During two summers in college, I was on a Totus Tuus team that traveled around my home diocese and ran catechesis for elementary through high school students. When I started, I knew I wanted to share the message of Jesus Christ with the youth of the diocese and I had encountered a zeal in teams from previous years that I desired for myself. By the end of the summer, I knew I had been thoroughly tricked. I wanted to share the Gospel and yet I found a deeper need within myself to encounter the Gospel personally. Returning to college, I told people that Totus Tuus is really about my own personal formation, not primarily about the youth I interacted with at the different parishes. It was a surprise, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Lord would change me despite my desire to be the one provoking change. Continue reading “When the Gift is More for Me Than Others”
I mentally planned for the day. I supplied myself with some resources, I opened pertinent tabs on my computer, and I waited for the moment. Unanticipated, I felt a sick pit grow in my stomach and my heart ached a little at the prospect of what I was to do.
So I started with gauging their prior knowledge, as some teachers are apt to do.
“Have you heard about the sexual abuse scandal in Pennsylvania?” Depending on the class and the age, a few or most heads would nod the affirmative.
“How about Archbishop McCarrick? The papal nuncio Archbishop Vigano?” Fewer heads nodded with each question, a few gesturing with their hands to show that it sounded vaguely familiar.
Then, to the best of my ability, I outlined for them situations that had been unfolding for the last several weeks. I emphasized the lack of clarity and focused on what our bishop is asking from us as a response. In a textbook we use for class, it says, “One of the few things in life that cannot possibly do harm in the end is the honest pursuit of the truth.” And while that doesn’t mean that the truth won’t be painful to uncover, I encouraged them to pray for the truth to be revealed, regardless of the personal cost involved.
As I spoke to them, I felt a certainty in the Church settle into my heart and I felt like an older sister or a mother as I gently explained to them things that pained me. While the circumstances are awful, the Church will endure and new saints will rise up to combat the evils of the present age.
Each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.
Most of the classes listened closely with sad eyes and asked a few questions to understand the situation more. One class reacted with more anger and bitterness. It wasn’t entirely unsurprising because it is a situation where anger is justified. Yet for young people who are initially uncertain about the Church, the blatant hypocrisy of the scandal is too much to take in. I saw the scandal through their eyes and I wanted to cry. My small heart ached and I felt the weight of these sins in a manner that I hadn’t yet permitted myself. Continue reading “In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity”
School has commenced!
In general, teaching can be a bit tiring. However, the first week always feels more exhausting. By the end of the day, I must fight to keep my eyes open and most days this week I’ve surrendered to a nap, at least for a little while.
The swirl of names and faces to remember can be fatigue inducing, but I am glad to be back. I am most looking forward to knowing my students. Getting to know them is nice, but having a relationship built is, in my opinion, better.
A couple of students from last year stopped by earlier in the week. It was refreshing to see familiar faces, to know how to joke with them, and to know a bit about them already. I enjoy seeing them in the hallway as they pass by, recalling random moments from last year as they walk into somebody else’s classroom. Building relationships takes work and time and while I know it is always worth it, I enjoy basking in the beauty of already formed relationships. (A while ago, I wrote about the beauty of “not-new” friends, and I think the mentality applies here, too.)
I am looking forward to seeing what these classes will become, how friendships will unfold, and how we will grow together as we experience things this year. Will the class that worries me be the one that proves the most difficult? Or will another surpass them in ridiculousness? Will we share joys and tragedies together? Will there be good and authentic classroom discussion? Will they trust me and will I trust them? Will we become saints together? Continue reading “Year Seven, Week One, Day Three, Tired”
Whether it is cleaning a room, getting into an exercise routine, or starting a new school year, I’ve discovered that it gets worse before it gets better.
Somehow, I’ve managed to turn a blind eye to the state of my bedroom for the entire summer. I knew it was a mess and yet it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I saw it with the eyes of reality. As I began to move some boxes around and sort through a pile of clothes, I realized that it was getting worse. My attempts to clean were making my room more unlivable. Yet I reminded myself that it needed to get worse so it could get better. It still isn’t great, but my room is looking better, bit by bit.
The same was true a couple of years ago when I picked up running for a while. The first run was tiring as I realized how out of shape I was. Yet the next couple runs were worse as my sore muscles protested being used again so soon. Eventually, though, it did get better. In fact, I ran a 5-mile race and finally understood why runners say they need a few miles to warm up. Having never been a “real” runner, I always thought I should conserve my energy, but as I finished the race, I could feel that I was running far better than the first couple miles. Continue reading “It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better”
A lovely perk of teaching is that most of my work stops in mid to late-May and resumes in early to mid-August. It is a schedule I have held since I was about seven years old when I started school. Since I have never known anything else, I sometimes have to remind myself that this is not the norm.
People frequently ask me what my plans are for the summer. Sometimes they are curious about where I am traveling or what extra activities I will be involved in. Other times, however, I think they are questioning why I am not getting a job for the summer. Isn’t that what adults do? This lingering question is also mixed with the slight jealousy that I have a few months to not work a 9 to 5 job. I wish I had a job like that, I can almost hear them say.
Well, I’ve decided on a newer tactic this year. If people comment on wishing they had the luxurious schedule that I have, I will tell them a little secret: this dream can be yours, too! All you need to do is go to school, get the appropriate degree, and get a job teaching. Last I heard, there wasn’t a surplus of teachers in our state and teaching here doesn’t require advanced degrees.
But, you see, that is the thing–there just might be a reason schools aren’t overflowing with insane numbers of candidates, at least not where I live. I do get a summer to step away from it all, but that is a perk that must be taken with the less preferable parts of the job. I never argue that I have the most difficult or demanding job in the world. I don’t believe that I do. Yet I hear over and over again from various intelligent people, “I could never do your job.” Which I think is slightly exaggerated, but also quite telling. I think many people could do the job I do, it is simply that many don’t want to. Continue reading “In Defense of Summers”
The first blog I started was in the early 2000s. Way back then, I didn’t call it a blog and neither did anyone who read it. It was a very short list of distinguished people who read it, but it was there, a precursor to what I would do here and now.
I was imitating my older sister. She sent emails to her friends about life ponderings that she had during the day. There were religious reflections, philosophical musings, and simply ideas she had as she went about her ordinary high school life. Wanting to be like her, I started my own little email list.
While I don’t remember how many emails I sent out, I do recall one topic. Blue toilet paper. My mother purchased blue toilet paper and, for some reason, this was the thing I felt most compelled to write about. I know that I sent at least two emails about it. The first had an intriguing subject line of “Blue” and the second was titled “Still Blue.” And then, for one reason or another, I stopped sending the emails.
My next foray into the world of writing was in eighth grade. Apparently, my English teacher thought I had something to offer the world and contacted the local editor of the town newspaper. The editor agreed to let me write occasionally for the paper about virtually whatever I wished. I wrote about my sister entering the convent, the death of a classmate, summer church camps, dream jobs, my dad’s retirement, the holocaust of abortion, and my trip to Ireland and Scotland. The writing continued sporadically until my graduation.
In college, I wrote a couple of times for a few different campus publications. I was too busy writing papers to publish many articles just for the enjoyment of it. College also had the knack of tempering my perceived self-importance. I’d been told for years that I had a gift for writing, largely from family and friends who are supposed to say those kinds of things. In college, however, I received authentic criticism from my Honors and English professors.
Admittedly, it took me by surprise. Continue reading “Writing: The Success is in the Offering”
Do you know what it takes to get a compliment from a senior? You keep them after class under the threat of a detention and listen to them try to get out of it.
Some students are just harder to love than others. It isn’t impossible to love them, but the effort that goes into desiring to love them is significantly more. So when a student that fits in this category pushes matters too far, I have to reflect more about the consequences that behavior should incur. Because part of me wants to go all out and give them a harsh consequence. The cumulation of past difficulties with that student or the tension of the particular day must all be weighed to guarantee that the punishment given fits that individual crime.
Yet I’m certain that just as some students are harder by nature to love, some teachers must fall into the same camp. I can definitely acknowledge that I’m not the most loved teacher and I am pretty convinced that I never will be. That doesn’t generally bother me because I’ve experienced life in a rather similar state. High school and college didn’t find me as the most popular person around; therefore, I didn’t expect something magical to happen when I started teaching.
Despite not being the most loved, I do find comfort in being loved by some. As an introvert, that is all I really need anyway–a few people who see under the often reserved exterior. Those glimpses of love and appreciation from students does far more to boost me than they know. At the end of the school year, a student stopped in with a present for me and she thanked me for my patience over the past year. A few students wrote appreciation letters when given the chance for teacher appreciation week. Another student chose to write his own addition to the journal entries I assigned.
That last one perhaps struck me the most. Continue reading “Gratitude Begets Gratitude”
A few days ago, I attended my sixth high school graduation as a teacher. The following day, I attended the first funeral of a former student.
I had wondered before, briefly, at a few sporadic moments, what it would be like to go to the funeral of a former student. Of course, I hoped that it would be several more years before I would find out. At the graduation, I watched the students parade by, diplomas in hand, with an unknown future filled with a thousand moments they couldn’t expect. As a whole, they were excited, ready to leave the halls of their high school and venture into a bigger, bolder world. The next day, I stood before a woman who had crossed that same stage three years earlier, but, too quickly, now rested in a coffin.
My beautiful, wonderful, frustrating, and interesting students have a million possibilities in their lives. Some will go on to achieve great things, things that will cause them to be well-known and highly esteemed. Some will go on to achieve small things, things that will make them loved by a few and yet will impact the world in an authentic way.
And some won’t last very long at all. They get caught up in addiction or depression or violence. It was no secret at the funeral that we shouldn’t be there and that there should be a very different ending to the story that was before us. It was also no secret that drugs were responsible. As I watched her mother in a mournful embrace with her husband, I wanted a picture to show my students. I wanted to tell them, “This is how drugs impact your family. This is what you are doing to your parents.” Continue reading “A Million Possibilities and Infinite Desires”
Small talk isn’t really my thing.
In fact, I have respect for people who have the gift of being able to chat about different things casually. Some of the students I know better are easier to talk to, but I have to force myself to generate conversation with others.
The other day, I asked a student how his snow day was the previous day. His lack of response prompted me to say semi-teasingly, “Come on!” To which he responded with an annoyed, “No.”
Suddenly, frustration and anger filled me. Here I was, making an effort and he couldn’t even give the common courtesy of responding to a non-invasive question. I wasn’t asking him to share the depths of his soul, just to have him share about something from the previous day.
While small talk doesn’t come easily, quick retorts generally do. So I struggled to keep back all of the sharp responses I wanted to give and I forced myself to continue to acknowledge him during the rest of class, even though I childishly wanted to ignore him. I had the desire to demonstrate to him just how rude he was being…by being equally rude myself. You have a question? Too bad, I don’t want to answer you, just like you didn’t want to answer me.
I didn’t do those things, yet I am continually surprised how deeply small-heartedness is ingrained in me. God is justice and mercy, but I naturally favor justice. Old Testament eye-for-an-eye justice. It isn’t what I want to receive, but it is definitely what I want to mete out. Continue reading “When Small-Hearted Meets Magnanimous”
The lesson plan for the day was to discuss the argument from efficient causality. Yet they managed to completely derail that plan. When students ask questions that are about the faith and yet truly interest them, it is nearly impossible for me to continue with class as planned. Interiorly, I am torn between following a schedule or curriculum and the desire to answer questions that organically spring up in their hearts.
Nine times out of ten I go with the questions they present to me. I don’t believe I’ve ever regretted it, I only wish that each class would then magically divert itself in the same way. Genuine curiosity and ponderings aren’t things you can manufacture in other classes.
“So is this argument saying that all things are caused to be by other things? Or it is saying not all things are caused to be by other things?” I asked.
“I have a question that kind of relates but is off topic. If God is caused or even if He isn’t caused, what is the point of life? Like why did God make us? What is our purpose?”
Those questions, dear readers, will definitely sidetrack me. When senior boys are curious about why they were created and the meaning of life, I will dropkick lesson plans to spend time answering some of the biggest questions of life.
This is the class that argued with me about gravity objectively existing. The day before this class, instead of working on an assignment they chose to ask me a thousand inane questions about my car, my hometown, and where my parents live. So hearing one student start a conversation about the purpose of their lives and why God made them, and then hearing several other students jump in with follow-up questions, was a pure delight. The only problem was the lack of time before the bell would ring.
To begin to answer their questions, I went back to the beginning. The Trinity. I spoke of how the Father and Son pour out a love that is so strong that it is another person, the Holy Spirit. Within this communion of love, there is nothing that is lacking. God was perfectly satisfied within this exchange of love. Therefore, we are not needed. God didn’t need us. Continue reading “The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions”