Christian Teacher, Public School

". . .the word of God is not bound." II Tim. 2:9b

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Who Is My Neighbor? Better Information Means Better Compassion

But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Luke 10:29

nonfiction 2017 book reading Europe Syria
The New Odyssey
Just finished reading The New Odyssey: The Story of the Twenty-First Century Refugee Crisis. Patrick Kingsley's reporting goes beyond information to find the heart of the story, the individuals and families who seek asylum from political upheaval and terrorism.

In addition to telling a captivating story, this book is a vital handbook to response for elected officials, students, humanitarian volunteer workers, prayer warriors, donors, voters, and people who simply want to be better informed about their world. Teachers of current events and world history in public high schools should consider making this book part of the curriculum.

Reading this book did not change my mind about what I think my own response to the refugee crisis ought to be. It informed my thinking and (although it is not a religious book) reinforced my belief that Christ calls us to compassion more often than to safety. If my neighbor is in need, I hope to be a Christian who shares what she has, rather than one who shuts the door and ignores my neighbor's knocking.

Who is my neighbor? The example of Jesus and the parables He told reveal that we must sometimes cross cultural and religious "borders" to help our neighbors. If biblical precedent is not enough, may books like The New Odyssey help believers everywhere to set aside their fears, cross borders, and offer aid to the world's most vulnerable.

Link Love
Follow Amy on Goodreads.

On March 8, read Amy's guest blog post "Getting To Conflict: The Absolute Necessity of Unpleasantness in Fiction" on The Artist Unleashed.

Sit in on Amy's narrative writing session at the Idaho Federal Programs Conference at the Boise Centre April 7. Teachers will learn how to use Choose Your Own Adventure story structure to teach ELA standards in narrative writing. Hyperlink your story's alternate endings using Google Docs and you have a current take on a 1980s reader favorite that inspired the gamebook genre.

Monday, February 20, 2017

New Tab: Autism Resource Links

"I will give thanks to You, 
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well."
Psalm 139:14 (NASB)

We've added an Autism resource tab to the top of the Christian Teacher, Public School blog. This small effort won't lead to the most exhaustive list of Autism Spectrum resources on the Web. Instead, I hope it helps readers of this blog form connections at crucial times in their journeys with autism (whether as parents, teachers, or as people on the Spectrum themselves) and to help others along the way.

Interested in writing about autism in the public school setting? I would like to connect with guest bloggers who are teachers or who are parents of public school children on the Spectrum. On the Spectrum yourself? Even better.

Here are some tips on writing about Autism for Christian Teacher, Public School:

  • Be clear: Who are you and why are your writing about this topic? What's your point? What are you helping/asking readers to do?
  • Be current and accurate in your research, citing sources as appropriate
  • Explain acronyms on the first use
  • Be personal, revealing actual perspectives of real people on the Autism Spectrum, not assumptions
  • Obtain permission, change names as appropriate, and be accurate in your representations of others
  • Connect readers to resources (lesson plans, accommodations, blogs, books, local chapters of Autism organizations, support groups, conferences, etc.)
  • Keep a positive and constructive tone
  • Be original (only your own work that hasn't appeared online before)
  • Keep the audience in mind. We exist specifically for Christian teachers who teach in public schools, although others may find us helpful. Our preferred content is uplifting, spiritually-relevant, and biblically-literate. We believe that God created all neurotypes as a reflection of His creativity, uniqueness, power, glory, and love. We celebrate autism as a gift from the creator. Not every article need express this perspective overtly, and "preaching" is not wanted. Just let your light shine.

How to Submit
Please query before sending submissions for consideration. Contact Amy Ballard by email at amy (at) amyballard (dot) com. Nominal payment may be available for quality content on Autism in the public school, especially if written by teachers or students (current or former) with Autism. We'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Stepping Stones: Children's Books on Immigration and Refugees

"And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward."  Matthew 10:42

In keeping with my recent readings about the refugee crisis, I thought I would pass along a superb roundup of children's books about refugees. Jen Gann at's The Cut praises titles such as Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey by Margriet Ruurs for help with "explaining to children that the heart and soul of America is to welcome others to our country who need a safe place to make a home."

Stepping Stones

How can teachers use books like Stepping Stones in the classroom?
  • Read aloud and notice how illustrations enhance the narrative
  • Make predictions about what will happen after the end of the story
  • Pair with art lessons; allow students to illustrate part of the story in a different art medium
  • Conduct a Socratic seminar using the book and related texts to explore the facts and controversies of the refugee crisis
  • Give an art show displaying student interpretations of the story in art and poetry
  • Pair with current news articles and photos
  • Create a classroom newspaper with students' articles about the refugee crisis
  • Springboard to writing assignments like song lyrics, diary entries, letters, and research essays

From the blurb for Stepping Stones on 

This unique picture book was inspired by the stone artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, discovered by chance by Canadian children’s writer Margriet Ruurs. The author was immediately impressed by the strong narrative quality of Mr. Badr’s work, and, using many of Mr. Badr’s already-created pieces, she set out to create a story about the Syrian refugee crisis. Stepping Stones tells the story of Rama and her family, who are forced to flee their once-peaceful village to escape the ravages of the civil war raging ever closer to their home. With only what they can carry on their backs, Rama and her mother, father, grandfather and brother, Sami, set out to walk to freedom in Europe. Nizar Ali Badr’s stunning stone images illustrate the story.

Know of a good book to help children understand current events? Have a strategy for teaching current events through nonfiction? Share!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Nonfiction Book Pick for 2017: The New Odyssey by Patrick Kingsley

Nonfiction Book syria europe migration refugees
The New Odyssey
In my senior English class, I always assign students to read a biography or other nonfiction book of their choosing. The greatest benefit of the assignment may be that students find for the first time the unexpected thrill of enjoying a book.

Secondary benefits they experience include:

  • learning new things, 
  • "traveling" from the comfort of home,
  • becoming an expert on a person, 
  • finding a hero, 
  • having fun conversing with their peers about their chosen books,
  • and understanding the world around them better than they did before. 

Biography, more than other genres, imparts wisdom to the willing reader.

The assignment has its downside, too, though. Vivid memories of desperate conversations with librarians about overdue inter-library loans come to mind!

To help my students along, I always read a nonfiction book at the same time. One year, it was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I chose it because it was highly praised by critics and was being made into a movie, and because I had read and enjoyed Seabiscuit: An American Legend by the same author. Still, in a sense I was taking a gamble. It paid off.

All the benefits I hope my students will enjoy, I enjoyed. I learned about the Pacific War, I became an expert on Louis Zamperini (a man I had never heard of before picking up the book), I found a hero (both for his will to survive and for his eventual faith in God), I enjoyed chatting with a student who had chosen the same book and with the class as a whole about our book picks, and I understood the world better for my reading.

nonfiction book wwii japan atomic bomb paperback buy amazon common core standards
Additionally, I built on prior knowledge about the War in Japan that I had gained from reading Hiroshima by John Hersey. Unbroken presented another element of the story.

This year, I wanted a specific type of book to read. The nonfiction book I wanted would teach me about the lives of refugees, the facts of the related current events, and the culture of the countries refugees call home. As a bonus, the book would reveal needs that compassionate Christians could help meet.

I found what I was looking for in The New Odyssey: The Story of the Twenty-First Century Refugee Crisis by Patrick Kingsley. After reading a glowing review by Christianity Today's Bethany Hoang, I immediately went to Amazon to purchase the book.

I'm partway into The New Odyssey now, and it's every bit as spellbinding as the review indicated. It's my nonfiction book pick for 2017 because it's opening my eyes to the reasons why refugees are fleeing their home countries and to the problems facing the nations who take them in (or choose not to). By interspersing chapters about a real Syrian refugee among chapters about the refugee crisis as a whole, Kingsley puts a human face on the story. The book hardly mentions the religious aspect of the situation, but as a Christian, it's helping me to view refugees with greater understanding and compassion. As a teacher, it's giving me much-needed background knowledge I can share with students as we learn about our world.

More to come as I continue reading!

In the meantime, what nonfiction books do you recommend—for students and for teachers? What biographies and other nonfiction works have influenced you the most? How so? Please share in the comments!

Further Reading:
Leadership in Band of Brothers Unit
What Happened When I Interviewed Hip-Hop Artist MK Asante (And a Truck With a Confederate Flag Drove By) (By the way, it looks like MK will be back in Idaho soon for the Federal Programs Conference! You won't want to miss his keynote!)
Balance and Boundaries: An Interview with Dalene Vickery Parker

Monday, February 6, 2017

Idaho Coaching Network Offers Resource-Filled Blog For Idaho Teachers

This week brings a wider audience to my recent blog post, "Shoveling a Path Through the Snowdrifts for New Teachers." I'm privileged to share my thoughts on teachers as mentors on the Idaho Coaching Network blog. The blog is a helpful resource for Idaho teachers, especially in the ELA content area.

Christian Teacher, Public School also offers links to helpful resources for Idaho teachers. Check out the Idaho tab at the top of this page. Know of other Idaho education resources? Please share in the comments!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Triple Entry Journals for Character Analysis in Lord of the Flies

Need resources for Lord of the Flies? I've just created a character analysis tool that will get students talking and writing about the text. Triple-entry journals are fun and easy, and they put the focus where it should be—on the text. The journals in this pack are designed for each of the four main characters in Lord of the Flies, but here's an open version you can use with any novel to analyze any aspect of the text.

Visit my store, Brevity, on Teachers Pay Teachers for more resources that are aligned with the standards you need to teach!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

When Teachers Question God: Wilderness Times in the Believing Teacher's Life

Bible clipart image picture painting public domain wilderness leadership
"Moses and the Burning Bush" by James J. Tissot
We question God. It's natural. Men and women of faith have been questioning God since the beginning of time. Rather than discouraging questions, God welcomes them. He even responds.

From Moses's time in the wilderness (Exodus 3) comes a discussion with the Lord about needs and fears that are close to every believer's heart. During times of wandering, these needs and fears come to the forefront.

The Christian teacher may ask some of the same big questions that Moses wrestled with when he met with God at Horeb, the Mountain of God:

"Who am I?"

  • Am I called to be a teacher?
  • How can I juggle my career and all my other roles?
  • Which role is most important?
  • What do you want me to be when I grow up?

"Why are the people I care for being treated unjustly?"

  • How can I stand up to bullying in my school--from students and adults?
  • How can I show compassion to the downtrodden?
  • How can I exercise my First Amendment rights and inspire others to do the same?

"Do you see me, Lord? Do you hear?"

  • What do you see when you look at me, Lord?
  • Do you remember my frailty?
  • Why is it so hard to carve out devotional time in my day?
  • Are you hearing my prayers? Nothing seems to change.
  • I feel like no one listens to me. Are you listening?
  • The world is darkening. How can I maintain hope?
  • I'm hurting. How can I find your comfort?
  • I'm burnt out. Where can I find rest?

"Why am I in this wilderness?"

  • Is this the place you want me to be?
  • My desires are not being satisfied. Why?
  • What are you trying to teach me, Lord?
  • Am I willing to listen?
  • Am I willing to change?

"How long will this season last?"

  • I get impatient. Will you give me a glimmer of hope to keep me going?
  • Am I learning patience? Am I learning the other lessons I need to learn?
  • Am I drawing close to you?
  • Do I believe that you have something good in mind? Do I trust you?

"Where are you leading me?"

  • Am I teaching at the right district? In the right grade level or subject area?
  • Is it time to look for something different? Or to rest in you right here, right now?
  • Is there an area of passion that you are calling me to explore?
  • Do I trust you to lead me when I don't know the destination?
  • Can I remember that your timing and your purpose may look different from my expectation?
  • Do I trust that you are all-wise, all-powerful, and good?

seasons of life, desert, wilderness, wandering, Moses, photography, images, devotional aid, devotions, inspiration, spiritual
Deserts of the Heart
Right now, many of these questions are settled in my mind, but I can vividly remember times when some of them blazed in front of my eyes every day, keeping me from being effective as a teacher, wife, and mother. Having wrestled with these questions, posed them to God, and learned His will for me, I am a happier, more blessed person for having been led through the wilderness. Yes, I still struggle in my calling at times. Yes, I still have days of confusion and questioning. But I remember the lessons from the desert, and they bring me peace.

Facing the wilderness?
Sometimes we need to ask the help of another Christian friend or two or three to steer us to a place where we can ask these questions. Sometimes God will steer us there directly, by removing responsibilities, by sending obstacles, by bringing us to a desperate place so we have to look to Him.

If you're there now in that desperate place, I hope you will run to the wilderness as Moses did. Allow yourself to thirst and hunger. Wait for God to meet you. Treasure His word. Ask your questions. Believe that it has a purpose.

For further reading:
Devotional Aids for Every Christian Teacher
Teaching As Calling
Exodus Chapter 3 (Bible Gateway)
Deserts of the Heart: Finding God During the Dry Times by Pamela Reeve

Monday, January 23, 2017

New Kindle eBook: The Swans of Starlight Lake

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The Swans of Starlight Lake
When my daughter was very small, she began drawing ducks and swans, teaching herself to draw by constant practice. We had printer paper all over the house—drafts of swan necks and wings, nests, eggs, swans in flight, nesting swans, swans on water, frightened swans, and proud mother swans with newly-hatched eggs.

Today I feel like one of those proud mother swans. My daughter and I have self-published a fairy tale we wrote together—about swans, of course. The Swans of Starlight Lake began as a bedtime story, evolved into an ebook typed and illustrated for our own enjoyment, and now comes into its own as a Kindle edition.
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With fairy-tale tradition entwined throughout, this new story by a mother-daughter team is a classic tale of adventure and love.

Readers ages 5-10 will wonder what's going to happen next as Muriel, Leo, and their mother set out to rescue two stolen swan eggs from a reclusive noble who hides beneath a feathered cape. The kids work together to thwart the guards and bring their treasure safely home to Starlight Lake.

The Swans of Starlight Lake contains several vintage, color illustrations and has a 14-point font for little eyes. Get it for Kindle for .99¢, or free with Kindle Unlimited.

If you read the story, please consider leaving a review on and using social media buttons to share. Thanks for helping our story reach a wider audience!

And the Winner Is. . .

It was lots of fun talking poetry with readers of the Overcoming With God blog last week! Carrie Fancett Pagels was so kind to invite me to guest post about my new poetry chapbook, Landlocked. The winner of the giveaway was Debbie M. —Congratulations, Debbie!

Want to get the book for yourself? For a limited time, save 20% when you purchase Landlocked from the CreateSpace store. Just use the code RMH99YW4 at checkout.

Coming soon, I'll be announcing a new Kindle Edition of a children's book project my daughter Reagan and I have just completed. For a sneak peek, visit my Web site, and click on the tab for The Swans of Starlight Lake.

Blessings on you this winter day, my sixth snow day this month.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Shoveling a Path Through the Snowdrifts for New Teachers

"The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." --II Timothy 2:2

Record snowfall, sub-zero temps, high winds. . .the perfect recipe for a snow day. My southern Idaho district has had a few of them this year--five, to be exact--and the weather forecast indicates prime conditions for another snow day tomorrow. Some of my fellow teachers are sick to death of snow. And it has been inconvenient. But then, I know a farmer who prays every year for just such an "inconvenient snow" to give moisture for the summer's crops. This year, she sure saw her prayers answered!

Yesterday, I uncharacteristically picked up a shovel and cleared a path through some three feet of snow (deeper in places where the wind had drifted it) to the woodshed. The experience reminded me how wimpy I really am (had to take a break half-way through, and by the time the path was clear, I was so tired I didn't know if I could survive the actual carrying-the-wood part). How much more grateful I am today for my wood fire because of the effort I went to to get it.

Now, my three kids can use the path I cleared. This morning they each brought me an armload of wood from the shed--something they would not have been able to do if I had continued to ignore the arduous chore of shoveling that path.

In teaching, sometimes, we need someone to clear a path for us, too. As a young teacher, I often found myself struggling with classroom management, organization, or maintaining student engagement. Teachers with far more experience offered a listening ear and the much-needed use of their tool-kits at the moment when I was most frustrated. God placed compassionate, skilled mentors in my life who had shoveled that path, clearing the way for me to find success in the classroom. I'm so grateful!

If you've been teaching for fewer than ten years, you probably don't feel like an "expert" yet. Maybe you never will, because teaching is a constantly changing world, and wise teachers know they must continue to learn and grow throughout their careers. But even with a few school years under your belt, you have the needed perspective to help someone newer than you.

In fact, you might already have put in the grunt work to clear one of these paths for new teachers:

  • Identifying priorities in work and in life
  • Aligning lessons to standards
  • Lesson planning
  • Creating effective plans for subs
  • Communicating with parents
  • Meeting the needs of diverse learners
  • Implementing character education or other program
  • Getting the most out of professional development
  • Planning for efficient use of prep time
  • Using formative assessments effectively
  • Reflecting on successes and growth areas

You've been down that path. You had a tough time, and it was work. Real work. Now it's time to take on the role of a mentor and help someone else get through the same snowdrift.

What "snowdrifts" could you help another teacher through? What drifts do you need help shoveling? Share in the comments, then go get that shovel!

Image credit: The Graphics Fairy, a wonderful site for vintage clip art!