Top 10 Things I Won’t Miss about Teaching

Most of you have figured out that, after a whole adult life either teaching, or getting ready to teach, I am taking a year off to write.  When people first hear about this, they inevitably ask me, “Aren’t you going to miss it?”

It’s true this is a huge identity shift, so I’ve been paying attention to myself.  Well, it’s almost September, and my teacher husband and teacher friends are at a meeting right now, and I am at home making bread, helping my kids with their math, and writing.  This leads me to consider:

Top 10 Things I Won’t Miss about Teaching

  1. Going to meetings.
  2. Grading essays.
  3. Dealing with student misbehavior in the halls.
  4. Telling students they will be welcome in my room once they cover up their marijuana socks/T-shirt with a bikini-clad, hugely endowed woman leaning against a car/see-through shirt with black bra underneath it.
  5. Jumping through hoops (read: doing massive amounts of paperwork that have nothing to do with teaching) to “prove” that I am a good teacher.
  6. Having to listen to or, worse, personally use words like “artifact”. Also, “unfold”.
  7. Testing.
  8. Testing some more.  (Actually, this list could be a lot longer than just 10 if I included all the testing days I won’t miss.)
  9. Taking away cell phones from the one or two students I have every year who have such a serious cell-phone addiction that they cannot follow my simple and fairly liberal policy: Cell phones must be used to help you learn. Listening to music during independent work, using Google Translate, looking up Langston Hughes, yes.  Texting friends, watching telenovelas on YouTube, and playing Clash of Clans, no.
  10. Dealing with being sick all year from the massive amounts of mold in our almost 100-year-old building (which voters have TWICE refused to rebuild).

If you know a teacher, please bring them dinner this week, or give them a coupon for a month’s worth of housekeeping, or volunteer to wash the desks in their classroom, and be sure to pray for them!  If you don’t know a teacher, go find one and give them a gift card to your local coffee shop.

(Especially if you won’t pay to replace the dangerous buildings many of our kids and teachers are forced to learn and work in.)

Meanwhile, my timer just went off.  It’s time to take the bread out of the oven.

There’s Something about Mary, Part 2

There’s Something about Mary, Part 2

You’re wondering about Mary.

At least, I hope you are wondering about Mary.  We all have people like her in our lives, and I hope that we never give up on loving them, praying for them, and wondering about them.

Mary and I go way back.  Well, like ten months.

As you know if you read Part 1, I ran into Mary every morning on my walk to school, where I taught high school English until very recently (as in, two months ago).  Only she wasn’t Mary.  To me, she was just the crazy lady to whom I said hi, and who always asked me, her face friendly and open, for a cigarette.

It didn’t matter that I don’t smoke, nor that I hadn’t had a cigarette the last twenty times she asked.  Mary held on to hope.

Except, she was still not-Mary.  Unnamed and nameless.  Until one night at Bible Study.

My friend Larry was asking us to pray for one of his employees.  He owns a small business, and is in the lovely habit of hiring the unhireable – people who show up late to work, who need slow careful instruction, who require constant redirection.  He asked us to pray for Mary, whom he was pretty sure was smoking again even though he had helped her to quit.

“Wait,” I said.  “Does she live in my neighborhood?”

“Yes; yes she does,” said Larry, and described her apartment complex to me.

“I know that lady!  I love her!  She asks me for a cigarette every morning on my way to school!”

“Hey!” said my husband, Erik, who also teaches at the same school, and who also walks (though at a different time than me).  “I know her too!  She is great!  She asks me for a cigarette everyday too!”

We all start laughing.  This was too much fun.

But there was more, for Ken, yet another teacher at our school, said, “Oh, I know Mary too!  She likes to kind of hang around by my auto shop when we have the doors open.”

Please invite yourself to our Bible Study for a moment: twelve people sitting in a cozy living room, struck silly with disbelief – the special kind of disbelief that knows that all things are possible with God.

We came to one conclusion: God must love Mary a lot.  He put four people into one small room, just so they could discover that they all knew her, and loved her, and were excited to know how to pray for her.

This is how I don’t lose hope about people, even when they ask me for snow or throw litter out their car windows or allow bitterness to color their relationships.  Because all of us are “Mary” to someone, all of us have a group of people laughing to discover that they all know and love the same person, and all of us have been called to pray.

There’s Something about Mary, Part 1

Something about Mary, Part 1

I have a neighbor, whom we will call “Mary” because then every 20th person in the United States will think this story is about them.

Yesterday, I walked by Mary’s apartment after finally cleaning all my stuff out of my old classroom.  She was on her balcony.

“Hey!” she hollered.

“Hi, Mary!” I shouted back.  I waited for Mary to ask me if I had any cigarettes.  I used to run into Mary every single day on my walk to the high school I taught at – and every time, she would walk over to me, say “Hey!” and “Do you got a cigarette?”

“No, Mary,” I would always say.  “You know I don’t smoke.”  But Mary asked me every day anyway.  I like this about Mary.  She is cheerfully obstinate in the face of reality.  I thank God for her every time I see her.

Yesterday, she asked me a new question.

“You get any snow?” she asked.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve been following the weather here in Seattle or not.  We’ve been on national news because of a months-long drought.  And it is, after all, August.  So I had to stop walking to free up some processing space in my brain.

“No,” I finally computed.  “I didn’t get any snow.”

“How about weed?” she countered.  “You got any weed?”

“No, Mary!  I don’t use it!” I called back, as my brain finally kicked my feet back into motion.  “See you later!”

“Bye!” Mary waved, eternally happy.

When I got home, I had to go online to learn what you may already know: snow can also refer to cocaine.

Dang, I thought.  Now I have a new reason to pray for Mary, my joyful Mary, my Mary that is like a child who doesn’t know what’s good for her.

No Room for Worry

Every time I try and worry about money, God says, “I’ve got this.”

It really makes no sense for me to be at peace; when my husband and I sat down to do our budget, we saw that even if we eat beans and rice for every meal, we will still be several hundreds over budget every month.

So, why am I not worried?

From a rational point of view, quitting my job was reckless, foolish, irresponsible.  But, I’m thinking that ignoring the voice of God is worse by far.  I’m thinking that God already knows the end game.  I’m thinking that he knows what he is doing.  And he is the one that told me to do this.

When my faith is weak, he sends encouragement my way: the friend who said, “Here’s seed money for your business”; the random email that said, “You can be a writer!”; the mom of toddlers who said, “You need to pay attention to your creative needs”.

In the end, it comes down to this: my father owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and he has my back.

You Do Your Job, and I’ll Do Mine

…the poets are at their windows

because it is their job for which

they are paid nothing every Friday afternoon.

“Monday” by Billy Collins

When my teacher friends found out I was quitting my job to write, they left their classrooms in droves to come and congratulate me.  I think we all have a bit of vicarious wanderlust in us: a love of new jobs, new marriages, new babies, new cities, new experiences of all kinds.

“Oh, I am so excited that you get to write!  What a luxury!” someone gushed.

This rubbed me a tiny bit wrong.  Don’t misunderstand; I am incredibly grateful to the Lord (and my husband) for nudging me off this ledge.  However, “Don’t get too excited.  I still have bills to pay,” I said.

“No, don’t think that way!” my friend replied.  “Just do your art for art’s sake.”

I have to reconcile myself with this issue, daily: I don’t want to sell out.  But I am married to a teacher, and we have two kids.  This is the reality of many artists.

Here’s where I’ve landed: my job is to diligently write and persistently market my work.  All the rest — whether I get published, whether I get paid — is God’s job.

This seems like a fair division of labor.  I am sure the poets at their windows understand perfectly.