Pity Party

New teacher Holly Bush of The Jesus Car might have appreciated this poem, which I wrote in 1991 and revised recently.

PITY PARTY

What a day I’ve had!

“Who wants to come to a pity party?” you say.

Then give me something to be happy about.

Make me forget

The gloppy spitballs found on the board.

Give me courage to face the class from you-know-where.

Make me believe

I’m cut out to be a teacher

So I won’t walk straight out the front door

Instead of doing hall duty.

 

“This is the day that the Lord hath made,

We will rejoice and be glad in it,”

Proclaims the plaque on my desk.

It’s only Monday, Lord–

Four more days away from rejoicing.

Today I just want some sympathy,

Period.

 

Just yesterday the preacher asked,

“Where does it say

God wills our days

To be problem-free?”

Then he laid it on the line:

“God’s will is for us to become

More like Jesus Christ.”

 

Hmm.

Could I become like Him

Without icky spitballs,

Toothaches,

And delinquents-in-training–

Those minor annoyances

That fine tune me

And pale in the midst

Of life’s cosmic crises?

 

Jesus, You learned obedience

Through what You suffered.

Did You heal with a headache,

Then rock-pillow Your head at night,

Trying to forget mercenary whines,

Clueless questions,

Sibling rivalry

And Pharisee traps?

Little annoyances–

Pale prelude

To the cosmic work that lay before You.

 

No, Lord, I can’t say I’m eager to sign up

For the fellowship of Your suffering.

Would my bumps and bruises even qualify?

The least I can do right now

As I press on

Is leave this petty pity party.

Fall–behind?

As I drove back from some errands yesterday around three, I had a strange sense of something wrong—out of sync. No dogs trotted down the sidewalk alongside their owners. The neighborhood pool was deserted. I reached for my bottle of water—almost empty. The temperature gauge on my dash read 94, and a perky voice on the radio put the heat index in the hundreds. Gee, thanks! A yellow bus lumbered by.

That was it! The bus. School was in session, but where was fall? When would the little children fly down the street in jeans and long-sleeved shirts? When would Mom bring the family dog to the bus stop and wait for her kids while sipping coffee? When would the grass stop growing and the lawn fill with leaves?

Cool, crisp Septembers in Northern Virginia are about as mythical as White Christmases, but still, I hope for them. The alarm on my “teacher clock” goes off in September and I’m ready for the energy of a new year, even though I walked out of the school door three years ago. Activities at church kick into high gear. Everybody and everything has a meeting the same week. Summer salads disappear from my favorite restaurant, and pumpkin spice beverages appear. (So what if I need something cold and icy?) When I reach the air-conditioned comfort of home, I salivate over catalogs that feature purple boiled wool jackets and plaid skirts. Fall, where are you?

Not Another School Supply List!

Christian radio station, WGTS 91.9 has a back-to-school resource guide for parents who are preparing to send their children back to school. You’ll find articles on topics such as spiritual preparation for the year, handling rejection, and homework. There are also notes for kids and teachers to download, and signs for your first-day pictures. Enjoy!

In her Come Have a Peace blog, Julie Sanders tells “Why School Mom Prayers Matter” and shares her ABCs of prayer resource.

Focus on the Family has a full slate of back-to-school resources, with sections on Transitions, Homework Help, and Challenges.

Looking ahead into the fall, parents might want to read up on Bring Your Bible to School Day, which is October 4. This is a wonderful opportunity for your children to exercise their rights and witness for Christ at the same time!

Teachers can easily feel overwhelmed at the beginning of the year—even before the students arrive. Christian educators in public schools face unique stresses. Check out Christian Educators Association International!

Have a wonderful school year!

 

A Year with Mr. Gruff

You just learned the awful truth. Your little Susie will have Ms. Oh-so-strict this year for fourth grade or John has Mr. Gruff for algebra. What should you do?

It happened to me more than once, and I survived. Chances are your child will, too. Mrs. Reed, my fourth-grade teacher, resembled a short, gnarled, weather-beaten tree. Drill sergeants bark; Mrs. Reed growled. I feared the sudden thunderstorm of her wrath when it came to math. We lined up by her desk to have the mistakes in our word problems pointed out. After a growl of frustration from Mrs. Reed and much red ink from her pen, I’d return to my seat, condemned to try again. Math hadn’t been my forte before fourth grade and having Mrs. Reed didn’t change that.

How about a little reassurance here, Pam?

My mother always struck a great balance between advocating for me when necessary and backing up the teacher’s authority. In fourth grade she thought I was learning enough math and not suffering too much, so she didn’t intervene.

The bottom line: don’t overreact and don’t panic if John has a “problematic” teacher. Wait and gather more information while trying to remain unbiased. In time, you may see that the teacher’s strong points outweigh her weaknesses. Depending on your child’s age and personality, this is also a great way to encourage some independence.

Here are some suggestions for a successful year with Ms. Oh-so-strict or Mr. Gruff:

  1. Start the year with an email just to establish a line of communication with the teacher. Don’t complain or even ask questions. Indicate when and how to contact you. Without being threatening, this shows that you intend to be involved in your child’s education.

 

  1. If you still have concerns after a week or two, contact the teacher directly and arrange to discuss the situation face-to-face. Emails discussing problems can be misunderstood without the benefit of eye contact and other cues.

 

  1. At the conference, relax. View the teacher as a partner in helping your child. Get a feel for how Susie is doing in class, then bring up your concern in a non-threatening manner, using “I messages”: I’m concerned because Susie seems afraid to ask questions about her math assignment. I’ve learned that Susie needs to sit near the front of the room near attentive neighbors in order to concentrate.

 

  1. Ask the teacher for her recommendations. Chances are you will come to a resolution without difficulty and leave the meeting with an action plan that will be easy for all parties to live with. For example, if John never seems to understand the specifics of his homework assignment, he’ll write out the details in his assignment book and the teacher will check and initial it. If you object to the book that John’s English class is reading, you and the teacher will work together to find an alternative meeting curriculum guidelines.

 

  1. Discuss the action plan at home and make sure Susie understands what’s expected of her. Email a thank you to the teacher. You can keep friendly tabs on the situation throughout the grading period.

 

  1. If the meeting doesn’t help resolve the situation, you can seek help from another staff member. A guidance counselor could help with relationship issues or even learning strategies. High schools offer peer or volunteer adult tutoring.

 

  1. If possible, avoid going to the school administration. Your protective instincts may tempt you to bring in the “big guns,” but this move may figure into the teacher’s evaluation and create a hostile relationship. In a middle or high school, the department chair may be able to help, or the guidance counselor may be able to arrange a schedule change.

 

  1. Involve the administration when you have exhausted other avenues. Documentation of how you’ve attempted to resolve the problem will be helpful to the administrator.

 

Did you survive a year with Ms. Oh-so-strict or Mr. Gruff? What did the experience teach you?

Do you have any suggestions for dealing with difficult teachers?

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

For Cassie Franklin, the heroine of my novel The Substitute, back-to-school time is without a doubt the most wonderful time of the year. For years she and her husband Joe, a school administrator, have transmitted that enthusiasm to their children. Cassie puts her home economics skills to work in August, trying out new recipes for breakfast muffins, bread, and sandwich spreads. Children Jen and Paul help their mom make a schedule of menus for their lunches. As the children got older, Joe gave them a budget for clothes and school supplies and drove them to the mall. Cassie used the quiet time to get started on lesson plans. But this year, it’s different. The kids are both in college, and Cassie doesn’t have a job. Will her life ever get back to normal?

By mid-August Sully High School assistant principal Michael Lansdowne is racing around the building. His mission: to locate missing boxes of supplies and file cabinets moved into the wrong classroom after all the floors were waxed. For relaxation, he straightens his desk and stocks up on evaluation forms for his assigned teachers. How did he wind up with more teachers to evaluate than any of the other APs?  He’s already stressed, and school doesn’t start until the day after Labor Day.

Newly-minted P. E. teacher Holly Bush, the heroine of The Jesus Car, doesn’t have as much to do as Cassie or Michael. She’ll be buying a couple pairs of athletic shoes, some shorts, and a whistle. She’s already purchased Sully Lions sweats, polo shirts, and ball caps. If only Katrina and Yolanda would get in touch so they could go over the safety and procedural lessons and field hockey rules handouts! And then there’s the matter of her anemic bank balance. How will she make it until the end of September when she gets her first paycheck?

Francine Paris, the culinary arts teacher at Sully, works for at least a week in her demonstration kitchen before the contract year begins. She runs all of her dishes, glasses, and flatware through the dishwasher and hand washes the pots, pans, baking sheets and knives. She inspects everything in her pantry to make sure no pests have wreaked havoc there. Then she’ll write a purchase order for Foodie Village and get that to the finance technician before the rest of the faculty monopolizes her time. She works hard and she works alone, which is what puts her in a predicament as The Substitute opens.

Like their real-life counterparts, fictional teachers and administrators work during the summer.  Even so, most of them anticipate the newness of the first week of school and enjoy the ritual of getting ready for it.

What are your back-to-school rituals? Are you anticipating the start of the school year?