Coffee Shop Encouragement

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I love working at coffee shops. There's something about the background noise that makes it easier to concentrate and focus.  I also love confusing the baristas by just ordering black coffee.  It's fun when so many of them ask me "Are you sure?" or "Is that all you really want?"

Working away last weekend, lost in my glowing LCD screen, one of my former students and her family approached me.  Mom, Dad, and student were all smiles and genuinely happy to see me.  They told me how much they appreciated the work I did with her back in fourth grade.  She's in sixth grade now and looked so grown up.

Mom and Dad thanked me for how much I prepared her for fifth grade and for middle school.  My former student told me that many of the things we did years ago were actually helping her now. I really had no idea. It wasn't a student I thought I ever gave much to.  It was so nice and refreshing to hear that encouragement.  It was exactly what I needed at the time.

Teaching can be a thankless job on the day-to-day.  We sow, and others reap.  So often we don't understand the depth of impact we make with our students.  Othertimes, while staring at pixels and sipping coffee, we do.

The Day the Parents Conferred

It's a mixed bag. It always has been and always will be. Parent-teacher conferences never cease to amaze me with the variety of conversational depth and spice.

I plan the sign-up and get the student work ready. I scratch out an agenda and get the classroom cozy. And then real life happens, and things rarely go as I planned.

Younger sibblings mess up the room, parents cry, I grab the wrong notebook, somebody shows up late. Sometimes some parents surprise you with lunch, or tell you how much their daughter loves your class, or retell a conversation about how excited their son was about a book we read. A mixed bag.

Some discussions don't end well. Parents don't have all the answers, and I certainly don't have all the answers.

Although I have some expertise in elementary education, I am far from an expert on a particular child. I see them for a few hours a day in one particular context. I don't know a child's ins and outs like a parent does. Shame on me for even assuming. I truly wish I could help more.

I usually end the day feeling exhasuted and a little disappointed. Disappointed mostly in myself. I get hung up on all of the things I could and should be doing. Sometimes I end up frustrated about my perceived lack of dedication to my job. I so often dwell on weaknesses and struggles, instead of the strengths and triumphs. Our educational culture can be deadly like that.

Those are the times I have to take a step back and get a hold of myself. I'd pretty much do anything for my students. But, I can't do everything.

It's so cliché, but I'm not Superman. No teacher is. I'm not going to catch everyone. I'm not going to inspire everyone. I'm not going to get every student to 100% all the time. I have to stop holding myself to these inscrutably high standards. It's toxic. And arrogant.

Lord, help me to understand that I can't do it all. I can only give what I can to each student every day. That has to be enough. It just has to.

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And that which I can do, by the grace of God, I will do.”
—Dwight L. Moody

My Big Fat Secret For Teaching Writing

“Don’t know what you are doing, but my daughter went from not liking writing to it being her favorite subject this year!”

A parent left this comment on my class Facebook page last week. I shared it the other day on Twitter. It’s important to share victories and successes. It gives me confidence and encouragement to move forward when I read about others doing well.

I got several replies filled with encouragement and good cheer. A few Twitter peeps wanted to know what my secret is. I sort of half-heartedly answered a few and moved on with my day. But, it got me thinking. Do I really do have some sort of secret for teaching writing?

So I thought for bit, and I came back to my original half-hearted response. Only it didn’t seem so half-hearted anymore. Do you want to know my big, fat secret for teaching kids to write better? My secret is…

I just really love it. In a word, passion.

It sounds simple, and I guess it is. But it’s also true. I just really, really love teaching kids to write better.

I’m drawn to stories and words. I relish the opportunities to write. I love the craft of it; the creativity that drives it. It’s an escape. It’s more than an escape. It’s an escape that you get to create in any way you want.

Writing is therapy. Writing is a release. Writing is a way to cope and a way to make sense of our world.

I try to share that passion with my young writers each day. Whether we are writing in our journals, blogging, or doing some sort of creative writing, I give them as much enthusiasm as I can muster.

I wish I had 7 Keys to Make Kids LOVE Writing! or 10 Easy Steps to Be An AWESOME Writing Teacher! to share. But I don’t. It’s just me. A tall guy with a fuzzy beard, thick glasses and a heart for kids.

I simply let my passion for writing spill all over the place and hope my students get soaked.