Monday, July 22, 2013

Guest Post: Learning on the Other Side of the Desk (Part I)

When Olivia offered to write a guest post with lessons from her first year of teaching, I was thrilled.  Although I haven't written much about teaching, I just finished my first year as a teacher as well, a year that was both incredibly rewarding and overwhelmingly challenging.  While I won't be going back to my teaching job next year due to our move, it will soon be David's turn to try his hand at teaching and, truth be told, he's quite nervous!  Thanks, Olivia, for sharing your experience with us (and for helping me out during this busy, busy time for us)!

First, a huge 'thank you' to Mandi for allowing me to guest post today as she moves and settles her lovely family in their new home!  I'm humbled to help a blogger I truly admire, and, seeing as we are both teachers, we are both married to Davids, and we both love Shark Tank, it's obviously a match made in blogger-heaven.  Many prayers for her family during this time of transition!

I'm noticing a trend.  I never really know what I'm getting myself into.

College, teaching, marriage.  I'm clueless.  I do everything I can to prepare myself before embarking upon a new adventure, but I suppose whoever said that 'there is no training like experience' hit the nail on the head.  Does anyone else feel that way?  I have found that experience truly is the best instructor, and there's nothing like being thrown into a pit of mid-pubescent, 21st century persons to convince you of that fact.

I recently completed my very first year of teaching.  I am blessed to teach Religion and Art to 7th and 8th graders at our local Catholic middle school.  Spending each day with preteens gifts me with loads of entertainment, a bore-less job, and plenty of opportunities to grow in virtue.  This year has taught me much more than I can fully fathom now, but I nevertheless present to you 10 simple, yet profound lessons I have learned about teaching and catechizing young people in our culture today.  I "knew" all about these before, but like we've concluded, experiencing and implementing them is a far different task.

Note: Even if you are not a teacher, this list is applicable to anyone who engages with teenagers, and can even be useful in parenting (although I humbly lay no claim on expertise in that arena)!

1. In a youth culture that is submerged in negativity, look for the silver lining.  Our young people (please understand that I am speaking generally, and not of every individual teen I have the honor of meeting) have been conditioned by the popular culture to focus only on the negative; they tend to look for the worst in themselves, in others, and in every situation.  Rarely are they excited about anything that does not involve what they want to do at that particular moment of that particular day.  Sometimes this can be discouraging.  But don't let it be!  Discouragement is literally from the pits of hell.  Instead of focusing on their selfishness and conceit, I learned to wait patiently for them to reveal their redeeming qualities.  And they do, when given the chance.

For example, when school began again after Christmas break, I was away for the first few days on account of my honeymoon.  When I walked into my classroom on the morning of my return, I switched on the lights, and was greeted by this:
Welcome Back

The kids had done this for me while I was gone.  It was the first time they made me cry in a good way.  You see, they long to give of themselves positively, they just need to be taught how.

2. Roll with the punches. Middle schoolers are out of their minds.  They are stuck smack dab in the middle of childhood and adulthood.  They want to be adults but they can't figure out how to do it on their own, so they digress.

One day, a student asked me to help him tie his shoes because he couldn't tie them right.  The next day, this same student told me that he didn't need me to instruct him on a project because 'it's easy and he doesn't need my help'.  You see?

If I don't roll with the punches they will drive me insane with their inconsistency.  The more I realize that they need to be loved through this time of transition, the easier it is for me to smile and aid them while also allowing them to slowly gain their independence.

3. Don't expect immediate gratitude.  Most middle schoolers are embarrassed to say 'thank you'.  I don't know why.  But don't rely on it.  Like most ministries in life, teaching is, most of the time, a thank-less job.  But that's not why we do it anyhow.

Every once in a while, however, I receive something like this note on the last day of school and every bit of effort is worth it:
Last Day Letter

4. Sympathize, but don't excuse.  Middle school sucks.  But it doesn't have to.  Our kids are growing up in a rough world.  A lot of them have already suffered much more in their short life than I have in mine.  Home lives are difficult, and children can be mean to one another.  Striking a balance between understanding where they come from and why they behave the way they do, and not letting their past or current situation be an excuse for poor behavoir, sin, disrespect, and laziness is a task that I am still trying to perfect.  Kids need to be understood, but they also need to be called to something great.  Insert the universal call to holiness.  They long for greatness, they just haven't been invited to achieve it.

5. Be the person you want them to become.  This one kicks me right in the butt.  Teens may never remember an ounce of what you say but they will always remember you.  How's that for the call to holiness?  This means: they watch how I react in the face of trial and persecution, they note what I wear and how I carry myself, they question my life outside of school, they observe me when I pray, and they show immense interest in how I live out my vocation.  Do I practice what I preach?
Consecration of the Eucharist at a Wedding

If they know you, trust you, and love you, they will follow you anywhere.  Let them see that you're not perfect, but you're striving, let them peer into small segments of your life, let them get a glimpse of your relationship with God by praying out loud and informally, and let them know of your unconditional love for them.  And then ask yourself if you are the kind of saint-in-the-making that you desire them to be.  Your own answer will tell you a lot about what your students actually think of you.

Click here for five more lessons from Olivia's first year of teaching.

Olivia is a new wife to David and a teacher to tweens who lives to pursue the heights of happiness and holiness.  She loves light beer, cooking, old books, and all things Southern.  Olivia blogs at and would love to have you along for the adventure!

Notice: This is the first day in a 3-4 week blogging break I'll be taking for our move.  I have some awesome guest posts scheduled as well as a few drafts I've pulled from the depths and finished up.  (Interested in guest posting?  Email me!)  I may be popping in here from time to time and leaving little updates on our move and settling in, probably in the form of a little notes tacked on to guest posts and I may get in a new review and giveaway or two added in as we go, but if you really want to keep up with the Messy family, you can follow on facebook or twitter for some more frequent updates.  If you can spare some prayers for our family the next couple weeks, I certainly won't discourage you!

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