Why I’m Leaving My Job to Stay at Home

10665086_10153306429439746_6094945465861559680_nPast Tears and Prayers

I cannot tell you how many times I have cried on my way to work, missing the baby smells of all four of my children’s bald little heads each time I returned to teaching after maternity leave. I’ve felt jealous that some other woman got to hold them, teach them, watch them take their first steps or say their first words and then lie to me when I picked them up so that I did’t get my feelings hurt for not being the one for whom my children showed off.

I cannot tell you how many times I have begged God to open the doors to bring me home and close the doors that keep me working 45-minutes away and so hard that when I come home I am worthless: I’m tired, having given all my energy to other people’s children, and now feigning enthusiasm when my own kids or husband want to share the excitement from their day, but all I can think of is that stack of papers to grade, and that lesson to still plan, and how I’m going to do that along with giving everyone their baths and making dinner and still grabbing that box of diapers because we are down to the last one and the baby will need a fresh one before bedtime. I can barely breathe just saying those words aloud.

10731153_10153301356889746_428918937321489811_nMy husband helps so much. He is a wonderful and attentive father. He wakes up with the kids and makes sure they have breakfast and are dressed before taking them to daycare or school while encouraging them in the day’s events. He takes them to their doctors appointments while I’m at work, reads bible stories in the evening with them, helps them practice their karate moves and makes sure they go through their checkoff list before bed before awarding them their prize-earning stickers. He leads us all in prayer. So I can’t get upset and say my husband doesn’t help. He does. In many ways, he does a better job than I do all while running a business from home.

11537903_1416455935350373_3951834884061779110_oThe Answer

But one day on my way to work two years ago, after I left my daughter with the daycare provider at 8-weeks-old, I was crying to God as usual and felt him strongly tell me that he would bring me home one day, but not now. That I wasn’t ready and that Owen wasn’t ready. We still had more to learn to prepare us. The thoughts came out of no where. I was crying, asking God to please get me laid off  or something and then the words just stopped me in my tracks. I remember it clearly now, sitting at the red light on the 76 right before the 15-on-ramp. And a peace just overcame me. Ok, God. For those of you who have a relationship with the Lord, you know what I’m talking about. When the thoughts and feelings are clearly not yours but they nudge you from the side in the midst of your thought, headed in a different direction entirely. And you test them by comparing them to what the Bible teaches to find they do line up. Then you know–this is from God.

I decided then and there that if this was the case, I was going to really enjoy my job while I still had it. And I did. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, it certainly is a job I love,  but I embraced it with a joy I hadn’t had in years–rekindled that early love for it. You know the kind? The one with fresh ideas and untainted expectation? I’ve written about this in the past. I have felt like a “born again” teacher the last couple of years.

Growth

11224331_10153372509787969_7440667631282452323_nAnd then four months after I drove on to that north-bound freeway at 6:15 that tearful morning,  Owen was diagnosed with stage 3 Thymus Cancer.

And we grew.

Night sweats, chest pains, weight-loss, then finally–answers. Then it was surgery,  chemotherapy, and radiation. Loss of hair, weight, and pride. We were pruned. Stretched. We grew faith and hope. I developed a supernatural strength I didn’t knew I could have. Owen softened with patience and compassion he struggled with before. It was a painful and beautiful trial. Not just our family. But for our friendships, and our marriage.

And then after one year of treatment while still running his business (he is a rock star!), Owen was healed from Cancer. And we celebrated and grew some more as we basked in the sunlight of hope, ready for further growth and new possibilities. Last week we just got our news that Owen is still cancer-free after one year since treatment.

14055127_1266185730072219_2370877723585375866_nThat summer during treatment two years ago, I worked on creating content for a marriage app I invented, realizing I should apply some of what I preached to the world around me. The ideas multiplied. Ideas lead to paper, led to spread sheets, lead to app developers and branding designs. And we grew some more. Then over the last year, the idea for the marriage app morphed into a marriage Facebook page and private group that has lead me to be a part of a movement to strengthen marriages and heal broken ones called Thriving, Sexy Marriages. And so we grew some more. Marriage app still to come. But something else has sprouted in the process.

The Turning Point and the Faith of a Child (or a Husband)

Owen_4_months_before_diagnosisSo when my husband’s business went through some changes this winter that lead us to to reconsider our understanding of God and to trust him in ways we didn’t understand, I would never have guessed that it would yield in my husband a desire for me to step out in faith with him and quit my job to come home. By no means was it a surge of prosperity that lead to this decision. Something I thought would need to happen for that decision to ever happen.

This was not how I had envisioned it. But God’s plans are not our plans. God did not say we weren’t ready yet because Owen’s business wasn’t making him so rich we could quit mine and still live a life of quarterly weekend getaways, season passes to Legoland, and a winter cabin in Big Bear. I thought this when he said we weren’t ready. But I have learned that God was talking about our character. Our faith. Our growth as husband and wife. Our unity and vision for our future.

224049_10150277882159746_816151_nWhat is Next

Taking a leave of absence from  my well-paying job to stay home will take sacrifice, there is no denying that. At least for now. But we have plans to be a husband-wife team. I will not be trading grading papers and lecturing seniors on the rhetorical triangle for lying around all day cuddling with my 2-year-old and watching day-time television or making Pinterest boards on animal shaped sandwiches. While cuddles will certainly be apart of my day, it will also be helping my husband out with his business, finishing my other children’s books, growing my blog,  and growing our marriage ministry so that we can make it a virtual marriage support movement–something that could lead to courses and books and private coaching or accountability.  Owen and I have learned so much through just our short seven-and-a-half years together. And we know that in the trials that have hit our marriage, what the darkness intended to destroy, God is using for good.

15895156_10210707506737750_2280544613316238102_nSo we will need to work at it. And it may be tight for awhile.  And there may very well be some conflict. But yes, I will also be able to take my kids to school. I will be able to teach my daughter how to read and put her down for her naps and enjoy her company at lunch. I don’t have to hear my son Jameson pray at the dinner table that his Mommy could get her work done faster so she could play with him. I will be able to pick up my boys from school and do homework with them in the afternoons. I will be able to enjoy them in the evening without a distracting pile of papers to grade.

And just as importantly, I will be able to watch them walk across the stage at high school or college graduation, without regretting losing those precious moments with them in those short years God lent them to us because I wanted fancy face washes, Arbonne shakes, and shiny cars, or a remodeled bathroom. I don’t want those material things at the expense of my children saying they remembered me as the stressed out mom who rushed them through everything– never really present.

14918948_10155407468274746_8711807688632773943_oPersonal Faith and Purpose

So that’s my story. That’s my reason. I don’t write this to guilt-trip any working moms. We are all different and I’m sure there are many working moms who can do both well. But I’m just not one of them. I can do one really well and the other just mediocre. And I’m tired of putting my kids second. And I can’t really get away with doing the other mediocre in the age of test scores and professional development accountability. This is God’s call on my life.

Until then, when my husband says lets step out in faith and see what God can do with the passions and talents he has given us, I say heck yes. I already feel a change happening within me just knowing it’s 5 weeks away. It makes me want to hold on to my husband, my kids, and Jesus all the more tightly because I have to let go of my idol of a stable income.

14956009_10155407464944746_2339658837828538358_nBut I think that is a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a blind faith. We’ve crunched the numbers. We’ve looked into health insurance. We’ve looked at our mortgage budget. It will be tight at first. But it can be done and it can and can loosen up later. The difference is that when you work solely on bringing income from your own business, the income varies month to month. It doesn’t feel as “safe” as a contracted salary position. So there is a reliance on the Lord that doesn’t happen when relying on that steady paycheck with the exact same number every month. But what it also means, is that there is no cap on our income. We get what we put into it too. If I help my husband with his business Videospot, his business can grow faster. If he helps me with the Thriving, Sexy Marriage business (he is an expert in selling with video, by the way) then I can eventually bring in some supplemental income through that business project to keep me home with my babies.

And I don’t doubt for a second that God will certainly show off for me since I’ve given him room to do so. A good friend of mine, Jamie once asked me–how can we see God’s power in our lives if we don’t give him a chance to show off for us because we play it safe? In the end, I think it is rooted in distrust of God. And that is unwarranted.

And if I’m wrong–perhaps yes, we’ve seen all the wrong signs or God wants this to be just temporary and hasn’t revealed that to us as of yet, my leave of absence allows me to return to my secure job as a teacher in a year or two. Within two years though, we hope to have a clearer picture of the road ahead. We won’t know until we take that turn down that road

I don’t know the future, but I know I’ve got a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. I’m tired of walking down a different path than my family. There are here in Vista and my husband has this vision for our future that I want to be a part of, but I’m on this side-road heading off in a different direction, constantly shouting over the valley between us, saying, “You can do it honey!” I want to be with him. I want to say “we can do it.” And when two people share a common vision and work together to achieve it, I don’t see how that could not lead to many good and plentiful blessings.

Those two paths have finally joined because of my husband’s faith and vision. It is a faith of God’s child. And I will not say no because Lord, we are ready to walk down it, wherever it leads. united toward a one vision

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DAVID THE LION– A STORY ABOUT CRUELTY

fighingIn my 11th grade American Literature class, my students and I started talking about this cycle of cruelty among the characters in the novella, particularly the villain and his wife. From our analysis of Of Mice and Men, we decided Steinbeck argued that cruelty can be a reaction to fear or loneliness. We shared some of our won experiences where we had seen others act cruelly to others due to fear or loneliness and even looked at our own actions. I couldn’t help but remember a high school acquaintance whose name I will change to David who was cruel to another kid and wondered about all the possible causes for his rage. I’m still haunted by my own cruelty for not doing anything to stop what I had seen or help. We all spent about 30 minutes writing about an experience. I shared my story later with them during our readings:

It was an unusually hot day in May my junior year in high school after a late Spring storm’s winds and thunder had electrified the valley before rampaging on to the East. David was going to fight another guy that day. Big, tough David with reddish hair and tattoos who worked out and drank beer and got drunk and liked to fight.

Who the other guy was I did not know. But the rumor hummed around that they were meeting at Beryl Park after school. And that is all I or the other teens at Alta Loma High School needed to know.

We all piled into our friends cars and blared out Rage Against the Machine and Nine Inch Nails from our radio speakers, pumped for the entertainment of plows and punches, laughing and shouting excitedly for the coming show: thirsty.

We all sat on our tailgates in the parking lot. A collection of used Jeeps and Bugs, lifted F-150’s and Tacomas, and shiny new Ford Mustangs lined with teens in Doc Martins and baggy jeans–white kids with too much time, waiting for the guy to show up whom David was going to fight.

But the guy didn’t show.
And David was ready to fight.
Fight him.
Fight someone.
Fight anyone.

He needed to release that angry beast raging inside of him. Angry at who or what, I don’t know. His father perhaps–a lion of his own past who called him stupid or weak? A mother who left him for her drugs two days before his 5th birthday? Maybe a child-molesting uncle? Or a long-legged girl who broke his heart his sophomore year?

We thought it was time to go, disappointed, heads shaking and downcast, eyes parched for the sight of blood, ears for the thud of punches and the fumbling of legs over shoulders and backs. Maybe because the violence could somehow make us feel alive.

But just as we started to pack up to leave, David started to roar; roar like a hungry lion. Colors poured out of him—black and red and purple, pouring from his mouth and his pores and his eyes.

We all turned and saw and knew. Something crazy was going to happen. The hairs on the back of my neck and arms delightfully sprang up in response.

And so he charged at some random guy there. Some guy just like me or him or her—smoking a cigarette and wearing a wife-beater and unlaced Vans. He sat there just like the others–there to watch. The guy had no idea he would be the one David would fight as we all watched with mouths agape. And he did not have time to prepare, as he laid on the hood of his car, lighting another cigarette with the burning tip of the first, only to look up to hear the noise of David’s roar and see him charging after him.

David beat the $#!% out of that kid. Beat him to a bloody pulp—missing teeth, a gash across his brow, eyes swollen immediately. He left that boy unconscious on the hot, black asphalt that day in May of 1996.

And everyone backed away, disturbed by the width and depth and height of David’s anger, not wanting to be next; and recognizing the severity of what just happened, they felt that surge of fear of cops and sirens, and quickly hopped into their cars, squealing away.

I stood there watching the kid moan on the rough parking lot asphalt, stagger up and stumble back down with eyes of confusion—no doubt wondering what happened.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

He didn’t answer–just laid there and wiped the blood from his lip, eyes wet with tears, and looked around, studying at us through murky orbs, as if he were trying to decide if he was really seeing us.

And then I just walked home with my friends: a cruel act of silence. I left him isolated and abandoned because I was afraid of what I saw. And perhaps because I was afraid of that evil part of me in the layers of my kind shell that liked the entertainment. I wanted to push his bloody image away from me at any expense. Not realizing that the image of him left alone in that park would haunt me the rest of my life.

I wonder if this experience hardened him. Made him angry and cruel. Just like David.

 

Satire on Alternative Cancer Treatments

Haven’t written a lot on this blog. But believe it or not, I’ve blogged a lot on my teacher blog that I use as models of writing for my students. Thought I might publish a few of them on here for you to enjoy if you’d like. This was an example of a satire I emulated from a satire by Rick Reilly on ESPN. Between that and my emulations, some of my kids came up with some great satires on  frustrations they had in passion topics like professional soccer, movies, music, family, and much more. Here’s mine. Don’t take it all to heart. I appreciate all the feedback we got when we went through our Cancer trial.

***

Congrats, newly minted Cancer Warrior!

Now you’ve been recently diagnosed with cancer. Next comes the wonderful opportunity to show all your friends that you don’t need scientific data or peer-reviewed research to beat this bugger. And you surely aren’t sad about getting this c-word.

Following happy wives-tale cures based on your uncle’s friend’s nephew’s daughter’s anecdotal evidence shared over organic tea and in between yoga stretches is a long-standing technique used to heal the world of that pesty little punk invading your organs and blood stream and wanting to spread to every cell of your body. Who’s got time for chemotherapy infusions or radiation? Ain’t no one got time for that! They may end up cured, but who wants a bald head and nausea? Not with those cute little kids you have who would like you at their wedding. Or with your wife or husband who want to spend the rest of their lives with you. Now you can manage that little knucklehead of a tumor with a smile on your face with my “How To Try and Beat Cancer with Beet Juice, Dandelion, and other Wives Tales” DVD series. If your cousins’s step daughter’s friend can do it, so can you!

Here are Six Essentials, just to get you started:

  1. Tell everyone the great wisdom you learned from your awkward friends on Facebook: Everything happens for a reason. You are a hero. And don’t forget to share those memes that say F Cancer. That will definitely help get rid of it and make a difference.
  2. Image result for kale memesStart eating kale! Turns out, it kills cancer. How many leaves you need to eat or green juices you need to drink, how often, or in how many trials it has worked, no one knows. But Bob at his EverythingKale.com blog said it works, so what are you waiting for!
  3. Start buying all of your friends’ multi-level marketing products. Yep, you may start noticing them pitch their products on your threads now and maybe even in a private message. Amazing how so many of your friends could be coincidentally selling the very thing you need, and offer it at the very moment you need it, and it won’t even feel like work for them at all!
  4. Stop eating meat. Everyone knows vegetarians and vegans are cancer free, strong, and healthy. You did this to yourself with your carnivorous ways. And Protein shomtein, you don’t need that much when you’re fighting a beast—plus with all the research showing the benefits of soy and of course the effects of other proteins like beans on the intestinal tract, without meat you’ll give that funky like cancer punk some major muscle to eat through when its devouring your body.

  5. Ask people to send their “thoughts,” “light,” “juju,” or “vibrations” your way.
    Millions of people each year are being cured through the invisible energies in the universe that all know where you are and fly through the sky on white horses from the various locations of your network and then enter your bloodstream and go kung fu on cancer’s behind.
  6. Take the skins off of a pack of raisins, just the skins, and steam them*. You can eat whatever you want after that. Whatever you want!

See, hero? You can be a natural hero! So order my How to Try and Beat Cancer with Beet Juice, Dandelion, and other Wives Tales series now, and get a bottle of urine from a female porcupine to soak your feet in and pull the cancer out, absolutely free!

*Line taken from stand up comedian, Brian Regan

Busy Spring for a Successful Future

10636864_10153948701474746_4943232232350272269_oSome people might people think I’m a nut for taking a 600-level Masters course this Spring at the local university, while my husband starts radiation therapy and I continue working full time as a high school English teacher, supportive wife, and mother of 4 children. No doubt some things have already been put on the back-burner since Owen got sick. I have barely done anything with marketing my children’s book on loving like Jesus, haven’t done anything with the content for the marriage app my friend Nickole and I wrote last Spring, haven’t posted much ads for my resume writing services, and haven’t worked out at the gym or the USSD fitness camp. So I’m not supermom. I’m just deciding where my priorities are right now with everything.

And my priorities may not the same priorities my friends have, but there is reason.

I’ve been wanting to come home and perhaps even homeschool the kids for years. I used to cry about it on my way to work for a good year or two as I begged God to please open the doors to allow me to do so. One day I heard him clearly: Not now. One day. But not now. You are not ready. I have more work to do on both you and Owen. 

For the first time, I felt a peace about my circumstance. And I decided then and there that I would begin finding joy in my job, and my role as mother and wife with the schedule that I have. I still battle at times, a tinge of jealousy when I see my mommy friends posting on FB about their home school lessons or their field trips with their kids or the playdates with friends. I get a little jealous when I hear about their morning devotionals and all the things I want to do. But God has been so faithful in giving my husband the desire as the spiritual leader in the family to pray with the kids before taking them to school and to lead our family in bible verse memorization, worship, and prayer every night as family. My kids are not being deprived of the spiritual education I so longed for them to have and felt inadequate or underachieving compared to my stay-at-home friends.

Proverbs3-5-6It started with me praying-Ok God. If I cannot come home, please give Owen and I the wisdom and the organization to manage our home effectively so that our children are not deprived of the spiritual learning and joy that comes from being with their family during the day. He answered. He also gave me the joy in teaching that I wanted to regain, and opened doors for me to be able to help our family meet its financial needs: we not only pay for a mortgage, but need to give it some tlc as the house is a fixer-upper. We also have three children under age 5, so our child-care bill is pretty hefty. Then there are cancer and medical bills, all the supplements Owen and I take now for our health issues, and the dietary changes we have made to make sure we get and stay healthy. We never want to hear the word cancer again. Outside of that, we want to save our money for a downpayment on a bigger home in either Oceanside or Carlsbad within the next few years. When James starts kindergarten next Fall, we will be able to add an extra $500 to our monthly savings for that goal. We will act like we never even had that money.

That same Spring that God spoke to me so clearly, I was looking at my place on the pay-scale at my school district, moping over the fact that I had maxed out at 10 years on my tier. I looked over at the next tier and realized that I only needed 13 more units and I could move up to the 12 year line with a 9k a year raise. I immediately enrolled in a 6 unit masters level Education course for the summer that changed my entire perspective on teaching writing in the high school classroom. I had hoped to take the same class again the following summer and perhaps a 1-unit course in Spring 2016 to make up the remaining 7 units. I learned I had only a small chance of being able to repeat the course summer 2016 and so determined that I would need to step up the units this spring to achieve this goal.

I start tomorrow. It’s a 3 unit course on Thursday nights. The semester is a short 3-month-long semester. And it will be rigorous. But I talked with Owen, sharing with him my concern over the commitment and his needs with radiation. He was quick to push that aside and point out that 3 months of some extra team work would be worth the raise the following fall. I’d have to be just as busy if not more, all the time writing resumes to makeup that difference. But with the raise–I work this hard for a short period of time, and then the money is consistent afterward with just my day-job. It’s a smart decision. And if it helps us get that house sooner, then it will help us reach our goal of bringing me home one day as well. All the while, Owen will also zapping out the last reminents of cancer in his body so that by fall of this year, we can put our crazy busy lives away, and begin enjoying some of the fruits of our labor and God’s blessings.

I will hopefully add in one work-out night a week as well this Spring just because its a healthy decision–but otherwise, no more resumes (Praise God!). And perhaps this summer, I can find the time with my final course I take, to work on illustrating and publishing my next children’s book. I’ve already written them. I just need to get them illustrated. Perhaps with the extra money I will eventually make–I can even just pay for an illustrator and get this ball moving much faster.

philippians 46We’ve got big goals. And God-willing, they will be blessed. My dream life would be to be a stay at home mom and wife, writing christian children’s books and bringing in income with that, leading a women’s bible study, and discipling a teenage or college aged young woman in a life that is pleasing to the Lord. Owen and I also want to take our kids out once or twice a year on missions trips to third world countries.  Owen wants to be become more influential in the YouTube marketing world as well as run a successful Christian video series answering questions about God and the bible by skeptics and seekers from around the world. He has already started writing and filming the video series with a good friend and pastor named Tony Hook. Keep an eye out for their videos coming soon on YouTube. He also wants to start a line of clothing specifically for cancer patients going through chemotherapy that will help them access their port and picklines and communicates to the world where they are at in their fight with Cancer. It will be a non-profit business with the purchases going toward paying the medical bills for chemo patients who apply for a scholarship with LifeWins.

Ultimately, we just want Jesus to come back as we’d rather be with Him in heaven and scratch all our worldly dreams immediately. But if Jesus decides to wait longer, we hope these dreams are pleasing to Him, so he will bless them. And if not, that He do what He will with our lives.

In the meantime, I’m trusting that for now–he is working on Owen and I, preparing us for desire to come home and the details he will sovereignly work out to fit His plans for our lives. He told me this. And I believe him.

What have you asked God for? What has he told you? Do you believe him? Can you find joy in your life as you wait for him to answer and find the blessings he gives you while you wait?

Born Again Teacher

blogger-image--2079890276Last Summer was a born again experience for me. My colleagues jokingly say its because I joined The Writing Project “cult.” But I think that any one who loves teaching has a sort of religious experience with it. Think about it–it’s a daily applied philosophy.  For those who love teaching, our educational world view and its applied methodology is something we do in our classes daily, reflect on in our drives home in the afternoon, improve through reading books by the gurus, plan lessons in the evenings at our dining room tables, and evaluate assessments over the weekend after we’ve tucked our kids into bed or spent some quality time with our spouses or loved ones–and for those who love teaching, this job, this life long decision to teach gives us meaning and purpose in our lives. And so when I say that this summer was like a born again experience for me, I mean it, all joking aside.

There are a few reasons why this summer was so impactful–one, because I learned so much through the lessons of my peers and the experts who had graduated from The Writing Project program. The other, because two personal experiences happened that summer, which only magnified all that I had learned. One, my husband started his chemotherapy for stage 3 thymoma, and two–a colleague of mine died unexpectedly, leaving behind hundreds of mourning teens who had been touched by her spirit and teaching over the years here at Chaparral High School, where we work.

So the first–supporting my husband through the trial of cancer and chemotherapy, ignited in me an extra fire for nurture and love. Life is precious. People are precious. And we all will experience trials that will test our character and define our priorities.

Then when my colleague Pamela Varnam died, I watched student after student mourn, so many coming forward at her funeral and memorial to share how she had been there for them during tough times, encouraged them, taught them, and mentored them. I looked back at the last few years of my own teaching and thought, if I died, would I have left the same legacy with my students. Sadly, I came to the decision that I wouldn’t have. Not the last few years. Over the last few years, I had lost that close connection with my kids. I had entered a valley in my love for teaching students. And I wanted so desperately to climb out.

There are numerous reasons why I had entered a valley, but none of that matters for this post. What matters is that this summer, I decided to change everything. This is the gyst of what changed:

1. Read less in quantity, but spend more time on each reading to boost the quality of analysis and understanding, incorporating more vocabulary, reading strategies, analysis of writing style and rhetoric, along with the message, and offering opportunities to mimic that writing style.

2. Keep literary analysis for the classroom and have homework time spent on activities they could do on their own with minimal guidance from me (Articles of the Week Readings and Responses, independent reading, studying root words and notes, and writing their passion blogs).

3. Add in a Passion Blog Project to my curriculum which offers prompts, mentor texts to model, drafting, peer evaluations, revision time, publication onto blogs, and final teacher evaluation. Additionally, best blog articles are voted on for publication as a guest column in the school newspaper (I set that up with our school newspaper ahead of time to make sure). Blog days were reserved for every Friday. The typical English 11 American Literature curriculum would be reserved for the other 4 days of the week.

4. Fun routines established for each day of the week’s bellwork– Monday is memorization preparation day where kids preview the weeks rootwords with peers and brainstorm example words they already know that include the roots.Then they make flash cards for homework and study them the rest of the week. Tuesday would be Tones of Poetry day, where they start the period by listening or reading a poem or viewing a spoken poem on Youtube–no analysis or discussion. Just appreciate. Wednesday would be Word of the Week Wednesdays–6 minutes of writing on the Word of the Week. Thursdays would be Throwback Thursdays–in which they did a warm up activity that reviewed terms, concepts, or skills learned earlier in the week or the week before. And finally, Flashy Friday–in which they “flashed” their partner with flash cards of the root words they made to see if they memorized those definitions over the week and were prepared for the quiz.

My goal this year was to do a few things–First, to foster in my kids a love for writing which I no longer had in my classroom as all writing had been confined to literary analysis or research. Second, to build a supportive and nurturing environment where I could connect with my kids and have them see me as a mentor and coach rather than an unapproachable hard ass as I felt I had become. And third–through the changes in quantity and quality of literary analysis, writing genre expansion, and classroom environment, I wanted to build skills in my students in such a way that they would actually show an increased proficiency of the standards than I had typically seen in previous years using my previous methodology.

Well guess what? It worked! This year has been an amazing year. One of the best in my entire experience teaching. My students passion blogs have lead me to learn so much about my students and connect with them. They see it as well because I actually respond to their blogs with specific and encouraging comments, much more than I have ever written for typical literary analysis and research writing. Their scores on the grade level common assessments are great–my students are scoring at a higher proficiency than previous years. Student grades have gone up. I have more A’s and B’s this year and less F’s than ever before.  The rubrics have not changed either. Same standards and expectations. Just different approach in getting there.

I have two Collab classes this year, which is our terminology for having a cluster of kids with IEP’s in the class, thus requiring a second special Ed teacher with whom to collaborate. Normally, my teaching methodology did not work well enough for those kids to grasp the concepts and skills I was asking of them. They struggled in my classes. This year, I have students in these clusters saying that for the first time in their life, they understand and like English class. And for the first time in their lives they are getting positive remarks about their writing. And its not inauthentic responses I am writing. Their passion blogs are good! It is amazing what happens when you have students apply skills and concepts from mentor texts to writing topics that they actually care about. I’ve got kids writing on bullying, dirt bike riding, travel, make up, fashion, mechanics, soccer, basketball, health and exercise, you name it. They are writing informational texts, persuasive, expressive, even satires. Next semester, our 11th grade common assessments are focused on fiction and poetry, so I will have my students write more narratives and poetry then.

My two collab teaching aides love what we are doing in our class and how they have seen their students blossom. The teachers in the other grade levels and in my own are asking questions about what we are doing in this classroom as the buzz around campus is spreading, especially when great writing is turning out in the guest column of our school newspaper and is labeled as a blog written in my class. What I like as well, is that I find the curriculum to be equally fulfilling for the students who have higher dreams don't workunless you doskills as well. Most of the Gate kids by 11th grade had moved on to AP Language, but I still have some high-skilled kids who are taking other AP classes and just didn’t take it for English. I find them to be engaged and enjoying the class as well.

I already have ideas on how I’m going to tweak and improve what I have started this semester for next year, so it goes even more smoothly and successfully. In the meantime, I want to stand on the mountain top and share with the world how much I love my students and my job, and how excited I am to be making a difference. And I want to help other teachers who may be in a valley in their own love for teaching and show them how to climb up to the top of not just a hill, but a mountain too.

Here are some of the books that have inspired me!


Teenagers These Days: rantings of a scribbling woman

I’ve got a stack of ninth grade English class essays in front of me that I just started reading. I’m down to the last five and am learning so much about my students. It’s perfect that we plan for this essay the first six weeks because for the kids who actually do the essay (an autobiographical narrative), it does teach me much about why they are the way they are.

But this year, I am especially sad by what I am reading. Sure, the bad grammar and elementary vocabulary is depressing, but more importantly, it’s the stories. I asked my students to write about a time in their life that was monumental or that signified a turning point for them, a moment which in some ways defined who they were or why they were who they were. This year, I’ve read some stories that make my heart break. Stories of drug addicted mothers, foster care, abusive fathers, and gang deaths. Stories of abandonment and a desperate need for love.

Sometimes I think I will have to read these essays over and over again when I want to get mad at my students for not being what I think they should be. Yes, they should try hard. Yes, they should keep getting back up when they fall and reach their goals. But lets face it, where are they going to learn that from? The home is the most important environment these kids have and most of them are broken. In the town I teach in, divorce is common; drug use, gang violence, poverty, alcoholism, child abuse, sexual activity, and illiteracy is a norm. And then to make that worse, they have all the radio stations and the movies teaching them that indulging in sex, drugs, violence, and greed for money is a normal and expected way to live and will fill their life with joy.

Meanwhile we have politicians, judges, and other American citizens pointing their fingers at the education system and screaming out that we are the ones who failed their children. Now I am not saying that our education system doesn’t need work. Believe me, this NCLB bologna is ridiculous and only leaving more kids behind but we could be amazing at what we do, and I still feel we’d have a problem. Why? Because how can I expect a 14-year-old teenager to pass his classes and his state exams at proficiency level when he lives in a home with 10 other people including his drunk father and his mother who works three jobs to support him and his best friend just died in a gang shooting, and he himself is being pressured by all the violence in his neighborhood to join a gang too so he can have protection and he can’t read very well because no one read to him when he was a child and meanwhile he wants money because all the music he listens to and movies he watches and commercials he zones in on tell him that money will give him everything he wants and right now school doesn’t seem like its going to work out for him, but selling drugs could give him some instant cash so…….

Do you understand what I am saying? No, not all of my kids are gang members, but many of them come from everything just short of that. I’ve got a 14 year old girl who is pregnant, another student who is living alone in a 1 bedroom room he rents while working 2 jobs and going to high school so he can live the American dream. I’ve got another student who is so proud right now because his mom has been clean from meth for 10 months and he thinks she finally kicked the habit so they can be a family again.

This is what our society has left for our grandchildren. I wasn’t here 50 years ago, but from what my parents tell me and my grandparents, this wasn’t the norm then. This wasn’t the problem with education then. So what is different?

I think greed and an overall indulging and condoning of immorality has corrupted this world in a way it hasn’t seen since Sodom and Gomorrah or the times of Noah.

So now what to do?

So many of my student’s writing is so poor despite my scaffolding, I will have to give them a D or an F on their essay, but what I really want to do is give them a big hug and tell them that despite what has happened to them, they are actually doing really well. And I will for many of them. I’ll give them their grade because I can’t fuel the system by just pushing these kids a long, but I will love them the whole time I set the standard high. And I will encourage and support them as they try to learn (or not) the skills I am instructed to teach them.

What else can I do?

It’s not just the education system that needs to be changed people. It is everything. Its turning off that song on the radio that glamorizes sex and drugs no matter how much we just like the beat because if we all did, the radio station would stop playing it and that would be that many fewer kids being indoctrinated to believe that way of life is normal and good. It’s about going to marriage counseling and being true to our vows to our husbands or wives even if we aren’t in love anymore because that is what marriage is about and that is what our kids need. It’s about teaching our kids to find joy in giving rather than just taking. It’s about going to the library if we can’t afford to buy books and checking out one bedtime book to read to our kids even if we really want to watch that lame reality TV show instead. It’s about teaching our kids that they can have some self-control and not have sex even if the world tells them they should. It’s about sacrificing our own selfish desires for the better of others. Can we do this? Honestly, I know of only one way we can all transform…..and you all know my stance on that. But it is a condition of the heart. And that condition is something I don’t think will change for better anytime soon.

So in the meantime, I will continue to love these kids. And hope and pray that we all survive the future that they will bring on this world when they become our next voters and leaders of this country.