Jack4thGrade Jo1stgrade

It’s the first day of school and while I’m excited for my fourth and first grade children to kick the year off, I’m praying especially for their teachers today.

Teachers are perhaps the most important adults in our children’s lives after their parents (and in some cases more than their parents). Teachers definitely deserve more than they get in so many ways. And teachers have a HARD job.

I cannot imagine the difficulty teachers face everyday in dealing with all of the different backgrounds and circumstances that show up in their classrooms every morning. Most of us spend the majority of our day with adults. While the adults in our lives certainly bring baggage to the workplace that affects who they are and their performance, they are ADULTS, and most of them are able to put those things aside long enough to get their work done. But a teacher is dealing with kids who have all manner of challenges in their lives and aren’t emotionally mature enough to know how to deal yet.

Can you imagine having a classroom of 25 9 year olds? Now, how about if half of them have parents living in different houses? What if 4-5 of them didn’t eat much for dinner last night or didn’t get breakfast before school because money is tight at home? What if another 3-4 are sexually or physically abused by an older sibling, neighbor, or uncle? How about the 8 or so that have learning disabilities but are ashamed of it so they try to hide it? Not to mention the 15-20 that are so insecure and nervous most days that just getting on the bus is a challenge to overcome.

I don’t want to think about the baggage that I pile on my fourth grader when I lose my patience with him in the morning about getting his shoes on or getting his teeth brushed. What kind of challenge am I handing his teacher by dismissively telling him he won’t have any trouble making friends this year when I know that it is one of his biggest fears? I can only imagine what state some of our kids show up in emotionally every morning.

So this morning, I’m praying for teachers. I’m praying that they have patience beyond any reasonable human allotment. I’m praying that they can discern the difference between struggling and troubled. I’m praying that they are flexible enough to provide all of those different kids the space to learn in their own unique way. I’m praying that they are firm enough to instill discipline and boundaries because kids are longing for it. I’m praying that they will inspire my kids and all of the kids they teach the way many of my teachers inspired me.

And this morning, I’m thankful for teachers. Thankful for Mrs. Kaveney, my third grade teacher who had the courage to tell my parents she thought I should be held back even when my academic numbers said differently. Thankful for a group of junior high teachers at Metcalf School who didn’t let me coast by when they saw I had academic potential but cared more about sports. Thankful for Coach Hubbard who modeled for me how to treating kids with respect on the court earned their respect on and off. Thankful for Ms. Scott, the best teacher I ever had, the one who instilled a passion for history in me, and the most influential adult in my life who I don’t share a last name with. And thankful for Tim Dillon, my Milligan College American History professor and mentor who not only taught from a place of passion, but cared for his students from a place of passion.

Today will be a great day for my kids because of the caring of their teachers and I am who I am today because of the teachers who cared for me. Pray for your teachers and the teachers of others today and every day.


Writing Helps


It was an unlikely place to learn one of the most valuable lessons in life. You’d expect an ‘a-ha’ moment for a teenage writer to come from an inspiring English teacher or from reading a book of Emerson poetry for the first time, or something like that. And, while I had some great clinicians for English teachers (Neuleib and Kelly), it was in my AP U.S. History class that Ms. Scott taught me that writing helps. She forced me to write about history in a way that EXPLAINED it, not just recounted it, and in those exercises I learned the value of using writing to explain things. You see, when you write to explain your thoughts and feelings, your mind is forced to process and organize those thoughts and feelings into understandable sentences. The result is that writing helps us understand ourselves, process our feelings, and express those feelings to others in ways that speaking cannot because of the filter of our hands on the pen or fingers on the keyboard.

So, I return to the task that Ms. Scott often assigned now as an adult, particularly when I’ve got something swirling around in my mind that needs some translation to make any sense. While I still love to read about Sherman’s March to the Sea and Roosevelt’s New Deal, those topics don’t find their way into my creative writing these days. However, when I was writing about those things I was forced to study the facts, examine the commentary, and develop my own thoughts about the how and why of some of history’s most important moments. I try to apply the same exercise to my writing now – I am usually stirred by facts (something I read, hear, or discuss with a friend usually), I examine the commentary (often inside my own head), and I try to develop my own thoughts about the implications of what is going on.

You see, I’ve been in a bit of a ‘funk’ lately. Nothing serious, just not the best me, not the me I want to be. Unlike my writing hero, Edward Abbey (pictured above), I’m not intending to set off to blow up a dam out of angst; although if you are thinking about that you should watch Damnation on Netflix and you’ll definitely want to. I digress…

So, I review the facts: I’ve had 3 straight weeks of heavy travel (like multiple flights, coast to coast, red-eye heavy travel), I’ve been out of my consistent running pattern (only 1-2 days a week the last few weeks), I’m eating like crap (on my last business trip I had back to back nights of 10p wings and beer at the hotel bar because of that crappy travel schedule), and I haven’t written anything since October 30. I examine the commentary in my head – “Wow, looks like you’re putting on some weight this morning in the mirror,” “Gee, I’m awfully tired this morning, I think I’ll sleep another 45 minutes since my client meeting isn’t until 10a today,” “It’s been a long trip, you deserve some ‘comfort food’ before bed tonight.”

Now it’s time to develop my own thoughts into something meaningful on this page. Travel is a natural part of my job, it us unavoidable, so there is no sense in taking a negative view of the necessity of some tough trips. The real thing that is going to get me out of this ‘funk’ isn’t less travel, it is a change in discipline and attitude. If I look at times I’ve felt great about myself and the world, I was actually traveling quite a bit then. Travel inspires and energizes me, it is fun for me to explore new places and meet new people. The difference is my approach to that travel and how I spend my hours on the road needs a re-start. When I leave enough room in my travel schedule to enjoy a city, sit down for a decent meal at a decent hour, and make it a priority to get out of bed for my morning run, my whole attitude and experience changes.

In my old high school ‘blue books’ where Ms. Scott made us write our history essays, she always made us leave margins so that we had room for notes and additions if we needed them. I think the same applies here – I need to get back to leaving some margins in my days; time to think, time to read, time to explore, and time to write. Because writing helps.