Tag Archives: teaching

Stress

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It may just be me being hormonal or maybe it’s because I’ve eaten fast food 3 times this week, but today I felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster.  There were some really great things that happened, and there were some super stressful things that made me want to scream and curl up into fetal position for a few days.  Most days I’m pretty flexible with the way that Latinos change their plans at a moment’s notice.  I just roll with the punches, but today the punches knocked me off my feet.

For my 5th grade class and my 9th grade Bible class, I have had my units all planned out for the last 6 weeks. I planned to wrap everything up this week since finals are the next week.  But my week is being whittled away!  Today my schedule changed HOURLY!  The kids kept asking me what subject we were doing next and I would tell them, “I planned to do such and such, but it depends on who walks in the door during the next 40 minutes!”  The demands on my flexibility were pushing me to my breaking point.

So another thing that was running in the background of my mind was the fact that I was on the schedule to lead the teachers’ devotional tomorrow morning.  I have long since quit going to that Thursday morning obligation because it’s just too much to ask me to get 5 people out the door and on the campus before 7am.  It’s just too much.  But I was ready to teach and braced for the effort of herding my people out the door early.  The devo was supposed to be during a special breakfast time to close out the year with the teachers.  Right on the schedule it said “desayuno compartido” (shared breakfast) next to my name, so I assumed that I would be sharing my devotional while we are sharing breakfast together.

Mid way through the morning the principal approached me with the devotional schedule in her hand.  “I just wanted to check that you saw this.”  She said, pointing to my name on the sheet.

“Yes,” I said, “I’m ready.” I was confused that the expression on her face was not one of relief.  She arched her eyebrows and puckered her lips into a tense smile.  Uh-oh, something’s not right.

“So you are prepared?  I was concerned because you didn’t mention anything yesterday in our meeting (which was another stressor from the day before).”

“Yes, I’m ready to share a devotional.”

“You see that it says ‘shared breakfast’ next to your name?”

“Yes, I will share the devotional while we have our breakfast.”  Her expression of worry had not changed yet.  I felt like I was missing something.  Even though I was understanding her words completely, I was missing some hidden meaning.  I prodded, “We ARE eating together, right?”

“Oh yes, do you need any help with that?”

“What?”

“Do you need me to bring anything?” she asked me.  Now I was totally confused.

“Ummm, If you want to, I suppose that’s fine.  What were you thinking?”

She informed me that normally they do a full Costa Rican style breakfast with beans and rice, fruit drinks, and eggs.  Then a sinking feeling settled into my stomach.  I asked point-blank, “Am I supposed to make breakfast for everyone?”

“YES!  That’s why it says ‘shared breakfast’ next to your name!”

“OMG!  I didn’t know that!  I thought I was sharing a devotional while we ate a breakfast that the school provided for us!” In my mind I continued:  You mean I’m supposed to cook AND teach BEFORE I teach all day long and then go home to make dinner for 25 people on the missions team that we are also hosting at this time?  Shall I kill you now or AFTER breakfast?  “OK, well since I obviously didn’t understand that, I’m only going to bring a box of donuts and maybe someone can help make coffee too.  How’s that?”  I felt I was being generous.  Her lips pursed again.  “Or… maybe we could put a sign up list in the office and see if other people will bring stuff too.”  Hmmm…

I finally just apologized for not understanding and informed her that I can’t possibly provide breakfast.  I felt the angry, frustrated tears burning in my eyes and my throat constricted as I forced myself not to cry.  This was my last straw… for that hour.  More straws were coming, falling on me like rain.

An hour later the school secretary sheepishly came to my classroom and said, “I heard what [the principal] said to you.  Um, I am going this afternoon to buy the food for the breakfast.  I ALWAYS do this.  You were never expected to make the breakfast.  Did you think you were going to have to pay for this on your own?  Oh no, I have money from the school for this.  I will take care of all of it.  Just don’t forget that you have to do the devotional.”  Believe me, I was NOT going to forget THAT!

I can’t remember the last time I felt so much relief.  However this was a cultural thing.  The principal would never admit to my face that she had been wrong- totally flat-out wrong.  No, and neither would the secretary admit that the principal was wrong.  I didn’t get an apology for the hour of heart palpitations that I suffered.  I just privately savored my relief.

Later that afternoon, I found myself standing in a space no bigger than 5 feet square shoulder to shoulder with 13 other people and only 4 chairs.  I was in the waiting room at my son’s orthodontist’s office.   The air in our cubicle was stale, pre-breathed air.  Everyone was trying not to make eye contact with each other, and trying to wait patiently.  Because my children and I were the last ones to arrive, I knew that even through we had a 4:30 appointment, there were 13 other people ahead of us who were also waiting on appointments long passed.

We waited 10 minutes before I decided, “Screw this!  I’ve had too long of a day to sit her for another 2 hours.”  My patience was shot!  We left without even informing the receptionist who was hiding somewhere in the back office so she wouldn’t have to stare at a room full of long-suffering strangers.  At that point I gave myself permission to say, “NO.  I have been imposed upon one too many times today.  I’m going home now.” We stopped at McDonalds for dinner… for the third time this week.

Those who despise grace…

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Friday is the day for our weekly spelling test in my 5th grade class.  When the test is over, the kids exchange papers and we grade them together as a class.  Those kids are so hard on each other.  Every week someone complains that their friend’s “O”s look like “C”s or their “A”s look like “U”s.  They demand that every “T” be crossed and every “I” be dotted.  I’m sure some of them have a future in some government office.

I am constantly trying to teach them about grace.  My 5th graders are hard on each other and don’t give each other much grace because they don’t recognize their own need for grace.  They have very short and selective memories.  They remind me a lot of some Christians.

When Christians are hard on each other, demanding perfection of each other, it is because they do not see their own need for grace.  Pride has blinded them to their own faults, and they undervalue God’s power to forgive.

Jesus talked about this.  He said, “He who has been forgiven of much, loves much.”  The woman weeping at his feet was a prostitute.  The host, who forgot to give him water to wash his dusty feet when he arrived at the house, was a Religious Leader.  Who loved Jesus more?  The one who had been forgiven of more sins.

Those who do not recognize their own need for grace will always be hard on the people around them, like my 5th graders who are tyrants with a correcting pen.  Once a person sees their own trashiness, smells their own filth, and understands all that God has had to put up with in cleaning them up, then that person is tender and sensitive to the cleaning up process in his neighbor.  He says, “There but by the Grace of God would I go.”  If it were not for God’s Grace towards me, you and I would be in identical straits.

Has Pride blinded you to your own need for grace?  Are you hard on people?  Ask God for the brokenness that comes with understanding your own pathetic state before a pure and holy God.  Tenderness comes through brokenness.  Compassion is born of humility.

Remember Sunday School?

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I teach 5th grade in a Christian school here in Costa Rica.  Half of my students are Costa Ricans and half are Americans.  The overwhelming majority of my teaching is in English, with constant consideration for the students learning in a second language.  Often I translate an unknown word directly into Spanish for a confused student.  Other times I ask my students what the Spanish word for such-and-such word is.  And whenever I let the kids chat with their friends my Spanish speakers always revert to their Mother Tongue.  (Sometimes they forget that I can understand them when they’re speaking Spanish, so that’s amusing.)  Sometimes I wonder if certain lessons really connect with my Spanish speakers.

Because we are in a Christian school, we have Bible class a few days a week.  In general, I have found that my students know very few of the classic Bible stories- except for a couple of my missionary kids who grew up in church.  Names like Abraham, Joseph, Ruth and Saul are virtually unknown.  Yesterday I told the story of Lot and Abraham choosing land for their flocks.  I said, “Lot chose the good land around Sodom” and a boy asked, “What’s Sodom?”  He had never heard of the original Sin City.  I blame this on a lack of Sunday Schools in Latin American churches.  I feel the responsibility to teach them what they are missing.  The majority of my teaching time is spent telling the stories that I grew up on in Sunday School.  I kind of enjoy it.

At the end of our lesson yesterday was a brief story about the classic church hymn “I’d Rather Have Jesus”.  (I don’t know if this song has ever been translated into Spanish or not, but hymns are NOT popular in the Latin Churches now days.)  The lyrics of the song were printed on the page after a description of how it was written.  Scanning the lyrics, I got a lump in my throat.  Years and years of Sunday School music and stories filled my mind with sweet memories of church.  The old hymns carved deep grooves into my young, supple theology.  I quietly asked the kids if they wanted me to sing the song for them.

I closed my eyes and started singing the well known words of the great hymn.  Some of the children sang or hummed along with me, some sweetly and childishly out of tune.  The peace of the Holy Spirit came down on us in that room.  When we were done singing, one boy said it was “like a lullaby”.  That’s how he described the peace he felt.

Another boy, who is probably my most “random” child, asked if I had ever heard that song before.  I couldn’t resist messing with him.  I sarcastically replied, “No, I just made that up right now.”  The whole class groaned and laughed together at my joke.  It was a great note to end the day on.

I’ve been thinking about that song ever since. Yes, I’d rather have Jesus than anything.

Routine with a Side of Change

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A hallway in the school where I teach. Yes, we have outdoor hallways. Yes, the plants in the middle get rained on.

One of the things that I really love about teaching is that it’s cyclical.  If I had to work at a desk job that is the same day in and day out, I’d go postal!  I couldn’t handle the monotony.  I like being about to look forward to some kind of change on the horizon, and teaching provides change on a regular basis.  We have the routines of starting school, which soon change for the daily routines of a semester.  Then a holiday rolls around and the routine takes a back seat to the celebration of the season.  Then we get into the new routine of the next semester, another holiday around Easter, and then a good hard push to the end of the year.  It’s cyclical but with change at regular intervals.

Even within the school day, we have our regular routines but change comes every 50 minutes when the bell rings.

Only one time in my life have I ever had a desk job, and I can safely say it was one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had… and this coming from the girl who sold ice cream at the zoo one summer!  One summer between my Junior and Senior years in college I was looking to pick up another job just for the summer.  A friend of mine was looking to go home for the summer, but she wanted her job back in the fall.  It sounded like the perfect set up for a “job sharing” arrangement.  I would work her job for 3 months, then she would come back and take her desk back.  The only problem was… the job sucked!  I wanted her to come back after the first week on the job!

The job was filing.   I thought it would be a brainless summer job.  It was indeed brainless, and after 10 minutes I was bored out of my mind!  I was filing invoices and purchase agreements in the warehouse office of an electrical supply company.  The other people who worked in the office were just foul, so I kept to myself.  I didn’t want to hear about their weekend conquests in various bars.  I didn’t want to hear them gossip and talk trash about each other.  I didn’t want to get involved in anyone’s drama.  So I just stuck my nose into my pile of papers and kept filing.

It was such a boring job that I would regularly take breaks to wander through the copy room and see if the mail had been delivered yet.  That was the excitement of my day.

At the horrible job, I talked to no one.  Snap back to school, and I talk all day long… and kids talk to me all day long too!  By about 4pm my ears are full and my introvert nature kicks into protective overdrive.  It’s like my social histamines got pushed to overload and I have an allergic reaction to people.  But my own children want to talk about THEIR day too.

My 5 year old started Kindergarten last week and I haven’t heard the end of Miss Liktey and her wonderful days of the week song.  It’s cute, but the chatter is more than I can take after a few hours.  The only proven way to turn off the talking mode is to dip her in water and put her to bed.  Bath and bed and she’s worn out.  It’s another cycle that I dearly love.

Routine peppered with an occasional change, that’s how I take my days.  Straight up.

When Teachers Cry

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“Oh my word, my brain is fried!”

This year I have committed to teach 5th grade at my kids’ school.  They needed a 5th grade teacher and I needed the tuition discounts that my 3 kids would receive.  (School is not cheap in Costa Rica!)  So it’s a win-win for everyone… if it doesn’t kill me first.

This last week has been a true baptism by fire for me as I have jumped right into both learning this new school (their systems, procedures, etc.), cleaning and setting up my classroom, reading curriculum and writing lesson plans, AND participating in the new student orientation that was happening this week at the same time.  As an example of how chaotic this week has been for me, I worked two full 8 hour days before anyone told me that I needed to punch-in every day.  Oops.  Not only that, but no one ever told me when I was required to be at school this week, so I just showed up around 9:30 the first day.  The minute I walked in the principal caught me and said, “Where have you been?  You’re two hours late!  Here, take these families on a tour of the school.”  Well, as you image, my blood pressure just went through the roof.

What we have here is a classic culture clash wrapped in a high learning curve which usually accompanies starting a new job where there is NO training whatsoever.  I am learning just as much about my responsibilities as a teacher as I am about how a Costa Rican organization is run.  The minute I walked in the door on the first day of orientation I realized we had a break down in expectations.  The American in me automatically attributed the miscommunication to poor leadership, and the Costa Rican principal at the head of the school bureaucracy attributed the fault to someone further down the chain of command who failed to send out an email to me.  The whole debacle was quickly swept under the rug so no one “lost face” by being embarrassed or having to apologize, while I fumed about it all day long.  This culture clash left me with whiplash!  I came home with a full-body migraine, I just discovered that there IS such a thing.

So the part of this week that I have actually enjoyed is starting to get to know my fellow teachers.  Some of them I’ve seen around the school when I was just a parent, and some of them are new like me.  We are learning the ropes together.  I tend to be very proactive and aggressive about searching out information and asking questions, so my fellow newbies are riding my coat tails as I quickly scout out what we all need to know.  But I like the moments when we can all release a little tension and laugh together or be honest about how nerve-racking this whole experience is.

One teacher is moving from second grade to high school.  She has told me several times how terrified she is.  I have been shocked at how honest she has been with me about feeling inadequate and nervous.  It makes me feel so much better that I’m not the only one thinking, “what did I get myself into?”  Another teacher is a veteran here at the school, but she admitted that this last week she hasn’t been sleeping well at night.  The day I talked to her she told me she had a migraine from the stress of this week.  A third teacher has maintained her deer-in-the-headlights look for the last 4 days.  She told me she keeps walking around in circles in her classroom and not accomplishing anything.  She’s overwhelmed and tired already.

I have heard of teachers spending the night before the first day of school throwing up all night long.  Nerves.  

Why do teachers do this year after year if the tension and stress is so high?  Because they love teaching.  And I keep reminding myself that I DO love this.  I love teaching, and I’m good at this.  I’ve been giving myself little pep-talks all week long.  “You can do this.  This is what you’ve been wanting to do for years.  You are good at teaching.  You know how to do this.”  And ultimately my motivation is to do my best to honor God with my work.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me… and I’m going to need a lot of your strength, Lord.

She has a way with words.

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I like words.

When Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes fame died, they called him a “curmudgeon”, a bad-tempered or surly person.  Ever since then, I’ve been trying to use curmudgeon in a conversation.  I haven’t found a good way to casually slip it in.  But I will someday.

I like when words roll right off your tongue.  Words like “onomatopoeia” and “lackadaisical” are slippery fish to handle.  I feel so smart when I can toss one of these babies into a sentence like it was nothing.

I like words, but I suck at spelling.  I am of the first generation to use computers.  I was raised with Spell Check for words and calculators for math, so I’m a moron in both subjects. Now that I’m an English teacher I realize that it’s not entirely my fault.  I blame the “schwa”.  If you don’t know what a schwa is then you likely were never taught phonetics in Elementary reading class.  Because of schwa, no one can tell the difference between any of the vowels in an unstressed syllable.  If you can’t hear the difference, how can you spell it?  So I’m sure that “Hooked on Phonics” is a scam.

There are some words that I misspell regularly.  Words like tongue, tomorrow, vacuum, dilemma, definitely, furniture, curriculum, congratulations, and jealous are forever underlined red when I click my trusty Spell Check.  When I was a Freshman in college I worked in a bakery.  Every time I needed to write “Congratulations” in frosting on a cake I would write in on a piece of scrap paper first so I wouldn’t mess up someone’s sheet cake.  I understand Winnie the Pooh when he says that his spelling is a little “wobbly”.  Mine is too.

It’s true, I like words, but I’m seriously thankful that I’m not learning English as a second language.  I think I might give up.  Whenever I go through a fast food drive-thru and hear a foreign accent over the speaker I think two things:  First of all, who was the cruel manager that scheduled that poor person to work the hardest job in the world for a non-native speaker; and second of all, I want to applaud that dear soul for making such a herculean effort to understand English spoken through a crappy intercom system.  I doubt I could do that in Spanish without sprinkling my speech with expletives every now and then.  That would most definitely turn me into a curmudgeon.

Finding Your “Thing”

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The other day I was taking my friend to the airport and she asked how my kids were doing.  I told her that my son was excited to start up guitar lessons again after an 18 month hiatus.  I explained that several years ago my dad bought the boy his guitar and amp.  He was at that age where kids really need to find their “thing” in order to solidify their place in the social arena.  So guitar became the boy’s Thing.

My friend then told me a story about a girl she knew who was the middle of 3 sisters.  The older sister had a Thing, the younger sister had her Thing, but the middle child couldn’t find her Thing.  So her mother started teaching her how to cook, grocery shop, and prepare meals.  Cooking became her Thing.  It was so much her Thing that the other sisters truly believed they were not smart enough to cook and it wasn’t their Thing.  The sisters didn’t learn to cook until they were adults.

So we had this whole conversation about Things and we understood each other perfectly.  Everyone needs to find their Thing in life.  Sometimes we need a wise parent or grandparent to offer direction and encouragement in finding our talents and interests.  Sometimes it takes a youth pastor or a mentor or a teacher to breathe inspiration into a young life.  So my question for you is, Who was the person who inspired you to discover your talents or develop your interests?  Have you thanked them lately?  Sometimes we aren’t even aware of all the people we inspire and it’s a pleasant surprise to receive a Thank You for an example well lived.  So do it!  Go ahead!  Find the person who inspired you and say Thank You.  It will mean a lot to them.