Grace For the Middle Schooler

middle school

I’ve dreaded the middle school days forever. Probably since the moment my first son was born.

Because I hated middle school. Hated every single second of it.

It didn’t help that I moved twice and went to three different middle schools on opposite sides of the country during those three years from 6-8th grades, but even if I’d stayed put in one school, it probably wouldn’t have been any different.

Middle school is rough.

It’s been that way since the invention of junior high.

So, I’ve dreaded it for my son.

But he hasn’t. He’s looked forward to it for some time—excited about the prospect of a new school where he’s a “big kid,” (albeit on the bottom of the totem pole again), where he’s proving that he’s growing up and can handle a little more responsibility.

But can he?

Hormones, attitudes, smart mouth, dropping the ball on things he knows he’s supposed to do—it’s happened, just as I suspected it would. My boy is becoming a man, and it’s awkward. It’s hard.

And we’ve reacted to each event in turn, doling out the appropriate punishments or reminders or rewards.

I walked into his bedroom the other day to find his bed unmade, clothes covering his floor…lack of responsibility glaring at me everywhere.

I felt the burn of anger and frustration starting to build in that middle spot in my chest.

“How many times have I told him?” I asked aloud to his room. I answered myself. About a zillion. A zillion times I’ve said, “make your bed,” or “put your dirty clothes in the hamper,” or “please pick up your karate gear.”

A zillion times.

I glanced up to his window which overlooks our street, and also, by blessing, his middle school. It’s close enough for him to walk each day, close enough that I can look outside and see the windows to his classrooms.

And as I beheld at those windows, grumbling to myself, the Holy Spirit whispered softly.

Grace.

Grace.

Grace.

I sighed and moved to pick up his clothes and make his bed.

Not because he deserved my help for ignoring what I’d asked him to do. Not because he’d been an angel lately or because I’m a slave to what needs to be done.

No. Because grace. Because sometimes our sons and daughters need a little less nagging and a little more grace.

Because as hard as it is on us for them to go through these awkward middle school years, it’s hard on them, too.

Because when I think back on my experience in those years, I don’t remember all the lectures and groundings and punishments for the bad choices I made. I’m sure they helped to change and mold me, but I don’t recall them vividly.

What I do recall are the moments of grace my parents showed me. Times when I’d come home to a perfectly made bed. Or folded laundry. Or a surprise small gift. Or the time when I was having a particularly rough go of it with some “friends” and my mom let me stay home from school for a day just because.

So grace.

Grace is a gift from God. We praise him for it. And so we should look for ways to gift it to our middle school children who so desperately need both grace and guidance to get through these difficult years and discover just exactly who God wants them to be.

Discipline. Guidance. Grace.

They need it and so do we.

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Share with me: What’s the best way you show grace to your middle schooler or can you remember a time your parents showed you grace during those years?

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35 Bits of Advice for First Year Teachers

First Year Teachers

 

School will be starting again before we know it. I know, I know. No one wants to think about it. Sadly, school supplies are appearing on store shelves and thoughts are already turning to back-to-school.

I remember the summer before I first started teaching. I had just graduated college and I was so incredibly excited. I think I thought I was going to save the world the moment I entered the classroom.

I just knew that every lesson I prepared was going to be amazing and that my students were going to do so well that they would destroy achievement data.

And then I couldn’t find a job.

School started and students and teachers went back—and I didn’t.

I started the school year substitute teaching. And I hated every second of it. I didn’t find any joy at all in being in a classroom that wasn’t mine. It was a serious emotional challenge.

A few weeks into the school year I was called into a great high school to substitute for a teacher who had passed away (tragic story. He had a heart attack one afternoon and quickly passed. He was far too young for such a thing). After several weeks of subbing, I was asked to stay in the position permanently.

While the circumstances were tragic, I was overjoyed at the opportunity to be able to be a “real” teacher.

I learned a lot that first year. More than I think I’ve learned any year since.

So if you’re about to enter the classroom for the very first time as a “real” teacher, here’s a bit of advice.

  1. You are not going to save the world your first year. But you can certainly try.
  2. Many of your lessons and activities are going to fail. Be okay with that. Be a good example to your students and pick up the pieces and try again.
  3. You’ll be a completely different teacher in a few years. Don’t get used to who you are now.
  4. Be willing to adapt. Flexibility and adaptation are the name of the game your first year.
  5. I once had a teacher I very much respected tell me that because I taught high school I shouldn’t smile until after Christmas. I smiled on day one and all the days after.
  6. Decide if you want to be respected or liked. The two are not always mutually exclusive, but you’re not there to be your students’ friend.
  7. Don’t let your students call you by your first name. Ever. I don’t care if you are 22 and they are 18. Or 5.
  8. Keep your mouth shut. (This bit of advice from my hubby who has been teaching for 15 years). New teachers should be quick to listen and slow to share their “brilliant” ideas. Share when appropriate, but don’t try to re-write the book on teaching.
  9. (Along with #8…) You’re not a mentor yet. Don’t try to tell seasoned teachers how to do their jobs.
  10. Never talk about having a “teacher toolbox” when referring to teaching strategies (also from my hubby).
  11. Don’t wear anything with an apple or a pencil or a bus on it. Ever.save the world
  12. Dress appropriately. Dress up really classy on Mondays. It sets the tone for the week.
  13. Don’t let your students get away with cheating. Ever. (Refer to #6).
  14. Remember that you’re not just teaching subject matter—your personality is a reflection of your character.
  15. Don’t over-volunteer. Sometimes being an eager beaver can get you hours of extra work outside of the school day, and you’ll need that time for planning and grading, etc.
  16. Don’t gossip. You have no idea who is friends with whom on your faculty or what history they have. Be classy and keep your mouth shut and your opinions about people to yourself.
  17. Respect the administration. You don’t have to like their policies or policy changes, but respect the process and the people behind the process. Those folks work hard.
  18. Get a mentor. Sometimes you will be assigned one, but if that mentor is not helpful or you aren’t given one, attach yourself to a seasoned teacher and ask for advice. Lots of advice.
  19. Be humble. If something is working in your classroom, share appropriately and be ready for seasoned teachers to help you adapt it to make it better. (Refer to #8).
  20. Have school spirit. No matter what age-group you teach, be proud of your school. If you aren’t, the kids won’t be, either.
  21. Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Get into the cafeteria, make friends with other teachers at the “teacher table” and watch the dynamic of your students as they interact with each other. You can learn a ton about student personalities and relationships over lunch.
  22. Don’t be afraid to report something that needs to be reported. Whether student abuse or teacher impropriety, don’t sit on it if it’s serious.
  23. Don’t blog about being an awesome teacher. You aren’t yet.teaching
  24. Find the happy medium between being excited about and dreading professional development. Some teachers get a little too happy about it (I’m going to save the world with these strategies for my teacher toolbox!) while others act like sitting through professional development might be reason to have the coroner on hand. PD can be cool. You might not use everything presented to you, but you can learn something—if you try.
  25. Love your students. Even the ones that are difficult to love. They deserve it and they might not be getting it at home.
  26. Be fair. Never play favorites with students.
  27. Don’t show too many movies. If movies are your go-to, you aren’t creative enough.
  28. Never leave your students alone in the classroom. Chaos will ensue.
  29. Never use profanity in front of your students. Set high standards for yourself and your students will follow.
  30. Good classroom management comes from being wise enough to know when to be firm and when to laugh. (Refer to #6.) This takes practice.
  31. Never be afraid to apologize to a student.
  32. A student who has wronged you but is forgiven will never forget it.
  33. Students like “fun” teachers. They respect and remember the ones who push them to their greatest potential.
  34. Use caution when eating homemade goodies gifted to you from a student.
  35. Be grateful—for your job, for your mentor, and for any seasoned teacher and administrator who is willing to help you. Someday you can repay it to a first year teacher.

Be excited about your first year as a teacher. Give it your all. Smile a lot. But most of all, be willing to learn. Your goal in your career should always be to be a better teacher than you were last year. 30 years of that will produce some amazing results.

Share with me: Seasoned teachers, what advice would you add to this list?

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My Super Fun and Exciting News!

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Well, folks, I’ve been teasing about it for days, so here it is– my big news!

I am super crazy excited to announce that I have signed a contract with Thomas Nelson publishers to collaborate on a writing project with none other than the amazing Max Lucado!

If you’ve read Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer by Max Lucado (released last year) then you are familiar with his idea of “pocket prayers.” The whole book is about how prayer is a heartfelt conversation with God– that you can invite him in without the flowery words or flashy show, and God shows up. It’s about being free to connect with God in a powerful and simplistic way, without feeling like you need a big vocabulary or a “wish list” a mile long.

Coordinating with this book, Thomas Nelson will be releasing a series of prayer books geared toward specific groups (moms, dads, military, friends, etc.)–six books in all.

I am very honored and delighted to say that my name will be on the cover of Pocket Prayers for Teachers, releasing in May of 2016, just in time for Teacher Appreciation Week! (Is that divine timing, or what??) 🙂

Obviously this is outside of my usual writing genre (I’m usually writing fiction of the romantic, sometimes historical, sometimes contemporary, sometimes YA variety). However, if there are two things I know a lot about, it’s teaching and prayer.

As I work on this prayer book, God is reminding me of so many things– including just how much he loves teachers and what an amazing mission opportunity he’s given each teacher within their own school setting.  DSC02709

To say that I am honored to be working on anything associated with Max Lucado would be a gross understatement, as I have read and admired his work for years and years.

My heart is super grateful for this opportunity and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead on this writing journey. There’s never a dull moment and God is always doing things that surprise me. He’s amazing and awesome like that.

Don’t worry– I’ll be reminding you (a lot) to pick up a copy of this prayer book for all the teachers in your life closer to the release date.

Thanks for your support, friends!

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