Tuesday, January 26, 2016

From the Teacher's Desk

So lately my mind has been churning through some thoughts that all seem alarmingly interrelated. Thoughts from my personal life- the unhappiness that I've been working through in my "Joy Project" and "Citizenship" posts. Thoughts from professional development articles that have been sent my way by my awesome principal. Thoughts from my BSF study about Revelation. And, finally, thoughts from my interpersonal interactions- with my students and with my young mom friends.

It's only been in the past couple of days that things have started to crystallize for me. And I think that picking a place to start is like trying to find the beginning of a circle. I could probably pick anywhere, and it would take just as long to get the pieces to interconnect and make sense. So I think that, today, I'm going to pick the most current application, and I'll build from there.

So here goes nothing...

I'm grading tests right now. As I grade, I'm making myself not put down the correct answer for questions missed. I'm also gearing myself up for one class that will probably have a failing average. I'm not going to curve. I already told them that I'm not going to curve.

Some of you might be thinking, "Well, obviously... I never got a curve on any of my tests. Why should you give a curve?" Some of you have education experience and you understand the "risk" involved in "letting" students fail. Adults, it's different now than it was when you were in school. Let me explain...

Let me introduce you to the most anxious generation of all time. "Generation Z," as they are called, are children born in the late 90's and early 2000's. They grew up post 9-11, in a world that has seen (note the emphasis) economic downturn, a decade-long war, and an information explosion unlike anything in human history. I emphasized the word seen because it's quite literally the seeing that makes this generation so completely unique. War, economic hardship and information have always existed but it is the literal act of seeing these things on TV and the internet that makes this generation of humans unlike any previous generations.

Students today are self- absorbed, stressed-out, overly busy, entitled, distracted and unenthusiastic about anything that isn't their choice. With a mindset like that you might question how I can stomach interacting with them on a daily basis. Here's why- I love them. I really do. The presence of honesty doesn't mean a lack of love. I love them- entitled, distracted and vain as they are. Also, don't be fooled- there are some serious upsides to this generation. The self-absorption thing actually makes them very introspective. Where their grandparents were willing to ignore familial problems that ushered their parents into therapy, Generation Z is a generation who are willing to look deeply into themselves and figure out that things aren't right in there. That's a really good thing. I think it will lead to an end to some damaging cycles in families and cultures... here's hoping. The stressed out thing comes from being overly busy, but the upside of that is that these kids are really talented. All those infant swim lessons, baby music classes and sessions with personal trainers have paid off. They're really good at a lot of stuff. They're entitled, but that can also be a good thing too. Entitlement has an upside, believe it or not. Malcolm Gladwell taught me that in Outliers. When students feel entitled to a good eduction, good jobs, good healthcare or a just legal system, they're willing to speak up when they feel like they're not getting what they "deserve." The outcome can actually produce more good that ultimately could come to more people. They're distracted because of what we all know is happening in our world- instant gratification RULES. The upside of this is that with all of the information that's available to them, these kids can have an extraordinarily broad knowledge base. It's a challenge to keep up! I don't have a positive side about the lack of enthusiasm thing. There's an apathy to this generation that is sickening and I have no positive spin to offer on that. I'll extrapolate more on the negatives in subsequent posts.

I'm not saying that every kid demonstrates all of these characteristics, but, as a generation, they do. I've been around them for a minute or two, and I know what I'm talking about. Parents, you might disagree. ("Not my child!) But teachers, can I get an "Amen!"

My goal here is to talk about what's going on, and to consider my role in it. As a part of Gen Y, I'm just a few degrees away from the description above. (I've attached a fun link at the bottom of the page to give you some more insight into Gen Y- So funny. Please read.)

So I'm sitting at my desk with these tests, but  I'm thinking about my Bible study. We've read the prophecy in Revelation 12 about Satan attacking the people of God. The Bible says that the people will resist by the power of His blood and the word of His testimony. No matter how you interpret this prophecy, most believers are in agreement that Satan has throughout history attacked, undermined, preyed upon, confused and discouraged believers. Even if you're not a Christian, I think that most people see that good and evil are in conflict in the world. And the majority of us definitely want the good to prevail. But think of the people throughout history who have resisted all sorts of evil because they were focused, disciplined, determined, faithful and unselfish- The early church martyrs, Holocaust survivors, missionaries, civil rights leaders. Now, think about this generation... how are they going to fare when faced with the very real evil that we know is allowed in the world by our Sovereign God? Positive "spin" aside, if we don't do something about the negative things going on in this generation, then we're doing nothing to equip the next generation to do what God has said that His people will need to be able to do. We cannot do it for them.

So, here's the thing with the tests. Here's a practical application of being a part of the solution because I am so aware of the problem. I curve too much. I make it too easy... this is part of my contribution to the entitlement, the self-absorption, the lack of enthusiasm. It's going to take more words and more time to explain this further, so I leave you with this thought. Part of what I absolutely have to do is to give kids accurate feedback. When I curve tests, I'm giving them feedback on a false reality... a reality in which someone buffers everything for them. In such a reality, there is no failure, no consequences and therefore no need to grow or improve. The problem is.. no such reality exists. When you mess up in actual reality, it hurts. Not just you. It hurts other people too. Expecting someone to sweep up the crumbs for you all the time is not only ridiculous, it's dangerous. I'm not saying that there's never a time and place to buffer. It takes time to acclimate teacher expectations with student ability. But this isn't my first rodeo. I know how to teach this stuff. I know how to give students tools so that they can prepare themselves to succeed. So if they can't succeed because they're unprepared or are unable to because, at this time, they're not cognitively ready to perform this task, then what good does it do to lie to them about it? None. A bad grade should be a means, not an end. It's a communication that should alert students and parents to one thing and one thing only... we need to grow in this area. Not giving them the grade they actually earned and not giving them the opportunity to correct their own mistakes (for a grade or not) means that I'm not issuing that warning.  I'm pretending like the need for growth doesn't exist. And that opens up cans of worms that will wiggle their way into future generations.

WAY more to come later. For now, I'm back to my tests.

Here's the link about Gen Y- technically my peeps, and if we're this bad... imagine what our kids are like...


Monday, January 18, 2016


Last night, Andy and I watched the last episode of The Office. I know, I'm years late to that party, but, to be honest, I haven't wanted to watch the last season at all because I'm a wimp about things ending. I hate saying good-bye. Even to TV characters. But last night seemed like a good night to let it happen.

I knew that part of the plot line for the end of the series involved Jim and Pam's move to Austin. I'd read an article in our local paper about it when the show originally aired on network TV. The piece was about Austin's city-wide curb appeal that draws people by the thousands. Even fictional people can't resist.

As you watch The Office come to a close, you're sort of sad that Jim and Pam won't be showing up at Dunder Mifflin anymore, but you're also happy and excited for them. There's a part of you that's thinking, "Good for them. They're moving up in the world. They're going to a hip city where they're going to have it all." At least, I'm pretty sure that's what the writers were going for.

But, let's talk about what it's actually like to live in Austin. If you make a ton of money, or you're in your early 20's, Austin is literally the coolest. The city is saturated with people doing fun things on a weekly basis. There are tons of festivals and events. You can see live music or drink your choice of fancy cocktails.  There are great restaurants and places to go shopping. The city has awesome parks and is kid and dog friendly. You can be hipster, you can be athletic, you can be a cowboy... pretty much anything goes. Austin is, in many ways, weird and wonderful. But it's also really expensive. And getting to any of those cool restaurants, bars, and events requires an intentional commitment of time, energy  and money that Andy and I rarely have these days. It's also so transient, which is kind of cool because there are a lot of interesting people from all sorts of backgrounds that you can meet, but also sort of sad because it's like we all got here and are looking around at each other like, "what do we do now?" Relationships cultivated in time are hard to find around here. We're all just "hoping to get together." Or we're striving to "live in community," but the whole thing feels pretty contrived. Much less natural than old, lived-in relationships. And I won't even start on the weather. I haven't got the strength.

Truth told, I love Austin. I am not writing this to dog on the city. It's legitimately a cool place. BUT... real life in and around Austin doesn't play out for the regular folks like the TV show would have you think. Unless Jim's company made tons of money, they wouldn't be able to afford to live in Austin. They'd be out in the suburbs like the rest of us, grumbling about how bad the traffic is.  So now I'm getting real... about my own life. I live in a little neighborhood that's getting sandwiched between major traffic arteries and major shopping centers. Seriously, every time I go out, I see new apartments or homes being built. A new Gold's Gym just opened close to our house. It's been open just a few weeks and already you can hardly find a parking space. There are two more Gold's Gyms (not to mention the other gym chains, yoga studios and cross-fit places) within ten miles. It's just that crowded here.

I don't like to complain about where I live. I grew up hearing people complain about my hometown all the time. People really hate Fayetteville. They have to go there because they get stationed at Fort Bragg, and they end up just counting down days until they PCS. You meet these people at church or at work, and they certainly don't spare words when airing their grievances about our little city. You'd think that after a lifetime of hearing people complain about it, you'd become immune to it. But it's like hearing someone complain about your loved one. As a member of the family, you're allowed to gripe about those inner idiosyncrasies, but there is swift and sudden wrath in store for the outsider who feels like they have the right to chime in. It might not be fair, but it's just how these things work. So I try not to grumble too much, at least not to the Texans.

But, lately, as I feel more and more isolated in my little island of suburbia, surrounded by a sea of people in their fast-moving cars, I am struggling as much as ever at calling myself a citizen of this city. I know it's counterintuitive. Everyone is in a hot frenzy to get to Austin and claim a piece, but me? I'd be happy to see it in my rear-view mirror on many days. Like I said, it's nothing to do with the city itself. And if I were from Austin... shoot, if I was just Texan, then I'd be happy enough to make the best of it. But man do I miss that coastal breeze, and those rolling green hills of my home state. And I can smell Appalachia if I just close my eyes. North Carolina calls to me all the time- a calm, cool, green song.

Anyway, to wrap things up, I want to insert the deeper question that I'm asking of the Lord. I read a verse as a part of my BSF lesson that really got me thinking about this. The verse says, "But our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there." Philippians 3:20 I'm asking the Lord about this. Does permanent citizenship in heaven mean that I need not get wrapped up in where I'm living here? I think you can get wrapped up really loving a place that you forget that God desires more for you than comfort. But I also know that you can get really wrapped up disliking where you live to the point that all you can think about is escaping it.

So, I'm asking the Lord to help me understand His will for me. And to sort through my desires with me. And to help me figure out how citizenship is supposed to play out for now and for the future, in light of eternity.