “DO YOU REMEMBER THAT TODAY IS APRIL FOOL’S DAY?!”

Not wanting to leave out the little ones, we even got the youngest students in on the fun. Our kindergarten teacher passed out little packets of Cheerios labeled “Donut Seeds.”

“Take these home and plant them, and you can have your very own donut tree!” she said.

Most of the young ones knew it was a joke because she had carefully explained to them about the prank in the hallway and had even read a story about April Fool’s Day. But one young man somehow missed it all because later he was still talking about taking home his donut seeds so that he could grow his own donuts.

Back in the high school classroom, our math teacher was explaining the kindergarten prank to some students in one of his math classes. Which prompted the math students to ask:

“So what’s YOUR April Fool’s day joke? What’s YOUR teacher prank?”

Mr. Dave squinted his eyes and said, “Well, actually, I was the one who put the stuff in the hall.”

“No you didn’t!” they crowed. “That’s your prank, is you getting us to THINK that you put the stuff in the hallway! But you actually didn’t!”

By this time, we as teachers are just howling because of how many levels of prank-ness there is by now.

“No, this time I really did it!” he laughed.

By this time, the students decided to get in on the fun. They successfully sequestered the high school teacher’s fancy, cushy, office chair, awkwardly lugging the large rolling chair, from end-to-end of the school, in panicked rush, to avoid being seen by the high school teacher on the warpath to find his chair.

Ninth and tenth did a great one on me. I breezed into class ready to give them their vocabulary quiz, going off about the absent students and chirping about who should and shouldn’t take the quiz today… I began passing out the quizzes when I realized that all of them were smiling strangely at me. Then I realized: they’re ALL in different seats! (I have assigned seating in that class.) I hadn’t noticed at all!

One last April Fool’s Day prank came from the junior high students. Our student council planned a beautiful Easter meal today. We set up in the back of our classroom. We had fancy decorations of tulips and pearls, and ate off those really nice fake silver plasticware sets, and had grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, salad, jello, and the most especially divine white chocolate raspberry cheesecake. (Mother who made the cheesecake: it was superb, as always!) Before we prayed our Easter prayer and ate our meal, the student council made an announcement.

“Since it’s Easter, we have a gift for each of you! BUT: you have to wait til everyone gets a present to open one!” One seventh grader ceremoniously handed each student a nicely-packaged gift bag.

“Okay! You can open them!”

We dove into our bags, clawing, and giggling with glee. And we each unwrapped…. a rock.

A dumb ‘ole rock.

Boring gray lumps of stone.

“What.” we intoned.

“APRIL FOOL’S!” the Council yelled.

We all laughed together and then our class president led us in a special prayer of thanks.

IMG_20160401_115903.jpg

Probably one of the best April Fool’s days I’ve ever had. 🙂

Later in study hall, the junior high girls and I dissected the rest of the cell phone. So, obviously, we had fun.

IMG_20160401_155405.jpg

 

Bones and Breath: On Faulkner and Faith

After World War I, the United States fell into an economic depression. We could say that it fell into another kind of depression as well. A depression, or spiritual funk, stimulated by philosophical polarities of the day. Indeed, forty years had already passed since the German philosopher Nietzsche claimed it was logical to reason that “God is dead.” There were those supposed inconsistencies between religion and science. Perhaps not in mainstream culture, but perhaps in academic atmospheres and in the classrooms of its universities. Clashes between scientists and religious fundamentalists in the 1920s certainly existed.

The human mind reasoned: how could God be alive? He obviously didn’t have control; man’s advancement had pretty much been obliterated at that point. Humanistic philosophy claimed that man could build and maintain society. And then World War I happened. Engineers pointed to crowning achievements of man’s inventions. And then the Titanic sank. The Roaring Twenties turned into the Great Depression of the ‘30s. Upon whose heels came the terrifying and unimaginable World War II. Man’s ability for progress, once accepted as fact, was now in question.

100_7436

Humanity was not asking: Will I prosper? Rather, in fear, it was crying out: Will I survive?

William Faulkner in his 1950 Pulitzer Prize speech addresses this fear.

“Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up?”

The thing with which we must come to terms is what a society full of fear produces. Think about the time in which you were most afraid. How did it control your decisions? How did it control your productivity? How did it control your understanding of life?

This fear, I think, has the possibility to produce a hopeless fatalism, which Faulkner must have observed on the earth, seeping from below the ground of modern society. And to that trembling mind, he offers this reminder:

“the basest of all things is to be afraid.”

For, Faulkner reasons, when writers are crippled by fear, they forget “the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” Faulkner insists that a writer…

“…must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid… Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.”

Here we notice Faulkner’s expression of mid 19th century Romantic sensibilities in his emphasis on the human heart. But there is his concurrent recognition of modernist skepticism, in which he says that humanity is basically saying: “The meaning of life? What meaning? What life? I’m fighting for my life, for control of my glands!”

100_7405

And Faulkner laments the effect of this perspective of survival. If a writer writes “of the glands,” Faulkner says,

“he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. …I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

This message of hope (and concurrent responsibility) certainly retains humanistic undertones. And maybe that is my point.

How utterly human is hope! We always hope even in the most impossible of situations! Why do children in concentration camps write poetry? Why does, as Maya Angelou asks, the caged bird sing?

Have you ignored that basic human emotion of hope? What is your mind’s perspective? What is your voice saying?

Is it fear that guides your voice? Is your voice a raucous squawk, your breath being crushed out of you, your voice simply the rush of oxygen into your lungs, a timid cry, an elemental whimper realizing that today you are, indeed, still alive? Or is your voice that of boredom, like SO MANY voices that we hear today… whether the tintinnabuli of posts, shares, likes, and updates… searching for meaning, trying to create meaning… where there is none?

Perhaps you are like those humans, of which, when contemplating life as if it’s the eternally inspirational sky, say only, “it has been wet… it has been windy… it has been warm.” You do not, as Victorian English art critic John Ruskin puts it, reject apathy against the mundane. Ruskin laments:

“Who, among the whole chattering crowd, can tell me of the forms and the precipices of the chain of tall white mountains that girded the horizon at noon yesterday? Who saw the narrow sunbeam that came out of the south and smote upon their summits until they melted and mouldered away in a dust of blue rain? Who saw the dance of the dead clouds when the sunlight left them last night, and the west wind blew them before it like withered leaves?”

These are the observations only possible through a perspective of hope in the midst of the mundane.

Now imagine this human hope infused with that which is divine, a hope which comes when we release ourselves, allowing our stubborn selves to accept sonship, claiming that we are children of God, and finally accepting the benefits of divine childhood, living in an assurance, and if not assurance, then careful, guarded acknowledgment of the promises of God, those promises which say, “I will never leave you; I will never forsake you.” Or those manifestations of belief: “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.”

Faulkner calls for hopeful artists.

Do you have a hope? Do you have a voice?

I pray you shall.

100_7740

Diversity in the Classroom: the Mennonite Surprise for Liberal Educators

One of the things that has constantly amazed me about teaching at my tiny little Mennonite school is that there is so much diversity. You wouldn’t think so, would you? Not, at least, in a church school serving a conservative denomination that, for better or for worse, has historically stressed conformity.

DIVERSITY IS THE WORD
The word “diversity” is certainly a current catchphrase in today’s world, especially in the liberal public university. You hear about it everywhere from biology (natural diversity), to sociology (social diversity), to literature (various and diverse literary theories). In education courses, we study diversity as it relates to the kinds of students in the classroom. We study different kinds of learners, but we also talk about the various cultural differences that might pop up in the classroom which we might have to deal with. We are instructed to be understanding of that diversity.

MENNONITES: CULTURALLY DIVERSE?
When I moved to Indiana, I felt that in some ways, my days of figuring out diversity were over. After all, I was moving to a tiny town in a rural religious community. How diverse could it be? I figured pretty much everyone would be wearing John Deere t-shirts and camo, and totin’ rifles and warm apple pies. I assumed that I had this community all figured out. I mean, hey, I grew up Mennonite, how “culturally” different could it be?

I assumed I would have my classroom figured out because I reasoned that my students would have a similar background to me. And to a certain extent they do. For many of the students, we have a lot in common. Things like whoopie pies and homemade bread. A capella singing and church food committees. Funerals meals and wedding volleyball. We all know what these things are. But there are ways in which diversity pops up in unexpected ways. For example, our school serves over ten different area churches. Those churches differ in practice and expression of their Christianity. That means the children’s homes differ. Different families have different attitudes toward education. Different families have different practices relating to the use of social media, movies, and Netflix.

A visitor to our school would look out at all my students and see one mass of Mennonite kids. But to the keen eye, the diversity is invigorating. Contrary to what would have been my assumption, not all of my students have white European ancestry. We have students whose racial backgrounds span four different continents. So in history class, I can’t so easily gloss “our ancestors” as being the early Anabaptists in Europe. Also, we have diversity in family background. I think there’s an assumption that Mennonite families are these perfect little units with a Mom and a Dad, six kids, and grandparents next door. But I have found that not all of my students have picture-perfect-package, tied-with-a-bow, families. I see a child desperate for attention, attention she doesn’t get from her large family at home. I see students whose families have been touched with death or separation. I see students fiercely missing their older siblings who are growing up and moving away. I see students with parents from different cultural backgrounds. Backgrounds other than the cookie-cutter Mennonite background of Northern Indiana Amish ancestry. I see students whose families have been touched with pain due to church problems.

And while our private school employs a strict dress code (thankfully), you can even pick out diversity in the students’ personal style through their footwear. Vans or Toms? Converse or Air Jordans? Uggs or wedge booties? There is certainly diversity and difference of opinion.

STEREOTYPES: WHAT’S THE POINT?
So I ask myself, where did this cookie cutter come from? And since it doesn’t fit so many of my students, why don’t we just get rid of it?

Because life is easier if we don’t take diversity into account. It’s much simpler to talk about things “on the whole.” It’s easier to talk about “the majority.” It’s easier to make something “one-size-fits-all.”

But maybe we’re missing something by ignoring diversity. Maybe we’re missing something by not taking other viewpoints into account. Maybe we’re missing something by not using our creative minds to imagine what it is like to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.

DIVERSITY IN UNIFORMITY
It’s interesting to me that my school is more diverse than I (and maybe other outsiders) originally assumed, but that my school, as a whole, also adds to diversity in literary experiences. Let me explain. While my students’ home lives may be diverse (they have different backgrounds or family dynamics), they still represent, “on the whole” (to borrow that horrid phrase) a generally similar ethnic, or people group, background. The religious background is pretty unifying at our school. So while there is diversity, we do experience a unifying identity. (Students are taught to filter life’s questions through an Anabaptist, Biblical worldview. And many students experience the same in their home churches.)

Yet taking this further, I see this unifying Mennonite identity as adding to diversity in contemporary culture. It is intriguing to see my Mennonite students defy secular teenage stereotypes in the English classroom. I would like to explain how my Mennonite students add diversity where my secular university said there would be no diversity of opinion.

I once took an education course on juvenile literature. The class should have been renamed: Liberal Agenda for Teaching Trashy Young Adult Novels. My professor put together a reading list of “diverse” contemporary literature written for young adults. We read these books in order to get ideas for what to teach at the secondary level. (Later, I found out that nearly all twelve novels were on the banned books list. I should have figured that out. I THOUGHT they were trashy! But coming from my Mennonite background, I wasn’t exactly sure what you “English” people read when you are teenagers.) The point my professor was trying to make by having us read these books and discussing them in class was that there is some literary merit to banned books, and reading edgy novels like this in class can get students excited about literature. It gets them reading, and it gets them thinking. Sometimes contemporary novels can be paired with classics to make that interaction with a classic text more meaningful. (For example, pairing The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian with The Scarlet Letter to update discussions about  subculture versus dominant culture.)

The point of the class was not always that classics are bad, but sometimes we need to work really hard to make connections for students. However, there was much classics bashing in that class, especially about some of the heavier religious classics. For example, I was told up and down: “Do not teach The Scarlet Letter. Students hate it. They do not relate to it. Are you teaching is simply because it’s on the curriculum? Get creative.” When I got to my school, I noticed The Scarlet Letter on the curriculum, and I thought to myself, “Oh no, here we go.”

Guess what?
My students loved it. One student gushed: “I loved that book! I would have read it on my own, but I got soooo much more out of it because we discussed it in class!” Every day the kids would come to class: “WHAT?! Dimmesdale is THE FATHER?!”
And the themes of legalism, communities’ response to sin (and sinners), the theme of guilt… All of these things my students highly identified with, and they could relate to these themes. We played conscience alley with the different characters. We played “What Would I Do?” games. We talked about the spiritual themes of the book. (We get to do this at our religious school.) So, thank you, Hawthorne. You wrote a classic, and it still speaks to people today, even teenagers.

I bring this up because I was told that teenagers HATE The Scarlet Letter. Ironically, an institution that preaches diversity got it wrong. They left a Christian perspective out. Interestingly, my teenagers’ one point of uniformity is their one point of diversity in the world. They deeply understand the idea of community versus the individual. They understand the idea of sin and guilt. They’ve seen legalism and hypocrisy played out in their own communities, especially in religious contexts. In some ways, the themes of the novel are very real to them. So I say that I love that my classroom is diverse. And even in its uniformity it is diverse, because they relate to literature they’re “not supposed” to relate to.

This year we read The Pilgrim’s Progress. I had a bit of the same reaction. Oh, dear. Here we go again. Another deep religious classic. But again, my students were so into it. It was the first day, and we had an invigorating discussion about justification by faith alone versus the viewpoint of salvation being faith and works. WOULD YOU EVEN GET THAT READING TWILIGHT. What excited me most about the conversation is that the conversation wasn’t entirely between me and the students. The students were talking amongst themselves, exchanging ideas. So I went home that day smiling. Once again. My students are proving the majority wrong. There are teenagers who want to talk about spiritual things. They don’t see Bunyan and Hawthorne as boring dead guys. (Well, I mean, let’s be honest. Of course they do. But they are willing to discuss the themes of their work. And sometimes volatile discussions ensue. I feel like those are the days that I WIN as an English teacher. Or at least literature wins.)

My take-away lesson is: never assume there is a cookie-cutter shape. Always be on the lookout for subtle differences. If there is a majority, find how that majority is different from other majorities. Diversity is a thing.

My teens get The Scarlet Letter. Not a ton of English teachers can say that.

Maybe we’re missing something by ignoring diversity. Maybe we’re missing something by not taking other viewpoints into account. Maybe we’re missing something by not using our creative minds to imagine what it is like to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.

Survival Tips for First-Year Teachers

Last week I talked about some of the hardest lifestyle adjustments first-year teachers make. This week I’m giving a few survival tips for first-year teachers in regards to relationships.

Make friends with the other teachers (for the students’ sake).
Engaging other teachers in constructive conversation reduces stress by challenging your one-dimensional views of students. I was sitting at a basketball game this year, cheering for my boys, and I leaned over to another teacher: “I kind of forget that they do things other than English.” And I don’t need to tell you that that’s a problem. Certainly, having chosen the field of language and literature, I obviously see the English classroom as a very important part of development on the part of a student and an individual, but I need to remember that their performance in my class does not represent their entire being. You might only see students in the context of your class, and your class might not be their best subject. What happens is that you begin to make a little box and put the student in it. Talking to other teachers can help round out a student.

“Jake is doing poorly in my English class. He’s very quiet, he hardly says anything, and he doesn’t perform on tests and quizzes the way I’d like him to. How is he doing in science?”
“Oh, he’s doing very well in science! He participates so well in class! I can always count on him to raise his hand to answer questions. He’s so interested by biology!”

(Near verbatim conversation that I had this year.) Having these conversations can help round out a student because you can begin to pinpoint the student’s strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. You can share the triumphs of students who excel, but you can also gain helpful information in understanding where your struggling students’ strengths and interests lie. These cross-discipline conversations are very important. For example, it can lead you to ask the question: what would happen for Jake in English class if we wrote English research papers on biology topics? What if we discussed a controversial bio ethics issue for the speech class debate? These constructive conversations can actually make you more hopeful about a struggling student’s future performance.

(A note: these conversations also lead to discussions about social dynamics among the students. For example, one student may be quieter in one class because of a certain peer group, but be much more engaged in another class. Noticing those peer group patterns and discussing them are insightful.)

140322_0002

Make friends with other teachers (for the teachers’ sakes).
It is a good idea to try to serve your fellow teachers.
“ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME. I’M DOING COSTUMES FOR THE SCHOOL PLAY, MAKING BROWNIES FOR PARENT’S NIGHT, AND CHANGING BULLETIN BOARDS THIS WEEKEND. YEAH AND REPORT CARDS ARE DUE.”
Cringe. Pat pat. It’s going to be oooookay.
Certainly, the little things pile up. But you might think of finding ways to be available to your fellow teachers. If you hear a teacher complaining about a task that comes very easily to you, you might offer to help. (Little. Little tasks here. Not school-play-costume-sized tasks.) Think instead of things like: “I can bring back those copies for you.” “I can make that announcement for you.” “I’d love to brainstorm with you about the hallway behavior problem you’re having.” Showing other teachers that you are human (that you are available and that you care) builds a positive atmosphere and might just work in your favor down the road. Like when, after your emotional wailing about the rented costumes getting ripped, a helpful co-teacher (who happens to sew) offers to mend the ripped costumes. And she acts like it’s no big deal at all.

Find a way to connect (to the students).
I’m not sure how to put this. If you have not seen the movie Frozen, you are NOTHING. I’m suggesting that it’s important to stay marginally informed of kid culture. No, perhaps you’d rather not watch The Hunger Games or another Duck Dynasty episode. You don’t like country music, and you think One Direction has terrible lyrics. Maybe you don’t even have a smart phone yet. However, my advice is: get in the know. Try every now and then to be relatable. Otherwise you might end up having an awkward conversation with a car load of eighth graders, where, when asked about a cool movie you recently watched, you do a comparative analysis of the French government’s round up of 8,000 Jews in Paris in 1942 to America’s modern-day abortion genocide. As for the eighth graders, they will probably stare at you like you are from Mars. A better response might be: Despicable Me.

Find a way to disconnect (from the students).
A fair warning to new teachers: you will get very wrapped up in your students’ lives. You will spend outrageous amounts of time thinking about your kids. (Even if you are a content teacher, or, one who teaches because they “love science!” rather than because they “love kids!” Content teachers still care a lot about their students and their success as individuals.)
However, this involvement can be a source of stress. Teachers can stress themselves out by thinking that they are the child savior. This year, I would periodically get overwhelmed because I would feel like a child needed so much, and I need to give them more, but I realized I couldn’t give them everything they needed. And that was true.

I’ve heard it explained like this: we as teachers have both responsibilities and opportunities. We have the responsibility to teach grammar and lit, to test for comprehension, and to lock the classroom at night. We also have opportunities. We have the opportunity to encourage a failing student. We have the opportunity to reach out to a child who is struggling at home. We have the opportunity to love a child unconditionally and to teach them to spread their wings and fly.

However, we cannot get our responsibilities and opportunities mixed up. For first-year teachers, I think that responsibilities must come first. The first year of teaching is about mastering the content, simplifying the busy work, and honestly, just surviving. From my own experience, I would encourage first-year teachers to prioritize immediate responsibilities rather than spending too much time trying to change the world. (But, we feel the pressure to, because there are so many haters of the mistakes of first-year teaching. Why must all seasoned teachers and popular teacher/authors continually disparage what goes on in your first year? It is really discouraging!)

The days will come where you look at you bulletin boards, and realize they needed to be changed two weeks ago, and your report cards are due, and also those thirty research papers, and you will burst into years. Because you will remember your sick neighbor (who probably deserves a casserole), your filthy kitchen at home, and those bills that need to be paid. But on top of all this, you will find that you cannot stop thinking about that undisciplined student who is failing, who said today, “I’m not smart enough to go to college.”

It is at this moment that you need to remember: do the responsibilities first. The opportunities will be there tomorrow. You have a lifetime of teaching. Changing the world tomorrow might mean taking the sticky-tack off the wall today. Opportunities are sweet. But they should not be contrived.

Strangely, the survival tip here is: get away. Take a weekend off. Go visit family. Play a game of soccer. Go out for coffee (with non-teachers). Get a hobby. Do absolutely no school work. You will be amazed at how clear your mind will be when you return. I especially encourage the weekend thing. In late winter. To a place with lots of sunshine. Give yourself a sanity break. You (and your students) deserve it.

The Hardest Things About First-Year Teaching

It has been said: “Calm first-year teachers are like magical unicorns. They are rarely found in the wild.” And to that I say, “Duh. They’re at school lesson planning.” The teachers, I mean. Not the unicorns.

At the end of my first year of teaching junior high and high school English, I decided to come up with a list some of the hardest things that first-year teachers face. Some difficult things about a first-year teacher’s lifestyle include:

School Dayz

Getting used to school culture.
Day trips to Chicago? Thanksgiving lunch exchanges? Formal Christmas banquets for junior high students? Regional spelling bees?
Are you kidding me? We never did anything like that in school. Well, that’s not true. We had Dress-Like-A-Book-Character Day. And we saved up money to go to the Spruce Lake Outdoor School in the Poconos for a week. So I guess we had our fun too.

It can be difficult to adjust to a new school culture. Beware. These cultures exist. Students, teachers, and school administrators plan with happy fondness these annual events. However, to new teachers, these events seem like Another Abominable Addition to the Abiding To-Do List. New teachers: the events aren’t that bad. Try to embrace New Ways of Doing Things.

Realizing you aren’t hip anymore.
If you are a twenty-something jumping into the junior high and high school classroom, it might be a little jolting to embrace your new identity of an authority figure. Teaching high school makes the school memories come flooding back. Only something’s different. You aren’t part of the crowd. Things have changed. You’re an authority figure now. And you aren’t hip anymore. You probably mention the 90s. You probably talk about things from five years ago. You probably wear flats that were bought in 2012. Sadly, new teacher, in your students’ eyes, you are now a part of that homogenous clueless adultness. Also, you’re really old. If you don’t figure that out, your students will remind you, eyes bulging, when you tell them how old you are.

Getting up at 5:00 a.m.
First-year teachers work incredibly long hours. We put in twelve hour days several times a week. And that doesn’t count the grading we take home for “homework”. So, perhaps you’re one of those Type A persons who has always enjoyed getting up at the crack of dawn. (And in the winter, getting up when it’s dark and going home when it’s dark.) I, for one, am not that kind of person.

Perhaps this is one of those “You’re not in college anymore” moments or a “Now you’re a responsible adult” thing. I mean, I’m coming off a college lifestyle where 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. are perfectly acceptable bedtimes. And three and four hours is an acceptable night of sleep. (You know what they say about college. Homework, sleep, friends—pick two.) I happened to be one of those students who went to school full time and worked part time. You do the math for a sleep schedule. Anyway, in college, when you’re only taking care of yourself, you can get away with less sleep. Nobody notices if you are a zombie in statistics class every now and then, or if you get a little dizzy on the university sidewalk. Sleep would have been nice, you think. But that all-nighter was totally worth the GREAT essay I just turned in! Must find caffeine. Must have Americano!

But when, as a teacher, you are required to be on top of your game every single day, and when you are required to respond patiently to all the fifth graders’ questions (there are many; they wonder about all the things), it is essential to have adequate rest. In other words, first-year teachers: grow up. You’re an adult now. Start sleeping like one.

Getting sick.
When I started my first year, I was totally unaware of the fact that first-year teachers catch virtually every flu bug. It was August, week two, and I was out with strep throat. This year, I contracted a total of three cases of strep throat. Vitamins (and extra sleep, as we have learned) became my best friends.

First-year teaching, with its schedules and germ-carrying little dears, doesn’t have to make you sick, but it can certainly do you in (quite quickly) if you combine it with any other sort of immune system stress. For example, during my first year of teaching, I decided to train for a half marathon. However, long distance running can weaken your immune system. Also, healthy runners also need to get extra sleep. So mixing the stress of first year teaching with half marathon training was, in some ways, a recipe for disaster. Which is why I spent race day on my bed at home in Ohio, wailing to my mother about three months of “wasted” training, while she wiped my feverish brow.

So what habits would I recommend for first-year teachers to start developing? Check back next week for “Survival Tips for First-Year Teachers”.

Flour Town: Inquire Within

How I came to the ruler-straight, dry pavement of Flour Town
is beyond

me.

My wheels bump along the wide
patches of dry
manure clods
on Tomahawk road, a road
named by white European settlers,
a road
that takes Yutzys to buy some
Troyer’s cheese

and wide-brimmed hats.

At least I think they’re supposed to be wide-brimmed, but I’m just guessing here.

A road
that Pablo takes to get to work
at Cielito Lindo.

A road
with an unreasonably large Amish hotel
(Yes, Flour Town’s hotels go to church)

and a theater that runs poorly-researched musicals
(Hey Mel:
[and Glee, for that matter]
they don’t use musical instruments)

A road
that a Midwestern, Middle-class family of four runs on
to get physically fit.

A road
wearily driven by first shift factory workers
streaming in
in gray pick-up trucks.

A road
perused by a
curious, attentive,
young, visiting,
hard-working, judgmental,
hopeful, excited,
educated,
Mennonite,
first-year
English teacher.

Reading in the New Year

Great writers are well read. For this reason, one of my goals for the new year is to read. One thing that has helped me to read more is to accept my own strange reading habits. I feel so much better about my reading habits after reading Douglas Wilson’s book Wordsmithy. In his chapter “Read Until Your Brain Creaks,” he encourages writers to read widely, and he announces that it’s totally okay to have, like, twenty books going at a time.

I’m relieved. I actually have a whole shelf devoted to books I’m currently reading. I start reading really great books, but sometimes I don’t have time to finish them right away. And then another book catches my fancy. Or, I’ll be in the middle of a good book, but it’s not the right “book mood” for the certain time of day that I’m reading: for relaxing late at night, for quiet dinner times, or for loud-ish laundromats. So I’ll start yet another book. However, thanks to Wilson, I no longer have to feel guilty about my ADD reading habits.

Right now I’m in the middle of seven (yes, seven) books.

Image

1. Obligatory Classic: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
Fact: A Tale of Two Cities is (except for religious texts like the Bible or the Quran) the best-selling book in the world today. So I think to myself: this book I’ve got to read! Plus, it was one of the highest bidders for my tiny facebook survey of “What classic shall Esther read next?” Several people have responded about this book: “It’s kind of hard to get into, but once you get near the end, you’re like, ‘This is about Everything!’”
Reason for Reading: As an English teacher, I’m trying to brush up on the classics that I haven’t read yet. Sadly, my own high school curriculum and even my liberal arts college education gave me a poor treatment of the classics, so accessing these texts will be prove to be a long, arduous journey, but nonetheless personally satisfying. I think these books have more meaning then we can even begin to imagine.
Reading Ease: It’s not been super easy, but it’s been interesting and heart-warming. I truly have to train myself to enjoy deep reading. I do waaayyy too much internet reading, so I truly do have a short attention span.

Image

2. Christian Life: Crazy Love by Francis Chan
Fact: A lot of my friends read this New York Times bestseller five years ago. Cringe. (Okay, so, I’m a little behind.) The great thing for me, though, is that I get to read the “revised and updated” 2013 version.
Reason for Reading: I wanted to read a book about the Christian life that focuses on the character of God. The version I’m reading is almost devotional as Chan encourages frequent meditation throughout the different sections.
Reading Ease: Very simple. Chan is not writing. He is talking, and he is doing so in an everyday street vernacular. His paragraphs and thoughts don’t always really relate together in logical ways, and a time or two he (carelessly?) dismisses huge theological debates with simple statements of childlike faith. But. I have to consider the point of his book (which is not to answer huge theological questions) and the audience to whom he is writing (the churched, who perhaps he assumes has come to accept, based on faith, certain debated issues.) And, I have to remember that sometimes my “earnest, academic questioning” is not so genuine, but is really only prideful. Or lazy. It is a laziness that comes in the way of getting to know God better. Or that comes in the way of my obedience or of my having to be faithful to certain teachings and beliefs. It’s almost like I’m saying, “Well, I don’t have that figured out yet, so I don’t need to obey my Savior in this area yet.” ?? Ironically, Chan even addresses this tendency (though in regards to another issue) in the book. He talks about the sins of worry and stress, and he writes: “These two behaviors communicate that it’s okay to sin and not trust God because the stuff in my life is somehow exceptional. Both worry and stress reek of arrogance.” My toes are stepped on.

Image

3. Christian Life, Academic: Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians ed. By Kelly Monroe Kullberg.
Fact: Few of you will forget my raving review of Finding God Beyond Harvard, the second book that Kullberg compiled. That book, for me, was life-changing and inexplicably refreshing.
Reason for Reading: My secular liberal arts education, the media, cynical bloggers, dear searching friends, hipster Christians, and even the Church have told me that Christians can’t, or don’t, think. This book indicates otherwise. So you better believe that I’m going to read it.
Reading Ease: Now, we are talking about academics here. They write gorgeous prose about their super-interesting and diverse (albeit mostly upper-class) backgrounds, which is really fun if you are in a learn-y, academic-y mood. Honestly, it’s exciting. But not what I would call easy reading.

Image

4. Christian Theology: Miracles by C. S. Lewis
Fact: The New Yorker writes: “If wit and wisdom, style and scholarship are requisites to passage through the pearly gates, Mr. Lewis will be among the angels.” I AGREE! Esther squeals in a sort of teenage-One-Direction-like frenzy.
Reason for Reading: Duh. Lewis is AHmazing. I have greatly enjoyed Mere Christianity, and even Chesterton himself, the one who got Lewis thinking about Christianity in the first place.
Reading Ease: To be honest, I need “world enough and time” for this one. And a little peace and quiet. So many great thoughts, that I fear they may pass over my little mind, but nevertheless, I grasp, reverently, at the few pearls I might amass. Thank you, Mr. Lewis.

Image

5. Biography/Memoir: Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World by Shirley Hershey Showalter
Fact: I pre-ordered this book before it was even available to the public. Showalter writes about growing up conservative Mennonite to finally becoming a college president! I read an online interview a while back about this book, and Showalter said something to the effect that there’s a lot of books out there about being Amish or growing up Mennonite, but this is a book by someone who actually lived it.
Reason for Reading: I spent a good deal of my English (Pre-Education) undergraduate degree reading a ton of “minority” literature so that (according to the state of Ohio) I would be prepared to teach all kinds of constituencies. Well, guess what? I never found “myself” or “my people,” very remotely, in ANY of the literature we read, so I guess all this talk about diversity is a little misleading, wouldn’t you say?
Reading Ease: Great! If you’ve had a bit of a literary education, you can pick out the literary things she’s doing… like starting her book, quite literally, in a root cellar, and beginning with genealogies. But even if you don’t pick up those things, you will find it to be an interesting read.

Image

6. Familiar, Comfortable, Baby-Bye-Bunting-Feeling Book: Anne’s House of Dreams by L. M. Montgomery
Fact: Growing up I had many positive role models of strong, educated females both in my literature choices and in my guarded exposure to media. Anne Shirley, Jo March, Christy, and Maria von Trapp? It’s like I didn’t even have a chance. #teacherforlife
Reason for Reading: To induce baby-bye-bunting feelings when one’s family is very, very far away.
Reading Ease: Quite perfect. Just enough plot to keep you moving and just enough contemplative moments to keep you thinking.

Image

7. Nonfiction: Globish: How the English Language Became the World’s Language by Robert McCrum
Fact: You all probably watched McCrum’s informative, though highly dated, T.V. series “The Story of English” in your introductory undergraduate linguistics coarse.
Reason for Reading: It struck my fancy in the nonfiction section at our local library. I absolutely love studying the history of the English language. That course, “The History of English,” was one of my favorite courses at Ohio State. Thank you, Dr. Modan!
Reading Ease: Good. He’s clearing his throat a lot at the beginning, or it seems like it to me (maybe because I’ve actually studied a bit of these topics before), and he has an amusing view of the United States and its politics (most snobby Europeans do), and his writing is cluttered with a lot of academic jargon, but I think I will be able to pop over these portions with ease to get to the real meat of his work.

Also, we include a picture of McCrum because he is so funny to look at.

Image

Question 1: Do you believe in “reading moods”?

Question 2: What is the largest amount of books you’ve ever had going at a time?

First Year Teaching

What is a teacher?

I find myself grappling with this question here at the close of my first semester of teaching English. It’s been a whirlwind; I’ve found few moments to sit back, take a deep breath, and contemplate. So here I go, the week of Christmas, pecking out a few observations of first-year teaching.

I’m working hard to conquer and understand the ins and outs of our curriculum. I’ve decided that I really like the stability of a curriculum but that a curriculum can be very confining.

One of the biggest surprises of first year teaching has been sickness. I was sick five times between August and November. Apparently, stress and sixty-five dear little germ-holders do not mix well. So now I’m trying to get my rest, and I’m gorging on vitamins. But the worry of future sickness makes me feel even more stressed out.

Another surprise is the amount of busy work that teaching entails. It’s my job to sit down and read through vocabulary assignments and poorly written comp assignments by students who (about English) don’t give a flying fart in France. Yes, that’s how I spend my time.

Or filing. I hate filing! What a waste of time. I get really sick of these (what seem like) meaningless tasks. However, these “meaningless” assignments are, in some ways, foundational roots. And someone read through my daily work in eighth grade so that I would not turn out to be an ignoramus.

Another thing I’ve realized is that I do not hate teaching. I do not dread going to school. I think: that is a good thing.

How teaching complements my career goals: teaching 11th and 12th grade composition has been a really great experience for me because I am learning better writing techniques. It’s surprising how lazy I can be with little things like parallelism and subordination. But great writers have mastered these basics. I’m enjoying teaching these tools, editing for these tools, and applying these basics to my own writing.

Also, I’m spending a LOT of time reading literature in order to teach it. One of my biggest complaints of both my high school and college education is poor treatment of the classics. So I am excited to spend time studying some of the great works of literature that I have never encountered before.

I should probably mention here something about lesson planning, but I would be careful to broach this subject outside the brotherhood of teachers. Those in the brotherhood understand the necessity of lesson planning, and explaining it to people who are not teachers always brings extremely depressing responses like, “You spend THAT much time working outside of 9-5? And you get paid THAT much? I would NEVER be a teacher.” Says the ungrateful person (OR STUDENT!) who is going to make so much more money than you and never once thank the elementary teachers that got them there in the first place. Non-teachers do not realize that we teachers have made a choice to sacrifice our lives and a lot of personal comforts (and luxuries) for students because we feel called to teaching and because we want to make a difference. Wise people will realize, then, that it is in their best interest to forego these demeaning, unsupportive comments. People: SUPPORT YOUR TEACHERS. Teachers who spend a lot of time with children and young people are extremely aware of (and sadly, used to) ungratefulness, and ungratefulness is even MORE disgusting coming from adults.

This is actually something that I’ve dealt a lot with this semester. I get so aggravated that all my waking moments are spent either in the school building or in lesson planning. I had this moment where I shook my little finger at God and griped, “You know, I get really tired of spending my time sacrificing my LIFE for people who don’t care at all!”

And God’s like, “ … …”

And then I grew up.

So when I ask myself the question: “what is a teacher?” here are a few responses that come to mind.

A teacher celebrates choice. When a student makes a personal reading choice, a teacher celebrates that choice even if it is not the best choice. While the teacher may not have chosen that book, the student is demonstrating ownership of his/her education. This is important in English education. Students must have successful reading experiences before they will attempt more difficult material. So, for example, a “teacher” will overlook the fact that a student exchanged a Holocaust narrative for Si Robertson’s Si-Cology for his book report book. (Ahem.)

A teacher does not take it lightly when vulnerable eighth grade boys ask, “How do you study for an English test?” This question once again demonstrates ownership. Eighth grade boys do not ask how to study for tests. This question shows that something is awakening in the student. He realizes he does not have study skills, and he is actively seeking knowledge in this area.

A (junior high) teacher rejoices with the magic 6: “I’m sorry. That was my responsibility.”

A teacher forgives cultural mishaps in Catholic basilicas. Because. Junior highers are not adults. Yet.

And then in closing: I can’t end this post without sharing some of my best blunders from this semester.

One of my favorites: catching myself doodling on a student’s homework. I have a student who is obsessed with all-things-England. Many assignments this student turns in feature some reference to England or London. One day I was grading this student’s work, and before I knew it, I had drawn a whole British flag on the paper. Suddenly I remembered that I WAS THE TEACHER! I was quite embarrassed, and I tried to smooth it over with some academic comment, but there it was: the doodled flag.

Another good one was in 5th grade English class, when I was reminding students that a certain assignment was due and accidentally let my teenage self rear its ugly head: “Do you know when that is due, bee-tee-double-you?!”
*Cringe.
The 5th graders didn’t notice the text speak at all, but a sixth grader smirked in the corner. Oops.

And finally, one of the worst content mistakes was teaching (and TESTING) that Emily Dickinson was a British poet. Um. Oops.

It happens?