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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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teacher

Work is the Friend of the Soul: #TeacherStrong and Grateful

I have just completed four weeks of teaching students in the middle of a pandemic. Not a boatload of people throughout history can make that claim. It is not normal. While it is much harder than I could have imagined, it also feels safer than I had feared. It feels good to be back to school…and it feels so good that it feels good, especially after so much anxiety about going back. It feels like a perfect fitting glove to be back in my role as teacher. It is where I belong. I feel #TeacherStrong and am filled with gratitude.

“We experience that work is not only a necessity and hard labor…but our work brings us likewise joy and fulfillment, a sense of accomplishment. We grow and develop ourselves in our work. It becomes part of who we are. However, we are more than our work. Any serious effort that enhances and enriches our own and other people’s life can fill us with joy and gratitude.”

Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB, Study Guide for the Rule of St. Benedict

Twenty percent of our students have chosen to participate in remote learning—they Zoom in from home to their classes every day. I have seen their faces (for some of the time) but have not gotten to know them very well yet. Eighty percent of our students, who I have come to recognize from their eyes up only, are doing a hybrid version of in school and remote learning—attending classes 2-3 days a week in person and the other days Zooming with the fully remote students. The fancy word for this is “synchronous learning.” It means I am teaching students at home and online simultaneously while students are adapting to new ways of learning.

It is taking a lot of resilience, creativity, and hard work for all of us to adapt to this new way of teaching and learning. I have gathered so much strength and peace from the Benedictine motto—ora et labora, pray and work. Before school started, I spent time with soulful friends and in solitude creatively praying with SoulCollage®. I felt a seismic shift within that allowed me to detach from my fears, to separate myself from the circumstances of going back to school and to focus on the needs of my students. It truly has been a “Seek Peace and Pursue It” experience. The peace has remained for four weeks—I am grateful.

I am grateful for the opportunity to grow in understanding and compassion as we journey through this new way of doing school. Students have more challenges than they did when I first started teaching—personal and family traumas, mental and emotional health issues, learning disabilities, poverty and now, the impact of a pandemic.

Students have shared with me what they have been grateful for during the time of quarantine and what has been challenging. The challenges were what I expected (and experienced myself)—not seeing friends and family, missing a routine, having to wear a mask and other precautions, not being able to go out or take a vacation and sometimes, boredom. A few students expressed frustration—wishing that everyone would do their part to follow the advice of scientists and medical professionals. A few students had gotten COVID or experienced frustrations in their home life. One student said just wishing things were different was most challenging.

What students said they were grateful for—well, it blew me away. I have been profoundly impacted by the wisdom and maturity of what they shared. Here is a collection of student gratitude statements:

  • I learned that people show their true colors. I learned who my true friends are.
  • I had more time for reflection.
  • I have a new appreciation for school and other things that I took for granted.
  • I had more time to take care of my mental health.
  • I had more family time.
  • I was able to be more independent and not rely on others to make me happy. I realized I can be happy with myself.
  • I was able to form new friendships and rekindle old ones on Zoom.
  • I value school more now.
  • I was forced me to be more creative and do things I wouldn’t have considered before.
  • I am grateful for staying sober.
  • I am overall happier.
  • I have truly found myself and it made me stronger.
  • I got a puppy/cat.
  • There was lower pollution with everyone staying home.
  • I was able to work more.
  • I was able to catch up on my sleep.
  • I was able to watch some fun TV—I didn’t have time before.
  • I was able to exercise more.
  • I was able to be safe and help others not get COVID by staying home.  
  • Nothing

As much as I am excited about and motivated by teaching, I believe students learned something they could NOT and would NOT have learned in the classroom. I was impressed with their candor and vulnerability—even with the student who felt there was nothing to be grateful for. Sometimes life is like that.

This teaching is sacred work for me. I learn so much from my students and I am grateful that we are taking the first steps together into the uncertainty of doing school differently. We will all learn so much.

Benedict teaches us that work is our gift to the world, our social fruitfulness, done in community…Work allows to focus on something other than ourselves, and in that way draw us away from self-centeredness.

-Michael Rock, St. Benedict’s Guide to Improving Your Work Life

Praying with Collage: Seek Peace and Pursue It

School starts this week. It has been five months since I have been in a real-life classroom with my students. After spring break, we immediately went to online learning for the remainder of the school year.

What it means to be a teacher, captured in a SoulCollage® card. More blogs about teaching HERE

I have been so encouraged by those who have asked me how things are going, promising their prayers. I was encouraged by my friend, Sara, to create a SoulCollage® card that I could keep at school as a reminder to pray when I am feeling overwhelmed or anxious. My prayer is that I can find some peace despite the fear of the unknown. My prayer is to remember to seek peace and pursue it, as St. Benedict instructs (RB Prologue 17), and to include time in my day for silence and meditation. Continue reading “Praying with Collage: Seek Peace and Pursue It”

Why I Teach

In honor of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthday February 7,  1867, a personal essay on why I teach. 

Childhood Dreams

As early as kindergarten, I identified teacher as a potential
occupation
in my “School Years” book, a collection of elementary school Kindergarten teachermemories. My kindergarten-self chose nurse, teacher, model, and mother as possible career and life choices, although the options were limited to traditional girl-jobs only. (I’ve wondered why I didn’t dare to select baseball player or astronaut. Was it because those jobs did not interest me or did I not consider the boy-jobs? Or why were airline hostess and secretary NOT of interest to me?) Female stereotypes aside, by fourth grade, I had wisely eliminated model and nurse (yuk and yuk!!), leaving teacher and mother.fourth grade

I was interested in learning and teaching as soon as I was old enough to work my way through phonics, spelling and math workbooks, just for fun. And then creating worksheets and math problems, grading spelling quizzes and making lesson plans became my childhood joys. My brother was my first student and I worked him pretty hard. I remember taking the graded assignments I’d assigned to him to my fourth-grade teacher, proudly showing her what I was helping him accomplish outside of school hours. Rather than receiving the anticipated (and sought-after) praise, she promptly told me I should back off and not force him to be my student anymore or he might hate school—my first humbling opportunity at professional self-reflection.

BooksLaura Ingalls Wilder was my childhood heroine. Pioneer girl turned teacher; wide-open prairie sky and her own classroom, from Little House on the Prairie to These Happy Golden Years —I wanted to BE Laura. I admired her sense of self-confidence and independence, how she encouraged students to overcome learning challenges, many not much younger than her. (I am such a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder that when my daughter could barely read I bought the entire book series,  picture books and television movies for her and also road-tripped to Mansfield, Missouri to see the house where Laura penned all of the Little House books. Quite a thrill!)

All the evidence indicates that, if I wasn’t born with the desire to teach, the passion was stirring when I was very young.  Continue reading “Why I Teach”

Gratitude for Teaching: A Mirror to the Soul

My friend Evi Wusk asked me to write a guest post for her blog, Gratitude Gal, about what I am grateful for as a teacher. The reflection that resulted has been a game-changer for me. It’s been a busy and challenging school year, but digging deeper about why I continue to choose to be an educator has uplifted my attitude and helped me deal with the daily challenges of teaching.

Capture

Here is what I wrote:

“Gratitude at its deepest level embraces all of life with thanksgiving: the good and the bad, the joyful and the painful, the holy and the not so holy… I am gradually learning that the call to gratitude asks us to say, ‘Everything is grace. “–Henri Nouwen

I am grateful to have had two grown-up careers—five years in advertising sales and the past 23 years as a Business educator. It is teaching that has taught me about the importance of practicing gratitude.

I am grateful to see teaching as a vocation, not just a paycheck. When I made my career change, it was certainly not for the money. I have never looked at teaching as just a job; it is a spiritual calling. Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach writes, “I believe that knowing, teaching, and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred.”

I am grateful that I have stayed in education even when it can be soooo hard. Several years ago, I tried to capture the essence of the evolving nature of teaching through SoulCollage®. When I started my first teaching job, I was incredibly naïve and idealistic about what it would be like, represented by the black and white, “country school” image —students with smiles on their faces, eagerly waiting to learn, happy, compliant, respectful, and totally mesmerized by every word I said. The reality is that teaching is a much more “colorful” role than I had expected or could have imagined. Continue reading “Gratitude for Teaching: A Mirror to the Soul”

The Flowing Grace of Now

“Winter, spring, summer, and fall are mulch for each other. The seasons of our lives are like that also. We learn from the layers of life. Our joys, sorrows, regrets, hopes, miseries, and enthusiasms are mulch for each other.” The Flowing Grace of Now, Macrina Wiederkehr

DSC_0590

Book Review by Jodi Blazek Gehr—
“The Flowing Grace of Now,” Macrina Wiederkehr 

Our storehouse of personal experiences can be our greatest teacher as we move through the seasons of life. The lessons we have learned through good and hard living can give us insight to navigate our worries and fears, to help us find answers to hard questions, or to let go of the questions altogether, and to, ultimately, help us make peace with our past, present, and future.

seasons Continue reading “The Flowing Grace of Now”

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