Saturday, September 26, 2015

When Everyone Gets Picked

Something so awesome happened in my classroom this month. I really can't take credit for it, since I didn't really have all that much to do with it. It was one of those golden moments of teaching when you realize that kids have so much more to offer than we give them credit for.

We do this project at Timothy in second grade where the kids make a model of a community. We look into the differences and similarities between places that are rural, urban, and suburban. The kids bring in recycled materials to think up and build their own skyscrapers, subdivisions, and silos. Then we have a painting day in the art room and all hell breaks loose. It's an adorable, fun, messy, and wonderful project that I had no hand in planning: my team just told me how to do the whole thing and I followed suit. It's great.


One of the elements, though, of the unit, is a questionnaire that we give the students about what kind of project they would prefer to create. It's good to have a variety of models in one classroom, so we try to see if at least a few kids want to make one of the three types of communities. I'm all for this. One element of this questionnaire, though, of which I was skeptical, was the part where each student could choose three friends that they would prefer to have in their group. I hate stuff like that. As an elementary teacher, one of my personal goals for my classroom is that it is a place where no long-term emotional scarring takes place. I've heard too many stories from people my age and older who still remember the time they were shamed for X, Y, or Z by the teacher, or remember examples of pure human evil in the form of recess time and dodgeball. I'd really rather not have my kids talking to their therapist as twenty-somethings, saying "Well, that one time, we did this group project in Mrs. Whartnaby's class and nobody picked me! I've felt isolated and alone ever since!" 

So, before I passed out the questionnaires, my class and I had a long, serious talk about how we show love in this classroom and that anybody's name we choose to write down needs to stay anonymous. (We defined anonymous first, though, obvi.) Because, you know, of the feelings. And the therapy.

So we filled out the questionnaires and I collected them and then it was the weekend. I finally got to my stack of papers on Sunday afternoon, as I am often want to do, and was pretty stinking pumped when I read the results. Can I tell you what I saw? EVERY KID IN MY CLASS HAD THEIR NAME CHOSEN FOR A GROUP. Not one kid in the room was lacking for a group member who picked him or her. Now, I know that all of God's children are precious, but don't you dare tell me that His children aren't quirky. And just like any class of kids, we definitely have our quirks. We have the socially different, the caller-outers. the aggressive, the passive, the shy, the dominators, and the clumsy. And yet each child, in spite of their inevitable quirks, had another in the room who deemed them worthy of being chosen.

On Monday morning, when I told them about their group assignments, I couldn't wait to tell them. GUESS WHAT SCHOLARS! YOU WERE ALL PICKED! Each and every kid had a sheepish smile creep along their face as they glanced around the room, wondering who had picked them, and then the glorious grin that occurred when it doesn't make a difference who wrote whose name down: the point remained that it was written! When everyone gets picked, everyone wins.

I just couldn't help but mentally draw all the delicious parallels to the other, most important way that all kids are picked and chosen: by their creator, long ago, to be fearfully and wonderfully made, for a real and significant reason. They've all already been chosen in a way so important that it doesn't matter all that much if they had a bad day at school when nobody put their names on a group project questionnaire. But for now, in an effort to avoid the therapists office for this issue one day, I consider it a sweet, sweet victory. Not one that I orchestrated, but one that I had the privilege to watch as it came to be.

I know I'm far from being a veteran teacher, and sometimes, in the thick of spring testing season, when I'd hear those wise reflections from seasoned colleagues about kids being more than test scores and the like, I'd take their word for it, but I didn't totally feel it yet. I was still being evaluated as if my kids were test scores, I was still sort of teaching as if my kids were test scores, so it was hard to separate what I knew in my heart to be true and what I saw in my own practice to be happening. I'm still getting there even now as I try to internalize it during each instructional day. But the other day, when everyone was picked, another piece of that truth hit my heart. When everyone gets picked, that's when the magic happens.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

My 26 Before 27

It's time! I love lists and I love setting goals. Partly, of course, to break the rules and feel rebellious while I ignore them, but also to set a purpose for the next leg of the path. Yesterday I checked in on my goals from last year and I made some pretty cool progress! I'm starting out this new phase of 26-year-old-hood, and here is what I'm going to try to do during it:


1. Run in 2 events. Something about paying 30 bucks for a t-shirt and bib number makes me actually train and prepare for an event. I'd like to bring back at least two events into my schedule, as this year didn't have any.

2. Make someone a meal for a baby/life change/just because. I've watched my mom bless so many people throughout the course of my life through cooking meals. I honestly think she's packing up a meal for another family every time I call home. I remember my Grandma Gesch's letters in college always included an anecdote about how wonderful my mom is for cooking for them. It's not a bad thing to be known for feeding other people. Time for me to get on it.

3. Consider a permanent living sitch. Not that we can predict the future, but I know we would like to get into a house one day. This will be the year where research, saving, and planning takes on a more prominent and serious place in our daily discussion. I'm already addicted to RedFin, so oops. This would potentially be a HUGE step for us, and the idea of it already overwhelms me and makes me ridiculously giddy and exhausts me all at once.

4. Make risotto. Dang. We had risotto at the wedding last weekend and it was so good that it really went beyond description. Plus, being able to say that I can make risotto sounds super fancy, and you all know how #imsofancy

5. Stay updated on international news. One of the few great things about an extra long commute last year was the time spent listening to the radio. I was ridiculously up-to-date about all the things. I want to continue on in my news-junkie-dom.

6. Read all of the Psalms. When I think of times when the rubber hits the road, my heart is usually led to the Psalms. My dad sings the Psalms to old ladies in the nursing homes, and I dare you to find me an OCS graduate who can't recite Psalm 8 complete with the actions. I think it's a good place for this fickle-Bible-reader to start her 26th year.

7. Exercise in ways besides running. I screwed up my ankle big time this past spring in a pickup game of volleyball. When I was talking to my Physical Therapist and explained that I usually only run and don't do much else in terms of cross training or variety, she responded with a big DUH ANNA speech, saying that I needed to do other things too. So there you go. Personal trainer friends, I'm open to suggestions!

8. Have a sleepover. So I miss college and wanna watch movies with my friends, okay?

9. Take a class to learn a new skill. Calligraphy? Knitting? Ventriloquism? Time will tell.

10. Floss every day. I try, you guys. I really try. The latest trip to the dentist sent me off with a new resolve to make this happen. (I asked, "Is 3 times a week impressive?" And the lady was like "Mmmmm. Sorry honey.")

11. Make a math group project for my kids. Okay, this is a stupid teacher goal that non-teachers might not appreciate, but I hear and see all of these cool things that veteran teachers do with group projects. Meanwhile, I'm differentiating my little tail off so that every kid gets his or her individual needs met. That's all fine and good, but kids just really love the chance to create stuff together. I'm going to try to do this somehow in Math this year. Teacher friends, I'm open to suggestions!

12. Girls road trip. Brian will be gone for a week in January and a week in March for trips with his high school students. Therefore, I've resolved to get in the car and head out on the open road as well. This summer's trip with Karley and Liz only reinforced my desire to do this more often.

13. Get a library card. HAVING FUN ISN'T HARD...WHEN YOU'VE GOT A LIBRARY CARD! Plus I spend way too much on books. Oops. 

14. Read a new YA fiction series. Harry Potter really made my soul so happy this year, and I want to keep that YA joy flowing. I realize that nothing will ever measure up, but there's something about a series that's so addicting in the best possible way. Nerd friends, I'm open to suggestions!

15. Stay in bed until noon. SO. For the past two years, I've made it a goal to get up early to see the sunrise. And failed. Miserably. So I decided to take it in another direction. I haven't done the noon thing since college, and goodness knows that drifting in and out of sleep on a Saturday morning can be pretty freaking fantastic. It's like a goal to be lazy! I can't wait!

16. Watch every Seinfeld episode in order of its chronological release. All 180 epodes. Giddy-up.

17. Keep a plant alive under my supervision. Meanwhile, everyone I know is pregnant.

18. Try a cleaning schedule. Okay, before you write this one off as definitely not going to happen, I think if I chunk up the cleaning jobs, I won't let it build up because it's too much at once. Here's what I'm thinking: Monday is laundry day, Tuesday is floor day, Wednesday is kitchen day, Thursday is bathroom day, and Friday is for clutter. Saturday and Sunday will no longer be spent with shame and guilt-ridden hours of looking around at the mess and being too overwhelmed to chip away at any of it.

19. Visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. WHO'S WITH ME?!

20. Do something for this refugee crisis. You've all read Ann Voskamp's suggestions at how we can be a small help in this world full of brokenness, right? I want to stop reading headlines and start writing checks. Compared to most people on this planet, I am ridiculously wealthy. God is extravagantly generous with me - why can't I give a refugee kid a new backpack? There are so many little things we can do. Let's start doing them.

21. Attend a festival. Complete with a flower garland in my hairzzzz.

22. Watch the long Pride and Prejudice. Who would like to set aside a Saturday and do this with me? Oh hello, Colin Firth circa 1995. Hello there. 

23. Attend a theater or dance performance in Chicago. I am always so intrigued by the ballet ads I see downtown. And I have yet to meet a broadway show I didn't love. Time to get classy.

24. Paint a piece of furniture. True confession: I have two cans of aqua spray paint I'm not sure what to do with, so I figured I may as well make it a goal. That's just me being #Dutch and #cheap

25. Find a mission where I can volunteer or support or visit. Once again, see #20.

26. See live jazz music. This one is partly for Brian and partly for me. Before getting married, I really had no tolerance for jazz music. I get impatient and like my songs to run their full course within 2 minutes and 35 seconds. Brian, on the other hand, can throw in a little Wayne Shorter and be completely happy with a song over 7 minutes long. It's been growing on me and I'd love to experience some live jazz music together. Plus, we Chicagoans live in a cultural center of the genre! Excited to make this into a date night.

So there it is. 26 little things that help me make this life I lead my own. Got any ideas to add?

Monday, September 14, 2015

Checking In on my 25 before 26

Today is the day! My birthday! I had a birthday buddy in my classroom this year for the first time, which was super fun. I have my mind on a lot of things to accomplish this year, and that will come later this week, but today I want to reflect on my 25th year. I want to check in on how I've done with the list I set out to achieve by the time I turned 26. There were some big wins and of course some defeats. Here's how I did:

1. Refrain from purchasing clothes until January 1st, 2015. Success! Accomplished! I think Brian got a skewed sense of what our budget would be since the first 6 months of our marriage were completely mall-purchase-free, but he got over it when the new year came around :) It felt really good to accomplish this (pats self on back), but there is something wonderful about feeling great in a new outfit. I'm starting to veer into the quality-over-quantity territory, but it's hard to spend a lot on one item, trusting that I'll actually use it for years and years. One day I'll invest in those things, I swear. 

2. Go soft-drink-free for a year. IT HAPPENED! VICTORY! I consider this the biggest win of AGW's 25th year. I had my first Coke tonight after a full year without, accompanied by a fan-freaking-tastic Aurelio's pizza. Oh man. I think I got jittery immediately, but it was worth it. 


3. Sponsor a child. I did this one! Oforiwaa lives in Ghana and it's kind of pathetic how little effort it takes me to change a life in such a big way. Let's all do this, okay? 

4. Use money to bless people. Isn't there a thing about not bragging about tithing? I won't delve into the details, but once again, I saw this year how some people blessed me through their giving, and I think this world would be a better place if we took care of each other more often. 

5. Go wine tasting. Thanks to Brian, this one was accomplished. 

6. Use the broiler in my oven. Nope. Making food is hard, guys. 

7. Run for a good cause.  An unfortunate pick-up volleyball accident prevented me from running the actual event, but I can definitely say I coached for a good cause! I was a coach for Girls on the Run for the first time at Calvin and it was such an incredible experience. Absolutely a wonderful cause and loved the season with my 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade girls. 

8. Wake up really early to see the sunrise. Nope. Maybe I should give up on this goal. I see the sunrise in the winter when I drive to work in the darkness. That counts, right? 

9. Have a housewarming party. I threw Jen a baby shower, and I considered that my housewarming party :) I felt like a real live hostess, a true accomplishment of my year! Plus it gave me an excuse to make bacon-wrapped dates. Win win. 

10. Own a houseplant without killing it.  This didn't happen. Not because I tried and failed, but because I didn't even try. I can only conquer so many fears in one year. 

11. Write more consistently. This is always a goal of mine, and always something I struggle with. How can I make time for the stuff that brings me to life in the midst of all of the obligations of life? Writing is one of those things, yet I always struggle with making it happen. I think it will have to be on next year's list again. 

12. Go to a yoga class. Success! This was a great part of my year, just learning how to breathe and think in a mindful way. I'm so so so not an expert and I'm not even close to even being good. I'm kind of a perpetual beginner, but I went to 7 sessions this winter and really loved it. 

13. Always have a book going.  Yep! This was one of the best things on the list to accomplish. ESPECIALLY ALL THE HARRY POTTER BOOKS OH MY GOODNESS JUST CALL ME HERMOINE.

14. Make dinner and have people over to eat it. Done! Did this for Karyn and Shane as well as Jen and Andrew. Nobody died. It's not that scarring of an experience! Maybe I'll do it again this year! I can do hard things! 

15. Keep fresh flowers in the house.  I definitely accomplished this, especially with all my trips to Trader Joe's (hello supercheap bouquets!), which also fed my orange chicken addiction. 

16. Go on a road trip with Brian.  Done! We hit up Milwaukee this year, and also managed to do a friend road trip with Danny and Reese to Tennessee. It was wonderful. There was a cabin and Harry Potter reading and bacon cooking and puzzle assembling and cocoa drinking. 

17. Spend more time intentionally technology-free. All that reading helped with this a bit. Always a good thing to keep in mind. 

18. Be tidier. Yikes. This was not accomplished. I'm blaming my hour-long commute from this year. So there. 

19. Accessorize more. I did it! I bought a few statement necklaces, and Brian even got me one too! He bought the gold one that I wore to a family friend's wedding last weekend. Here's a picture of that and of the one I wore to meet my new kids and their parents. So sophisticated #exceptitsfromtarget #targetisfancy #hatersgonnahate #noshameselfie



20. Visit the Art Institute of Chicago for a new exhibition.  Oops. 

21. Paint a watercolor picture. Nope. 

22. Wash off my makeup every night. I did this! I'm an adult!

23. Try 10 recipes I have never tried before. I did. And now I know 12 recipes. #domesticgoddess

24. Get my planning for school done before the weekend for a full month. This helped my weekends big time. I did this the whole month of March and it just really made me less depressed on Sunday night. 

25. Listen to the Lord. One of the hardest things about my year was following this rule. I had to decide where I was going to teach for the 2015 - 2016 school year, and discerning what God was saying was a hard thing. I ended up leaving Calvin Christian, a place I absolutely LOVE, for Timothy Christian, a place that was at the time an unknown. I don't think that God "wanted" me to leave or stay, but I do think God wanted me to serve him. So, no, a sign didn't come down from heaven. And no, I didn't hear His voice. But I do believe that I was listening to the Lord's leading when I had to face that tough choice. I'm learning the hard way that God works in wonderful and beautiful ways, blessing my life in the day-to-day. I feel God's presence right here at Timothy Christian School, and I'm loving the idea that I get to teach God's kids every day. Listening to God doesn't take away the doubts that I have; rather, it makes me at peace in the tension between certainty and confusion, where I tend to usually dwell. Listening to God makes me know that it's okay to live in that tension too. 

It's been a good year :)