Parents

I got the best parent email I think I’ve ever received in my career today:

I am a minister here in Tulsa, and I am currently working on my sermon for this Sunday.  It is about how God calls ALL of us to meaningful ministry.  I was talking to S yesterday about her first day of school, and she mentioned that you had the students sign up for a time with you to learn their stories.  Not only did this impress me, but it truly follows my sermon point for this Sunday.
To that end, I would really like to mention you in my sermon if that’s ok with you.  This is the understanding that I have, so please correct me if I have something wrong:
You get paid to teach the kids math, but I believe your calling is to connect with children and attempt to enrich their lives.  That is why you are taking the time for surveys, student conferences, etc.  S told my wife and I that the reason she is taking this math is because she knew you would be teaching it. 
My faith has been in a reconstruction phase for about a decade now. I have never lost hope in the person of Jesus, but I have lost the trust of and respect for the church too many times to count. I get it: we’re human. Why God chose communion with us will always be a great mystery to me. Why He chose us to help make His introduction is beyond my earthly understanding.
But sometimes…sometimes the church gets it right.
And I see that glimmer.
I see what we’re supposed to be.

This minister doesn’t know me, except through his daughter. And yet he could articulate perfectly my real calling.

He knew immediately that my real calling isn’t teaching calculus, as much as I love it. Calculus is merely the opening act. The main event is the connection, the community.

I’m thankful for the church.

I’m frustrated with the church, yes. Even angry many days. But I am still thankful for it.

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Pointing to Truth

I survived my first day, you all!

You don’t have to know me too well to know that the first day is one of my least favorite days, second only to the last day of school.

Hellos and goodbyes. They are not my forte.

But this was definitely the best first day I’ve ever had. Not because I did anything special, but just because I breathe a little easier these days. I’ve found my home, my calling, my rhythm, and I feel safe where I am.

Maybe it’s not good to be too safe for too long. But for this season, I’m grateful.

I could breathe easier today because of all the reminders that even though the beginning is weird and awkward, the journey is always worth it…

I breathed easier when I saw my calc classes were sprinkled with juniors whom I had last year and greeted me with smiles and hugs. This is the first year in a while I’ve had the luxury of looping from precalc to calc. Words cannot express my gratitude.

I breathed easier when a student from last year brought me this gift. “My mom went to Vietnam this summer and wanted you to have this”:

I breathed easier when, after questioning if my first day was too boring, I read this comment from a student from last year:

I breathed easier when I saw my two former calc students from four years ago wearing their UHS faculty shirts and badges, ready to enter their own math classrooms now.

I breathed easier because each of these gifts was a reminder of how beautiful the finished product can be. Each gift pointed me to the Truth.

To the Calculus Class of 2019

How do I even begin to describe what you all mean to me?  It has been such a joy to share this classroom with you this year.  From the very first day of school, you all impressed me with your kindness, inclusiveness, and encouragement.  As an introvert, starting a new school year is always anxiety-inducing for me.  But I remember thinking from the beginning that I felt so at home with you all.  And I was right.

I get emotional every year thinking about my students leaving and growing and making their own stamp on this world.  But this year has been especially hard.  This year the tears started early (the Saturday before graduation…what?).  And that’s simply because you all have a very special place in my heart.  While I’m so excited to see what life has in store for each of you, I also know that your departure leaves an emptiness not only in the four walls of our classroom, but also in my life.  Your questions, your intelligence, your enthusiasm have made me not just a better teacher, but a better person.  I repeat—I am better because of you.

I try to live by the philosophy that there’s no such thing as someone else’s kid.  When I talk to others, that’s always what I call you: “my kids.”  You have brought so much life and light into my life.  I can’t imagine this room without you.

Over the last year, I’ve seen you pour over more FRQs than I can count; I’ve seen you cheer each other on as you’ve competed in the classroom, on the field, on the court, and on the stage. I’ve seen you share in each others’ joys and struggles; this has been one of the greatest gifts you could give me.  

As you start your own adventures, there are a few things I’d like for you to remember.  First, life is a gift—I cannot overemphasize how far gratitude will take you.  Remember: “Every day may not be good, but there’s something good in every day.” Focus on the good—even when you don’t want to (especially when you don’t want to).  Second, always learn people’s stories.  It’s cliché, but people really don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  Stories are powerful; listen when people entrust you with theirs.  Third, surround yourself with people who care about you and will sacrifice for you.  We can’t choose what happens to us in life, but we can choose our closest friends.  Finally, find what makes you happy and pursue it.  Happy people make the world a better place.

You all are truly some of the best people I’ve ever met in my life.  Use your intelligence, your compassion, and your courage to serve those around you.  I’ll be waiting here expectantly to hear of your journey—so don’t forget to keep me updated!  If you ever need anything, I’m just a text or an email away.

Thank you, again, for letting me share in your life.  Thank you for your hard work and your dedication to Union High School.  I love and adore you.  You are always in my heart and mind; you will always belong here.  You are the reason I do what I do.  

You are my One Good Thing.

Go light the world, Redskins.

Mrs. Peterson  

“Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” –Wicked

Esther

One of my precalc kids gave me this beautiful print today:

It’s been a week of some really low lows and really high highs (hello, end of the school year). As I continued to eye this verse today, I kept sensing that I needed to accept it as true for me, even though it wasn’t written for a math teacher–it was written for a queen.

So teachers: maybe this is the moment for which we were created. I know this moment–this time of year–is hard. Trust me, I know. You’ve poured and poured and given and given. Sometimes we give and kids are so grateful and it does our hearts a whole lot of good. And sometimes they’re not so grateful. But you know what I’ve had to remind myself of a lot this week? The prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed until age twenty-five.

(I’m not great at comedy. Did that work?)

Anyway, my point is: sometimes we feel really good about our work and sometimes not so much. But any strong couple will tell you: love is a choice. Love is a promise. Love is a vow when you feel like it and when you don’t.

And perhaps, if this is the moment for which we were created, we should choose this moment–wholly, fully, all-in.

So as we finish this year, let’s be in this moment. Let’s cherish our kids. Let’s love like we may never get another chance to hug those necks or to speak kind, edifying words into their lives.

Let’s keep giving our best because–perhaps this is the moment for which we were created. Perhaps this is the moment a child needs love more than ever before…

Radical Self-Care Lesson #27: feed yourself first

Whenever I tune out the flight attendant’s safety instructions on a plane, there is always one instruction I hear as clear as a bell: in the event that the oxygen masks are released, put your own mask on first before attempting to assist others. This is as important in self-care as it is in flight safety.

I hate finishing my after-school chores, walking and then feeding the dog, resting for ten and a half minutes, and then having to make dinner, so after Spring Break, I decided to try something radically different. As soon as I get home, I put some dog food in the doodle’s bowl and do the major food prep for dinner.

Then when I’m done, I walk the dog.

At first, this seemed like a stupid idea, but having done it for a few weeks, I want to tell you something: it’s miraculous.

So now, instead of waiting until I am totally hungry and exhausted and ready to just give up and call for delivery, I therapeutically chop whatever beautiful veggies need to be chopped, or marinate whatever I need to marinate, and THEN I walk the dog. For example, just now, I blitzed a bunch of ingredients in the food processor so that we can have Yotam Ottolenghi’s Thai pork dumplings and noodles in broth for dinner tonight.

Now I can walk the dog knowing that I will be able to throw together a healthy, delicious, meal for dinner later.

But after I walk the dog, I can take a well-deserved nap.

Joy

My heart is full tonight…

A former calc student came to visit today after classes. He’s a big shot D1 football player now with a packed schedule…but he always finds time to visit Room 2704.

This one is as good as they come. His momma is a teacher too, and I’m convinced that’s why he’s got a great head on his shoulders. I don’t know many young men that would be able to stay as grounded as he has these last couple years.

*****

Last week a student messaged me saying he wanted to do something for teacher appreciation week, but “wasn’t a good a gift giver.” He said he’d love to play a song for me on his violin and asked what song I’d like.

I knew immediately.

“Would it be possible to play ‘For Good’ from Wicked?”

He said that was one of his favorite songs from one of his favorite musicals also.

He played it for me today.

Tears fell down my cheeks as the simple melody filled my classroom and I thought about the lyrics. “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

Even as I type this, the screen is getting blurry.

I hugged him–this sweet soul who has been through hell and back and still chooses to give away his time and talents. I quoted: “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

His eyes filled now too, and he said, “Me too. There is no one who’s got teaching figured out like you.”

I laughed at those words. “Trust me, that’s not true.”

But then I wondered: Why are we so quick to dismiss compliments, especially when they’re from people who love us and know us well?

I don’t really know.

I know I have so much more growing to do. I could fill whole books on what I’m not doing but want to be doing.

Or I could focus on what my kids speak over me. On the beauty that they are and that they bring. On the joy I receive from their visits, their music, their words, their love.

They are one of the greatest gifts I have on this earth…

Purpose

Four past students came to visit this afternoon, the last of which ended at my home.

My emotions run deep right now and they are exasperated by exhaustion.

I’ve been dreading saying goodbye to this group.

But today reminded me that it’s not goodbye forever. That some will stay in my life. That they’ll make room in their busy schedules to come visit. That they’ll love me even when I’m at the peak of my tiredness.

That they’ll choose to see the best in me, and I in them.

That we were brought together on purpose. And that purpose doesn’t have to end in just one year…