A collection of random thoughts and images
from the life of a busy professional who is
working at finding peace and restoration while
trying to make the most of every day. May, by
the way, is "just" one of my cats, but she thinks
she runs my life =)
I've been in Livingstone, Zambia, on a mission trip for the past week with a group of 45 students and adults connected with my school. It's been an amazing experience to say the least. Today is our last day of work before we conclude the trip with two excursion days--tomorrow to Botswana for a safari and Friday to Livingstone and Victoria Falls for various experiences (including bungee jumping for a few!). My job on this trip has been to keep in touch with the parents. I chose to do that via a blog--Into Africa (www.taamissiontrip2013.blogspot.com). Because the internet is slow at night when everyone is here using their phones and such, I spend the days at the lodge writing while everyone else is out working. It has been peaceful and quiet, these African mornings. Quiet enough to write a poem :)
For the past month, I've been working on a big editing project. One that has required us to reflect. One that has asked us to look at the key experiences of the past six years of our school's life. We are preparing for our accreditation visit next month and I'm on the writing and editing team for the self-study. It has been an interesting journey. My assignments were to write chapter one (the school profile), head up the focus group about curriculum and instruction, and then edit the whole project. Last week, I was editing every spare moment. Some sections went through three and four edits, and some are first drafts (and it shows). When different people are writing different sections, it's challenging to try to put it all together as if it came from one source, one voice. Hence the late nights and the hours (five and six hours each the past two nights) of work after a full day of teaching!!! All told, I logged over 50 hours of overtime--for which I cannot be paid since I'm on salary. Something's a little skewed about that, but that's another story. . .
All of those 50+ hours, I was accompanied by my friend and colleague, Jill. She is actually the leader of the whole project and she truly has put her heart and soul into it. She was able to take Monday off as we finally put the project in the mail to the visiting team at about 5 p.m. last Sunday. I took a few hours off, but didn't want to miss out on my teaching. The principal sent us out to dinner and a show Wednesday night, though, and we had a good time, first going to Brios for supper (delicious) and then to the Mesa Arts Center to see The Good Lovelies in concert. Now, prior to last week, I had barely heard of this band, but Jill knew their music and really wanted to go. I'm always game to learn new things, so I didn't mind going...and was pleasantly surprised and the delightful time we had there.
Our seats were great--third row in a small, intimate theatre that held about 200. This women's trio of Canadian folk singers were funny...and good. It was somewhat of a shock, though, to look around us and see that we were, besides the singers, the youngest people in the room, by far. Don't know why that demographic...but we all enjoyed ourselves. The girls kept saying "thank you for coming. You're all so attentive! And it's true. The audience was on their best symphony hall behavior, quietly listening during the songs and clapping enthusiastically at their conclusion. We also gave them a standing ovation at the end, which I believe delighted the singers enormously. They are relatively new--only about 6 years old as a band. I was impressed.
Of course you pay for doing something like that mid-week. I have indeed been scrambling ever since to get everything done that needed doing before this day ended. But...it's all done now. And so I go to my rest tonight tired, but with an enormous sense of relief and accomplishment . . .
"What is the good of experience if you do not reflect?" ~ Frederick II Reflect on your key experiences of the past year or so. What stands out? What have you learned? What more do you have to learn to become the person you want to be? Kind of loaded questions I think. Important to consider, though.
[Those were the writing prompts from Thursday. I didn't have time to write much then, but have finished the thoughts I started with my classes from that day.]
So . . . what are some of the key experiences I've had this past year or so? What stands out for me? Professionally, I think I've had opportunities to stretch myself. Two years ago, I was "just" teaching, not really wanting to do anything else for awhile. I had come off five years of being principal, of doing something that I was passionate about, but didn't really want to be doing (paradox?). I needed space. I needed to learn to breathe again. So I left Boston and moved to Phoenix, left administration to go back to only teaching. The next year, I got back into a bit of administration--mostly in an advisory capacity--just enough to make it interesting, not enough to overwhelm me.
This year, though, I have a lot more to do in that department. It's almost as if I have one foot in each camp--classroom and administration building. It's been challenging...and draining. Part of me want to go back to "just" teaching again. It's certainly easier and far less stressful. But clearly that is not possible for me. I cannot seem to steer clear. I have finally given up the fight and have accepted that I will never again be able to "just" teach. It seems that God has something else in store for me . . . Looking back, I find that I do not regret letting go of my plans and following where God leads. Looking back, I see clearly what I could not always see in the moment. Looking back--reflecting--I see the good of very experience and I see that, in God's hands, all things work together for good. That is the good of experience. And reflection.
Not only is today's writing "Blessings, part 2," it's writing-with-sophomores, part 2. My T/Th section of sophomores is a little bit bigger class, but aside from numbers, they are basically the same...interested and eager learners for the most part. A fun group to teach and work with. We are listening to Yo Yo Ma while we write...another one of the blessings in my life :)
When I was thinking of the word "blessings" a few minutes ago, I thought of how many of my friends end their letters with the word "blessings." Quite a few of them do in fact, both male and female. In a way, it's kind of a throw-away tag line, maybe even a trendy one. I know when I first became a principal I was concerned (not in a major way) about how I would end--and begin, for that matter--any communication I sent from my office. My direct supervisor always ended his missives with "4 His Kids." His supervisor closed hers with, you got it, "Blessings." So...what was my tag line going to be? Truth? I never did figure it out. Many times it would be "Take Care." But that would depend on how well I knew the recipient. Most of the time, I just tried to say something that sounded like a satisfying ending...almost like the ending of an essay! My salutation dilemma I solved with a simple "Good Morning," "Good Afternoon," or "Good Evening," depending on when I was writing.
But back to the blessings. A blessing today is our Week of Prayer speaker. He looks almost exactly like Kris Kristofferson, but few of our students would know who that was. They think he looks like Jesus, a dirty-blond-haired Jesus. And he's telling them some pretty cool stories of Jesus, so in a way, that fits. Anyway, he's been a huge blessing to us and it's only his second day.
My second day (and third class period) of writing with my students. This time it's seniors. The lucky 13 in my first-thing-in-the-morning British literature class. We're studying Hamlet and, unfortunately, had to take a three-week break right in the middle of it, so today we'll be looking back in order to understand the things that lie ahead (see the quote from yesterday's first entry) in Hamlet's life. But first, they are writing.
It's interesting to go through a "last semester of high school" with seniors. They struggle with wanting to get out now and hang on as long as they can. They are done (or want to be) with high school work, but not necessarily high school life. Especially in a boarding school environment, I think. For me, I have to literally look all the way back to my senior year to remember what it was like for me so I can give them my best as we go through this last semester together. Sometimes, especially as the end nears, I feel frantic that I didn't do enough, that I didn't tell enough, that I didn't take enough time with them--as a class or as individuals. I don't like having regrets, but that's always one of them every year.
So, what are things that I need to work on? Using my time better in class? Using my influence more out of class? Going back to my thoughts of yesterday about content of character as opposed to content of essay . . . what do I give them? What do I say and do to help them know they need Jesus more than any single other thing in their lives????
"Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some." --Charles Dickens
This is the second writing prompt of the day for my sophomores. What are your present blessings? List and reflect them. Well, one of my blessings, for sure, is my students. I feel a great happiness when I think of them and see them learning and growing. This writing year that we spend together is not easy. And there's not a lot of "fun" literature because it's more about them as writers than others. But they have worked hard. I've not had to struggle to keep them focused. I've not had to beg or bribe them. I know they wish it could be more "interesting" at times, but it is always practical. Even now. And they get that. What a blessing!
Another blessing is my family. I spent almost all of Christmas vacation with them. This was a longer break than usual, too, so I made the most of it. I miss my family a great deal. It's a real challenge to be without them, so any opportunity to be with them is a blessing.
My friends are a blessing, too. I have many...too many to count, but not too many to appreciate. Here, at Thunderbird, each one is very different from the other. There are not many overlaps in interests--or time together. That's been interesting to me, to virtually have a different friend for many of the interests in my life. Last night I went and watched Downton Abby with one of those friends and had a great time laughing and enjoying the life of 1920s Britishers. I look forward to next week's episode and the time to share again.
"Sometimes, you have to look back in order to understand the things that lie ahead." --Unknown
I'm writing with my students today. It's been awhile since I've done that. Years ago, I did it all the time. Actually kept a journal in my classroom and wrote whenever I had them write. I got away from it for some reason and have missed it. Today, at the beginning of a new semester, I've resolved to get back to it.
So it's 1:10 p.m. I have 16 sophomores in the room, heads bent over the page reflecting on the past semester. What are things that worked in your academic life? What are things that need work this new semester? What will you do to assure success in 2013? I love the sounds of thinking! It's a beautiful thing to see and hear.
And what is it that I saw and heard from them last semester? And what did they see and hear from me? We learned to write from the ground up. Bit by bit, piece by piece, we learned how to build an essay. For some, it was easy. The words flowed easily and smoothly. There was no struggle to let them loose from their mind. Others had to fight--with themselves, with those around them, with the distractions that are part of an active classroom. But they learned. And so did I.
There are always things that I know for sure work. And then there are those I need to work on. It's sometimes hard for me to explain something that comes so easily for me. Not that writing is easy. But I know how to do it... So I have to try to remember what it's like to not know. And sometimes that frustration keeps me from doing my best. That's what I will work to improve this semester.
Now, it's nearly 2:30 and I have the AP class with me. This is a full classroom of juniors and seniors. With them, I want to do more serious academic writing and thinking. We've had a good semester, and they've done well, but we need to start focusing on the test prep. I don't like teaching to a test. Something in me rebels against that. I don't know what exactly. I like the freedom to determine what is important for my students and that takes it all away from me. Which may be what frustrates me. I am far more interested in the content of their characters than in the content of their essays! But that makes it a little difficult to take an AP test if all I've done with them is develop who they are . . . and not what others think they should know.
I've been reading quite a few Facebook posts from friends who have college-aged children. Most of them are bemoaning the quietness of their homes now that those children have gone back to school. I understand that loss, but it rather amuses me that I, on the other hand, am somewhat bemoaning the fact that tomorrow, I will be getting up early to face a not-so-quiet classroom full of children who have left their homes today to come back to school (I work at a boarding school).
While the quietness of my classroom beckons at the moment, I will be ready to exchange it somewhere around 10 tomorrow. While I've enjoyed the break--longer than I usually have at this time by a few days thanks to the calendar--I am ready to get back to the regular routine (although it's anything but routine!). What is an empty nest for some will become a full nest for me. I look forward to it!
“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the
year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the
hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a
I first read that quote the year I had literally gone out
into the darkness—quit my job at a school where I was teaching, given up my
apartment and gone off to work on my doctorate in an environment about as far
removed from my life and lifestyle as possible—the huge and ultra secular
University of New Hampshire. I had no idea what to expect. All
I knew was that I hoped I could succeed in a world I had had little or no
contact with until that point.
Looking back, I’m not sure how I had the courage to do it,
although if you know me at all, you know I am a risk-taker, always pushing the
envelope, so maybe it’s not such a surprise that I would do something like that
after all. Although there were many things foreign and
even difficult about the experience for me, I don’t regret having done
it. I also learned a lot, the most important being the truth of
those M.L. Haskins lines from the poem “God Knows” in her book The Desert. Any time you put
your hand into the hand of God you are in a better light and on a safer way.
This is nothing new to most of us. In fact, I
think probably most of us believe that a life following close to Jesus is
absolutely the best life. Trouble is, it does no good to hold a
belief if you don’t practice it. If you’re not a thinker and a doer, why bother
thinking? Shocking question coming from one who, as a teacher, is
continually exhorting her students to THINK, isn’t it?
Well, I’ve been thinking about doing for a few weeks, now. This isn’t the first
time I’ve thought about doing, of course. In fact I often think
about doing around this time of year. It’s the New Year, and one can
hardly avoid thinking about doing new things, doing things differently, doing
things at all! At
least I can’t. Every
year for as long as I can remember—and my sisters say I can remember a long
ways back, although it’s getting shorter as I get older—I’ve been making New
Year’s Resolution lists. Sometimes they’re long and detailed
lists. Other times they’re brief but cleverly worded lists—working
under the theory that a few resolutions are easier to keep than many. Omit
needless deeds, you know. It depends on how energetic I’m feeling at
No matter the form, I find myself thinking a lot during the
weeks that surround the New Year. Thing is, that’s the easy
part. Anyone can think,
although they don’t always do it. It’s the acting on the thinking that’s the real challenge. That's my goal this year. To act on the thinking, with my hand in God's. That is definitely better light and safer than the known way.