Lessons in Love from My First Year of Teaching

Education is figuring out what works for individuals.

My mentor teacher sent this one sentence reply to one of my long emails detailing a strategy I used with one child’s particularly difficult behavior. I found this statement to be true throughout the remaining months of my first year of teaching out of college.

Lessons in Love from My First Year of Teaching

During an “exit interview” of sorts, my principal explained that it takes 3-5 years for new teachers to master their behavior management techniques. Most new teachers leave the field of education in the first five years because they struggle with behavior management. (New teachers also leave for two other significant reasons: 1. There is so much else to do besides teaching that they feel overwhelmed; and 2. Administration or co-workers are not supportive.)

My principal told me that once I feel confident and secure in my behavior management, I will get new students who throw the entire system out of whack. Jaded teachers often say that it must be the chid’s fault that the system isn’t working. Successful teachers acknowledge that they are getting paid to find a solution that works for each child. And then they go find one and use trial and error adjustments to make it work.

Successful teachers reflect and attempt and adapt and adjust and try again because children and hope and future and love matter…

Love. Is that not why I became a teacher in the first place?


Yesterday was the last day of my first year of teaching, and I found an excellent post about marriage that ironically correlated with teaching in one amazing aspect: both are based on love. In this recent post, Ann Voskamp wrote these three earth-shattering statements:

Marriage is a commitment meant to form us, not a commitment you enter only once you’re convinced you’re finally formed.

Marriage is something that we learn, like the way we learn our mother tongue.

Whenever you want to rant, it’s your cue you need to make a request.

First, Marriage is a commitment meant to form us. I have already seen that in my dating relationship. Yes, I love my boyfriend. He loves me. But we also love Jesus. And Jesus is not content with us not going anywhere. The Christian life is about growth (albeit sometimes slow) and change (as much as I hate it) and sharing (despite my introversion).  Proverbs says that “a friend sharpens a friend” and that could very easily be a significant other of any type doing the sharpening.

“Sharpening” can take any number of forms… But it usually hurts. It hurts when I have chosen a selfish alternative to love and then my boyfriends calls me out on it. It hurts when a colleague asks me to talk with him/her about a poor decision I made. It hurts when I have neglected relationships with my family members. Despite the hurt, it is good to be becoming a new person in Christ. Think of justification versus sanctification. Justification is the immediate salvation that saves a person from Hell and into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Sanctification is the continual process of salvation that molds a person to be more like Jesus. I have been told that marriage is one of the most difficult things anyone will ever do purely because of the significant amount of sanctification that occurs if we will be humble enough to let it sharpen us.

Similarly, a successful teacher reflects on previous experience and adapts his/her practice to see what might work better next time. He or she is constantly undergoing reflection and adaptation, becoming a better teacher along the way. The reflection process is often painful, but we can use it to form us personally and professionally.

Second, Marriage is something that we learn. I feel that the connection to education is so apparent here. A person cannot and will not learn how to be a successful teacher by sitting in some college classrooms and taking notes. A person cannot learn by watching  videos of good teachers or by observing real classrooms. A person cannot truly learn how to be a successful teacher by doing some practice lessons or even twelve weeks of Student Teaching, either. It takes years of hands-on practice as a teacher to truly become a successful teacher.

Likewise, a person cannot and will not learn to how to be a successful marriage partner by sitting in some sermons or conferences or reading some books. A person cannot learn by observing successful marriages or by talking with successful wives and husbands or by dating for a while or even by living together before marriage (playacting is not good practice!).

Pause. Am I saying that any of those things are bad or wrong? No. Those are great things! Read all the books and attend all the seminars and observe all the successful people – for both teaching and marriage! But remember that those things do not a successful marriage make. A successful marriage (and a successful teaching career) are based upon practical practice. I have learned to start practicing essential skills while dating (listening strategies, how to apologize, how to forgive, ways to show appreciation), but there is no true way to practice actual marriage until, well… Actual Marriage. It’s something that we learn. And we learn how best to do it through practice. Lots of it.

Third, Whenever you want to rant, it’s your cue you need to make a request. This is one of the things that Ann Voskamp learned during her marriage. When you want to rant (or choose a ranting alternative, like stonewalling or avoidance), make a request instead. She gave the example of ranting versus requesting that her family put away their shoes in the mudroom. Problems can be solved so much more easily by asking politely and encouragingly than by ranting about how No one ever puts their shoes away! 

I see this in my dating life. When I acknowledge something that I need from my boyfriend, I get his attention by touching him. My boyfriend is huge on physical affection, so I can put a hand on his knee or his shoulder to get his attention. Then I ask for what I need. I don’t put down, use extremes, or get overly emotional. Here are some examples of two negative responses and one positive response if I wanted my boyfriend to call on his way to work.

  • Ranting: “Why do you never call me on your way to work? It makes me so angry! You can’t remember anything!”
  • Avoiding would be to not mention anything (or to fall silent on the phone when he asks if you want him to call when he’s on his way to work). And usually this is followed by becoming super emotional and overly disappointed when he doesn’t call.
  • Requesting: “Could you call me when you leave for work? It would be really important to me.”

Since most of our relationship is long-distance, I’ve learned that when we’re on the phone and I can’t touch him to get his attention or to signal importance, I can use a key phrase: “This is very important to me” or “It’s important to me that you….”. This is huge. Sometimes men need a little announcement; they aren’t usually good at reading between the lines.

This all to say that I’m finding what works for him and for us. He is doing the exact same thing. He has learned how I react when I’m upset or stressed and he finds ways to react that are helpful and not upsetting to me. We are both learning how to request instead of ranting or avoiding. This not to say that we have it all figured out. I have used all three of the responses above multiple times to varying levels of success. But I am learning.

Just as successful teachers use trial and error, research, and observation to figure out what works for their students, so successful significant others use those techniques in their relationships. When we are excited about a new relationship, we use these techniques and observe things about our significant others without realizing it, but when our relationships don’t quite fit into the “new” or “exciting” categories, we may struggle to note them. For example, I know that my boyfriend likes peanut M&Ms, looks good in green and blue plaid shirts, and has an awesome tie collection. I know that his love languages are physical touch and words of affirmation and I know that he is a huge extrovert. We’ve been dating for almost a year, and I’ve observed, researched, and experienced those things because our relationship is comparatively new. However, it took some digging to realize that my seventeen year old brother loves Grumpy Cat memes because he’s seventeen and I don’t live at home anymore, but now that I know, I send him some occasionally because that is one way I can contribute to our relationship. (He sends me some back, too!)

In both teaching and in our personal relationships, we are called to be consistently looking for ways to fully love the other person. In teaching, this is demonstrated through intentionally meeting the needs of our students educationally and often personally as well. In relationships, this is demonstrated through learning how best to show love to our significant others in ways that they will receive well as well as learning how to manage conflict in our relationships in ways that benefit the relationship instead of tear it down.

It’s amazing what completing one year of teaching has taught me. Do you have any lessons from this past school year, this past year out of college, or your current relationships that you’d be willing to share? Comment below!

Winning & Losing

You can’t win every day; some days you’re just going to lose.

I remember saying that to one of my roommates while I was in Thailand for student teaching. We were struggling through culture shock and adaptation and we came face to face with the reality that mistakes and disappointments were bound to happen. That vocabulary stayed with me as I moved and changed jobs and living situations. Last summer, I started referring to experiences or even entire days as “winning” or “losing.” It was a humorous way to document the initial struggles of real life after college graduation.

I’ve been learning that life is composed of both “winning” days and “losing” days. At my current stage of life, winning days are comprised of finding extra coupons, developing superb navigational skills, and getting ahead on work. Losing days might resemble the bills being due before the paycheck, experiencing crazy coworkers, or making stupid mistakes.

When we experience the phenomenon known as “winning” and “losing,” we are experiencing real life. Perhaps we have days or weeks or even months of “losing,” and that’s normal. Usually, however, winning and losing days are interspersed with regular quality days, which is also normal. I would caution that months and months of feeling like you’re losing might be an indication that good Christian counseling could be a good next step for you.

I feel strongly that there are at least two reasons we should not let “winning” or “losing” days define us.

Losing Days Do Not a “Loser” Make

When was the last time you called yourself a failure? Remember it. Well, let that be the last time.

See, a problem we often face (and I have seen this in my life and in the lives of others) is when we take the winning and losing days as indications of who we are. One week I experienced “a week of Mondays” in which every day was bad enough to be a Monday. I took that experience and said to myself something along these lines: “I am a failure. I can’t do this. I can’t be a teacher. Nothing is working right. No one understands me. I’m not good enough.” And then I took that different work at work and applied it to my other roles in life: “I’m failing as a daughter, a friend, a sister, a girlfriend…”

Okay, before you give me heat, think about the times you’ve said something similar to yourself. Negative self-talk is a beast. And listening to Satan is a death sentence. Give that guy a foothold, and you’re done for.

None of what I told myself was true. I was doubting in the dark what God had told me in the light. God has already made it very clear that I’m supposed to be a teacher. He has already proven his goodness and graciousness to me. I know it’s difficult to move from college to the “real world,” but God has already told me that he is with me and will be with me through anything. In fact, I may have been struggling that week, but it did not change who I was.

Everyone Has Them

The end of Matthew chapter five tells us to love our enemies. God gives to them even the general grace he gives to us. Similarly, God allows the general pain to befall both believers and the enemies of believers. In the NIV, Matthew 5:45 reads…

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Everyone gets the sunshine and the rain. One reason I think God gives us all both sunshine and rain is because his desire is that all people come to know him. By using the sun and rain to provide for everyone’s needs for food and to show Himself through creation, he is giving those who do not know him even more opportunities to see him and his power and goodness.

Therefore, our response to losing days should not be self-pity (“Why am I such a loser?”) but acknowledgement of the pain that sin has caused and an awareness that maybe God might just use the losing days to bring about something great. He’s in the habit of redeeming and restoring things like that. I’ve seen God take horrific circumstances and turn them into great and wonderful expressions of his love and rescue and power. (I have been writing about redemption and restoration for a while now. Ironically, I tend to write most about those themes in the month of April!)

When unbelievers see us responding to difficult circumstances and “losing days” with gratitude and hope in God’s providence and provision, they’ll know that something is up, and they just might start asking questions.


I’m writing this post as I’m working through Ann Voskamp‘s One Thousand Gifts. She compares learning the language of gratitude to learning a second language. In the book, she explains that she is writing down a list of things she is grateful for, adding to the list each day, as if she were copying vocabulary in a second language.

As a English as a Second Language teacher who has spent time with Spanish, Cantonese, Lao, and Thai, I connect with that comparison. What if gratitude is a language we must practice using in order to get better at it? What if we must practice listening to, reading, speaking, and writing gratefulness before it will stick? Perhaps being thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18) is something that must be learned, Ann writes.

To this end, my challenge now becomes: What if we were thankful on “losing” days, too? It’s easy to be thankful on “winning” days, especially if our attitudes are in the right place. But we are not called to be grateful only in some circumstances. We are actually specifically called to be grateful even in troubles.

I have a sneaky feeling that if we named specific things, whether tangible or otherwise, and thanked God for them, even on “losing” days, we would feel less and less like “losers” and more and more like the children of God we really are. See, we aren’t “losers.” God didn’t give us that name when he called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. God calls us chosenset apartholybelonging to GodGod’s delight, and God’s bride (2 Peter 2:9, Psalm 18:19, Isaiah 62:4).

We will have losing days. We will have winning days. Do not let either day define you. Let gratitude for who God is and what God has done for you be your definition. Circumstances will change, but God does not.

Not Easy

Well, I’ve come full circle. Again. I have a project due tomorrow for the first year teacher’s program at my school and I am cleaning, organizing, and blogging in a feeble attempt at procrastination. This reminds me of college so much, except that I am listening to rain instead of Mumford.

I’m also coming full circle in a different way. This summer, I will be moving. Again. With a doubt, I am overjoyed to be moving. I landed my dream job with an amazing support system. I have a potential housing situation lined up. I will no longer be living 3.5 hours from my amazing boyfriend… I am so excited about what is to come.

The existence of excitement does not preclude the existence of fear, exhaustion, uncertainty, uncomfortability, insecurity, or difficulty.

In fact, excitement and uncertainty have often gone hand in hand for me. Excitement and exhaustion are two words that describe my overseas travel impeccably – often at the same exact moment. Excitement and fear define my first year of college in a nutshell.

So here I am, putting on my big girl panties and moving to another state. For a boy. For a job. For a better living situation.

I know, without a doubt, that this is what God has for me. I know that it is good. It know that it is His plan. I know this because it has worked out perfectly in only the way that He can work things out. I know this because the guy who lives there loves me with safe, sacrificial, challenging love that blows my mind. I know this because God has proven himself again and again. I know that it is God’s plan for me to move to this new state and city and community.

Regardless, I am still afraid. I am still tired, uncertain, uncomfortable, insecure, and preparing to face difficulty. “Being in God’s will” (whatever that means) does not mean that everything is peachy. Following God does not make your problems disappear.

This morning in church, my pastor explained that with good couples, one partner has strengths where the other has weaknesses. The opposite is true as well. In moments of alignment, they complement each other. In moments of misalignment, they complain: “We’re so different from each other! Why are we even dating/engaged/married?!?” But that’s just what makes couples work. We’re supposed to be different from our partners. They complement us.

If we take difficulty (like the example of the complaining couple) to mean that we’re in the wrong place or God is punishing us or we should leave, we’re understanding difficulty inappropriately. Sometimes we are in the “wrong” place, and God makes that clear to us while calling us to a new place. But we should not run away from difficult situations. We should work through them, only leaving if proven necessary. That’s why we should not break up relationships or get divorced over difficulties. We should work through them and figure out the real issues.


One reason I am afraid is that I don’t do “new” very well. I am a hardcore introvert who loves dependability. That’s one reason it’s hard to be around a lot of people. Other people often do things that are unexpected, and that leaves a lot of newness and inconsistency to deal with in a group setting.

However, I have realized that I need people. Shocking, I know.

I was reading an article from Donald Miller that discussed introversion and extroversion. One person commented: “…it takes me several days of complete solitude to recover [after a big social engagement]. I used to apologize for it, but now I just plan for it.” I think that summarizes the introvert’s needs perfectly. It would be wrong of me to constantly apologize for the weird things I do because I’m so introverted. However, it would also be wrong of me to pretend I didn’t have a need for “recharge” time. Like the commenter said, I should plan for those things and give myself grace to work through them.

It is great to acknowledge and utilize an understanding of personal traits like introversion and extroversion, but we cannot let the labels dictate our lives. Introverts cannot eliminate community time any more than extroverts can eliminate solitude time. It’s necessary to have experiences that shape and stretch us, and both community and solitude are essential for spiritual growth. My old youth pastor used to tell me that ministry (and a lot of life) is 80% what you want to do and 20% what you don’t want to do.

As I think about moving and making new friends, developing relationships, seeking mentors, exploring a new city, and learning a new job, I know there will be difficulty. I know that a lot of the tasks I must accomplish as I move are challenging for someone who is 98% introverted like me. But life is not about “easy.” It’s about becoming more like Christ, which is anything but easy.

I’m ready for it. I know I will feel afraid but I also know that God is with me. I know I will feel insecure, but I also know that he has brought me here. I know I will face difficulty, but I also know that this is where he wants me. I’m ready for this new adventure because I am taking my adventures one step at a time.

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.