Nine times the Bible says The Lord is slow to anger.  I like all the references, but this one stuck out to me.  Ex 34:6-7  “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger , abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children  …NIV  I heard the part of God being slow to anger is a song I had on while texturing our bathroom wall.  While I held that soft, malleable clay in my hands, I remembered a conversation I had with one of my students this year in the hall.  It went something like this:

Me:  Hey bud – what’s up, you look like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.    The young man shrugs and starts to just walk on by, then abruptly turns around.

Student:  Mrs. Winter, I am just having a crappy day but I have a question for you.  How come you’re the only teacher I have who seems to actually like their job?

Me: What do you mean?  (in background – the loud bustle of students hurrying to class and teachers barking commands like military drill sergeants)

Student:  All my teachers seem to hate their jobs because all they do is yell at us ..and I’m not exaggerating.  All but you.  You know, it’s really out of my way to come this way to my next class but it’s worth it because you always have a kind word or a smile.  You have no idea how much I need that to keep me going till 6th period.  Thank you!   With that he scooted off to class leaving me stupefied and heartbroken at the same time.  I honestly do not remember what my reply was other than “you’re welcome!” that followed after him down the hall.

 

For the rest of the day I became more aware of my surroundings in the hall.  As students scurried off to class and we teachers stood guard – I heard either a mixture of “Good afternoon so and so” to “I SAID GET IN YOUR SEAT -NOW!”  Granted not all my co-workers were barking orders, but the ones who did, drowned out the ones of us who politely greeted our students.  Then I looked into my classroom and notice my kiddos either retrieving their folders from the cabinet or getting the handouts from back counter.  Others are reading the Smartboard and beginning the bell work.  By the time the tardy bell rings, most everyone is in their seat and quiet.  Some call out “Hey Mrs. Winter!”   My classes are far from perfect – trust me, but I’ve worked hard at creating that relatively cooperative and pleasant atmosphere.  My mentor teacher told me once that our attitude creates the tone of the classroom.  I believe it. Have I yelled at my students?  Yes on occasion, but I try to make it a rarity because I honestly believe they tune me out when I yell. I am slow to anger.  Besides, kids hear angry adults way too often.  My daughter told me once that students really don’t respect teachers who yell all the time.  Most students will shine and give their all for a teacher who truly shows that they care.  Is that a simplistic, idealistic way of thinking?  No.  I heard an interview with an 40 year veteran in field of education stated pretty much the same thing after one of her teachers complained that none of the students did well on an assessment and she taught them everything – they must be stupid.  The educator told her colleague – that’s not it – they just don’t like you.  Students will not put forth effort to learn if they perceive you do not like them.

 

So am I saying we are to be their friend and “friend them” on Facebook?  Absolutely not.  I am saying have compassion on them.  In a nutshell, my goal is to treat these squirrely 7th grade students I have the way I’d want to be treated.  Or how I hope my children’s teachers treat them.  The classes my kids excelled in the most and enjoyed the most were from the teachers who treated them with compassion.  The second part of the verse is the key also.  He does not leave the guilty unpunished.  If you make a bad choice in my room, you pay the consequences – detention or office referral.  Do the crime, do the time.  Every year I have my frequent flyers who have detention with me at least once a week, or more.   I know this year will be no exception.

 

So what point am I trying to make?  Why are so many teachers angry?  I seriously doubt that was their goal as they began their career.  Well maybe some, those powertrip teachers who enjoy belittling students with caustic one liners and who enjoy verbally pummeling students into quiet, unresponsive submission.  I imagine politics, state mandated standardized tests and other asinine things have a role in stealing the joy of teaching.  So what!  We choose our behavior right?  Don’t we tell our students the same thing?  Shouldn’t we practice what we preach?  Honestly – if a teacher has so much perceivable anger that all her students see is someone who appears to not enjoy teaching –maybe they should get a different career.   Our students are like clay and we have that ability to mold them with our words. It makes me cringe to think I’ll be the teacher my students hated in 7th grade.  Of course I want them to learn my content, but not at the expense of loathing reading and writing.  Getting a 7th grader to read is battle enough, why add to it with having a crappy attitude?  Guess that’s why I have the reputation of being the “fun” teacher.  So be it.  At first that really bothered me and made me think my students are not “learning”.  Well – since test scores are the true measure of learning (ha!) – I suppose my students are “learning”.  You know what else they learned this year?  That someone cares about them – warts and all.  To me this all comes down to relationship.  This year I was the subject of a former students Jr. English project based on the novel Tuesdays With Morrie.  I wrote about that experience in  My Constant  https://nocoincidence63.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/my-constant/ so I won’t restate the whole thing again.  Bottom line – he chose me based on the connection developed in the classroom.  A dad recently told me that his son still thinks of me as his favorite English teacher.  This boy will be a Freshman in college this year.  I hear similar stories to this all the time and it is what keeps me going.  I’ve already decided that if I ever become that angry, bitter teacher -I’ll quit.

 

 

My Constant

Becoming the topic of a former student’s research project has made me pretty introspective, slightly paranoid, and extremely humbled.  I had this young man as a quiet, inquisitive, and gifted 7th grader a few years ago so when he told me I was the subject of his research – his person of influence – well – it is a humbling honor to say the least.  The project is based off the novel Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Album, where Mitch writes a novel about his favorite professor and the life lessons Morrie imparts.  Well – my student, who I either called Kabetzke or McGeek, and I met at a local coffee shop, every Sunday during the Fall semester. Oh – the McGeek reference is from NCIS.  His class period was my NCIS kiddos because several were fans of the show or I thought they reminded me of 7th grade versions of key characters.  Well – I of course was the female version of Gibbs – because of the constant cup of coffee I’m sure.  Well –there is the gray hair and the parental devotion I have for my students too.

Anyway – every Sunday, Kabetzke would have his list of questions and I honestly had a hard time putting into words my responses and sounding somewhat –normal.  It’s a little strange to lay aside my teacher persona and put on the normal person persona.  But the sounding normal – that is where the introspection comes to play.  Some questions have been about my childhood experiences, tough situations I’ve gone through, my family –past and present, and my influential people.  It’s a lot like having someone write your biography –well it is exactly like that.  The hardest question to date has been “What has been your constant?”  McGeek thought it would be my coffee – but that’s just partially true.  That particular question gave me pause because one primary constant has been my family, yet even that is in a constant state of change.  That’s why in my mind this past Christmas was the last one with us’ns.  Our son will graduate from A&M in May, our oldest daughter is in a serious relationship with a young man and our baby girl is getting ready to apply to colleges.  So – the family dynamic is changing, yet they are still my constant. I know in my heart – that even if our children are scattered across the globe – we will have that strong bond.  This past summer, the two college kids wrote me separate letters of encouragement and appreciation. Just because.  Both letters had me in tears and both made me realize I have been a positive influence in their life.  (During those weird teenage years – a mom often wonders if her words sink in or not)

I really have two constants –the second being Faith.  I do not have answers to why I’ve walked through some of my situations.  I just know it has molded me into a person who does not give up.  So – the experience of having someone choose you as their person of influence – very humbling and eye-opening.  It has made me realize how powerful our influence within the classroom and within our families can be. We do leave legacies – question is – what kind are we leaving?

Like a tree, firmly planted

The Bible has several references to trees being planted by water, surviving drought and heat, standing tall, etc.  In and of itself, trees are not very animated.  Oh, in the wind, they dance and their leaves produce songs.  To me, being alone in my backyard, listening to the wind playing through the leaves is one of my favorite things because it calms my soul.  Trees in my part of the world are not a natural occurrence.  History tells us the majority of trees populating our landscape and our yards were brought in from somewhere else –transplanted.  To survive our sometimes harsh summers, unbearable winters, constant wind, trees have to dig deep with their roots to reach a water source for survival.  

Eighteen years ago, on a February weekend, my sister-in-law, Jimmie, shared a verse with me about being like a tree being firmly planted by the waters.  The picture she had as she read this verse was like I said earlier –a tree with its roots firmly planted by the water source.  She felt like this fit because the days ahead would be fraught with spiritual storms that would test my faith, so I needed to stand strong and steady like the tree.  Eighteen years ago, those words were true as the storm did hit – literally and figuratively – taking my brother-in-law Jeff, Jimmie and their baby Jordan away from us.  They may be gone, but those words Jimmie shared with me that afternoon are echoing in my heart tonight.  Our family has endured more storms, trials, and hell over the past 18 years than I care to recall right now.  Today, we are facing yet another test of our will and faith and fortitude.  

I’ve added a few other images.  Like I said — trees are not really animated, but they are steady.  They provide shade from the heat.  They provide a home for flying creatures, and they provide food.  If you study the archetypal symbolism of trees, each tree tells a story.  So, according to this symbolism, oaks represent truth, courage , nd wisdom.  So back to what my sister-in-law said about me being a tree.  No – I am not exactly the most animated person, but I’ve been known to by hyper at time.  I did fall off my stool in my classroom last week, does that count?  I would say I try to speak the truth and share wisdom.  Courage – well – I suppose it takes courage to not give up.  I feel like I am the one who needs to be that steady source of encouragement and shelter to my family when their world falls apart.  I am reminded of an interview my older brother gave after returning from a dangerous mission in Vietnam.  The reporter asked him “Were you scared?” to which my brother replied with a laugh and answered “Dude – you’d have to be crazy not to be, but I know where I’m going if my time comes. Pray less for me, but for those around me who don’t.”  Pretty good advice.  In the midst of this current battle, I’d say the same thing.  Yes – I’m scared, but pray less for me, but more those engulfed in this battle.  In the meantime, I’ll stay steady, strong, provide shelter, wisdom, truth and courage for those who rest in my shade.  

Christmas Past, Present, Future.

Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart.  Luke 2:19.  Of all the Christmas verses, this one always gives me pause.  In my younger years, I honestly never thought a thing about it.  No, it wasn’t until Christmas of 1990 that I first noticed it.  That was the year I was “great with child” – with my only son Daniel.  That Christmas the now classic song “Mary Did You Know” hit the airwaves and hit me in the gut.  So my question or pondering is this, in the years to come, did Mary experience her own version of Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas Future?  

As a mom of three now, I have the weird vision condition of seeing all three situations simultaneously.  You see, when I see my three children, I’ll imagine them as children in their Christmas attire, adults still in Christmas attire of some kind, however, the future vision is a little fuzzy at times.  Those usually happen in dreams.  Each Christmas,  I try to make myself remember every detail of those moments – I ponder them in my heart.  Thanks to Timehop and Facebook memories, they help me remember special Christmas too.  For example, a Christmas or two back, my children surprised us with a monetary gift they’d been planning since March to send their Dad and I on a vacation to celebrate our 30th anniversary.  I’m still in shock over that one.   

Last Christmas I knew it would be the last one I’d have with my crew because 2016 brought us so many exciting changes -one being a new daughter!  Anyway- as we spent time together playing games and eating, I sat back and took a mental photograph of the memories being made and thanked God for my blessings.  You always hear about holiday gatherings being times of stress when family members are forced to be together and some crazy relative does something to ruin the moment.  We’ve never had that.  I am blessed that my children and new in-laws all get along and truly love each other.   I knew last Christmas would be the beginning of changes of sharing my children with their spouse’s family. That was always part of my Christmas Future vision, that always turned out opaque because I  never knew exactly how it would be.   I just knew it would happen one day so it should not have been a surprise. However, we started a new tradition of ThanksMas and celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas together by exchanging our gifts and making our predictions for the new year.  That memory is permanently etched in my heart.  

So I understand why Mary pondered things and moments in her heart.   None of my children have had to flee for their lives, face angry crowds, experience torture and death.  However, the point of that verse to me is a reminder that we have to store up the happy memories and wrap ourselves in the love those moments create because they will help when we experience bleak days and dark nights.  Be thankful for the moments you have and treasure them in your heart.  The rule of parenting is this – we are supposed to raise our wee babes to go into the world and lead full lives.  Sometimes that means realizing and accepting they leave and begin their own traditions and experience new traditions as they become part of another family.  So this year, while my married children are experiencing doing exactly that, I am thankful for my Iphone that buzzes with little notes or pictures of their moments.  I am thankful they are part of new families that love them too.  I take time in the silence to pray for all of us for the upcoming 2017 and the new adventures it might bring.   I thank God for Christmas past and ponder them in my heart.  

Ghosts of Christmas Pasts

I’m sitting at the computer watching snow on the first day of winter,  Christmas songs filling the room yet the feeling that gnawing pang of loss I always feel this time of year shoves its way into…

Source: Ghosts of Christmas Pasts

Conversations

I am sitting here trying to think of a clever word to describe the relationship I have with my son. Daniel is my first born and only son. Being that special first, he had my undivided attention and believe me, this boy craved every bit of it. I want to say he was the perfect baby because he rarely cried and if he did it was for a good reason. He slept well at night too and right through anything – carpet cleaners, loud voices, tornado sirens. He even reached those milestones early and he was always, always happy. His dimpled smile melts my heart everytime and has gotten him out of trouble so many times. My #1 goal besides raising a godly young man, was to raise a manly man. I made it my mission to not let him become wimpy. When he fell and scraped his knee, I didn’t make a big production over it. We just cleaned up the injury, and I sent him back into play. Daniel was never the little boy you see on TV who promises to marry his mommy someday, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. From day one though, I’d have conversations with Daniel. As a baby, he would carry on a “conversation” of baby babble, but we’d talk about everything from the books I’d read him, what our plans were for the day, just random stuff. I have endless videos of telling him stories or asking him questions or moments of his singing–loudly!

As he became more of his own person, he ventured out into the world of public school. I swore I’d not be that helicopter mom and I wasn’t. We chose to let him fight his own battles and helped guide him in decisions along the way. Sometime during the middle school years, his conversations with me changed unless it revolved around movies or tv shows we had in common. He was pulling away a little as boys this age should. However the one time I had his full attention was breakfast on Saturday mornings. I guess that became our new time to connect. I’d make him pancakes and listen to him talk. I began to see him grow into a fiercely independent, charismatic young man who always had a crew of boys over playing video games. He even took most of this same crew to youth group Sunday night. I know now that he is a person who makes lifelong friendships and commitments.

The day Daniel left for Texas A&M was a conflicting day for me. I was happy he found a place he’d grow to love and call home for the next 4 years. Yet, that one part of my knew he’d not really be “home” much anymore. Yet – this is when his new routine of calling us on what I call The Point A to B call began. I’d get a call from him as he walked across campus to class or while headed home. He still does this today. It was on one of those recent phone calls he told me this past year he was dating a girl named Hillary. He told me they knew each other at A&M and how they had gone to the same church in College Station and they had several mutual friends in common. She had graduated and moved to Dallas where he lived now. When we met her earlier this year, I’m not going to say “I knew” she was the girl for him, but I certainly prayed he wouldn’t mess it up! I just know I liked how they interacted together. I saw a more compassionate side of Daniel come out So when he called me a few months later and told he wanted to marry her, I wasn’t surprised. Now our conversations revolve around guest lists and other wedding plans.

Knowing me,and my propensity to cry at the drop of a hat, you’d think I’d be a soggy mess with The Winter Wedding less than a week away. I mean when Beth was getting married, there were certain songs I just could not listen to. Funny – there seems to be more songs about little girls getting married than little boys. Anyway – I’ve only become misty eyed a few times. The first was then we witnessed the proposal in the mountains of Taos during our family vacation. Daniel had it meticulously planned out and surprised Hillary with a memorable proposal that was more romantic than any Nicholas Sparks novel, I cried not because of the proposal itself or for the selfish idea of “losing my little boy to another woman”, but for the depth of love I was privileged to witness. It was the unfolding of a lifelong prayer right before our eyes. While there may not be many songs for a son getting married, there is always one that makes me smile and tear up -You’ll Be In My Heart by Phil Collins. So come Saturday we witness another lifelong relationship begin.  Will I cry then? Yes lots of happy tears.

It’s All About Relationships

It’s All About Relationships.

It’s All About Relationships

Relationships. This is the latest buzz word buzzing about in education as the magic pill to create successful students. Well duh!  That is or should be at the core of being a teacher. It basically means you have a heart. I had a teacher in 4th grade, Mrs. McCarter, who was terrifying if you got in trouble. She used the McCarter shake where she grabbed your shoulders and shook sense in you. I had a retainer land on my desk during one of her discipline sessions from a girl who chose to lie to her.  Granted, Mrs Mc would not get away with that now a days, but she didn’t have to do it much!  I was always on receiving end of her rib crushing bear hugs and I felt safe there. She was and always will be my favorite teacher and she had heart. She believed in spare the rod spoil the child form of classroom management. One thing for sure, I will never forget her.

So now back to my idea about relationship. Years ago when I began teaching 6th grade students who kept falling TAKS , I decided to get to know them first. Everyone of those kids thought they were dumb because a test proved it in their eyes. Forget the fact they made As and Bs in their classes. My gut told me they needed lots of love and encouragement. If my teaching career is solely measured in test results, I’d be a success because all but one passed with flying colors. One young man said “I really am smart ”  that statement still makes me sad because he was an honor student too. Do relationships matter?  Absolutely. Students need people who genuinely believe in them.

I am sometimes known as the fun teacher, or crazy one. Who knows what else. This year, I  had more graduating seniors stop by to tell me hello, drop off announcements or personally invite me to graduation. This group of once 7th graders have and always will have a special place in my heart.  One young lady asked me to be her Morrie, for her high school English project about a person of influence. She will always be special to me  This group brought fun and laughter almost daily and this group had the Panda boys. This  was a group of 4 boys who had this verbal tag game that if you said panda first to an opponent, they were frozen for a class period.  Kind of like a quick draw with words and images. A Panda attack could be spoken or visual like a picture. I now have a collection of visual pandas ranging from stuffed toys, ceramic ones made in art, my panda hat, and my panda coffee mug. The winner was declared by saying panda in front of a lot of people. Last night, during the Randall High School graduation, the valedictorian, one of my 4 panda boys, officially won as he recalled memorable experiences in his school career and just happened to mention the panda game once played in my classroom.   I know some of the audience was confused, but I was laughing and tearing up at the same time. Do you think there was a connection made with this group?

I don’t know how you can be a good teacher and not have a positive relationship with your students.  I fully believe if you cultivate this, your students will be successful. Yes, I had a few this year who added to my grey hair. They tried to push every button -every day. I had to just stand firm and not let them see me sweat and constantly tell them “no” which was hard because I am convinced I was the only adult who said No and meant it. Maybe some day they will realize I did care for them too. Yet seeing several from the Class of 2015, reminds me of why I became a teacher and why I love my job.  Another way to look at this is what legacy do you want to leave for your students? I read somewhere that J.K. Rowling based Professor Unbridge on a teacher she did not care for. What a way to be remembered! I’ll take my hugs, mugs and pandas any day.   Relationships may be the new magic word in education, but if anyone ever noticed, there are several of us everyday at my school who are living examples of this “radical new idea”.  All I can say is it’s about time the rest of the  education world caught up with us.

This Old House

Do you know how many times the Bible says “suddenly”? I looked it up one time, but one of my favorite verses contains that particular word – suddenly. Isaiah 32:19 states: See! I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. It may not literally say “suddenly” but the implication is there.

Last weekend, we moved, during one of the coldest days of the year, to a townhouse. We had been talking about it for months, but one day, my husband was ready I guess and – boom. I’m packing and getting our former home ready to sell. I keep waiting for the tears to fall. Nothing yet. Oh – I’ve been close a time or too. After all, this was the home our family found restoration and hope after tragedy wreaked havoc upon us. As my oldest daughter put it: It’s where I learned to two step with my dad; read a recipe with mom, how to play pretend with my siblings, and it’s where Chris proposed . Yes -this house had it’s issues – like the time the water tank flooded the house, combined with the toilet flooding all while Kent was out of town. That particular weekend still sticks in my mind as the most dramatic of the house issues. Well – there was the night of the “non-tornado” that launched baseball size hail into our front dining room windows and damaging our roof as well. We still remember seeing the melting hailstones on the dining room floor and the shards of glass leaving a trail all through the house.

This house also has been filled with many, many different sounds. From Halo system links (complete with miles of cord snaking through bedrooms, living room and dining room and 10 or more teenage boys on the other end of the cords), peals of laughter, sometimes tears of frustration, from the girl’s sleepovers. Then there are the sounds of the various musical instruments: baritone, flute, violin, guitar, and the ever present piano. You can’t have the last two instruments without the singing all filling me with awe. These are some of my favorite ones, but my most favorite “sounds” come from the voices of my family having good conversations or playing games around the dining table.

I remember the day Daniel drove off towards Texas A&M the first time and within the hour, my oldest daughter began moving into his old room. By the end of the week, she had painted it a different color altogether. Silly house has had its various other makeovers too. The first significant change was the carpet. It originally had white carpet. I had 3 small children when we moved in and I cringed at the sight of it knowing full well that carpet was doomed. The first week, one of the children came down with a stomach bug and threw up all over the carpet. We could never get the brown stain of chocolate milk out, so strategic furniture placement became the solution till we purchased more kid friendly carpet, then we ditched carpet entirely after the aforementioned shards of glass and went for tile and wood everywhere.

All of that is in the past. We are now trying to settling into new routines, furniture placement, and sleeping patterns. It is a new beginning, but it’s just the first step. The plan is to just stay here a year till we sell the old house and some other work commitments are completed. Who knows. Right now I am content with the wide open field behind us and wonder what other adventures lie before us?

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