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Advent JOY – Day #16 – My Vocation

December 14, 2015

Oh happy days. I have always known that my heart belonged with children. In college, I never doubted my training to be a teacher, a special ed teacher to be more specific. I always knew what I wanted to do. Actually, there was a time when I was growing up that I talked about becoming a pediatrician, until I considered the implications that career choice might have on my own family, and decided teaching was better. I’m forever thankful for my training both in and out of the classroom. I have been (professionally) teaching since college; 16 1/2 years.

I never actually taught in a special ed classroom outside my student teaching, but I gained even more than I could have imagined! While teaching KG, before becoming a mom and staying home with our kids, I learned so much about taking a group of kids and lifting them to greater heights no matter where they started.

These past 12 years, I have been tutoring and teaching PSR (Sunday school classes) at our parish. This current year, I have had the privilege of guiding 5 student mentors as they assist in different classrooms within the Monday night program. I also have 3 others that are volunteering in the nursery making my two youngest quite happy.  Elizabeth loves to go to her “school” and of course Max gets lots of loving! I hear he snuggles the entire hour with Ms. Stacy. I have so loved coaching these preteens and teens in how to help in the classroom, but admittedly this year I’ve begun to miss the classroom experience myself.

I had the great opportunity when I first started teaching to be mentored by an incredible woman and a few others along the way. This particular lady spent regular nights after school coaching me in how to bring the best out of my students. I was very literally drowning that first year teaching, and desperate to survive. What I got was so much more than survival. I fell in love with my students that year and their families. I worked harder than I ever imagined and I grew tremendously as a person and a teacher. So many of the things this precious woman taught me I have used as a parent, and of course still use as a teacher both to my kids and in my other teaching endeavors. I learned to die to myself. She made me practice, while sitting in her office, my stern face. Imagine practicing, right? I learned to convey so much with body language, both as an opportunity for redirection or direct discipline. A smile can be equally as effective if used deliberately and with sincerity.  I learned how to communicate with parents about their child’s successes and struggles. I learned to create lesson plans that were engaging and appropriate to the age and time of day of my students. I learned how to love children, all children and turn their struggles into so much goodness. I will never be able to say thank you enough for all Judy taught me as my dean and guide so many years ago. I am so thankful to be learning from her again through her regular updates HERE.

I have always prayed for my students and whatever particular obstacle had presented itself. It was in one particular moment, after that first year, that I distinctly understood my teaching vocation was not about changing the particular student who didn’t fit the norm, but changing myself to fit God’s plan for this child. That is my focus even now when addressing a student in and out of the classroom. (I wish I could say I do as well with my own children! God help me.) How can I adapt this lesson, this classroom, this moment to bring out the best in this child? I was with a dear friend today and she said something (speaking about her young daughter) so poignant and something I had lost sight of until she reminded me; “We have to be so careful to not set her up to fail.”

It is so easy in the classroom to become focused on the negative, to allow a child to derail THE plan for the lesson, to think that it is all about me and my expectations. Much of that is true. It IS all about me as the adult and my expectations for this child, but what are my expectations and how have I set him/her up to succeed? Have I emphasized the positive? Have I prayed? Have I inquired of the parents and offered parental support and collaboration? Have I considered in what ways I’m called to grow through this situation?

As I mentor these young volunteers, I am reminded of all the ways we can make a difference. I have seen these middle and high school kids grow themselves as they have taken on this responsibility, check in with me before and after class asking for advice, and take a vested interest in the religious formation of their partnered student. They have been trained, are receiving on-going training in classroom management, peer-to-peer support, redirection tactics, relevant expectations for 5pm on a Monday night, and of course love for the child. It brings me great joy and hope for the hearts and souls within this partnership. I’m honored to be part of it.

However, tonight, I got a rare opportunity. I got to lead Clare’s preschool class in their Advent lesson this last class before Christmas. I have used this particular book since my first year teaching. It is from a Protestant publisher, but I so love its sweet presentation and the opportunity to interact with the Christmas story. It tells the stories through the eyes of the animals who were there. Tonight, not only did I bring animals, but I also considered the ways in which the kids could become animals and interact with the story on a different level.

The sparrow who sat in the tree and saw the angel appear to Mary, was a gift from Grana when Katie was two and astonishingly still chirps. I found it tonight in the eleventh hour in Max’s toy box. In our stash of the FisherPrice Little People, I managed to find all the Christmas characters from our nativity set and several animals pulled from the Noah’s Ark set. The kitty (actually seven of them for the seven kids in tonight’s preschool class) who lived in the Inn and showed Mary & Joseph where her kitties had been born, came from Clare’s Littlest Pet Shop collection. The cricket who lived in the stable in Bethlehem and chirped baby Jesus a lullaby was purchased at Pet Smart this afternoon. Oh yes. I brought live crickets to help me tell tonight’s story. They sat briefly in the manager scene in the sanctuary and of course were carried by everyone at some point tonight as we walked through the Church experiencing each part of our story. (You can find the book information HERE.)

We ended the last few minutes of class in the classroom coloring a wooden block that would become a birthday present for Jesus on Christmas morning.  When Katie was very small she was adamant that we give Jesus a present. Certainly unprepared for this parental moment, I looked around the house for something to wrap and pretend to be a present. She tells me this afternoon that it was a wooden abc block. Good grief. That oldest girl of mine doesn’t forget anything. We left for Church that Christmas morning with block in hand. In fact, as I recall, she held that block all through Mass. After Mass, as we visited Jesus in the manager, she put her present next to him as we said a prayer. Of course, tonight I encouraged the preschoolers to give Jesus his gift in their own manager scenes at home. We’ll see if Clare remembers and offers it to Jesus Christmas morning. By the way, I love THIS book also for the preschool/KG kids.

My heart is filled with JOY in this third week of Advent. Our lights are on at home. Teacher gifts have been delivered these last few days. My teacher’s heart is full, and I love my sweet Clare just a little more for the moments she gave me tonight. This moment, right now, reflecting on the day, reminds me how important it is to be joyful! To turn moments of trial into moments of joy can do the soul a lot of good! I’m going to try to find more ways to find joy in the everyday moments. Yea for weekly virtues!

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