It’s Been a Good Run!

It’s Been a Good Run!

As I see the runway steadily approaching and becoming clearer in the distance, I find myself contemplating the landing less and less. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked, “So how are you feeling about your retirement?” or something similar. This is a very difficult question and one, truthfully, that bears a variety of answers.

Over a Lifetime

On the surface, I won’t miss (I think) the mundane, day to day jobs that are both necessary and cheerless. Every “job” has them and they must be done but they are not really part of the challenging and highly rewarding mission called “teaching.”

I’ve shared with some that it will be strange, (possibly difficult) to drive past the ACSS campus and not pull in to begin a day of constant interaction with students. It will be very strange when, in several years, the majority of people in the building will have no memory of me.

I’ve worked at ACS for most of my life. I was a student here. Most of my memories are connected to this place. When I was younger and knew everything, I was sometimes dismayed that older teachers stayed as long as they did. Why didn’t they make room for newer, more current (less old) teachers? I think I understand why some of them didn’t seem to want to leave.

Agents of Change

The face of education is changing. This is good, I think. I smile or sometimes shudder a little when I consider some of the practices that were common in classrooms when I started teaching.

I think the biggest difference between now and then (sounding old now) is the increased time that we spend questioning our methods. Why do we do what we do? Does it work?

Is there a better way?

Parents can take much comfort in this constant review, revision and exploration.

The search for better ways to facilitate student learning will result in students being agents of change in a world that increasingly needs the efforts of creative, collaborative and loving Christ-followers.

Uncluttering my life

There are some things that I would like to pursue. I am still passionate about most things relating to education. There are some volunteer opportunities which may allow me to tap into this passion. I have some personal interests that I’ve put on hold until I had the time to pursue them.

Well, now’s the time!

There are some things that I’ve put off because “I’m too busy.” I guess they are on my list now as well. 

Brenda and I would like to do some travelling. The usual things that retired people do. Part of me wonders if this is “how it ends?”

Hopefully not. Hopefully, this is how it begins.

When I discuss this with people, someone generally mentions Ecclesiastes and I know its truth.

I anticipate a time when Brenda and I can grow together in a way uncluttered by the myriad of events, tasks and trials that a career in education brings with it. 

Heartfelt blessings

It’s fitting that I conclude with a word of thanks. Everybody does. “I’d like to thank…” I’ve worked here so long that I struggle to recall much of what I could call “the early years.” 

Normal thanks seem sort of inadequate.

Sort of like describing the light show that plays on the side of a mountain on a summer evening as “really nice.” 

Maybe you’ll understand if the best I can say to the students, teachers, parents and everyone else that I’ve worked with over the years is, “Thanks for your support.

Brenda and I have felt the prayers offered for the school and staff. We’ve been blessed by your children and the trust and encouragement you gave us. If we have made any difference in the lives of students, rest assured that you have made vast differences (for the better) in our lives.

Your memories will stay with us! Go with God.

It’s been a good run!   

Roaring Graduates

As I looked around the room last weekend, enjoying a breakfast for all of the Dordt College grads, I realized I was quite obviously the most senior person graduating.

After a few years of hard work, I was graduating with my master’s degree. I had taken the opportunity to attend the ceremony in Sioux Center, Iowa, and walk across the stage to receive my hood.

But, before the actual graduation ceremony, all the grads were treated to a breakfast with the college president, Dr. Erik Hoekstra, who spoke about the things he wished for all of us. While his talk was mainly directed to the young college grads, I was really struck by what he said.

In fact, his thoughts are exactly how I feel towards the students who will be moving on from grade 8 in about a month from now.

1.  WE PRAY
As teachers and administrators, we have prayed for each of our students and we will continue to pray for them, individually, as they move on from this place.

2.  WE LOVE
We love our students. Honestly, this sounds trite but it is the truth. Every student in our building is loved by the staff here, and every student is prayed for. It is not always easy to like every student, but, with God’s help, we love every one of them!

3.  WE EXPECT
As a school community, we expect that our students will move on and live a life in service to their Lord. It is our hope that each one of our students develops an “attitude of gratitude” that fosters a desire to care for His creation, live as His image bearers, and through all things, serve God. School is often about learning “stuff” but we expect our students to learn wisdom and then act wisely. High expectations for sure!

4.  WE CHALLENGE
We hope and pray that our students from Abbotsford Christian School will go out and have an impact. We hope and pray that they will be shapers of God’s world. One of the speakers at the Dordt grad described it as a “roar that could be heard around the world.” I see what our grade 8 students are doing as part of their “Here I Stand” projects, or what all our middle school students are doing in their service projects, and I think we are legitimately challenging them to be culture-shapers!

And so, grade 8 grads… Will you rise to the challenge with this “senior” graduate to live, serve, and roar for the Lord?

Running Flat

I don’t know if you have ever taught a physical education lesson to grade 1 students before, but it is one of my favourite things to do. I have a particularly athletic class this year, so I thought I would teach a version of kickball, called Flat Mat.

Usually when I teach lessons to my students, they are interactive, involve movement and role play.

One particular day we were short on time and I just wanted to explain the rules and get them started. I explained all the rules and where they had to run when they kicked the ball.

I split the teams up and got the first kicker up to home plate.

He kicked the ball and ran directly to third base.

With all the cheering from his very excited team, he did not hear me try tell him to go to first base. Safely laying on third base, very proud of himself, I instructed him to go first base, and then reminded the other students where they had to run when they kicked the ball.

Ok, second kicker up.

The students were all ready. “Does anybody have any questions?”  I asked. No one answered.

He kicked the ball, and ran directly after it, to catch it himself.

Once again, the cheering from the kicking team drowned out my attempt at coaching this downhill situation. The kicker caught his own ball, and the runner who was at first, was still laying nicely at first.

As a class, we resolved the situation. Move the first base runner to second. The second kicker had to give up the ball and go to first base.

Ok, third kicker. We went through the rest of the team.

Everybody had a chance to kick the ball.

Switch. Those up to kick were now in the outfield, and those in the outfield were now lined up ready to kick.

First kicker. Kicked the ball really far and ran directly to third base…

Sometimes the best lessons are the ones where everything goes wrong and we all learn together.

That Flashy Little Touch Screen

The whole iPod, smart phones, tablet craze has been going on for a while now and there’s no stopping it in our house. It’s like a runaway train and I think I got flattened on the tracks.

My grandpa and grandma are 95 and 93 and they had an iPad before I even knew what it was. In fact, they upgraded to a new one prior to us even owning one! By 3 years old, Levi had mastered the skills required to use the camera, play games, as well as delete some of mom’s important stuff.

I remember 15 years ago, teaching Caleb ,when he was 3, to use the mouse on our computer. I was so impressed at how quickly the little guy mastered that skill, practicing his ABCs with Winnie the Pooh. Levi, now 5, was helping me clean out a closet when we found that old Winnie the Pooh CD. We only have one computer that you can actually insert a CD into and when it came time to play, Levi hadn’t a clue how to operate the mouse. But switch it over to the touch screen and he had it mastered in minutes.

Considering all that’s changed from my oldest to my youngest, it’s no wonder I can’t keep up.

Pulling at the reins

I read the articles and books, I go to all the talks and information meetings offered by church and school to keep myself updated and aware of trends. I’m doing my best to make sure I’m not a parent who comes from the stone ages and is clueless as to what’s going on under their nose. We waited until we felt they were ready and by 16, Caleb had his own phone and at 15, Drew did too. It was a big step, an expensive purchase, one that locks you in for the next 24 months and let’s face it, for the rest of your life!!

But by the time they’ve had a device for a year, it’s out of date and the gift you bestowed on your child bears the scars of being dropped, sat on and heavily used for 365 days. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me so much that they only last a couple years. I’ve already replaced my washing machine three times in 20 years of marriage and I don’t use it every day or even for a good majority of my waking hours. 

We took the advice of the professionals and tried to be proactive rather than reactive. We made rules in advance and tried to avoid the pitfalls that come with giving too much freedom and then having to rein them back in.

We even met with Steve’s brothers and wives and came up with a plan, a “let’s stick together in solidarity and present a united front to our teens” kind of plan. Devices were strictly prohibited in bedrooms, they go in a basket in the kitchen at 8 pm to foster good connection and communication with the family, no devices at the supper table, etc. 

But the lure of that flashy little touch screen connecting them to the world had too great a pull and since all that kumbaya time made them gag, in the end, I was the lone survivor, paddling up a raging river with no one at my back. Flattened again. 

Not that it’s all bad.

I certainly see the merits of those little hand held tracking devices. As long as I can find their phone, I’m sure to find them! I quite like the sense of security it gives me and it works well with our chaotic life as I can simply text them when the schedule changes while flying by the seat of my pants.

I even tried the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” motto but I just can’t seem to give it my all like they can. When supper time came, my mom-guilt kicked in and I was compelled to put it down and head for the kitchen.

The Raging Bull Dog

I may be a little worse for wear after my run-ins with that runaway train and raging river but I’m tenacious.

Just ask Steve.

I’m like a bull dog with something clamped between its teeth, I’m not letting go. I may not be able to, or even want to completely rid my home of those mind-numbing-attention seeking-time sucking-hand-held-gateways to the world but darn it, I’m going to give it all I can to steal back some of their time and attention.

If they think I’m going to go away quietly, they’ve got another thing coming.

If you don’t like the sound of my nagging, feel free to put the phone in the basket at the allotted time (which may or may not have been negotiated to a later hour). If you don’t like me popping into the bathroom while you’re in there, feel free to leave that device on the counter when you head down the hallway. If you don’t like having your iPhone privileges revoked, feel free to keep me in the loop, using it like the responsible, reasonable, respectful young man I know you are. 

Soldier on!

I’ve got three younger boys chomping at the bit to join the ranks of the iPod/smart phone/tablet crazed world. And chances are, Levi will be a whole lot younger than Caleb’s 16 when he enters this world of technology.  That’s okay; my goal isn’t to rid the world of these devices, though sometimes I do wonder if the Amish may have it right.

But while things are changing fast, some things, like the pleasure I get from spending an evening hanging out with my boys, will never change.  And though it feels like I’m the last man standing at the battle of the Alamo, it’s a battle worth fighting and so I will soldier on!

Impact for Life

During spring break, my wife and I went to visit family in Phoenix, Arizona. We saw the Grand Canyon, Sedona and went on some spectacular hikes in the desert. It was a terrific trip.

One of the highlights was a visit to the Kartchner Caverns near Benson. These caves are incredible to see. But they also hold a unique story of stewardship and vision.

The caverns were discovered in 1974 by Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts who followed a narrow crack at the bottom of a sinkhole which had warm, moist air flowing from it. They crawled on their bellies for nearly 6 hours and to their surprise found a huge cavern with exquisite beauty waiting for them at the end. 

Realizing that they had stumbled upon one of the most pristine caves on the planet, they worried that announcing the discovery to the world could bring vandals and careless tourists who might help themselves to stalactites that grow one inch in 750 years.

They kept this amazing discovery a secret for 14 years.

Imagine that!

I have trouble keeping a secret for a week and my secrets are about as significant as a dinner reservations for a Friday night surprise with Debbie.

For more than a decade, the two discoverers made a plan and eventually persuaded Arizona to make the site into what is now the Kartchner Caverns State Park. Upon opening in 1999, over 180,000 people visit each year into a tightly controlled guided tour of a 3 km path system. If you even touch a rock on the path, the guide marks the spot and a team comes back later to sterilize the site.

Most caves on the planet are not pristine because the people who found them didn’t have the ‘long view.’ It takes a very special person to go to the extremes these discoverers went to in order to steward the vision they had for this incredible place.

As we drove away from an inspiring tour, I couldn’t help but think of the vision we continue to steward at ACS.

About 63 years ago, this vision began.

Today, this vision continues to be clear and compelling, even if our structures, spaces and people look a lot different.

We are so fortunate to work in place with so many people who see this work in Christian education as a generational vocation to impact our students for life. 

You Can’t Make Me!

They sat in front of me grimacing. We had been learning how to play band instruments for a few weeks and I just announced it was going to be time for a “check in,” as I call them. I probably could have called the “check in” a marshmallow, or a chocolate bar and they wouldn’t have heard it.

All my students heard was that they would have to “check in” with me in front of their peers. They were not happy.

Calming the crowd

It was like a riot was going to erupt in front of me. The protests started quietly, and then got louder to the point that I needed to explain. “When you play basketball, you dribble the ball in front of others. When you shoot the basketball, you do that in front of others. If the basketball doesn’t make it into the hoop or if the ball gets stolen, your community STILL cheers you on.” This is the same.

Blank faces…angry faces…some tears…I needed to try again.

“How many of you tried walking the first time and stood up and walked without ever falling down?” A few students starting nodding their heads because they understood where I was going with this and only a few bold students raised their hands in attempts to try convince me and others that they had been genius walkers.

I explained that the reality of this is: learning is a progression…some of us walked at 10 months, and some of us at 15 months. Today, generally, we ALL walk. I also explained that despite the time it took us to learn to walk, our parents cheered every time we stumbled and encouraged us to try again.

Band is like this; we are a team and we celebrate learning together.

Fewer angry faces, some nodding, but still…too many mortified frowns and pale faces.

All of a sudden, a line formed in front of me.

“I won’t play in front of others.”

“You can’t make me play in front of others.”

“I’m too scared to play in front of others.” 

This was new…or maybe not so new. Maybe these students were just more articulate and courageous in expressing their fear.   

A fresh look

Fast forward a few hours.

I was on the planning committee for the Sir Ken Robinson Learning Revolution event and one of our sponsors was going to be a company called FreshGrade. During our meeting, they arranged to tell us a little bit more about their product and its capabilities. 

FreshGrade is a digital learning portfolio interface that works similarly to social media, but is a private, secure account linking student, parent and teacher. Students can post pictures of their art work, take videos of themselves reading aloud, comment on their work, ask their parent and teacher for feedback, etc.

Needless to say, that orientation to FreshGrade became my answer to trying to meet my students’ needs and settle their anxieties over playing in front of each other. It also challenged and made me think differently about assessment and the process of learning.

This has been a rich experience for me.

No more frowns and pale faces

While my husband isn’t as happy to listen to 70 versions of the B flat major concert scale while I’m sitting beside him watching hockey, it allows me the ability to not only watch students play for me (from the comfort of their own home as part of their practice routine), it allows me to look back at their progress over the previous months.

I used to have students play for me live, in front of others, while I frantically filled in a rubric. Having to test many students in a short amount of time only allowed me to highlight boxes where I thought their progress fit. FreshGrade gives me the opportunity to provide anecdotal feedback of celebrations and areas of growth.

A “check in” is no longer a number. Instead, I try to give specific feedback that helps students to improve their playing and increase their confidence.

I am excited by the potential of digital portfolios as a form of recording our students’ journey through their learning. This tool allows students to reflect on their journey, have parents be part of the journey, and is an awesome way to get teachers, like myself, to think differently about what and how we assess learning.

I am thankful that my own students’,“You can’t make me,” encouraged me to approach assessment more authentically.

Ice Cream, New Shoes and Two Parks

When the temperature is in the mid to high 30s, the tinkle of the ice cream cart is a great sound.

We were able to enjoy an ice cream sandwich or a fudge bar when the ice cream man showed up at an opportune time during our trip to Nicaragua. Mostly it was the leaders who enjoyed this treat, though, as the students (ACS and Centro de Fe) were too busy playing, working or talking together.

That gave us an idea. What if we treated all the students on the last day together?

Lester made the arrangements and he showed up right on time. It turned out that the amount we budgeted was a few dollars higher than the actual cost. With little hesitation, we handed over the full amount.

The ice cream man accepted it, looked up and said, “Today I can buy new shoes for my daughter.” Tears came to our eyes as we realized how such a small amount to us could make such a big difference for this man and his little girl.

That was a great experience, but ultimately handouts like that do not make a lasting difference—they do not transform lives. The time we spent talking, praying, working and playing together with the Centro de Fe students does; not only theirs, but ours as well.

What a little paint can do

Three years ago, the team led by Scott and Angela Visser, Bethany Bakker and Andrea Korevaar went with the students from Centro de Fe to clean up a neighbourhood park. They painted, cleaned up garbage and did what they could to make the park look a little better.

The following year, I led a team with Alison Williams and we spent a Saturday doing much of the same thing. I will admit, my cynical mind wondered how much difference this could really make. We found hypodermic needles among the garbage (we were very careful), similarly to the problem we have in some parks here. Surely, it would not take long for the parks to return to the condition in which we found them.

While were doing this, however, a couple of men in uniform came to talk to the Executive Director and Principal of Centro de Fe. I sidled over to find out what was going on.

Were we in trouble?

No, but all I really understood was that they made a record of who was doing the cleaning up, including a bunch of Canadians, and why we were doing it. That was interesting, I thought, but didn’t think too much more about it.

That is, until we went back this year.

Those two parks are completely different.

There is green grass on the baseball diamond and throughout the park (even though we were there at the end of the dry season), new bushes, new playground equipment, new bathrooms, everything had a fresh coat of paint and a fence around the park with a security guard at the gate. It was a delight to spend an afternoon playing basketball, volleyball and soccer in this venue.

More importantly, the local community did all the work, providing income to put gallo pinto on the table and to buy new shoes. The staff, students and families of Centro de Fe can see those parks every day and see what a difference they made.

What a wonderful example of shaping God’s world!

Making History Together

Every year that a team from ACS goes to Centro de Fe, we spend the last day together doing a mural. The art teacher helps us incorporate memories and meaningful events from our few days together. The mural from 2014 shows the structure that the team from that year painted in the park.

As I looked at the murals from past years, the memories and stories came flooding back.

I looked at the white panel that would become this year’s mural, anticipating what that last day was going to be like. It struck me that we now have a history together. Everyday, the students from Centro de Fe see those murals and they know that there is a school in Abbotsford, BC, Canada that cares about them. I also know how much that means to them by way of encouragement. I am writing this article in the hopes of helping our ACS community know them and how important they have been in transforming our lives.

I don’t know how long this relationship will continue or how many more times I will be privileged to go with a team. I hope that it continues for many more years and that I get to go again. Read about our entire story of our trip this year on our blog.

Regardless, their story and our story are indelibly part of God’s story. All praise and glory to Him!

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