Control During the Chaos: Wholehearted Living

In my journey to find out how to live wholeheartedly I have come to realize that I cannot be the one in control of my life. If you read my last blog, you know I like a day that goes as planned. As a classroom teacher I like control over chaos. Yet, can I even call myself a classroom teacher if my classroom has been shut down since March and now I am teaching remotely until further notice?

Schools are a hub of communities and the health of a school dictates the health of the community. Jefferson Jr. Sr. High School, the school I work for, serves a population of amazing students who typically fall into these categories: hispanic, poor, black, homeless, and traumatized. Educationally it seems like when we place a grading standard next to their work it seems like they come in far behind their district counterparts, but they are more than that, they are fighters, dreamers, and creative young men and women who inspire me to do more. As a teacher I know that it is not where a student is today (What he or she knows), but where I can take that student tomorrow. My goal is for all my students to become life long learners so when I hear out in the community how far behind our students all are because of the Covid chaos closing the traditional school model, I cry. I have had great successes and great failures in teacher and last school year was no exception. I only hope that this school year is more than the chaos building toward the restart. Lately I have been having dreams about all my students because I miss them. But even though I want to have lunches with them and catch up on their lives, I want them to remain safe so their families too remain safe.

But with all of the restart talk axious thoughts keep creeping in. I want to be the one who makes the call over what goes on in my life. I do not want schools to reopen because I do not want to see my students or coworkers endangered.  Last spring was a hard semester for me as a teacher (and I know for my coworkers as well) as I missed seeing my students and then academically many just stopped doing their work.  I understand that it was difficult for the parents at home with their children and some of my students were forced to stay home in abusive situations or in homes without any food or where abuse takes place.  Schools offer a safe place for many people, but to open up, we will endanger the lives of our student’s communities, and us teachers.  Typing this stirs my anger so often I try not to take part in any of the conversations on the various restart times. 

However, chaos can be the best place to learn. Back when I was in the classroom the entire day I would have beautiful lessons with perfectly planned out steps. I am sure my students learned as they answered my questions, listened to my explanations of the lesson, and then read or write as they processed what I was guiding them through. But I know that they learned best when the class felt a little chaotic. Now, I don’t mean kids standing on desks or anything like that, but when we would have conversations. As much as I would try to plan in collaborative conversations, they worked best when they were organic and organic is messy. An organic classroom looks like one where the students are given a task, they interact with their peers, maybe they do get up on their desks, maybe they walk around and find out the answers that they are looking for. Sadly, I missed out on an entire semester of messy conversations with my students as Covid-19 took over and if we are back in school, I am not going to be able to have a literally or metaphorically messy classroom at all. My students will have to sit in their desks, not talk, and definitely not interact with each other. But worrying does nothing. God is in control, so much so that as I typed this blog up, my school district announced that we are no longer starting in person, but will be online. All my worry has done is steal from me. So why try to control, it doesn’t lead to wholehearted living.

Therefore, I am giving up control of my my life and because of that I can take a huge breath and relax. When I give God my desire to control my life, I can be saturated in him and live wholeheartedly. Each morning in prayer I ask God to father me in how to surrender so I may live in his freedom. This has been a true adventure because each day I tend to hop out of bed and sit down at my metaphorical command center and say engage, only for God to remind me that he is the captain of my life. Like the other morning when I woke up as the sun started poking its way in through my window. Everyone, including my dog, was still asleep, but I couldn’t force myself to fall back to sleep. Why God didn’t give us a secret turn off switch that lets us sleep, I am not sure. Or maybe he did. It’s called giving everyone and everything to him at all times. So I had to let go, be gracious to myself and about an hour later Gryffin, my dog, yelped and I was pulled from a deep sleep. That’s what it looks like to let go and when I let go I am able to live wholeheartedly. Living wholeheartedly means I choose to live in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Fruit of the Spirit). Life in these is a life full of freedom and joy.

When I give up control and practice the Fruit of the Spirit, I respond to the decisions my school district makes differently. I am patient and know that God will work through each action. I am not perfect at practicing these nine ideas, but that’s what this journey is meant for. When I start to feel anxious I want to remember to be more of a loving, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled person because that is what it looks like to be wholehearted.

When I give God control in my classroom, like I did on March 13th, miracles happen. Our entire staff found out on Thursday that we would be moving to remote teaching after our normal two day weekend. Jeffco, my school district, trusted that we would do our best, even though Denver Public Schools gave their teachers three weeks to figure out how to best reach their student population. I felt a little panicked, but decided to listen for a minute. Calmly as my students came into the classroom for what would be the last time that Friday, I handed them a copy of Anne Frank’s Diary and an empty journal for them to keep track of their thoughts. Over the Spring semester at home, my 8th grade students read about Anne Frank’s struggles with isolation and about her hope for a better future. Each day they also wrote about their own struggles and hopes. At the end of the semester I had them type up their journals and publish them as their own accounts of what life has been like for them while stuck at home. Their writing was vulnerable and beautiful. I am so proud of the work that they did. Last semester might not have been ideal, but my students learned about the writing process, they were challenged to read (and even without me by their side, I know they did because I read their thoughts on her life which were deep), and they had fun. My hope is my students become more loving, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled people because of what we went through together last semester. I know that this can happen again if we decide to do the right thing and keep our students home.

14 days might sound drastic, but New Zeeland has gone over 100 days, so why can’t we set our goals high in order to protect our students and our community?

School starts tomorrow. I am teaching from home for the time being, but no matter what comes my way I hope I offer hope, love, peace, joy, and healing to those who I come into contact with because I know there are people who have been filled with fear through this time of chaos and there are people who completely disagree with my beliefs on schools not opening up. I want to be a part of the healing instead of the hurt. I have emailed all of my students and so many of my kids have responded about how excited they are to be in my virtual class. I hope I can make this year a meaningful one for them.

Peyton versus Eli!

Camping at Stewart LakeFootball season has tarted, school is back in high gear, and I am blogging again!

First, I would like to apologize for abandoning my readers.  I’ve been quite busy for the last couple of months.  I finished all of my masters classes and I’ve now started student teaching at Columbine High School here in Denver.  It is great to be back in the classroom.  I really feel like I am learning lots.

During my time teaching in Guatemala I tried to keep a blog every other week.  Now that I am teaching again, I am going to try to keep that same commitment.  I loved sharing all of my new experiences with my readers while I was in Guatemala and so I hope you all will enjoy reading about my time in the classroom here in Denver.

On my first day of teaching in Guatemala, one of my students, who was part Guatemalan (her dad is from Guatemala and her mom is from Indiana) told me that I looked like Peyton Manning.  At the time I didn’t know that she’d grown up in Indiana, so this comment really caught me off guard.

People have been telling me I look like Peyton Manning since I was in the 7th grade, around the time Peyton was a senior at Tennessee.  Once Eli became a star in the NFL, people started to claim I looked like him instead.

People started to argue.  Families were split, I know how the manning family feels when the two play each other (Which is happening on September 15th, Go Broncos!!), all over this single question: no, not which Manning is the better QB, but who do I look more like, Peyton or Eli?.

And so I thought that my students here in Denver would jump right into this argument.  Who do I look like more, Eli or Peyton?

I didn’t bring it up, not wanting to distract my class, but I was sure that one of the football crazy students would say something.  I mean Peyton is the quarter back of our home town team.  But it took two weeks for any kids to bring anything up.

Midway through last week a girl in my freshmen class raised her hand and said, “Mr. Scott, has anyone every told you that you look like Peyton Manning?”  I think she was hoping she would’ve been the first to have this thought.  Like any good teacher, I shattered her dreams.  “Yes,” I replied seriously, “we’re related.”

Sadly, I am not related to the Manning, and no I didn’t actually tell her that I was related to him, but I wish I could’ve.  I wish I actually was, because then I might not be only five feet eight inches tall.  Oh well!  I’ll just live to accept being a stunt double for either Peyton or Eli.  I’m just sad that they didn’t ask me to be in their F.O.Y.P. commercial.

So who do you all think I look like?  Peyton or Eli?

Peyton, Eli, and Brendan

A New Hope

Little Doomsday Preppers

Hope is a funny thing, it turns up when least expected and yet most needed.

I’ve been in and out of special education facilities over the last three weeks, for my class on the Exceptional Child in the Regular Classroom, and I was surprised by hope.

I’m learning about different ways to teach all my students, especially those kids who struggle with various types of disabilities.

I had a powerful learning experience at The Joshua School, which was founded by several Denver Public School teachers to help educate kids with autism.  Visiting the school was emotionally draining, but also uplifting at the same time.

Typically I feel very comfortable in a classroom, but when I toured the school I felt pushed, uncomfortable.  At one point a young boy started screaming and I didn’t know what to do.  The incredible staff didn’t lose a beat, they helped him, as they do all of their students, and soon everyone was back to learning.  Most of the kids were learning one on one with a teacher, using iPads and other cool gadgets.  It’s the goal of the school to find out what motivates each student, so that all of the kids, with their varying difficulties due to autism, are able to learn.

One of the school’s main goals is to help the kids learn how to socialize.  It is a struggle for most of the families to take their kids out to movies or dinner, but The Joshua School believes that learning is almost useless if the kid cannot enjoy life with his or her parents.  The kids struggled with the simplest of tasks, but they also all were so human, so like me, with wants and needs.

Hope is when you see someone hurting and you stop at nothing to help.

Havern, a private school for kids with learning disabilities, and the next school I visited, made me realize how broken we all are.  None of the kids looked different from the students I taught in Guatemala, as they looked like normal kids, but the students at Havern find it difficult to verbalize their needs.  They need extra help learning how to read and write due to learning disabilities, but because of this school many are able to reenter regular schools by the start of high school.

This got me thinking (a miracle, I know).  We are all broken, aren’t we?  We all have our struggles, just like the kids at Havern or The Joshua School, some of us might not have the best social skills or know know how to spell (just read most of my past blogs).  Yes I know, not everyone has difficulty learning, or needs a special school, but we’ve all had our problems in life.  We’re all broken or have been broken in some way or another.

Hope helps you see the spectacular in the normal, the beauty in the broken.

On Tuesday January 22 I drove to the Children’s Hospital to hear about brokenness.  The Kempe Children Center used to house a day care for physically, emotionally, and sexually abused children.  The stories the presenters told were extremely difficult to listen to.  The two speakers told stories of how these kids had been broken.

At the end of my time at the Kempe Children Center I was asked to do more than listen.  I was asked to give my students hope.

Hope allows someone who has been broken to stop being helpless and realize he or she can survive, but more than that, thrive.

Giving hope to my students wasn’t a new idea, but it seemed strange to come in such an unexpected place.  The people who work at the Kempe Children Center hear so many horrible stories, I would assume they would feel a little hopeless, but they told me that they have to live with hope or they could not go to work each day.  They deal with such heavy burdens, but they also have the hope that they can help that broken child learn to live again and maybe even thrive.

Where can hope be found?

I find my hope for each day in Christ.  This is a cruel world we live in.  We seem to love to hurt each other.  We’re born with imperfections, in need of someone to come along side us and show us how to live and love.  We are a failed people who need fixed.  Yet, when we were our most broken, Christ loved us.  Like the teachers I observed at the schools I visited, He will go to great lengths to meet our needs.  Even death.  That is because He sees the humanity in us all, and loves us still.