Hello, God. Welcome to My Classroom


It’s Worth Every Minute

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On June 19th, I turned west and put my foot on the gas pedal. Ten days later, I returned home having spent over 40 hours behind the wheel of the car, the last 14 of which were spent with the engine light glaring angrily in my eyes and my car sputtering in protest at certain moments.  And it was worth every minute.

Do you have family or friends you rarely see? Sure, in today’s world, we can be in touch with everyone on a daily basis. With email, Facebook, Skype, Instagram, blogs, and a million apps to help us stay connected, there’s no need to miss any news. But is it the same? Have you seen the emotions shining in their eyes? Have you wrapped them in your arms and hugged them tight? I have friends who only live an hour or less from me, but I still only see them a couple times a year. I have family scattered all across the country. The busyness of life fills our calendars and makes it difficult to spend time with our loved ones, but for ten days, I did. And it was worth every minute.

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As an 8th grade teacher, I know boys change a lot after they leave middle school. It had only been two years since I’d seen my nephews, but they have grown into handsome young men from the cute boys they were. My sister, Lauren, lives in Reno and we’re in Virginia, so it’s hard to align our schedules for visits. Colton was in awe of Ian and Tate, wanted to be with them every possible second, and tears poured when they left.

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Living so far from my family makes it difficult (impossible?) to go to family weddings most of the time. God must have taken pity on me for not attending one in decades because my cousin Gabriel married his long-time sweetheart Katie while we were in Missouri. My “little cousin” Gabriel is now a college graduate, an engineer, and a husband. His siblings have all grown up as well. The little kids I remember now have precious kids of their own. What a blessing for me to see each of them and meet the rest of my family.

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I rarely engage in nostalgia, but I couldn’t help searching for – and finding – the home my grandparents lived in when my mom was a child. This contrasted sharply to seeing with my own eyes the “progress” which obliterated my other grandparents’ home. I knew it was gone but seeing it firsthand stung like a slap.

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My mom and Fred always spoil us rotten when we visit. Every day is an adventure. We visited the City Museum, toured the St. Louis Cardinals’ Busch Stadium, went up in the Arch, went to the local pool (actually a waterpark!), and listened to a concert in Faust Park. But most of all, we spent time with family. I only get to see my parents once or twice a year, which is never enough. We also visited with many other aunts, uncles, and cousins. Even though everyone has a different version of the same story (business and busyness, kids’ activities, aches and pains, births and deaths, summer plans), it’s such a joy to share the details. Yes, I can get most of that information online or over the phone, but it doesn’t compare to face time without a device in between.

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I’m back home in Virginia now. My car will be admitted to the hospital tomorrow morning. Autumn goes back to work tonight, and Colton and I are going to run a few errands and relax a bit now that the piles of laundry have diminished. As I reflect on my trip, I am reminded of a few things:

1) Sometimes I’m stronger than I believe.

2) People change, but not that much.

3) 5–Hour Energy really works.

4) God has blessed me with an amazing family, and my greatest regret is living so far from them all.

5) Time spent for love is worth every minute.

Do you have loved ones you haven’t seen for a long time? Who do you need to go visit? I can promise you, however long it takes to get there and whatever obstacles you must overcome, it will be worth the effort!

What Makes a Team?

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on May 5, 2013
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Recently I sat through an hour or so of Colton’s ball practice. It is his first year in the minors of Little League. He has worked himself up from T-ball, through machine pitch, and now faces his peers from the pitcher’s mound. His practices have occurred on Wednesday nights, so I haven’t attended many because I’m usually with the youth group at church, but that one evening I sat and watched as they took turns batting.

For an hour, I didn’t hear one word of encouragement or support from the boys to their teammates. Not a “Good catch” or “Awesome hit” from any of them. The few comments I did hear were taunting and obnoxious when someone made a mistake. It made me extremely sad, and I wondered how they would ever win a game when they obviously weren’t feeling any team spirit.

If you work with others to accomplish an end result – in a sport, at work, with family, at church – you are part of a team.  Collaboration succeeds when every member applies their strengths to the task and willingly allows others to complete the parts in his or her areas of weaknesses. It’s difficult to come up with a team that has members who works seamlessly together because humans are imperfect, and there are so many potential problems to overcome.

1) Not everyone pulls his or her weight. Although this can certainly affect adults, I often see it happen in my classroom. Some students translate “group project” into “my turn to sit back and watch” and then they expect to get the same grade as the group members who have poured themselves into the project. Obviously, this problem can lead to frustration and anger by the members who are doing the work. When I see this happening, I remind the group they will be graded based on the amount of work they contribute to hopefully nudge the sluggish member into action. If that doesn’t work, I pass out the Peer Review cards then instead of waiting until the project is complete to let them evaluate the other members of their team. Some teens understand that being interdependent is a great way to accomplish large tasks, but some are so focused on gaining their future independence (from parents, teachers, whoever), they can’t see the positive aspects of teamwork.

2) A member with leadership skills is too selfish to lead. Some people are born leaders. Others learn to be. Whether it is inherent or a learned skill, these members of a team must be willing to lead the other members. If they have the “knowledge is power so I’m not sharing it with you” mentality, the team will never succeed. Anyone who becomes part of a team has to check their ego at the door or their skills and abilities are wasted. This type of teammate sometimes has a tendency to dwell in the past. He is so busy telling everyone all he has accomplished previously, patting himself on the back, that nothing can get done in the present and it eliminates any hope for the future.

I see this problem on Colton’s team. There are many boys on the team who have been playing in the minors for 2 or 3 years now, and they should be helping the younger boys learn. I don’t think this is happening but not necessarily because of selfishness. The boys are young and maybe don’t see themselves as leaders, but they could be if they were encouraged to help the new players.

3) A member who says “that’s not my job”. I don’t think I hear many comments that grate on my nerves more than that one. I realize I’m a person who has trouble saying “no” and my busy schedule attests to that, so some people may think I should say it more often. However, I don’t think when you’re part of a team you can refuse any aspect of the job if someone needs assistance. Even if roles are assigned at the beginning of a project, team members can’t be glued to their job description. Too many unforeseen needs can appear, and someone must address them or the whole team will fail.

I think there is a vast difference between saying “no” to being part of something and saying “no” to a required task once you are already a team member. I agree I need to say “no” to some of many roles I take on in life, but I pray I never become someone who says “no” instead of finishing a task when I’ve committed myself to a successful outcome.

4) Everyone tries his or her best, but there’s no feeling of unity. I see this as a problem with Colton’s team. I’m certainly not qualified to tell the coaches how to do their job, but I tried to subtly suggest to an assistant coach that the boys don’t sound like much of a team when they are out on the field. I appreciated it when he called out, “Get behind your pitcher boys! Let’s hear some chatter!” The boys didn’t respond with much enthusiasm, but it is hard to expect any because they won’t have team spirit until they feel like a team.

Have you ever seen the movie Remember the Titans? What a classic. Now that coach knew how to build team spirit. Obviously, I don’t want Colton dragged out of bed for a many-mile run that ends at Gettysburg for an inspirational speech, but something has to draw those kids together before they will show each other support and encouragement. Colton probably didn’t even know some of those older boys at the beginning of the season. Were they introduced? Did they find out anything about each other? Do they know if they share any interests off the ball field? I realize the focus is the game, learning the skills, and improving, but there are so many life lessons to be learned right along with baseball. I keep praying Colton has a chance to learn them.

Colton and I have talked a lot about his team in the last week or so. Mark and I are encouraging him to listen carefully to his coaches and to learn from watching the older boys even if they don’t offer help. I’m also trying to get him to start some upbeat, positive chatter from his right-field position and from the dugout, but I can tell he isn’t too comfortable with that. He’s trying to fly under the radar, not make mistakes, and avoid calling attention to himself in any way that might bring on ridicule. How sad is that?

What Should We Read Next?

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Recently, I planned to begin a new novel unit with my students, which always leads to a question:

What should we read?

Many people probably think it’s not a big deal, choosing a novel. Just pick one, right? There are so many available even when you narrow it down to books appropriate for my eighth grade students. It should be simple to pick something that would interest the majority of the students. (I’m not naive enough to think I’ll ever interest all of them.)

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Every year I have to consider what my students’ lives entail. While some students might benefit from reading about someone else sharing their problems, others might feel overwhelmed having to face such personal issues in the school setting. It’s a fine line to tiptoe, wanting to take advantage of literature without causing distress for my students.

A novel that focuses on the theme of survival from abuse or neglect? Some years I can’t teach it because of the level of abuse a current student may have endured.

A teenage character whose father is an alcoholic? Maybe not a good choice.

Murder? I’ve even had to make my decision based on that.

Suicide? Always a touchy subject for this age.

In addition to the emotional issues, I have to weigh the religious, racial, and political climate of my students and their families. Will a parent feel as if I’m trying to shove my beliefs down their child’s throat if I teach a novel with Christian characters? They might though I doubt if we read something with Jewish characters anyone would think I’m trying to convert the kids to Judaism.

The factors to consider are endless. The novel I’m currently teaching was a last-minute choice based on a conversation I had with the guidance counselor. A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer was not a good choice for this year, so we’re reading I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier instead.  (If someone in my class is in witness protection, there is no way for me to be aware of it, so I’m hoping it’s a safe choice.)

Obviously, trying to choose which novel to read pales in comparison to the horrifying situations in my students’ lives. I hate that I have to consider issues such as abuse and suicide. I repeatedly count my blessings and those of my whole family knowing what these young adults deal with every day. I pray they can all rise above the trauma in their lives and find success (along with a love of reading!) in my classroom and beyond.

Grandma Louise

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on April 17, 2013
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Gram

Last year, my blog Why Divorce Can be a Blessing focused on how my parents’ divorce blessed me with numerous people who have supported and loved me throughout my life. One of those people was my Grandma Louise, and yesterday would’ve been her birthday so she has woven her way through many of my thoughts since yesterday morning.

Gram and Grandpa moved from Utah to live with us soon after my mom and Fred married. An addition was added to the house to accommodate their arrival. It wasn’t really an addition; it was a whole house added on which made it a duplex of sorts. They lived in the house that had existed previously, and we lived in the new part, which was attached by the garage.

I followed that path through the garage countless times. Gram and I spent an enormous amount of time together. She loved soap operas, and I would hide out at her house during the afternoons watching with her. It was scandalously fun, and sometimes it was a great way to avoid chores. The bowls of orange slices sitting around – the sugar-coated, chewy candy that sticks in your teeth, not the healthy fruit – lured me in as well.

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I’ll always remember Gram for her marigolds. She planted them in the flowerbeds lining her front porch and fertilized them with horse manure from the barn. They were the tallest marigolds I’ve ever seen. That manure was powerful fertilizer!

When I got my driver’s license, Gram and I would escape on adventures to the mall or to Mexican restaurants occasionally. She was one of my best friends during my teen years, and I’ll always treasure the time I spent with her.

Gram and Autumn

One of my best memories includes Gram, Nonnie, and Grandmother (Fred’s mom, my mom’s mom, and my dad’s mom) going to a KC Royal’s baseball game with me. Grandmother was a die-hard Royals fan who spent most of her summer evenings in front of the television watching her beloved team. Nonnie and Gram enjoyed going to the game for the social time, and Gram always liked having a cold beer and a hot dog at the park. I went to numerous Royals games during my childhood, but that game was probably the most entertaining ever.

Happy Birthday, Gram! I miss you and love you!

Negativity Will Get You Nowhere.

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on November 7, 2012
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As I posted yesterday, I truly believe that God is in control and He can use anyone to further His kingdom.

I have stayed out of political conversations for the most part over the last year. Students frequently ask who I’m voting for, but I’ve learned it’s not a smart move to reveal my choice. That being said, I feel the need this morning to share my feelings about one aspect of the election.

I’ve been stunned and saddened by the negativity during the campaign. Not that negativity is anything new in politics. I remember in 1972 being on the playground at elementary school and hearing a boy yell, “Nixon, Nixon is our man. Throw McGovern in the trash can.” Such eloquence certainly trickled down from an adult to this vocal second grader, and he felt the need to share with the rest of us. I don’t remember his name, but I can still see the ruthless triumph in his eyes and the wicked smile on his face.

With that in mind, I felt the need to discuss the election results with Colton this morning. Not only so he would be up-to-date with what’s going on, but so he would be prepared for any of his third-grade peers who felt the need to be mouthy in support of their (ummm…their parents’) own camp or with antagonism toward their opposition.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to send kids off to school without having to prepare them for adversity?

Nothing has changed since my playground days. Now my peers are a little older than second grade, but many still spew hate to try to get their point across. Instead of on the swing set, it’s now carried out on Facebook, Twitter, and any other avenue at their disposal.

The interesting thing to me is how many Christians are involved in this ugliness. Have we forgotten WWJD? What would Jesus do in this situation? I’m positive he would not be spouting revenge and hate.

The United States has fewer Christians now than ever before. If someone who claims to be Christian truly wants more people to vote Christian values, wouldn’t it make sense to leave the negativity to the politicians and focus on spreading Christian love? Serving others and growing His kingdom seems to me to be the logical strategy for creating change in our world.

The last time the U.S. had a surge in church attendance was after the attacks on September 11th.  Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you turn to God and cry out for help.

I certainly don’t know the future or what God has planned, but a lot of people think our country is going to be destroyed in the next four years.

I’m not sure, but maybe it’s just going to hit rock bottom.


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