School Year Superlatives

Thinking/speaking/writing in superlatives is a habit that I should maybe try to break, but at the end of a school year, it could be fitting to remember some of the best and worst moments of the year. Besides, an English teacher who teaches comparatives should be allowed to use superlatives now and then.

  •  The evening 3 teen boys came for a lesson expecting  a man teacher, not a girl who looked to them like a nun. They reacted by giggling uncontrollably but ended up being good students while they lasted.
  • The Business English lesson that I’d valiantly tried to prepare but in class I realized that I hadn’t understood the material after all. I choked down the panic and guided the discussion to something I could talk about, which didn’t include loans and banks.
  •  The  lady who spent most of the lesson talking about her problems after her baby died. She threw her arms around me twice as we said goodbye for the summer.
  •   Licking cones with two 12-yr old girls who said they like these classes and want to come back next year. Yes, dearies, I like these lessons too— particularly the ones with ice cream in them.
  •  The student friend who texted “I want to come kiss you before the summer break. When are you at school?”
  •   Holding the 7 yr old on my lap for an Amelia Bedelia story, and hearing her giggles at all the right times.
  •  Rollicking laughter during the first lesson with a girl who could be a model. I asked her why she wants to go to Italy. “Because the men are so beauuuuuutiful! What’s the word for joke? It’s a good joke!”

You don’t get the dialague unless you’re used to hearing conversations with people whose English is their second language.  But simple language and laughter helps recharge my batteries and make me ready for the next day’s lessons.

I’m endlessly thankful that the best teaching moments far out-number the worst ones. I’m tired now. My brain is barely functional. But I have  every reason to expect that come September, I’ll be ready to give my students everything I have. Which means I give them more than words. I give them my heart. Big chunks of it. Maybe that’s partly why I’m tired.

Time to go find my heart.

Dusty Feet

“Why did I say I’d do this?” I asked of  Ria who works and lives with me and has to pick up the pieces when I over-commit. I was scurrying to prepare a lesson for a new child whose English level I didn’t know, and was (again) out of my depth. “I knew I have time, but I’m not sure that I have the energy for this.” I like a challenge but I’d forgotten that energy is as precious a commodity as time. Ria shook her head and tactfully reminded me that she had tried to tell me I had enough commitments without adding more.

That morning I had known every minute of my day was committed to something, and I didn’t know if I could do everything. But during the prayer time at staff meeting, God invited me to just walk alongside Him for the day, and join along in what He’s doing. Immediately, the pressure was off. I didn’t have to perform, only stay in touch with the Spirit’s direction. I didn’t have anything to prove, no agenda except His.

I met beautiful people that day. Met one new friend in her home with her family, and saw her care well for her children and pets. Met my vet friend in her home, drank her coffee, ate yummy scrambled eggs and pickles, and watched her vaccinate a client’s dog with expertise and finesse. Had delightful lessons with various students who made me laugh and pushed my creativity to stay ahead of them.

Even so, it was a frazzling day. My emotional elastic was stretched beyond comfort and I dissolved into tears that night in prayer meeting, asking God for my friends’ salvation and as we were going home, Ria said “You sound tired out or fed up” and I said I was both. Not a good combination, but it was remedied with some quiet, some conversation, tea and a book.

I don’t want to think of how fractured I’d have been if I’d have been following my schedule that day. Instead of feeling pressured to fill a schedule with frantic energy, it felt freeing to me to ask how I can fall into step with what God is planning and doing. The focus changed from me to Him. A good change. Amazing, that He lets fallible people join Him in His designs.  Amazing, how He refreshes and restores daily after a day’s rigors.

So often I wish for a chance to walk beside Jesus and ask Him questions like the disciples did. In those days, students aimed to walk so close to their rabbi that the dust from his sandals would fall on their feet as they walked. I wish we could still do that.

What would happen if His children in every country would ask Him how to fall into step with Him? His Spirit is waiting to show us when we ask. I think it would change the world. We should recognize each other by our dusty feet.

Make the World More Beautiful

One of my favourite things about teaching English is all the variety I can implement in the lessons. I can get bored pretty fast, and a bored teacher equals a bored class.

I love reading stories with my classes. It gives them vocabulary and usage, plus some concept that I hope goes with them. Last week I read Miss Rumphius to my two 12 yr. old girls. I completely identify with Miss Rumphius in her life goals: to travel to far-away places, live by the sea, and make her world more beautiful.

This post inspired me to do something with the girls to make their world more beautiful. So I told them to bring some small stones to the next lesson. We painted them with little postive messages (this is an English lesson) that they came up with. Never say never. Smile! Hi, sunshine! Someone (heart) U. Tomorrow is another day. 

Today we took the painted little stones and a tube of glue to the train station, looked for deserted places, because we didn’t want too many people to watch us, and glued the stones here and there. On a cement trash can. On a curb by the stairs. On a planter.  The girls took great pride and thought in where they placed them, and we had fun, funny conversations the whole 45 min. as we walked and laughed in the sun. Part of the assignment was to talk in English the whole time, and they complied perfectly.

Then we walked to the ice cream kiosk for cones, which completed the lesson. We talked about our lessons finishing in five weeks, and they said they want to come back next year because they like lessons here, and their English is improving. Words this teacher fairly purrs at.

I want to see if the stones are still there in a week or two. Someone could easily kick them away if they wanted. But it doesn’t matter because I think two young girls know the phrase “make the world more beautiful” and that’s why I love stories.

Hope, A Thing With Feathers

She was one of my teen students last year and wanted to interview me now for her school project about the political conflicts in Ireland. But most of the time, while we walked to the coffee shop in wind and dust, and while we sat inside, over my hot chocolate and her (healthier) fresh orange juice, we talked about everything outside of Ireland.  The stuff that girls talk about when they’re relaxed and happy: life and love and dreams.

“I’m scared of my future. I don’t want to grow up and make big decisions.”

You don’t have to make those decisions now, I said. Enjoy today. And you can always be a little girl inside. You know how old I am, and you know what? I still feel like a little girl even though I’ve done some adult-sized things.

“I know, that’s why I feel you can understand me, and really, you’re cute!”

Never mind that her command of English didn’t let her know how to use ‘cute’. Hearing it from her was priceless.

“Do you believe in true love? Like Romeo and Juliet?” Smarting after a break up that was friendship but not love. “I think we’re too young for love now, but do you believe in true love?”

Yes, I do! I don’t know know if Romeo and Juliet had real love, but I believe in true love and that it is commitment. Do you know this word?

“No.”   It’s a long word for a language student.

Maybe love can be like Romeo and Juliet. I don’t know, because I’m still waiting for true love. But I think true love is commitment. That means he loves what’s inside you, your heart, not only your hair or your face or body. And it means even when you are disappointed, or angry or impatient, you will love him, and he will love you. That’s real love.

“Yes, because when I’m old, I won’t be beautiful. True love, commitment, that’s what I want.”

I finished my luscious chocolate and we walked back to her street in gusts of wind, and I was happy beyond words that being an English teacher gave me the chance to have this conversation with this beautiful, thoughtful young lady. I was glad that even if I didn’t have a colorful, amazing story to prove something, I could tell her with confidence that true love does exist. If I couldn’t give her anything else, I could give her hope.

Sometimes this is the most one person can give another.

Practical Theology

I was writing a letter today to someone who was feeling forgotten by God and men. Among other things, I wrote that we were made for Eden, and will never find perfection here. (Has this become the refrain of my days?)

Then I started wondering if God intended us to stay in Eden forever. Did He create Eden with the contingent plans of redemption and healing that would be necessary after the sin and brokenness that would enter the perfection?

These aren’t new questions, and I’m sure there are answers. I’m reading Bonhoeffer right now, and he was a practical theologian, and spent years studying and teaching deep theories and ideas. He was dissatisfied with keeping all of that only as theory, and did his best to flesh out the ideas he believed.

For a fleeting moment today, thinking about Eden, something in me wanted to study and discuss and write and come to a nice, tidy conclusion about God’s purposes and what He had in mind at creation. Good people spend years talking and writing about these kinds of things, and some of that appeals to me.  But not now.

Instead, I felt most fulfilled today, not pondering vast ideas, but teaching and talking with little children. One opened the house door for me but hid under his bed until his mom yelled at him to come for his English lesson. I considered leaving and not getting into a conflict. There’s no point in twisting someone’s arm to learn English. But I gave him a chance, and it turned out to be a delightful 45 min. lesson. He ended up giving me more words than he’d ever done before.

The next class was a brother and sister. She was in a funk and embodied a dark gray storm cloud. It was wonderful to read them a story, meet her eyes now and then, and watch the light gradually seep back into her. I’m learning to relax in children’s classes, and not get all up tight when the lesson doesn’t go as I planned. To go with the current, and if they deviate from my plans, to take that route and make it a teaching opportunity. As one who likes serendipity, this kind of class lets me fly. And they’re not out of control, so I can let them go, which means we played Hangman even if I hadn’t planned to.

I mean,  if, while the sister finishes a project,  the brother writes 13 blanks on the board and asks me to guess his word and it turns out to be christmastree, I’m not going to complain.

Then I treated myself to a fancy coffee (to write the letter mentioned above) and bumped into another student with her 3 yr old who resents his mother talking to anyone except him. But I took him and kissed and tickled his cheeks and made him laugh, and he liked me a little after all.

This is my kind of theology. It’s where I best put my energy. I don’t know what you call it, but it suits me.

Peace and Pieces

“Here I am, rushing around, but you’re so peaceful.”

“You give me peace and energy.”

Completely separate from each other, two friends told me these words in one day.

Later in the week, I had an English lesson with a new student for the first time. We were telling each other about ourselves, and I said that I am not a nun even though some people think I am when they see my veil. Further, I love the Bible and Jesus–that Jesus is my hero, and I try to live like He did. Except that when I hear myself say that, I cringe because it sounds so audacious.

Then my student volunteered an observation: “I like how you are happy when you talk about Jesus. I think it should be this way. Most people look angry and sad when they are in church. That’s why I don’t go anymore.”

It seems to me that those conversations and observations are connected. I am not by nature placid or serene. There are many things that deeply distress and anger and unsettle me. I don’t live in utopia; my life is wonderful but not perfect or without storms.

The peace my friends saw wasn’t something I concoct.  Which is a good thing because otherwise it would be limited to about as long as my cup of coffee lasts in the morning.  The best thing about  God’s peace is that it’s beyond, higher than, and superior to logic. It’s something I can’t put words to, can’t explain, can’t even quantify except to say that it’s bigger than anything around me–anything that would otherwise discombobulate me.

What my friends see as peace is actually like me being wrapped in a thick fuzzy blanket. I think it has something to do with Jesus being my hero. He keeps me from going to pieces.


If you’re a teacher, you plan a lesson, and you think it should work, but you never really know if it will fly until it flies. There are no guarantees. At least, I haven’t found them.

But yesterday’s lesson on initialisms was a smashing success with my teen girls. I wrote initialisms like LOL, FHI, TMI, IMHO on the board, asked if they’ve seen it and where, and explained how we use it. We also discussed terms like “ego surfing” and the “five-second rule” and then keyboard pictures of frowns, smiles, and hearts.

These girls are at school all day, and they come here because their parents want them to learn English so I hate to do anything that looks like school work with books because they really don’t want to do it and then it’s no fun for any of us and we leave feeling like we endured something. (An English teacher should be able to do better than that run-on sentence but there you are.) Fun has to be a component of the lesson, because if it’s a miserable time, they won’t learn anything except that studying English is hard and boring.

I wanted to cheer when the girls asked for paper to write what the initialisms mean. They NEVER ask to write. They would rather talk all the time, and they do well at that, but write? Never. So we wrote on our papers and laughed about using LOL as a spoken word vs. written and I explained what XXOO means when your mom writes it on a note. Then we took turns answering questions like:

What shortcuts do you use in your own language?
Do you think initialisms should be included in dictionaries?
Have you heard of the five-second rule before? Do you agree with it?
Do you think older people are confused by initialisms?

I don’t think new dictionaries should include initialisms as words. I think electronic, condensed messages don’t use words as they’re meant to be used. But it’s a great way to have an English class for teens!