Thursday, December 13, 2012

Power of Perspective : Lettington Update


 I teach my students about the power of perspective and getting out of their comfort zone all the time, but sometimes I need to listen to my own “preaching.”   Gavin and I have been preparing for a major move 4700 miles away from our cozy Alaskan home.  Gavin has earned a position as Director of Medical Simulation at the College of Medicine for the University of Central Florida, and I will be teaching at the most academically prestigious high school in Florida, Hagerty High School. We are actually enroute on our newest adventure from the Alaskan Tundra to Florida beaches.  It will be quite a change in scenery and climate, but after the -17 degree temperature we had last week, 75 sounds heavenly.  Outside of the weather, I have had mixed emotions about the move, but have cast my burdens upon the Lord.
I have been keeping this move quiet for a while in an attempt to transition my students, families and to help prepare my replacement at school.  However, as it all began to pick up in speed with movers, working through the stress of getting a new teaching license in another state, and finding a job for myself, I began to feel scared, worried, fearful and anxious. My heart was clouded with emotions and I was despondent that I would be leaving my students in the middle of the school year.  I found myself unable to sleep, having nightmares, and sick to my stomach. I even started losing weight and having headaches daily.
 However, just as I started to feel flooded with fear of the unknown, and worrying about the details I was given a touch of perspective. Not only from my students who have been very helpful, kind, and caring through everything, but also my colleagues who were constantly bringing me warm wishes throughout the entire process.   I keep reminding myself there are people who need much more than just relief from stress found in moving a family of five and a classroom across the country.
There are many people who do not have jobs, or family and friends who care for them. There are families out there without their health and the resources necessary to get through the month. I know there are families who do not have enough to eat or adequate money to provide warm clothing for their children.  I know this because I see it daily in my profession. Many of my students, past and present, come from impoverished homes and need more than just an academic education. They need their basic needs met, and more often than not, this becomes my first priority in my room.  How can you teach about the degrees of adjectives if the child is thinking about a rumbling stomach?
However, this was not the only perspective I have been given the past few weeks. When I felt overwhelmed I thought of all the love pouring out around the world for Loren Lettington and his family. This young family needed prayers and support and we wanted to help in any way we could.  The response has been breathtaking. There are over 5000 views on my blog and this is coming in from all around the world. 12 countries have viewed the blog and about 30 individuals have sent in donations.  My own children handed Gavin and I cash they wished to donate from the money they have worked hard to earn.  The selfless acts by many have been awe-inspiring, and the love radiating from this family is truly remarkable. I hope that we can continue to raise money for Loren. I know that God is in control as He has carried this family this far in this terrifying journey, and will be with them daily.
Loren has made it through so much already, but the prayers cannot stop now. He and his lovely wife flew home on Monday and are in Iowa City at the University of Iowa Hospitals. They are receiving excellent care around the clock and family support is definitely more hands on now that they are back in the United States. However, Loren has now developed pneumonia and needs continued support and care.
The family wanted to relay a message to everyone out there praying and sharing in this arduous journey with the family.  

At this point we just ask that people continue to pray, as a family we have begun to understand the power of prayer. Even though we believed in His love before we just have come to see His great glory over the past two weeks.  So many amazing things have happened over the past two weeks and we know it is because of prayer and our AMAZING God! Loren is getting settled in Iowa City, but has been diagnosed with pneumonia. Megan and the kids will be staying up there close to him during this time. The rest of the family will be making trips to visit and will continue helping with the care of Briar and Hadley. We are very thankful for all the prayers and support that we have received. The love and support is simply overwhelming and very humbling. Loren is an amazing young man and we are so truly blessed to have him in our lives. Also, we ask that you continue to pray for Loren's coworkers who were with him at the time of the accident, as this has been extremely difficult on them as well.”

I am reminded of the verse in James 1: 2-4, “ Dear brothers and sisters whenever trouble comes you way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For you’re your faith is tested your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when you r endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.”  This family has had their faith tested, endured much, and have developed a character that can be admired. They are struggling with their own needs, but seek prayers for others. I am amazed at their humbling faith in the Lord and reliance on prayers.

Their entire family is out of their comfort zone, and the unknown is scary and daunting. The traveling between the hospital and home is very taxing on the budget as well as on their emotional and physical well being.  So, get yourself out of your comfort zone and share this link. Let’s raise even more and give a gift of compassion to a family in need.  I am imploring you to please, look inside your hearts and see if you can meet the challenge, and give a dollar, five or ten.
OPEN YOUR HEART, and spend time in prayer, and I promise as soon as you hit the donate button your perspective will be altered. I know this because God is living and breathing through the followers of this blog. After all in 1 Peter 4: 10 the Word tells us; “God has given gifts to each of you from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Manage them well so that God’s generosity can flow through you.”  So, manage your gifts God has given to you this season and allow generosity to flow around the world.  Gain a new perspective that spreads comfort and joy to a family who need peace and the gift of miracles.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Wrestling to Make a Difference Update

Family Portrait
Education is more than just reading, writing and arithmetic; it is learning how to solve problems that will inevitably arise in your life. Education is developing the tools to figure out how to survive in the world, and how to become a citizen of humanity. Therefore, education, is not something you obtain just from sitting in a desk while listening to an expert in the field. Education is learning how to deal with the road that lies ahead, and overcoming the obstacles, which block your path. In the past few days I have learned so much about reaching the impossible and fighting for love because of the Lettington family. I am a believer in Christ, and have faith in the love of His people. However, I never expected the outpouring of love and support for this young family. I received an education in the last two days about the power of prayer, and the love of people. 

Celebrating Life's Moments
There have been 1755 viewers scattered across the U.S., Germany, South Korea, Japan, United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, and Mexico.  We have raised $800 to help this amazing family, and all the messages coming in have been so uplifting. This was more than I ever could have anticipated, and I am blown away by the sheer number of supporters across the world who are praying for Loren. I decided this large number of prayer warriors may want an update on his condition. Therefore, I will be breaking from my normal classroom reflection blog, and will try to piece together a story of love, determination, and hope based on the interaction from the family.

I am too cute!
Loren Lettington is a fiery soul with a sense of humor that eats away at the darkest of facades. His smile is genuine and sincere, and he is a hard working man. He is madly in love with his wonderful wife, and the love for his beautiful baby girl and sweet little boy is very evident.  He is one of the kindest, most caring individuals anyone could ever meet. This week, while at work in Germany, some very heavy equipment fell on him. It caused some major injuries to his head and spine. His brother, Richard Lettington and Loren's wife, Megan Lettington, flew to Germany to be by his side. The doctors have worked feverishly to stabilize him, and the prognosis was bleak from day one. However, he has improved faster than anticipated and is stronger than anyone even knew.

Here is the latest update from the Lettington family:
Sleepy little girl.
Loren has undergone long surgeries to stabilize him. He has no movement in his arms or legs, and was not able to breathe on his own so he had to have a tracheotomy. He was given a 30% chance of walking again. The doctors stated there was blood in his eye, but he should regain full sight. They completed a surgery on Monday to strengthen Loren's vertebrae between C-2 and C-3. Everything went very well even though it was a high risk surgery. He was responsive and wide awake.   This surgery was intended to help stabilize him enough so that he can be transported back to the U.S., and back to his family who so desperately want to hold his hand, talk to him and kiss him.

This all seems scary and overwhelming, but Richard and Megan are both sharing the tiny miracles God has given to them all.  Richard writes, "Today has been an awesome day with first us finding out that Loren will be able to eat in the future. It might seem small, but it was the first good news we've heard in awhile. " This is a blessing that we all take for granted, and I can tell you that this family is not asking for pity they are seeking prayers and support.

Together Forever
 Loren is a strong young man, and is definitely proving that now. After his surgery, the doctors slowly reduced Loren's medication so that he would wake up in 7-8 hours. However, about an hour after surgery Megan told Loren she loved him and he opened his eyes several times as he listened to her voice. The doctors stated that he shouldn't be responding because he was still heavily medicated, and Richard informed them they did not know Loren. Not only is he a fighter, but love is a powerful thing, and this is one of the best things about this young couple. Their love is pulling them through the impossible.

The frustration in learning to communicate with Loren has been difficult, but kissing seems to be a way he has found to reach out to his wife. He puckers up for a kiss repeatedly, and Megan is happy to comply with this very basic, but powerfully moving and loving request. Megan writes, "I cannot even begin to describe how much love I have for Loren. We have a long road ahead but I am already so proud of him! He continues to pucker up over and over for kisses, which is breathtaking and seems to have his sense of humor still. Richard told him no kisses from him and he smiled. We are trying to get the communication down, but this may take awhile. He is simply amazing and I cannot believe God blessed me with such a strong man."

Daddy and his little man.
Daddy's girl for life.

I leave with you with this quote from a wrestling icon and legend, Dan Gable: 

"Most men stop when they begin to tire. 
Good men go until they are going to collapse. 
But the very best know that the mind tires
before the body, and push themselves farther
and farther, beyond all limits.
Only when these limits are shattered

can the unattainable be reached."

 So lets, reach the unattainable and shatter some limits together. Donate today, pray today and remember that as human beings we are to love one another with all our hearts. Reach out to those around you and tell them how special they are. Also, if you read this blog today post a comment that Richard and Megan can share with Loren to help him know we are all praying for his recovery. 

"Thank you to everyone for all the prayers and support we couldn't do this without you.
 God Bless!!!!!!!" Richard Lettington.
 Professional pictures by Digital Galleria Designs

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wrestling to Make a Difference

Blow the dust off your yearbook, and take a walk down memory lane with me. Take a look at all those shining faces filled with promise, potential and hope. I scan these images of my past and let the memories wash over me. I wonder how many of us imagined we would be where we are today. I cannot help but notice that there are many faces I have not seen since high school, and I do not know where they are or what they are doing with their lives. It is amazing how time flies and how easy it is to lose touch with those we spent everyday with for so many years. There are friends I never thought would become memories, but sadly I have lost touch with them. This is life of course, and we all grow up and move on eventually. Yet, as a teenager you dream big, and see life with a sort of hunger and fire we tend to lose as adults. We think we will never grow old, we are invincible and we will always have one another's back.

I was privileged enough to attend a high school in a small town. I was a cheerleader who cheered loud and proud for the football and basketball teams, no matter the score. Which in hindsight was pretty handy considering we lost more games than we ever won, but the scoreboard did not reflect the valiant effort our guys and gals put forth every game.  I am also the teenager who played in the band, sang in the choir, and danced on the drill team. I was a Thespian, a volleyball player, and was involved with student council and Junior Red Cross. I was also that giggly,girl who sat huddled with her friends around bonfires, and gushed over the boys we were so madly "in-love" with.   I was sometimes the broken hearted teen, crying after a break-up with, "the one." I was also the teenager who was always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone who needed it. After all, I wanted to make a difference in the world, and as a teenager I believed life would be filled with opportunities to do just that; make a difference. 

Just as we lose touch with our "BFF's," life sometimes gets in the way of "making a difference" too.  However, you may not even realize when you have an impact on someone else's life.  You may not even know when you have touched the heart of another human being. In fact, you could be the saving grace for a total stranger.  People are placed in our lives for a reason. God places them where they need to be to inspire, teach lessons, and give hope. I know that as teenagers we did not recognize this as a reality, but as adults we all see that one life can make an impact. Sometimes that impact is negative and others it is positive, but when we face trials God always finds a way to send "angels" to the rescue. 

When we are dealing with hardships we must believe God has a plan; "For I know the plans I have for you,”  declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). He always puts "angels" in our paths to help us get through the worst of times, and to help cope with the moments in life, which make us realize we are not invincible and we are fragile human beings with no control. We are not alone, as we were meant to be relational. God wants us to reach out to others and to give to our fellow man; to help them through the tough times. So, tonight as I am walking down memory lane, I am reaching out with all my heart, and begging you to take a moment to recall the teenage hunger and desire to fill this world with an all consuming fire. 

A friend from my past is in need of "angels." He and his family need prayers and some assistance that this world of connectivity can provide. If you notice in the top right corner of this blog there is a donate button for Loren Lettington. He is the baby brother of one of those great friendships in our yearbook. Loren was a wrestler in school, full of life and spunk. Now he is the proud daddy of two small children, and the loving husband of a beautiful young woman named Megan. This week, while working in Germany, Loren was involved in a work related accident. He is critically injured, and his brother, Richard Lettington, and his wife, Megan Lettington, have flown overseas to be by his side. They are reaching out to friends and family for prayers, as Loren and the doctors fight to save his life. He has some very serious injuries and the doctors are not giving him much of a chance to walk again. Their young family have a long road of recovery ahead, with daunting medical bills and travel expenses. Therefore, my husband Gavin and I are trying to reach out to our small town roots, and want to lend a helping hand. Many people want to do something, but just do not know how. So, we have set up a fund for the Loren Lettington family on this blog. 100% of the proceeds will be going to Loren and his family. 
"Once you've wrestled everything else in life is easy." Dan Gable

I am challenging each of you to send this blog forward to all the people in your contact list, and to all your friends on Facebook. Even if you have nothing to give that is okay. Prayers are always free and so is forwarding the blog site to those who might be able to lend a helping hand. I am not asking for a hundred dollars or five. I am asking for whatever you can give. Just one dollar can make a difference for this family. Of course, I am only one person and I only have a small circle of followers, but I know the Will of God is a powerful thing. I also recognize that God has placed people in our lives for a reason, and maybe this is the one way we can help. I am imploring all of you to reach out to your contact lists via email or Facebook, so that together we can ease the simplest of burdens upon this young family. 

Remember your desire to be "somebody" as a teenager, and take this moment to be somebody who makes a difference. We may not be teenagers anymore, but we can still dream big, and inspire hope. We were once teenagers who said we would never be separated, and we would always have each other's backs. Growing up has put miles between us, but our hearts are all still connected. Many of us have Facebook accounts and are able to stay in touch, and this has been one of those weeks when I am so thankful for this amazing tool of technology. Not only can we stay in touch, but we can reach a bigger audience and we can make a difference. So please consider forwarding this blog, reach into your own pockets and give what you can. Then send a note to a friend from the past. You never know what kind of impact you will have on another until you extend a helping hand.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

School Lunch

I love lunch at school, but not for the same reasons I enjoyed it as a child. As a kid, who loved to eat, I could not wait until lunch because it meant a break from the monotony, something warm to fill my belly, and time to read my book.  However, now that I am a teacher I enjoy lunch because it gives me an opportunity to reach out to my kids, and to have conversations outside of the normal classroom environment.

Some teachers do not want their lunch time interrupted, and this is completely understandable.  Honestly, there are days when I could really use some down time to "stew" in my office, void of any noise. Days when I would enjoy being able to block out the world for 30 minutes and read a book to relax. However, there never seems to be enough time to connect to my kids or their families, and lunch is a perfect opportunity to squeeze in those few extra relational minutes.

Having time to meet with my students during lunch is not something I just decided to do one day.  In fact, it was actually a learned response based on a negative experience I had during my undergrad training. My task for one of my courses was to shadow a third grade teacher for a week. I was to reflect and learn from her practices. Then I was to write a positive paper about all the wonderful things I viewed and would potentially use in my future classroom.

After the first day of this practicum, I found myself in tears. The teacher was mean to students who were noticeably not "affluent" enough for hugs, or too "stupid" to understand the assignment. In fact, as all the students lined up for a morning hug and to turn in their homework, she literally put her hand out and told one little girl, "Stop, you can just go sit down." The look on this little girl's face was one I will never forget. She was in mismatched clothing, Sunday pants (holy), and her hair was unkempt. She looked disheveled, but the bright smile she had been wearing was enough to bring sunshine into any dreary situation. However, after she was refused positive interaction with her teacher, that smile fell away from her face and left her sullen.

I made it a point to give her a big hug and talk to her as soon as she came into class every day after this. She stopped going to the teacher to get the customary morning shunning, and immediately came to me to tell me all about what she had done the night before.  Sadly, I was only there to offer a small light for one week, and I still wonder whatever happened to this sweet little angel, after there was no longer a hug waiting for her in the morning. It has been almost ten years and I am still welling up with the sadness in that thought.  I am appalled at the lack of sincerity and sensitivity in this supposed educator's personality. When I questioned the teacher about this little girl the teacher informed me she was a "lost cause with terrible parents." How horrendous is it to write off a child, especially in the third grade?! However, this was only one small glimpse into this teacher's philosophy of education; the other alarm went off at the bell for lunch.

During lunch on that first day, the host teacher and I sat in the teacher's lounge with our food. I had a notebook full of questions about the field of education lying between us. I hoped to "pick her brain" about the need to incorporate activities for English language learners, and transient students into the classroom instruction. I wanted some tips on how to be a better educator once I had my own classroom. Instead I was given answers to my questions about her teaching practices, as I watched dark clouds form around this woman.

I fought back the anger and tears surging in my brain as this woman and a fellow colleague bashed their students. They literally made fun of them, and called them horrible names. Eating lunch was pointless because my stomach was in knots, and my heart ached. These women were supposed to be role models to their students, but also to the student teacher, who sat visibly shaken between their barrage of hatred. I refused to eat lunch with her the rest of the week; stating I had to work on my notes each day thereafter. The "positive" paper I wrote was difficult because I did not even know where to begin.  I decided the positive things I could pull from this experience were the egregious behaviors exhibited that I hope my students will never witness in me.

One of those behaviors cemented in my brain was to never make a child feel unwelcome. I make a point to show every single student that I care about him or her as soon as they come to class. I shake their hands and say hello. I ask how their day is going and comment on their cute shoes, or nice hair cuts. I let them know that as soon as they are in my room, they are welcome no matter where they come from or how much money their parents have. I do not care if they have moved 30 times or have been a lifelong attendee; they are a part of the "family."  Each student deserves a clean slate, a hand shake and the knowledge that someone cares about them as an individual. "My kids" are not just a warm body filling a seat. They are each unique, bring a perspective to the discussion that is valuable, and are worth every minute of my time.

Therefore, the time I am granted at lunch each day brings me to my second lesson learned. My lunch policy is to avoid the teacher's lounge. This is a place where teachers can go to unload, recharge, and share their day. I do not condemn teachers who need this brain break; however, I do not want any part of the negative side of these conversations. The need to vent and unload is human nature; yet, I feel really awkward and nauseated when I hear colleagues trashing a student. This is not a common practice, but it happens.  So, I just choose to spend my time with more uplifting activities during my "duty- free" lunch. Like, listening to woes of teenage breakup and hilarious anecdotes about the weekend dance. I enjoy walking with those who need to pace, or to help ease a frustrated mind. Granted this does not always happen daily, but spending my lunch warming hearts, not just my own belly, seems much more productive.

Here is a thought though, what if we all put a little extra time in being the sun shining through a cloudy day? What if every single person who reads this blog would go out and eat lunch with someone new tomorrow? Or would give another person a compliment instead of tear them down? I  challenge you to eat lunch in a new place this week, and post your experience on this site. After all you would only be losing one lunch, but to someone else it could mean a ray of sunshine. Imagine if you could shed a little bit of  light and warmth on a heart that has been shown only bitter cold darkness.  Remember, once it is all stripped away "these three remain; faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love." Corinthians 13:13. So, challenge extended: go eat and be merry.  How many of you will be that light today?

* Be looking for my next entry covering some lunch time conversations; "Discourse Over the Main Course."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


The smell of clean hallways, new notebooks, and freshly sharpened pencils have always been  delightful aromas in my opinion. So, for me, the first day of school is one filled with lots of pleasing scents infused with promise and hope. I see a clean piece of paper as a blank piece of opportunity to share powerful thoughts. A freshly sharpened pencil is the tool that can inscribe a message into the future.  A clean locker is an area soon to be filled with personality not just empty Red Bull cans.  My classroom, freshly decorated, organized and scrubbed is a room waiting on it's new family. Yes, I love the first day of school!

My first day 2012
Today as I was standing in the hallway, I was enjoying the buzz and excitement milling around me.  I watched students come pouring into the building from all directions. They were all dressed in their best, and some tried not to look too pressed and clean, but they all looked nice. Even though, they were wearing different outfits and the hair styles were blazingly different, one element matched. They were all smiling. Of course, some smiles were a little broader than others, but most were at least a little happy to be there.

Classroom Pictures
Granted some of the students were more overjoyed than others.  I witnessed two girls screaming like banshees as they ran full sprint down the hallway towards one another. At first, I was compelled to stop them, fearing they might be heading to tackle one another. However, as they slid to a stop and pulled each other into an embrace of tears and laughter, I sighed with relief.  These were just two of the young ladies I witnessed overly excited about being united after a long summer. 

Their male counterparts were not as exuberant when greeting one another. In fact, some of the "I am too cool for emotions" looks were funnier than the female freak outs.  High fives, quick upward jerks of the head, followed by some manly forms of grunting explains most of the male exchanges I witnessed throughout the day. However, as an adult I could see the nervous, insecure little boy through all those society-approved masculine gestures.  I had more than one approach me for directions, and I could hear his voice shaking. I would get him going in the right direction and mutter a prayer for serenity and support as he walked away. (A student's prayer is a good one)

Classroom Pictures
I think the most memorable part of my day was having former students find me to give me a hug, handshake or tell me about something they accomplished over the summer break. I was truly excited to see all of them, and even hunted a few down during lunch to see if they were doing well. The sheepish looks turned into joyful grins when I shared how much I had missed seeing them over the summer. Although, I am teaching a new section of kids, I invited them to come visit me at lunch. This is the first year I have been able to teach in the same building two years in a row, and it is so fulfilling to see how much my kids from last year have grown. 

I had one emotional moment that caused me to fight to hold back tears. In response to a survey question I asked the students to share what they felt about reading. One response was so heartbreaking I could hardly muster the strength to keep from giving her a hug. The student responded, "I WANT to enjoy reading, but the words are always too hard, and I just do not understand when I read." What an amazing reflective response that highlights only one area of the reading barriers my students face.  I have my work cut out for me this year, but I am willing to take on the challenges that lay ahead. I hope that you will all come along on the journey this year and share in the trials and triumphs I am sure the students and I will face in the new Language!  (insert jazz hands) course. 
Classroom Pictures
I am really looking forward to another wonderful school year, and hope to be able to document it through this blog so stay tuned.  I pray that this year I am more effective, reach more students, and can provide them with skills to improve literacy and their outlook on life. I hope I will be able to make a difference in the lives of my students,  and look forward to the differences I know they will make in mine.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Latest in Lingo

The teenage population is highly unpredictable, and full of flair and colorful language to say the least. I believe my face turns beat red on a daily basis. I am embarrassed easily, but sometimes it is a small slip of the tongue that causes the most interesting moments. I learned the hard way that when a student uses a word that I do not understand, I pretend to know what it means, then go check Never, and I mean never, ask the student what that term means. You may be getting much more information than you bargained for. Hence, I now understand the differences in the colors of showers. Please do not ask because I will not explain that reference, as it was mortifying the first time.

There are a few things that have not changed in the minds of kids though. The terminology that still brings laughter  no matter the age of the students are any words that have to do with bodily functions, body parts, or noises that can be made with any body part. I cannot tell you how many times during the week I hear a kid say "fart" and the entire group surrounding this kid bursts into giggle fits.  (Be honest, how many of you laughed when you read that word?)

 Plus, I am never ceased to be amazed at how many times the "F Bomb" is dropped in the hallways. Although, I find this is a great opportunity for me to meet students I do not have in my classroom. When I hear a student "dropping the F Bomb," I introduce myself, shake their hand, ask for their name and then proceed to inform them of their duty to clean "the floor." They look at me like I am from Mars, so I have to explain. I tell the students that they made a mess with their language, so they must do ten push ups right there in the hallway to clean it up. Sometimes they try to act tough and get out of it, but I drag out my smallest violin in the world. Then they must do the push ups since I gave them a moment to throw a fit and whine. I have yet to have a student who did not "clean it up."  Plus, there is the added bonus that when I see them in the hallway after the incident I always smile and say hello, and ask how they are doing. By the end of the year I have made quite a few new acquaintances.

Now, this is not to say I have not been called names for my "quirky" tactics, but working with kids you have to let the derogatory remarks slide off your back. If I were to get upset every time I was called some version of the female dog I would be a basket case.  So, I always remember to smile and reply in kind when a kid is angry enough that he or she decides I am the most evil woman in the world because I am asking him or her to read, write or (gasp) learn.

Although, the language is not always negative.  Often times I hear inspiring and uplifting vocabulary that makes me feel on top of the world. Other times I am forced to laugh in spite of my normally very professional demeanor. For instance the day I told a student to "stop rubbing your nipples and pay attention please." I realized  I had not allowed the filter to stop the thought in my head. In my defense, the student had been asked nicely to quit being inappropriate at least 8 times, but it is distracting to me to try to explicate poetry with a bunch of juniors and have one of the students constantly "twisting" his nipples for fun.  (You cannot make this stuff up folks) Though, my purpose was to keep him from distracting others, and in reality I had created the biggest distraction of all. It was an all out laughing spree (me included) that was never recovered from before the bell rang.

Sometimes the words used are things that have taken on new meaning since I was a little girl. I was not trying to embarrass a student by asking a simple questions; "Why do you wear thongs in the winter time in Alaska. Don't you freeze your butt off?"  The dead silence, and the red faced child who sat in front of me were my first clue I had said something wrong. When she burst into tears, I was frantically searching for the problem, and the panic only increased when everyone else was laughing so hard I thought they might have a seizure.  Once the hysterical children had calmed down enough to breathe, and the young lady I had completely traumatized had been sent to the bathroom, I found out my mistake had been the word "thong." Thong is no longer a pair of shoes in the minds of the youth today. The term I was meaning are now called "flip flops," "sandals" or "naked kicks."  Thongs are articles of clothing previously known as underwear or, as I was informed by my students, "floss."
Not to worry the young lady was not permanently scarred and I promised to pay her psychology bills in the future.

Nonetheless, as an English teacher I love learning new words, and sometimes it is a necessity. So, keeping up with the, "Latest Lingo," has become a constant battle. I really focus on listening to the language in the halls,  and classroom, but I wish there was a school I could go to that would teach me the teenage vocabulary. The "schoolin"  that would allow me to keep up with the far out, groovy, cowabunga, hip, wicked, da bomb, chill, sick, tight, ghetto, fly, "WHATEVERIZZLE" language.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Moment I Became A Teacher

I know the moment when my life changed forever. The details of the last few minutes of “normal” are etched in my memory, and after 23 years the images have not faded.
 I was skipping with my classmates to “Skip to My Lou My Darling,” when the secretary came into my first grade classroom and asked me to follow her to the office. I still remember the somber look on her face, and how long the hallway seemed as she stoically escorted me to the front doors. I was scared, and I was trying to rack my brain for any inclination of what I could have done wrong to get sent to the office. I was a good kid, and never did anything “bad.” In-fact, I hardly ever talked, and had never had problems with anyone in school. 
When I saw my aunt standing by the front doors, I sighed with relief and smiled.  However, whatever relief I felt at seeing her standing there was short lived because I could tell something was wrong. It was a long agonizing few minutes as she quietly deferred my questions until all four of us kids were assembled at the front door. We did not know what was going on, but we were a little excited to be getting out of school early.  
However, when we walked through the front door into the sunlight all I could see was my mother sobbing in the front seat of my aunt’s car, and the school counselor was holding her hand. I ran to her side, fear and panic filling my chest. I had never seen her like this, and I was terrified. I looked around to see my grandparents hovering next to my aunt, and knew something awful was happening. I looked back to my mother, and tried to hug her close. I was shaking, and started to tear up as I asked, “What’s wrong Mommy?” 
 My mother seemed so broken, and was sobbing uncontrollably. I am not sure how she even spoke to me. However, through sobs and hiccups she uttered the words that shattered my world of innocence; “Daddy, was hit by a train.”  The world closed in, and those words seemed to pierce my soul. 
The next eight days were a blur, in reality the next half a year is a blur, with a few moments of clarity. The moments that stand out are few, but meaningful and life altering. The first of those “moments” was seeing my daddy, my hero, connected to so many tubes and machines. It was scary, and he looked so frail and weak. These words were something I had never known to be associated with the strong man who gave me “horsy rides,” and played ball tag with me in the rain. I was not allowed to touch him, and he could not speak. His chest rose and fell in time with the machines, and the only sounds were the beeping of the machines that tethered my father to earth.  I also remember the smell of the hospital clinging to the inside of my nose, and to this day get nauseated whenever I walk into a sterile environment.  
The days were spent sitting in a dark room with family. The kids were all coloring picture after picture in books brought to us by caring members of our church. I remember trying to make the adults feel better by smiling at their jokes, or attempts to bring comfort to the children of the man lying in the next room fighting for his life. However, those attempts did not make me feel any less terrified or alone. Yet, I am comforted as an adult knowing they tried to do everything they could to shield us from the pain, and I appreciate their efforts. 
Then there was the moment I was laid on Daddy’s chest for the last time to tell him how much I loved him and to say, “Good-bye.” This is a moment I cannot put into words without jeopardizing that last tender touch and feeling of love. Words are not always expressive enough, and these last few minutes with my father are mine to cherish. 
  After this I have bits and pieces of images, and small conversations that I have logged in my mind. Yet, as I said before, it is mostly a blur of emotions.  After missing three weeks we were all ordered back to school. Normalizing was important to get through the pain so we had to face reality again.  I do not remember going, or how I felt, all I know is that school was not the same enchanting place it once was. I was constantly on edge when the door opened to the classroom. I had an irrational fear that began to develop that when I would go to school someone else was going to die, but it was not a fear anyone else seemed to understand. So, I spent my days reading, and avoiding interaction with others so I did not start crying. It was harder to keep the tears at bay when someone was talking to me. However, I was not always successful at keeping my tears for home. 
One day in particular, I started crying uncontrollably in class. I tried to pull my hair over my face and hide it, but the kids at my group noticed. So, I slid out of my chair and under my desk in a desperate attempt to avoid the stares from my classmates. The tears would not stop and the sobbing grew from small hiccups to a wail of pain. The next thing I remember was my teacher, Mrs. Frederick, carefully pulling me out from under my desk and into her lap. 
The other students had all disappeared, and she and I were alone. She pulled me in close and let me cry as she rocked me back and forth. She patted my back, and uttered soft hushing noises as I let go of the torrential downpour built up in my chest. I do not know how long I cried, but once I settled down she held me still. 
Then she asked me questions about what I felt my dad would have wanted for my life. She wanted to know if I felt he would have wanted me to be this sad, and losing ground in school, or if he would have wanted me to try hard and get a good education. We talked for what seemed like forever, but then she said something that made my whole world stop. 
“Mrs. Fred,” looked me in the eyes, and said; “I love you Alecia.” I remember her big, brown eyes staring back at mine, and thinking it was strange that my teacher just said she loved me. However, that was when I realized there was a warmth in my chest I did not even notice I had been missing. The warmth that spread throughout my entire being and I realized it was her compassion and strength that would get me through this.  Mrs. Fred, was a woman who did not have to care, but did so with such tenacity and fierce devotion that I knew it was genuine. This was when I was consumed entirely by one of those “moments.” For this was when I consciously remember thinking, “I am going to be a teacher.”
A teacher who, one day, will make a difference in the life of a child just like Mrs. Fred. A teacher, who loves her “kids” because of who they are; broken or not.  A teacher, who teaches students not just classes. A teacher, who will never forget that life’s moments are sometimes more important than an academic subject.

Undergrad Degree
So, thank you again Mrs. Fred for your love. Without you, I do not know where I would be today, but I do know that because of you I am a teacher who loves “my kids.” I am a teacher who understands what you did for me that day, and am working hard to keep that flame alive. Thank you for believing in me, and for keeping in touch with me after all these years, as I still enjoy our conversations.  

Graduate Degree


5/6 Combination Class!
Mrs. Gardner and Amanda graduation 2009 

Junior girls and Mrs. G sporting Hawkeye gear! 

Nicole and I saying "good-bye" last day of school 2011

Seniors 2011

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Reading: A Fire Is Ignited

    Education is a word I have valued throughout my entire life. Not because my family has been the “Straight A Valedictorians,” but because this was something lacking in our lives.  My mother did not finish high school because she got pregnant with me, and my father dropped out his senior year with four months left to go. Therefore, even as a small child, I was taught to believe that education would be the one thing that could save you from a life like the one my parents faced.
    The hardships, struggles and financial abyss caused daily worry lines in my parents’ faces.  My mother was responsible for caring for the house, and making the little money coming in, work to fill our stomachs.  Daddy worked many different jobs to help Mom with the responsibility of keeping us fed and clothed. He was a garbage man, maintenance worker for the city of Cabool, mowed lawns, cleaned city hall at night, and many other odd jobs that allowed us to survive. He worked so hard to provide, and we never went hungry.  I know he was exhausted when he came home at night. Yet, he always found time for a game of ball tag, Dr. Seuss readings, star gazing or dancing with “his girls.”
     Both Mom and Dad were very adamant about learning, and going to school. My parents knew from experience that it was the lack of education that held them back from reaching their dreams. Therefore, with the pressures of living in a family where brains were of great value, I was raised to learn. I started reading at three-years-old, and each day my mother would sit down and make me go through difficult words, until I could sound things out on my own. I am so thankful for this connection as a child, because it helped to spark an interest that would one day become a passion, and a driving force in my life. Reading not only showed me a life free from poverty, but it showed me a world of possibilities, gave me hope and helped pull me through the toughest times in my life.
    I faced one of those times of terrible trials at the age of seven. It was during this year when my loving father was killed in a train collision while I was at school. I remember the pain, fear and hurt that filled every part of my being, and I also remember reading until the tears quit falling. I would start to cry, or get really scared, and I would find a quiet, closed in space and pick up a book. I would start to read through the tears, until the story carried me away to someplace less painful. I know this is why I still love books with happy endings, because those stories always spread a warmth through me that lasts for a long time.
    The three weeks I spent at home after the loss of my hero, my daddy, were a blur. However, the exception was the time spent reading anything within reach. I know this helped prepare me for my future, but it also helped to create a bond with something that could give me a reprieve from the pain, even if it was only for a little while.  
    Now, as an English, teacher one of my passions is to get kids to connect to reading. Maybe those who have had me for a teacher, now understand why I was constantly promoting reading for pleasure.  I watch some of the students in my life going through terrible struggles, and learning to cope is difficult. However, if they had a story to whisk them away for just a few minutes, or a piece of literature that could give them hope I know their lives could be better. I also believe the unhealthy choices my students have chosen; drugs, alcohol, gangs, fighting, and running away are all the things that will bring them further down in their lives. Reading will bring them up, give them something to hold onto, and it improves their chances of success in life.
    In the posts to come, I will discuss how the passion for reading, life and learning was further intensified by a teacher who pulled me through it all. Mrs. Frederick was my teacher during that tumultuous year in my life. She became the woman who taught me to love, fight for my beliefs, and push myself to higher heights. She stoked a fire reading had started, and now that fire has engulfed my life and my career.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A First Impression of Mrs. G

Reading and writing are so important, and I know that without the ability to do both life is much harder.  However, while reading and responding to The Freedom Writer's Diary, I found a student's response so moving it made the whole world stop. My head was spinning, and I was reminded why I even became a teacher in the first place. The desire to teach was sparked when I was just a sad little first grader, struggling to survive heartbreak and tragedy. My father was killed in a train collision that year, and my heart was broken and fear had entered my world. I had an amazing first grade teacher, Mrs. Frederick, who got me through that horrible year of my life.  (I will publish the story of Mrs. Frederick this week as well so be looking for it!)

So, this past week the students were reading about first impressions and the ideas we get in mind about a person. We were discussing the first impressions we get as children versus the impressions we build as prejudice enters our world.  The discussion was powerful to say the least.  Then, I had them each choose a teacher they have had or currently have and write what they thought of that teacher to begin with and write if their opinion changed as they got to know them. The information was eye-opening, funny at times, and intriguing.

It was not until I got to the last journal entry,  and found this from a student I am always praying for. A student who has dealt with so much pain, rejection, loss and fear in life I cannot even fathom the life he has had.  I was moved to tears once again, and I sat unmoving at my desk. I was torn on whether I should share the thoughts of my student or not. However, I do know this, someone out there may get some strength from this writing. Maybe a parent will read this and know how important loving your child unconditionally actually is. Or maybe there is a teacher out there just needing encouragement or a renewed sense of purpose during the last part of the school year.

Therefore,  I have removed any placing information, and anything that includes personal details about the student. I am typing the response as it was written, spelling and all.

Mrs. Gardner - My third hour teacher when I first came her to this school. She had a sertan glow to her, that I could relate to. Then she came to shake my hand, Right away I thought she got tougt good manners when she was young. An I figured out it was her first year at this school too. Right away I knew she was good people. My impretion know is that she wasn't just a good person. She was that one in a million that cares about people for no reuson. I can tell shes a great hearted person and is a great mom. I wish that I had her as a mom growing up. I wouldnt be this messed up know. 

God be with these kids who face a life of hardship, and bless them with someone who cares for them. Someone who cares for them regardless of their mistakes, and loves them for the person they are not who they were. Love them for who they are and not what society hopes they will become. Give them someone who can help them see how special they truly are. Please Lord bless the kids who are hurting today.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Darkness Has Invaded...Bleep

The darkness has begun to invade.  You can see it everywhere in Alaska right now, especially in the schools. I have felt sluggish, tired, and impatient lately. After the last class of the day left my room, I put my head down on my desk and wanted to weep like a two-year-old child. It was a tough day, and I am feeling the effects of a day dealing with other individuals who are lacking vitamins supplied by the sun.

 It seems odd to those who have not experienced it, but a Vitamin D deficiency is a true "sickness" in Alaska.  There are many articles and studies showing the importance of sunshine as a nutrition source for our bodies.  Therapists, even prescribe Christmas lights as a way to help improve the mood of their patients. All throughout the city streets colorfully lit houses start popping up in October. At first I thought it was just because people wanted to get ahead of the snow soon to be covering their roofs. However, now I know it is also the only "splash of light" in the lives of those dealing with the tough Alaskan winter. Therefore, as I sat at my desk, biting back tears, I realize I am not just stressed and exhausted because I am a busy mom of three kids, but the dark winter days are draining my will power, my energy, my patience, and my brain.  

I began to reflect on the attitudes of my students today. From the very beginning of the day there was disrespectful behavior and it seems as though the only color shining through the fog was their horrible language. There was not just the occasional slip of a "naughty word" today, but actual belligerent swearing. The F-Bomb was dropped enough times to annihilate the English language entirely.

In my classroom, the students know I have three very strict rules; Be Respectful, Be Responsible, and Be Yourself. Using foul language violates number one, dents number two, and covers up number three. This is a discussion we have had from day one. Therefore, the consequence for swearing in my classroom is ten push-ups. This disciplinarian action usually occurs once or twice a day. However, today after one class period of students, I was considering signing up for courses to earn my P.E. endorsement because the amount of swearing would require heavy calisthenics or circuit training.

The disrespect was rampant, and the number of kids puffing up their chests or "preparing" to fist fight in class was spreading like wild fire. I stood listening to students berating each other, refusing to sit next to each other, and complaining they had to work. Imagine that; the English teacher forcing students to write and reflect on their reading assignment. I am positively evil for creating lessons for students to work on in small groups for a productive group project.  I was surprised to see that they all finished their work with all the grumbling, grimacing, and griping. (Alliteration thrown in for effect) However,  some students opted to work alone, others huddled in groups of two and most scowled throughout the entire period.

So, after spending the day watching all of these behaviors, I realized I too was feeling grouchy, irritable, and know I could have handled things a lot better had I been more patient. Where did my usual stockpile of calm disappear to I ask myself? It must have been sucked up by the sun and is hiding below the mountains. Good news is there is sunshine around the corner, we are gaining 5 minutes a day of daylight. Therefore, in a month we will be enjoying 12 hours of daylight. Yet, I have to get these kids and myself through until that point.

Tomorrow we are going outside to brave the Alaskan chill, snow, and ice. We are going to take one lap around the parking lot, and when we get back inside we will use that as our journal topic. I do not care if the responses are all negative and the kids' teeth are chattering. They will have some exposure to the sunlight, and maybe, just maybe some kindness will be awakened and warm them from the inside. If not, well...I wonder if it is illegal to spike drinks with Vitamin D pills?...
                                                     DAYLIGHT IN THE WINTER
                                           OH PRETTY SUNSHINE, HOW I MISS YOU!