Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Angela Powell is a Confident Teacher

But then, we all knew that already. Read this post.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Half as long

I recently wrote over at Cal Teacher Blog about allowing students to redo their work. This video clip from one of my all-time top 5 favorite movies of all-time, "A River Runs Through It," is part of my inspiration for teaching, and for life. Rev. Maclean is a Confident Teacher indeed.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Teacher's Mission

I feel like, and I've been told as well, that my mission field is my classroom. In public education there are many opportunities to model and share the Christian life with students and teachers alike who may not have ever heard of or considered Jesus.

I've used this many times as my excuse for not going on a mission trip to Mexico, just three short hours away, on spring break. But not this year. This year I went with Hands of Mercy to build a house for a homeless family south of Ensenada.

I was told that my heart would be changed; I thought it already had. I was wrong. I haven't slept well all week; I keep dreaming of being back in Mexico. I keep thinking of the little girls playing with rocks for toys.

As a teacher I have always assumed that my students and I were close in our expectations for our lives: get educated, get employed, get married, start a family, serve others, etc. But what about the girls in the rock pile? What are their expectations for their lives if poverty is all they have ever known?

Then I reflect on the subject matter that I teach: computer multimedia. I could hardly explain to the folks in Mexico what that even was, and why I taught it. Music videos seem very irrelevant if your biggest job during the day is bringing fresh water to your home/shack.

I want to be confident. I want to believe that God has my just where He wants me and is using me the way that He sees fit. But I feel like my heart has been ripped out of my chest and that all of the time I have invested into teaching what I thought mattered doesn't matter at all.

Or does it? God uses me everyday in the lives of my students in ways that I cannot see or know. I hope that the sharing of my experiences in Mexico with my students has a lasting and positive effect as they see one of their role models moved to take action in a new and selfless way.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Alternative Assessments


I have been a math teacher for most of my career, which means that the majority of my assessments have been tests and quizzes. As I have had to teach a few other subjects (which are out of my comfort zone) I have started using some assessments (which are also out of my comfort zone). Some of these assessments are obvious, like when I teach technology, I don't give tests, I give projects. But when I started teaching middle school Bible classes and a history class or two, I started branching out. I started doing things like papers and summaries. Then I went crazy and assigned a speech, and then once (for Bible) I did my first skit.

I was doing all sorts of cool "professional" teachery stuff like making rubrics! (Which I still feel like I am mispronouncing.... Is it even a real word?!? I don't know.)

A couple of days ago I got to thinking about this whole thing. I mean, sure, they are different, they can be fun for everyone, but I am selling them short? Does preparing for a speech or writing a paper bring about the same level of challenge as a ... should I say... cold hard test?

Life still gives you tests. My question is, "should the teacher?"

I know that this blog is called the "Confident Teacher" but I am not feeling too confident about this. So, to help me out with this little question, I (very quickly) created a little survey to get some input from the people that would actually know the answer to this question. So please, please fill out this little form. Pass it around to your teacher friends.

(Send them this link: http://confidentteacher.blogspot.com/2009/03/alternative-assessments.html)

Any questions I should add?

If I get a good number of responses, I will post a link to the results in a few days.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Do your job well

If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.
-Martin Luther King Jr.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A chasing after the wind

I recently attended a teacher conference (you can read my notes here and here.) There was lots of good information shared, and many warm and fuzzy moments. Teaching is a unique, complex, and fundamentally important job. It can also be fun, enjoyable, and rewarding to know that we make a difference on the planet.

As I was driving home it struck me that for two days we spoke all about what WE could and would do to work together to improve education, but we hardly spoke of God. Now, this was a secular conference, so I didn't expect to start or end the day with group prayer, or hear Jesus mentioned very often. (In fact, I was shocked a few times by the baser quality of some of the video and language used to "entertain" some of the speakers points, but we all laughed.) I realized as I was driving that here again we as a group of created people are attempting to design our destinies in education without consulting the original designer.

What did Solomon say in Ecclesiates 1?

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

What is twisted cannot be straightened;
what is lacking cannot be counted.

I thought to myself, "Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge." Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief.

As confident teachers we need to seek God's hand in our teaching and pray for our students, our colleagues, our campuses, our leadership, and ourselves. Without Christ, regardless of our best efforts, we are chasing after the wind.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Let's see... Do I have everything I need?

I am always starting my day wondering if I have planned, typed, copied, scheduled, etc. everything that I need. I always take a few moments, right before the first bell, to double check everything. I take a look at my lesson plan book and go through and put a little check mark right in the corner of each day, telling me that I have everything that I need for that class.

Lately I have noticed that there is something that I have been missing. Something that is a little more important than any copies or lessons that I have prepared.  I have found, more than once, these past few weeks, that I have left this particular item lying on the shelf.  That item is humility.

Let me share a quote with you that helped me realize this missing item:
Humility towards men will be the only sufficient proof that our humility before God is real, that humility has taken up its abode in us and become our very nature, and that we actually, like Christ, have made ourselves of no reputation.

When in the presence of God lowliness of heart has become not a posture we pray to Him, but the very spirit of our life, it will manifest itself in all our bearing towards our brethren.  The lesson is one of deep import: the only humility that is really ours is not that which we try to show before God in our prayer, but that which we carry with us, and carry out in our ordinary conduct -- the significances of daily life are the importances and the tests of eternity, because they prove what really is the spirit that posses us.  It is in our most unguarded moments that we really show and see what we are.  To know the humble man and to know how the humble man behaves, you must follow him in the common course of daily life.

~Andrew Murray from his book Humility

So there you go.  Don't forget to "clothe yourselves in humility"(I Peter 5:5) today.  Plan it in your lesson, carry it with you down the hall, take it to lunch with you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On Teaching...

I am blessed to work at a Christian school, each year we have a day of spiritual renewal where all three school staffs (pre school, elementary, and middle) come together to learn and grow spiritually. This year our speaker was Sid Buzzel. Sid happens to be one of my favorite people of all time. He was my New Testament teacher when I was going to school at CCU. The class was life changing for me and any time I get a chance to learn from Sid I take it! His message today was outstanding, I wish that I had podcasted or filmed it so you could all experience it first hand. Since I didn't, you'll have to take the blog version.

Sid started by listing all of the requirements it takes to be a teacher: a degree, a license, certification, recertification, ongoing professional development, etc. "The enormous importance of what teachers do is reflected in the care we take to insure they are worthy of the trust we place in them." Then Sid had us reflect on teaching. Of all the teacher requirements, list any you would name as competing for "Most Important". Go ahead and think about your answer, what do you think the most important characteristic of a teacher is? Write it down...commit it to paper. I listed someone who is a life long learner, passionate, a mentor, compassionate, and kind. (As a short side note, Sid said, "the primary function of classroom management is managing the teacher" love that!)

James 3:1 says "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check." Why is it that teachers are judged more strictly? Could it be because we are role models? Our students model our behavior. So not only are our actions affecting our own life, they are also shaping the way that others live their lives.
So, what does James say is the most important qualification for teachers? James 1:2 says that teachers are to 'keep their whole "self" under control'.

James follows this with the 'tongue' being the symbol for our whole life. James 3:1-18 is all about control. In verses 3-6 the 'tongue' is compared to other small things that control larger things. 3-4 talks about controling a horse (a large animal) with a bit (a small piece of metal). Likewise a very large ship is controlled with a small rudder. James is pointing to a larger truth here, that small things can have a huge impact. (A small spark can set a whole forest on fire.) Our speech is an indicator of larger things, it can control our whole lives.
"Your small 'tongue' reveals GREAT TRUTH about you!"

James follows this illustration with the bad news about the tongue. In 7-8 James says that no one can tame the tongue, it is a restless evil, it is full of deadly poison, it is the world of iniquity, it defiles our entire body, it sets on fire the course of our life, and it is set on fire by hell. At this point you may be thinking "gee, if James is saying that NO ONE can tame the tongue, I'm sunk...there is no hope for getting this thing under control."
Out of the same mouth can come praise and cursing. This is not consistent with the rest of nature. Fresh and salt water cannot come out of the same stream, an grape vine cannot produce figs. Could it be that a cursing tongue cannot, by its very nature, praise? James 11-12 again tells us that the 'tongue' is a destructive thing we cannot control. (Keep reading, there is good news coming.) James 13-18 points us to how we become people who can teach.

At this point Sid gave us an acronym for spiritual formation that addresses the control issue.
C-O-R-E CORE stands for Circumstance (or context) Organism (person) Response Effect
Here is how the CORE works "I am thirsty" The circumstance is that I am thirsty, the organism is me, the response is that I get a drink, and the effect is that I'm not thristy any more. This is a simple illustration of the CORE concept. Obviously if you have a more serious circumstance like alcoholism, the desired effect may be harder to reach. Sometimes the response we have brings about the desired effect and sometimes it increases or adds to the problem. There are several ways that we try to address problems, we can set goals to bring about the desired effect, we can focus on the response and try to modify our behavior, or we can try to control the circumstance. By themselves, none of these are going to be enough. They may work for us for a while but in the end our will just won't be strong enough. What really needs to be focused on is the organism, the person. The CORE of our spiritual formation is the heart. The Bible talks a lot about the heart. In fact there are over 850 heart references! I won't go into them here but take a look at Luke 6:45, Matthew 12:34-35, Ephesians 3:14-21, and Mark 1:17-23.
Proverbs 4:23 says Above all else, guard your heart, for out of it flow the issues of life. Proverbs is a book of wisdom, Solomon gives us wisdom on a variety of life subjects and yet he says ABOVE ALL ELSE guard your heart. You see, the tongue is an indication of something deeper, you can't control the tongue but you can control the thing that controls the tongue. That is the heart. The heart has to be cleansed and fed in order for us to have control over it.

Sid gave us an excellent visual of a well where villagers can get clean water. No longer do the women of the village have to spend a third of their day collecting water. With a well they have clean drinking water. Then he said, suppose that an elephant fell into the well and died. Suppose it started to decay and stink, the well would cease to provide clean drinking water. What dead elephants do we have in out hearts that are making our water (tongue) dirty? Proverbs 4:24-26 teaches us how to cleanse the well. Sin, bitterness, anger, greed, and lust enter our heart. When a problematic circumstance arises, our response is clouded by the elephant in our well, as a result the product (effect) is also bad. To cleanse the well we need confession and forgiveness that brings a change in our heart. When the heart begins to change, the response and effect are going to be purer. We also need to feed the heart. We can feed the heart with Bible study, prayer, meditation, and fasting. We need to sit in God's presence. We will never have enough discipline to change our heart or tongue alone, we need God. You can't become a Christian by your own effort and you can't stay a Christian by your own effort. It is a daily walk, step by step. It is not a single act, "I became a Christian" it is a process.

Just as learning to read is a process, so is the Christian walk. When our students learn to read we don't stop them and say, "that is it you are now a reader...this is the point in time when you started reading." And then expect them to be able to read Shakespear. That moment in time when they started recognizing that letters form words and words form sentences, that is just a beginning point of their reading journey. The same is true of Christianity. That moment when Jesus enters your life is not all there is...it is the beginning of a process of learning and growth.

What we have to remember is that in those pressure moments with students, when they are making us crazy the decision about how we are going to respond has already been made. It all has to do with the state of our heart. If we have allowed constant sarcasm, bitterness, and anger into our heart, we will respond out of that place. But, if we are in the process of continually confessing, giving and receiving forgiveness, and feeding our heart, our response will be much different. It will be clean water coming from a clean well. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G.K. Chesterton What's Wrong With the World, 1910

In Galatians 5 Paul presents his explanation of how we control our 'tongue'. A Christian has two options for Life:
1. What our natural flesh produces- 5:19-21 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, sidcord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

OR option 2
2. What the Holy Spirit produces- 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Choose one option and live it! The key word in Galatians 5: 16 and 25 is walk. This is a walk, a journey and it happens one step at a time.

In James 3, James explains hwo we control our tongue. 3:13-18 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
Wisdom from the earth breeds (14-16) bitter envy, selfish ambition, disorder, and evil. It is unspiritual and of the devil.
Wisdom from above (18) is pure, peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, impartial, and sincere.
Which of these characteristics would you prefer teachers to have?

James said that a teacher's most important qualification is...To develop self control. But the battle for control is not won or lost at the level of the tongue. The battle for control is won or lost at the level of the heart. The qulified teacher's first responsibility is to cultivate the Spirit's Fruit and Heavenly Wisdom by pracicing the Spiritual Disciplines God uses to transform us into the people He created us to be. What we say in the classroom reveals what they (our students) are.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Originally posted over at my other blog, but a friend recommended that I post it here:

I am still reading the book Humility by Andrew Murray. I am about half way through the book. It isn't a long book, but I only read it for a few minutes every other morning. It has been really good, with several different thought-provoking phrases from the author.

I ran across this one the other day:
If once we learn that to be nothing before God is the glory of the creature, the spirit of Jesus, the joy of heaven, we shall welcome with our whole hearts the discipline we may have in serving even those who try to vex us.
Andrew Murray from the book Humility

One reason why I enjoyed this quote is that it stirred in me at the teacher level. Some people don't like to talk about this, but let's face it... some students are out to vex you in any way that they can. I am not a bad teacher for saying this, I am just realistic. It is those students that it is the most important to serve. It also reveals something about you if you do not serve those students who are trying to vex you.

There are many other relationships in life where one could apply this quote. You will always meet vexing people, people who are (whether in reality or not) out to get you.

Seeking that place of humility before God, truly is, the glory of the creature. Don't forget that truth as you walk through life today.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Remain in Him

1 John 2:27 (New International Version)

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”

Staying focused on the anointing of Christ can be challenging. Teachers need to concentrate on what works consistently. Think about the ebb and flow of educational reform, the “method du jour” of what defines successful pedagogy, and all that stuff you learned in your teacher credential program that never seemed to work right in your own classroom. Implementing the latest teacher trick will not solve the deeper daily challenges faced in the classroom. Our best hope for having the most important positive impact on our students is our personal pledge to “remain in Him.”

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Greatest Teacher

I have been thinking a lot about teaching and learning lately. What does good teaching look like? How can we ensure that our students are successful learners?

These are the questions that had my wheels spinning as I lay awake with a red 3:00 staring back at me. I started thinking about Jesus and his teaching. On the surface, I saw Jesus teaching in the traditional sense. Lecturing, or giving a sermon, with an audience soaking it all in. But the more I thought about it, the more that I realized this was not the way Jesus taught at all. As I started scratching the surface I came to the realization that Jesus' teaching style was more that of a constructivist. His teaching through parables and questioning encouraged his audience to construct their own knowledge through critical thinking and problem solving. I think that Jesus knew that learning and knowledge is more powerful when it is discovered and grappled with. The greatest Teacher in the world chose not to simply feed us facts, but to reveal truth in a way that caused us to think about it, to wrestle with it and, as a result, come to a deeper understanding of it. This teaching continues to challenge us and reveal truth 2,000 years later.
Teaching this way may not be the quickest or easiest way, but if we want our students to become life long learners, we will put in the extra work to transform them into thinkers. I don't want students who can regurgitate facts that I tell them are important. I want them to question, problem solve, think creatively and critically, and ultimately discover importance in learning.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Chuck the Disguise

Have you ever seen that old Animaniacs cartoon? If you have, do you remember the short clips with the big chicken named Boo?

In the "Chicken Boo" clips, there is this chicken who walks into different scenarios, and with a relatively simple disguise (like a jacket and a fake mustache) everyone suddenly believes that he is an expert in a particular area. Now, this chicken can't talk. In fact, he continues to exhibit basic barn yard chicken mannerisms, but somehow he saves the day while continuing to fool everyone. Right at the end of every Chicken Boo clip the disguise somehow falls off and someone will say, "Wa-- Wait. You're not a man, YOU'RE a CHICKEN!" He then runs off with everyone chasing him.

The first few years of teaching, that is how I felt.

I had been a full-time warehouse worker for 6 long years before I was a teacher. It was my life. Working in tractor trailers, driving fork lifts, and moving boxes... Lots of boxes. Then one day, with a tie around my neck, I found myself standing in front of a classroom full of wide-eyed children ready to learn. I can still remember the theme song running through my head.

♫ You wear a disguise
You look like human guys
but you're not a man
you're a chicken, Boo. ♫

I really felt like someone would figure me out. "Hey. You're not a teacher! You're a warehouse worker!" Because of this I began to overcompensate. I wanted to please my boss and please the parents and please the kids and please my fellow teachers. It was overwhelming.

It also wasn't working.

I was consumed with, what some would call, the fear of man. And just like the Proverb says, it was a snare.

I would love to tell you the whole story of how I made it out of that snare, all of the life-changing events and the minute revelations that I experienced, but there isn't time for all of that. Instead, let me tell you where I am at now and something that I believe is important to be the teachers that we need to be.
"So then, men ought to regard us [teachers] as servants of Christ ... Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God."
I Cor. 4:1-5

I wish I could develop this more, but I need to go over my lesson plans one more time before the night is over. So, instead of a fully developed thought, I am going to give you three points. These points (I believe) are essential to a teacher becoming what they could/should be.

  1. Care very little for who is (or could be) judging you.

  2. Care very much for the Lord who is judging you. Seek to please Him!

  3. Keep a clear conscience (i.e. Do what you know is right).

There is nothing wrong with trying to please your earthly bosses, but remember, they hired YOU. Chances are they had an idea of what they were getting when they hired you, and more importantly, God desires to use your uniqueness. It is that same uniqueness that He created and has designed a specific purpose.

To sum up: You might be a large chicken wearing human clothes.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Prayer Comes First

Or at least it should. I pray for my students daily, usually at home while I'm praying alone, or with my family. If teachers can have no other positive effect on our students, we can at least pray for them. We need to trust that God is in control of all things including the success of our students and us as their teachers.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Just an Idea

What if three (or more) Christian educators teaching in the world got together to have a conversation about teaching, education, reform, and their daily walks? What would that discussion look and sound like? What could they, and everyone reading, learn from each other?