Sunday, December 30, 2012

So Long, 2012

It always amazes me just how much can take place in a year’s time. This year, in a lot of ways, has felt like a lot of years all rolled into one. That is to say, it has felt like a very long year. It is also one in which I will be glad to see come to an end.

This year, a lot like the one before it, was not a very good one. For much of the whole first half of it, I suffered one of the worst bouts of depression I’ve ever had. It was mostly in response to my grandmother’s death and all the things we had to go through in dividing her property, missing her terribly, dealing with the emotions of myself and others, and learning to live without her (it still tears at my soul just thinking about her—recognizing how great a loss her death has presented, knowing just how much she was a part of my life). But it was just a very difficult experience, and it quickly sent me headfirst into a depression the likes of which I hope I will never experience again. I had trouble sleeping a lot of nights, and when I did, I’d dream of some of the worst things imaginable. I overate to find comfort. I cried enough to fill up a small lake. I didn’t want to be around people, and isolated myself much of the time. None of it was worth a second go around.

The summertime of the year wasn’t much better. I’d worked really hard to achieve two particular job openings at work, at the end of the school year, and wasn’t considered for either one of them. This was after I’d had virtually every worker at the place tell me they thought I’d get one of the jobs. I thought I had a really good shot, too. It wasn’t meant to be though, and the way it happened, it just really bothered me. It was a deliberate snub. That, too, was something hard to get over.

I’ve also had some of the worst fights with my parents and brother this year—particularly with my brother. To listen to him, it was my fault I didn’t get a better job, it was my fault that I felt bad, it was my fault that my grandma died, it was my fault that the sun is hot. You name it, and it was my fault. Thankfully, he lost this attitude somewhere around the time school started back. If he’d have given me anymore grief, I’d have probably chucked him out the door.

It has also been a very difficult year financially. I’ve had to scrap by on pennies more times than I can recall this year. I’ve had financial aid payments from college to start paying back, a lack of work through the summer, and a reduction in my pay rate at work due to budget cuts. So, needless to really say, this has been somewhat of a constant worry.

It was also a very political year. I follow politics quite a bit, so I was all about the primaries in the spring and the presidential election in the summer and fall. If you’ve been following me much this last year, you will know how I feel about how that turned out.

Overall, things have improved the last two or three months though. I’ve been in better spirits, trying to keep my hopes up, and everyone in my family has tried to get along with each other much more. I’ve been out of that state of depression for a few months now—thankfully. I’m not in the best shape financially speaking, still, but I do see hope that that will turn around soon.

So much has happened this year though. And I’ve seen myself age somewhat through it all. There have been bad memories, but also some very good memories as well (and I don’t mean to discredit any of them). There have been dreams, or goals, met, made, and lost. There have been tough decisions to make and easy decisions to make; fun things to do and not so fun things to do. But all I can say is that I hope this next year is a better one. I will remain hopeful that it will be--and not be so superstitious as to allow the “13” part of it get in the way of it being a good one. :)

I wish everyone else the very best throughout this next year, too. May it be a truly blessed one.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Spirit of Christmas

A few years ago, I was coming home with my brother from my grandparent's house on Christmas Day. It began snowing pretty heavily about an hour or two before dark; it was really very beautiful. My grandpa kept telling us we needed to leave before the roads got too covered though. We waited just long enough for the roads to get about an inch of snow and ice on them before we left. As we were driving up one hill, the tires started spinning and the entire car began sliding back down the hill--I was scared to death. We ended up just off the edge of the road, unharmed--thankfully--at the bottom of the hill. I couldn't get us out of it though. We had to wait nearly two hours in the cold and dark before a tow truck was able to come to our rescue.

That's one Christmas memory I'll never forget.

This Christmas, however, was one of the best I can remember every which way around. Everyone got along; we had some of the best food ever, and more of it than we could ever possibly eat; I got a lot of really nice presents, and was glad to see how pleased everyone else seemed to be with theirs; we played games, watched movies, sang songs; and I was, for whatever reason, so full of joy throughout the whole thing it was just amazing. It probably helped that I didn't have any car wrecking experiences this time around. :)

That joy, that sense of excitement, of happiness, of peace, of optimism has clung to me the last few days. It's a good feeling, and I'm sure it happened mostly because my family was just able to come together and enjoy each other's company so. After the year we've all had, this was a much needed time of fun and camaraderie. But I'm also sure that it's because I got into the spirit of Christmas. I wanted Christmas this year more than I have in many years. I wanted to celebrate Christ's birth and be renewed by His Spirit. I wanted to see the lights and decorations. I wanted to hear and sing the songs. I wanted to watch the movies. I wanted to spend that time with my family and friends. I wanted to experience something good. And I did.

I like how at the end of the story/movie, A Christmas Carol, it is said that Scrooge kept Christmas all through the year. I'd like to do that myself. I'd like to keep the spirit of Christmas with me at all times. That might not happen, but I think I'll keep up the decorations a little extra longer this year just to help it to. Frankly, that's one thing I've never understood anyway: why people take down all the decorations so soon after Christmas. I mean, it's a long winter. What's wrong with keeping things festive looking throughout more of it? Anyway, it's a goal I'd like to achieve.

I hope you all had a very merry Christmas as well. I had planned to write something else on here before Christmas, but I never was able to find the time. I'll leave you now with a collection of some of my favorite Christmas songs, in the hope it will help preserve that spirit of Christmas for you. :)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas, Margaritas, Movies, and the End of the World

Well, we’re still here. According to certain Mayan scholars and the like, the world was supposed to have ended sometime a couple of days ago, on December 21, 2012. I am glad to say they were wrong.

It always fascinates me how people can get so tore up about such predictions. I personally hold them as a curiosity, but always keep in mind the biblical teaching that no one will know when the end will come, except for Father God himself. There are far less worries with that in mind.

So, the other day my brother and I went Christmas shopping—believing the end of the world would probably not come as predicted and we’d still see another Christmas. It was a nice outing, though I was a little frustrated by the fact that EVERYWHERE we went to that usually has Candleberry Candles was either sold out or no longer carries them; I always get my Mom one of those candles for Christmas—she keeps one burning at all times (I’ve asked other members of the family to help me find one, so hopefully that’ll happen before Christmas). I also had some trouble finding something for my grandpa. In his case, I just had no idea what to get him.

Outside of shopping, we also went to see the movie, Lincoln. That turned out to be a really good movie. Daniel Day Lewis was perfect as Lincoln. He did a fantastic job. And it was very interesting just seeing how the Thirteenth Amendment got passed—seems like they had just as much trouble passing anything decent back then as we do nowadays.

And then I have to mention that we ate out at one of our favorite restaurants: Sonny's. I got my usual, but decided to add something I hadn’t before. I ordered a margarita. It was a bit salty, but extremely tasty nonetheless. I have to admit, I absolutely love margaritas. If I were ever to become a full blown lush, I’m sure it would be because of them. On that point, I will affirm that I have never been drunk, and never plan on being drunk. I’ve seen enough drunks in my lifetime to know that that doesn’t appeal to me in the least. But I am not opposed to a drink every once in a while and freely admit that my favorite of all drinks is in fact the margarita. Seeing that Christmas is coming up, I felt the need to celebrate and let loose a little though. I also bought a few bottles of it for later consumption. Keep in mind it is only for moderate, celebratory purposes (please don’t anyone else decide to drink and get stupid this Christmas).  :)

On Saturday, the whole family went to see the Hobbit. It, too, was a really good movie. It was a bit long though. Even though I was enjoying every minute of it, my backside was screaming to get out of its seat before it was all over.

Tomorrow, my Mom’s side of the family will be getting together for Christmas. The day after that, on Christmas Day, my Dad’s side will be getting together. I’m looking forward to both events. I think we all are. It’s been kind of a hard year in a lot of ways, so the comfort of being around family, with gifts and food and games and the like is all very welcomed.

In a very real way, I wish there could be at least a couple of more weeks until Christmas. It seems like it’s come about way too soon this year. I haven’t really had as much of a chance to watch certain Christmas movies I always try to watch, or listened to as many of the Christmas songs I’d like to have. And then I’ve just been so busy with so many things that it’s been hard just to clear my mind and actually absorb in that we are in the Christmas season. And I know I’m going to miss seeing all the Christmas lights and decorations once it’s over—there have been some beautiful ones this year. I suppose this is just a part of getting older though. I’ve always heard older people say similar things. I’d just never really felt so much like that before though. To be honest, the whole last year, time seems to have become a very huge commodity to me. I wish I had so much more of it.

Anyway, I am excited that it is Christmas. I’m glad to have family and friends to have been spending time with lately. I’m glad for the plans we’ve made, and will hopefully be able to keep. I’m glad the world hasn’t come to an end just yet. I’m glad to have a savior so that we can have such a holiday as this. I’m just glad for all of it.

And to all of you, I wish a very Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Beginnings (Reflecting on the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting)

There are a lot of beginnings in life. We are born, to begin with. We learn to walk and talk, to feed ourselves, and to play. We go to school and learn new things. We make friends. We learn to drive a car. We get our first job. We graduate. We get girlfriends or boyfriends. We have our first drink. We get our first career focused job. We get married. We make love for the first time. We have kids. We move to a new place. We build our first home. We have grandkids. The list of beginnings can be long and varied, to say the least.

Last Friday, 27 people were killed in Newtown, Connecticut by a single gunman. 27 people saw not what could have been another beginning in life, but the sudden and very tragic end of their lives instead. Most of them were children as young as five and six years old.  As someone who works with kids, I can’t even begin to imagine anyone being capable of walking into a classroom full of kids that age and killing them one by one. It makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about it.

When I wrote my last post, I had no idea how relevant it would be. I talked about all the things teachers have to go through, including the violence that sometimes occurs. I didn’t get as descriptive as I could have though. I didn’t say that we prepare ourselves for the possibility of some lunatic coming into the school with the intent of causing harm. I didn’t mention that when a person does enter a school with such intent, that we teachers are usually the first line of defense for students at threat. It is our job to protect students at any cost. The educators at Sandy Hook Elementary bravely did just that, some of them to the point of giving their own lives in order to protect their students.

I know many people are already talking about us needing stronger gun control laws in this country. Maybe we do. But I think there is a better solution. Any lunatic wanting to cause people harm will find a way to accomplish that goal—gun or no gun. How many traffic accidents have to occur at the intersection before lights are put up? How many school shootings (and those at other locations) do we have to endure before people get serious about fixing this problem?

As an educator, there are a few simple things I can think of that would improve school safety.

1) Every school should have lock down procedures.

2) Every school principal should be licensed to carry a gun, which should be kept locked in his or her office until needed. They should be trained in how to use the gun and should undergo a psychological examination every month or two to determine whether or not they are still fit to have the gun.

3) Every teacher should be allowed a can of mace, or pepper spray, to use on anyone trying to enter their classroom with intent to cause harm to students.

4) Every school should be equipped with bullet proof glass foyers consisting of two sets of doors to pass through. Metal detecting devices should be placed around the first set of doors. If a person passes through them, setting off the devices, both sets of doors should automatically lock, preventing the person from either entering or leaving the school until security can be called.

5) Local law enforcement should patrol every school at least three times a day, and at random times.

6) No unauthorized persons should be allowed on school grounds during school hours.

7) Schools should be fully funded at all times to prevent lapses in security, such as limited personnel and a lack of security devices/monitoring.

8) Students should complete psychological evaluations at least once a month, where they are asked questions such as whether or not they like school; if not, then why not; what is their favorite subject in school, and why; what is their least favorite subject, and why; is there anyone at school bullying or bothering them; do they think people like them or not; do they consider themselves happy or unhappy, and why; did they eat breakfast this morning; did they eat supper last night; do they like their mom and/or dad; if not, then why not; if they could change anything about themselves, what would they change; and if they could change anything about school, what would they change. Answers to these sorts of questions could tell teachers so much about their students, from abuses that may be going on, to the mindset of the students, to even helping determine students at risk academically and the possible reasons behind that.

From a societal standpoint, I would argue that we have in a lot of ways not only lost our morals, but ran from them completely. As a nation, we have to return to Christ. And those of us already belonging to him must do a better job of introducing him to others. If we keep drifting further and further away, more and more events like the one that happened at Sandy Hook will continue to happen. And they’ll happen much more frequently as well. We should allow prayer in schools again. We should put the Ten Commandments back in the classrooms and in the public sphere. We should always and forever teach students the greatest of all rules: to do unto others as they would want others to do unto them. We should restrict the level of sex and violence portrayed on TV. We should do more to promote sustainable families as well. I can’t imagine what it does to some of these kids nowadays growing up with parents divorced, parents remarrying (and sometimes more than once), having to live here or there, getting and then sometimes losing step brothers and sisters—I mean, what sort of home life is that? We must also figure out better ways of handling mental health issues. I don’t only feel sorrow for the victims of what happened in Newtown. I feel sorrow for Adam Lanza, the shooter, too. According to many reports, he had Asperger’s Syndrome, which may have led him to have feelings that would allow him to do what he did. We need to do more as a society to help those struggling—with whatever problem/s they face.

And then there is the question of weapons. Personally, I don’t have a problem with banning some assault weapons. I know some gun enthusiasts would disagree with me, but I simply fail to see any logical reason for needing those sorts of guns, outside of just wanting a thrill. I’m sure a person could get a thrill from setting off a nuclear device as well, but that doesn’t mean people should be allowed to purchase and have them. I think the same applies to assault weapons. The only exception I would agree to would be if we were in a time of war, in which a foreign enemy was likely to invade our country. I know some people resist assault weapons bans out of paranoia or precaution against a possible takeover by our own government, but I would argue that the possibility of that happening is slim to none, and even if it did, we’d have plenty of other means of fighting back. But the greatest argument is that in allowing these weapons to be on the streets, we’re causing much more harm in the present than what has to be. That being the case, we should do our best to get rid of them. I don’t believe, however, that we should go to an extreme and begin banning just any and all weapons. I do believe we should preserve our right to bear arms as much as possible. I just don’t believe we should allow weapons that enable more violence in our society than that which is necessary; or to put it more simply, that cause more harm than good.

My heart goes out to all those involved in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. I can’t imagine the amount of grief and sadness the community there is experiencing. I can’t imagine what the family and friends of those who were murdered are going through. This was an unspeakably evil act, and I can only hope one that will never be repeated. If we can actually begin taking these sorts of threats seriously and finally take some sort of meaningful action against them, then we may see a real decrease in the number of these sorts of horrific acts taking place. Otherwise we may as well get used to the norm, because that is quickly what this is becoming.

In our sadness as a nation, let me leave you with this: a nation is only as great as the degree to which it takes care of its sick, its weak, its dying, its elderly, its young, and all those others who are unable to take care of themselves. We clearly have much more work to be done.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


Those who can, do. Those who can’t…

I think most teachers wonder about how their students will turn out later in life. Some students struggle and always will. Some students struggle, but only for a while. Some students never struggle, but will as they grow up. Some students are wild and stay wild. Some students are wild, but learn to calm down. Some students are calm, but become wild. Some are quiet and shy and stay that way. Some are quiet and shy and grow out of it, finding their voice and self-confidence as they mature. Some are loud and outspoken, but somehow learn to shy away. Some students are mean and uncaring, and won’t ever change. Some students are mean and uncaring, but eventually learn kindness and concern for others. Some students are kind and caring, but with time, they lose those traits. Some students are thin and stay thin. Some students are thin and become fat. Some students are fat, stay fat, or become thin. Some students will become liberal as they grow up, while some become conservative. Some will be Christians, and some won’t. Some will turn out to be straight, and some will be gay, bisexual, or transgendered. Some will be short, and some will be tall. Some will keep their hair, while others become bald or gray-haired.  Some will live long lives, and some will live short ones. Some of these things you can have a pretty good idea about, too, but you can often be surprised—for the best and the worst. It amazes me to know how accurate some teacher’s predictions have been—you don’t have to work as a teacher for very long to see how certain things in a child’s life can impact their futures.

I often wonder about the students I teach; not just what will happen to them in the future, but in the present as well. I wonder if the smart girl in class who always raises her hand to answer the questions will always be so smart. I wonder if the shy kid who can barely speak above a whisper will always be so shy. I wonder if the effeminate boy will grow up to be gay or bullied because of it. I wonder if the little boy or the little girl who always complains about being hungry will find any food to eat at night. I wonder if any of my students are being abused. I wonder if any of them have done things already in their young lives they’ll always regret. I wonder about all of them, and try my best to help them in whatever way I can.

Most teachers I know do worry and care about their students. In a lot of cases we’re the only ones who do. It frustrates me to no end when I hear people talk about teachers as though we’re the scum of the earth. I hear people talk about how stupid teachers are, how selfish they are, how uncaring they are, and it just makes me want to pull my hair out. To anyone who thinks those things, I say to them: you come to school day after day, spend as much time with these kids as we do, go through all the things we teachers have to go through, and tell me then that we don’t know anything, are selfish, and don’t care. The overwhelming majority of us do care. We care a great deal! I’m only a substitute teacher and I’ve spent a great deal of my own money and outside time to help students one way or another. I see teachers spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars every year out of their own pockets to help their students. I see teachers stay after school to help students with their homework, set up activities for the next day, attend meetings to learn new content or meet with parents, putting in days as long as ten to twelve full hours long just to help make a positive difference in the lives of their students. I see teachers put up with pay cuts, loss of benefits, uncooperative parents, media that just wants to run them down no matter what they do, cussing and physical violence from students, and administrators and politicians who in most cases don’t know their own asses from their elbows about education, who always want to change everything on every little whim, and without any input from the teachers who have to implement their ideas and know above all others what actually works and doesn’t work in the classroom.

We teachers put up with a lot. But there’s a reason we do that. We do it because we love teaching and because we care about our students. We do it because we want to impact our students in a positive way, to help them learn and improve their lives as much as we can. We wonder what will be in the future for them, and we try to make that future the best possible outcome we can help make.

I enjoy teaching immensely. I love my students and care a great deal about them. I worry about many of them. I want them to have the best education in all regards, but I know that is too often not what they’re getting. When supplies run out in the Spring; or when assistants who do so much to help the students have to be let go; or when classrooms designed for twenty to twenty-five students at most become crammed with thirty or more; or when parents refuse to help their child/children with homework, feed them adequately, provide them with decent clothing, supplies, or any sort of stable home life; or when a child is being, or has been, abused; or when the standards have been changed, dumbing down the content and leaving so much out; or when good teachers decide to give up under all the pressure; or when a student gives up on himself/herself, which breaks my heart to see happen, I know the students aren’t getting what they need under any of those very common circumstances. Every day, in so many ways, is a reminder of how lucky I was growing up. I would never proclaim to be the smartest person in the world, or to have always had the best. When I was very young, I actually struggled a great deal in school and often had limited resources. As I got older, I caught up though, despite any limitations. I thank my parents and many of my teachers for doing so much to help me catch up. They worked with me and inspired me to be something better.

Those who can, do. Those who can’t… certainly do not teach, and have no place in education. To teach, you must do so very much. You must know the content, know how to use multiple teaching strategies, manage classroom behavior, plan your lessons, communicate well with your students, parents, and coworkers, give of your own time and money on many occasions, be responsible at all times, and challenge your students to go above and beyond. You are often not just a teacher, but a parent as well. You are a role model and an example for which your students can look up to. But above all the things you do, you must first and foremost always care. Most all teachers I know do care—that’s why they became teachers in the first place. I just wish so many more people would recognize this.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


As often happens, I have managed to overwhelm myself with too much work, too many distractions, and too many projects to find time for this blog. My apologies to anyone concerned.

Thanksgiving went very well this year. I was honestly surprised and uplifted by how well everyone got along, and by how it all worked out with as few glitches as possible. I have to say I enjoyed spending some extra time with my family. I haven’t been able to see my grandparents that much this year, or my aunts and uncles. And of course it was nice to eat some home cooked food for a change that wasn’t my own.

I’m looking forward to Christmas as well. I think this may turn out to be the most strapped for cash Christmas I’ve ever known though. Not just for myself but for family and friends too. I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t said they’ll be cutting back this year. No one’s got the money to spend like they used to. And that’s probably a good thing actually, because Christmas has been way too commercialized over the last few years anyway. But I do wish I’d be able to do a little more than I know I’ll be able to. All of that aside though, I am definitely enjoying the Christmas lights going up and all the other decorations and songs and such. I’ve been working on a Christmas around the world teaching unit which has really got me in the Christmas mood as well. It’s quite fascinating learning all the different ways people celebrate Christmas.

This will be the second Christmas without my grandma. I miss her terribly. I was in a store just the other day and saw something I couldn’t help but think she might have liked for Christmas. It was one of those immediate thoughts. Afterward, I couldn’t help but feel a little down. I’d give anything to spend another Christmas with her.

Moving on.

I wish I could say I was pleased with the election results this year, but I was not. To be perfectly blunt, I was completely dumbfounded that Obama won, and that he won by as much as he did. Hindsight speaks volumes though, and I can see many areas in which Romney cut his own throat. However, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to say I still thought he was the lesser of the two evils. I was going to get into all of the mountain’s worth of facts to prove this, but I’ve said enough in at least three former posts already, which is sufficient enough. I really can’t help but believe we Republicans just picked the wrong horse. Even though Newt Gingrich had some demons from his past, I really think had he been our candidate, I’d be writing right now about President-elect Gingrich. Whereas Romney couldn’t say anything without putting his own foot in his mouth, Gingrich really is one of the best communicators for conservatism I believe there’s ever been. He’d have fought harder and made the better argument, something Romney proved he just couldn’t do.

I am pleased to say that the newest James Bond movie, Skyfall, turned out to be so phenomenally good. It has to be within the top five of the series. Daniel Craig literally brought to the screen Ian Fleming’s Bond from the books. He did a fantastic job. Judy Dench gave her best performance as M. Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, and Naomie Harris were great as well. Let me not forget Javier Bardem though. For crying out loud, he was excellent as the villain, Silva. I would rank him within the top three villains of the whole Bond series. It was a villain completely out of his mind for revenge, a real physical threat, manipulative, and one that you can actually feel sorry for. And the story itself was amazing, having borrowed a few plots from Fleming that hadn’t been used before.

So… that’s about it for this post. I know. It’s completely useless, but oh well. I hope everyone’s doing well. :)