Building Character, Not Just Academics

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On my very first day of teaching EVER, I invited my students into the classroom and instructed them to write on the board in response to three prompts:

  1. What are your expectations of me as your teacher?
  2. What are your expectations of each other as classmates?
  3. What are your expectations of yourself this year in my class?

After about five minutes I had everyone sit down, and we reviewed their responses as a class. These would become our social contract for the year.

In each of my six class periods, I was largely pleased with their responses. Some students wrote a teacher expectation of “no homework” and the like, but for the most part, I saw phrases like “be patient with us” and “be kind, not mean”. Against such things there is no law.

However, in second period when I asked, “Is there anything else anyone wants to add that they may not have written up on the board?”, a large, dark-haired boy in the front row raised his hand.

“Yes…” I checked my seating chart, “…Art?”

His brows drew together angrily. “One of my expectations of you as our teacher is that you get kids out of here who don’t deserve to be in this class.”

The previously silent classroom seemed to get even quieter. Perhaps I had heard wrong. “Excuse me, what?”

He repeated himself. “Like those two.” He pointed down the row at two smaller boys, Ernie and Kevin. “They’re not smart enough to be in Pre-AP, but their parents put them in here anyway. You should kick them out of your advanced math class or they’ll hold back the whole class.”

Stunned, it was purely by the grace of God that I managed a reasonable response. “Well, Art, that leads us nicely into our next topic, which is ‘Expectations of Each Other as Classmates’. You’ll see all over this board words like ‘kind’ and ‘respectful’.” I looked pointedly at him. “So we’re not going to have any more comments like that in my classroom. Is that understood?”

Art stayed behind after class. He told me again his concerns. Totally flabbergasted at his blatant arrogance and prejudice, I suggested, “You know, Art, I’m happy to have you come alongside me as the teacher and help tutor some of these other students if they need to be brought up to speed. Instead of tearing down our classmates, let’s work together to build them up, okay?”

Art laughed – a hardened, angry laugh. “They’re beyond help.” And he walked out of my room.

Yesterday I gave my first test of the year, and I marveled as I graded the papers from second period. The high-and-mighty Art only got 20% right. And little Ernie got an 80%.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. -Proverbs 16:18

Authentically Aurora

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First Day of School

86acaaff3d8bc7a4ebcfbf6e78ae9bfd--first-day-of-school-tot-schoolToday – my first day of teaching – started out great. I woke up a couple of hours early, brewed myself some coffee, and read through a few chapters of Hebrews while listening to “Wonder” by Bethel on repeat. It was a slow, peaceful morning of getting in the right headspace to start my teaching career.

I prayed for my day, gathered up my bags, and walked to the backdoor where I was greeted by a cockroach on its back with its legs still twitching. I just got creeped-out chills even typing about it. It’s still alive and just got flipped over. Gross. After a quick kiss, that will be Seth’s first order of business when he comes to visit later.

Remembering that I should do a “first day of school” picture, I decided to go out my front door to take a selfie in front of the door. I’m not a big fan of selfies, but I didn’t have anyone to take my photo, so I stepped outside to do it myself… and was greeted by a black cat walking right across my sidewalk.

First, a roach; next, a black cat; then around 2pm, the sky went dark! …Okay, so the solar eclipse didn’t actually have anything to do with my first day of teaching, but it made for a good third ominous omen. In actuality, the third creepy thing about today was coming home to an unlocked door. I thought for a second that maybe Seth had let himself in with my spare key, but then I realized that between the roach and the first day photo out front – for the first time in years – I forgot to lock the door behind me! Fortunately nothing was taken, but it was still strange walking in to my unlocked apartment.

School was good. Most of my classes are good. I’m exhausted. There’s so much I could write, but my legs hurt from standing, and my throat is sore from talking, and I really just want to go drink a cup of hot tea with honey, curl up on the couch and read or watch Netflix.

So for now, I’ll simply say: 1st & 3rd period are AWESOME! I have some fellow Harry Potter fans in there, and they think I’m a pretty cool teacher because above my door on the way out, I have this sign:

Mischief Managed

In 2nd period, I had to get ISS involved. On the first day of school. That’s a story for another day. And 7th period is super chatty! I will definitely have to draw up a strict seating chart for them. 4th is my conference period (long lunch – whoop!), and 5th and 6th are not really notable at this point. More to come. Stay tuned.

Authentically Exhausted Aurora

New Neighbors – Part 2

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I joke about kumquat Joe, but the truth is, he’s a really great guy. He and his wife (!!!) just got back from their honeymoon and invited Seth and me over for dinner to catch up (Yes, I was almost his first kiss last year, and now he’s lapped me and is already married. #thisismylife). They borrowed our bikes to go camping last weekend, and Joe actually just came over a few minutes ago to drop off some magazines I need as supplies to have the kids cut out pictures at school next week.

That’s one of the nice things about all four of us being Christians and knowing each other from church. When Joe and I went on a couple of dates, that’s all they were: get-to-know-you sessions. We never kissed each other and certainly didn’t do anything beyond that. When we decided we weren’t the right fit for each other, we both moved on amicably. Joe is now married to a wonderful, godly woman, and I have the privilege of getting to date Seth – one of the kindest, most servant-hearted men I’ve ever met.

Yeah, there was some awkwardness at first, but since Joe and I did dating well, now the four of us can all see each other and genuinely not have any bitterness or jealousy. We all believe God has good plans and divine purposes for each of us, and although Joe and I respect each other, we also agree that we are not meant for each other; God had better out there for each of us. Such amicability and friendliness seems to be rare in dating and breakups these days, and I’m so thankful to be a part of a positive example of what pure, mature, godly dating can look like.

In an effort to meet some of my other neighbors, I made some homemade fudge (two kinds: peanut butter and a chocolate pecan fudge). I wrapped them up with pretty little turquoise ribbons and took them in a wicker basket door-to-door. The trouble with apartment life is that only 4 of my 15 neighbors were home on a Saturday afternoon, but most of the people I met were friendly and appreciative.

In fact, the day after I made my rounds with the homemade fudge, I was trying to get into the apartment gym but had forgotten the door code. A woman I’d befriended the day before came around the corner from collecting her mail and recognized me. “Oh, hey!” she grinned at me, and I smiled back.

“Are you trying to get into the gym?” she asked me. When I nodded, she told me the four-digit code. I thanked her, and we went our separate ways, but my heart swelled at the fact that two otherwise unacquainted women each made an effort to extend a simple gesture of kindness to the another.

Not enough of us make the time to meet our neighbors; to genuinely connect with people we have no driving reason to befriend. But I want to exude warmth and kindness and generosity; I want to value people and love them well – even those I have no cause to make the time to get to know. Life is hard, and we need to love and support each other. So do something kind today. Be generous. Be thoughtful. Be loving.

Authentically Aurora

New Neighbors – Part 1

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About a month ago, I moved to a new apartment to be closer to where I’ll be teaching this fall. It’s a nice place, built like a townhouse with a garage on the bottom level and my living area stacked directly above it on the second floor. I have granite countertops and a patio, and – because it’s so far outside of town – this awesome unit costs $400/month less than my last place.

Seth helped to move me in. Actually, he insisted on it, pressuring me to let him be a good boyfriend rather than hiring movers. My compromise was to let him move all of the boxes but hire movers to move the furniture. That way, Seth would get to do the manual labor he loves so much (think country boy stuck in the city), and I would still have an intact boyfriend (and furniture) when I finished getting moved.

I made the mistake of giving Seth the keys to both my old and new apartments while I ran to a baby shower I was hosting. And when I got to my new place later that afternoon, I discovered that Seth had decided to move my couch by himself when I wasn’t there. Something about proving to me that I really shouldn’t have hired movers… That’s what I get for dating a manly man.

Anyway, while we were unloading boxes from the back of his pick-up truck, we both stopped short at the sight of a familiar face across the walkway from my garage. My new neighbor is kumquat Joe.

Authentically Aurora

The Teaching Rollercoaster

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Only 1 week into teaching, I can already attest to the fact that the rumors are true: Teaching is an emotional rollercoaster.

I haven’t even met any kids yet, and I’ve already climbed into the rail car and taken a few dips and turns! Just in-service was enough to get me pumped up and then anxious; excited and then stressed out at the mountain of things I have to do before next week. My To Do list is currently five pages single-spaced, and every day I am finding out about more things I have to do that I didn’t even know to ask about (like a Word Wall. Apparently every teacher – even math teachers like me – are required to have a “Word Wall” in their classrooms. I only know this because I overheard a conversation – who was going to tell me?!).

But at the end of the day – even the Alexander Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days – I am still glad I am here at not in corporate.

I am still sure this was the right decision. It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be good. In corporate, all of the vision casting was elaborate and verbose, but it never came to fruition; it was just rhetoric and word fluff from the top down that took no input from the lower ranks. They had no heart; no pure intent behind the syrupy words.

But here in my school district, it’s evident that the Superintendent at least – and also my direct Principal – genuinely believe in the shared vision. They legitimately took input and feedback from all stakeholders – parents, students, teacher and the community – to determine and develop our shared mission, values and purpose. They are passionate and authentic and bought in.

It’s not a perfect district (people are, after all, messy), but I can tell that they truly believe in empowering teachers and students (even if they’re not very good at equipping new teachers like myself). They encourage thoughtful challenge of the status quo.

I really think this is where I belong. I really think I finally found a fit. It won’t be perfect, but I think God has a purpose for me here, and I am excited to walk forward into this first school year as a teacher.

Authentically Aurora

Back to School – Part 3

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I just got an email from my principal.

Finally.

It was addressed to me and one other teacher. I expected it to be welcoming me to the school and giving me some good information for what to expect next week. Instead, it says simply:

“Since you guys have big rooms,  we are going to use your rooms for rotations the first week back to school.  We will need a functioning projector. “

That was all.

The good news: Apparently I have a big classroom.

The bad news: I don’t yet know which classroom is mine, what rotations she’s talking about, or whether or not my room has a projector, much less how how to use it.

I’d forgotten how much it stinks to be the new person.

Authentically Aurora

Back to School – Part 2

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Thanks to my perseverance, I finally got issued my district email address a few weeks early. I’ve hungrily dug into all of the shared files, desperately trying to find out if there are already lesson plans in place or if I need to be spending my last weeks of summer developing a syllabus, worksheets, homework, quizzes and tests for the year. I don’t want my first six weeks to be a mess of chaotic franticness.

All summer long, I’ve been checking the district website hoping they’d update the calendar for the 2017-2018 school year. They finally did a couple weeks ago, so I found out my first day of teacher inservice would be Thursday, August 10th. I’ve had it in my calendar ever since.

To make the most of my last week of summer, Seth and I planned a romantic day trip for Monday, August 7th, and I have a specialist doctor’s appointment scheduled for Tuesday the 8th. I had to schedule the appointment two months in advance, so I was relieved they were able to get me in before school started.

Then yesterday, I checked my district email account.

The email account I only have because I’ve been bothering IT all summer long.

The email account I’m not supposed to have yet and that no one has advised me to be checking yet this summer.

I had an email “reminding” me of MANDATORY TRAINING for new teachers on August 7-8.

Note that this email was not sent to my personal email from my resume. I did not receive a call from my principal or administration. I never heard anything about this mandatory training from the HR department. The only reason I found out about it was because I had a district email address that I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE YET AND ONLY HAVE BECAUSE OF MY PROACTIVITY!!!

Seth and I cancelled our romantic day trip. He’s out $50 for tickets we already bought.

I postponed my specialist doctor’s appointment for another two months. Now I’ll have to use a precious vacation day to go to my appointment.

And I will responsibly show up for this mandatory training I only know about because I am proactive, responsible and on top of things when the rest of the school system is not.

I’m so glad I left Corporate America to escape bureaucracy.

Authentically Aurora