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!

The Adventures In Between

I realized today that even the “boring” stages of life are adventures.

I have really been struggling with the concept of growing up and being on my own. I think part of this struggle comes from feeling alone. I mean, even though I am blessed with friends who are making his journey with me and family members who are caring and supportive, sometimes I still feel like I’m doing this on my own. I must have the internal motivation to succeed. I must make choices that are right for me. I have to send out my own job applications and schedule my own interviews. I have to decide what time I’m going to bed and when I’ll wake up. I make the decision whether to have ice cream and coffee cake for dinner or to eat actual food (sometimes the ice cream wins out), but I’m making that decision myself. No one else will make it for me.

In that moment, realizing I’m free and yet somehow bound to my own limitations, I find myself fearful of what lies ahead. I was panicked at one time last month. I was incredibly anxious with all of my student teaching work to complete and with planning my next step. I fed my stress with junk food and lack of exercise (which, of course, is a completely healthy and mature way to deal with my problems).

the-adventures-in-betweengrace-upon-grace-blog


When I went to Thailand, I bought the audiobook version of Love Does by Bob Goff. If anyone is qualified to speak on adventure, it’s Bob Goff. Having just written resumes myself, I can’t begin to describe Bob’s resume. You can view his website here, but before I go any farther, you should know that Bob is a diplomat to Uganda, a lawyer who found an interesting way into law school, a hitchhiker (in his younger days), a father desiring to make his children’s dreams come true, a hiker and biker, the founder of a non-profit, a world traveler, a man engaged in life and whimsy, and an adventurer. He loves God and has a passionate for people and for showing people the God who loves them, too.

Listening to the audiobook version of Love Does reminded me of adventure. It is easy to “live the adventure”  when you’re dreaming of plane flights and rattling off new languages and hiking exotic waterfalls. But when you’re living with your parents and spending your time between job applications, running errands, and helping with yard work, it doesn’t really feel like an adventure anymore. How can I be adventurous at this stage in my life? Nothing stopped Bob Goff from being adventurous, even in the boring stuff. He sat outside the office of the law school dean for several days waiting and willing to be accepted to the school. When his Jeep was totaled, he rode a skateboard to work and asked his family and friends for rides to the airport and grocery store. Things that would stop me somehow didn’t stop him. He was still an adventurer regardless. Even if he failed, the failure was an adventure.

A writer at Deeper Story wrote that her “white picket fence… looks like safety but feels like adventure.” The thing is, my current adventures are not super adventurous. They look like safety. I few months ago, I was obtaining visas, buying tickets, flying halfway around the world, and living and working in a country I had never been to before for three months. That felt like an adventure because everyone knew it was an adventure. I had sent out prayer cards and made a blog and raised some money. I needed a passport, a visa, and plane tickets. It was good and bad and fantastic and difficult and beautiful all in one. (Adventures are not perfect every day.)

The same is true for adventures that seem somewhat less adventurous. I don’t need a passport for my immediate after graduation circumstances. I don’t need plane tickets. I’m not raising money (although that’s not a bad idea!). Regardless, my after-graduation adventures are still adventures. They may be less initially mind-blowing (moving to Thailand for three months was a little crazy to many people), but they are still adventures. I still find the whole “after-graduation”/”on my own” thing really crazy. And I believe that whatever the next days, months, and years hold will be good, bad, fantastic, difficult, and beautiful all at the same time, just like my student teaching in Thailand. God is calling me to adventures, even adventures of living in one of my dad and stepmom’s extra bedrooms and job hunting for a few months.

Twenties

Because you know what? This stage of life is just as valuable as the three and a half months I spent in Thailand. This stage of life feels like an “in-between” moment that I would like to skip over, but it is actually important. I didn’t graduate college after a few months of fun-filled partying with my best friends. I spent four years, most of them engaged in hard work, in order to graduate. The same is true about this part of my life. It may be weird and uncomfortable and hard and boring sometimes, but it matters in the grand scheme of things.


Let us not forget two things:

  1. Wherever you are right now, it is not a waiting room. As Anne Voskamp says, “Real Life is Happening. Right Now.” God is working right now. Use the time you’re given right now.
  2. Bob Goff writes, “You don’t need to know everything when you’re with someone you trust.” I think that because we can’t see God and we usually don’t hear Him audibly, we have difficulty trusting Him, but we are called to trust him and rely on Him. He knows what He’s doing, and He knows what the people around us are doing. He’s got a plan, so it’s okay to trust Him even when we don’t know exactly what’s going on. In the end, God is good, and He works everything together for His glory and our good.

Even the adventures in between.

A Different Look at the Case for Modesty

One of the long-standing debates in conservative circles is regarding the concept of modesty. One argument is that teaching our young women to cover their bodies for modesty’s sake invokes body-shaming, which is shame, fear, and negativity regarding one’s body. Modesty, this article from World Magazine argues, is often taught in ways that present the female body (as a whole and various parts) as “tantilizing” and “seductive” to any male who walks by. Thus, girls and women are taught indirectly that their bodies are not God’s beautiful creations, but rather, ticking time bombs that unwillingly lead to uncontrolled lust. The connotation here is that the female body is somehow inherently sinful. How, the article asks, can modesty be taught without body-shaming?

Ask anyone who spent time with me during my freshman year of college, and they will tell you that I did something a bit strange whenever I saw myself in a mirror. Anytime I saw my reflection, I would pause, point at my face in a circular motion and say confidently: “You… Are adorable.” I know it’s strange. I know my roommate was weirded out by it. I know people looked at me funny, but I had come to the point where I was tired of telling myself that I wasn’t good enough. I was tired of feeling like I just needed clearer skin, a bit of a tan, straighter hair, smaller thighs, a flatter stomach… So I stopped telling myself what I thought I needed and started telling myself that I looked good. It did not happen overnight, but I began to believe it.

Yet, at the same time, I covered myself well. I was the girl who wore skirts past my knees and who got rid of shirts that showed a hint of skin when I raised my arms. I chose jeans that weren’t tight and didn’t wear shorts for years. By no means was I perfect about this, but I was often made fun of for my definition of what was and was not appropriate.

For me, however, modesty does not mean my body was sinful. In fact, it means my body is good. It means God made each part of my body with care and concern, with some parts ranking higher on the privacy list than others. It means I am worth more than my appearance, so I dress in a way that capitalizes on my good qualities, both appearance-wise and personality-wise.

Granted, I have loosened my strict standards a bit from how I dressed freshman year. I wear shorts now, for example. The definition of “modest” is a tricky line to draw, and I think it is fluid more than we’d like to admit. But the point is that I’ve found that a female can be modest and still appreciate her body. She can be modest and still be confident. She can be modest and still be attractive.

This semester, I’m student teaching at a Christian international school in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I teach sixty-six teenagers, forty-three of them male. Two of the three teachers in my department are male, the vice principal is male, and many of the other teachers and staff members are male. As I contemplated this, I realized that there is no better reason for me to dress modestly than the fact that forty-three 14-18 year old boys spend at least 40 minutes each day looking at me. If I am an advocate against the perils of pornography and in support of a healthy attitude about women, how much more should I dress in a way that is conducive to those goals?

I think this reality hit me last week when I was preparing an outfit for spirit week. As I tried on different arrangements, I realized I could choose to cover (or uncover) my shoulder. I debated this for quite some time. As I lay in bed the night before the day I was supposed to wear this outfit, it occured to me that I am young, new to the school, and relatively somewhat good on the eyes. I decided to cover my shoulder. I did not cover my shoulder because it would be sinful to expose it (the Bible doesnn’t say that – take up with God). I did not cover my shoulder because the school rules said I had to (they probably did, but I haven’t read that section). I did not cover my shoulder because the unbridled lust of teenage boys would get out of control (I’m not that good-looking, haha).

I covered my shoulder because I love my brothers. If there is something within my power that I can do to show my forty-three male students and various male colleagues that I care about them, I’m going to do it. Why wouldn’t I? For me last week, making sure my outfit was not distracting was how I could show love.

I also covered my shoulder because I love my sisters. My twenty-three female students also need to know that their bodies are precious, intricate creations of God, and that their bodies should be treated as temples of the Most High. If I’ve learned anything about teaching, it’s to instruct by way of modeling. Students will copy what they see. I choose to dress modestly each day so these twenty-three female students see modesty in action. I care about them as well, so I choose to inspire value and worth in them by demonstrating that in what I wear.

I think that we confuse girls when their bodies are changing by teaching them indirectly that body changes are bad. Hips and butts and busts are bad. That is not the case at all. Hips and butts and busts are good. For one thing, it is heathly for a woman to have some kind of curves, and this extra padding helps to carry any future babies. For most girls, however, the preteen and teenage years are horrific for body changes. I struggled through acne (two separate treatments of Accutane) and acne scars, broken and blended families, the painful realization of body changes, as well as the inevitable and necessary struggle through my identity as a person and as a sexual being. Somehow, I went through these struggles without hating my appearance, which I think made it easier for me to start admitting to myself four years ago that I was adorable.

I wonder if it might help if we start the modesty conversation by telling our young ladies that they are beautiful and worth it, and telling our young men that they have what it takes. (This harkens back to the Eldridges, if you’ve read their books.) Maybe we should teach that our bodies are beautifully and wonderfully and intricately and fearfully made first. After that, we can discuss covering up bodies, and bouncing eyes, and drawing attention to personalities over hips and bosoms, and choosing to be and to date people who pursue God, and being more interested in each other’s hearts instead of each other’s wardrobes (or lack thereof), and choosing a path of sexual purity. But until teenagers know that they are valued and significant, modesty will always fail. We will either overemmphasize or underemphasize it. That’s where we get body-shaming: modety without the realization that God made that body good, all of its parts included.

How can we teach modesty without body-shaming? By loving the kids in our lives. It’s not that simple, I know, but this is where we can start.