Beauty in the Midst of Struggle

Seeing as finals are in full swing, I figured what was a better use of my time than to post a reflection blog on my most thought-provoking class this semester.  (Mom and Dad, I had it written way earlier, I’m just posting it now. Pinky promise.)

My life this past week preparing for finals and writing final papers.  P.S. I love that my Bible is required to do some of my homework.
My life this past week preparing for finals and writing final papers. P.S. I love that my Bible is required to do some of my homework.

History and Literature of the New Testament is one of my most challenging classes this semester.  Not because I don’t understand the material and do poorly on the tests, on the contrary I understand the material quite well and have done very well on the papers and exams.  The struggle I have is that being the naïve freshman who I am, when I was searching for classes in August, I saw this class about the New Testament and thought, “How cool is that? We will read the entire New Testament and it will be a great way to encourage me to be diligent about spending time in the word daily!”  Without hesitation, I signed up.

On the first day, the professor asked us, “What is the difference between the Old and New Testaments?” I thought, “Oh goodie, I know the answer to this question.”  I waited for other people to respond for a little and then raised my hand and said something to the effect of, “The Old Testament is the time leading up to Jesus’ birth, in which many prophecies and promises were made, and the New Testament is after Jesus’ birth, and it documents his ministry and the effects of it, as well as the promises and prophecies made in the Old Testament coming true in the New Testament.”  My professor responded and said, “Well some people believe that, but it is a very theological view of it…When answering in this class it is important to avoid speaking with theologically based answers”  She went on to tell us the right answer, which was pretty darn close to what I had said.  After that class, I was in a quandary. How was I going to answer questions with the answer she was looking for, when I only knew one answer, which apparently was too steeped in Christian theology?  How could I disassociate what I had learned and believe to be true from how I answer questions on the New Testament?  Was I going to be graded down if I accidentally said something that was too theological?

She assigned a twelve page self inventory on the first day of class due in a week; by next class four people had dropped, leaving twelve students in the class. I seriously debated dropping it as well.  Subsequently I talked to some of the people who dropped, and they said it was just going to be too hard for them to not speak theologically, plus the twelve page paper did not motivate them to stay in the class either. So one week in, I wasn’t alone in my doubt.

While I was completing the paper, I happened to google my professor, as I wanted to see if she was a contributor to the textbook we were using.  What I found was overwhelming at first.  My professor had been an Episcopalian priest who was defrocked in 2009, for becoming a Muslim in 2006.  Reading on, I found an interview in which she stated, “I am both Muslim and Christian, just like I’m both an American of African descent and a woman. I’m 100 percent both.”  I was so surprised.  My first thought was, “How does that even work? The two religions are fundamentally different.”  My thoughts then progressed to “Oh my goodness, I’m taking a New Testament class from someone who is both Muslim and Christian.  We are very possibly going to have differing opinions on many topics. Should I drop it?”  Farther down in the article it mentions that, “She calls Christianity the ‘world religion of privilege.’”  After reading that, I was so bummed.  Here I am, a white, female, Christian, from Southern California, going to a prestigious private school in Washington, with a professor who believes that Christianity is the religion of privilege.  Based off of my appearance and my much too theologically based answer on the first day, I was sure she had a great opinion of me.

I debated about dropping the class for two weeks.  I dreaded going to class and having to monitor how I participated in class for theological biases, when all I know is theologically based.  I felt that it was slightly ironic, being at a liberal arts college that strives to be inclusive of all people and beliefs, that I had to make sure to not over share what I knew and believed to be true about the New Testament.  The only nice thing was that I knew to take whatever she said, and for that matter, whatever was in the textbook, with a grain of salt, because the class wasn’t taught from a theological background, as I had naïvely expected it to be.

In the end, I decided to not drop the class.  I felt like God led me to be in that class for some reason, whether to strengthen my own faith, or be a witness to others, or something completely different, I felt called to stay.  I have no idea whether I will get graded down for my Christian upbringing coming out in my opinions in my papers, since we haven’t gotten any back yet.  Who knows?  All I know is that it will all work out somehow.

It has taken me almost an entire semester to realize the beauty of this class being taught on my campus.  I don’t go to a Christian school, in fact, 4 years ago, it was almost the opposite.  Four years ago, there was a group of about ten believers that met on campus for fellowship.  There might have been more who didn’t show up, but then in a student body of 2,500 is a small minority.  Now there are about 200 believers that meet regularly between the three Christian clubs on campus.  God is moving on this campus, and I’m so glad to be up here and be a part of it.

Anyway, when talking with my mom about this class, she said, “Linds, this might be a challenging class for you, but think about it. There are people in your class that are reading the New Testament for the first time.  God’s word is present in your class and you have no idea how He will use this opportunity to impact lives.”  She helped me see the beauty in the class, even though it might be a trial for me.  There are twelve people who meet twice a week for an hour and a half to discuss the history of the New Testament, all while reading the entire New Testament as required reading.  We all come different faiths and walks of life, but each of us is reading the Bible.  Going to class is so much more joyful and exciting once I put my perspective in line with God’s greater plan.

Summer Homework: Had Me a Blast

One of my favorite teachers of all time wrote a blog post this weekend questioning the effectiveness of assigning summer homework and it was amazing.  I suggest you all read it on his blog, The Readiness is All.  At the end, he asks readers to share their thoughts in a comment or blog post response.  In the beginning I was going to just leave a short comment and be on my way, but then I realized I had a lot more to say on the subject then would be courteous to leave in a comment.  So here I am, blogging about summer homework, two-week into school.  You would think my opinions would have died down after being in school for two weeks, but nope, I’m still really passionate in my displeasure about summer homework.

To start off, I have had summer homework in at least one class for the past three years.  This past summer was amazing because college doesn’t have required summer homework(that I know of.  Oh gosh, what if they do? Oh no.) and it was amazing.  It was sharply contrasted by my sister’s summer in which she had three books to read for freshman honors english.  Some might argue that the books weren’t super long or hard to read, but that isn’t the point.

The point is that she read all three books diligently and did not wait until the last-minute, but as the first day of school crept closer and closer, she got more and more stressed out.  Talk about nerve-racking! Imagine starting a new school for the first time, one where everyone is bigger than you and there are a bazillion people everywhere.  The stress of six new teachers, finding your classes, having somewhere to eat lunch, being able to find one’s friends in the sea of people, opening one’s locker…the list of stressors goes on and on. Then add the stress of an impending test and multiple essays to be done in class within the first week of school. Poor freshman, I did not want to be in her shoes.

The day before school started for her, I received probably 15 texts, 3 phone calls, and one long FaceTime call in which she was in tears, stressed about the test and essays.  She was so nervous that she would fail and her teacher would think she was stupid and a failure, and even worse, have him think she didn’t even read the book.  She had no idea what to expect except the teachers had given a list of nine essay prompts and said, “Be prepared to answer three of these in class on the first day of school.”  I counseled her and told her that it would be extremely rare for a teacher(especially of freshman) to give a test on the first day because people are getting lost, coming in late, finding their assigned seat, etc.  It just doesn’t work to give a test within those first fifty-six minutes.  She still wanted to be prepared, so she set to writing an essay answering each of the prompts.  She wrote three essays before I was able to convince her that if she felt that she needed to write the essays, to just write bullet points.  She was so stressed.

I know teachers don’t sit around all summer thinking up new ways to torture their students(if they do, that’s a bigger problem than one of summer homework).  So I would like to think that if they knew what summer homework put their students through, they might think twice about assigning it.  Now I know, the reason summer homework is assigned is so that the class can hit the ground running and cover more material in the course of the year.  There has only been ONE class that I have found this statement even partially true and the summer homework necessary.  That class was AP Biology.

In AP Bio, we had four chapters to go over and do activities for on our own over the summer.  It was all review from regular biology, which was a prerequisite so everyone completing the summer homework had taken it, AND we went over it all in class, so if anyone had questions they could get them answered.  The only reason summer homework was assigned in the first place was that the AP test requires so much material to be covered, that one must start in the summer, just to have the time to cover all the required material adequately.  Which is a whole other problem in itself. Why design a test in which all material cannot be covered within the school year?  Oh well, that will have to be a completely separate blog post. The summer homework is justified in the extremely high pass rate that our school has on the AP Biology test.

What I don’t understand is assigned reading for English classes.  And not to bash on the English department at my school; I enjoyed every English class I was in, but I still don’t understand the purpose of the summer reading homework they assign.  I can only come up with two plausible reasons as to why summer reading homework would be assigned.

Reason One: The teachers want to scare of the faint of heart(in an academic sense).  They don’t want to deal with students who don’t want to do the level of work required of a higher level English course. I don’t blame them.  There have been many a time when I have been in class frustrated because some of my classmates did not want to put in the effort and work required of the class, thus unfortunately sometimes bringing the entire class down. I love being in a class with all academic thinking students just as much as a teacher like teaching one.  When everyone is participating and putting something into the class, it transforms the class; discussions flow freely, group projects are no longer a pain, and the positives can go on forever.  But I’m not so sure that assigned summer reading is going to solve that problem.

In fact, in assigning summer reading, one is more likely to scare away those students who are on the fence between excelling in a regular level English class and being challenged in an honors or AP class.  You won’t scare away the students who are forced by their parents to take the upper level course, just to get into a “good college”.  They will just read Sparknotes and take whatever grade they get on the first tests, because they don’t really care.  You won’t scare away those kids that are naturally smart, but have no desire to put any effort into the course. All who get scared away are the timid ones, those unsure about their academic strength, but willing to put in the effort to get to that next level if needed.

Reason Two: Summer reading is important because it helps classes to cover more books in a year, which ultimately helps students on the AP Literature test as they will have more books to choose from when they are writing their free response essays.  I’m pretty sure no teacher can wholeheartedly say this and believe it one hundred percent.  No student in May of their senior year is going to recall a book they read over the summer before freshman year enough to write a fully developed essay on it.  For one, it is highly likely that after reading that book over the summer, they took a test on it and never discussed it again.  Which ultimately won’t help them on the AP test, because on the test one is required to examine the book on a deeper level than just knowing what the book was about.  Class discussion of a book help set those themes in stone in a student’s mind, so that they can, hopefully, recall them when necessary.  Also, speaking solely from my personal experience taking the AP Literature test; you read enough of a variety of books senior year that you can answer just about any prompt and relate it to one of the books read that year quite easily.

There are some many things students can do during the summer that would be way more worthwhile and thought-provoking than summer homework.  I could list them out, but I think you get the picture.  (If you need an idea of what I’m talking about, check out my previous blog post about what I did this summer!)

Just an example of one of the great things students could be doing instead of summer homework-enjoying the sunset!
Just an example of one of the great things students could be doing instead of summer homework-enjoying the sunset!

In conclusion, I am going to echo the wise question of Mr. Theriault; why is summer homework still being assigned?  If you have an answer, or see a reason for keeping it that I haven’t thought of, feel free to comment below!

Making an Impact

This past week was Teacher Appreciation Week, and in honor of it, I am posting something I wrote about my current English teacher, Mr. Theriault.  He is the reason I started blogging in the first place, and I couldn’t be more grateful to him for forcing me to do so.

“Young lady, do you need to change seats?” It was the first day of school my sophomore year, and I had completely forgotten to bring lined paper.  I had quietly turned around to my friend sitting behind me to ask for a spare sheet so I could write our essay on the assigned reading we had over the summer.  I was in shock and intimidated that I was scolded for asking for a piece of paper, especially on the first day of school.  I was so scared of my new English teacher that I left class that day thinking, “Okay, breathe and relax, if it doesn’t get better, you can always switch to another class.”

Switching to another class would have been one of the biggest mistakes in my academic career, if not my life.  I know it seems cliché, but it is true. I would have missed out on having an extraordinary teacher who does not just teach English, but teaches life.   Shortly into the school year, amidst his ridiculously hard bi-weekly quizzes, he told us, “I am going to grade you on your effort in this class.  The standard measures of competence and effort [by tests and quizzes] will have less value in my class; not so you can slack off, but so you can stretch yourselves to new levels without fear of damaging your grade because of it.”  Though his class is one of the most challenging classes I have had, it is addicting; there are too many days in which I walk out of his classroom, wishing I could stay in English all day, thinking “This is way more worthwhile and meaningful than any of my other classes.”

It was in his class that I first learned how to properly read and annotate a book and was able to enjoy analyzing the syntax of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.  It was in his class, that student presentations became something to look forward to, instead of a waste of a class period, as more often than not, they came with goodies and plenty of audience interaction which kept it interesting.  It is in his class, and really only in his class, that I feel completely at home.

The wheels are always turning in Mr. Theriault’s head, thinking of how to make himself a better teacher, his lessons more fruitful, keep students more engaged, and how to make education less daunting.  He is never afraid to share what he is working on with his students as well as the rest of the world through his blog and Twitter.  Mr. Theriault has taught his students to share their work and thoughts, by assigning weekly blogging and a twenty percent project every year.  Through blogging, I have written more this past year than ever before in the entirety of my high school career altogether.  He has given us the freedom to develop our own voice, something that is so hard to teach, yet so critical for higher level writing.

Mr. Theriault is one of the only teachers I have encountered that will take time out of his class period, his precious fifty-four minutes of teaching time, to ask how students are doing.  He will ask about the sports events that he couldn’t make it to and other school related topics, but he will also ask students how they are doing personally.  If he sees that someone seems down, sick, or just exhausted, the first thing he says is, “Is there anything I can do to make your day better?”.  From chocolate and hot tea to sharing half of his lunch, he is always there for his students.  He realizes that sometimes his class isn’t the most important thing in our lives, and that our overall well-being is much more important than anything he could teach in an hour. He genuinely cares for his students.

I have been blessed to have Mr. Theriault as my English teacher both sophomore and senior year.  As the number of days left until graduation dwindles down, it is a bittersweet feeling; the excitement of graduation and college combined with the sad realization that my time in Mr. Theriault’s class is coming to an end.  I can see why he always has college students coming back to visit him; days in his class are treasured memories and visiting him brings them all back.  Mr. Theriault makes a huge impact on student’s lives every year, and I can only dream of a world in which all teachers were as committed, caring, and compassionate as he is.

"Mr. Theriault, can we take a picture?" "Sure, how do you want to do this? Selfie style?" "Okay" He laughs. "I never take selfies" Personally, I think this one turned out great.
“Mr. Theriault, can we take a picture?”
“Sure, how do you want to do this? Selfie style?”
“Okay”
He laughs. “I never take selfies”
Personally, I think this one turned out great.

 

Over-Involved and Under-Committed: The New Generation

When I was growing up, my parents had a rule for my sister and I (well they had many) but the particular one had to do with commitment.  They told us that we could only choose one sport/ extracurricular activity at a time. We were not the over committed family that always had 3 soccer games, a softball game, church, and a girl scout meeting all in a weekend. The most I got away with doing was soccer and girl scouts at the same time.  And this was permitted only because Girl Scouts met once a week for maybe two hours at a time.  It wasn’t a huge time commitment, my parents believed it was important, and I liked it.  They wanted to preserve family time and their sanity.  I am so grateful that they did.

But I am noticing a growing trend that concerns me.  First in society as a whole; that we are way to busy.  I am totally guilty of this, so I am not preaching from any pulpit, that’s for sure.  Secondly, many people, especially high schoolers, are over-involved and under-committed.  Now, hear me when I say that.  Over-involved and under-committed; how is that even possible?

To answer that question, I ask you to reflect upon what most colleges are looking for in a competitive applicant.  They want a well-rounded individual, who has played a varsity sport, been the president of a club, while being involved in two other clubs, been involved in the community, and on top of all that maintained stellar grades and achieved great test scores. I feel like they are asking for their applicants to dabble and under commit to everything, just so they can attain that “over-committed” level that colleges look for.  If there was a common mantra among current high school students, I’m pretty sure it could be, “Just do it for the app.”

The frustrating thing about this over-involvement is that instead of picking a couple of things that they love and committing to them and being super involved with them, students are doing things for the label, just so they can say they are “involved” on their college application.  AND COLLEGES SEEM TO ENCOURAGE THIS!  Though I’m sure every admissions counselor would say, “We would much rather you be deeply involved in a few things that you are passionate about, instead of a bazillion different things”; the activities section on the common app begs to differ. There are ten different sections to fill out describing your different activities and involvements in high school.  And if you only fill out four of them, that’s leaving a lot of blank space on the application that decides your scholastic fate.  Thus, students are driven to over involve themselves and under commit.  It is impossible to be completely committed to ten different activities, maintain good grades, have some semblance of a social life, and still sleep for the 8-9 hours recommended for teenagers.

What is created is a “Do it for the college application” attitude. And one can assume how frustrating and annoying this attitude can be. Try taking already slightly noncommittal teenagers, throwing them into ten different activities, and telling them to be committed to every one.  What you get is the bare minimum, a warm body in meetings, brain only half there, constantly thinking of all the other things that have to be done.  The expectation is that we are able to do it all, while in reality we have no chance.

 

 

Bad Idea Factory

bad idea meme

This week we came up with bad ideas.  Lots of them. We discovered that in the process of innovation, one naturally has to come up with a few bad ideas before they get a great one.  Using this discovery, we decided to convert the classroom into a bad idea factory.  We spent an entire class period coming up with “bad ideas” in hopes of finding a few good ones.  Coming up with bad ideas is so much easier and people are more inclined to speak up about their ideas if there is no pressure for them to be good, as we are looking for bad ideas.

bad idea factory

If I had a dollar for every bad idea I had, I would be a millionaire.

Question Revolution

Recently, my sister has come home with geometry homework that she does not understand and asks me to help her.  Now, I passed geometry, but I am not a math wiz by any means.  So, I slide over to her side of the desk and give it a go.

Our conversations go like this:

HER:  “Lindsey, can you help me?”

ME: “Sure, what’s up?”

HER: “I don’t understand how to do numbers 10-15.”

ME: “Hmmm…okay, you just do this, this, and that, because of this property.  Get it?”

HER: “Kinda”

ME: “Why dont you ask your teacher for help?  Because I’m not always going to remember the concepts and be able to help you.  Did it make sense in class today when you learned it?”

HER: “I don’t know. I guess it made some sense.”

ME: “Well did you ask questions?”

HER: “Well, no.”

ME: “Why not?”

HER: “Cause no one asks questions.  I don’t want her(the teacher) to think I’m dumb.”

ME: “Why would she think that?  Teachers want to know when you don’t understand something, so they can re-teach it to help it make more sense. Why don’t you go in early before school and get help?”

HER: “NO!  I can’t go in early. People would think I’m stupid.  And I absolutely can’t have a tutor, cause that is even worse than asking questions and going in early.”

 

I proceed to remind her of my failings in math and how I spent countless hours going in for extra help and then many more at the tutor in the afternoon, just to finally have a grasp of the concepts that were taught in class that day.  What took the other students thirty minutes to learn, took me two hours and countless questions.  She calms down and finishes her math, but I am stuck pondering why asking questions is such a “bad” thing.

I never have had an issue with asking questions.  If there is any question in my mind, I usually ask it.  You know how there is always that one kid in every classroom that seems as if  their hand is up 75% of the time and on its way up, the other 25% of the time.  The one that ALWAYS asks questions.  Everyone can think of at least one.  Well, I am not at all ashamed to tell you that I am THAT KID.

But, I don’t understand why I am the only one consistently asking questions.  And most of my questions are not about understanding what is being taught, they are questions that help me connect experiences with answers, questions that make my mind turn, get creative, and delve further into the subject being discussed.

Why is asking questions considered such a bad thing to do in a student’s mind?  Teachers normally like questions; they show that the student is engaging in the lesson and learning.  So, why is asking questions so bad?  It really concerns me that the majority of students have been basically taught to learn by rote memorization and regurgitate facts for a grade.  Is our society so cut-throat and judgemental, that even in middle school students are afraid to ask a question in class, as it looks like a sign of weakness?  I do not know, but it needs to change.

Image

Questions spur change, innovation, imagination, and learning.  Einstein puts it this way, ” Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Without questions, we would be stuck in a rut, doing the same things over and over again, the same way.  If Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Issac Newton, Rosalind Franklin, and Watson and Crick hadn’t asked questions where would we be?  We would never had been to outer space, believing by candlelight, and the field of medicine would be very primitive.  Questions are vital to life, yet today’s students-the leaders and innovators of tomorrow, are afraid to ask questions.

My challenge to you is to ask a question a day, for two weeks.  See what happens.  Who knows, you could be the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.  Challenge yourself to be creative and innovative.  We need a question revolution.