Tuesday, November 28, 2006

My Favorite Teachers: Part Two

This week, I'm continuing my tribute to the teachers who have made the most impact in my life.

Mrs Winn: Over ten years ago, I had the privilege of publishing in Standard Publishing Company’s adult Sunday School take home paper, Seek, the story of the impact Mrs. Winn, my fifth grade teacher, had on my life. As a severely visually impaired child, I attended public school before mainstreaming became mandatory. My fourth grade teacher, fresh out of college, lacked the maturity and experience to know how to deal with a handicapped child in her classroom. She had a boy read the board to me instead of allowing me to sit close to the board. She restricted me in P.E., only allowing me to play outfield or second or third base. In retrospect, I wouldn’t let me play softball either. But we played only softball and kickball and an occasional game of dodgeball in our fourth grade class, so every afternoon, as team captains chose up sides and the teacher reminded them I couldn’t play certain positions, my visual impairment hung like a Damocles' sword above my fragile self esteem.

I became more miserable as the school year progressed, feigning illness just so I wouldn’t have to go to school. Finally my fourth grade teacher had had enough of me and the principal and school nurse insisted that I be placed in the state blind school. My mother dug in her heels, requesting I stay one more year and have Mrs. Winn as my fifth grade teacher. But I was deflated. School could never be the same. I knew no one wanted me, on their softball team or their classroom, for that matter.

The first week of school, Mark, the one boy who liked me, was selected to choose his softball team. He chose me to be catcher. A stunned silence dominated the classroom. Maria finally spoke up. “Mrs. Winn, Karen can’t be catcher. Our fourth grade teacher never let her be catcher.”

Mrs. Winn retorted, “Karen can do anything she wants to do and I don’t want any of you to forget it.”

Anything? Did she say anything? Mrs. Winn was referring only to softball team positions, but in my ten year old mind, that word “anything” took flight. I could do anything. Mrs. Winn said so. I walked onto the playing field that day, my head held high. I was a terrible catcher and my team probably lost, but it didn’t matter. I was someone important in the pecking order of my class. I was the catcher!

I cradled that word in my mind for the rest of my school years. Whenever someone told me I couldn’t do something because of my vision, I muttered to myself, “I can do anything. Mrs. Winn said so.” When college counselors encouraged me to go into rehab instead of my chosen field so I could be with others "of your own kind," I rebelled, because, “I can do anything. Mrs. Winn said so.” Whenever I had doubts about my parenting or my ability to teach because of my vision or other weaknesses, I remembered . . . . “anything she wants to do.” As I grew older, I found the Bible verse, “I can do all thing through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13)," and I realized my ability to do anything comes through the mighty loving power of God.

I still keep in touch with Mrs. Winn. She came to my college graduation. We exchange Christmas cards And I had the ultimate privilege of sending her this story when it was published. I cherish the letter she sent back to me.

One word. Sometimes it only takes one word to set a child free. As a teacher, you have the privilege of speaking that one word that can send a child soaring.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

My Favorite Teachers: Part One

As part of my Thanksgiving celebration, I want to spend the next few weeks featuring teachers who have impacted my life.

My mother: Although I have three college degrees in education and have attended a number of teacher training seminars, I owe most of what I know about teaching to my mother. She never sat me down and told me how to teach; in fact, she would deny that she taught me. But I learned the basics of teaching by simply watching her teach. I watched her teach our junior high Sunday school class at
Pantano Christian Church, I served as a helper for her in Junior Church, and I watched her work with others to create an innovative approach to VBS before activity rotations became popular.

From her, I learned to not wait until Saturday night to start working on a Sunday morning lesson. I learned to be creative, to get students involved in the learning process, and to use a variety of teaching methods so you reach each child’s individual needs. I learned classroom management skills from her, such as the best way to prevent discipline problems in your class is to keep students active and involved. I learned that a teacher always needs to keep learning because I saw her read books on teaching and witnessed her daily quiet time. My mother was a model teacher.

Mrs. Keeling: The first thing Mrs. Keeling said when we walked into her first grade Sunday School class was, “Bring your Bibles next week. In this class, you’re going to use it every week.” Wide eyed, I went home and told my mother I had to have a Bible right away because Mrs. Keeling said so! From Mrs. Keeling I learned that my faith revolved around the words found in that Bible, that the Bible was not so sacred, you didn’t touch it; it was to be opened and used and applied to my life every day.

Mrs. Keeling would always cry on Promotion Sunday because “her kids” were leaving her. Later in life, Mrs. Keeling lost all her eyesight, but she kept teaching. Our Sunday School superintendent read the lessons on to a cassette tape and her nominally Christian husband started to attend every Sunday with her to help her in class. We’re not sure if the attraction was her seeing eye dog or her love for the children, but her class became the largest in the Sunday School. I was a young teenager at the time, struggling with my own visual limitation and my place in the world. Her persistence in teaching had tremendous impact on me. If God could still use her in spite of her visual loss, He had a place for me too.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Thank A Teacher

Teachers are like musicians. They make their craft look easy, but few in their audience realize and appreciate the hours of preparation and practice that goes into The Final Performance. I will have spent hours practicing the piano for a mere five minutes of glory. Likewise, I often spend three to four hours preparing for a 45 minute lesson.

Like a musician, a lack of preparation can lead to a bad performance. One musician told the story that if he skipped practice one day, he noticed. If he skipped two days, his critics noticed and if he skipped three days, his audience noticed. (I’ve looked all over the Internet to credit this story but couldn’t find a source. If you know, please comment!) Sunday School teachers often joke about preparing their lessons Saturday night. When a teacher sees that Saturday night special turn sour Sunday morning, it’s no laughing matter.

Like musicians, teachers occasionally fight stage fright or nervousness, especially when they encounter a new audience or circumstances throw a curve ball at them. Only experience teaches both the teacher and the musician to squelch the jitters. Like musicians, they squirm more when they must face their peers or superiors. Nothing intimidates me more than when I teach the Senior Saints Sunday School class at my church, especially when a local college teacher sits in the front row!

Like musicians, teachers are passionate about what they do. They love the art of teaching. They long to impart the beauty of knowledge to their audience.

Like musicians, most teachers care deeply about what they do. They strive for perfection. It scares me silly when I read James 3:1 that warns that not many should become teachers because teachers will be held more accountable. May God keep me from ever leading a child astray! I love to teach, but I am constantly aware that I am responsible for the information and life lessons I impart and the trust my students (and their parents) place in me. Like musicians, we have our critics and those who would challenge what we teach.

Like solo musicians, it’s lonely with just you on that stage. You must exude confidence and poise whether you feel it or not. Somehow, even though it is just you, you must connect with those in front of you, carrying them along on the waves of your message.

Yet teachers don’t often receive the public acclaim musicians receive. Unlike musicians who give occasional performances, a teacher stands before students day after day, or week after week in the case of Christian education. Teachers mold the views and thought processes of their students and their encouragement and challenges can impact a student for a lifetime.

For the next few posts, I’ll feature some of my favorite teachers, the teachers who have impacted my teaching and my life. Who are some of your favorite teachers? Why were they special to you? Write me and tell me about them. Then, if you can, in this season of Thanksgiving, I encourage to drop them a note, thanking them for what they have taught you and how they encouraged you.

Happy memories!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Protect Our Children

I usually try to stay away from commenting on political matters. While I have a personal interest in government and current events, I've learned it's usually best to keep my opinions to myself. Yet, when political tactics infringe on morality and our children, my mouth pops open! Bear with me this week as I comment on something that deeply concerns me.

Nothing stirs our society more than when we witness the exploitation of children. It’s said that the person lowest on the prison pecking order is the child molester. Recent laws like Jessica’s Law and recent stories such as the man who murdered a family and molested a ten year old girl in Idaho create an instant media firestorm. Most of us would find internet child pornography utterly repulsive because it uses the innocence and vulnerability of children for selfish pleasure.

Yet, I believe another exploitation of children is occurring within our country with little reaction. There are those who would use the needs of our children to persuade us to do things that will not necessarily benefit our children, but those who are trying to persuade us. I’m talking about the marketing and advertising industry. Marketers use all kinds of tactics to persuade us to buy their product, vote for their candidate or support their cause. They appeal not only to our sense of reason, but also to our emotions. Marketers well know that children are a sure-fire emotional tug.

A current example of this is the ad campaign for Ohio’s Issue 3, the constitutional amendment that would allow gambling at racetracks and establish several casinos within the state of Ohio. The ads don’t immediately tell you, “Vote for casinos.” Those promoting this bill would know most people would immediately dismiss it. No, instead, they pull on our heartstrings. They call it the “Learn and Earn” program. Don’t we want every child to have a chance at higher education? We can do this without raising taxes. Vote for Issue 3!

I don't think I could live with my conscience if I knew the money my child received from a scholarship came from the pockets of a gambling addict who used money his or her children needed for food, clothes and a roof over their head. I coulnd't stand the fact that a father or mother somewhere was teaching their child by example to give into the horrendous lie that gambling is an easy solution to financial need. Issue 3 may provide some money for education. But if passed, it will teach our children to rely on money reclaimed from addicted, vulnerable and ignorant people who don’t see the harm they are doing to themselves and their families. It will teach our children to be greedy, garnering money they need the easy way instead of having to work for what they get.

However, this blog post is not about gambling. . It’s about our society’s tendency to exploit children in the name of persuasion. Jesus said in Matthew 18:6, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hang around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” When we use our children as a persuasive tactic, we are teaching them it’s acceptable to maneuver others for our selfish agenda. That’s morally unacceptable.

So the next time you feel a tug on your heart about children, sound your internal alarm system. Ask if your acquiescence help and protect the children in your life? Or will it line the pockets or advance the future of the promoter? Then look at the stated need. Ask yourself, what would be God’s best way to meet this need in our children’s lives? The exercise of honestly evaluating our children’s needs will help all of us do what is right and best for our children.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Put Thanks Into Your Thanksgiving

Teaching and writing curriculum for elementary age children over the last twenty years has given me a bent towards the practical, I suppose. I just can’t help myself. As I read and apply Scripture to my life, I’m always thinking in terms of “What creative thing can we do to apply this principle or to make this Scripture more meaningful?” I seem to be a “how-to” person. I love connecting the abstract with the concrete so those around me can understand and appreciate God’s Words and wonders even more.

Thanksgiving is no exception! No one needs to tell us to take Thanksgiving Day more seriously, that we all need to be more thankful for what we have. Okay, but how? How can we be more thankful? What “hooks” can you use to help yourself and your family have an attitude of thankfulness for God’s goodness this season?

Here are some ideas from my article, “Keeping the Spirit of Thanksgiving,” published in the November 18, 2001 issue of The Lookout:

Spend the day at home with family and friends. Don’t allow open stores and movie theatres to distract you from the true purpose of the day.

Separate Christmas preparations from Thanksgiving celebrations. Wait until after Thanksgiving to put up Christmas decorations. This way, Thanksgiving doesn’t become swallowed up by your family’s anticipation of Christmas.

Reach beyond your home. Invite friends and strangers into your home as well as family. Invite those without family into your home such as a widow, an estranged parent, a single mom or a college student. The Pilgrims shared their day with the Indians, who were obviously outside their family circle.

Cultivate an atmosphere of Thanksgiving around your table. Place three kernels of unpopped popcorn at each placemat. Have each person name something for which they are thankful. Or, write a note of appreciation to each person and place that at the person’s place. Have your children write out Bible verses about thanksgiving and praise on cutouts of autumn leaves to place as a centerpiece.

Accentuate the spiritual. We often say we are thankful for our families and our health. Don’t stop there! Specify what great things God has done in your life, the life of your family or within your church in the last year. Then spend time thanking God together.

God is worthy of our praise every day! Let’s give Him the full measure due His glorious Name this Thanksgiving season.