Thailand Update #1

Hello, friends! 

So, I'm at the bottom of the barrel, so to speak, in terms of brain power these days. I won't get into specifics, but I'm primed for a comeback, and when it happens--things will be happening here!

In the meantime, I thought I would share here a video I made this evening and sent to the people I asked help support my trip to Thailand this July. 

If you are one of those people, THANK YOU x 123890432897 for both your prayer and financial support. 

If you aren't one of those people, email/text/call or send a messenger owl (RIP Hedwig...never forget) if you're at all interested in getting info on how to partner with me for this trip! 

Thanks for watching. And being wonderful. See you next time! 

Teaching Is Hard.

Here I sit, on a Friday evening at Starbucks. Basic, I know. 

Last night I started reflecting on the job I'm doing: what it means, how it makes me feel, how it makes my students feel. Truly, I found myself falling short in all the ways. 

Now, let me zoom out for a moment and note that this has been no ordinary week. If you're reading this, surely you know that this week was the first round of state testing for my eighth graders. They took their math test on Tuesday, English on Wednesday, and lost their minds the rest of the week. God bless us, every one. 

Okay, so when I'm having this existential crisis while getting ready for bed last night (you know when you take a minute in the midst of washing your face and just stare at your reflection in the mirror...) I realize that I am in a really high-stress time. I get it. Re-examining the inner workings of the education system and my role in it isn't my wisest bet at this exact moment in the game. But I can't seem to help myself. 

In the last week I have had a version of the same conversation with my coworkers over and over again: if I don't take this dang test seriously, if my kids don't, then there are very real consequences both in terms of how they see themselves (and, let's be real, how I see myself) in the midst of failure and very literally, in that there are extra hoops to jump through and additional tests to take. To be clear, if students are unsuccessful on the English test (because they need to pass it to go high school), they will take it a total of three times before it's all said and done. They also have to pass the math test to go to high school. At my school, if a student fails the English test, they have probably also failed the math test; this means they'll be taking that a total of three times as well. They also have to take a science and social studies test. So, for those of you keeping score at home, that is 8 tests in one year for too many of my students. The ones who pass the first time for both will only take four this year. Only. LOL.

I digress. In this conversation I've had over and over again I'm facing the same giant that I feel like I confront every year. When asked, I explain that my job is to get my students ready for high school. To keep myself sane, I justify the amount of stress, tears, anxiety, anger, sleeplessness, etc. on the fact that getting my students to pass the state test is one of the hurdles to jump to get them ready for high school. I don't pause too long here to question if I actually think the test is an appropriate indicator of high school readiness because my brain will explode. But that's a conversation for another time, I suppose. 

Here's the real breaking point for me, though: I spend a stupid amount of hours at school, at concerts, allllllll the sports games, all the things that I can get myself to because they matter to my students and my students matter to me. I spend a crazy amount of time trying to figure out how to build relationships with my 200 students. I care about them, about what they're coming to school having to deal with, about how what I teach them can shape them positively before I send them on to high school, all of it. All. Of. It. Centers on the relationships I build with them (read: trust). So it feels ugly and counterproductive to spend the entire last part of my time with a portion of them focusing on their passing this freaking test. 

Failure affects my students differently. I don't mean that they're delicate wildflowers whose experiences are unique to just them and no other human, but it is a specific difference which is characteristic of the situation into which they have been born. So, so many of them view failure as final. It's all she wrote. So much of their time and stress revolves around both anticipating and bracing themselves against failure and it's so heart-wrenching to watch. 

Trying to get a 13 year old to feel like something is important without building it up to such heights that it feels impossible to survive missing the mark is no easy task. And I'm not getting it right. I know I'm not. 

I'm not sure any of us are. How can we? How can I teach my students that failure isn't final, that it's actually an opportunity to learn and grow, if the system we're functioning within communicates something different?

Whether intentional or not, the message is clear: pass this test, move on to other getting-ready-for-high-school-things (which is no cake walk, btw. After they take their test you'd think Jesus came to them in a dream and shared with them all the secrets of the universe and so they don't need this school thing. Bless.).

Fail your test? Cool. In ten school days we'll have that information to you, then you have ten school days to (by law) offer remediation for students who were unsuccessful on the first pass. Then, they'll take it again (the same week as the math re-take, the science, and the social studies tests. ITSFINEIMFINE.). Ten days later (the Monday after they get out of school for the summer) your school will get the results of that second administration. That means any student who had to take either/both of the tests a second time has to assume failure (we've discussed how well this works out), and anticipate attending summer school. The students who didn't pass that second time get to come to summer school all of June and take those blessed math and English tests for a third time at the end of the month. 

So.

Does it work? Does it help my kids--or anyone's? If this were my own literal child in this situation, would it be acceptable to me? 

My answer to all of this is a resounding no. But even though I work at the most magical unicorn of a school, I have no options. The system is set up this very specific way by whomever, and my school and me and my kids have to fulfill our role in this thing which only serves to teach students that tests are more important than anything (I'm playing fast and loose with the absolutes here, but I'm worked up, so have some grace for me.).

But do you know the thing that messes me up maybe the most? For that group of students who we work with from here until the end of June, all they're getting, despite my greatest efforts to continue the things that I have been preaching from the beginning of the year (the test is just one factor to your readiness; this class is more than this thing you have to conquer in test-form; you are more intelligent than any test can calculate; you are this whole interesting, complex person; I am excited about teaching you about life and literature and how to communicate your own thoughts so other people don't do it for you), I worry that what they're hearing is that success=passing the state test. All our attentions, efforts, and time are dedicated singularly to getting as many students to pass as possible. Because if they don't? What if they fail it again and I could have done something more to prepare them better? The pressure is immense. For us, for them, it feels like too much. It's really difficult to believe they'll remember that I'm the teacher who cares about them as humans, and not just test-takers, when we have to think so much--for so long--about them taking these tests. 

And I don't know what to do about it.  

Catching Up: My Big Dumb Mouth and Grace and Thailand

Hello again, dear blog.

I'll skip the lengthy preamble about how sorry I am to have been absent & neglectful of this blog (though I am), simply because it feels like a waste. It has been f o r e v e r since I've written here, and to attempt to catch up the Internet on all that has happened since I've last written would be crazy, so I won't be doing that either. So, let's just get to it!

Normally, I would talk myself out of writing here at the end of a long day because this isn't a mindless activity, and often, after such a long day during such a high-stress time, that's all I'm really interested in doing. Now, don't you worry about me. The Voice AND The Bachelor are on tonight, so while I address some envelopes, I'll be getting plenty of the mindlessness. Rest easy. 

But I know that I need to start writing here again for a few reasons; some are just practical (like giving myself deadlines and specific topics) and some are more cathartic and less tangible--therapeutic, if you will. 

So, I'll lead with the big news: I get the opportunity to travel to Thailand this July on a mission trip with the church I attend and I am out of my mind excited about it. eLife leadership has cast vision that the people of Thailand are our specific focus internationally, and have challenged everyone to pray toward what our specific role in that mission will be. Which, I've been doing without feeling like anything specific was happening. I know people adopting from Thailand, hosting exchange students from there, and going to Thailand for long-term missions. But I haven't felt called to go long-term, and based on my current life situation, those other two options aren't really available to me presently. Then came this opportunity to go on a 10 day trip to Bangkok with 9 other people from eLife--to learn about the culture by experiencing it, link up with mission partners there, and basically soak up as much as I can, and be as vulnerable to Jesus as I can. 

I'm out of my mind excited. Also pretty nervous to raise support to go, but it's fine and Jesus is greater and it's going to be great. 

Anyway, this segues nicely into the next portion of events where I talk about how Jesus has not been messing around with me and my just ridiculous human-ness (read: sinfulness). It's hard when you realize something about yourself and your relationship with Jesus as an adult person. I find that it's much, much more difficult to ignore. 

For instance, and I know this isn't ground-breaking stuff, but I have recently been confronted with the reality that I am suuuuper into receiving grace from people. Honestly, even sometimes feel entitled to it (hah.) but it turns out that I am not so great at giving it to other people. The tough part about this epiphany I've had is that if you were to ask me, I would honestly tell you that I want to show other people grace the way that I'm shown it, and that I really do try. And I think that is true. The problem is that my initial reaction to things that 1) don't go the way I planned them 2) don't happen the way I would have done them or 3) where I am not or my feelings are not consulted, ya'll, it's not pretty. It's ugly, and lacking grace, and totally selfish. And I hate it. I think that this manifests itself in a bunch of different ways, not always outward but definitely sometimes outward; I know I'm not the only person to struggle with it, but I know that regardless of whether my lack of a grace-reaction is my singular problem or a bunch of peoples, it doesn't justify it. In the last week I have been constantly reminded of my own imperfection, specifically when it comes to showing other people grace, loving people like Jesus loves me--and let me tell you: it is pretty unpleasant. 

The upside is that this conviction, the need to apologize to people I've been harsh with, the awareness of my words and my facial expressions, and my general reaction to people has been so good for my soul. Does that even make sense? Maybe not, but I can tell you that it sucks at the same exact rate that it feels nice knowing that I'm not so jacked up that I'm unaware of my own mistakes. I can consciously think about my reactions, my words, my capability to show grace, and I can do better each time. 

I love to be heard, and be right, and be validated, but I love Jesus more. I'm working through acting like it more often--not for the perception it gives people about me, but because I think Jesus is refining me for a purpose. I think that purpose plays out daily, but also because Thailand is just around the corner. I want to look more like Jesus, react more like him, think more like him, be more like him.
And I'm working on it. 

Until next time, friends! 

 

*If you've made it here thanks to my support letter for Thailand, hey! Also, thanks! Check back--I'll be updating more than the random you'll find below this post.