About those teachers who don’t do a darn thing during the summer

I am about two-thirds of the way through my summer break. Why do I have a summer break? Because I am a teacher. Yes, I am one of those people who get to have that awesome 2 or 3-month break that all other careers hate us for.

And I am not going to apologize for it. I am not going to make excuses to downplay my summer break. I am not going to tell you how awful it is. This is not one of those posts listing how I don’t really get a summer break, poor me.

Oh, I get a summer break.

It’s awesome. I applied for, was offered, and took a new teaching position (about the extent of my teacher work). I have spent lots of time with my kids. I have slept in and realized I don’t like sleeping in. I have gardened. I have gone to the water park. I’ve read books. I’ve written a little.

It’s been a pretty grand summer.

I’m sure there are teachers–awesome, talented teachers–who don’t get much of a summer break. They have their reasons. Perhaps they truly are given duties and responsibilities that zap the summer away from them. Perhaps summer is the most convenient time to take classes. Perhaps they are those super-teachers who won’t be happy if they’re not dabbling in something teacher-related.

I’m happy those don’t apply to me.

See, I don’t actually get paid for the summer because that’s not how my new contract works and it’s not how past contracts have worked. My contracts pretty much cover the school year. That is the time I am being paid for. I have my paycheck spread out over twelve months, but I’m not earning anything during those warmer months. So why should I work?

Yeah, you might say I should work because that’s what good teachers do. If I truly cared about the children, I would abandon my own offspring and husband and slave away all summer long, coming up with Pinterest-perfect classrooms and writing and rewriting curriculum, and pretty much humble-bragging about what a good teacher I am.

I think I’m a pretty good teacher. I have received pretty good evaluations and pretty good feedback.  I know I’m not yet the greatest teacher ever. If becoming that means I don’t get any free time for myself and my family, then too bad. I’m not yet at a season of my life where I want to do that.

That isn’t to say teachers who don’t do a darn thing during the summers are bad teachers. I don’t think there’s a strong correlation between the two ideas. All that can really be said about a teacher forgetting about teaching during the summer is that he’s not working on teaching stuff. That’s it. A teacher who has dropped the teaching mantle for a few months is merely focusing on other aspects of a balanced life.

We teachers who don’t toil endlessly in our classrooms during the summer are merely looking at the rest of the world and our lives. We’re enjoying ourselves. We are understanding there is more to life than teaching. We are relaxing. We are exploring. We are taking care of other relationships. We are taking care of ourselves. We are examining other interests. After all, what would we think of a student who focused only on one thing?

We don’t need to be shamed or told we don’t care about the children. If you want us to work during the summer, pay us. But I’d rather have my precious summer off.

Relief Society Lesson: True Ministers Focus on the Needs of Others

 

Some years ago, my parents attended a dinner for my dad’s work at one of the nice hotels in Salt Lake City. My parents are very middle-class people who don’t make their way into nice hotels a heck of a lot, so this was a good treat for them. My mother told how she spent much of the evening in awe over the beautiful décor and fine furniture, how lovely everything was. Eventually, she needed to use the facilities, where she again found herself in awe—yes, over a bathroom. It was fancy, with all sorts of amenities and soaps. When she opened a stall, she found it bigger than her own bathrooms at home. Yes, it was a lovely, lovely building. It was only when she reached over to grab some toilet tissue that she realized something. It didn’t matter how beautiful, fine, or fancy the bathroom was when they happened to not have what they really needed: toilet paper.

Now, this has become a fun story we like to tell, referring to it indeed as “The Parable of the Toilet Paper”.  With this lesson I hope you will find the ability to really think about what is needed by those you minister to. You may or may not be giving the big fancy experience, but are you at least getting them the toilet paper, or in other words, what they really need? In past lessons I’ve talked about different ways you might wish to be ministered to, or different ways you might minister. Today, I want you to consider all those things: things you’ve done, things you’ve pondered and prayed over, things you have received, and start to sort through those as what your sisters really need.

When we consider the needs of those we minister to, what is our goal?

As I pondered this, several ideas came to me. Should we even have a goal? Is service not enough in and of itself? Surely we’re not serving to just check a box or have bragging rights? But if there is no goal, or no reason to serve, why are we even serving?

Such answers to that question might be, we serve because we love our neighbors. We serve because we want to learn to love our neighbors. We serve because Christ did. We serve because it seems like it’s the right thing to do. We serve to build community. We serve to obviously help our neighbors. We serve because someone brought the idea up. We serve because it makes us feel good.

I think these answers are good answers, likely even wonderful answers. We do serve for all these reasons and more. But they’re all part of a greater reason.

We serve because we want to bring others to Christ.

Now, of course this is not in the hurried sort of way. All the answers discussed are part of a road that may be longer or shorter as we bring another person closer to Christ. The Savior said “Come Follow Me” and that word “follow” implies to me so much action and time. No, we aren’t serving others as some sort of bargain  of “I will serve you and you in turn will quickly grow in your spirituality and testimony.” But we are emulating the Savior, we are following His example, we are acting upon His Teachings.

The question I want you to think about to yourselves is this “How can my service help spiritually?”

When we turn the focus to helping spiritually, in now way do I want to dismiss the very real importance and blessings of addressing physical and temporal needs. I sincerely believe that when we help others with temporal things we are in a very real way helping them spiritually. It may be a small way akin to a planted seed, but it’s real.

Linda K. Burton recounts a story of the early church that spoke to me of the connection between spiritual and temporal:

in the October 1856 general conference as President Brigham Young announced to the congregation that handcart pioneers were still on the trail and late in the season. He declared: “Your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you in the celestial kingdom of our God, unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. Go and bring in those people now on the plains, and attend strictly to those things which we call temporal, … otherwise your faith will be in vain.”2

We remember with grateful admiration the men who headed off to rescue those suffering Saints. But what did the sisters do?

“Sister [Lucy Meserve] Smith recorded … that after President Young’s exhortation, those in attendance took action. … Women ‘[removed] their petticoats [large underskirts that were part of the fashion of the day and that also provided warmth], stockings, and every thing they could spare, right there in the [old] Tabernacle, and piled [them] into the wagons to send to the Saints in the mountains.’”3

Several weeks later, President Brigham Young gathered the Saints again in the old Tabernacle as the rescuers and the handcart companies got closer to Salt Lake City. With great urgency, he pleaded with the Saints—especially the sisters—to nurse the sufferers and feed them and receive them, saying: “Some you will find with their feet frozen to their ankles; some are frozen to their knees and some have their hands frosted. … We want you to receive them as your own children, and to have the same feeling for them.”

Lucy Meserve Smith also recorded:

We did all we could, with the aid of the good brethren and sisters, to comfort the needy. … They got their hands and feet badly frosted. … We did not cease our exertions [un]til all were made comfortable. …

“I never took more satisfaction and, I might say, pleasure in any labor I ever performed in my life, such a unanimity of feeling prevailed. …

“What comes next for willing hands to do?”5

I love how this story speaks of the very real service to people in great physical need. Service is truly something holy that is meant to not just fix what a person needs fixed, but to stand as a principle of our religion.

The title of this lesson is “True Ministers Focus on the Needs of Others”. The pioneers in the story were not in need of those socks and petticoats because they were pretty. Nor did the Saints already settled gather up useless items for their struggling brothers and sisters. They certainly didn’t ignore the admonition as something “sort of nice” or “maybe something another person will do”. When the struggling pioneers arrived, they people continued to serve them.

I like to think all parties are blessed when we focus on what each other really needs and how to bring them ever so much closer to our Savior and Heavenly Father.

Hopefully, everyone has had a time where they have been served or helped in pretty much the perfect way. You were helped when you most needed it, or you were given just the right thought or support. It’s a great feeling, one that has made me feel closer to my Savior. That is the ultimate purpose of serving someone. They  might not recognize a closeness to Christ at that time, but you are introducing or helping build the connection with each little act of service you do that truly meets their needs. Not something that’s ultra convenient for you, or something kind of nice you heard someone else did, but what that person truly needs.

Recently in a social media group a woman asked advice on a ministering situation she was involved in. Her question was quite simple and straightforward: The sister she ministered to was so needy this woman was having trouble meeting her needs and was wondering if it was time to kick the sister’s problems up a level for further help. It was a simple enough question, but it did lead to a pretty interesting debate about boundaries, self-sufficiency, and giving our all. I don’t know what the right answer was and I hope the girl that asked it was able to find a solution, but I did become fascinated by the idea of trying to push ourselves in service, an idea that came up several times. I’m sure there are times when you will need more help than you can give (which is why we can report things to our Relief Society Presidency) and everyone needs boundaries, but what happens when we try to push ourselves a little farther in serving others? What happens when we try to be a just a little more selfless?

Elder Dallin H. Oaks said the following “Our Savior gave Himself in unselfish service. He taught that each of us should follow Him by denying ourselves of selfish interests in order to serve others.

“If any man will come after me [He said], let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:24–25; see also Matthew 10:39).”

We were given the instruction to minister to others. Therefore, we are indeed capable of it. When we seek to meet the needs of others, we will be blessed.

How can we become more capable of meeting others’ needs? We can reach out to others for help, be it other neighbors, or our families, and of the course others in the church. We can practice increasing our own skills to help serve.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if we serve in the fancy, “correct” way. Our focus is upon meeting needs. Are we worried about how we go about it? Are we giving them something they don’t really need so we can say we served? Or are we truly focused on meeting needs?

Some questions:

What blessings might we receive when we work to lose ourselves in service?

How can we serve each other spiritually?

What is something that happened that uplifted you?

What does it mean to you to find ways to meet needs?

What are the spiritual needs of those you minister to?

How does assisting those we minister to in spiritual ways help them temporally as well?

What are some temporal needs that may need to be addressed before we might be able to focus on their spiritual needs?

Signs it’s Time To Leave Your Classroom

I switched jobs this year. I’ve gone from teaching 2nd grade at an inner-city charter school to teaching 1st in a small town (technically I haven’t yet started, but I do have a contract).  I’m looking forward to the change because, wow, I needed it.

It seems that back in the day, a teacher tended to stay at a school for the long haul. I had I once had a principal tell me that now looks odd. A career, after all, is to some extent about growth and one does not want to be stagnant.

Here’s how I knew it was time to move on:

  1. Misery. This is a big one. I was depressed, stressed, and thinking incredibly dark thoughts. If you’re not happy, good grief, it’s time to go.
  2. Clashes with coworkers. You might not always like every last person you work with, but if the environment is generally bad, you might want to leave. I loved my team and many people at the school, but drama was happening just the same.
  3. You’re wondering about that greener grass. I was daydreaming about different schools, different environments, etc. Nothing wrong with going to see it.
  4. The writing is on the wall. Truth be told, I don’t know the destiny of my last school. But I had the feeling it was suffering. The school population had exploded, and it brought some demographics we weren’t yet prepared to properly handle, and we were trying too many things. If you think your school is going where you don’t want it go, consider leaving.
  5. You don’t like your kids. Another big one. As a teacher, you had better enjoy being with your students. I no longer did, not as a whole, anyway. Or, perhaps the kids would have been great on their own, but the combination was awful.
  6. You feel like it. Don’t be afraid to explore!

Bathsheba Was Not on the Roof: And Here’s Why That Is Important

Beautiful insight…

On Sovereign Wings

A few years ago I was on the phone with an old friend. We were talking about another friend of ours, a man who was about to be incarcerated for some poor decisions he had made. As we were talking about the case, my friend drew a familiar parallel. “If she hadn’t acted like Bathsheba and seduced him,” he said speaking of the girl involved, “this never would have happened.”

Bathsheba 1
I knew very little about the circumstances surrounding our friend’s arrest, and blessedly I was not his judge. What I did know was that something about that comparison felt incredibly wrong to me. It seared my chest with pain and sank into my stomach like a weighted piece of brimstone.

His implication nagged at me for months. What was it about his analogy that felt so off? Finally, I decided to pay attention to those persistent feelings, and I sat…

View original post 1,783 more words

On Ministering to Church Members from the Wrong State and That One Time Someone Told Me to Kill Myself for Being a Utah Mormon

 

One of my online LDS groups recently had an energetic discussion. The original topic was a woman sharing how out of place and alone she felt in her Utah ward (she was a recent transplant to the area). The conversation grew from there, many others echoing her feelings, others becoming downright nasty regarding the Mormons of Utah, and others speaking up in defense of those Utah Mormons. I don’t think even the worst remarks put the conversation into the halls of toxic online conversations. But back in college I was told I needed to kill myself for being a Mormon from Utah and ever since then discussions of “stupid Utah Mormons” gets me admittedly seeing red.

After all, I’m a reasonably nice person. I have friends and acquaintances from a variety of backgrounds. I am friendly to strangers in public (a side effect of working five summers at Scout Camp). I welcome new people at church. I find anyone from outside my county charmingly exciting. Oh, and I’m also not from that goofy Utah County or a crazily wealthy Mormon Instagramming my perfect life like everyone there–

Wait, what?

Are there experiences out there I don’t fully understand? Am I guilty of having my own biases against people?

In this thread of conversation, most of the nastier remarks about Utah Mormons came with a qualifier of “Well, of course I’m not talking about EVERYONE…” To which I would think, what a backhanded way of maintaining your mean comments. The defenders including me would rather than acknowledging others’ experiences would leap right to that defending, probably making us look like those stupid Utah Mormons. Fortunately there were a few chime-ins of how this was a great opportunity to listen to each other.

The whole seemed appropriate in the line of my recent RS lessons on ministering. The past couple of months has had me blabbering on about finding ways of serving each other and really getting to know each other and open up and all that. And there I was whimpering about how one person hurt my feelings over a decade ago.

One definition I give ministering is attempting to serve others as Christ would. Christ wasn’t defensive. Christ didn’t make passive aggressive statements. Christ didn’t try to qualify His feelings to be manipulative.

The reality is I am a Mormon in Utah, born and raised. I may be a wonderful, delightful person. Good for me. I should keep that up. But I also don’t get to speak for others. I’m not perfect. The non-Utah transplants aren’t perfect. Sometimes feelings get hurt. Sometimes people feel lonely and unwanted. Sometimes this happens a heck of a lot more than sometimes.

Explanations in this thread came up. Culture was oft mentioned, such as the concept that outside of Utah, the Church tends to be your family while in Utah, your family is your family. I know I hang out with my family and my-inlaws a fair amount. We do stuff together. Women said that it’s not uncommon out of Big Happy Family Utah for families to be more geographically distant and the communities to become, well, community. In places where the Church is the minority, wards and branches really band together and support each other. I like to think we do that in Utah, but perhaps it blends in or perhaps more people just rely on that family we have.

Perhaps when Church members come to Utah, they’re hit with that culture shock. That awesome close-knit support of past wards fades away. Historic wards have already build their culture and just don’t let others in, out of ignorance or xenophobia. Maybe the wards are what I would deem perfectly nice, but just not up to what the ward members had in mind. Or Utah Mormons really are a bunch of horrible people. Or transplant Church members give us mixed messages of how Utah Mormons are supposed to behave.

It looked like a mess after awhile. To stick it all in black and white, most Utah Mormons were hypocritical snobs and all the other Mormons filled their children’s head with terrifying lore of the evil horned Utah Mormons.

Wow, us. Wow.

It shouldn’t be like this. Satan is attacking the Church, and this could be a manifestation of that. Could this be a reason for this fresh focus on ministering?

No one moving to Utah or Minnesota or Florida or wherever should feel shutout from her ward. No one should be rejected or even kindly tolerated for being from the wrong state. We should all be able to look past different cultures, even accept those cultures as okay, and truly love one another and serve each other.

A few Sundays’ back we had a great discussion about how to step outside of our comfort zones and to find new ways of ministering to others. So much of this was changing our thoughts from the lesson and prayer method of Visiting Teaching to finding what our sisters and neighbors needed and going all the way to becoming their friend.

I’m something of a hermit. If a transplant to Utah wanted me to hang out with them all the time because that’s what she did in her last state, I might have to put a stop on that. And she might have to accept that being me and not because I’m a snob. But we can certainly be friends! We can chat on social media and sit by each other and chat at Church. We could do a playdate every now and then or even have a game night. Heck, we could be sure each other got invited to random church and neighborhood activities even if we would up skipping out. We could become instant bosom buddies or we could slowly work on our relationship with caring and kindness over the years. But we wouldn’t leave each other out.

Don’t put up your defenses too quickly. Don’t enjoy your butthurt bias too much. Realize that the Church is still a diverse place even within a small region. Put yourself in another person’s shoes as you minister: is that woman lonely in a new church culture hoping for the same intensity and closeness as her last ward? Is she comfortable in her support system outside of the church and you’re not granting her that grace? Don’t quickly throw an assumption at any group of people.

Do what Christ would do. Get to know them. Don’t expect them to fall fully and immediately or even ever in your particular world view. Don’t feel you have to excuse or feel guilt for your own culture, but don’t be too closed off to new ideas.

Smile at them at Church and around town.

Send them a text.

Go out for lunch.

Offer to take their kids for a few hours.

Ask if they wouldn’t mind taking your kids and you would totally owe them a favor.

Bring them a treat.

Show interest in their background. Utah’s probably not that bad and New Jersey and Alaska probably aren’t that bad.

Remind them about the random Church event going on that evening.

Zion’s stakes are far beyond Utah these days. Work with it.

Switching grades and schools in teaching

A few months’ back, I did something crazy. I quit my job. When those declarations of intent came around via a Google survey or something like that, I did the bold move and said I would not be returning to teaching 2nd grade at my school. I had no other job lined up. I hadn’t even consulted with my husband. I just went ahead and did it.

Last spring, I found myself hemming and hawing about the matter. I just wasn’t liking my school. There were a lot of little things, many of them all about me, but even last year I felt the urge to move on.

This year, things were even worse. The hard reality is my school was a tough school. Certainly within the “inner-city” standards and when the school (a charter) had moved buildings some years back it attracted a very new population. Eventually 2 very distinct populations I don’t mean to decry any populations and, oh, how I loved these students and their families, but it did make things hard!

I asked for advice on my teacher message boards. Obviously I wasn’t anywhere close to the worst situation, but things were still difficult. So much of my school day was devoted to behavior management and redirection. A very worthy enterprise, of course, and something many teachers even seek out. But for me, after a few years, I was beyond burnt out. Add in craziness in school form and all those in-house thorns, and I was done.

Responding that I would not be returning was one of the most freeing things I’ve done in some time. A good friend even pointed out how stressed I had been this past school year and the weight that seemed to be gone when I officially wasn’t returning.

My husband, somewhat surprised and perhaps a little worried I just up and quit, was very supportive and never said a word against it. (Truth be told, I think he would like to find a way to afford to have me part-time or all the way at home).

I should have been terrified. After all, I had been carrying the insurance! I quit before we learned Jade has cystic fibrosis, so that was kind of a big deal. But, I never worried. I felt peace and even joy in my decision. Things would work out.

They actually did. I recently accepted a contract teaching 1st grade (the grade upon which I cut my teaching teeth) at a very different sort of school. Think middle-class small-town with even a dash of rural in the area. I’m a little worried about the different challenges this might present. I suppose we shall see.

But I am excited. A new school, a slightly different grade… this might need the break I need.

It’s important to switch it up when you need it. Heck, maybe even when you don’t need it.

I feel rejuvenated and I haven’t even set foot in my new classroom.

It’s a good feeling.

 

Becoming a CF Mom

This summer evening winds down May, and the morning will bring June and what I consider to be the true beginning of summer. I can’t wait. Summer has long been considered my favorite season, a time of heat and sun and the fullness of nature. Summer is the celebration of life.

This transition to June also signifies the end of a very crazy month. On the last day of April, a GI doctor suggested my daughter Jade might have cystic fibrosis. A few more rectal prolapses, some tests, and it all proved true. The past months of paleness, nearly insatiable appetite, and continuing petite “teeny bean” status culminated in this moment of sense. My daughter, who was so healthy for so much of her life, has cystic fibrosis.

I cried when I found out. I was helping prepare a shrimp boil for friends and Layne called me from the road. The sweat test Jade had been to revealed CF. I cried, called my mom, cried some more, and somehow got it together for the shrimp boil. The dinner was nice, something I needed that night.

I like to think I have been strong this month. I honestly don’t know how else to be. I have had a night, years ago, where I think I may have had something that could qualify as a panic attack. No one likes being depressed, upset, but I think I truly hate it. I want to avoid that. Perhaps not in an a sunshiney way, but if I can find a way to navigate hurdles rather than sinking into despair, that’s something I want.

So far, it has helped.

The oddity is May is Cystic Fibrosis Awareness month. Since the diagnosis, I have found CF families spilling right out of the woodwork. I have joined two Facebook groups and received all sorts of phone numbers of people who get there. I have been assured by all that these days things will probably go okay. I am trusting on this. I have hope things will go well, and I hope I have the faith for it all.

I have a strange quirk of researching ADHD and other such things. It’s part of being a teacher, I suppose. This inevitably leads to the mothers of special needs kids, wonderful, strong women who are friggin’ awesome anyway. I admired them.

Am I one of them now? Jade is considered surprisingly healthy in spite of this. We will be doing preventive care for her lungs, but as of the moment there are no lung problems. She has to take enzymes and will be on the Vest, but where does that leave me in the tribes of mothers out there?

I have in the recent past considered and even put into practice limiting my social media, but I suddenly have renewed gratitude for communities. I am grateful for this marvelous internet technology that widens my support network. I don’t know where I lie now as a “CF Mom” but at least I can ask stupid questions on the internet. It feels good.

I think I’m doing okay. Now that summer is upon me I can squeeze in a few temple trips and maybe even meet with the psychologist I can apparently talk to down at Primary Children’s.

Welcome, June. Help me settle down from this crazy month of May.