Thursday, 15 August 2019

5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Tiny Classroom



Have you ever had to teach in a super small classroom? In my first year of teaching, that was exactly what happened. My very first classroom actually used to be a storage closet for PE equipment (not even joking) and was eventually expanded a bit so that it could be converted into a classroom. I only had six students that year (not joking about that either), so we had no trouble fitting in the space, and I also didn't have that much stuff because it was only my first year of teaching.

Fast forward four years, two of them being in a large room, and I found out I was going back to the #tinyclassroomlife, this time to another small room at my school. (I don't know if tiny classrooms are a thing at any other school, but they definitely are at my school! If tiny houses are a thing now, don't you think tiny classrooms should be too? Ha!) This move wouldn't have been so bad, except for the fact that I had accumulated quite a bit of stuff during my two years in that large room and wasn't sure how this tiny room was going to work for me. I knew it would be a challenge, but I was up for the task. Two years after moving into that small room, I can honestly say that the transition back to #tinyclassroomlife definitely wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Today, I'm sharing five tips for getting the most out of your tiny classroom.


1. Prioritize 


This is a given when you're in a smaller space. Some bulletin boards, items, classroom spaces, etc. are more important than others. Some questions to ask yourself are: What are the non-negotiables? What can be eliminated or minimized? For me, a teacher's desk was something I could do without (more about that under the next tip!), but a large classroom library with cozy seating was a must. I also eliminated my word wall and gave each student their own personal word wall to keep in their desk. This worked super well and saved bulletin board space! 

We spend a lot of time in our classroom library every day. We go there for morning book shopping, read alouds, and read to self/read to someone time. I have no regrets about using a big chunk of my room for our library and my students love it! Some teachers prefer a smaller classroom library and that's fine too - it's all about what works best for you and your students!

2. Allow spaces to serve multiple purposes 


I alluded to this in the previous tip, but when you're working with a tiny classroom, you're forced to create spaces that serve more than one purpose. In my classroom, the library is also our whole group meeting space. I don't have room for two different carpeted areas, so the rug in our classroom library works just fine for whole group mini lessons. 

I also use my small group table as my teacher desk. Some teachers prefer to have a completely separate area for themselves, but if that's not a big deal to you, it's a great way to save on space! It was a challenge at first to keep the table from getting cluttered, but I've gotten much better about keeping things in their place and cleaning the table off before I leave each day.


This picture was taken in the middle of classroom setup, so I didn't have my stools around the table yet. But you get the idea. Having all the storage around the table also helps to prevent it from getting too cluttered. It may not be an actual teacher desk, but I was still able to add some personal touches to this area. I can't help but smile every time I see it!


3. Use wall shelves and carts for storage instead of bulky bookshelves and bins


In my current classroom, I've learned to appreciate wall shelves and rolling carts. They allow you to store so much in a tiny space! One of my favorite things about my 2016-2017 classroom was having a countertop for my paper baskets. I was so disappointed when I moved into my current classroom and realized there was no countertop. I ended up adding a long floating shelf against the wall of my classroom and it works just as well without taking up half the space of a countertop! My paper baskets sit right on top of the shelf and the area doesn't look too cluttered because it's not a bulky bookshelf or large storage unit.

Adding a floating shelf to hold my paper baskets was the perfect solution for my tiny classroom! And there's plenty of space underneath to store my students' book boxes!
I also added a wall unit (similar to a pegboard) in my teacher area for additional storage. It was the perfect storage option for my supplies, photos, decor items, and grading caddy! If you're interested in purchasing this unit for your own classroom, you can find it on Amazon here.



4. Try to only display/keep out materials that you need to access daily 


Think carefully about the materials you want to display in your classroom. Are there some you need to access all year long? Which materials do you only need at certain times of the year? When I was in a large classroom, I had tons of bookshelves and kept so many materials out all year long. One example of this is my math manipulatives. While it was nice to have them out all the time, I just didn't have the space to keep them on display in my current classroom. I decided to store them inside a cupboard in my closet and only take out the ones I'm using each week. This has worked really well and saved a lot of classroom space. I also use my closet to store monthly bins with seasonal materials and I only take those out as I need them. There are some materials that we use all the time (such as whisper phones for guided reading), and I store those items in the classroom instead of the closet.



5. Use space creatively


When you're in a small classroom, you'll be surprised at all the creative ways that you end up using the space you have! Something I've started doing is using my windows and/or blinds to hang student work, anchor charts, or reference materials. (You can see an example of this in the very first photo in this blog post.) I don't do this with all my windows, nor do I do it all year round, or it would end up looking cluttered. But if you really need to display something, it works as a short-term solution.

Other creative ways I've used my classroom space include placing student book boxes under my floating shelf, storing bins under tables, and keeping my supplies in a teacher toolbox. All of these are great space savers, whether you are in a tiny room or not!


These five principles have worked well for me over the past two years, but my classroom is still a work in progress. I usually take the summer to reflect on what is/isn't working and make the necessary changes when I return to set up. I love that we get a chance to do that every year as teachers! What are some of the ways that you maximize space in your classroom?


Saturday, 6 July 2019

5 Reasons Why I'm Spending Less Time on Instagram This Summer (And Why You Should Too)


It's been a while since I've blogged on here, but now that I'm officially on summer break, I'm excited to get back into it! Honestly, I'm a horrible blogger, maybe posting twice a year. Instagram is where I am most active, and I have been posting regularly on my account @teachinginthetropicsblog since I started it 5 years ago. However, if you follow me on there, you may have noticed that this year I've been posting on Instagram a lot less frequently than I used to. There's a reason for that - five reasons actually - and I'm sharing them today in hopes that someone reading this will dare to spend a little less time on the Gram.

Disclaimer: The intention of this post is not to bash Instagram. It is actually my favorite social media platform and there are so many positive things about it! However, as I've discovered, even a good thing can become harmful in excess. As I share my journey with you, my goal is to show you the JOMO (Joy of Missing Out) that I've discovered in reducing my time on Instagram.


1. Instagram causes comparison, which breeds discontentment.


Instagram has often been referred to as a highlight reel, and even though we are aware of that, we still can't help but compare ourselves to strangers on the internet. Although I consider myself to be secure in my identity as a teacher and as an individual, I have found myself falling into the comparison trap at times and envying the lifestyle, skills, possessions, and achievements of the people I follow. I tend to think, "If I had access to the technology that she has in her classroom, I'd be a better teacher" or "If I had a home office like that, I'd be happier and more productive." Instead of counting my blessings and being content with all that I do have, Instagram causes me to focus on what I don't have, which is definitely a joy-killer. Don't get me wrong - the temptation to compare myself to others is present in real life too, but Instagram brings it to a whole new level.


2. Instagram causes me to buy things I don't need.


This point goes hand in hand with the first one. The hashtag #instagrammademedoit, though funny, has become the sad truth behind a lot of people's purchases over the years, including my own. I can't tell you how many things I have bought for my classroom after seeing others post about them on Instagram. This hasn't always been a bad thing; a few of those purchases have actually been quite useful. But if I'm being honest, most of them were totally unnecessary. Thankfully, I have not been able to purchase everything I have seen on Instagram. I live in the Cayman Islands where there is no Target, Michael's, Dollar Tree, Amazon Prime, etc., which means that I physically can't buy something as soon as I see it in my feed. However, I go on vacation to the US every summer, which happens to be the most tempting time of year on Instagram with all the cute back to school stuff rolling out. I have often found myself going overboard with my shopping on my summer trips and have realized that I probably wouldn't buy all these things if I hadn't seen them on Instagram first. I haven't gone to the US yet this summer, but as the date grows closer, I have been reining myself in and reminding myself that more stuff won't make me a better or happier teacher/person. Something that has been helpful for me is to reread a blog post I wrote on this very topic almost two years ago. Click here to read it!


3. Instagram causes me to become self-focused.


We have never lived in more self-focused culture than the one we live in today and Instagram ultimately encourages that. I've noticed that the more time I spend on Instagram, the more self-obsessed I become. I begin to crave the attention and validation of others, wanting more likes, more followers, more recognition - ultimately putting myself on a pedestal. The time I give to Instagram each day also causes me to focus on myself, and not in a good way. When our heads are down in our phones, we tune out the real world around us and neglect the needs of others. This summer, I want to spend more of my time focusing on serving God and others instead of myself.


4. Instagram takes time away from what truly matters.


This also builds on the last point. I am embarrassed to tell you how much time I was spending on Instagram before I began setting limits for myself. I spent hours on there each day, especially once stories rolled out. (Anyone else find it hard to stop watching instastories once you start?) I also realized that the more I posted, the more time I spent in the app responding to comments and DMs, which is one of the reasons I no longer post on there as frequently as I used to. I have found myself sitting next to my grandparents (who are 85 and 86) and scrolling through Instagram instead of having a conversation with them. Although they are in good health, I do not know how much longer I will have them here with me, and when they are gone, I know I won't think to myself, "Gosh, I wish I had spent more time on Instagram." In fact, I know I won't be saying that when my own life is almost over. With that in mind, I want to be more present this summer, to steward my time well and spend it cultivating relationships with the people around me.


5. Instagram isn't necessary to be a good teacher.


For a long time, I bought into the myth that I needed Instagram to be a good teacher. I believed that Instagram would provide me with all the tips and tricks to become a better teacher for my students. Yes, Instagram certainly provides us with a wealth of information, but all of it can be found through other resources as well. There are times during the school year when I chose to unplug from Instagram and guess what? My students still learned. I was still a good teacher. And so are you. That lesson is still awesome, even if you don't share it on Instagram. You are still a great teacher, even if you don't implement the latest teaching trends or decorate your classroom. You are still a great teacher, even if you have one follower on Instagram. Because the truth is, teaching isn't and never was about Instagram; it's about loving our students well and teaching them with every ounce of passion in our hearts.



Friends, there is so much more to life than Instagram. And that's what I'm keeping in mind this summer. The real FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) isn't when we miss out on all that's happening on Instagram; it's when we miss out on all that's in front of us in the real world. This summer, I'm excited to experience the JOMO (Joy of Missing Out) that comes when I choose to spend less time on Instagram and more time on what matters most. I'm excited to experience the beauty of being present, to open my eyes to everything I didn't see while they were glued to my Instagram feed. Will you join me this summer? Will you dare to be present, scroll a little less, and spend time on what truly matters? If this is a challenge for you like it is for me, I would love to connect with you so we can encourage one another. Feel free to leave a comment on this post or email me at teachinginthetropics@gmail.com!




Sunday, 30 December 2018

A Year of Light: Reflections from 2018



Exactly one year ago I wrote a blog post sharing my thoughts on my future and my hopes for 2018. I didn't make any resolutions; I stopped making New Year's resolutions years ago. Like most people, I found I never really kept them. However, I did end that blog post with a promise of sorts:

"As I enter this new year, I will still ask questions, have dreams, and yes, even make plans, but hold onto them loosely. In 2018, I will choose to cling tightly to the only permanent thing in a world full of temporary - the hope I profess in Christ (Hebrews 10:23). In 2018, I will cling to God's promises and His truth, with the assurance that He is working in all things for my good and His glory (Romans 8:28)."

 A few days into the new year, God gave me a single word: light. I saw it everywhere - in Scripture, in books, and in everyday life. One night as I was driving home from a church service, I saw the biggest, brightest full moon. As I looked straight ahead, I noticed how brightly it shone in the darkness, as if guiding me home. In that moment I knew God was showing me that 2018 would be a year of light.

The thing about light is that it shines brightest in the darkness, and darkness would certainly follow. A few weeks into 2018, I was faced with a decision that launched me into one of the most difficult seasons of my life. Many nights it felt as if I was grappling around in the darkness, but the Light was always there.

"The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear?" 
- Psalm 27:1a

 Although it seems silly, I used to think I had to be afraid of someone to relate to that verse. But I've realized that oftentimes it's not someone that we're afraid of - it's something. As you can probably guess from last year's post, my something was uncertainty, not knowing what the future holds for me. But in 2018, I learned that God is my Light, and the darkness is not dark to Him (Psalm 139:12). I learned that this means I will follow Him, even into the darkness and uncertainty, because He will lead me where He wants me to be. 

In the midst of the darkness, He led me on several new adventures, including the pursuit of a master's degree in Ministry/Women's Leadership and attending my first Teachers Pay Teachers Conference. Both of those new adventures were a step outside my comfort zone, but through them I also learned that God created me to be a light that reflects Him. 

"You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." 
- Matthew 5:14-16

 As a teacher, this means I am a light for Christ in my school and in my classroom. I am blessed to teach at a Christian school where I can worship and talk about the Lord with my students. However, I have learned that my words and actions - the way I interact with students and coworkers - are the biggest reflection of Christ that I have to offer. I have failed to be a light on many occasions, but God is teaching me day by day to abide in Him so that His love and light shine out of me (John 15:4-5).

In the summer, as I was getting ready for the 2018-2019 school year, I decided to carry the theme of light into my classroom. I used light bulb clip art on my door and student work board, and added the quote "Let your light shine!" to my wall. I also created light themed Bible verse posters and hung them on the outside wall of my classroom, so I would read those precious truths every time I come and go each day. Everywhere I turn, I'm reminded that God is my Light and I am created to reflect Him.



Over the last couple of days, I've seen a lot of posts on social media saying things like "2018 was good to me" or "2018 just wasn't my year." I really don't know if 2018 was good to me or if it was my year. But God was good, and He never stopped being my God. He is good, even when the circumstances of my life are not, and His love is unending (Psalm 107:1). Romans 8:28 reminds me that He works in all things, good and bad, for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His eternal purpose. And because of that amazing promise, I think of 2018 and rejoice.

"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18



Friday, 27 July 2018

To the Teacher Struggling to Get Through Classroom Setup...


Dear teacher,

I have a confession to make. Do you see this classroom in the background of my blog post header, my 2016-2017 classroom? At one point, I didn't know if I was going to get through with setting it up. One day during classroom setup, I found myself sitting on the floor, slumped against the cabinets, breathing deeply and choking back tears. Not because the work was overwhelming. On the contrary - that was the one year I hadn't had to move classrooms, so a lot of my bulletin boards and posters were still set up from the previous year. Yet I was still struggling to get through my classroom setup because I couldn't seem to focus. I was going through an extremely difficult time in my personal life and that day in particular was probably one of the hardest days yet.

I remember wondering how I could possibly finish what I had to do over the next few days when the dark cloud of my current circumstances seemed to loom over me at every turn. Even the bright and happy colors of my classroom couldn't change the overwhelming feelings that I felt.

I'm sharing this not for pity, but to let you know that you are not alone. We are teachers, but we are first and foremost human beings. We have our struggles, things we go through in our personal lives, and we bravely shut the door and push them aside as we teach our kids each day. But during the summer, with more time on our hands, we often have to face these struggles head on. And that may mean that when the time comes to go back to school and start setting up, we still don't feel ready.

That day during my classroom setup occurred just a few months after I made the most important decision of my life - to serve God wholeheartedly. (You can read more about that decision here and here.) 2016 had been a difficult year for me, one that I knew I wouldn't be able to get through without the Lord. And two years later, I can say that I was definitely right about that. But in that moment, while slumping against my cabinets, I wasn't even sure if God could help me. I wasn't sure about anything, especially about how I was going to make it through the next few days. But in the midst of my struggles, I learned something important.


God's grace is sufficient. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul writes about a "thorn in his flesh" (v. 7) - not an actual thorn but some kind of ailment or weakness that he was struggling with. He goes on to say, "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). Oftentimes, we wish, just as Paul did, that whatever difficulties we are facing would just go away. But God has taught me that our difficulties, limitations, trials, and failures are an opportunity for Him to show His power in our lives. When we are weak, He is strong.

There's a quote by author Wendy Mass that says, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about." I don't know what you may be going through right now, personally or professionally. But I do know that on our most difficult days, God's grace is sufficient to carry us through. As you return to your classroom and begin setting up, I want you to know that it's okay to not be okay. It's okay if you find yourself on the floor, like me, holding back tears. And it's okay if you let them all out. It's okay to not know when you're going to feel okay again. In our darkest days, God's light shines brightest; the darkness is not dark to Him (Psalm 139:12). He is so much bigger than our current circumstances and nothing will ever be able to separate us from His unending love (Romans 8:39).

If you are reading this and feel led to reach out, feel free to comment, email me, or message me on my Instagram account. I would be honored to offer a listening ear and pray for you.


Saturday, 30 December 2017

To the Person Who Asked Me About My Future


Several days ago, someone asked me some questions about my future that I honestly couldn't answer.  It's not the first time this has happened to me. When you've grown up on a small island where everyone knows you, these kinds of interactions are the norm. So in that moment, I gave the answer that seems to be the default one in my life lately. I said, "I don't know." I was taken off guard and not sure what else to say, but as I revisited the conversation in my head later on, I realized my answer was incomplete.

To the person who asked me about my future, here's what I really meant to say:

Up until a few years ago, I had all the plans. I had a five year plan, ten year plan, probably even a twenty year plan. I thought I had my life entirely figured out... until one day I realized I didn't.

Over a period of a few months in early 2016, I started to question a lot of things in my life. The five year plan I had come up with during my college years wasn't exactly unfolding the way I expected. The more I thought about the future, the more anxious I became. I started looking everywhere for answers, except for the one place I knew I could truly find them: in the arms of Jesus.

On April 6, 2016, I made a decision to surrender my life and plans to the Lord, to finally obey the call I'd heard for so long and seek Him with my whole heart.

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."
- Jeremiah 29:13

And that I did. Almost two years later, I still haven't found all the answers that I was seeking. But I've discovered something better: hope and confidence in the One who does have the answers, the One who loves me with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and has engraved me on the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16).

In just twenty months, God has turned my life upside down and filled it with new passions, dreams, and desires. He has given me a new sense of purpose in my life, a passion for His Word, and has placed a burning desire in my heart to share it with others. I am still full of questions, probably even more than before. Surrendering my plans to Him has been difficult and admittedly scary, but with surrender comes freedom. Day by day, I am learning to live by the promise of Matthew 6:33-34.

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." 
- Matthew 6:33-34

 A few months ago, God planted a new dream in my heart, one that wasn't on my original five or ten year plan - to pursue an online master's degree in Christian Ministry. It's a big dream, an exciting dream, a scary dream, but I'll be honest - I have no idea how God will use this dream or what exactly it means for my life and future. I may not know how He will use it, but I know He will. I don't have all the answers and I'm learning to be okay with that. I'm also learning that oftentimes faith requires action without answers. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."

To the person who asked me about my future, I meant what I said to you a few days ago. I was telling the truth when I said, "I don't know." But what I really meant to say was, "I don't know, but God knows." I will never have all the answers, but I can trust in Him because He does.

"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" 
- Romans 11:33

I no longer have a five or ten year plan and maybe that seems foolish. But I've realized that a plan without God is one that isn't worth making. I've realized that I would rather walk with the Lord day by day - even if it is painfully slow - than run ahead of Him. He's teaching me that my purpose isn't found in the answers; my purpose is found in Christ. As I enter this new year, I will still ask questions, have dreams, and yes, even make plans, but hold onto them loosely. In 2018, I will choose to cling tightly to the only permanent thing in a world full of temporary - the hope I profess in Christ (Hebrews 10:23). In 2018, I will cling to God's promises and His truth, with the assurance that He is working in all things for my good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

"Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." 
- Proverbs 19:21



Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Problem With Stuff: One Teacher's Take on Having #AllTheThings



Recently, on my vacation to the US, I bought a trash can. Yes, a trash can. Did I need it? No, not really. But it was cute, it was from Target, and it was only $3, so I bought it for my classroom.

I don't know about you, but that last sentence has come out of my mouth a lot over the four years that I've been teaching. And somehow, in those four years, I've managed to accumulate a lot of stuff.

By now, if you're a teacher reading this, you're probably trying to rationalize. "But buying stuff comes with the territory when you're a teacher," you might say. "It's different from any other job." And I agree. However, I am realizing that my "stuff" problem doesn't just show up in my classroom; it's in my home too. It's in my closet, in my drawers, on my desk. Everywhere I look, there's so. much. stuff.

I'm realizing that the problem with stuff is that you always want more. As a teacher or just as a human being, I may think that is perfectly fine. But as a Christian, I know better. I know that there's more to life than having more.

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." 
- Matthew 6:19-21

God has been using this verse over the past year to remind me that all these things, these earthly treasures if you will, are temporary. He's been teaching me that putting my hope in something temporary will always lead to disappointment. Temporary things can never bring permanent joy and fulfillment. Only Christ can do that in our lives.

"Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.'" 
- John 6:35 

Sadly, we live in a world that tries to convince us otherwise. Everywhere we look - especially on social media - we're bombarded with the message that we need to have #allthethings in order to be happy and successful. And we get the idea that if we don't have the same things as everyone else, we're missing out. This message has trickled into the teaching community over the last few years, and many teachers - myself included - have fallen into the trap.

In 1 Timothy 6:17, we are told "not to be arrogant nor to put [our] hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put [our] hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment."
I love the last part of that verse because it reminds me that God doesn't want us to not have money or nice things. In fact, He's provided us with things for our enjoyment. In the Old Testament, we're told that God blessed King Solomon with more wealth than any other king (1 Kings 3:13). God is not opposed to wealth and possessions. What He is opposed to is the attitude of dependence and greed that we often develop towards wealth and possessions. Instead of owning possessions, our possessions end up owning us. Even Solomon, who was arguably the richest man who ever lived, concluded that riches and possessions are ultimately meaningless.

"Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless." 
- Ecclesiastes 5:10 

When I finally made it home from my vacation on Thursday night, I unzipped my suitcase and took out that trash can that had looked so enticing in the Dollar Spot just a few days earlier. It had made it through the journey, albeit with a new dent or two. I had stuffed some clothes inside of it to take up space and hopefully offer some protection, but I guess my plan hadn't worked as well as I'd hoped. After I removed each crumpled piece of clothing, I looked at the trash can - a little banged up and totally empty. The thought came to my mind that my life is often a lot like that trash can. To maintain appearances, I fill it with things that seem to offer security and protection, but just end up leaving me bruised and empty.

It has been difficult for this self-confessed shopaholic to admit the truth that God has been bringing to my attention over the last few months - that despite what Instagram is telling me, having #allthethings won't make me a better teacher. I recently came across a quote by Richard L. Evans that really struck me:

"Children will not remember you for the material things that you provided, but for the feeling that you cherished them."

It's easy for me to forget that although my students enjoy having a nice classroom with cool rewards and incentives, what they really yearn for is my love. This year, I want to invest in my class more than my classroom. I want to give these precious children my time, energy, grace, and love above all else. I want to show them the "great love [my] Father has lavished on [me]" (1 John 3:1) so that they will know more than anything that they are loved and cherished. Because that's what it's all about, isn't it? Not #allthethings, but #allthelove.

As I prepare to start the new school year in the next couple of weeks, I invite you to pray with me for our students and each other. To pray that our hearts will be focused on what's most important and that love and grace would be our top priority in our classrooms this year.

"'A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.'" 
- John 13:34-35


Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Reflections from The Year I Almost Left Teaching


"I'm thinking about taking a year off from teaching next year," I said to my principal with tears in my eyes.

When I first started teaching four years ago, I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else. When people asked me how long I intended to teach, I would always look at them like they were crazy and tell them I was going to keep teaching until I was old enough to retire. For me, teaching wasn't a temporary thing or a step on the ladder to some bigger and better career. Teaching was a calling. So how did I end up in this place a few months into the school year?

To give you some background, I teach at a pretty small school, with approximately only 60 students total from Pre-K to 5th grade. Yes, you read that correctly. 60 students. As you probably figured, there is only one teacher for each grade level because most classes have no more than 12 students. Teaching at such a small school allows me to know exactly who is going to be in my class the following year. Last summer, I knew I had a challenge ahead of me. I was getting the class that has by far the most behavior problems of any class at my school. Although classroom management has always been a struggle for me, I was determined to do my best and to build relationships with these students. I even wrote a blog post at the end of the summer last year detailing the journey I had been on in my faith and sharing my desire to show the love of Christ to my students in the upcoming school year.

And boy, did those words haunt me throughout the school year. Because if I'm being honest, a lot of the time, I didn't show my students the love of Christ. Instead of love, I often showed impatience, anger, and weariness. For the first time in my teaching career, I truly understood the struggle of Paul in Romans 7:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 
- Romans 7:15-19

I felt like a failure. All of the behavior issues, additional paperwork, and personal stresses had started to take a toll on me and I came home feeling tired every day. I felt myself beginning to lose the joy and zeal I'd had for teaching since the day I stepped into my first classroom four years ago. I began to wonder if this was God's way of telling me to step away from teaching for a while.

And so that day came, when I broke down in my principal's office - something I had never done before - and told her about my struggle and the doubts I was having. She is the sweetest and most supportive principal anyone could ask for and of course told me she wanted me to stay, that she knew I would get through this and was willing to support me in any way she could.

Shortly after that, I began doing a Bible study with a group of women on the Fruit of the Spirit. I learned so much through that study and began to see a purpose in everything I had been going through. Even though I had been on a spiritual journey of sorts since April 2016 and could see evidence of God's transformation in my life, there were many areas I was still lacking in. One of the points from the Bible study that stood out to me when we looked specifically at patience was that we need those people who test our patience. And oftentimes, God places those people in our lives to show us that we're not as mature as we think we are, so that we can become aware of what we lack and where God needs to work in us.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 
- James 1:2-4

This realization made me look at my struggles with my students in a completely different way. You see, during a time in my life where it would have been easy to look back at my spiritual growth and become self-righteous, God gave me exactly what I needed. He showed me that there were areas of my life that I needed to surrender to Him in order to bear fruit. He showed me that teaching - the one thing in my life that I always thought I could do on my own - was something that would be impossible for me without His help.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." 
- John 15:5

One of the things I've always loved about teaching is that while we're teaching, we're also learning. In fact, teaching is a career where we never stop learning. This year, I think I learned more than I have any other year. I learned that God's grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9), that His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23), and that He is working all things together for my good (Romans 8:28). I learned that although I may fail, He never does. In every trial, He has a purpose and He will complete the good work that He has started in me (Philippians 1:6).