Hello, God. Welcome to My Classroom


3 Ways Comparison Steals My Joy

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on March 29, 2012

I put up a “Thought for the Week” in my classroom, so I’m always jotting down inspiring or interesting words or phrases and eventually typing them into my Quotes folder on my computer. Recently, the quote I chose was “comparison is the thief of joy”. Not only is comparison the thief of joy, it is also one of the devil’s weapons. And he wields it liberally. Here are three ways he uses it to his advantage:

1. Comparison says we’ll never measure up. It doesn’t matter if I’m striving to be thin, smart, well-dressed, patient, or clever, there will always be someone who is thinner, smarter, better dressed, more patient, or more clever. No matter how hard I try, I’ll never be the best. My self-worth vaporizes in the face of comparison.

The only way to truly measure “me” is by comparing what I am now to what I used to be. If I strive to walk the path God places before me and use my past self as my “ruler”, I’ll continue to be “more” than I was before. My value elevates.

2. Comparison erodes relationships. If I continually compare myself to a friend, a sibling, a colleague, or any other person, my bond with that person suffers. Christian love for another human being cannot flourish while fighting its way from the jaws of comparison.  Jealousy hungrily devours its host.

I see this both with adults and so often with my students. Young teens spend countless hours and a lot of (their parents’) money on clothes, electronics, games, and activities trying to fit in by having “the best”. Unfortunately, until they embrace their uniqueness and understand that it’s a gift from God, they’ll struggle to be happy and their relationships will be damaged.

The devil’s greatest thrill is when I allow comparison to weaken my spiritual relationship. If I am focused on what other people have and how they act, I am not working to strengthen my relationship with God and Jesus. That relationship cannot flourish until I let go of earthly comparison.

3. Comparison cultivates greed and crushes contentment. Have you ever watched toddlers play together? Talk about a great example of discontent. When a toy gets picked up by one, the other will snatch it from his hands. It doesn’t matter if there are fifty more toys in the room because the one claimed by someone else must be the best.

Teens and adults act like toddlers quite frequently. Yep, I’m one of those adults. When I see something I like that belongs to someone else, I often let the greed monster (you know, the devil himself) talk me into needing one. “I deserve it. I work hard and earn a paycheck. The one I have is so old and totally out-of-style. Why should her life be better than mine?” That devil sure is good at whispering in my ear, making me have a little pity party, encouraging me to cheer myself up with a little retail therapy or another slice of chocolate cake. Too bad whatever I buy or eat never spreads contentment in my heart. Only God can do that. The devil loves it when I forget.

An Educational Experience

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on March 26, 2012

Last Friday, the 8th graders went on a field trip to our State Capitol in Richmond. Let’s face it…field trips are stressful. Organizing parent chaperones, lunches, buses, rules, student partners for the buddy system, departure and arrival times, what to do with students who can’t (or won’t) go but will still be at school, etc.

While we (the 8th grade teachers) were discussing final details on Thursday, we scanned the list of student partners, anticipating any who might need a little extra supervision. Boys who are habitual troublemakers. Couples who might try to escape for some alone time. Wonderers who might get separated from the group because they are oblivious to what’s going on around them. There are many possible issues, and we were trying to pinpoint them ahead of time.

One boy who has been difficult in our classrooms off and on this year was mentioned, but we all agreed he’d been doing well lately. He seemed to have done a complete turnaround, and we dismissed him as a potential problem.

When we arrived at the Capitol, the class was split in two groups. One took a tour, while the other participated in a mock General Assembly session. In the session, they were able to offer their opinions and viewpoints on issues pertinent to their age group and then place their votes. One issue was whether McDonald’s Corporation should take over the school cafeteria. The boy who we had decided was not a potential problem pressed his request to speak button, picked up his microphone, and announced that cafeteria food tastes like doo-doo.

Way to represent our school. And way to prove us dead wrong.

Of course we all discussed his comments extensively as we sat on the lawn outside the Capitol and ate our lunch before loading the buses for the ride home. My indignation at his behavior grew and grew until I felt disgusted at him for representing us so poorly.

Then God did what he does so frequently. He slapped me upside my head and infiltrated my mind. He said, “Now you know how I feel when you do something stupid. What a poor representative you are of my kingdom when you make bad decisions and act in ways that do not honor me. But remember, I’ll always love you even when you do those things.”

Yep, the message was loud and clear. Judging my students? Bad decision. I’m not setting a good example for them, and it certainly doesn’t represent God’s kingdom well. We all need to be reminded of important lessons in life. God reminded me. Now I need to remember that sometimes my teen students just need a little reminder as well.

“Me Do It Myself”

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on March 22, 2012

When I was very young, I apparently slammed the bathroom door in my mom’s face and said the words, “Me do it myself” during potty training. During my teen years, I continued to fight and paid the consequences for thinking I didn’t need anyone’s assistance. I fought for my personal liberty and was willing to do whatever it took to get it. Thankfully, I have matured, and I acknowledge (and even embrace) my weaknesses and seek people who can help me overcome them or compliment them with their strengths.

When asked what they want more than anything in life, many of my 8th grade students answer independence. They believe growing older and breaking free from parents, teachers, older siblings, or any other authority figure is the ultimate goal. I spend quite a lot of time trying to get them to believe interdependence, not independence, should be their goal. We brainstorm careers where individuals can succeed without depending on anyone else (very few, if any, exist). We discuss families and how members of a successful family must depend on the other members. And we discuss their education and why they can’t succeed all alone in school. Hopefully, some of them grasp the significance of the discussions and try to adjust their thinking a little.

The main reason I teach my students the difference between independence and interdependence is because I know I can’t succeed in life without being dependent on God. I try really hard to help His kingdom grow, but I frequently fail. My students would say “epic fail”. God offers me opportunities where I can make a difference, and I pray I have my eyes open to those opportunities when they arise. He provides strength where I am weak, even though I can’t do the same for him. That’s a pretty amazing example of interdependence.

Blessings in Return

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on March 19, 2012

I get to know to some degree which of my students are Christians, churchgoers, or non-believers throughout the year. One time, a simply act of kindness led me to a great discovery, which in turn made me feel so much better about a certain situation.

One year, I had a student who was very quiet, sometimes belligerent, but tried really hard in class. The concepts and skills did not come easily to him, but he normally tried to do his best. He was a “cool” kid who had a reputation to maintain, and sometimes schoolwork and homework didn’t fit into that reputation, but he succeeded in creating a balance between the two fairly well. He lived at home with his older sister who was out of school and working. His father wasn’t in the picture, and his mother had died the year before I had him as a student. He and I shared a good relationship as teacher and student, but he didn’t open himself up much. I was sure the abandonment from his father and the loss of his mother made it hard for him to commit to many people. I, too, would be out of his daily life after one year, so why invest his emotions in me?

As the weather turned colder with winter’s approached, he frequently came to school with an overpowering smell permeating his clothing. I knew where he lived, in a very ramshackle, unkept house with the porch cluttered with abandoned and discarded household items. I started noticing smoke rising from his house daily, and I realized any warmth in the home was being generated by a wood stove. The house didn’t have central heat, or maybe they couldn’t afford to pay for it. Some teachers and students commented on the smell. One even said it smelled like burnt meat. I felt so badly for my student. At school, he held his head high. I wondered if he was able to do so at home.

I grew up outside of Kansas City, and I’m still an avid fan of the Chiefs. One day, my student showed up in a ratty KC Chiefs jersey. It was a great conversation starter for the two of us, and I told him I had a KC sweatshirt I rarely wore because of how big it was on me. I asked if he would wear it if I gave it to him. He said yes but without much enthusiasm. I wondered if he felt it an act of charity or if it embarrassed him. I made certain to bring the shirt in a plain grocery bag and slipped it to him unnoticed by his peers. He mumbled thanks and it wasn’t mentioned again.

After a weekend passed, he appeared in my classroom with a card for me. It made me so happy to realize I had touched him enough to prompt a kind gesture in return. When I opened the card, I was even more pleased. The front of the card said, “May God Bless You.” The card still hangs on the wall behind my desk for all to see. God did bless me that day by assuring me my student had a foundation of faith to stand on during all the hard times he was facing and would face in the future. I pray he is still standing firm in His presence.

The Icing on the Cake

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on March 15, 2012

I like icing. To be honest, I love icing and maybe even lust for it. I’m one of those people who swipes their finger around the edge of the cake plate to get any sugary swirls left behind. My husband usually scrapes most of the icing from his cake. I reach for it immediately before he can do something unthinkable such as throwing it away. (Should be illegal!) I usually eat the cake first and save the icing. You know, the best for the last.

I rarely buy lunch from the cafeteria. Not necessarily because it’s cafeteria food (and all that implies) but because it’s less expensive to bring lunch from home. Occasionally, if I’m running late in the morning or my leftovers aren’t very tempting, I’ll crash the line in the “café” and grab a tray.

Recently when I did this, they were serving cake. Bonus! I stared at it while I ate the rest of the daily offerings. Once I started eating dessert, being careful to avoid the icing, it dawned on me it was really good cake. Exceptionally good. Each bite a delicious experience. Would the icing be better than this yummy cake? How could it possibly be? But you know what? It was. Even when I was eating a fantastic piece of cake, the best was yet to come.

It reminded me that in my brightest hours, when all my blessings are apparent and I feel overwhelmed with joy and abundance, something better, something beyond my wildest dreams, is still waiting for me. Eternity in Heaven will beat even the very best times on earth. No question about it…it’ll be the icing on the cake!

Why God Doesn’t Mind Plagiarism

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on March 12, 2012

Recently, I handed back biography projects to my students. A few of them lost points because of plagiarism, even though they all know what plagiarism is and I warned them about it when we reviewed the guidelines for the project. In middle school, students lose points for plagiarism, but I explain to them that once they reach high school, plagiarism will result in a zero on their projects, and in college they will probably get kicked out without any refund of the hundreds or thousands of dollars they’ve spent to be there.

God doesn’t mind plagiarism. In fact, he wants us to copy. He even gave us the perfect example for us to copy in his son, Jesus. Isn’t it wonderful that we are allowed to copy perfection without losing any points? Unfortunately, none of us ever come close to the example, but He just keeps letting us try. What an awesome God!

One Difference Between Tests and Life

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on March 8, 2012

Students get one shot at passing standardized state tests. At the 8th grade level, most of the tests don’t have to be taken over again if a student fails, but is it fair to say, “Oh well, he failed,” and pass him onto the next grade where he will face another standardized test? My heart cries for the students who know the subject but don’t test well. It’s not a fair assessment of whether they are “pass advanced,” “pass proficient,” or “failed,” but that’s how it’s done. This week my students took their standardized test in writing. I pray they all did well, but if they didn’t, it doesn’t mean they are failures by any stretch of the imagination.

I serve an awesome God who is forgiving and patient. Thank goodness He doesn’t pick a specific day and judge all I’ve learned at that one point in time. I mess up time and time again, and He keeps giving me more chances to “pass” His test.

How Can I Teach HOPE?

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on March 5, 2012

As I look around my classroom every day, I see all levels of hope. Some students feel secure in their future, truly believing they will attain their dreams. Others, already at 13 or 14 years old, seem to have lost all hope for a successful future, in their fellow human beings, in their own abilities, and especially in their circumstances.

Teachers are supposed to do whatever it takes to educate their students. Many times, we forget what occurs outside the walls of the school building. We ask, “Why can’t Johnny add and subtract?” or “Why can’t Sally remember how to write a complete sentence?” We don’t realize Johnny watched his separated parents get handcuffed and taken into custody last night for fighting in public. And they were fighting over him. Maybe Sally watched her teenage sister give birth to a child conceived with an abusive boyfriend. Or maybe they haven’t eaten breakfast. Or dinner last night. And all they can think about is lunch being served in two hours, not the periodic chart in science.

These kids don’t have hope. Even though hope doesn’t change circumstances, it allows us to weather the storms in life because we believe the future will have some sunny days. The Bible doesn’t promise life will be without storms, but it does promise God will calm the person within the storm and allow them to make it through with peace in their hearts.

So how do I possibly teach hope to these kids? The starting point is building hope in their own ability. Success in the classroom can go a long way toward boosting a student’s belief in what he or she can accomplish. The hard one is hope in circumstances. Many are in situations created by adults who have no hope themselves and pass that down to their children. All of these individuals, adults and children alike, need the ultimate hope which can only come from God. I pray for the spirit of hope to someday consume each and every one of them.

Welcome!

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on March 2, 2012

As an 8th grade English teacher, the process of writing down thoughts, ideas, and situations is a daily event. Blogging is cathartic, and I enjoy letting my musings flow so easily into a public forum.

Recently I read a news story about the separation of church and state.  It prompted me to think about the difference between “church” and “Church” because I find it hard to believe God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit follow that law. I am a member of the Church, capital C, of God. I am his child; therefore, where I am, He is. Because of this, when I am present in my classroom, He is present as well. The law may state the church has no place in my classroom, but the Church does because I am there.

I don’t teach religion or Christianity in my classroom. I teach English, but I can’t do it by myself. God’s presence is necessary, and He’s the reason for any successes my students experience from my instruction.

I begin each school year with subtle hints about my spiritual beliefs. I assure my homeroom kids they WILL be silent during the moment of silence. Whether they believe in praying or not, I insist they respect those of us who do. That is my first mention, but I take advantage of other opportunities to quietly battle against the separation of church and state.


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