THE PARENTING DARE BLOG
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THE PARENTING DARE BLOG
I love, love, love mothers.
Join our community!
FRIENDS! It has been a hot minute! I have not been able to podcast since July! Crazy! But, drum roll, the first quarter of teaching middle school English/Language Arts at Holy Spirit Catholic School in Goddard, Kansas, is officially over. (We are actually now deep into the second quarter. Time keeps flying!)
No one was more surprised than me when I was asked to teach middle school for a year. I mean, shocked. I found it interesting how supportive my family was of this move.
(For the full back story read this post: Big Changes are Happening!)
My family's confidence and support helped me make the decision, but truth be told, I was a bit nervous. I had not been in the classroom for thirty years. I wondered if my teaching year would be a little like a Covid year and the students would have these massive missing links in their education, and one day they would be hanging out, reminiscing about their middle school years and realize just how much they missed and then someone would remind the group, “Oh, well, that was the year Mrs. Doerneman taught us,” and they’d exchange tight, knowing smiles.
Well, that will most likely happen in at least some areas; however, the totally unexpected revelation for me this year has been how absolutely remarkable it has been to teach English from the perspective of a writer.
When I first stepped into the classroom in 1990, fresh out of college, I was a lover of the written word, yes, but I don’t think I truly understood the power of a well-thought out and well-written sentence. I certainly didn’t understand modifiers or all of the other tools used in the craft of writing. What a massive difference it makes to teach writing from the vantage point of a writer. It’s sort of like a young girl making a complicated cookie recipe (haltingly, constantly looking at the ingredient list, terrified of leaving something out), and that same female thirty years later, having made the recipe hundreds if not thousands of times, effortlessly showing her grandkids how to make that complicated recipe without even glancing at the ingredient list or instructions.
That’s what it feels like to be in the classroom. When the kids ask me a question, the answers flow out of me and I step back and say, “Whoa, where did that come from?” So yes, I’d love to have the energy of my 22-year old self, but having thirty years of acquired/working knowledge of the English language is a different sort of fabulous. I did not expect that.
What do I love about teaching? Well, almost everything. First and foremost, the middle school students at Holy Spirit Catholic School are wonderful kids from strong families. They have been formed in the faith and they operate from that place of faithfulness. We pray together, we play together, we learn together, with everything centered in The Gospel Message of Jesus Christ. Not a bad way to spend my day.
I tell the students that I have three goals for them:
Now, that sounds pretty lovely, doesn't it? Well, let's get real for a moment. It was the first month of school and as a couple of my students were getting more and more rambunctious, I wasn’t feeling the love. As I felt myself pulling away from them, I knew I needed to change something within me.
By the way, I have a firm belief that if a child is making me feel negative emotions, it’s never about the child. It’s almost always about me, and something that is out of whack within me. This belief has held true for most of my parenting. If one of my kids was making me crazy, it wasn’t about the kid.
Sometimes, I had to research their stage of life and make adjustments. Other times, I had to communicate expectations more clearly. And honestly, there were times that I simply had to enter into my vocation as a mother and sacrifice more of myself for them.
Always, always, digging deeper into what I could bring to the table has helped the relationship. So, with that as a guideline, I set out to find answers for my attitude towards some of the rambunctious students.
My search brought me to a story about a high school teacher who was on the struggle bus because she couldn’t figure out how to make her students settle down. They didn’t listen to her. They didn’t like her. They didn’t trust her. She had several trouble makers, and she felt ill-equipped to handle them.
One day a mentor teacher walked through her classroom and noticed the chaos and her utter lack of control. He stopped walking and started talking to several students. He moved around the room, laughing and connecting with the kids. They basically quieted themselves down and turned to the teacher, ready to learn.
Later, after class, she hunted her mentor teacher down and asked what he had done to get the class to behave. He said it was easy because he knew the kids. He knew their names and their families. He went to their sporting events and sat with them at lunch. He had invested in a relationship with them. He knew their parents and frequently visited with them. He had gone to some of their homes.
The point was made: we must connect.
That connection is not up to the students. It’s up to the teachers (and parents with their kids).
As I read that story, much was reset within me. I was reminded of who I really am, because I have learned this truth in my life as a mother: when a child knows they are loved as they are, with all of their challenging humanity, something gorgeous occurs. They loosen up. They laugh. They live. And they -eventually, it doesn't usually happen that moment- surrender their lives to the God who made them, knowing that they are loved as they are.
It’s a truth that makes me weep because of its profound nature and because of how incredibly easy it is to miss.
And hear me. I almost missed it in my role as teacher. You’d think I would be quicker. Applying this knowledge, I knew I needed to enter more purposefully into the realm of each student. I had to win their hearts.
So I set out to create a bigger sense of belonging in my classroom, spending specific time asking questions and listening to the answers, getting to know the hearts and minds of my students. Teaching and parenting are works of the heart.
And that, my friends, is what I love about life. We don’t have to stay stuck in our relationships or in our personal challenges. We can change almost any situation simply by being honest with ourselves and doing a little soul searching about what went wrong.
I took that little nugget of understanding and began applying it to every darn school day. In the evening, I now take a moment. What went well? What tanked? How could I improve? What could I do differently?
Every Saturday morning I make some coffee, sit down in a quiet place and think about the whole week.
This, more than anything, has helped me this year. I guess you could call it the Power of Reflection, or maybe just, “Stop and think a moment, fool. Make it better.”
Why I love this practice of reflection and creating change: it allows me to slow down in the fast lane of working full-time, and it allows me to gain a sense of control. And frankly, I need that sense of control. I cannot believe how busy my life has become. But I don’t want this year to pass by in a blur. I want to be intentional.
I hope this has given you some helpful nuggets. I know you are busy, and you most likely have a challenging situation in your life. That’s pretty much the definition of humanity. But we also serve a good and gracious God, and He is the FATHER of ALL GOOD GIFTS. When we seek to improve, floodgates from the heavenly realm open up, pouring ideas and new thoughts into our souls.
So take some time. Get quiet. Reflect on your current days and weeks. What is going well? What areas need improvement? Seek answers. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
I love this life. We are walking each other home.
I'm Lori Doerneman
Wife. Mom. Catholic.
Idealist with 8 kids,
keeping it real.
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