Saturday, February 25, 2012


“What happens to a dream deferred?  Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?  Or fester like a sore--And then run?  Does it stink like rotten meat?  Or crust and sugar over--like a syrupy sweet?  Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.  Or does it explode?”

            I listened to the sweet voice of Taniqua reading the beautiful poem of Langston Hughes.  She had chosen the theme of “Dreams” for her poetry book, and she was presenting it to the class.  I marveled at her careful illustration of the lost dream drying up, festering, stinking, sagging, and finally exploding.

            Sometimes when you see an exceptional student presentation, you are able to step out of your role of teacher and just become an appreciative audience member lost in the beautiful sights and sounds.  My stressful day was melting away as I soaked in Taniqua’s astonishing presentation.

            “I liked my last poem by Mr. Hughes so much that I memorized it,” Taniqua softly announced.

            This girl just keeps getting better and better, I thought. As Taniqua recited, I found myself closing my eyes and listening. 

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow

            I led the class in vigorously applauding Taniqua as she sat down.

            “Taniqua, your presentation was just amazing.  Such a wonderful job!  Do you mind leaving your copy of “Dream Deferred” up front so we can all enjoy how you illustrated it for a few more days?”

            Taniqua shyly nodded yes.  She was positively beaming with the praise being heaped upon her.  And she deserved it.  I know we’re not supposed to have favorites, but Taniqua was my favorite today.  Every year during the poetry unit, I feel like I’m pulling teeth trying to get middle school kids interested.  I had spent the last 25 minutes listening to sad, pathetic projects.  Taniqua’s presentation was a cool, refreshing breeze.  It’s always my dream to help students fall in love with poetry, and I was enjoying the warm feeling of success today.

            We had 15 minutes left of class.  Just enough time to review for the Unit Test tomorrow.
            Naomi’s hand shot up.  I had worked hard to ignore her bored slouch during Taniqua’s presentation.  She had spent the last 30 minutes yawning and looking out the window.

            “Yes Naomi?”

            “Mrs. Jones, I am so inspired by Taniqua’s poems, I want to think about dreams some more.”

            I eyed her suspiciously.  “Really,” I deadpanned.  “And how do you want to think about them?”

            Naomi stared back evenly at me, a smirky smile playing at the corners of her mouth. Then came the snarky comment.  “I think we should all just sit back and daydream until the bell rings.”

            Aaaaand the dream dries up. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012


            “Do you trust me?” Naomi asked sweetly.

            “No,” I answered as I stacked the homework papers.

            “WHY NOT?”

            “You have to earn trust, Naomi.  You haven’t earned trust with me.”

            Naomi’s eyes widened and she stared back at me indignantly, her mouth slowly dropping open.

            “You should trust me.  You’re the teacher.  It’s your job.”

            I placed the stack of homework papers on my desk and walked back to stand in front of her.

            “My job is teaching you, not trusting you.”

            Naomi was in trouble.  Mid-quarter progress reports had been mailed, and she had three D’s.  Most of the problem was from missing or late work.  Her parents had taken away her phone.

            “Why don’t you trust me?”  Naomi was not letting this go.

            “Well, for starters,” I answered, “I don’t trust you to hand in your homework.”

            “I HANDED IN MY HOMEWORK.  IT’S RIGHT THERE ON YOUR DESK.  I’LL SHOW YOU.”  Naomi started to get out of her desk.

            “You don’t have to show me.  I saw that you handed in your homework today.  But what about yesterday, and the day before, and last week?  What about your project for Mrs. Osbourn?”

            Naomi stared back at me.  “That’s not fair!”

            “It’s very fair.”  I paused.  “You have to earn trust, and that takes time.”

            “Well that’s dumb!”   

Friday, February 10, 2012

When the Continent Sinks

          My sister-in-law’s mother died recently.  She had been ill for several months, and her death was not unexpected.  But the death of a parent is a heart wound you never recover from.

            In Surprised By Joy, C.S. Lewis wrote, “With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life . . . no more of the old security.  It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.”  Lewis was just 9 years old when his mother died, and I’ve always been struck by the picture of his mother’s death being like the sinking of a continent.

            No matter how old you are when you lose a parent, their death leaves you feeling like an orphan.  If you’re older when this happens, you probably realize that you have lost a person who loved you with a unique intensity from anyone else on earth.

            Ursula Hegi wrote a collection of short stories titled Hotel of Saints.  One of the stories titled “Freitod” tells of a woman suffering from a terminal illness who chooses to end her life.  As the woman describes her love for her two grown children, she says, “You love your children far more than you ever loved your parents, and – in that love, and in the recognition that your own children cannot fathom the depth of your love – you come to understand the tragic, unrequited love of your own parents.” 

            It’s sobering to realize that your own mother carried a vast love for you, and you never realized what that love was like until you had children of your own.  I don’t make this observation of the lopsided love to scold adults into ramping up their demonstration of love for their parents (although most parent/child relationships could stand some of this, especially as the parent ages).  I make the observation that this lopsided love - just is.  Maybe it’s another manifestation of the fallen world we live in. 

            But maybe it’s also a picture of our relationship with God.  Most of us view God from a childlike perspective.  He’s the caretaker who provides for all of our needs.  How often do we contemplate the immensity of His love for us compared to what we give Him in return?    

            Even though our parents die, our continents sink, maybe they were a small picture of the vast, everlasting love of God.  Our returned love is completely overshadowed by His love for us.  And that’s just how it is.         

            Thank you, Elisabeth Elliot, for how you always opened your broadcasts - “You are loved with an everlasting love. . . And underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Jeremiah 31:3 and Deuteronomy 33:27)

Saturday, February 4, 2012


 “What’s your first word, Tayna?”

“Impotent,” she responded sweetly.

“What?” I asked

“Impotent,” she announced.  “It means powerless.”

This couldn't be right.  The students were reading Rudyard Kipling’s story, “Rikki Tikki Tavi,” and they were told to pick out ten vocabulary words.  I grabbed the lit book, flipped it open to the story, and quickly scanned through the highlighted vocab words.  

Uh oh!.  There it was on page 267.  Darzee the bird sings a chant at the end of the story after Rikki Tikki kills evil Nagaina.  Within Darzee's chant was the line, "Terror that hid in the roses is impotent -- flung on the dung-hill and dead!"

They had to define each word and use it in a sentence.  Vocabulary is hard for most of my students and I usually reduce the number of new words they have to learn.  I made the bad mistake of telling them they could choose the ten words they wanted to learn.  I figured they’d pick words they had seen before and make it easy on themselves.  They had written their chosen words with the definitions before coming to my room.  I was going to help them write their new sentences.

“Okay.  Do you know what powerless means?”  I asked her.

“Yes.  It means not strong.”

“That’s right,” I replied.  “Can you think of a sentence now for your word?”  I was having a hard time saying “impotent” in the Learning Center.

“Yes,” Tayna said as she bent her head over her paper and began writing.  Normally I have to coach kids with new words, but Tayna had already figured out what she was going to write.  I waited until she finished and then asked her to read her sentence.

“My dad is impotent when no one gives him attention,” Tayna proudly read.  When she finished, she looked up at me beaming.

I stared back with my mouth starting to slack open.  I was concentrating really hard on not smiling.  I knew that if I even started to smile it would disintegrate into laughing.  And it wouldn’t be the subtle kind of laugh.

When Tayna didn’t get an approving smile back, her eyes widened into a worry.  “Isn’t that right?” she asked.  “My dad doesn’t like it when people don’t do what he says.  He doesn’t have power if we don’t pay attention to him.”

“Uh . . . yeah,” I slowly responded.  I decided to give the Communication Arts teacher something fun to grade.  “Your sentence is just fine.”

“I have a sentence,” Naomi announced.

“What word did you choose?” I asked.

“I chose impotent too.” 

Oh Phooey I thought as I watched Naomi bend her head over her paper, biting her bottom  lip as she wrote.  After a minute she proudly held her paper up and read, “My dad is impotent in the morning.”

I’m pretty controlled, but we had just gone over the line.  I quickly got up and walked over to my desk, turned my back to the kids and stretched my mouth open into a silent scream.  It was the only thing I could think of to keep from laughing.  If I burst out laughing, I knew the girls would carry the story home about how they made the teacher laugh.  I didn’t want to have to explain why their daughters were learning about “impotent.”  I rummaged on my desk as though looking for something and asked Naomi to explain what she meant.

“My dad is really tired in the morning.”

My back was still to the girls and I did the wide silent scream thing again.  Don’t laugh.  “What does that have to do with being powerless, Naomi?”

“He’s tired,” she explained.  “He’s not strong.  Isn’t that what powerless means?”

I waited a few moments more. “Yeah.  That’s fine,” I finally said. 

Don’t ever let them chose the vocab words again!  I scolded myself.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Two Truths and a Lie

“Guys, we’re going to start by playing a game called ‘Two Truths and a Lie.” 

We had a new student join our room and I thought it would be fun to get to know each other by playing this game.   “I want you to think of two things you did last summer, only you’re going to try and trick us.  Think of a third thing you could say that you did that you really didn’t do.  We’re going to try and guess which two you did and which one is the lie.”

Our new student Dalton had played the game before and began smiling.  “I’ve got some good stuff to tell.  Can I go first?”

“Sure,” I said.  “Take it away.”

“I mowed the lawn and I cleaned my room, and I . . .”  Dalton paused.  He was stuck.  I figured he was trying to think of his lie.  It was almost funny how he couldn’t come up with a lie when he had to.  Finally, “And I went to Six Flags!”

Everyone goes to Six Flags at least once during the summer.  Dalton had now stumped me.  “Naomi, which thing do you think was Dalton’s lie?” I asked.

Naomi was staring at something two inches to the left of my ear. 

“Naomi!  What do you think Dalton is trying to trick us on?” I asked again.

Naomi finally shook off her dazed look and focused on me.  “Huh?”

“Naomi, were you listening to Dalton?”

“You want us to lie?” Naomi asked.

“Well, it’s not really a lie.  He’s going to try and make us believe something that’s not true,” I backpeddled.  “Dalton is trying to trick us and we’re going to see if we can figure out how he’s trying to fool us.”  I was working hard not to say “lie” anymore.  Trick, fool, what’s another word I can use I thought.

“Are you teaching us to lie this semester?”   Naomi’s mouth was open in astonishment.  “Teachers aren’t supposed to teach you to lie.”

“I didn’t go to Six Flags!” Dalton announced.

Oh Pooh!  I would have guessed he didn’t clean his room.

“You go next, Mrs. Jones,” Dalton pleaded.  “What did you do last summer?”

“Did you lie to anyone?” Naomi coyly asked.
One more fun idea that falls flat.  “Dalton this is Naomi.  Naomi, Dalton.  Let’s get to work,” I sighed.