My Sister’s Passing

Kyrie and MeI was with her when she passed. It was the most amazing experience I have ever had, and I am holding on to it to get me through the next few decades without my baby sister. I need to share this, but I hesitate to “cast my pearls before swine to be trampled.” So no trampling, please.

kb3My sister had been paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident and was in and out of the hospital for the remaining nine years of her life. She practiced the Baha’i faith, and she loved Jesus. She also loved Buddha, Muhamed, Confucius, etc. We talked about our faiths often, and we listened to each other with interest and without judgment. She often asked me to pray for her – for healing, pain relief, peace, or strength.

In January 2014, sixteen months ago, we were told she had only a few weeks to live. I prayed fervently that the Lord would keep her alive until she was HIS. She may well have already been HIS. I do not presume to know one way or the other, but because I didn’t know, I prayed.

Last Friday, May 8, 2015, her health was failing so suddenly and quickly that the family was called together. As I was driving, in the privacy of my car, I rebuked Satan, and I rebuked him loudly. I screamed at him to take his dirty, rotten, stinking hands off of my sister – that she did NOT belong to him, and I began to pray in the spirit.

When I arrived, the sight of my sister broke my heart. She was moaning and groaning with her eyes half opened, unable to speak or communicate in any way. She couldn’t even write messages – no muscle control. Sometimes her groans were cries that should have produced tears, sometimes they were angry screams, and sometimes they were just attempts to talk. The groans came with every single breath. Every now and then, she opened her eyes wide, looking at something over our shoulders that wasn’t there – or, at least, WE couldn’t see anything.

We didn’t take turns sitting with her but wandered in and out of the room. There were usually two or three people at a time with her, but the last time I sat with her, we were alone. I held her hand and looked into her eyes. I started singing softly to her. I sang the songs of Jesus’ love that I used to sing to my babies.  And I sang her own name over her (Kyrie Shalom – a prayer for peace). After a while, she opened her eyes wide and looked directly at me with a look of fear and anger. Her incessant moans were infused with hostility – like she wanted to cuss at me, which was not like my sister. I rebuked the enemy and repeated the name of Jesus over and over again softly – almost a whisper – very close to her face. And I prayed in the spirit.

Then God took over. I say that because I was opening my mouth without knowing what would come out of it. Her eyes no longer looked hateful, but they were fixed on mine and mine were fixed on hers. I couldn’t have turned my eyes away if I had wanted to. Her pupils were extremely dilated, and it felt as if I were being drawn into the deepest depths of her soul. I don’t remember all that came out of my mouth at this point, but I do remember frequently murmuring, “Yes. Jesus.” and involuntarily nodding my head as if answering a question affirmatively, or encouraging her to continue doing something.

Her moans started to subside until finally they stopped altogether, and she began to breathe deeply. I kept talking to her in barely a whisper, holding her hand, and looking into her eyes. My sister-in-law and my niece, who had been her caregivers for the previous week, came into the room to get her meds ready and to check her bandages, but their presence went unnoticed by Kyrie, and barely noticed by me. While they busied around in the background, Kyrie and I were in trance … in another world.

Her eyes would occasionally droop heavily only to open again and look into my eyes, and again I would say, “Yes” or “Jesus” or “It’s OK” or whatever else decided to come out of my mouth. It occurred to me later that I was smiling at this point – not because I was trying to reassure her, but because I was full of inexplicable, yet undeniable joy and excitement. I expected her to drift off to sleep now that she was calm, but she took one last deep breath, and then she was gone.

What an honor it was to walk with her to the very threshold of Heaven. And in doing so, my own questions and concerns were assuaged. I know my sister is not just “resting” in peace – she is walking, running, jumping, and dancing – even doing cartwheels and back flips … with Jesus!

Shalom, Kyrie, till we meet again.
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To “Stick-To-It” Teachers

Teachers, I highly respect all of you who continue to stick to it in spite of how broken our education systems are.

Some of you are amazing in your ability to keep your dreams and passions burning. You are fully aware of what the system is trying to do to you, but you only *appear* to be compliant, maintaining your own standards and values in the class room. I aspired to you, but was not capable of pulling it off. I wish I’d had more time to spend watching and learning from you.

Not all of you who have stuck with it are as fortunate. The fire has gone out in many of you, and you stick to it only because it’s “a job” in a time of record-breaking unemployment rates. I understand and support you in doing what you have to do. It took courage for me to walk away from the job and the benefits, but it would have required even more courage for me to stay. I commend you for your courage, and pray that you are able to remember why you wanted to teach in the first place.

Then there are those of you who are unaware of what is going on because you are so caught up in being a dedicated and compliant employee, which is commendable. But as such, you are kept so busy with the bureaucratic tasks of being an employee that you don’t have the time or the energy to look, see, and acknowledge the situation. You have become a good employee at the expense of being a good teacher. My heart hurts deeply for this group because I was fast becoming one of you.

I didn’t see it until I got out. I was quickly (albeit not-so-quietly) becoming the data-driven “robotucator” that the system is discreetly yet vigorously trying to generate. We know the importance of differentiating for students, yet the system’s covert agenda is to generate cookie-cutter high school graduates, and they need cookie-cutter educators to make this happen.

Differentiation and creativity in teachers and teaching styles is strongly discouraged, though the system doesn’t put it in those words. They prefer to say that they “want us all on the same page.” Collaboration no longer looks  like teachers seeking each other out for advise, suggestions, and brainstorming as needed; it has become “meet to ensure that everybody is teaching the same thing at the same time, in the same way, using the same lessons, activities, and assessments.”

Toward the end of my brief teaching career, I caught myself bemoaning the fact that students were coming to class, keeping me from doing my job. That was my first clue that something was wrong. I had started out being all about the kids and making literature come alive for them, but the system had surreptitiously and effectively shifted my focus to:
– testing to create data
– analyzing and comparing the data
– attending meetings about testing
– attending meetings about data
– attending department meetings
– attending grade-level meetings (x2 since I had two preps)
– attending faculty meetings
– attending training meetings
– preparing materials for meetings
– documenting proof of my pedagogical knowledge
– documenting proof of my content knowledge
– contacting a specified number of parents
– documenting proof that I had contacted a specified number of parents
– documenting classroom management strategies
– “decorating” my room with mandated standards-related material
– documenting proof that I was teaching the standards
– documenting, proving, attending, blah, blah, blah!

Teachers, if this is you, please, please, please, open your eyes! Don’t let them do this to you, and don’t do this to yourselves! Continue teaching if you must, but collaborate with those who have found a way to keep the dream-fire burning. Comply if you must, but do so with your eyes wide open and hold tightly to your standards, values, passion, and whatever makes you YOU. And please remember that if it isn’t ultimately helping the kids succeed, it’s more than likely just bureaucratic nonsense.

Let Teachers DO!

SchoolNotice that there are no “Administration” or “Board of Education (BOE)” gears in this education machine. If only that were so.

YES, administrative and BOE jobs are important and necessary for the efficient running of a school system, but their job descriptions should NOT include breathing down teachers’ necks and keeping us so busy that we can’t effectively perform the job we are well-trained to do.  Their job is to take care of outside-the-classroom business, making it POSSIBLE for us to teach!

WE KNOW!
Teachers go to college to learn content, child development, pedagogy, and best practices. We continue to seek and initiate our own training after college because we want to stay on top of research and are always interested in learning new ideas in best practices – no need to mandate planning-period training sessions that may or may not be relevant. We often already know most of the material covered in these meetings anyway. We also know what we don’t know, and we know how to find out on our own. If we need your help in this, we’ll ask for it.

We know how to plan and create engaging activities and why it is so vital to engage students in their own education. What we need is time to do this, not meetings to remind us of this truth.

We know how beneficial it is to collaborate with other teachers, and we naturally do so … as needed. No need to force us into extraneous collaboration by mandating meetings during our valuable planning periods.

We completely understand and appreciate the unequivocal advantage of parent involvement and keeping those lines of communication open. Documenting this communication is important for our own liability, but requirements to submit each and every documentation by a certain time, written in an explanation-riddled format is a needless time-consuming task that tends to thwart our motivation to contact parents at all.

Most importantly, we know our own students better than anyone – we know to differentiate activities and teaching methods, the planning and implementation of which require time.

LET US DO!
Yes, we KNOW these things, but administration, BOE, and budget cuts have tied our hands and tied up our time, making it nearly impossible to DO these things. Stop micro-managing us, and let us do our jobs! That alone would do away with certain salaried administrative positions and save the system some money – maybe even enough to pay for substitute teachers, freeing us from having to cover for absent teachers during our planning periods.

I’m not finished ranting, but sadly, I am finished teaching.  First of all, teachers clearly do not become teachers for the money. If I had divided my salary as a teacher over the number of hours I was working each month (on and off the clock), the result would have been less than minimum wage. No, it wasn’t about the money for me. I became a teacher because I had a passion for literature and composition, and I dreamed of guiding high school students to discovering this passion within themselves. I loved the kids (so very much!), the content, and my coworkers, but the system has effectively killed my dream and squelched my passion. Teaching is not about the kids anymore, and I can’t … won’t teach that way.

I highly respect those teachers who are sticking to it in spite of it all, and I implore parents to be aware of the mess of a system your children’s teachers are working in. Understand them. Cut them some slack.  Support them. HELP them. And most importantly, get involved in your child’s education, speak up, and change the system!

That is all. Have a blessed day!

Three Words I Won’t Say (anymore)

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“DID I HELP?” 

I frequently seek wise counsel in my journey through life on this planet. I always will. God has now begun to counsel through me! It is humbling (and thrilling) to know God speaks through me. Yet … I recently found myself wanting confirmation from people that “my” words had actually helped them in their situations. I even asked one person flat-out … “Did I help?” Oh, to put those words back in my mouth! This desire for confirmation disturbed me. I asked God about it this morning. Want to know what He said?

Continue reading

My Take on Fear

LIE: Fear motivates action. TRUTH: Fear paralyzes. Ask me how I know! Even as I write this, I am experiencing the paralysis. You see, Continue reading

It’s There! Honest!

YES, it’s there! “God does not give us more than we can handle” is in the Bible. In fact, it’s in several places! Continue reading

What Have I Done??

Something has been bothering me. I overheard a conversation between two mothers of teens. One of these teens is just finishing her first year of college. She feels the call to go into ministry for the summer, but her parents want her to get a summer job and rationalize that “even ministers like to eat.” I do not judge this mother because I am not in her shoes. In fact, when I was in her shoes, I most likely did the same thing. But was I right in doing so? Continue reading

Don’t Do It!

An imperative statement. Instructions. An order or command. A commandment.

Did you know that there are actually 613 commandments in the Old Testament alone? But if you were to begin listing the ones you know, chances are you’d begin with these: Continue reading

Funny Thing Happened …

A funny thing happened on my way to securing a job …

I spent all day last Saturday perfecting my resume and my letter of introduction to send to fifty publishing companies. My sister had long ago collected their addresses for me, so I was good to go. I had everything ready to print, fold, stuff, stamp, anoint with oil, and mail. I bought the paper and envelopes Sunday afternoon, but before I printed … God spoke. Continue reading

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, I was a high school English teacher.

Now I’m not.

I started to write my story here, but realized that I had already done so at a different time, for a different audience, with a different purpose in mind. The differences, however, are perfect for meeting my objectives here. This slightly altered goodbye letter to my fellow English teachers will give you a good sense of exactly where I was four months ago (names changed to protect the innocent … and guilty): Continue reading