Repeat.

Wake up. Make coffee. Dress nice. Out the door. Drive to school. Teach some things. Home and friends. Lesson plans. Late to bed.

Repeat.

Weekend. Sleep some more. Friends. Rest. Breathe. Goes too quick.

Repeat. Repeat again.

How easy it is to get caught up in the busy, the obligations, the stress. How easy it is to go on autopilot. How easy it is to miss the little moments that really do matter so much. How easy it is to get stuck on repeat and lose passion and purpose that are so important.

This is my fifth full week of being a full time teacher (my seventh if we are counting the weeks that were broken up by seminars and spring break). I have slowly slipped into the cycle of repeat–each day is part of the checklist, each lesson something to get through, each sassy teenage comment another annoyance, each activity a responsibility. I wait for the weekend when I get to breathe a little and sleep a little and then I repeat.

Today didn’t go so well. When I walked into first period and prepared to greet my students, I found myself stalling for a few extra minutes just to not have to start the lesson. I lacked the passion that I had when I first started; the desire to give fun lessons that made language more than grammar; the hope to impact lives. It showed…I felt it and I bet my students did too. They definitely acted like it. I mean, if I’m standing in front of them bored they’re definitely going to be bored too. By the end of the day, I new something needed to change.

As soon as my last class ended, I went to the open door, took off my shoes, stepped on the grass, picked a flower, and took a deep breath. No more repeat.

Friends. It’s so important to break the pattern of repeat. It steals our joy and passion and we lose every opportunity to truly invest in the moment. We lose the chance to make our community, our lives better. We get tired and we completely lose track of our purpose. Instead, we need to be present in the moment we are living. Even more than that, we need to take time in our day and we need to appreciate the small things. Pick the flower. Look at the ladybug. Smile at the clouds.

Yes. The responsibilities remain, but that doesn’t mean they have to rule you.

For the record, soon after picking the flower one of the teachers said “You look so comfortable right now, but think about all the kids that spit on the grass out there!” I came inside and started lesson planning, but my heart was a little more joyful. Then, I went home, grabbed some good cold brew and a blanket, and sat in the sun for hours. I rested and I enjoyed the warmth and thought about how lucky I am for the life that I live. I thought about all the beauty around me. I broke the cycle of daily tasks.

No more repeat.

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Be in the mess.

When I started out to be a teacher I had a very pretty picture in my head–my classroom was going to be organized and beautiful, my students would be smiling and deeply interested in what I had to say, and we would all be learning things about Spanish and life too. I would be changing lives on the daily and my students would love me always…or at least most of the time. Yes. I can hear the veteran teachers laughing as they read this, but I’m an idealist and this is what I planned to do.

I’ve been in a high school for about two and a half months now–teaching full time for about a month–and I can truthfully say that my class looks like my pretty picture maybe 5% of the time. The reality looks more like a cluttered desk, a bulletin board that was made in 15 minutes the day before it was due, a pack of sleepy and grumpy teenagers, and lessons that go as planned about half the time. It’s hard and I’m tired.

The reality of teaching is that it’s messy, but now I see why that’s expected. When it comes down to it I’m a messy person trying to do good in the lives of messy people. It’s going to be a messy process. For your reading pleasure, I’ve compiled a list of some of the better messy moments that help to illustrate the point:

  1. A five minute discussion on why I asked a student to take out his notebook. Complete with explanations of purpose and respect.
  2. Conversation with 15 year olds about things that 15 year olds should never have to experience. And then figuring out a way to motivate them to do their classwork afterwards.
  3. Lessons gone wrong. A lot.
  4. Class discussions about classroom community, group participation, and the importance of respecting each individual. Then having the same conversation three days later.
  5. Getting focused on the details of the job only to realize that I missed an important moment to help a student through a life struggle. Not good.
  6. Getting so focused on relationships and student lives that I lose some important papers with student grades. Big oops.
  7. Learning to the importance of thick skin in the face of high school pettiness.
  8. Realizing that the mistakes don’t go away after the first few weeks of practice.

My students are messy. They come from rough backgrounds and families that do more harm than good. They come from homes that lack food. They are teenagers trying to figure out who they are in the world. They are people desperately seeking a community, doing anything to stay apart of it, and not always making the best choices as a result. They are young adults with complex feelings and fears. And every day they come into my class and they bring the mess with them.

I am messy. I am a young student teacher who is still learning the ropes. I come with a great desire to do good in the lives of my students and not a lot of practical ideas of how to make that good happen. I am still learning the balance between Spanish lessons and life lessons. I deal with students that do not like me, and I am hurt when they show that dislike. I make mistakes every day. And every day I come into class and I bring the mess with me.

This week I have been tired…really, really tired. I feel the weight of the mistakes and struggling relationships. I feel the pressure to continue to love my students well in spite of that. I’ve dealt with the very real insecurities that come from such a conflict. I am worn, and I am a little sad when I think of how far my classes are from that pretty picture I once created.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure where this post was going to go once I started typing, but as I sit here and reflect on my classroom mess, I am starting to see how it might actually be a good thing. What I mean is this: if all my students were perfect and I was perfect, what would be the point of teaching at all? Would there really be a need for intentional development if they just took every life lesson, accepted it, and applied it? Why would I be going through the whole student teacher process if I wasn’t going to use it as a time to make mistakes and learn from them?

Are we even recognizing our own true humanity if we don’t also recognize the mess that comes with being human? Rather than dwelling on an idealistic picture, why not dive into the mess of working with other humans? It’s hard and tiring, but it’s also real. I guess it’s also why I signed up for this in the first place. I signed up to be in the mess.

That thing called HOPE.

“True hope is always hard. Is it not passive wishing. It is an active exercise, a choice, an intention. Hope means giving up apathy and despair and embracing the uncertainty that terrifies you. It is the sacrifice of keeping your heart soft.” {Jena Lee Nardella, One Thousand Wells}

How can we find beauty in a world that is so broken? How can we see the image of God in a person that is so mean? How can we seek love when relationships are so temporary? Oh, that thing called hope.

The truth is we live in a world that can  be downright brutal and scary. It’s unfair and cruel. And as we stair in the face of such unfairness,  how often do we toss around the word “hope” like a positive, spiritual bandaid that will hold our crumbling lives together. Or even more, we use it as a half-heated wish that things will get better soon. For some reason it doesn’t quite do the trick…

But what if we are viewing hope all wrong? A few days ago, I was reading One Thousand Wells by Jena Lee Nardella and I was captivated by the way she explained hope. (See quote above) Jena writes this as she reflects on her often unrewarded and unsuccessful attempts at bringing clean drinking water to suffering communities in Africa. She talks about how selfishness, corruption, disease, and natural disasters would get in the way of her efforts to do good. She talks about loosing hope, wanting to give up, and then finding hope again in a whole new form. Hope that is hard. Hope that acts. Hope that is scary. Hope that hurts.

As I reflect on this kind of hope and how it applies to my own life, I think of what a wonderully difficuly change in mindset this could be. What if I chose hope as an action, and tried to explain verb conjugations one more time to that struggling student? What if I chose a hope that scared me, and went for a job that challenges me in every way? What if I choose to let hope hurt, and I love the other even when it’s messy, painful and hard?

That is true hope. That is powerful hope. That is a hope that’s worth having, because that is a hope that makes a broken world with struggling people a place of beauty.