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Archive for April, 2014

I had a few random, funny and profound things happen in public school today:

1) As I was coming into my second school I overheard the chemistry teacher telling his AP students about very energetic reactions. I came to the door and said, “Like it not, Mr. V, you are going to get a reaction out of me,” to which he replied, “That was spontaneous!” I reiterated, “Yeh, that was totally spontaneous.” The students just stared in stunned silence. I went across the hall and opened up my room and settled in. Meantime, Mr. V was continuing on about changes in energy of these reactions he was describing. I came back in a few minutes to the doorway, pointing to my brain case and said, “Mr. V, I just wanted your students know that since my spontaneous reaction I am much more stable.” Again the students just stared, though two muffled laughter. Later Mr. V reported that as soon as I left the whole class broke out in laughter because they thought that I am crazy. Maybe, but I’m stable.

2) Later in the day as I was teaching, my teacher’s assistant (TA) brought a bellwork paper to me from one of my students. Bellwork is questions that student answer as review for previous day’s learning and hand in at the end of the week. Early in the week this girl had written on the bellwork, “You look nice today.” The next day she wrote, “You are looking good.” By this time I am a little embarrassed, but my TA pointed to one more entry on a bellwork at the end of the week, “I don’t understand this question,” alongside which my TA had written in red ink, “What’s wrong, is my beauty distracting you?” Oh, my goodness, I wonder what kind of reaction I’ll get out of that one? I guess I’ll have to at least explain that I have a TA.

3) The third occurrence which actually happened first is a bit more serious. I have a girl in my first period class who almost daily greets me with a question about how I am feeling. She is frighteningly perceptive about my emotional state, predicting how I feel by the way she asks about it: “Are you frustrated, Mr. F?” “Are you having a good day, Mr. F?” “Are you angry about something?” “Why do you seem so happy?” “What is bothering you?” “Are you sad?” “Things are going real well today, aren’t they?” “Are you tired?” Now I will be the first to admit that my emotions are easy to read- wear them on my sleeve, as the saying goes- but sometimes I try to hide them because I have a job to do, or I don’t want to upset my students, or because I don’t want to talk about it, or sometimes I don’t think they are even showing. She is almost always right or at least leaning in the right direction in her perceptions. It caused me to think about the saying that we should be thermostats rather than thermometers. That is, we should affect the emotional, moral, and intellectual temperature by our attitudes and actions rather than just reflect it by indicating and becoming the temperature of, giving in to, the surroundings. But I thought, thermostats are also thermometers, for if you don’t know what the temperature is, you can not affect it in a positive way for good. You may be heating things up when they should be cooled down, and vise versa. So I decided that this girl has a very notable talent that she probably acquired from a less than comfortable surroundings where she needs to read the temperature to stay out of trouble. If she uses her readings carefully, both in terms of not insisting that she is always right when she may not be and using the information to better her reaction to it rather than copying peer pressures, she may help herself and others move toward more profitable responses. For my part, I have decided to stop being annoyed at the perceptions and use them as checks on both my emotional state and how I am coming across to those I am supposed to be serving. That is humbling and challenging. And I’ve decided to give this girl the nickname, Thelma (“Thermometer Lady”). It almost works; it is a mash up after all.

4) I’m on a roll now, so here is a “foot in mouth disease” story from several weeks ago. My Physics students were discussing problems they had attempted for homework in a whiteboard session. Students collaborate in small groups to write answers to problems on 2′ x 3′ dry erase boards. Then they defend their answer before the rest of the class. Properly facilitated and fully engaged participation on the part of students makes this possibly the most fruitful form of group thinking. One of the groups had a particularly confusing problem for them that had precipitated much heated debated among the three group members. In fact, one of the students had gone so far as to prepare his own whiteboard with an alternative answer. The two other students somewhat disdainfully commented that A had drawn up his own answer. Realizing that A, who is an Asian student, had the right answer and that the whole set up had a teachable moment, I quieted the other students by saying, “Listen up, A has a minority report!” The class went totally silent and African-American Miss S looked totally shocked. I went on about how we should listen to A because sometimes the Minority Report was the correct one and that he should be heard. I could hear S mutter, “But, Mr. F…” My students just stared (or glared?) at me. Now all this while I had been thinking Majority and Minority decisions of the Supreme Court and the minority reports that the fewer justices give when they vehemently disagree with the majority. Suddenly it occurred to me how my students were perceiving what I was saying. I laughed rather uncontrollably for a few moments which further horrified my students until I explained that I had not meant at all what they had heard. We now wait for the “Minority Report” with a chuckle.

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Spring has significantly sprung in our neck of the woods. We may yet have another wintery storm but the bluster is mostly out of that season. Flowers seem particularly profuse this season: carpets of red trillium, bluets, grape hyacinth, and violets. The hardier varieties of Daffodils have already shown their glory. Leaves are sprouting rapidly on the trees.

Neighbor's Redbud

Neighbor’s Redbud

Violets and Grape Hyacinth

Violets and Grape Hyacinth

Violets and Ground Ivy

Violets and Ground Ivy

Variety of Heal All?

Variety of Heal All?

 

As the transformation has occurred, when not out in the yard or woods,  I have been watching from the dining room window as I eat. One sight in the last two weeks has arrested my attention, however, and it is of my own doing. I’ve long wanted fruit trees that produce. I lived for six years across a dirt road from a pear tree that no one cared for or seemed aware of. It would produce a few pears each year that were the old style: hard and sweet- moon glow pears I think. One year just before we moved the spring and summer conspired together with a perfect combination for this old pear tree. It produced so many large pears that it bent over with some of the pears touching the ground. Even more fascinating was the almost total lack of worms or other insects. I ate pears for lunch every day and most usually with yogurt after super. I ate them with my cereal for breakfast. We froze some and I ate them relentlessly. My wife ate her share as well. The tree produced for 3 1/2 months until heavy frost. It was simply amazing. The next year the pear tree produced a few worm eaten pears just like it had in all of my previous notice of it. Soon afterward we moved to our present house. One of the things that drew us to the house we bought was the trees: oak, redbud, catalpa, pitch pine, white ash, chinese chestnut, and two apple trees. I was too busy with house repair and job to prune them the first several years, but I read up on pruning and pruned them later on. I believe that it was the season a year and a half after that they produced some decent sized and number of apples. A fair number were without worm. They are probably what is referred to as cooking apples because they lack much firmness, and much sweetness or tartness desirable in an eating apple. Since then frost has gotten the flowers and worms have rotted the fruit. I sprayed them one year with soap just after the blooms fell off, to no avail. I’m not a pesticide kind of guy and I haven’t figured out the natural ways of preventing apple worms. I have pruned them somewhat since then but finally let them go. My son pruned them heavily last year but they are so tall that you can’t reach half of the apples and those that fall are severely damaged. There is a point to all of this story. I went out to try again this spring and found that the larger tree had several rotten places in the trunk. If there was any possibility of producing apples, it seemed to me, this problem must be dealt with. I cut most of the rot out. Now I sit and look at the sad results of my decisive action.

Ouch!
Ouch!

 I was immediately reminded of two Scripture passages: John 15:1-11 and Luke 13:1-9 Hear a little of each passage:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit… he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”      John 15:1-2, 5-6                   And He began telling this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine, but if not, cut it down.’” Luke 13:6-9

Perhaps it is a parable for my life just now. No, by God’s grace, I do not believe I will be burned up because I belong to Him, but does cut down mean eternally separated or ‘fallen asleep’ as those who were disobedient (I Corinthians 11:30)? I have been severely pruned or cut; difficulties with career, health, loved ones. Has my life been unfruitful and full of rot so that it needed a major pruning? Am I too apt to be content, complacent when I have orders to fulfill? There are other ways to look at the reasons for these trials but I don’t want to be oblivious to the obvious. I certainly feel like this tree looks. And I don’t see it or mean it as complaining. I just want to learn the lessons that are here and serve my Lord better rather than have to recycle remediation. The flowers bloom all around; the sun shines brightly; the soil is warming and wet; the grass is greening. Am I connected and abiding in the vine (trunk and root) so that I may bloom, leaf, and bear fruit. I want to be a fruit tree that produces. I want to be pruned, not cut down.

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