March 17, 2016

New Opportunities

Happy Thursday! It is a beautiful day here in sunny and warm Phoenix. I woke up this morning, thankful for the day, despite having another sinus headache. Yes, the trees are in full bloom and that means that spring allergies are in high gear again. I took some Sudafed this morning when I first got out of bed so hopefully the pain will subside soon. Until then, I am sitting at my computer with my boys,  blogging and drinking my coffee. It is a good, good day.

Several things have come to mind over the past couple days. The first thing is the realization that what has been happening to me, e.g., work, is simply a reminder that I am in the midst of change and that this particular "change" is not going to be easy. Second, I realized that despite what has happened to me (again regarding my work), I am still convinced, utterly convinced that is, that I am a good teacher. Yes, even when I doubt myself or when I experience disruption like I did on Monday, I find that I still leave my classes thinking "I am good at this. I am really good at teaching." Last, as I struggled a bit to process this all, I reminded myself that the next steps the Lord has in mind for me, that the plan the Lord has for me, does include a good full-time teaching job. 

In fact, on Tuesday I applied for another online position. It was part-time, temporary work, but it was through a very prestigious university. The position is working with gifted middle through high school students in a college preparatory program. The whole idea excited me, and after reading through the qualifications of the position and such, I decided to apply. I received two emails from them, one just saying my application was submitted, and the other telling me that my application was complete and was being sent on to the hiring manager. I took that second email as a positive indicator that I might be in the right place, at the least for right now. If this position came to pass, it would mean some summer work, and that would be super wonderful -- a real blessing. If, however, it doesn't then I know I am still in the waiting pattern, the watching and waiting pattern while I hold out for that "perfect job." By perfect, I mean the job of His choosing, the position the Lord has for me to step into next. No job is perfect, but the Father's will and His way are always seeking and serving my good. Thus, His choice in a job will be perfect in that sense. It will meet my needs sufficiently and it will serve His purpose in and through my life. Selah!

I am starting to think positively about this particular position. I never considered doing this type of work, and I love the idea of working with younger students. I don't know how to do this work, per se, but I think the process of learning how to develop curriculum for younger students would be really, really exciting. My hope is that the position comes to pass, but I am letting my hand remain open should this be His provision for summer only. I know what I would like to come to pass, but I would rather have His best rather than my flawed attempt at a less-than-best solution.


Learning Through Experience

I am one of those people who learns best through experience. I need to "try" things out in order to see how effective my decisions are and how well my approach works. I learn through trial and error so for me to make mistakes, while I hate that feeling of messing up, actually does work to my advantage in the long run. I also learn through reflection. I am able to reflect on my experiences, to consider them, and then to review the entire process to see whether or not objectives were met. Perhaps it is just my analytical brain at work, but for me, this process of evaluation and review works well. I feel better after I have had time to sit and think about a particular experience. The time between event and reflection often affords the sharpest vision, in my view. I guess you could say that I am not a strategic participant when I have to be "in the moment." I do not always "think on my feet," and I would prefer to be able to reflect for at least a day or two before I have to give an answer. However, when push comes to shove, I will do my best and think out loud, but rarely do I enjoy that process. No, for me, solitude and writing afford me the time I need to process events and experiences. Thus, writing out my feelings on this blog helps me to learn about myself. It also helps me to understand my world, my little slice of the pie, so to speak. In this way, I feel that I can understand the world and my part in it with more clarity and focus and determination.

A Case in Point

One of the roles I perform in addition to teaching is to be a peer reviewer for Faculty Development and Training. I applied to be a part-time reviewer last year, and since then, I have had the opportunity to review adjunct faculty. The whole process of reviewing adjunct instructors seemed like something fun to do, and since I started, I have enjoyed both the reviewing assignments as well as the faculty norming sessions (training) to help equip me to be a better and more consistent reviewer.

Today was our Spring norming session. I attended remotely (thankfully) so I didn't have to drive over to campus on my day off. The norming session was typical, but one of the things I realized as I was interacting online was how much I actually "knew" about the whole process -- not just the review process -- but the teaching process. I was so surprised that I thought, "I really do know how to teach!" As weird as that seems, it is reasonable to think this way. I mean, I spent the majority of my life working in jobs where I didn't think I was teaching anyone anything. I always saw myself as a worker, a producer, as someone who was given tasks to complete and someone who completed them. Additionally, when I transitioned into teaching back in Summer of 2013, I found the whole process to be a mystery. I didn't understand classroom assessments and standards or how to engage students in activities. I didn't get the whole "classroom strategy bit" needed to create a successful learning environment. It took time, and through my trusty, "trial and error" approach, I have learned what works best in my specific classes. I am still learning, but overtime, I have come to adapt my strategies to create environments that seem to promote learning, at the least, in the way that matters to me. I have more study to do, more learning experiences to review, but in general, I feel pretty comfortable with the way I teach students.

The funny thing is this -- as I was reflecting on this experience today -- I realized (TA-DUM!) that I have been actively teaching for my entire life. It is true. I mean, from the time I was in 6th grade, I was volunteering in lower elementary classrooms. In middle school, I worked with developmentally disadvantaged children. In high school, I taught Sunday school to 1-3rd grade students. In college, I was involved in Sunday School, VBS, day camps, etc. for kids in 1-6th grades. Later in life, I served in Children's ministry and in Awana. Moreover, I was a home educator for six years, from 2004-2010. Furthermore, professionally, I taught employees and clients how to use technology (computers and software). From 1984 onward, part of every job I held involved training adults in how to do their job. In all, I can say that for the past 40 years, teaching students, whether they were children, teens or adults, has been a very BIG part of my life. I guess I never realized just how influential teaching has been until this week. I mean, this week, in particular, my life has zoomed into focus, and I have realized just how much the Lord has intervened to put me right where He intends for me to stay.

Teaching as a Lifestyle

British philosopher and educationalist, Charlotte Mason, is oft-quoted as saying, "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life." Her famous axiom rings true when you understand the underlying assumption. We become teachers the moment we have children. The whole art of teaching is really the art of raising children. Children are given to us by God as little bundles of sweetness. As Christian parents, we are tasked with the important responsibility of raising God-honoring children. We begin this process from the moment they arrive, and we don't stop "teaching" until well, we know that they are well on their way to living as fully functional adults. In the interim, we teach them everything they need to know how to survive in the world as well as everything they need to know about God, His Word, and His plan for His creation. We teach whether we actively consider it or not. Our behavior is modeled. Our speech is mimicked. Our character, hopefully, is something admired and appreciated. Our children become our students and our home is our classroom. Teaching children is a natural thing, something we all do and something with which we can all improve upon.

However, in this world, we relinquish our rights to teach our children outside the home by thinking that professionals can do a better job. We believe, erroneously, that professional educators are better trained, equipped and prepared to teach our children so we give up our responsibility and let others lead our children where, often, we do not want them to go. In truth, Christian parents should never let go of their responsibility for teaching their children because it is a God-given task assigned only to them. Many Christian parents believe the way to control their children's education is to teach them at home. This is the route I took, but not right away, not at first. I believed that I couldn't teach at home. I believed I couldn't teach well enough so I abdicated that job to the public school system, and as a result, my child suffered the consequences. Thankfully, midway in his schooling, the Lord pressed upon my heart to teach him at home, and well, the rest is history.

Still, as I think about this idea of teaching as a lifestyle, I realize how easy teaching can be -- that is -- if you are willing to be both student and teacher. I mean, as a teacher (formally), I am always in "learning" mode. I teach my students what I know, but to keep up with the demands of their educational needs, I must constantly be learning more, adapting, restructuring, etc. I must make teaching my lifestyle so that everything I do is about learning new things. This is what I feel the Lord has placed on my heart of late, and this is why I think I have come to see teaching through a different set of eyes. Yes, I see teaching now as a God-honoring profession, as a way to impact the lives of individuals for the glory of God, the Kingdom, and for Jesus' sake. I see teaching as a way to be influential, to help students overcome obstacles in their lives -- not just academically -- but spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I am blessed to be an active part in the lives of people of all ages, from small children to aging adults. As a teacher, I have been tasked with the responsibility to teach my students how to write well, how to think critically, and how to adapt to the changing culture. More so, I am tasked with the secondary responsibility to mentor, to equip, and to prepare them for life outside the classroom. I take both responsibilities seriously, and I approach the job with a focus that sees each as uniquely gifted and divinely appointed (as in appointed to be in my class each semester). My goal, thus, is to build up my students, to help them come to see three things:
  • God is good
  • God has a unique and wonderful plan for their life
  • God has a calling for them that is specific and designed specifically for His purpose
My job, therefore, is to help my students understand that God wants to be personally involved in their lives, to be personally invested in every decision they make, in every class they take, and in every assignment they tackle. God wants them to know Him personally, and as such, my whole classroom becomes an object lesson that takes the student through a process whereby they see the value of a Christian education, they see the importance of taking their Christian worldview into the world, and they grasp the significance of fulfilling their God appointed purpose in this life. Yes, this is my job as a teacher. This is what I do each and every day that the Lord gives me. 

Finding Joy in What I Do

Just the other day, I contemplated switching careers again. I had some fleeting moments when I thought, "Perhaps it would be best for me to do something different." I gave into those thoughts, even pursued them briefly, but only so far as to the moment when I realized that there is no other job I want to do in this life. I came face-to-face with the realization that this is what I am meant to do -- this is HIS WILL FOR ME and for MY LIFE.

As weird as that may sound, it has taken me years to come to grips with the job the Lord has for me to do. In all my previous employment, I never once felt like I was doing the "right thing." No, I did a lot of meaningful and good jobs, but none of them "fit me." None of them made me happy, satisfied, completely and honestly fulfilled. Not until I started teaching full-time (well, as adjunct full-time). I can say that teaching is the most difficult job I have ever done, but it is the most rewarding one as well. Furthermore, teaching is the one job that I love to do. I struggle, for sure. There are times when I absolutely feel like a huge failure, but still I wouldn't want to do anything else. In fact, I was just praying about this the other day, and I said to the Lord, "Lord, I don't want to do anything else. There is no other job I want to do."

I guess you could say that I have found my "sweet spot," that place where I feel 100% comfortable, and where I want to spend the rest of my life. I am absolutely in love with my job -- even when it is not great, and yes -- even when there are icky moments like on Monday. This is the job I want to do. This is the only job I see myself doing for the next twenty years. I want to be actively involved in teaching students, whether children or teens, or even adult learners (as the Lord leads and guides). I want to teach whatever subject the Lord suggests, and I want to teach at whatever school deems me fit for hire. I pray that I get to remain in a Christian school, but if I have to teach in a secular environment, then I pray that the Lord picks the best secular school for me. I trust Him. He knows me well, and He knows what and where He wants to plant me.

I am happy, and I am content today. I know that my life will be just as it is from now on. I will work professionally and ministerially as a teacher. I will work until I can retire, and then I will do something different. When I retire, I will work in full-time ministry until I am ready to really RETIRE. Until then, I will work heartily as unto the Lord, and I will turn all my efforts heavenward so that He receives all the praise, the honor, and the glory. So be it, thy will be done!


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