Friday, January 23, 2015

what data doesn't show

Yesterday was a teacher workday.  As a student, I never really understood the purpose.  Isn't every school day a workday for teachers?  Oh, but I was clueless.  They are so needed.

So I went in yesterday after getting some minis from the Christian Chicken (Chick-Fil-A), arriving around my normal time but feeling so much more relaxed.  We recently finished units in my science and math classes, and I had one last set of tests to grade before our faculty meeting at 8:30.  I graded a few and was pleasantly surprised how well my kids were doing.  I know they can do the work, yet many of them, for reasons I'm still figuring out, just often won't.  So I'm grading to Vitamin String Quartet, and one of my pumpkins- who has a learning disability in math- made a 110%.  100%, and not only did he try every last one of the bonus questions, he got all 5 of them right.  I literally teared up.  This kid.  Geez.  As many times as I have paced that classroom, as many activities as we have done on the SMARTBoard, as many task cards and learning stations as I have set up, as many times as we kicked it old school with just a pencil and paper, as many times as I have stood on a chair while singing and dancing the Order of Operations (seriously, my principal has video), as many times as none of it seemed to does matter.  It matters because he is getting it.  My work matters.  Do you know how incredible that is, when your work matters?  I hope you do, friends.  I hope you do.  I shared his score with teammates and colleagues, and we celebrated all the way down to the faculty meeting.  I even Instagrammed that 110%- I'm so stinkin' proud of this kid.

Faculty meeting was business as usual- safety updates, policy reminders, etc.  We looked at benchmark data- celebrated some and looked for ways to improve all.  And then news of school report cards that are coming soon.  The long and short:  teachers and schools are being 'graded' based on student achievement on standardized testing.  Teacher scores are based on student growth.  School grades are based a little on growth but a lot on proficiency (read:  grade level on standardized tests).

Please hear me clearly:  I have no problem with accountability.  Good teachers are not afraid of being held accountable for what we do all day.  We should be showing a year's worth of growth for a year's worth of school.  I'm totally on board, in theory.  But I live it daily.  And because I live it daily, I must tell you what data does and does not show.
This set of data does not show that he has already, in January, shown over a year's worth of growth- 3.6 (3rd grade, 6th month)-5.2 (5th grade, 2nd month).  This data will show that 5th grade, 2nd month is not proficient in 6th grade.  This data does not show that 110%.  It doesn't show my teaching strategies, and it doesn't show how this student has responded and grown.  This particular set of data will show 'not proficient'.  Period.  
And that's a crying shame.

By the time I got home that afternoon, I was feeling quite discouraged.  After my spirits were so high- my work matters!-, they were dashed.  I was feeling down when I felt led to read a weekly blog that I usually read on Mondays.  I usually read on Mondays, but I just felt like I couldn't until today.  I know- weird.  It's a blog written by my friend Jennifer Smith of Create In Us ministries, and you can view her blog here.  This particular blog is about knowing your worth.  Knowing the worth of God's work- His work is YOU!!  When work matters, it changes things.

It's disheartening when you pour your heart and soul into it, and someone still can't see the worth of your work.  It can be anywhere from outright insulting to just being overlooked.  We've all been there.  Your children don't seem to notice the meal you've prepared.  A colleague doesn't notice something you worked hard on to help them.  Your spouse doesn't notice when you picked up an extra chore.  A grade you've earned or the feedback you receive doesn't reflect the time you put into a project.  You've worked your tail off and someone else is recognized while you are seemingly overlooked.

But you're not overlooked, friend.  Not in the least.  Not in any of the above situations, not in any other circumstance.  You're seen.  More than seen, you are valued.  Do you hear me?  When it feels like someone can't see the worth of your work, there is Someone who sees.

More than the worth of your work, can you see the worth of His?  Because the fact of the matter is, your worth is more than that of your work.  Your worth is more than that of your work, because You are His work.  His work.  Just as yours is to you, Jesus' work is precious to Him.  His work matters.  You matter.

Praying you might know the worth of His work this week,

Monday, January 19, 2015

reality check.

Last Saturday was an ordinary Saturday morning at Casa Cook.  I woke up first, as usual, beside my hunk of a husband.  The pup was stirring, and soon Mr. Cook was, too.  We whispered our 'good mornings' and cuddled through the day's agenda:  for Mr. Cook, an oil change, church basketball, home by lunch, for me, couponing, laundry, grading, puppy snuggles.  Mr. Cook got on the website for the car dealership and that's when he realized:  the oil change appt and basketball were at the same time.  I offered to take the truck- it's an oil change, how long could it take?  Mr. Cook started the truck and took the dog out while I quickly got ready.  He headed out to basketball, and shortly after, I headed out to the truck.  And this is when my selfish heart reared its ugly head (for the first of many times that morning).

I got to the truck, and the windshield was covered in thick frost.  Mr. Cook had started it, but it was not even close to being defrosted.  I sighed, but aside from being cold, this was no big deal.  I would scrape it off and go to the dealership.  Except I'm too short to scrape it.  I got pretty grumpy pretty fast with this realization.  So I sat there, growing more ill by the minute, waiting for the windshield to defrost enough for my short little arms to kinda knock off the frost.  I realized I was going to be late, and my frustration grew.  I so hate being late.

Finally, it was defrosted to the point that I could kinda knock off the frost.  I pulled into the dealership, not in a good mood but trying to put on a happy face.  I waited for a few minutes and told them who I was, that it was my husband's appointment and truck.  They searched the schedule.  They searched it again.  And the appointment wasn't there.  The folks at the dealership were very friendly, assured me it was a mistake, took the keys and told me they would work me in.  I said thank you, got my coupon binder and purse, and sat in the waiting area.  Sat, and stewed.  No laundry was getting done, my couponing was severely limited in the waiting area, my phone was going to die, how long was I going to be here...

In my grumbling, I was using my (dying) phone, and I stumbled upon mundane faithfulness.  It's the story of a sweet soul named Kara who has a precious family (her hubs and 4 super cute littles).  Kara also has terminal cancer.  She so bravely and elloquently shares her story on her blog, (you should go there).  So I sat reading, and I literally felt my selfish heart melting.  As the enemy told me what a brat I was being, my Jesus was waiting with open arms, and He used this sweet soul, whom I've never met but know I love, to bring me back.  He's good at that.

He's good at bringing me back to reality.  He's good at using His people to love me, teach me, support me, give me grace, and, sometimes, bring me back to Earth while keeping eternity in mind.  He's good at finding me in the midst of the chaos in a middle school classroom- He finds me when I can't seem to find Him.  He is good.

It's my hope, my prayer, my goal to seek Him first.  Not when the laundry is done.  Not when the papers are graded.  Not when the lessons are planned.  First.  I've never really been a morning person, but this week, I'm making the effort to get up a little earlier, so I can have the peace and quiet to seek Him first.  The rest will be added, just like He said.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Welcome, 2015!

I love New Years.  Absolutely love it.  It's among my favorite holidays.  We usually celebrate with lots of family friends, wearing pjs, eating yummy snacks, playing games, and toasting in the new year.  This year, we celebrated with mostly immediate family, doing the same things but at my parents' house.  My sister had surgery Tuesday, and after a bit of a scary time in the hospital, she was able to come home yesterday.  She's not super mobile at the moment (for obvious reasons), so we went to her :)

In addition to the time with some of those I hold most dear, I love the seemingly designated time to reflect.  I love the idea of fresh starts, of resolutions, of focus and purpose.  

2014 has been simultaneously the best and worst year of my life.  Let's hit the bad head on:  my grandmother passed away.  My sister has had some health problems.  People I love lost their loved ones.  I got a filling yesterday- ew.  I've made some tough choices.  I left kids that I loved and co-workers I adored at the school that gave me my first job.  Oh, but it was the best, too!  I managed to talk Mr. Cook into getting a puppy, and he is a sweet ray of sunshine in our home.  I transferred schools and became what I never dreamed I would be- a middle school teacher.  I made some wonderful friends with my new co-workers, and I feel so lucky to have them.  I discovered that, while I will always love tinys, middle school kids are awesome.  Maybe sometimes a little weird, but mostly awesome.  Mr. Cook got a promotion.  We went on some great trips to Charleston and Holden Beach, among others, and homecoming at our alma mater.  We went to seven- count 'em, seven- weddings this year, and it was a true blessing to be at each one, to see people we love dearly who love each other make that commitment.  One of those seven was ours :)  We honeymooned and found a new favorite place (here's lookin' at you, St. Augustine).  We got our first place.  We've celebrated the engagements of other friends.  We've loved on our families.  We've spent time with our friends that will always be cherished.  

Looking back, it's clear to me the truth in Colossians 1:17 "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."  What a whirlwind of a year!  And God held it together.  In the hard moments when I cried on the back deck at my parents' house, Jesus was holding all things together.  When my heart was about to explode with joy as I walked down the aisle, He was holding all things together then, too.  On my last day of my first job and on the first day of my new job, He was holding all things together.  As we brought in the New Year, it was humbling to remember Who it is that is holding this year, and all things, together.  

As much as I love New Years, I've never been one for resolutions.  To me, they've tended to feel like broken promises when they aren't kept.  This year, though, I'm making some.  Here they are:
-To better recognize that, when I say "yes" to something, I'm saying "no" to something else; to be purposeful about what I say "yes" to and conscious of what I am (therefore) saying "no" to
-To be more consistent in my blogging:  once a week, and then as inspiration strikes
-To embrace the current season of my life, to enjoy life as a newlywed :)    
-To be with the friends who are there and not touch my phone when I'm having a meal with other people
-To remember that no matter what may come in 2015, I know the One Who holds all things together, and to continually be amazed that He knows my name.

I'm humbled and thankful to have people in my life who are honest-to-goodness forever friends, and to have been able to spend time with them this year.  Mr. Cook and I are meeting some of them for dinner here shortly for what (I hope) will become a new tradition.  

Cheers to 2015!