Back to School – Part 1

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I knew there was going to be a steep learning curve entering the world of education as a first-year teacher.

Half the people I told about my new job – rather than congratulating me – offered their condolences. That made me just all the more determined to love teaching and the world of education. But so far, I am staring to see their point (much as I am loathe to admit it).

I got hired back in April. Since then, I’ve been asking my principal, the HR department, my math specialist co-teacher and the IT department what I need to be doing to prepare for the school year. I’ve had three months to do professional development, lesson planning and all manner of things to get ready for my first year as a teacher. Here’s the feedback I’ve gotten.

From my principal: “You’re way ahead of the game. Just relax. We don’t do most of our hiring until July.”

From HR: “Ask your principal.”

From my co-teacher: “Here are a bunch of links. But you won’t be able to access any of them until you have a district email address.”

From IT: “Sorry, we don’t issue new teacher email addresses until the week before school starts.”

I feel like I’m back in the world of Corporate.

Authentically Aurora

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Defying Dementia

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Seth’s father has severe Alzheimer’s disease. The symptoms started when he was about 50, and by age 55, he was diagnosed with Early Onset Familial Alzheimer’s Disease (EFAD). It’s genetic, so Seth has a 50/50 chance of having it himself. It’s been the source of many a difficult conversation between us (and all of your prayers are welcomed, encouraged and appreciated).

A few weeks ago, Seth and I planned a joint trip for our parents. Seth and I took both sets of folks for a long weekend in the hill country so they’d have an opportunity to get to know one another better. My parents got to see their family’s ranch, and his parents were treated to one of the finest wine tastings in the region by way of a thank you from my mom and dad.

Both sets of our parents genuinely wanted to get along, which made the trip that much more fun! What could have been a stressful or awkward time was instead one of relaxation and joy.

Seth and I are blessed to both come from happy homes with kind, loving parents, which has made the steps toward joining families much more pleasant than many of the in-law stories I hear. Interestingly, my grandparents knew each other before my parents ever met. My dad’s folks attended services at the church where my mom’s dad was a pastor. My parents met years later and were fortunate to have all four grandparents get along as friends. This is unusual (especially being in one of the Top Five most populous cities in the nation – it’s not like we’re “small town” folks!), so I was all the more surprised to discover that Seth’s grandparents have a similar story. He and I are already reaping the benefits of our generational inheritance of loving, stable, solid families who are friendly and make an effort to get along.

One day of our joint parental trip, we went for a walk in the park. Seth’s dad doesn’t say much (he’s basically nonverbal and has to be told what to do; then he follows orders fairly well), but during one stop we made in the park to observe the natural beauty, Seth’s father suddenly spoke.

“There are ants,” he said simply.

We all glanced at him, surprised he had spoken without prompting. He was pointing to my feet, so we all looked down, and sure enough, I was standing in an ant pile!

I jumped away and brushed off the angry little insects already swarming my shoes.

Later, my dad and I marveled at the fact that – with five out of the six of us fully lucid and coherent – Seth’s dad was the only one observant enough to notice that I was standing in an ant pile. How humbling. God truly does turn everything on its head, using the weak to humble the strong; using the things viewed as “less than” by the world to fulfill His purposes. Think of David and Goliath. Think of Gideon and his 300. Think of Jesus dying so that we may live.

It pleases God to do things this way – for our good and His glory.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. -1 Cor. 1:26-29

Authentically Aurora

People are the Worst.

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I’ve made nearly $500 in the past week selling off old junk I never used anyway. The impetus for my mass clean out was that I recently moved apartments to be closer to the school where I’ll start teaching next month.

I’ve been using Facebook Marketplace as a venue for my online garage sale of sorts, and the first few transactions went great. My favorite was when I sold off my first SLR camera to a well-mannered (and very country) high school boy who insisted on addressing me as ma’am. When we met for the transaction in front of a local shopping mall, he was giddy with excitement to spend his yard-mowing money on his first camera, and it was my joy to watch him click through all of the features of the SLR. I gave him a good discount and included a lot of accessories, too.

But that’s where the highlight reel ended.

Since then, I’ve had a woman message me claiming to be “a disabled mom [whose] money is very tight.” She asked me to give her a full set of dishes for free because, “My children and I just moved here from Indiana to get away from their abusive father. We had to pretty much leave everything behind and starting over. Just trying to make a decent home for them with used items I can find. If you would be willing, please let me know.” I told her I already had a buyer but that I had some lower-end dishes I’d be willing to give her for free. I never heard back from the “disabled mom”.

Next, I got a message from the daughter of some woman named “Miranda” who claimed her mom would like to buy a purse I had listed for sale, but the mom didn’t have Facebook, so the daughter gave me an email address to contact the mom. When I heard back from Momma Miranda via email, she said she was sending me a check in the mail but “included the shipment funds in the amount on the check for the mover to come for the pick up. And you are to deduct your money $600 as agreed and additional $50 for keeping the item for me and your running around and then give the rest balance to the mover coming for the pick up, I hope i can trust you with my money?”

Umm… what? The purse was for sale for $60, not $600, and the check that – sure enough – showed up the next day was for $1,650. And the check was signed John Smith. Literally. John Smith.

I didn’t cash the check or send the purse or take any action other than calling the police department for the account address listed on the check – a small town in Illinois – but they told me I had to call my local police department. The local police down here in the South aren’t going to get involved, so I called the bank listed on the check. They couldn’t help me but told me to call their local police. So I made yet another phone call to yet another small town in Illinois, and the dispatcher started to tell me to have my local police handle it, but I explained, “Look, I haven’t been personally harmed by this fraud at all. I still have the purse, and I still have my money. I didn’t give out any sensitive personal information. I am just trying to do the right thing and help these people get caught, but I have no skin in the game. No one seems to want to claim jurisdiction, which is why money laundering continues to be an effective white collar crime.”

She patched me through to the Head Deputy of Podunksville, Illinois.

He ended up being really nice and really helpful. He was appreciative of my efforts and, even though the check from his small town in Illinois was mailed from Ohio down to me in Texas, with instructions to wire the remaining funds to the “mover” in Georgia, this Head Deputy asked me to send him all of the information I’d received, both digital and hardcopies, so that he could look it over and try to prosecute these people for fraud.

I packed everything up and drove to USPS to mail the hardcopies to the Deputy. Once there, I tried to pay the $6.65 shipping charge, but my card was declined, so I had to pay with a secondary card. Back in my car, I called the credit card company, and they said there were hundreds of dollars in Uber rides charged to my card in San Francisco. In an unrelated cyber attack, my credit card number had been compromised.

People are the worst.

Authentically Aurora

The System (for Introverts)

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I used to hate getting shots. Every six weeks or so, I have to go into my allergist’s office to get my maintenance dosage of allergy shots. It takes 20 minutes to drive there, and I have to sit and wait for 20 minutes after getting the shots so they can make sure I’m not having an anaphylactic reaction; then it takes another 20 minutes to drive back home or to work. So every six weeks, I used to feel like I was wasting an hour of my day… until I figured out The System.

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 11.32.12 AMNow when it’s time for my allergy shots, I go get myself a latte. I throw my Kindle into my purse. I silence my phone and stick in my earbuds and listen to white noise to drown out the sounds of older patrons talking loudly or children whining or babies crying.

Now every six weeks – instead of feeling like I am wasting my time sitting in the doctor’s office – I get an extended period of time to sit in a comfy chair disconnected from the world and read a good book while drinking a freshly brewed latte. And it is heaven.

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 11.34.48 AM.pngThis morning when I went in for my six-week maintenance dose, I scanned the waiting room as I nestled down, and I spotted a sixteen-year-old girl who has already discovered The System. She had kicked off her shoes and pulled her feet up into her chair and was curled up with a thick paperback, oblivious to anyone but the characters in her story. I smiled to myself and thought, “She’s my people.”

OlderWomanI got my shots, enjoyed 20 minutes of uninterrupted reading, and walked outside to my car. On the way, I saw an attractive, well-dressed woman in her fifties perched on the hood of her lime green car. Her knees were drawn up to her chest as she basked in the sun and talked on her phone with a relaxed, lazy drawl. And I smiled to myself for the second time in half an hour, again thinking, “She’s my people.”

The sixteen-year-old with her paperback was me nearly two decades ago, and I imagine the woman on hood of her car is a portrait of Authentically Aurora in another two decades. These are my girls. These are my people.

Authentically Introverted Aurora

HOT Christians

country girlsI recently heard a sermon on HOT Christians. Seth’s home church was having its 40th anniversary, so we drove out to his hometown to visit and celebrate with them.

It was a half-day event, starting with an hour long dissertation on the history of the church, followed by a short break for socializing; then the hour long sermon, which was capped off with a potluck-style lunch.

When the pastor of forty years began his sermon, he stated that we all need to strive to be HOT Christians. I promptly leaned over to Seth and whispered with a smirk and a wink, “Well! Guess I’m good.” He sniggered.

The pastor continued, “To be a HOT Christian, we must first be Humble…”

“Ha!” Seth burst out. Elderly patrons turned and scowled as Seth and I silently shook from laughter. Every time we tried to stop, we’d glance at each other and start laughing again. We finally calmed down by the time the pastor finished talking about being Objective and moved on to being Teachable.

At a church boasting such a classic potluck luncheon (complete with potato salad and fruit jello), I should have known the sermon would be an acrostic.

Authentically “HOT” Aurora

Diego Turned Angel

On Child's Level.pngI’ve never considered myself to be certifiably insane, but – deciding to be a long-term sub for the last month of the school year? – maybe I should reconsider the state of my mental health.

After I resigned from my cushy (and soul-numbing) corporate job in April, I took a three-week long term substitute teaching assignment at a nearby elementary school. I figured it would be a good opportunity to learn some key teaching skills before I started my full-time teaching job in August. And I was right.

What I hadn’t taken into consideration were the facts that:

  • These 5th graders in my class had already finished their state testing and so felt like there was no more learning to be done.
  • They believed that they ruled the world (as the oldest grade in their school).
  • Summer (and graduation from elementary school) was less than one month away.
  • It was a Title I school.
  • I had basically zero experience with classroom management.

Suffice it to say, I nearly died those first few days. I had kids threaten to have their parents sue me when I said the wrong thing, had kids tell me they hated me and I was the worst teacher ever, had parents calling in wanting a parent-teacher conference because they believed their child was being bullied, had to get a counselor involved because a fifth grade boy was following girls into the bathroom and touching them inappropriately… It. Was. Madness.

But I survived. And I am better for it. And, looking back, it was actually a lot of fun. Because – for the first time in nearly eight years – I actually had purpose. I actually felt challenged. And I finally made an impact.

Diego was one of the kids I nearly sent to ISS the first day I subbed. He talked incessantly and, as soon as I got the class calmed down and on task, he (as a natural leader and the class clown) had the power to get them all off task again. I felt like I was constantly battling him for the class’s attention.

And Victor. He was the most simultaneously hateful, cynical, apathetic person I have ever met in my entire life. He loved to argue with me in front of the class just for argument’s sake. He knew I couldn’t physically touch him, so he openly defied me on a daily basis when I asked to speak with him privately outside. He refused to go in the hallway, and I couldn’t physically force him, so for a long time, I lost the daily battles of power struggle with Victor – the most arrogant, abrasive student I can imagine I will ever have in decades of teaching.

But as the weeks went on and I learned students’ names and personalities and values and insecurities, I slowly learned how to individualize not only my teaching but also my motivation and discipline of each one.

On my last week of subbing, the students were supposed to be engaging in silent reading time. Diego repeatedly got off task, reading out loud in an intentionally loud voice and distracting other students. When I asked him to read silently, he claimed not to be able to read without saying the words out loud (this was a lie). He – like Victor – refused to go into the hall with me, so I knelt down on his level and whispered to him quietly.

“Diego,” I sighed. “I know you think I don’t like you, but I do. I think you’re adorable. You’re smart, funny and a natural leader. You have so much potential!”

I shrugged my shoulders and continued as I knelt beside his desk on his eye level. “You are not a bad kid. But right now you are making bad choices. I can see the kind of man you could be, and I really want to see you reach your full potential. You are natural leader with a lot of power to do a lot of good in the world. But in order to do that, you need to start making better choices.”

To my surprise, Diego’s eyes started to water. He was tearing up, and I realized he probably had never been told by anyone that he had potential; that he had value and worth and power to do good in the world. So I went on, “It’s really up to you. I only have a few days left here, so it won’t affect me either way. But every day, you make choices that have consequences, and those can be good or bad consequences. I hope for your sake – and the world’s – you choose good.”

Diego just hung his head and wouldn’t make eye contact with me after that, so I left him alone, but he was surprisingly quiet the rest of the day.

The next morning, the class was working individually on a math worksheet, and – to my surprise – Diego raised his hand and asked for help understanding how to add fractions. He’d never expressed interest in learning before. Encouraged, I knelt by his desk and gently explained to him how to find common denominators so he could add (or subtract) fractions easily. I watched the lightbulb flash in his eyes as he “got” it, and he worked a few problems on his own to show me that he understood the concept.

Later that afternoon, some girls got in trouble for selling homemade “slime” (that ended up clogging the school toilets), and a lot of the kids – exposed to this entrepreneurial spirit for perhaps the first time – were trying to figure out how they could make some side money selling something at school. Diego came up to me and asked simply, “Will you give me five dollars?”

“Why would I give you five dollars?” I asked, not unkindly.

Diego looked thoughtful. “What if I gave you something?”

“Like what?” I asked, forcing him to think through what he was asking.

“Hmm… like a cake?” he suggested.

“That sounds nice,” I told him. “What kind of cake?”

He furrowed his brow, thinking hard. “Maybe chocolate or strawberry?”

I smiled. “Diego, if you bring me a chocolate cake tomorrow, I will give you five dollars.”

I had little to no expectation that the little man who’d given me so much trouble would actually follow through in baking a cake, but the next morning, Diego bounded into my room, beaming with delight he tried to hide a bit as he dashed up to me holding a little 9″x9″ foil pan.

“I brought it!” he exclaimed, and I peeled back the foil to see chocolate icing covering what looked like a homemade box cake.

I smiled at him and pulled a $5 from my wallet. “Here you go,” I told him. “You earned it!” His delight as he accepted the money made me smile all the more.

In retrospect, I probably couldn’t have done that exchange with Diego if I was a full-time teacher or if I hadn’t been about to leave that school campus, but I’m thankful for the way it worked out because not only did I finally make a meaningful, positive connection with a formerly disruptive student, but Diego also learned some important lessons about entrepreneurship, determination, and the power of our choices. He finally had someone show him tough love and believe in him for becoming more than he was.

The next day was my last day, and I had essentially no hope for a reconciliation with Victor, but even he surprised me. Early in the day, I kept Victor outside of the computer lab to talk with him before he went in. I gave him a similar speech to the one I’d given Diego, and like the other boy, Victor started to tear up. I don’t think either one had ever experienced a loving “I believe you for better” heart-to-heart. And at the end of that school day, Victor – the thorn in my side and bane of my existence – was the first to volunteer to stack chairs on the desks before recess. He picked up loose papers and helped me tidy up the classroom without being asked, and my heart was warmed by his transformation.

After a tough few weeks, God gave me two amazing reminders of why I’m going into teaching. It’s going to be hard but good. It’s going to be challenging but worth it. There are days I will want to cry in frustration, but I believe there will be great purpose and impact on individual lives. And that’s what I want to be about in this next year and in this next season of life.

A few weeks later, Seth and I were at dinner with some friends – old and new – and one of the new girls asked what I did for a living. After a few moments, we made the connection that she had formerly been a teacher at the elementary school where I’d subbed. “Oh my gosh! You’re THAT sub! I heard you did an amazing job, and all the teachers there want to have you back as the sub for their classrooms!”

I smiled and thanked her, storing up those words in my heart. As we drove away in his truck hours later, Seth turned to me and said with a squeeze of my hand, “Your reputation precedes you. I’m proud to have you by my side.”

I’m glad to be there. It’s nice to be appreciated.

Authentically Aurora

Staring into the Face of Love

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Seth got assigned the “homework” of taking me on a romantic date as a part of our Fusion pre-engagement class. That particular week, we happened to be out at the ranch, so our options for a romantic evening were limited, but Seth told me he was planning something nice for Thursday evening.

Early in the week, Seth drove me to a nearby town to get drinks and enjoy the live acoustic music that was playing there. I didn’t expect much since there were only a few cars in the gravel lot when we pulled in, but as soon as we got settled with our drinks, Seth gestured to the dark hills around us, saying softly, “Look.”

I glanced up and did a double-take. “Wow,” I breathed. Fireflies danced in the darkness around us, lighting up the night with their soft glow. Seth and I sat hand-in-hand on a picnic bench at that empty outdoor bar, soft music coming from across the yard where two guitarists talked and gently finger-picked on their six strings. And it was magical.

Our official date night two days later was nice, but Seth couldn’t have recreated that God-given romance if he’d tried. And he did try. We had a nice dinner together and sat on the dock of a lake watching the sun set. It was peaceful. It was nice.

And then on Friday, Seth took me out for pizza. We found a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria with an outdoor patio strung with twinkle lights. I loved the setting and how much it reminded me of the evening with the fireflies. While we waited for our food to arrive, I reached over to take Seth’s hand and gazed at him lovingly. “You are the most wonderful man,” I began, “You always -“

“Ooh, a staring contest!!!” I was interrupted by a small blonde boy – probably eight years old – wearing a green T-shirt.

Seth and I broke hands and leaned back, startled. “I’ll win!” The boy called in challenge, running up to Seth and staring intently into his face. Seth just took it in stride, staring back at the boy until he yelled and pointed at Seth, “You blinked!”

Seth chuckled, and the boy ran off for a few minutes before scampering back over for a quick rematch. Quinn, as he introduced himself when I asked, loved football, so we talked about Tim Tebow for a while, and I mentioned that Quinn should look for the Bible verses in Tim’s eye black in his old photos from his time at Florida.

The little boy won the second staring contest with Seth and then lost interest in the game, so he relinquished Seth to me, and I got to resume my own version of a staring contest with the man I love.

Authentically Aurora