Friday, October 26, 2012

My Teaching Philosophy (Posting for one of my college courses)

            Of teaching it has been said, "there is no craft more privileged. To awaken in another human being powers, dream's beyond one's own; to induce in others a love for that which one loves; to make of one's inward present their future; that is a threefold adventure like no other." (Steiner) As a teacher, I am a builder of dreams. It is my responsibility to provide the tools, the knowledge, and the encouragement that allow each student to construct a reality of their own dreams. I am a window to new worlds. I bring an enthusiasm and passion for the English language that foster greater appreciation in the minds of my students. I am keeper of the future. I nurture the beauty of my students' best selves; I help them strive toward the person they will become.
            Teaching is not the routine spouting of rote knowledge; rather it is a partnership with the students one works with. To be an educator of today's youth is to be in a position of accountability: accountability to school officials, to parents, and most importantly, to the students themselves. To be an effective teacher, I must come prepared to meet the needs of those who rely on me. Through knowledge of the common core curriculum, I meet the needs of school officials. Through communication and knowledge, I meet the concerns of parents. Through understanding and differentiated instruction, I meet the needs of my students and open doors to a brighter future. If my students are not learning as I teach, then it is my responsibility to come up with other ways to present the information. As I match my instruction to the students' learning styles, they will be more successful. I provide a variety of learning activities -- including journaling, opportunities for discussion and debate, and scaffolding activities to help build a foundation of knowledge and understanding.
            Because I want my students to be successful -- within the walls of my classroom and later as productive adults -- I must teach to specific standards. It is important that I present the information that these youth will need in order to be functioning members of society. There are certain essentials that each student needs to know in order to survive adulthood. At the same time, these essentials are best paired with the knowledge of how they fit within the context of the students' own realities. I pair these essentials with reality through the use of informational texts, guest speakers, and hands-on learning opportunities. Guided discussions open doors for students to build their own context of learning.
            I am a builder of dreams, a window to new worlds, and a keeper of the future. I am a teacher, and I change the world.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

As I sit down to write, I feel heartsick. Call me sheltered or name me naive, but I like to believe that inherently, in their heart of hearts, most people are good and kind. Occasionally, I think they're a bit misguided. (Aren't we all?) At times though, I have to admit that people can be downright cruel. It's this cruelty that makes my heart ache.

Tonight, at the grocery store, as I was window-shopping in the make-up aisle, I encountered a man that I've never met. He was neatly dressed in a black and cream striped halter dress. His hair was tidily pulled back with a gold hair clip, and he wore matching nylons with simple black ballet flats. His handlebar mustache was neatly trimmed, and he was quietly going about his business.

I have to admit that I was a bit shocked. In all fairness, my initial thought was that it was going to be an unusual night at Walmart. (I'd already encountered several unique individuals in the couple minutes that I'd been in the store.) Aside from that, I didn't really focus much more attention on this quiet, respectful gentleman in the dress.

It wasn't long though before I began noticing the other people around us. In the next aisle over, there was a couple who was not being quiet with their comments. A few moments later, and they began peeking around the end caps to gawk and snicker. I think that they thought they were being subtle, but even quiet laughter and mocking comments carry far when they're driven by unkind thoughts. Soon, I noticed others doing the same thing. The noise grew to a low rumble as people figured out what their evening's entertainment would be.

I watched this man, who had obviously taken great care with his appearance, quietly finding what he needed with head bent and shoulders slumped, and my heart ached. My heart ached for the thoughtless people who probably didn't even realize they were being cruel. My heart ached for the bravery that it must have taken for this man to walk into a public place in an area where such a mode of dress is so foreign. My heart ached for the attitude of slumped defeat that this man wore as he tried to complete his shopping. He did not speak, except to apologize when he nearly ran into my cart, and he never once spoke to those who were mocking him. Not even by a glance did he acknowledge their unkindness. He simply turned the other cheek and did what he was there to do.

After he had left the aisle, a small family came down the same pathway. The mother was pregnant, and the father had their little one with him. The mother was laughing so hard (albeit softly) that she had tears running down her face. I saw her look at her husband and say, "And he had a mustache!" She then began laughing and wiping her eyes again.

Sadly, while I didn't cut this man with sharply-edged words or unkind laughter, I do think I failed to react as I should have. I think that if the Savior had been there, He'd have acted differently than I did. It wouldn't have been hard to face the young couple or the small family and ask them to leave him be and let him go about his business in peace. But between shock at their cruelty, my own slow wits, and perhaps a parcel of fear, I watched in silence, and seconds later, the opportunity passed.

The man did not linger in the store where the other customers made it so apparent he wasn't wanted, but it was easy to follow his progression as the same low rumble of mocking and derision announced his current location.

I have seldom seen such blatant cruelty on such a mass level, and almost never have I seen it so sharply applied here in this area. Honestly, I'm not sure I'd have evaluated my own reactions if I hadn't seen the behavior that followed this poor man through the store.

Seeing a man dressed in what I deem to be women's clothing is not a comfortable thing for me. It is something that tends to strike a discordant note, but this man in his dress and sporting his mustache was just trying to do his own thing. He was not going out of his way to thumb his nose at the other people in the store. There was nothing disrespectful or unkind or angry in his demeanor. The ugliest thing I saw tonight was the bitter unkindness heaped on this poor fellow by people who should have known better. They didn't have to embrace this man's style of dress, but there was no need to act as if he was a freak-show exhibit on display either.

This experience has made me realize that I need to be more aware of my reactions to others, that perhaps some of the things that I find simply humorous or uncomfortable would be better left unsaid. We are all human, and we all bring our own perspective to life. Just because I might not always agree with the choices of those around me doesn't mean that I need to mock those choices. Life's a process, and I think that, really, we're all just trying to work with what we've been given.

Lessons in 10 year old Snarkiness

M is 10 and a half. Sometimes, that means that snarky comes to visit ...

Yesterday, M and snarky were rather good friends. After a while, I decided she needed to be reminded (in a positive way) why I'm the mom and she's not.

"C'mere." I said casually.

"Wha-aht?" M said as she began approaching me cautiously. (Apparently, she's learned that particular calm tone in my voice can mean there's a large surprise coming. Fortunately, she hadn't figured out what by the time she reached me.)

As M stood in front of me, she repeated, "Wha-ah-aht?" Her concern was increasing.

I just smiled, bent down, grabbed her around her legs, and tossed her over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes. (No small feat, since this daughter of mine reaches my mouth when she's standing flat-footed on the floor.)

As she began giggling and screaming, M alternated between cries of "HELP!!!" and "L, you have GOT to come SEE this!" 

I saw no reason to end the lesson there. As L came running to see what the commotion was about, I hauled M from the back end of our apartment to the living room. I deposited a still giggling daughter in front of her younger sister, and stood back to admire the new respect that was shining in both daughters' eyes.

Of course, L had to challenge me. "You can't do that to me!" Being mildly strong-willed, I decided that she needed to see that I can. So I did.

She giggled and laughed, but she's a little quieter than her sister, so there were a lot more small "Wow!"s coming from my second load. I set her down and said casually, "Bet you didn't know your mom is still stronger and faster than you, huh?" (I raced them on the way to school the other day. Guess who won?) Then I walked away. 'Nuff said ...

After I walked away and left them to their activities, I heard my girls rehashing their adventures. "Did you see that?" "I didn't know she could do that!" "Wow! She's stronger than I thought."

Mission accomplished.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On Being a Woman in the Mormon Faith

I hear a lot of rumblings sometimes about the way my church (sometimes called the Mormon church) treats the women within its ranks. Usually, I just continue quietly doing my thing. I think though that perhaps too few of us share our own perspective on what it's like to be a female member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I've decided that the time has come for me to do just that.

* Do you feel shortchanged by not having the opportunity to hold the Priesthood? 

Nope. I believe in the structure set up by Jehovah in the Old Testament which He then carried on during His mortal ministry as Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I believe that the Priesthood is now and always has been His order. This is an authority that has always been the burden of men. It does not limit the blessings in my life. I still have access to every priesthood blessing -- blessings of the sick and afflicted, blessings of comfort, blessings of God's ordinances including baptism and confirmation, Temple endowments, and being sealed to my family for eternity.

*As a single mom, is it fair that you don't have the Priesthood in your home? 

Nothing in life is perfectly fair. If it was, we'd all be in the same economic class, have as many kids as we each wanted, everyone would be married (or single) as their personal preference dictated, and no one would have opportunities that were denied to other people. At the same time, I believe that growth is found in the disparities of life. As a single mom, I am head of my household. I am entitled to guidance and direction from God to provide for, protect, and lead His little ones that are in my care. I have as much right to receive inspiration and revelation for our family as my priesthood leaders do - in some ways, more. I am the first steward of my home. While I won't ever receive revelation on changes in doctrine or church policy, I am the one who will receive guidance and inspiration for the day to day running of our home and lives, for the teaching and nurturing of my children, and for our mundane details. I may not hold the priesthood, but it does not limit God's power and grace in my life or in my heart. 

* Are your opportunities to serve limited because you don't hold the Priesthood?

I usually have more opportunities to serve on my plate than I have hours to fill. My life and my heart are full. What I do touches hearts. What I do changes lives. Most importantly, what I do brings people to Christ. I'm not being limited by a lack of the priesthood; rather, I've got the ideal safety net of support when I need it and the freedom to use my talents and God-given gifts to change the world. 

* But aren't there callings you can't hold because you don't have the Priesthood?

Yes, but there are more callings that I can hold. In fact, more than half of the church programs are led and run by the women of the church. The women are solely responsible for running the Primary program for the children twelve and under. (Although, occasionally, the men are invited to participate as teachers.) The presidency -- which, incidentally, follows the same pattern as the first presidency of the church, the bishoprics, and other church presidencies -- is comprised solely of women. They are responsible for budgeting, teaching, planning, and determining what is taught. This is done on local levels within the wards. There are also stake leaders who support the local Primary presidencies. (Again, all women.) There is even a General Primary Presidency who fills this role for the entire church -- again, guiding and directing, determining how and what will be taught, etc. These roles, too, are filled by the women of the church.

This is a pattern that is seen repeated within the Young Women program (a program for girls ages twelve to eighteen) and the Relief Society (a program for the women of the church ages eighteen up.) Each has presidencies on those varying levels and each presidency is staffed by women. While these women do counsel with the priesthood leaders, they are given the freedom to act of their own accord to make decisions and run these programs.

In addition to all of the opportunities to serve in leadership roles, the women of our church are also largely responsible for many of the music callings -- playing the piano, the organ, and leading the music. Like the men of our faith, we have the right and privilege to serve as proselyting teachers or missionaries for our church. Women comprise the bulk of the teachers within most local congregations. Between the children's classes, the young women's classes, the women's classes, and the opportunities to teach in the co-ed classes held within the church's Sunday School, our opportunities are not truly limited. By the same token, there are callings that the men will never have the chance to fill. (As mentioned above ... ) 

I am a teacher in my church. I have been doing this for eighteen years now. During that time, I have taught children, I have taught grown women, I have taught the youth, and I have taught grown men. There are few churches where I would have such opportunities.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

I Can Do Hard Things

As a single mom, I'm finding that there are a lot of hard things that are just a normal part of life. Sometimes those hard things are emotional, and the fortitude required leaves me feeling emotionally drained and broken. Other hard things are purely mental. Those are the times that I wind up feeling as mental as the challenges I'm facing. (The difference is that one is effort required and another leaves one longing for a strait jacket.) Some of the hardest challenges though are the physical challenges.

I live in an upstairs apartment. Occasionally, I need heavy (and large ... and awkward) items to go upstairs or down. What I've found is that it's a bit difficult to lift -- oh, I don't know ... say, a treadmill or a bunk bed or ... -- all the way down my flight of cement steps by myself. At the same time, there is a serious lack of readily available men to heft furniture when I decide it must go ... or come. I've learned to maneuver things throughout my apartment really well. I can lift my piano to waist level and move that corner, then go to the other corner and repeat the process until I've got it where I want it. Other furniture is about the same. I've been just a bit leery of hauling things like that down the stairs though.

** A bit of back story: Stairs and I? Well, we're not really good friends. Usually, my sister falls down them and I fall up them. Just a fact of clumsy genetics. Thanks, Mom ... My cement stairs are the exception to the rule. We're still not good friends, but I fall down them more often than I fall up. Last spring, I took a headlong flight down nearly the entire flight and was saved from breaking my neck or crushing my skull only by the garbage sack full of empty tin cans that I was carrying. Yup, I'm that talented. Just call me Grace ... **

Last night, I decided that I would try to move some furniture outside. We had two dressers that were no longer needed, and I had a large desk (the old kind with real wood with art deco wood veneers) that I just didn't have room for. On a whim, I decided to see if it was possible for me to get all of the stuff down the stairs. I practiced lifting the desk by myself inside our apartment. Since it was the biggest piece, I figured if I could get that down, then I could get the dressers down as well. In spite of my daughters' cries of, "Don't do it, Mommy! You're going to kill yourself!" both the desk and I made it safely down our flight of stairs. Several trips later and all the furniture and all the drawers were downstairs and ready to be hauled away.

It may not seem like a big deal to anyone else, but to me, this seemed just as much an impediment as trying to move a mountain would be. Accomplishing this, by myself and by actually carrying the furniture, made me feel like I could move mountains if needed as well. It showed me that I'm stronger than I look and tougher than I always realize. I'm grateful for each new opportunity God gives me that helps me to see a little window of how He sees me. It seems that with each success, I feel a bit more like the person that I'll one day become.