Monday, January 28, 2013


On behalf of my entire generation, I would like to apologize.

We, "Generation Y", are the kids of one of the most disastrous eras of recent times, right up there with the feminist movement in my book (put your bras back on, ladies. Yeesh.).  We were among the first to be told that we were "special" just for blinking, and our parents drove us around in cars with bumper stickers that said, "My child is a good citizen at Such-and-Such School". It's no surprise a lot of us ended up getting the notion we were God's gift to humanity without ever even lifting a finger to earn it.  We are the pioneers of the "Age of Entitlement".

There's a lot of nasty by-products that come from this upbringing: lack of responsibility, no work ethic, selfishness...And let me be clear before moving forward that I don't consider myself risen above all the ills of my generation.  Guilty as charged.  But, there's one particular character flaw customary to this generation that I would like to fight tooth and nail:

Commitment Phobia

We sure have a lot of options these days, don't we? Cellphone brands, car makes, clothing lines, restaurants.  Making a choice can be pretty darn overwhelming, and just when you finally get your hands on the latest version of some flashy technology, the new generation is already on its way to the shelves. You have to admit, it's a pretty exciting time to be alive.

The problem is, I think many of my peers have become so accustomed to the "flavor of the week" mentality, they've been led to believe it applies to all areas of life: job, social circle, church, marriage...who can think about signing away 5, 10, 20, 50 years of life away to the same place, people, responsibilities when the iPhone 6 will be out in 6 months?

And what about our personal happiness and satisfaction?  If our cable companies are overcharging us and customer service is rude, we switch our subscription to its competitor.  If our wardrobes are getting boring and outdated, we go buy a new set of clothes.

So, naturally, it stands to reason that if our jobs are getting to be a real drag after 8 months, we start searching for a new one.  If we promised to hang out with some old friends to catch up, but something better surfaces, we break plans and ditch 'em.  Don't even get us started on committing to marriage. Why bother when the generation before us has taught us we'll cut and run at the first sign of things getting really bad?

The further this generation progresses, the harder it is to remember that life wasn't always this way.  Our grandparents endured decades in the same run-of-the-mill job and remained in problem-ridden marriages to their deaths.  True, there were much fewer options for people then. Women couldn't easily obtain financial independence, and job opportunities weren't a dime a dozen like they are today.  But, the children of the "Silent Generation"  didn't hear too much about being *special* while growing up.  If they made mistakes, they atoned for them. If life wasn't going their way, they sucked it up.  And I think that counts for something.

It may be too late for us "Millenials" to overcome our fear of battening down the hatches, though it is one of my crusading points when it comes to helping keep friends accountable. But, there may be hope for the generation coming up behind us, and teachers play a big part.  It's tough to coach an 11-year-old on the virtue of honoring commitments given a 9 month period and their stage in life.  However, it seems to me there are countless other character qualities I can help cultivate in them that play into being able to commit in life:  selflessness, integrity, perseverance, gratitude, motivation, and more.  If I threaten a consequence, I follow through even when they turn on the water works; if an assignment is three weeks past due and worth 0% credit, they're still going to finish the assignment and hand it in; if they're fearful of something, I make them at least give it a try instead of folding.

 I imagine that tough situations such as these were turning points for commitment-phobes of my generation, but they took the path of least resistance and, now that they've arrived at adulthood, they know no other route. As I heard in a news segment called "The Myth of Praise" today, there is a big difference between loving children and trying to protect them from bad feelings. I'm sort of grateful for many of my past hardships today, and my hope is that, with a little guidance from me along the way, my students can one day look back and say that, too.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Mr. Incognito

Mark is a newbie to the world of Miss T. as of December, but he certainly fits right in.  He's the real silent type accomplishing most of his communication through a series of head shakes, nods, and shrugs.  Investigating into what took place during his weekend can be quite the chore, but has turned into a bit of a game for all of us.

Teacher: "Did you see any movies?"
Mark: Head shake
Teacher: "Did you play video games?"
Mark: Head shake
Teacher: "Watch TV?"
Head shake
"Go out to eat?"
Head shake
"Play with Legos?"
Head shake
"Read a book?"
Head shake
"Build a 747?"
Lip twitch.
"Eat a starfish?"
Bigger lip twitch.
"Save a beached whale?"
Split-second, legitimate, but quickly muffled smile. Followed by a head shake.

If I couldn't even evoke a conversation about the free moments reserved for fun in his life, I didn't hold out much hope for forming some New Years goals with him today. Surprisingly, the boy jotted down some realistic aims for the rest of the school year, namely completing homework assignments each night. I was impressed. he's silent, but self-aware.

Now came the time to determine an incentive for reaching his goal. In theory, this would be the easiest part of the task.  But, Mark doesn't do easy. It seemed there was no pleasing him.

Teacher: "Would you like to work toward something from the prize box?"
Mark: Head shake
Teacher: "How about free time in class?"
Mark: Head shake
Teacher: "Lunch with a friend?"
Head shake
"A handshake?"
Head shake
"A pat on the back?"
Head shake
"Thumbs up?"
Head shake
"Round of applause?"
Head shake

It was about this time that Leon stepped in with a suggestion from far left field.
"Hey, what about if he makes his goal, he gets to wear the mustache glasses for the period?"

Ahh, the mustache glasses. The best $11 investment I've ever made to break up tense moments in class and to be completely moronic (per usual).  Yeah, they were great for a laugh and will inevitably come in handy many times in the future. But there was no way that Mark--Mr. Introvert, Mr. Serious, Mr. Blend-into-the-scenery--would go for that.

Just as I went to thank (but no thanks) Leon for his proposal and continue brainstorming rewards, I caught Mark out of the corner of my eye.  Wonder of all wonders, he was nodding.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Little Children

While I can't imagine there are too many people left who haven't grieved in some small way over the events in Newton, Connecticut last month, it seems the tragedy strikes a different chord in different people:  mothers and fathers at the thought of losing their own little ones, police and other emergency workers at the thought of being the first responders to what must have been a horrific scene, and, of course, teachers at the thought of jumping into action to protect the children in their care from harm.

Various stories have circulated about the quick-thinking and valiant efforts of Sandy Hook teachers to save their students' lives, but the most noteworthy are the multiple accounts of teachers who deliberately put themselves in the line of fire in an attempt to shield their students from harm.  While I'm not sure if these reports have ever been validated, they evoke a pretty morbid question in my mind:

Were I in these teachers places, would I have taken a bullet for my students?

When I'm playing the Worst Case Scenario game in my mind, I'd certainly like to think so.  I long to have the steadfast faith of the Columbine High School student who was shot for professing her belief in God and, in theory, I would. But humans are  weak, fallen creatures.  It is not inherent within us to submit or sacrifice. When it's crisis time, baser instincts kick in and it becomes every man for himself. To be completely raw, no matter how much of my time or talents or possessions I sacrifice for others, I can never fully extinguish the innate desire to self-serve. So, I can't begin to comprehend the split-second decision to potentially offer it ALL up in one move.

But when it comes to children, it's a completely different story. When I'm babysitting for friends, or helping take care of my nephew and nieces, or helping my students with their work, or interacting with children in any form, the thought of personal gain is washed away.  Children are so precious and are assigned to all of
our care--so precious that even the incredibly busy, earthly Jesus made them a priority (Matthew 19:13-15).   Completely lovable or a pain in the rear end: they all deserve our protection.

As I watched one of my students skip happily to get supplies for the project he was working on today, I knew that, Yes--were an intruder to ever enter that classroom, I couldn't help but make myself the first line of defense for those children.  I imagine the Sandy Hook teachers that defended their students were simply following the drive that had brought them to their career in the first place: loving children unconditionally.