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First Year, Seventeenth Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

Double points this week for two blog posts! You can read my other one on my lesson for MLK Day here. You should really read it if you haven't already. It was a highlight of my week. Happened on the first day too, which was such a nice start to the week. Another great part of my week was the balance of stress level. I tried my new schedule last week and felt discouraged. But this week, since it wasn't the first week back after a long break, things had settled down significantly. I stuck with my schedule of leaving early, and there were a few days I left earlier than was even on my schedule because I was done with everything. I don't understand how it all works because last quarter, it didn't matter how much I did, there was always something more. But, I've been home early and feeling rested. There were two days this week that we didn't have morning devotions, which gave me some extra sleeping time. I was feeling so good that I was even able to cook dinner for my family one night. I tried a new recipe my friend, Andra sent me for pumpkin chili. It was great; everyone loved it. And there were tons of leftovers so we've had some extra nights off from cooking and prepping lunches. I got extra ambitious like I always do when I cook and made pumpkin muffins that were raved about all around found on Smitten Kitchen, as well as two kinds of candy popcorn. The popcorn was for my kindergartners. We had earned a class party so we were going to watch a movie and eat popcorn. I was trying to make it fun. It tasted fine, but not everyone liked it. I'll make it easy on myself next time and just make regular popcorn. Haha.

This week, all my testing finally finished up. I got copies made of everything, filed my copies, submitted copies to the resource teacher, entered the results in my gradebook, and sent home packets with parent letters in their folders today. What a nice thing to get off my plate.

This week, I read my students the book, "Have You Filled a Bucket Today?" It's by the same author of "How Full is Your Bucket?" that I read to my kids a couple months ago. We had talked about the concept of filling others' buckets with kind actions and words, and they really seemed to click with it. I'd hear them saying, "My bucket's not very full right now," and other comments of that nature. When we returned from Christmas break, along with the step backwards in classroom behavior, the meanness was hitting full throttle. I decided we needed to revisit the buckets. I really wanted to reinforce it, so I sketched out some bucket outlines and taped them onto each student's desk. They also had a sheet of stickers to be kept under their pencil baskets. We honed in on the concept from the book that said, "When you fill other peoples' buckets, your bucket gets filled too." This book was more focused on checking in with yourself each day to see if you could bring to mind when and how you filled others' buckets that day. We now had ourselves some visual checkers. When a student "filled someone's bucket" with a compliment or kind action, that person would give them a sticker. I figured the student being complimented was already getting something nice done or said to them, so the reward should go the other way. The kids loved it. I was a little worried about the distraction of it--keeping the kids from working on their seatwork, but I reminded them to finish my instructions first and then when they were done and waiting patiently for others to finish, they could fill peoples' buckets. There were just a couple times a day that they didn't choose well, but a simple reminder got them back on track. They were good about asking me, "Miss Neal? Is now a good time to fill buckets?" They loved it. It was great to have something tangible and visual to connect them with. My morning aide whose son is in my class told me the next day it was a great idea. She was going on a high school retreat this weekend for church and was planning to use my class in an illustration because she's noticed a lot of meanness among the kids in the youth group. "If 5 year olds can fill peoples' buckets, then 15 year olds can do it too." She told me I never know who I'm influencing with my amazing teaching. Cool!

Another favorite part of my week was with our memory verse. We learned about Joshua and the battle of Jericho. I don't usually pick the verses each week--the other kinder teacher does that, but she didn't have time to write the newsletter this week, so I did it for the first time. Knowing we were studying Joshua, I picked the verse I had memorized from Joshua 1 when I was a kid. We used to have a green, cassette tape that we played on long car rides. It had a Joshua 1:9 song on it that I can still sing to you this day. I also remember a story about a race, but no further details. Anyway, it's a longer verse, but I had the song so I knew my kids would be fine singing it. They memorized 3 verses of "Away in a Manger," surely they could do one verse. :) So, Monday we spent a lot of time learning it; they had it down by Tuesday. The first time I tried to have them sing a verse in chapel, they sang it loud and confidently in our classroom, but were little mice when they had to sing it in chapel to everyone. I ended up having to sing it with them, which I never do. I always teach them to do it on their own, without my help. They're smart; I have full confidence in them. I give them the challenge "let's see if you can do it without me" every week. They love rising to the occasion and impressing me with their skills. Since we had our "Away in a Manger" performance under our belts, and we had really worked on singing nice and loud for that, I figured they'd be okay. It came time for chapel, and my principal called on classes to recite differently than usual. Usually we do it all at the beginning. Sometimes, depending on what she has planned for worship and her message, we don't do them at all. Sometimes she asks us beforehand if we're ready to do a verse that week or not, sometimes she doesn't. This time she had 3 classes recite, then we sang. Then she had 3 more. Then we sang another song. I was getting worried that we weren't going to get to go! My kids had worked so hard, and I really wanted them to have their chance to shine. They were asking me when it was our turn. One of our secretaries has a granddaughter in my class. She asked me the same thing--saying her granddaughter had sung it to her last night, and she was staying just so she could hear us. Thankfully, my principal called on us after the song was over. I told them to sing nice and loud. They were amazing! They rose above and beyond my expectations and were fabulous! I could hear the chuckles and the "awes" that you give when you're watching such young ones perform. When they finished, everyone was cheering and clapping. You should have seen the smiles on my kids' faces! It was the most precious thing in the world. I had teachers complimenting me later on what a great job they did. It was a proud moment. :)

My other favorite moment of the week was a discussion after reading them a book called "What's Heaven Like?" by Beverly Lewis. It had caught my eye when I was browsing the children aisles at the Vista library. I have read several of her adult fiction books. I sat on the carpet and read the whole things right there, and loved it. It had a note in the back for teachers and parents. It said it was good to read to kids who had just experienced a death of someone close to them or to make kids aware of heaven and open up discussion about it. We're less likely to be afraid of things we know about. The book followed a little boy who was missing his grandpa who had died. The boy went around asking various people in his life different questions about what heaven was like. Each page gave an answer and referenced a Bible verse. It also had a page that said there are things we just have to wait and see what they're like because the Bible doesn't talk about it.

My own mind has been very heaven-focused lately--perhaps due to my parents' near brush with death a few weeks ago. I recently read "Heaven is for Real" about a little boy who went to heaven during surgery on his appendix and in later months shared with his parents from his young mind's perspective what things were like in heaven. I'm inclined to believe it, knowing what the Bible says about heaven and about each person in the Trinity that the boy talks about. I've also recently discovered an awesome song by Phil Wickham called "My Heaven Song." My introspective, critical mind has also been analyzing myself and my anxiety--the need I have found to change my negative attitude about things happening in my life, and feeling frustrated that I don't like who I am right now. There's a yearning in me to be who God meant for me to be and feeling like I can never attain that. I don't like who I am right now, and I wouldn't wish myself onto anybody. I don't want to get married because I don't want someone to be stuck with me. The kind of man I want deserves better. My mom says these are normal feelings and other people aren't seeing the same things in me that I'm seeing. But that's been part of my frustration--feeling like people don't know who I really am. They see this wonderful person on the outside, and I don't feel inclined to show them otherwise. Anyway, all that to say, there has been a deep longing in my heart for heaven. In heaven, I'll be exactly who I'm supposed to be. I'll be the perfect version of myself. I'll be in the presence of God and everything within me will be fulfilled to the highest level. I've been feeling so close to God lately in my quiet times--really resting in Him and being aware of His constant presence and help. I'm nothing without Him, and have been so thankful to have Him near me. But it also extends that drive to be even closer--before Him in heaven, where I am not tied down by anything else--where I can give Him the praise and focus He deserves. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suicidal about this or anything. I know VERY certainly that God has me here for a reason, and His timing and will is perfect in my life. I wouldn't think of cutting that off; I can think of nothing more selfish--not only on behalf of my family that would be devastated but also on whoever it is that God has me here to minister to and pour into. No, these thoughts are not of that nature at all. I think it's a healthy balance--longing to be in my true home with the Lord, and being willing to wait for His perfect timing.

With all these thoughts in me, I thought it was a wonderful children's book. I love that I work at a Christian school, and I can use such things to teach them about what the Bible promises us, to dispel fear in the unknown, and to use as an opportunity to talk about how to get to heaven. It was a little long, so we spent two days reading it. We finished it today, and you should have been a fly on the wall to hear the discussion that took place afterwards. It was incredible. I love children!

"Does God float?" "Is there grass in heaven?" "Will we wear clothes in heaven?" "Can blind people see in heaven?" "Do we get to eat there?" "There has to be plants because we need oxygen to breathe." "That's a good point, but maybe, our new bodies won't need oxygen to breathe! That's something we'll have to wait and see about because the Bible doesn't say." "Are there guards in heaven?" "What will our new bodies look like?" "After we live in heaven, will we come back here again?" "Are our pets in heaven?" "How do we get up to heaven?" "When we die, our bodies are in the ground." "Yes they are, thank you for sharing. Every part of us stays on earth except our spirit, which goes to heaven." "When we squish bugs on earth, do they go to heaven?" "Miss Neal, I don't really want to die, but I'm really excited to live in heaven." "I think that's a pretty normal feeling to have. It's okay to not want to die; living on earth is great too, huh? But I think when we get to heaven, we won't be sad about dying at all because Jesus will be there waiting for us, and He'll be so excited to see us and welcome us into our new home!"

And of course with kindergartners, you get the completely off-the-wall-nothing-to-do-with-the conversation-comments: "Your shirt looks like a strawberry." "There's a sight word on that game box."

Haha, it was a good time. I love my kids. :)