Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Are You a Christian? Or a Follower of Jesus?

"...Hey, Jesus, are you a Democrat?"

Our guest pastor in chapel today, the Reverend Doctor Paul Mpindi, quipped this line. I laughed, but now I'm wondering if he was right?

He was preaching on he story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10. In the story, a young man comes running to Jesus, falls at his feet, and asks, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Rev. Mpindi pointed out that he must have been hungry for the answer: he is identified in the story as being wealthy...and wealthy people don't run and fall down at someone's feet.

The story says that Jesus looked at this young man, and saw the heart of what he desired, and loved him. Jesus loved him!

And so, Jesus gives him this imperative: Go. Sell. Give. Come. Follow.

You want to inherit eternal life? Here's what to do:

  1. Go home. Check out all your stuff.
  2. Sell it all. ALL of your stuff.
  3. Give it away. All your possessions.
  4. Come back to me.
  5. Follow me. Really follow.

And the story says that the young man was very sad to hear this. Despite Jesus' love for him, this was too much for him. And he went away...but not to Go - Sell - Give - Come - Follow, by the evidence in the story. He went away sad.

It was in this context--Jesus telling the young man to get rid of all the stuff--that Pastor Mpindi quipped his one liner.

Jesus, you want me to sell all my stuff, and give it all away? (I see his point. Jesus does sound like a Democrat here, doesn't He?)

But Pastor Mpindi was making a real point here. He challenged us to think about whether we are "Christians" or "followers of Jesus?"

(Is there a difference?)




(But c'mon...)

(You can be a Christian in name. Be a Christian who follows all the rules. Be a Christian who does good stuff. But if you aren't really trying to be like Jesus, you aren't really following Him.)

(Oh. Right.)

Go - Sell - Give - Come - Follow. He repeated this over and over again.

And it started to sink in.

I have been a "Christian" for most all of my life. But am I really striving to follow Jesus? To really follow Him? Even if it means sacrificing of myself? Denying myself, taking up my cross, and following?

When I'm's hard for me to let go. It's easier to be a "Republican Christian." But what if Jesus is calling me to follow Him...and what if this means I can't just play at this following business.

Am I a "Christian?" Or am I a "followers of Jesus?"

(Ouch. This has me thinking...)


If you'd like to listen to Pastor Mpindi's sermon, it will be available for your listening pleasure...and you will be challenged by it!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Would You Want to Be a Student in Your Own Class?

A question for you teachers: would you want to be a student in your own classroom?

My suspicion: your initial answer would be a resounding "Yes!" And why wouldn't you say that? I think we teachers tend to create a classroom atmosphere most like the one we would love to have as a learner.


Here's the thing: usually we teachers are the ones who were "successful" in school. The kids who weren't successful at doing likely is it that they would choose to spend their professional life there?

We were able to do school.

We were the ones who figured out how to play the game.

We were the ones who actually liked the game of school.

And, because we were the ones who were relatively "successful" playing the school game, we became teachers.

Do you ever think of it that way?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

"This is hard!"

"This is hard!" one of my students exclaimed in class this afternoon.

It is my middle school curriculum and instruction course; in the catalog, we call it Planning, Instruction, and Assessment in Middle Schools. Basically, it's a general methods course for thinking about what teachers do (plan, instruct, and assess) and it's tailored to folks who are hoping and planning to teach in grades 5-8.

It's a new course for me. I have a strong background in curriculum and instruction (my masters degree was in this field) and I taught middle school for 14 years before beginning this adventure of teaching future teachers. But it's a new course for me. And, the first time you teach anything, you can't be quite sure how it's going to go.

I'm thankful that I have some fantastic colleagues who are teaching the elementary and high school versions of this course. (Ed and Mary Beth, you are gems!) The three of us are able to share ideas and resources and try to keep things more or less similar in structure between these three courses, while also recognizing that there are some differences in the way elementary, middle school, and high school teachers conduct their work.

However...all teachers, regardless of the age of their students, have to plan, instruct, and assess.

Image by David Muir [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

We have done some reading about these three elements, and I've lectured a bit, and we have discussed these topics a bit. We have looked at some curriculum materials and textbooks. We've done some initial examination of standards documents, such as the Common Core State Standards. I have shared with them Wiggins & McTighe's Understanding by Design framework for thinking about planning, assessment, and instruction. We have examined a few different lesson planning templates.

But we've really only had a taste of each of these so far. And, at the encouragement of my colleagues, I figured it's time to start pulling things together, and putting it into practice.

So, in class today, I sort of tossed my students into the deep end of the pool.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Serenity: Dealing with Difficult People

It's a fact of life that teachers have to deal with difficult people. It comes with the territory: we aren't working with cars on the assembly line; we are dealing with human beings with their own thoughts, emotions, and plans.

Every group of students I have ever taught included two or three "knot-heads." You know, those difficult kids who--either by nature, or by design--seemed to conspire to make it difficult on me. Every once in a while, you get a group with eight or nine knot-heads...that's fun too! ("There aren't enough corners to spread them out!")

Sometimes it isn't the kids at all. Sometimes it's the parents. I've had a few classes in my time as a teacher where I've thought, "I wish this was a boarding school...then I would only have to work with the kids, and not deal with these parents!" We sometimes joke about helicopter parents, but this can be very dispiriting as a teacher.

Unfortunately, sometimes the difficulties aren't in the students or the parents, but the colleagues or administrators that make your life rough. Colleagues who seem to be out to thwart your innovative idea, administrators who give you just enough rope to hang about sucking the joy right out of the classroom!

And that doesn't begin to touch the pressures from society: people who decry teachers as lazybones, people who think unionized teachers are just out for more money, politicians who pass laws that put incredible burdens on teachers in the name of "raising standards" without really understanding what the job is like...all of these can make the already demanding profession all the more difficult.

There are days when I think all teachers need to pray the serenity prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Don't we all need a little more serenity, a little more peace in our lives?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

And Six More Helpful Resources for Teaching Geography

Image by Enrique Flouret [CC BY 2.0]
I have shared my love of geography here before, and though I'm not a geography teacher in an official sense, I think that every teacher should help foster a little geographic awareness in their students--in very much the same way we say things like "every teacher is a reading teacher" or "every teacher teaches writing."

Previously I've shared a few collections of fun resources you might be able to use to help your students develop a greater sense of geographic awareness; you can check out Eight Helpful Resources for Teaching Geography and Seven More Helpful Resources for Teaching Geography to help you get started.

It's in this same spirit that I offer this collection of six more resources. Enjoy!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Awe and Wonder: Space is BIG

In my science methods class today, we were talking about how to foster a sense of awe and wonder in students. I was sharing with my students how I hope science teachers help their students to have moments in which they simply stand amazed at the way this world has been shaped and created.

As an example, I shared with them this illustration of just how BIG the distances are in astronomy. I actually had all of the balls I describe here collected and ready for illustration. I hope this might foster a bit of awe and wonder for you too!


Space is BIG.

How big is it? Let’s make a model…

Image that the Earth is a super-ball about 1 inch across.

On that scale, how big is the moon? Bigger than Earth? Smaller than Earth?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

"Doing Science" with Fortune Fish

I love the variety of courses I get to teach for pre-service teachers. The one I've been teaching the longest is "Teaching Science PreK-Middle School." I began adjuncting this course in 2007, and it has slowly evolved over time to the current state, after 15 or so iterations.

One of the key themes that has not changed, however, is that I have my science methods students "do science" on a weekly basis. That is, we aren't just learning about science; we are actively investigating, observing, inferring, experimenting, and communicating what we discover. I want them to experience learning science this way in the hope that they will carry this approach to teaching science into their own classrooms down the road.

So, when we began the new semester in science methods yesterday, their first assignment is an investigation...

I handed out a little plastic sleeve to each student:

What's in the package?