A Temptation of Teachers

We teachers know a lot about teaching children. It is our profession after all. Most of us have thousands of hours of experience in the classroom, hundreds of hours of training, and are subject matter experts in our fields.

Still, we must avoid the temptation – common in my experience – to believe and act as though we always know better than parents how they should be raising our students.

This is a child given to them. They are not ours in the way they are theirs.

And yes, in addition to our expertise we do spend many hours a day with our students. We see a lot of their behavior. We hear a lot of their words. We do very often have insight into problems, strengths, and strategies.

However, our language is too often loaded with the hubristic assumption that if parents would just listen to us, everything would so much better.

“If only those parents didn’t give their 4th grader a phone! What could they be thinking.”

“If only his parents would discipline Johnny better.”

“Sam has way too much screen time. His attention would be so much better if only they would limit him. What could his parents be thinking?!”

What is this but frustration that we are not in charge of everything?  Combined with a selfish desire to have everyone do and say and believe exactly what we think would make our lives easier?

I take practical and theological issue with this pattern. First, we don’t know nearly as much as we think we do. Parents have been with their kids every day for YEARS. We see them almost daily for almost a year. Our knowledge does not extend to being the expert on Jack or Sam or Evan or Sara. Many causes and effects are necessarily outside of our experience. We must keep this in mind when we are frustrated by some behavioral issue.

Second, this child is simply not ours. Assuming that a particular parent doesn’t happen to be a depraved monster, they are far more invested in their child’s well-being than we are. They will be in the child’s life forever, we are a passing stage. God has ordained this child to these parents and apart from truly destructive (as opposed to simply sub-optimal) parenting, they are the ones who will be dedicated to understanding what is truly best for this little person.

Teachers must treat their own expertise, their relationships with their students, and their advice to parents with great humility. If we have knowledge or insight it is to be placed at the service of parents and not hurled at their errors. Our frustrations with things that make our jobs more difficult must be understood as the temporal things they are. Sure, we can imagine a teaching utopia of perfectly behaved, perfectly intelligent, perfectly sweet robot students with perfectly wise, perfectly invested, perfectly balanced parents. But this means nothing. We teach actual flawed children, with actual flawed parents, and we are actual flawed teachers tempted to believe we are the only ones who are perfect.

How Should We Then Live

Francis Schaeffer

I finally read the Francis Schaeffer classic. It has been on the “to-read” list for quite some time. Schaeffer is very highly regarded in some of the circles I travel in and I’d never read anything of his. Sadly, I’m a bit disappointed.

How Should We Then Live? is a whirlwind tour through Western History featuring frequent generalizations, authoritative pronouncements on the goodness or badness of things, and appeals to authority. While I agree with at least half of Dr. Schaeffer’s assessment, I can’t appreciate his book. Where I was looking for reasoned arguments and thoughtful insights I got appeals to authority, unargued conclusions, and simplistic summaries. I wouldn’t pass much of this writing in a freshman composition class because of the failure to properly support assertions.

Again, I do agree with many of his conclusion. However, I fear that much of his popularity comes from readers hearing what they already believe or hearing what they want to be true. He argues that Christianity is good for the world and Christians are likely to already think that or to want it to be true. In such a short book, how could an author give a fair description, much less a fair analysis, of all of Western art, philosophy, and science? Without questioning or even acknowledging his own presuppositions how could Dr. Schaeffer hope to give his readers a reasonable basis for further study? I fear that reading this kind of work would tend to leave the Christian reader complacent rather than challenged: complacent in the essential goodness of the Evangelical worldview and without any answer to the title question other than living with the assumption that Evangelicals have it right and the Secularists have it wrong and with no clear understanding of why or how and, thus, no way forward.

 

Aeropress

As former coffee shop owners my husband and I are a little snobbish about our coffee. We have used everything from a basic flat-bottom brewer to a French Press and even, on occasion, a Keurig. The French Press had become our preferred method, but it still left us with some dissatisfactions. We prefer a sweeter taste to our coffee, and really just wanted espresso most of the time. However, as we really wanted an expensive plumbed-in machine, we were out of luck.

At the recommendation of some casual acquaintances, we bought ourselves an Aeropress about six months ago. They praised the sweet taste of the very strong coffee it produced, the ease of use and clean up, and the portability of the set up. Because it only cost about 30 bucks we were happy to give it a go.

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We really, really like it. It makes a delicious – nearly espresso – shot of strong coffee. You can make one serving in about 45 seconds. The device is incredibly simple and so it is easier to clean than your coffee cup. You can drink the strong coffee straight, add hot water to it for an “Americano”, add milk for a latte, or pour it over ice in the summer. The only downside is that it is not great for making large quantities of coffee quickly. If we were having 15 people over for breakfast we might run into trouble. Fortunately, that never happens!

You can heat the water you need on the stove or in the microwave, but we like to use a nice electric kettle with temperature pre-sets to get just-the-right-temp water for brewing. We also have a small burr-grinder for fresh espresso-ground coffee. We also have a unique situation where our pastor roasts us fresh coffee every week. Not everyone is quite as blessed as we are…

The KonMari Method and Me

konmari

I have been hearing of Marie Kondo’s book and it’s overwhelming popularity for some time now. I wasn’t too interested in reading it because my home is not cluttered, I’m minimalist in everything except my library, and I am very happy with my life and house.

But I picked it up anyway. I had a gift card to spend at Barnes and Noble and along with a leather bound journal and some note cards it caught my eye.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. Apart from some cheesy personification of objects and a vague sort of spiritualism about them, her advice resonated deeply. She encourages owning only things you love (which has long been mostly my philosophy) and requires that everything have a place to be put away (which is also what I do). But what was most charming in her book was her encouragement to be grateful to your possessions for what the are doing or have done for you. For years I have dealt with feelings of restlessness and discontent by stopping and remembering to be grateful to God for all that I have in my life. I have found it easy to care for my home over the years, despite being an essentially lazy person, because I am so grateful to have this beautiful space and the peace and security I experience here.

But…my home is already minimally furnished. My wardrobe is already made up of only clothes I love. My shelves already filled with books that “spark joy” every time I hold them. But…the boys’ bedroom!

There is one place in the house that has always been cluttered, messy, and chaotic. I have frequently gone up there and cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. I have thrown stuff out, organized, dusted, vacuumed, and then three months later done it all over again. Marie Kondo emphasizes again and again that the process of decluttering is very important for her clients. They simply must make the decisions of what “sparks joy” as a way of training themselves to know their own desires. Her book gave me the idea of leading my sons through the process instead of trying to do it for them. How much better to teach them to care affectionately for their possessions by allowing them to choose what they love owning rather than telling them what they can and cannot keep?

And it seems to work. On Tuesday I spent about 3 hours with Alex and Luc in their bedroom. We took everything off the shelves and out of the drawers. We first went through their clothes and, other than their school uniforms, I had them choose what clothes they love to wear. We donated a bag full of their discards. Then they decided they wanted to keep two categories of toys (Star Wars toys and Dinosaurs) but put them away for a while, so we bagged them up to put in the attic. Next I had them choose what pencils, crayons, etc they wanted and we designated a drawer in each of their desks for the ones they kept and I threw the rest away. Likewise papers they had colored on were either thrown away or put into a designated drawer. Legos were picked up and a couple of shelves designated for their storage. Beds were made. And then we sorted through all the miscellaneous stuff. I gave them each a basket and asked them to put their “treasures” in them. Then we looked at all the stuff still on the floor and I asked them to go find every single thing they absolutely loved owning and we would find a place for it. When they said they were done we threw every other thing out. They then hesitated over a few items but I reminded them that they didn’t love owning it and so it wasn’t worth keeping. They both found that standard easy to identify and to hold to. Luc is more of a packrat and so he had more of those hesitating moments but we had no arguments and no grief over any of the process. In all of this “tidying” I didn’t buy a single organizer or tote or tub. In fact, I threw three out!

The strength of this process is in training the decision-making faculty. I am sure that I will need to remind and guide my sons further, but realizing that this was something I could teach them to do for themselves and not something I needed to continue doing for them was a nice breakthrough. We’re a few days in and their room is still clean (other than the blankets strung up around their beds making a fort – they are still kids). When I tell them to pick up, it only takes a few minutes both because they have much less stuff over all and because they know the place for everything. And not to oversell the “magic” of tidying, but with a tidy bedroom Alex and Luc have both been re-energized to work on some of their creative projects (making their own trading card game) and haven’t been having even less than their usual low-level of brotherly conflict.

 

Lemon Cake

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Long ago, I worked at a certain ubiquitous coffee shop. I would rise ungodly early – 4:45am – and go make lattes. A major perk of working there, and there were many, was unlimited coffee drinks while you work. I would also often be able to have a day old pastry for breakfast. The Lemon Pound Cake was my favorite. This knock-off recipe appeared in my Facebook feed and I gave it a try. It is delicious. The icing came out a bit thin, so I would suggest adding a few more tablespoons of powdered sugar to thicken so it doesn’t run all over the plate. Or…you could just scrape the run-off up and eat it with a spoon. I’ll never tell.

LEMON CAKE

 

3 EGGS

1 cup SUGAR

2 tablespoon BUTTER; Softened.

1 teaspoon VANILLA

1 teaspoon LEMON EXTRACT

1/3 cup LEMON JUICE

1 1/2 cup FLOUR

1/2 teaspoon BAKING SODA

1/2 teaspoon BAKING POWDER

1/2 teaspoon SALT

1/2 cup COCONUT OIL

LEMON ICING

1 cup(s) POWDERED SUGAR; Plus 1 Tablespoon.

2 tablespoon(s) WHOLE MILK

1/2 teaspoon(s) LEMON EXTRACT

Instructions

Use a mixer to blend together the eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, lemon extract and lemon juice in a medium bowl.

Add dry ingredients one at a time in order listed mixing well after each addition.

Add oil and mix well.

Pour batter into a well greased OR parchment lined 9×5-inch loaf pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until a toothpick stuck into center of the cake comes out clean.

Make the lemon icing by combining all the icing ingredients in a small bowl with a whisk.

When the loaf is cool, remove it from pan and frost the top with the icing.

Let the icing set up before slicing.