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

Monday, December 28, 2015

Time to Get Your Head in the Game

For many of us, today is the day to get our heads back in the teaching game. We have a week of Christmas vacation left, but we know that if we're smart, we'll put in some hours catching up on planning so we can hit the ground running when school resumes.

Too bad we have so many more enjoyable things to distract us! There's family time, maybe some pretty snow outside, Christmas goodies to munch on, and holiday decorations to pack away for next year (even chores like that can seem fun compared to grading papers and planning for finals!).

So how can we set our eyes on the necessary school tasks at hand?

For me, one way has been reading Dalene Vickery Parker's book, Christian Teachers in Public Schools: 13 Essentials for the Classroom. One of the "essentials" Dalene discusses is Learning to Care. True, any good teacher cares for his or her students, but Dalene's stories of real students in her life helped me get my sights back on the human faces of my job. Kids may not often open up about their personal thoughts and feelings (I teach high school, remember), but if God has put me in this job, I can rest assured that my labor to help students succeed is not in vain.

If you missed Dalene's guest blog post, be sure to read "Balance and Boundaries." Post a comment for a chance to win a copy of her book.

Another way God has been helping me to get my head back in the game (and silence the pesky quitter in me) has been through reading the gospels. Throughout his three-year ministry, how many times did Jesus face criticism? How many times did His hearers not understand His message? How many times did He feel out of place? How many times did He have to repeat Himself, oversimplify a concept, spell out something that should have been obvious?

Jesus, in His humanity, must have been frustrated every day by His interactions with even His most devoted followers. Yet in His deity, He cared, He loved, He helped, He healed, He gave. Have I done the same for even three years at my current job? Am I willing to call on the Lord's help to be His ambassador for one more semester, one more year, one career's worth of teaching in the public schools?

My prayer is that God will help me to do the job He has called me to do, having a heart to care for the people who frustrate me most, and not fainting when the going gets tough and the days are evil. I pray this for you as well this sunny December morning.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Balance and Boundaries

It's a great pleasure to introduce my first guest author, Dalene Vickery Parker. She currently teaches English 10-12, as well as Creative Writing, Public Speaking, and Journalism in the South Carolina public school system. Her book, Christian Teachers in Public Schools: 13 Essentials for the Classroom, was published by Beacon Hill Press in 2012.

I have been reading and loving this book! It's a realistic guide for teachers who long to share the light of Christ, but need help and support to figure out how to do so within the confines of the public school. It has been a great encouragement to me, and I know it will be to you as well. Read it. Give it as a gift to a Christian teacher who has meant a lot to you.

Post a comment below for a chance to win a signed copy of Dalene's book, Christian Teachers in Public Schools! Enter by January 1, 2016. The winner will contacted by January 5.

Thanks for blogging with me, Dalene!


Balance and Boundaries

by Dalene Vickery Parker

The first night of Christmas break I resolve not to do any schoolwork for a solid week. After all, I lost many hours’ sleep this week creating and grading exams. The last day of the semester I stayed at school until 6:30 pm, trying to wrap up, finalize, and shut down everything before leaving.

But Friday night, my mind won’t shut down –or shut out—school. Not yet, anyway. New ideas for learning activities keep popping into my head, even as I soak my weary bones in a steaming bath seasoned with Christmas Spirit essential oil. I jot down the ideas circling in my head as soon as I emerge and smile at the invitation of a new year, a new start with new students.

But Saturday morning, I still have some “old” students in mind. Malik and Nathaniel have an out-of-town wrestling match this morning at 9 am and I really want to show them some support. I don’t even like wrestling matches; they’re too intense, but for certain, they’ll get my blood pumping for any holiday cleaning or planning I need to do. Tomorrow I’ll deliver a Christmas tree and decorations to a student whose family has recently been homeless, but just acquired a “new” (115-year-old) residence. Naturally, they long to make it feel like home—and Christmas. Several members of our faculty and of my Sunday School class have partnered with me in helping this family get a new start. The school district collected money to supply Christmas gifts for the students, so they should have a wonderful day. I’m glad to be a part of that kind of joy.

But then the requests and needs of my own family and friends start pouring in. My brother’s and my mother’s cars broke down in the same week so they need transportation; my sister needs me to pick up gifts and help plan the menu for Christmas dinner; a friend who has just moved to town merits an official welcome; and of course, my husband and children deserve some time and attention, too! And oh, how I would love to tackle the cleaning projects I always put off until holidays or summer. My car and my closets are running a contest to see which one gets first place for Clutter City, USA.

What I have found the most difficult about teaching is striking the right balance between school and home, between taking care of others and taking care of me/mine. It’s challenging to know where to draw the boundary lines so that needs are met, but no harmful dependencies are formed in the process.

Of course, the first thing I must do at the start of every day and throughout the day is to ask the Lord for guidance and wisdom. His Word and other resources encouraging biblical living must take priority in my plans. For the fifth year in a row, I’m gleaning from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young constant reminders to trust Him, thank Him, and spend time in His presence. Most recently, Priscilla Shirer’s Fervent has earned a repeat reading. I know that without targeted time with Jesus and diligent prayer and focus on God’s will, I will be scattered so many different directions I won’t ever accomplish any one thing well. No matter how many good deeds I do, only those done under His direction/timing will bear the desired fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5: 22). To develop and mature those qualities, I need to stay connected to the Vine. Then my greatest desire as a Christian teacher, wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend will be fulfilled: “And they were glorifying God because of me.” Galatians 1:24

May it be so for you as well, dear sisters and brothers in Christ. Merry Christmas! May your new year be bright with His abundant love and peace. And may He guide us all into healthier balance and boundaries in all aspects of our lives.

Dalene Parker

Dalene Vickery Parker has taught high school English, Creative Writing, Journalism, and Public Speaking in South Carolina public schools for nearly three decades. Her book Christian Teachers in Public Schools provides real stories, rich encouragement, and essential tips for sharing faith, hope, and survival in the classroom. Please see http://www.worddoctor13.com/book-christian-teachers for ordering information.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christmas Break--The Perfect Time for a Giveaway!

I hope you are enjoying a peaceful Christmas break with few thoughts of school and many moments of family togetherness. Here in Idaho, USA, it's going to be a white Christmas!

Be sure to stop by tomorrow, when guest author Dalene Vickery Parker visits with thoughts on balancing the hectic life of a teacher with the simplicity of life connected to the Vine. Dalene is giving away a copy of her book, Christian Teachers in Public Schools: 13 Essentials for the Classroom, so be sure to leave a comment after her post for a chance to win!

As a post-script, I have truly been enjoying seeing traffic from international readers! I would love to hear how God is at work in and through Christian teachers around the world. Please consider sharing!



Monday, December 14, 2015

Snow Day

Continuing the theme of asking in faith, I was challenged on Sunday to ask in faith, believing. What was my request? That day, it was for school to be called off because of snow.

It wasn't such a far-fetched idea. After all, the snow was falling fast, and several inches had fallen the night before. On Sunday afternoon, I asked my children to pray with me. We asked for safety in the weather and for God to give us a snow day.

That evening, I was already planning how I would spend my day off school. I'm on an organizing kick, so I started clearing off the dryer, imagining my newly-tidied laundry area and how much laundry I would get done today with school cancelled.

When the phone rang a few hours later, my husband put the call on speaker. It was a recording from the principal, announcing that due to inclement weather, school had been cancelled. I called my son to my side for a high five.

That's the way I want my children to see prayer. Not that every little thing we imagine will be ours, but that God sees the desires of our hearts, and that He is powerful enough to do anything. His authority over the wind and the waves and the weather has not diminished since Jesus calmed the Sea of Galilee.

So today as I do laundry and my kids play in the knee-deep snow, I thank God for his love. I hope my children will remember this answered prayer for a long time.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Christmas Lights in My Classroom

Maybe it's because I teach high school and not elementary school, but I have to work hard to motivate myself to decorate my classroom. The only bulletin board in my room is small, and I don't feel obliged to create elaborate, interactive displays and rotate them every few weeks. Not that I don't appreciate a quality bulletin board. Some of my friends in the elementary school are savants at creating appealing wall-art that ties together seasonal motifs and learning goals.

As Christmas approaches, I recently realized it was time to make some decorating decisions in my classroom, too. Time to step up my game. Fortunately, I inherited some strings of colorful lights from my predecessor, and I'd picked up a wreath at a yard sale last summer. My creative writing students cheerfully pitched in to help deck the walls. At home, I hunted through storage until I found a small, porcelain nativity to decorate my classroom bookshelf. It may not sound like much, but for someone who often makes the excuse of being too busy to decorate, I think it looks downright festive.

And my students noticed. One even thanked me for putting up Christmas lights. Who knows why it was important to her, but to me, the lights testify of the joy in my heart because of what Jesus has done for me. I hope my fellow teachers who are too busy to change that bulletin board more than once per semester will consider making Christmas the one time they splurge on decor. Jesus came to earth to save sinners. His love is our light and the reason for our peace. Let's share it.

Monday, December 7, 2015


He says, "Ask, and you shall receive."

In my teaching career, I have far too often been guilty of not asking. Maybe it's forgetfulness, or maybe it's bravado, but my carnal nature more naturally does not ask for help. I have my devotions in the morning; perhaps I even think throughout the day about the passages I have read. And I pray for the needs of friends and members of my church and my family.

But do I ask for God's help with my daily needs in the classroom?

My needs are many. I need wisdom, patience, comfort, courage, endurance, encouragement, and love. My students need prayer. My coworkers need prayer. The families of students need prayer. Am I asking?

Recently, in two different situations, I have been challenged to pray for God's intervention in my classroom. The first was a miscommunication on my part, and I needed God's help to be humble and make it right. I enlisted the help of three or four prayer warrior friends and headed into the fray. I cannot explain why the other party responded so well. The conversation, I can truly say, went better than humanly possible.

The second was a teaching situation. Sometimes you as the teacher are not the only one presenting information, and other presenters can introduce a perspective that is counterproductive. Without being more specific, this was the type of situation that troubled me. Over the weekend, I prayed over the problem, asking God to take care of it without my having to "fight." Once again, He answered in a way that could only be God at work. The situation was neutralized.

I believe God is stronger than man, and that if I turn to him in faith-filled prayer, He will create good in my life. It's exciting to see how He answers each specific request. And when He does, let's remember to thank and praise Him for His goodness.

Praying for You -- Cast Your Cares -- 3 Premium Cards

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Tis the Season for Review

If you teach high school, it's that time of year again, when the semester is winding to a close and all of your classes need great review activities to help kids finish strong during finals. My absolute favorite review is a game I found on To Engage Them All. It's called Grudgeball, and it works for any subject and requires minimal prep. All you need is a white board and markers, some masking tape, and a Nerf hoop and ball. In my class, we've played it in the gymnasium, too, using a basketball. Students keep engaged, the competition is intense, and everyone reviews the material.

If you have a review game or activity you love, please share it!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Prayer for Students and Teachers in Danger

Dear Lord,

The headlines remind us that spiritual warfare is real, though public figures scratch their heads and wonder why peace eludes the grasp of the desperate world. Christ's followers worldwide are under attack for their beliefs. Some of them are students. Some are teachers. Watch over your sheep with your protective care. Remind us that we do not wrestle with flesh and blood. Remind us that "greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world." Give us courage to face each school day. Help us to show forth your love for people so that this desperate world will have light. Grant wisdom and grace as the birth pangs of the age grow closer together. We long for your appearing, Lord.

In Jesus' Name,


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Step Away From the Thesaurus

If you teach writing, pop over to the Wall Street Journal for a read. James R. Hagerty's recent article "'Use More Expressive Words!' Teachers Bark, Beseech, Implore" explores the trend of teachers banning boring words and even giving them a mock funeral. The trend has been around for a while and shows no signs of dying.

As a writing student and now as a writing teacher, I am glad the downside of using fancy synonyms is finally getting some attention. James R. Hagerty's article is even-handed, but it brings to light some detriments of forbidding the use of simple words like "said." Detriments you won't see by scrolling Pinterest, where well-meaning teachers celebrate the use of vibrant synonyms to the complete exclusion of certain everyday words.

Among a serious writer's many challenges is preventing the reader from lurching to a halt and waking up from the "vivid and continuous dream," as John Gardner famously puts it. You want your reader enjoying your writing, not thinking, "Ooo, another ten-dollar word!" every other line.

People think using "said" too often is repetitive and therefore boring. In reality, the word "said" becomes invisible. It's like "the" or "and." It's a necessary building block of many sentences, though not the shiniest or most exciting of blocks.

If you want to change things up when writing dialogue, you don't have to resort to the thesaurus. You can often leave out the dialogue tags altogether:

Sherman's hour in detention was up. "See you tomorrow, Mrs. Phillips."
"See you tomorrow."

Far on the other end of the spectrum are the kind of said-synonyms found on lengthy lists pinned so eagerly on Pinterest: growled, implied, rasped, whispered, squealed.

There's a reason Hemingway, Dickens, and other greats "get a pass" on their use of "said" and other simple words. It's not because they're Hemingway and Dickens and we're not. It's because they're good writers, and because simple words used well are valuable in their own right.

Mark Twain said, "Don't use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do."

Although the Bible doesn't comment specifically on the word "said," it does use it often (some 4002 times in the KJV). Proverbs 25:11 says, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." The emphasis seems to be on how appropriate and timely the words are, not how unusual.

There's beauty in simplicity. Less is more.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Coming Soon--Guest Author Dalene Vickery Parker

Coming soon, I'm excited to welcome my first guest blogger, Dalene Vickery Parker, whose book, Christian Teachers in Public Schools: 13 Essentials for the Classroom, was published by Beacon Hill Press in 2012. She's a Christian teacher living in South Carolina. Check out her absolutely essential book, and pop by for a chance to win an autographed copy from Dalene!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Moment for Prayer

Take a moment to pray for your school. Today, focus on the elementary end. Mention teachers and students by name if you are able.

Kindergarten: That God will guide our littlest ones' hearts to Himself, through parents and grandparents and other caring adults in their lives. That the teachers will have stamina to match that of the kids.

First Grade: That the teachers will have wisdom and the students would apply themselves as they learn to read, to add and subtract, and to write.

Second Grade: That the teachers will have stamina and passion for their task; that students would be free of distractions and able to strive toward their full potential.

Third Grade: That the teachers will articulate the importance of each task as students learn to multiply and divide, to read fluently and with comprehension, and to express themselves clearly in writing.

All classes: That the teachers will be humble and seek each other's support and advice. That students would cooperate with each other for greater learning, and that they would approach the learning tasks of the week with exceptional enthusiasm.

Dear Lord, you have called us to teach. Please help us to view ourselves as servants, specially placed to do your work in the public schools. Help us to care more, to give more, to pray more for the needs of our students.


I Thess. 5:17 "Pray without ceasing."

Saturday, November 28, 2015

School Choice

After doing a little browsing today, I decided to post a link to Focus on the Family's article for parents on school choice. It presents a balanced look at several schooling options. Why does a public school teacher need to be informed about school choices like homeschooling, charter schools, and private schools? Because parents are trying to make the best decisions for their children, and a child who is enrolled in your class one day might be withdrawn to homeschool the next. The reverse is also true. A child who has attended private school or who has been homeschooled for five years may suddenly be enrolled in your public school class for a variety of reasons. Christian teachers need to be tolerant and supportive of parents as they pursue options for their child's educational success.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Christian Teacher's Close-Reading Superpower

One of the hot topics in education is close reading, or "reading to uncover layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension" ("Closing in on Close Reading" by Nancy Boyles). In order to meet state standards, particularly in Common Core states, teachers are introducing close reading skills as early as Kindergarten.

Some approaches to close reading are:

      Examining meaning thoroughly and analytically
      Directing attention to the text, central ideas, and supporting details
      Reflecting on meanings of individual words and sentences, and
      Developing ideas over the course of the text (The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, quoted by Nancy Boyles).

When I attend my professional development class twice a month, the instructor teases me because when she assigns a passage to read, she can trust me to close read it. The first time she pointed it out, I was a little surprised. I've always thought of myself as "a slow reader," though a good reader. I have to go slowly so I can extract the fullest meaning from the text, be it Pride and Prejudice or the book of John. Sometimes, I'm enjoying the author's techniques so much that I couldn't speed up if I wanted to. In a PD setting, this close-reading habit can get me into trouble because I may still be reading long after my colleagues have moved on. It can also cause me to fall behind on assignments. Still, I appreciated my instructor's assessment. Seeing my own close reading for what it was helped me to think about how to teach close reading strategies to my students.

What are some close reading strategies that work? Nancy Boyles outlines the following in her article:

      Work with short texts
      Aim for independence
      Teach students to ask the questions
      Focus on observing and analyzing

Boyles goes on to suggest the types of questions teachers need to teach students to ask. She also states that teachers need to be prepared to ask text-dependent questions while students are getting the hang of questioning the text for themselves.

What stands out to me as a Christian learning to teach close reading is the way the suggested text-dependent questions resemble the questions I ask when I read the Bible, particularly the more challenging passages.

For example, Boyles suggests teaching students to ask the following four basic questions:

      1. What is the author telling me here?
      2. Are there any hard or important words?
      3. What does the author want me to understand?
      4. How does the author play with language to add meaning?

If I'm reading a text like Matthew 8:11-12, my mind is swarming with questions just like these. What important truth is Jesus teaching here? What does he mean by "many will come from east and west and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob"? This looks like a prophecy. Why is it tucked in here between hearing the Centurion's story and healing his servant? What does the prophecy mean? Who are the "sons of the kingdom" who will be cast out into the outer darkness? What bearing does this short passage have on the miracle Jesus performs? On my life?

In the case of the passage above, I was so motivated by my unanswered questions that I consulted a commentary and read up on one theologian's interpretation. More often, I'll seek answers by comparing the challenging passage to another in the Bible (one of my college professors reminded his students constantly that "the best commentary on the Word of God is the Word of God").

This is studying the Word. This is meditating on it. This is treasuring its wisdom as David urges believers to do in Psalm 119. In the public school setting, it's just close reading, and the text and the purpose will be different. Instead of seeking to know the author of the Bible more intimately, we are seeking to become better readers of any complex text. Sometimes we are also seeking to make proficient on a standardized test. Still, Christian teachers who themselves close-read short Bible passages every day of their lives are experienced analysts of the finest literature ever written.

Close reading--and Bible study--do take practice. So does teaching close reading. But don't put yourself in a box (like my "slow reader" one). Understand that you bring skills to the table. Ask God to unleash your close-reading superpowers.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Maestro Classics: Music and Stories for School and Home

Music teachers, parents, babysitters, and anyone else who spends time with small children (especially in the car!) will want to stop by maestroclassics.com for award-winning story and music CDs of the highest quality. My kids love them, especially Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel based on the classic children's book by Virginia Lee Burton. Right now you can get a great deal on a 12-CD set, and I'm getting hints by email that the site's Black Friday deals will be monumental. Maestro Classics is on my short list for gift shopping this year.

Teaching as Calling

Matthew 10:5-10

"These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support." (NASB)

Many times in my teaching career, I've wondered about God's call on my life and my conviction that teaching is part, but not all, of that calling. There's a part of me that longs to speak the Gospel to the lost and to edify the body of Christ more actively. Working in the public school environment, it's difficult to see how I'm doing either. "I'm not going anywhere, I'm not preaching, I'm not healing the sick, I'm not raising the dead, I'm not cleansing any lepers or casting out demons!" It takes faith to believe that He is, even so, at work in me and through me as a light to a dark world.

Teachers are often asked to consider their motivation for teaching. Are you in it for the money (Okay, that's just a joke. Moving on.)? Are you in it to help others? Are you in it for personal fulfillment? Are you in it for love?

I've often struggled to answer these questions honestly, even for myself. Saying I do it for the students is not enough for me. I do see in my interactions with students the gifts that God has given me--and many areas where the gifts need to be matured. God has given me a talent for teaching. He is also reminding me constantly that I have more to learn about using that talent effectively. The students are part of that process. They challenge me, motivate me, puzzle me, entertain me, put one over on me, annoy me, charm me, and teach me. The students are both my frustration and my delight every day.

Saying I teach for personal fulfillment may be closer to the truth. Every day I see God's blessing in giving me a profession that is intellectually stimulating. I am able to read and write and converse and challenge myself and be challenged by others, and I get paid to do it! I think, I grow, I change, I laugh, I cry, I learn. I learn to depend on God. Now that's a life I want to live, job or no job.

But there's more to my motivation for teaching. The way I view my life in Christ, teaching is one of the gifts God is developing in me as part of a larger whole. It is part of the journey and part of the destination, but there is more. What is that "more"? God knows. It's an overall path, set out with purpose and care before I ever came to be. I hope you know this sense of God's purpose for your life. It is written all over the Bible, intertwined with themes of God's love and wisdom and grace.

What if I don't have a clear sense of where I'm going on this path God has given me to walk? That's the essence of faith--"the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1 NASB). I believe God is preparing me for intense ministry. It doesn't matter what that ministry is--He knows, and He is already watching over it. Teaching? It's part of the preparation for service. It is also service now. And there are some parts of the puzzle that I can know now.

For one, I am ministering to "lost sheep." Matthew 10:42 says,
“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.”

Teach those kids. Give them a drink. God is watching over these simple actions of service. Do them in His name.

For another, I have received freely. "Freely give." In teaching in the public school, I show the world that God has given freely to me, and that the great gift of His salvation prompts me to give freely to others through sacrificial teaching. And teaching is a sacrifice, or else no one would ask why we do it.

For another, I know it's not for the money anyway. "Do not acquire gold." "Or even two coats." It's not about the paycheck. The paycheck is not enough. God is enough. His salvation is enough. I will share it however I can.

Don't be frustrated or ashamed when you wrestle at times with doubts about your motivation for teaching. Don't leave the profession simply because you can't see the good you are doing. As Christians, we ought to look at the world as a place where the invisible is more important than the visible.

In Colossians 2, Paul urges believers to think less about functions of earthly society--the celebration of feasts and what other people think about our celebration or abstinence from celebration--and more about the world to come:

"Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ."

Other people may concern themselves about why you do what you do. Your task is to leave their judgment to God and set your eyes on the invisible--the coming kingdom of God. Ask Him to give you peace about your calling. He will be faithful to complete it in you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thankful Third-Graders

Some of the things my son's third-grade public-school classmates are thankful for this Thanksgiving:

Mom and Dad
Baby sister
My freedom
Pet dog
The Bible
Video games
Being loved

It did me so much good to hear the kids read their short essays about three things they were thankful for. The class also performed a traditional, low-key skit about the First Thanksgiving. My son (a Pilgrim in a floppy hat) is blessed to have a teacher who encourages her students to think on what's really important in life.

Here's another example of her ability to keep it simple. Instead of the craziness of a class Secret Santa or white elephant gift exchange this December, she is having each student hang a sock above his or her cubby. Each student will bring in a small item such as a piece of candy for each classmate's sock. Minimal fuss, no inflated expectations, and a sock full of simple goodies for each child. I predict no tears and lots of smiles.

Devotional Aids for Every Christian Teacher

When I worked at my previous teaching job, I had to get up at 5:40 at the latest in order to get ready in time for my morning commute. That included time for a shower, a bowl of cereal, twenty minutes or so reading my Bible, a quick routine with clothes, hair, and makeup, and a half-hour drive to work. On the drive, I would usually turn on the local Christian radio station of my preference (sermons, not songs) to put me in the right frame of mind for my day ahead. It was a hectic day no matter how early I got up, but setting the alarm any earlier would have cut into my mandatory sleep time.

Now, with my current teaching job, I live just four blocks from work. Needless to say, my alarm goes off later these days. Still, I try to spend time in the Word every morning. I'm not sure I ever thought technology would play such a big role in my devotional life! Right now I'm reading the book of Matthew on my phone. The way Jesus interacts with people--his disciples, his critics, his needy followers of all kinds--speaks volumes about how I should interact with people at my school.

I've also just begun reading Susan O'Carroll Drake's Morning Meetings With Jesus: 180 Devotions for Teachers, which focuses on the teaching approaches of Jesus and how they apply to our lives as Christian educators. There are many devotional books written with teachers in mind, but this one stood out from the crowd.

Over the years there have been many devotional aids that have helped me devote my days to God in the morning or evening. Here are a few that aren't specifically geared toward teachers:

1. Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon (sign up here for free emails from BibleGateway.com or to read online). It's old-fashioned and eloquent for those quiet moments with God.

2. My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers (visit utmost.org, which states, "Oswald Chambers sometimes startled audiences with his vigorous thinking and his vivid expression").

3. Blueletterbible.org and Biblegateway.com; both offer the text of the Bible online in several versions with numerous study helps and devotionals. I'm currently using Blueletterbible on my phone with the NASB in one column and the KJV in the other. I love being able to compare the two versions as I read. I also use it to check commentaries on the verses I'm struggling to understand.

4. Deserts of the Heart: Finding God During the Dry Times by Pamela Reeve; full of beautiful desert photography paired with devotional text geared toward surrender, contentment, and growth during life's wilderness experiences. My pastor recommended it to me, and now I recommend it to you.

5. Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot by Elisabeth Elliot; a staple for me as I have mused about God's calling for me now and in the future. Jim Elliot knew God wanted him to preach to those who had never heard the good news of Jesus and His death on the cross. As a young man, he was often impatient for God's timing to take him to the mission field. Reading his wife Elisabeth's book, which consists mainly of Jim's diary entries and letters, I am comforted in the knowledge that God will be faithful to complete His work in my life.

Whatever devotional aids you choose to try, I hope you will make it your primary focus to read the Word of God every day and to meet with God in prayer. Even Jesus got up "a great while before day" and prayed. Let's strive toward the same pattern in our lives, even as busy teachers.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Herod--Alive and Well

The Magi in the House of Herod by James Tissot

Heading into the holiday season, I've begun rereading the Gospel of Matthew. The interplay between faith and law, even in the Christmas story, foreshadows some of the struggles Christ-followers through the ages face when interacting with government. In chapter two, this verse has been of particular interest to me:
"When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him."
Herod is troubled. . .threatened. He consults the chief priests and scribes about this child who is born "King of the Jews." Just what do the Scriptures say? he wonders. Maybe it is the wise men's words, "We have come to worship him" that set him searching the Jewish scriptures in earnest, perhaps for the first time.

Although Herod may have been a practicing Jew, his parents were both Arabs. His subjects eyed him with suspicion because of his allegiance (however strained) with Rome. A potential fulfillment of Messianic prophesy could not sit well with him. Matthew says,
"he demanded of them where Christ should be born" (v. 4b).
From Bethlehem, the scribes explain, will come
"a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel" (v. 6b).
These words are followed, in Micah's prophesy, by the words, "whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting" (5:2b). Not just a governor, a rival ruler for Judea, but an eternal King.

Christians today live in the realm of men and women in authority who, like Herod, are "troubled," threatened by their interactions with us. Our testimonies blaze forth like living prophesies of the eternal Messiah, even when we say nothing. Live your faith simply and honestly, and you cause many people around you to wonder, "What would cause her to choose this stance?" Or maybe even, "What do the Scriptures say?"

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Homeschooled Kid

Today I shared with my students a few of the times I as a homeschooled teen stuck out like a sore thumb. First there was the time I visited my best friend's Christian school and read A Tale of Two Cities while she and her classmates did math homework in study hall. A boy near me asked if it was a cliffhanger. No; I was reading Dickens as if it were a cliffhanger, though. Then there was the time I was at the public library doing research on the bubonic plague. Sharing the card catalog (yes, those old-fashioned wooden drawers with cards in them) was a public-school boy who was also conducting research. "Is that for an essay?" he asked. "No," I replied. "I'm writing a story." It was a novel, actually, but I didn't want to sound pretentious. And when I was on the Christian school's softball team one year (at the same best friend's pleading), I rode the bus with kids my age who tried to be friendly by asking what kind of music I liked. "Country?" No. "Well, what, then?" "Opera," I said.

It would be an uphill climb for me to be able to relate to public school kids and eventually teach them! But I believe in God's perfect plan, and my homeschool-kid background has definitely helped shape me into who I am. According to educationnews.org, the number of homeschoolers is on the rise. It behooves public school teachers to respect the education choices of parents, whether it be to pursue online schooling for their child or to enroll the child in a charter school (which is also a public school) or something else entirely. For Christians, a major argument in favor of school choice is for parents to have more say in how their children are taught about moral and religious matters. No matter where they are and who's teaching them, they're getting an education.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Intercessory Prayer

Once again I am thankful for the informal network of caring Christian coworkers at my school who uphold me in prayer whenever I ask. James 5:16 says,

"Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." (NASB)

We need to be courageous, but also to know our limitations. It is God's help that will see us through those sticky conferences, those tough evaluations. He gives us the responsibility to pray for one another, and He promises that our prayers will avail much.

In order to share our prayer needs with other believers, we have to be humble. We have to realize that we need help. The flip side is true, too. If we want to be the kind of person other people trust with their prayer requests, we have to be humble. We need to realize that we could just as easily be the one in need. If we are righteous (to use James's word), we will be liberal with our intercession for brothers and sisters in Christ.

We are in good company when we pray for each other: Romans says our Savior also prays for us.

"Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." 8:34 (KJV)

The risen Christ is occupied with intercession. In what other world religion does the deity intercede for a fallen people?

"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not." I John 3:1 (KJV)

So many reasons to pray; so many reasons for gratitude.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Give Me Jesus

On my wish list this Christmas is a Give Me Jesus journal by Gretchen Saffles at Life Lived Beautifully. Viewing Gretchen's video, you'll see her heart for God and for women to draw close to God through reading the Word. I've had the opportunity to communicate with Gretchen online, and she has been a great encouragement to me as a woman seeking to know God better.

If teaching keeps you so busy that you've struggled to keep up a regular devotional time each day (okay, that's all of us, right?), journaling may be a way to dig deeper and stay accountable at your own pace. For me, journaling has been a means of catharsis and even problem-solving during tough times.

Read. Write. Pray. Repeat.

Best Practices for Integrating Chromebooks

Is your school thinking of adopting Chromebooks? Looking to write a grant for Chromebooks in your classroom? Here's a starting point: Best Practices for Integrating Chromebooks into Teaching and Learning.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Online Teacher Planners

Who doesn't love the old-fashioned, spiral-bound teacher plan books? They are the ultimate school supply, with their promise of order and accomplishment, their neat boxes ready to be inked in. But this is 2015 already. It's time to store that glorious planner in the Cloud.

So which digital planner is best? There are several viable, free options out there, and I've test-driven two of the major contenders. (I've also paid for an online planner, but it was not worth the investment).

Pros: Some aspects user-friendly; attentive tech service; collaboration features

Cons: Glitchy in Chrome; difficult to figure out how to roll classes over to a new year; difficulty sharing unit plans by email

Pros: User-friendly to the extreme; speedy tech service answers; easy to attach state standards, including CCSS, to lesson plans; new features added frequently, such as easy collaboration and date-free planning; works great in Chrome

Cons: Few; won't print unit plans (just daily plans), but I think this feature will be available soon

Conclusion: I switched from Commoncurriculum to Planboard gradually as I became frustrated by the limitations of the former. Both companies offer quality technical assistance, but too often the answer from Commoncurriculum was "Sorry, we don't have that feature." The clincher came when I bought a Chromebook and found that my old planner was incompatible with my new browser. I've never regretted the switch, though I can't wait for the ability to print my unit plans.

This is the first year I've done my planning completely online. Yes, I can sympathize with my fellow teachers who still love their paper planners, but there is something wonderful about knowing my plans are at my fingertips whether I'm at my desk at school, on my couch at home, or on my phone in the car. My sub plans look amazing, my adminstrator likes seeing the standards on my lessons, and, not the least of its benefits, my planner loses nothing when the school server crashes. Twice. In one year.

Try a free digital planner for a week. You'll be hooked.

Sadie Robertson "Live Original" 18-Month Agenda

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Research-Based Gems

Here are some of the nuggets of evidence-based thinking I've salted away from various teacher trainings recently. Each one can be linked to a Scriptural principle. Each one could be its own blog post, and maybe someday it will be.

*Cultivate a growth mindset, not a fixed mindset
*Cultivate perseverance (or, to use a buzzword, grit)
*Listen to understand
*Foster connections--to the text, to self, to prior knowledge, to the world
*Take time for scaffolding
*View failure as a stepping stone
*Teach precision, especially of terminology and academic vocabulary
*Embrace productive struggle

This list is saved on my phone, so when a PD trainer shares a new gem based on brain research, I can instantly update my toolbox. Hope there's something here for you!


Stop by my shop on Teachers Pay Teachers for resources on bullying prevention, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar. Watch for freebies, too! The shop is called Brevity--short and sweet for busy teachers.

Kindergarten, First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com

Friday, November 13, 2015

Use What Works

I'm always interested in the latest brain research since it connects immediately with my work in the classroom. As part of a class I'm taking, I recently encountered the magazine Better: Evidence-Based Education. With articles on a broad range of topics in education, the experts at Johns Hopkins and the University of York steer educators toward the latest research and its implications for the classroom. If you are looking for easy-to-digest, this is it. These articles claim to "explain, in plain English, the state of evidence behind informed practice in education." Browse the site for subscription-free samples.

Survival Challenge

Every teacher faces adversity. In the school setting, adversity can be present in the little things, such as a student who hasn't done her homework, a carefully-planned lesson that tanks, a gossiping coworker, an overly sensitive parent, or even profanity in the halls. Sometimes, though, it's a situation more difficult to navigate, and your job is on the line. The challenge is to endure.

"Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." II Tim. 2:3

I keep wondering if this will be the year when I finally have smooth sailing and I start to feel like a pro (in case you're wondering, the answer to that question is always, "Dream on."). In fact, sometimes it seems like the more training I pursue, the more carefully I plan, the more hours I put in, the less I am appreciated and the tougher my job becomes. The result is, it's tempting to slip into Survival Mode instead of Proficiency Mode.

This year--my tenth as an employee in the public school system--has presented numerous survival challenges. To my surprise, the worst of them have centered around communication failures on my part. What? I'm a writer! I should have the communication thing down! And yet communication is a broad field strewn with landmines that do not discriminate between civilians and seasoned soldiers. Just as a marriage has to be tended and maintained through struggles, so teachers must constantly (and humbly!) hone their communication skills. It might get harder before it gets easier.

This November, I've had a new rash of communication challenges. To help me stay in a Proficiency frame of mind, I've been offering prayers of thanksgiving for some of the good gifts in my life right now. For example, I'm thankful for a supportive husband who is there for me when I'm getting behind on my professional development class. I'm thankful for coworkers who pray with me and for me. I'm thankful for God's watch-care over my children. And Clemson's still unbeaten!

If you're facing adversity, the true survival challenge is to offer thanks in the midst of it all. Colossians 3:17 says,

"And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him."

And in James,

"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance." (NASB)

Maybe next year will be the year when you have smooth sailing. Maybe not. But God does have a future for you and your special talents. Right now he's working in you to prepare you for that task. You'll need endurance, and this is how you get it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A New/Old Flag

The flag on my classroom wall makes me happy. It’s a small flag, made of vibrant silk some unknown decades ago, and in a past life it hung in a classroom in “the old school.” I use quotation marks because hearing the spoken phrase “the old school” makes me imagine ghosts lurking in the cold, dank halls of the nearly 100-year-old structure where my husband attended elementary school. Really there are no ghosts, just some mold and spookily abandoned furnishings, cast-offs from every past generation of teachers at my small district.

When I accidentally knocked my newish, polyester classroom flag on the floor last year, I requisitioned a new one and patiently waited while the bureaucracy processed my request. In the meantime, I projected a standard image of Old Glory onto my SMART Board and we proudly saluted. When I remembered to fire up the machine in time for morning announcements. When I didn’t, we’d make a mad dash for the hall, where the office personnel and whoever else happened to be around saluted the hall flag. Our classes are small, so it didn’t seem like a big deal.

The replacement flag never came through, so this year I made it my number one priority (after scaling back my caffeine intake and getting more sleep) to get a new flag installed. This time, our wonderful maintenance person (a proud father of active duty servicemen), made sure I got my flag. To my delight, he scrounged up a replacement from “the old school,” and it was silk and vintage and mine.

Today, Veterans Day, I have sneaked many a peek at my flag where it hangs behind my desk, counting my blessings and savoring the brightness of the red (so much brighter in silk than polyester) that stands for the blood of my countrymen. Knowing that this particular flag was saluted for many decades by a patriotic crop of kids who walked the halls of “the old school” makes it that much more special.

Freebies from Dover Publishing

If you haven’t yet discovered the teacher resources available from doverpublications.com, consider visiting the site today. My favorite resource is the clip art and design sampler, a monthly email with free samples of some of Dover’s most popular royalty-free art. The crisp, colorful images and line drawings are perfect for crafting, dressing up seasonal newsletters, and a thousand other uses. Just download the images you like and save to your computer for when you need great art. We love freebies!

Note: Using the affiliated links above helps keep me blogging. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Am I alone?

If you have ever wondered if you are the only Christian teacher trying to honor God while teaching in a public school, I hope this blog will encourage you. The Bible verse near the blog title speaks to me of the sense of spiritual bondage that can go with this territory:
". . .the word of God is not bound." II Tim. 2:9b
While we as teachers are not literally imprisoned like Paul was, our words are to some degree bound. There are laws we have to follow. There are things we can and cannot say. If you have chosen to teach in the public school system, you most likely know and accept these facts. So how can a Christian really be devoted to the service of God and not proclaim Him? Paul assures us that we may be bound, but the Word of God is still free. God doesn't need human authority to move. How you will see this promise fulfilled as you abide by the law of the land may surprise you. Believe that God will accomplish His purpose, even in an environment where red tape is more prevalent than copier misfeeds.

Another verse that has helped me came to me during an important transition in my career. I had been a stay-at-home mom for several years after not being rehired to my teaching job. Being honest with myself, I didn't even know if I ever wanted to teach again. But God didn't see it that way. Without my ever putting out a resume, I found myself preparing for a job interview that fell into my lap. I had been meditating on the Book of Acts, and God seemed to be telling me, "Get ready. I have a job for you."

It had been so long since I had worked full-time that I did not immediately think "job" meant a teaching job. I thought maybe I would be asked to teach Sunday School or start a women's Bible study. My husband was the one seeking full-time work.

Then he called and told me he had just completed his interview at a charter school--and not been hired. "They just hired a history teacher," he said, "but they need an English teacher. I told them to talk to you."

Me, teach high school? I had little experience teaching students above fourth grade. And I would have to pursue a second teaching certificate. And was I really ready to teach again?

In His goodness, God reassured me. The verse He sent was Acts 18:10,
"For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city."
It was a reminder that I would not be the only Christian on staff if I took this job. It proved to be true. I can look back on many times when coworkers, fellow believers, listened to me, prayed with me, and supported me through tough times. I was not alone. Neither are you. God has led you to your present place, and He will lead you when it's time to move on.

I hope you will seek help and encouragement in Christ Jesus for each new day. You are a beacon to a darkening world.