Moving On

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”

It’s a small little verse tucked in to the end of Luke 2 (verse 52) but contains a wealth of information. And a lot of time. It’s the only verse we have that tells us about Jesus’ adolescent years before we see His ministry begin in adulthood. (Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about that — I didn’t truly research it). It’s a verse that I’ve been reflecting on this week as the youngest Mitton moved on from elementary school.

School (albeit the strange form of online-homeschool-semi-vacation-time-filling-preparatory-work as it has been for the last few months) is now completed for the summer. Our youngest was supposed to have graduation ceremony from our elementary school, which ends in grade 6, and move on to middle or junior high. Covid-19 prevented any kind of formal celebration — but that is another muse. For me, it was the end of an era. All four of our kids attended the same elementary school, and we parents were quite active in all of it’s goings ons — bake sales, track and field events, farm visits, pizza days, talent shows, concerts, parent teacher interviews and the school council. I’ve been on our elementary school council for almost 20 years… and now it’s done.

This past week, my current council blessed me with a “drive by” parade and a flood of well wishes and tokens of their thanks for my service. At first, the introvert in me was completely taken aback, and thoroughly embarrassed — the principal and vice principal, administrators and even key teachers showed up on my front lawn. (To the absolute detriment to my children’s self preservations — now the teachers know where and what our house looks like! The horror!) Alas, after the initial shock, I, well, I “had a moment”. Private thoughts and personal memories of each of our children’s first days, struggles and moments of joy flooded back as I reflected later. I, too, met new friends, shared highlights, valley lows and packed a whack load of lunches. I learned about other cultures, set goals, experienced frustration, joy and pride as I watched as my children also grow in “wisdom and stature”.

I don’t know what education looked like in Jesus’ day. I don’t know if Mary homeschooled or if education was at the temple or under Joseph’s care in the shop. The Bible verse tells us Jesus grew in wisdom — which means He persevered through experiences that lead Him to make decisions, to grow, to debate, and to decide in which direction to move forward. He grew in favour with God and man — which means He had to study the Torah and be taught foundational principles, as well as participate in traditions and festivals. It means He made new friends and endured teasing, perhaps even bullying, by peers. I’m sure He had chores and bookbags and homework. I’m sure Mary baked for neighbourhood kids and shooed them out to play. Did she have to send two healthy snacks and hope Jesus didn’t lose His indoor sandals? Did Jesus get frustrated learning how to knot the perfect tzitzit or did Joseph have “take your kid to work” day?

It’s a small little verse tucked away at the end of our “Christmas story” in Luke 2. For me, it’s packed with almost 20 years of memories of my own kids and many “I wonders” about another child who grew, yes, but yet had such a special mission. Time has a cruel way of never standing still. As my youngest “moves on” and I am forced to move with her, I will continue to pray and trust that we will all find favour with God and man. Enjoy your summer vacations, my friends!

What Makes a Good Teacher?

There has been much going on in my neck of the woods with regards to education recently. Teachers strikes, contract negotiations, optimum class sizes, budget cuts. It is all becoming a little cumbersome. We are parents in a somewhat unique situation, in that we have grown (well, almost grown) children and one still in elementary school. So we have a broad base of comparison. Youth is a whole other entity and we should have a prayer list a mile long for these blessed creatures. Then a double prayer list for their mommas and dads. Oh no, parenting is not for the weak. Or the squeamish. Especially if you have been blessed with boys, or an over dramatic girl. Or a partner who cannot handle barf. But, I digress. I’ve been working on a baby gift that I have to send off to some new parents soon, and pondered about how differently their little one will grow up — even compared to my youngest. The world changes so rapidly and we must do our best to keep up.

I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of one particular type of education. It’s not my place… although I would love to sit down with you and discuss home schooling vs. private school vs. public school vs… well, let’s just say I would love to sit with you. I have my own views and opinions that may differ from yours. Which is okay because I am not raising your kid. For the record, I am not an educational expert, either. I’ve seen a few systems, though. And most, if not all, of them are broken. There is not a “perfect” way to raise a child — because there are no perfect parents, and no perfect children. Oh, and here is a big revelation… there are no perfect teachers, either. Or class sizes, or budgets, or salary caps, or… you get the picture.

Which is why I always say that you must be involved in your student’s education. It is vital you know what goes on in the classroom and in the system. And in the heart of your student. But let’s back up a bit and think about that: “education”. What does it mean? The short answer is this: Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits. (Wikipedia — which may not be your choice for “educational” definitions, but serves my purposes here, so let’s all move on, shall we?) The acquisition of knowledge. You can get that from sticking your finger in a light socket. No system necessary there. But “facilitating learning”? Much deeper thoughts. How does one do this for such a diverse generation? Can we do it for our own kids? For ourselves?

What about those values and beliefs? Who is responsible for those? The high priest? Pastor? Youth specialist? YouTube? We were teasing our church’s youth pastor, recently, that because he wasn’t a skilled ice skater and didn’t know how to play the guitar, that somehow he didn’t have all the necessary “qualifications” of youth leader. (It’s not true, of course!) but what should our teachers possess in order to make them “good” and “qualified” teachers? Four years of seminary? Greek study? Summer mission experience? Married? Single? Oh, we fiercely debate such things. And so I muse: What does make a good teacher?

I think it is someone who cares about the student. Dare I say loves the student so deeply that they want to see them succeed in that “acquisition of knowledge”… so that it changes their lives forever. Someone who can foster a lifelong love of learning. My favourite teachers were the ones who inspired me. Frankly, I hardly remember a thing they taught. I remember the comments or the encouragement, or the way they made concepts come alive or applicable to me and my measly existence in the universe. People who may have thought differently than I, and challenged my way. In turn, solidifying my core values and/or correcting my habits. So, you see, it is all of us. Formal education is only one part of the puzzle. It’s people who challenge the norms, it’s intergenerational mentorship, it’s cross cultural experiences, it’s formal learning in traditional sessions and it’s being creative and using the gifts God gives us. I don’t care if you have your own kids or not, when you come in contact with mine, you are teaching them. Whether you like it or not.

And we fail. Often. But failure, too, is part of learning. Overcoming the failure and the ability to move forward shapes the next mistake, and the mistake after that. So, be encouraged, my friend, that there is only one perfect teacher who walked the Earth. Yet Jesus also grew in “…wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man…” (Luke 2). He was taught, and was the Teacher. His goals were clear, but loved the students so much that no one was denied the learning experience. Learned men, women, children and outcasts and sinners sat at His feet and were taught with patience and love. Sure, we have our preferences. We have our strategies and pedagogies and they too, ebb and flow as our society changes and the next generation leads the way for a new one. But we should never stop learning. And teaching.

Brag Tags

a fun and easy gift for an encouraging Valentine’s Day!

I was preparing to work in a kindergarten class not too long ago when I discovered a fabulous tool for positive reinforcement and encouragement! I was all set up and meandering around the room, waiting for the students to arrive. This moment is like the calm before the storm for educators. All is serene and peaceful and you think you can handle anything the day will bring. Then the bell rings and they descend upon you in a pile of puffy snowsuits and rosy cheeks, all demanding you help find their lost, frozen mitten that they just flung across the coat room two seconds previous. Nothing like thirty, five-year-olds to make you sleep real well at night! But I digress… back in the classroom, I noticed a large display of “brag tags” hanging from a bulletin board brightly displayed under the same name. They hung on small chains… one for each member of the class. Upon closer examination, I discovered each one contained a few tags for various accomplishments: “I can tie my shoes”, “I can print my name”, “I was a good listener”, etc.

What a brilliant idea, I thought! Such a creative teacher! Such incentive for positive behaviours, self learning and motivation! Upon further research, I discovered that it is not a new concept among teachers… there are a great many teacher/schooling sites that have all kinds of “brag tag” ideas and places to buy your own or edit and print. This teacher was not alone in her ideas! There is a whole classroom incentive entity out there about these fab tabs or spirit sticks (as they are sometimes called)! There was even one teacher who decided teachers themselves should have their own brag tags! A little tongue in cheek, I suppose, but fun! A human resource project for your next motivational meeting perhaps? 🙂 If you are an educator and have come looking for more brag tag ideas, please check out my Pinterest boards for lots of fabulous resources posted there!

Now… even though I work with children and have my own beloveds at home, I will be the first to admit I am not very encouraging. I try. I really do. But more often than not, my task oriented, in the box, do it this way brain takes over, and I am more apt to focus on what you should do instead of what you are doing great already!! It is so much easier to correct then to encourage, isn’t it? The Bible is full of verses about encouragement.  Jesus had a time and place for correction, no doubts about it, but usually, He teaches us to be gently encouraging — even in our corrections.

Our family brag tags!

Which brings me to my Valentine’s Day project. My kids are older now… far beyond their kindergarten years… but no matter what the age, we are are always in need of some encouragement, aren’t we?! So I made each of my family members some brag tags… even the hubby! I gave them 5 different ones each, and included some things I love about each of them. Things I want them to know that I have noticed they are doing, and doing wonderfully! Things they have accomplished or are working diligently on. Some of the tags were ready made ones in my gift wrapping collection. Others I punched or cut out and wrote on. Each were ringed on some old shower rings we had hanging around. Simple, but meaningful. I don’t expect them to wear them around their necks the way a five year old might. It’s a small token. But one I hope they treasure. I’m not a good encourager with my spoken word. I have a hard time saying those things I should. This is one way I can make my thoughts tangible to the people I love. Maybe you are not a good verbal encourager either… so, go ahead, steal my idea… I encourage you to ! Make your own “brag tags” for your crew… and let me know how they turn out!!