Friday, November 21, 2014

Cultivating Thankfulness in the Teaching Life

Cultivating thankfulness (The Message, Colossians 3:15) is on my mind this week as Facebook feeds blossom with various gratitude challenges. Since I asked my department members in our Wednesday meeting to share recent moments from their classes that they were thankful for, I set out to share some of mine here. Then my list got way too long, so I had to cut it off after 3.

This week, I'm thankful that...

  1. Uncovering student misunderstanding reminds me not to assume mastery without evidence. Like “inference.” I got lazy this year and skipped over a lesson on inference, just referring to it as if students understood. Because it seemed like they did. Then I got this response to quiz question asking students to identify one of 3 reading strategies they’d used on a certain passage (inferring, asking questions, envisioning images) and give a specific example: “I interfered sometimes for a disagreement. I also sometimes couldn’t help myself from saying an opinion because I might forget without interfering.”
  2. Engaging lessons can be very low tech. One day this week, half the students were out on a Japanese field trip. The remaining students were to do a Biblical perspective lesson to prepare for the essay on the human dignity unit structured around the Holocaust memoir Night. In the past, I’ve used a highly structured online group worksheet…but students seemed to miss the main points—they just filled in the blanks. This year, I simplified: I divided the students that remained into groups of 4 or 5, gave them a piece of poster paper and a handful of markers, and told them to represent on the poster what they could learn about the Biblical concept “love your neighbor as yourself” by reading the NIV Study Bible study note on Lev. 19:18, each of the 7 verses mentioned in it, and each of those verses’s study notes. On a day when half their classmates were out of class, I was expecting to have a difficult time getting the remainder to focus on learning. But they were all engaged, on task, and asking good questions. I got to answer one girl’s question on the meaning of a sentence in the study note, and then watch her go back to her group to explain. One group proudly showed me that they’d come up with an additional related passage—Jesus on the cross praying for God to forgive his killers. And one group asked me, “If we have to love our neighbors, and we have to love our enemies, then do we have to love Satan?” Now, at first I thought that was a silly question, but then I tried to answer it…. Seriously. Try it. I sat and discussed it afterward with 3 other teachers for about 10 minutes. 
  3. Technology offers additional ways for students to engage with material and with each other. For the Night/human dignity current application follow-up, I offered students a choice of 5 articles to read, and assigned them to write one online Moodle forum post responding to their article and how they could use it in their essay, then one response each to a person who had read their same article and to a person who had read a different article (see “Making It Real” post for structuring a literature unit around a life question). They shared excitement, made connections, and asked each other great questions. Here are some of the things they said:
  • It's really sad how we sometimes make decisions based on other people's decisions and opinions. We often go with the crowd, and hurt the people getting hurt by our friends. It's all under our control, but we still choose to do things that hurt others.
  • This article had lots of interesting information that even now I do not understand all of it. I am glad to have read this article.
  • I agree that people turn away from others and try to protect themselves. Do you think that this is a defense mechanism or is it our morality that causes this? 
  • I feel that people are scared of the consequences that come from being the one to blame so instead we blame others. Plus it is easier for us to blame others rather than accepting that we have done something wrong.
  • Everyone has the ability to do bad things if anger or any other feeling consumed them. This also brought me to think about Hotel Rwanda. The author of An Ordinary Man  [autobiography of the protagonist of Hotel Rwanda] states how he saw his friend who was known to be "cool" become a killer. I could use this in my essay to state that inhumane behavior can cause people to act that way, but others, like Juliek [a character in Night], could still remain human and stand for his rights.
  • I too believe that we have a certain sense of wrong and right. But from reading the previous articles, I saw the morality being broken down. Do you think that the people lost their morality because they weren't Christians? Do you think that it is possible that the people who have faith in God will lose their morality?
  • We have the capacity to determine what is right or wrong, a gift from God. It is also very hard to live a pure life and an innocent life, because sin entered into this world.
  • I also found it sad when the author quoted a small boy saying he would rather hurt a Chinese delivery guy instead of an old lady. We choose to have specific people who we want to sympathize with, and people who we choose to dehumanize and alienate from ourselves.

Sometimes—in the middle of stacks of marking—it’s a discipline to cultivate thankfulness in the teaching life. But like other disciplines, it becomes second nature with practice. I’m so thankful for my students, for their enthusiasm for learning, and for the opportunity I have to channel it.


  1. I love reading your thoughtful posts! I have actually been reading for a couple months now. Recently I was offered a contract to work at CAJ next school year, and I can't wait to get to know you in person!

    1. Renee--Nice to meet you! Glad you enjoy the posts. I wish I could be here to meet you next year in person, but my husband and I will be moving to Okinawa to work at Okinawa Christian School International, a school similar to CAJ. You will have many wonderful colleagues at CAJ.

  2. Awe, that's too bad for me... :-). I'll definitely keep reading your blog, I enjoy your reflections on your teaching and your students' learning. Blessings in Okinawa...