Making a Difference, Despite the Difference

The realization of how superior homeschooling is once again hits me. Who ever thought of teaching twenty-four kids the same thing at the same time and expecting all of them to get it? And I know that twenty-four is not even that many students compared to what a lot of public school classrooms look like. Last week was just back-to-school introductory material, so the differentiations were not that noticeable. It has taken me this second week to realize how frustrating it is when you have some kids lagging behind (already!) and others finishing tasks in record time and seeming really bored. I guess every new teacher has to go through this, but I am feeling especially handicapped as I do not even have remembrances of experiences as a student of how my teacher handled differentiated learning. And my teacher’s aide job last year was in a Montessori school where the students learned and worked on projects at their own pace (one of the huge advantages of Montessori education).

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So, lest I dwell on my disadvantage too long, what am I going to do to teach all of these students to the best of my ability with the system that is in place? First, I have the option to recommend students for tutoring. I would be the one doing the tutoring (or most of it) after school, so that would take up more of my time, but I would also be paid for the time and I would be able to give the students the exact assistance and instruction they need to meet my standards in class.

Secondly, I was already planning on giving my students a period of “Free Choice Friday” each week. Is my Montessori showing yet? During free choice time, they can read, write, or play a game from the choice shelf, which includes simple activities for practicing concepts that they already know or are currently learning. I can start using this period to work with students individually on the concepts they struggled with during the week. They might not enjoy having to spend part of their free time doing what the teacher wants, but I can try to use activity based learning during this time. Maybe I can try to present it as the teacher treating the student to a special game not usually available on the choice shelf.

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Finally, I am going to simplify my lesson plans quite a bit. I think my expectations for the group as a whole were too high at the beginning and I am going to have to cut out a lot of excess fillers in my lessons to make sure that I can thoroughly teach the main concepts and have several times to review them during the week. In doing this, though, I’ll need to develop specific plans for the students who are ahead of the group. As one of those students who usually finished up ahead of the others, I know how annoying it is to have to wait on others, especially when others are behind just for lack of making an effort. I will need to have some work ready at a more advanced level that will help the more advanced students learn without too much extra assistance from me, so that I can focus on the majority of the class during class work time.

Even though I am stressing over this a little right now, I really am excited about seeing what my kids can do by the end of the year. With God’s help, a lot of work, and a lot of preparation, they will all be better than they were at the beginning of this year and more excited to learn than they were before. Any other sage teaching suggestions for how to cope with differentiated learning? I appreciate all advice and encouragement.

By the way, the photos are mine of my tiny little classroom.

On the Street Where I [now] Live

If you take a walk in Las Fuentes….

100_8415  …you will find an incredible combination of tropical jungle and elegant sophistication

100_8407…you might be intimidated by enormous encroaching cacti

100_8418…you can find beauty in the broken

100_8422…you will probably find jogging a little difficult in some areas

100_8425…you might catch yourself humming the Davy Jones theme for some odd reason

100_8427…Tomás Sawyer might have a job for you

100_8430…just…nothing…{contented sigh}

100_8432…the sidewalk might end unexpectedly

100_8433…the abandoned has an air of beauty

100_8434…the whimsical is a little overwhelming at times

100_8410…and home.

This is when the growing comes in…

Flexico Mexico. I have perhaps never encountered so many last minute decisions and finalizations as here in Mexico at Lincoln School. I wanted God to teach me flexibility and to trust in Him even in situations out of my control and He certainly has been. The first week and a half, I think I did a pretty good job of accepting things as they came and not letting myself become worried by unknowns or fuzzy details. At one point, the mentor teacher and I got off at the wrong bus stop, past where we were supposed to be. We had to walk back in the dark and rain, across multiple lanes of highway entrance and exit ramps. The mentor teacher said that if it had to happen, she was glad it was with me, since I was “one of the most laid-back people [she knew]”. What? Yes! Okay, maybe one week is not long enough to know me that well, but it still made me happy that is was evident that I was relaxed and not stressed that first week.

This week has been a bit different. All of the teachers and staff are back at Lincoln working really hard to prepare classrooms and get ready for our first day of school. It has also involved having a lot of meetings. Every morning has started with 45 minutes of praise and worship followed by a brief devotional. There is not a building on our campus big enough for all of the staff, so we meet under the dome that covers the basketball court. Every morning we get to watch flocks of birds dancing in the sky while we worship together in English and Spanish. That time has been so refreshing and beautiful.

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The rest of each day has been crazy. When I first went into my classroom, all the furniture and a dozen or more storage boxes were piled in the middle of the floor (they paint the walls each summer) so I had to move all of the furniture and sort through each box to see what the previous teacher had left me. It took me a couple days just to do that, before I could even get to thinking through classroom management and procedures so that I could make posters, hall passes, etc. Oh yeah, and then I have to lesson plan for this coming week (my curriculum was tucked in those boxes so I was not able to see it until I sorted through them).

I only got my class list half way through this week, was only able to talk to my co teacher on Thursday, and only got my weekly schedule on Friday (that is, today, with classes starting on Monday). So this week I have had to do a lot of work, not knowing all the steps along the way, and that has been frustrating. I have had to battle uprising complaints and despair. But “I asked the Lord that I might grow” and this is how the Lord teaches us. In this incredible hymn, John Newton continues with,

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray;

And He, I trust, has answered prayer

But it has been in such a way

As almost drove me to despair.

And so I press on, knowing my prayer is not easily answered, but hopefully anticipating the revealing of his grace and glory.

Farewell, My Pelf

            I still do not understand how a suitcase that was not even full could be 25 pounds over the weight limit. I had to open it up again, transfer some essentials to another bag and reluctantly put away about 15 pounds of the non-essentials. It seemed so hard to do that. I was going to Mexico and leaving friends, family, and comfort and I could not even take my favorite mug or my hymnal with me? I felt like some inherent right had been violated. That was when I remembered how American it is to claim rights, while how Christ-like it is to deny yourself your rights for the sake of another. And then I realized I was being just a little ridiculous. Not only am I very blessed to have so many material possessions, I am also blessed to have a safe place to keep them for the time I am gone. If I cannot have all of my favorite clothes with me in Mexico, at least I know they can stay in my closet and will be there when I come home on break. I do not have to permanently say goodbye to all of my books and keepsakes. I do not have to make the decision about if I am going to pay to store my great grandmother’s antique bedroom furniture or if I need to sell it.

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            It makes me think of the sacrifices that so many missionaries made throughout history and are still making today. Even though our culture today offers so many options and conveniences when it comes to travel, shipping, and storage, there comes a point for the committed Christ follower to part with some possessions. If I end up serving as a Christian worker long term overseas, will I be able to justify having a storage unit full of possessions at “home” as well as all my possessions in my host country? When so many people around the world have so little? And when the lure of possessions is so strong? When an American sense of entitlement takes a stronger hold the more things I have? My sacrifice at this time is small, but I do not know what level of sacrifice I may be called to one day if I choose to live overseas long term.

            I am reminded of Anne Bradstreet’s poem, “Upon the Burning of Our House”.  Her house was burned to the ground in 1666 and most of her possessions lost. Though this was not a voluntary sacrifice of possessions, her attitude was as if she had come to the place that she would willingly have offered her things as a flaming sacrifice. She notes that, “He might of all justly bereft/ But yet sufficient for us left”. She acknowledges that even were all possessions destroyed or willingly sacrificed, God in his fullness would be enough. This is important for every Christian to consider, though many American Christians do not have to face the realities of this in daily life. Bradstreet concludes by dwelling on Christ’s sacrifice for us, in which he gave all, and says, “There‘s wealth enough, I need no more,/ Farewell, my pelf, farewell, my store./ The world no longer let me love,/ My hope and treasure lies above.”

            I desire to learn to sacrifice with willingness and joy, knowing the reward that lies ahead.

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/geishaboy500/2579826661/”>geishaboy500</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;