". . .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!