On Research and Being Petty

I can say with certainty that emotionally abusive teachers exist. I have met a few both while I was a student and in the time I’ve been a teacher.

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/what-neuroscience-reveals-bullying-by-educators-jennifer-fraser

However, the legislation that the author of this article is calling for is unrealistic. How can we legislate guidelines of what is and is not considered emotional abuse? Emotional abuse occurs when a powerful person is doing something to cause persistent negative emotions in a weaker person.

So, imagine a teacher who consistently degrades his students as being lazy and stupid. He prefaces every lesson by saying that he knows no one will understand because they were all too lazy to read the chapter last night. He begins every test by saying that he knows everyone will fail because they are just too stupid even to take the test. All of the students hate this teacher and agree he is an awful person. Some of the students believe this teacher and consider themselves to be lazy and stupid. However, some students are resilient enough to prove this teacher wrong. The first group will fail the class. The second group will pass the class. The second group will still have lasting emotional scars from this teacher, but would anyone accuse the teacher of being emotionally abusive to the second group? If he were taken to court, how extensive would his charge and sentencing be? Would the court accuse him of abusing the whole class, or just the students who failed the class? Just the students who showed signs of depression, anxiety, and low self-image?

This is only one perfectly crafted situation that could arise from such legislation, but I can think of many other ways for this legislation to fail our students. Primarily, I believe the good, caring teachers would become afraid to show any sort of disappointment in students’ actual failings. And when good, caring teachers show students that they care about students’ successes and failures, students thrive! What this author really wants to legislate is the extent of care a teacher has for students. Teachers who do not care about their students will be emotionally abusive. And they may never even know it! But teachers who care about their students will build strong character and instill good citizenship.

Legislators who want to tell me how much I can or must care about my students will make me leave the profession.

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On “Skeleton Bones” and Corporate Worship

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John Mark McMillan has a worship song that includes the words “peel back my ribs again and stand inside of my chest.” I know that McMillan intends for us to sing “Jesus, fill my heart with your spirit, again,” but that is not the image I see. I first encountered this song at a chapel worship service at my Christian university. The song opens with the “peel my ribs back” bit. I immediately pictured myself lying dead on the floor with a large man standing inside of my bloody, gutted chest. I choked on my words and almost fell over. Who would write a worship song like this?

Doing a quick Google search, I found Mr. McMillan’s blog, and he has a post about this song Skeleton Bones in which his father breaks down the song to give scripture references to some of the lyrics. Of the lyric I am questioning, he says: “‘Peel back our ribs’, a heart cry for intimacy, describes accurately the act of God in Genesis when He operated on Adam, peeled back a rib, and made a woman from it (Genesis 2:21-23). How could Adam not love her. She came from him (Adam), and Him (the Lord).”

Again, I understand the metaphor Mr. McMillan was aiming for, that our relationship with God should be intimate. But worship does not need metaphors. The Bible tells us to “worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). From where I’m standing, metaphors about disembowelment are not truth, nor are they ideas our spirits really need to dwell on. Metaphors inherently allow for interpretation. That is why they are prized in art. However, this also means that do not always convey truth. Translating scripture into metaphor is part of how we can understand God, but expecting the metaphor to translate into scripture again (when someone hears the song) is unrealistic.

Note: I do agree that John Mark McMillan has every right to declare his love for God and his beliefs however he chooses. The scripture references Robin McMillan provides for the song do help me understand the origin of the song, and I do appreciate the message it speaks.

I just finished reading an article from worshiplife.com that describes the reasons many Christians are no longer participating in worship services. The author pointed out something I’d never really considered before. Worship in the church is a corporate act of worship. When we go to church, we go to worship God to strengthen our personal relationships with Him. More than that though, we go to worship God with the support and shared beliefs of other Christians. I thought about this for a bit and realized that many songs I’ve sung in church were songs that most people could not participate in, for many reasons. And I thought about the songs I’ve heard in church that simply did not help me worship God. “Skeleton Bones” was one of the first songs I thought of.

Please understand that I am not saying worship leaders have to please everyone in the church. Of course that is impossible. Not only that, but that fully defeats the purpose of coming to church to worship. Again, John 4:24, “For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” I’ve always believed music to have spirit, in that music is an interpretation of human spirits and God’s spirit. For that reason, music is to be chosen carefully, the way friends are chosen with care.

That being said, I think John Mark McMillan’s songs are excellent for individuals who understand God and worship God in similar ways as Mr. McMillan. However, the fact that he felt the need to ask someone to detangle the theology of his song, shows me that many people feel the same way as I. This song, like many others, is not for corporate worship. It is a truthful song, in its own way, but the spirit of the song does not resonate well with people. In fact, some of us will say that the spirit of the song clashes with our beliefs of God. Take care then, with songs for worship.

I realize I have am treading on eggshells here. I do not intend to be cruel or hurtful. I simply want to share something that has affected me deeply. Reading the comments of the WorshipLife article I referenced, I know that other people are struggling to find a place to worship “in spirit and in truth” as well.
How do you like to worship, and why? What experiences with church worship have you had? Please feel free to share in the comments, and help me better understand this important topic.

On Reluctant Birds and the Always Something

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This summer (and last) we have had a family of robins nest on the drainpipe in our front yard.

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This year, there were three baby robins. Two babies flew away a few days ago, but the third has been hanging around in the nest. Today, though, we found him perched in our front hedges! He seemed a bit surprised to see me, my mom, and my brother standing around staring at him, but he never moved from his perch. So, I grabbed my camera and took some pictures of this fearless little guy.

Here he is!

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Isn’t he dashing? His little eye tufts and barely-orange-belly charmed me from the beginning.

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He watched me the whole time.

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I was a little afraid to get too close to him with my darling Canon 60D, but I have yet to splurge on a second lens. Right now, I can only really get any decent zoom by moving closer. Finally, I decided my little friend was being patient enough with me and the noisy shutter that I could really get close if I wanted to.

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And even closer! Look at that pose.

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I truly enjoyed taking pictures of this little bird. It was a cloudy day, so the lighting wasn’t fantastic, but I didn’t edit any of these photos. I usually hate editing photos. I don’t really mind the process, as I want to make sure everything is just right! But I find something inherently disappointing in changing the original image. I want to use my resources to make the picture beautiful on the first try. I was pleased with the rich colors I got today. (Although, that second-to-last picture is rather over-saturated.) I think part of this stems from my original training in black & white film photography. With film, you only make changes to the original image if you did something wrong while taking the picture. Even then, the changes are pretty minor – increasing or decreasing the exposure of light to the photo paper, dodging, burning, or cropping the image. In truth, though, I hate change. Just like this little bird is being slow to leave home, I want things to stay the same. If things are perfect from the beginning, nothing should have to change, right? But, as my grandmother likes to say, “there’s always something.” For this bird, he has to learn to fly and take care of himself. That’s something. For me, I’ll be living on my own soon, too. That’s something. I’ll have new people to meet at work – teachers, administrators, and students. That’s something. If there’s anything I can keep from changing, then so be it. Today, that unchanged something will be these photos. This enjoyable encounter will always look the way I remember it, nothing more and nothing less. Good luck to all of you on the changes you face every day, too!

 

On Sowing and Reaping

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Two more weeks.

That’s how much longer I will be teaching during the 2013-2014 school year. So far, I’ve done it! I have two more weeks, but I’ve done it! It hasn’t been perfect. It hasn’t even always been my “best,” but it has been accomplished. I will continue to pour my whole self into these next few days, but I know that I can’t do much more for my students right now. I have to trust God that I have done all I can and He will do the rest.

Galatians 6:9 – Do not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Last week, my team received the results of our third graders’ state reading test. An Unsatisfactory score will result in retention this year (unless the student can meet certain exemptions). For some of my students, I am seeing the harvest I planted at the beginning of the year. For others, I see nothing yet to reap. I see the patches I did not properly tend and nurture, and sadness and regret fills my heart. Yet, God has promised me that there will be a harvest. His only condition is that I do not stop working. There are students I will see again next year. For now, they need to know what they can do alone, but next year they will need my help and encouragement more than ever. I’ve always believed in retention when necessary. However, I know it can go horribly wrong, too. This is where I choose to appropriate God’s promise that “we will reap a harvest.” It is my goal to work every day in His name and for the benefit of these students.

May God bless and strengthen all of the teachers who are working with (and around and against) this new third grade retention law. May God encourage and nurture the students who have been retained because of this law. May the Holy Spirit fill our state with the understanding to best help our students at all levels. – Amen

 

On the Common Core and the Government Machine

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Today, my intention is to write my lesson plans for the upcoming week. This will be our last week before my third grade class takes the state reading exam, a test that in my state can determine the students’ grade-level placement. Therefore, this is my last week to help the kiddos out. I want to get it right. But do you know what I did this morning? I watched HSLDA’s documentary Building the Machine, a 40-minute video available for free.

I was incensed. I’ve known forever that national standards (or, worse, a national curriculum) would be devastating to this country and everything we stand for. These standards take away each state’s constitutional right to direct education as their citizens see fit. I’ve also known that the Common Core standards were written and approved with virtually no input or approval from educators, educational researchers, parents, and state legislatures. I did not know, however, that this entire movement has been funded by big businesses and special interest groups, specifically the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. These standards aren’t for students. These standards are a tool for the government and corporations to build a money-making, power-hogging machine.

But I have work to do. It needs to be done today so I can be ready for next week. Just as I’m opening my laptop to begin sorting my documents I see this internet page I left open. I begin reading. It’s what took me to the documentary in the first place. It then points me to a PDF file of facts compiled by Sandra Stotsky, a woman who helped create the CCSS and refused to approve them. Download the file. Read them. Read all the way down to #15 and read the flaws that are included, and approved, in the CCSS. This is what 45 states have signed their students up for? No wonder so many states are now scrambling to get out of their agreements. (I’ll give you two sources this time – here and here.)

States, including my own, are fighting back, but it seems too late. The federal government has shoved its way into local education using lies and bribery. How am I supposed to teach 23 students knowing that I am a part of the problem?

I am one of the inexperienced educators who said, “Yeah, maybe the CCSS aren’t perfect, but they’re better than what we’ve got. It’s time for a change!”

Do you know what I got for my naïveté and impertinence? I got developmentally inappropriate standards. I got promises for more tests, more regulations, and more programs that my district would be incapable of properly funding. I got third graders who are terrified of coming to school next week.

Everything I learned in college about educational research, theory, and practice has been thrown out the window because of this bit of legislation. Jean Piaget’s extensive research on children’s cognitive development was a massive breakthrough for education. He described a child’s transition from operational and concrete thinking to abstract thinking. Do you know what third graders are naturally incapable of doing? Thinking abstractly. Do you know what CCSS is forcing on third graders? Abstract thinking. Guess what happens when kids can’t communicate abstract reasoning in a CCSS environment? They fail, all of them. Students progressing at a developmentally acceptable rate are being identified as “slow learners” because of developmentally inappropriate standards. This can’t possibly help us “compete” on a national level! And that is the biggest lie of the Common Core State Standards. Watch this video of child psychologist Dr. Megan Koschnick describing exactly what I mean. Then, if you’d like a few more examples of relevant and significant educational research, check out these names: Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner, and Benjamin Bloom just to name a few. The research of these three gentlemen and J. Piaget have stood the test of time. Vygotsky and Bruner both disagreed with Piaget, but nobody has been able to say that any of them are wrong. Children’s learning and cognitive abilities progress over time from a self-centered/concrete worldview to an empathic/abstract understanding. One thing they all agreed about: Nothing can force a child to move from one stage to another or to grasp a concept that the child is developmentally incapable of understanding. Vygotsky, Bruner, and Bloom each described ways of assisting children through their cognitive development (Vygotsky – Zone of Proximal Development or scaffolding; Bruner – spiral curriculum; Bloom – Taxonomy of Learning Domains), but they insisted that the child had to set the pace. The CCSS’s “high standards” are completely irrelevant in the face of a child’s cognitive abilities and development.

So, this is me. A teacher struggling through her first year but still seeking every possible success. I cherish my students. I love it when they love learning. I hate that I have to tell them to do something they shouldn’t have to do and then watch them fail. That makes me furious. I feel like overturning some tables the way Jesus did in the temple (Matthew 21:12-17 & John 2:13-22). I know I have some letter writing to do. Who else will be passionately demanding a change?

On the First of April

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Ode to the Military Child

“Guess what, Teacher?”

“I’m not moving after all!”

Instantaneous thoughts
Pull every scenario possible
Into my mind:
     How wonderful!
     But I had already
          prepared myself
          to be sad.
     Your friends will be
          so glad!
     We really don’t need
          the desk that
          badly, do we?
     I’d hoped to keep this one!

“April Fool’s!”

Sudden heartbreak
Makes my face fall again.
     That wasn’t funny.
          Not one
          little bit.

“I’m going to miss you,
Teacher.”

Automatically, but sincerely,
My lips begin to smile.
“I’ll miss you, too.”

 

Happy April Fool’s Day! Happy Poetry Month! And Happy Military Child Month!

The above poem is a nearly word-for-word conversation I had with a student this morning. This student moved into my classroom in November when her father was to be stationed in our state. About 6 weeks ago, her family learned that her father’s orders had been changed and they would have to move back to their last base. Frustratingly, we weren’t sure when they would need to return. Tomorrow, though, really will be her last day in my classroom after no more than 4 months here. Her house is all packed up, and as sad as she is to leave, she doesn’t like living in a packed up house, either!

The kids in my classroom may never see a war zone or participate in battle, but they live through their own struggles and anxieties every day. These kids are so brave, and they don’t even know that they need to be.

 

Confessions of a First Year Teacher

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I know that teachers are supposed to start their blogs in August and September, not March. In my school district, we are nearing the end of our third quarter. I did want to start a teacher blog. I’d hoped to write about the funny and endearing things my students did. I wanted to share my creative lesson plans and activities. I intended to posit thoughtful gems about human nature and education in general. But none of that happened.

What did happen?

Life fish-slapped me upside the head.

The only things I anticipated about teaching were classroom management difficulties and the long hours of lesson planning and grading. I knew about them ahead of time, so did I prepare for them ahead of time? Not so much.

For one thing, my philosophy of student-centered discipline does not fit into my school’s teacher/reward-driven discipline policy. Therefore, I wasn’t sure exactly how to start the school year. How do I relay my expectations to students who expect a treat or sticker for every action? I didn’t know, so I barely tried. This mistake has had me and my students experiencing excessive frustrations all year.

Secondly, lesson planning and grading, well, it takes practice is all I can say. More than I’ve had, apparently.

But you know what really got me? The one thing I never considered a possibility?

A daily feeling of failure.

I am terrified of failure. Therefore, I cannot help but set high expectations for myself. I rarely meet my personal expectations in a given day. However, I’ve only ever been fully responsible for my personal expectations. Now, I must meet the expectations of 22 third graders. I have to meet their needs. I have to make them feel loved, accepted, and worthy. And I must do this five days a week. It is an impossible task. In my heart of hearts, I know that it is impossible, and I know that if I expect to be everything to every student then failure is my only possible outcome. But what will my life become if I fail? I cannot allow it.

So, back in August when I started teaching, I wanted to blog about my teaching, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I had no desire to write about my fears and failures. Today, I am writing the blog only because fear is my last driving force. In one month, my students will take their first standardized, high-stakes test. Failure is not an option. I have to support them because I refuse to be the reason one of them fails. My students do not deserve a teacher who fails, and my students do not deserve to fail.

On Cups of Kindness and Forgotten Acquaintances

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Oh my goodness! It’s the last day of 2012! And I have blogged a grand total of 13 times this year. I suppose I could round it off to a nice even 14, how’s that? So, I have decided to share with you 5 important things I learned this year. Please note that they are listed in no particular order except what comes into my brain first.

1. Our beautiful world still exists! I know some people will disagree on the actual amount of beauty in our world, how our world was created, how/when it will be destroyed, and how to take care of it, but that is not the point. God created this world to be a home and provider for His children, and He intends for us to stay here for now. I think we all learned a valuable lesson about Matthew 24:32 – 36 on December 21 – don’t you?

2. Apologies are hard. I certainly do not have all the answers for this one. However, I have also learned that forgiveness is even harder. I would greatly appreciate any advice on the subject.

3. Tragedy happens. We cannot explain it away. We cannot make legislation against it. We cannot stop it. On December 14th our nation mourned for the children of Sandy Hook, Connecticut, but we could not save them. This story shook me to the core, but it reminded me of something that occurred thousands of years ago. Matthew 2:13 – 18 tells how King Herod killed all the baby boys in and around Bethlehem in his mad desire to murder Jesus Christ. Verse 18 says “A cry was heard in Ramah – weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.” I know the families in Sandy Hook felt just this way, and I heard many people asking “Why didn’t God keep this from happening?” Well, I don’t know why. I don’t why He decided to save just Jesus, either, instead of all the children. God is our provider and protector, our fortress and strength, but He has given all people the free will to do as they please. Evil exists in our world not because God allows it to happen, but because Satan has a stronghold in the hearts of God’s people. Therefore, I know that I can only face the tragedies in my life and seek God’s peace.

4. Life is easier when you shut up. Try it. It really works! Sometimes your outrage is so all-consuming that you simply have to say something! But I promise that you never say the right thing when you are angry. I, personally, seem to always say the wrong thing, but it’s worse when I am angry.

5. Murphy’s Law is especially true when it comes to toes. If there is something around for me to run into or trip over, then I probably will. And my toes will take the brunt of it. This is hugely disappointing (and painful) for a dancer. Ouch.

I hope you have enjoyed this short, sporadic jaunt into my history. I can assure you that it is in no way complete, but I simply cannot remember the complete history of my life. This is why my blog ought to be higher on my list of priorities, wouldn’t you say? Since I never make New Year’s Resolutions, though, I will simply try to post here more often.

Happy New Year!

On a Rant about the Electoral College

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It has been five days since the presidential election, and I have to say that I am still rather sore about anything that says “vote” or “election.” If I’m going to let this out, then I certainly have no hope of keeping my politics (what little I have) a secret, so we’re just going to head full force into this train wreck.

This year marked the first year I was eligible to vote in a presidential election. I was so excited that I even dashed around my college town trying to find a notary public in the 45 minutes I have for a plan period. (Let’s just say that God blessed me by keeping the cops on the other side of town that day.) I really was disappointed that I had to vote absentee and wouldn’t be able to actually show up at the polls, but I wanted my opinions to be important to my country, so I was content to mail them. And mail them I did! During the previous election, a mere four months shy of eligibility, I had felt so powerless and insignificant that I was determined not to let that happen again.

The silly thing is: I don’t know if my vote actually counted. Sure, my party won in my county, and my party won in my state, but does that mean I actually helped? My state has voted red since 1968, and this year marks the fourth election that all counties have voted Republican. So, really, I’m following the norm. Logically, I know that my vote counted toward the local elections and state questions, but the box I was so excited to mark? I don’t know. Because you would think that if a state voted unanimously for one candidate, that it would affect a large part of the election. Except that my state didn’t. Seven electoral votes don’t go very far when the election is won by 126 votes. Seven electoral votes barely make a drop in the bucket when other states have 29 and 55 votes. If we were talking ages, how many people would raise their hand and say that a 7-year-old is wiser and more knowledgeable than a 55-year-old? Yes, my state is small, but it is not worthless. 24 out of 50 states voted Republican, and considering that Florida’s popular vote was determined by 0.9%, that seems to me like a fairly even race. When everyone was predicting that the election would come down to 29 electoral votes, that seems like a pretty huge discrepancy. Barack Obama received 61,907,639 popular votes, and Mitt Romney received 58,648,640 popular votes. Clearly, Obama won the race, but with a difference of only 3,258,999 popular votes – a percentage difference of 0.02704% – there is something wrong with the electoral votes.

“The founding fathers established [the Electoral College] in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens.” Or, as I have always understood, the founding fathers believed that most of the nation’s original citizens were uninformed and uneducated; therefore, they were unable to rationally elect a leader without some help. Surely that is not the case any longer? Additionally, the founding fathers were afraid of a monarchy or an oligarchy, and that is why our country was developed as a democratic republic. I’d say they did a pretty good job of preventing such a thing. Now, every citizen in our country 18 years or older has the right to vote. However, many people don’t vote because of the Electoral College. In my Republican state, Republicans do not vote because they know that the Republican candidate will win. In my Republican state, Democrats do not vote because they know that the Republican candidate will win. Then, when the election results are posted, and everyone can see how insignificant 7 electoral votes really are, we just shake our heads and hope that the bigger states knew what they were doing. How worthless must our citizens feel before we make a change to our Constitution? “The presidential election is held every four years on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. You help choose your state’s electors when you vote for President because when you vote for your candidate you are actually voting for your candidate’s electors.” That direct quote from the U.S. Electoral College’s website does not sound very democratic to me. Here’s another quote, this one from their FAQ page: “What proposals have been made to change the Electoral College system? Reference sources indicate that over the past 200 years, over 700 proposals have been introduced in Congress to reform or eliminate the Electoral College. There have been more proposals for Constitutional amendments on changing the Electoral College than on any other subject. The American Bar Association has criticized the Electoral College as ‘archaic’ and ‘ambiguous’ and its polling showed 69 percent of lawyers favored abolishing it in 1987. But surveys of political scientists have supported continuation of the Electoral College. Public opinion polls have shown Americans favored abolishing it by majorities of 58 percent in 1967; 81 percent in 1968; and 75 percent in 1981.”

The Electoral College is supposed to reflect the views of the people of the nation, but this nation is finally at a point where the people would be better served if they could declare their own views. We would see more people at the polls and more people with a political and social investment in each election rather than a people sitting around with their fingers crossed.

Quotations taken from the website of the U.S. Electoral College.

http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/about.html

http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/faq.html#changes

On Patience and Forgiveness

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Today, I completed one of the hardest tasks I have experienced in a long time. This task was more difficult than corralling preschoolers in a ballet class. This task was more draining than cooking lunch over a camp fire for 12 campers. This task was more humbling than totaling a sedan. But it was also more rewarding than acing all of my finals. This morning I sat in front of my class of 22 third graders and apologized for my behavior.

I know you are shaking your head at me, so please let me explain. Before I became a teacher, I never imagined that I would become frustrated with my students. It’s not that I am a particularly peaceful person because, in fact, I can have an incredibly short temper. However, I have never lost my temper with anyone but my own family. I don’t know why this made me think I understood how to be patient, but I did. So, this week, when my students would not pay attention or settle down to learn, I became frustrated and did not know how to let go of that frustration. I began snapping at students and aggressively taking away privileges and rewards. I suppose I had hoped to scare the students into obedience, but it only made them more wild and rebellious. Yesterday after school, I was so embarrassed and disappointed in myself that I really had no idea what to do. I wanted the last day of the week to be better, but I wasn’t sure how to make certain that I could maintain civility. All I could think to do was pray.

I prayed that God would give me peace, comfort, and strength. I prayed that He would help my students to stay calm and obedient throughout the day. I prayed that my discipline techniques would work. I prayed to find patience anywhere deep inside me. I prayed, but I still didn’t feel much better. I went to bed and cried out of desperation. After a while, I began to think of my students and the arguments they have. “How many times,” I said to myself, “have you told them simply to apologize? Even if it was just an accident, apologize.” That was when I knew God had given me my answer. I had hurt and offended my students. The only way for me to fix that and teach them courtesy and forgiveness was to humble myself and apologize.

I am not proud to say that apologies have never been easy for me. I agonized all night and all morning about the task before me. When students began arriving, I wasn’t sure that today would actually be any different than the rest of the week. I was so afraid, and I don’t really know why. Finally, though, it was time for our morning meeting. So, I apologized. I asked my students to forgive me for becoming upset with them and treating them badly. I nearly wept, I was so ashamed. Then, a little girl raised her hand. “Will you forgive me for being disobedient yesterday?” Several other students asked me similar questions, and all I could do was nod my head. “Yes,” I said, holding back my tears. “I forgive you.”

I hope my students learned something today about making apologies and asking forgiveness. We certainly had a much better day. Whatever they learned, though, I know I learned more about patience and forgiveness in those few minutes than I have in 21 years of living.

Have a blessed weekend.