Meditations on Middle School – One Teacher’s Tale

Meditations on Middle School – One Teacher’s Tale

(The following post is a guest post from Nicole Henry, True North Homeschool Academy Junior High teacher.)

I cut my teaching teeth at a private, Christian school in inner-city Chicago.

I found the job posting on a lunch-hour visit to my alma mater, Moody Bible Institute, which happened to be just down the street from the receptionist job I was working at an architectural firm to put my husband through his last semester of undergrad. I hated that job, which was why I found myself staring at the “Teachers Wanted” flyer stabbed haphazardly into the tack-chewed bulletin board.

“Huh,” I thought to myself, “I could do that! I mean, how hard could it be?

Anything is better than being chained to a desk answering phones all day.” I had a theology degree. I had taken the one required class on Philosophy of Christian Education to graduate. True, I had slept through most of it, tucked comfortably away in the back corner of the lecture hall, but I’d passed, so that’s all that mattered, right?

My husband and I were very newly married and living in a cute little apartment in Wrigleyville at the time. He would happily bike to class and I would despairingly trudge to the “El” and sleep-sway with the rest of the commuters to our various low-end jobs. After getting to work the day after seeing the job posting, I took a minute and found the school’s location on the giant map of Chicago that had pins on it wherever the firm’s projects were located. There were no pins even close to it.

“Hey,” I asked the nearest architect squinting into his computer screen, “What’s this area like?” He got up and squinted at the map. “That’s the ghetto. Don’t go there.” While I studied the area, he sat back down without another word. I called the school that afternoon.

“Do you have a teaching degree and any teaching experience?” was, of course, the first question the principal asked.

“Uh, well, no. I mean, I’ve taught some Sunday school classes, but not much else.”

“How do you get along with Jr. High kids? We need an 8th-grade homeroom teacher, who can also teach 6th and 7th grade literature, and maybe some history.”

I couldn’t remember the last time I had even been in the same room with a Jr. High kid.

I had no idea how I “got along with them” and I was a theology geek, not a literature and history geek, though I did love to read science fiction and fantasy.

“Oh, yes! I’m sure I could do that!” I said.

“Great! When can you come in for an interview?”

I met the principal the next day after work. I took the “El” to the ghetto and prayed for protection. I didn’t die, which is always a good thing.

She hired me after 30 minutes.

“Ok, so you’ll be teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade literature, 8th-grade American History, and 7th and 8th grade Bible. Ok?”

“American History?” I questioned.

“Yes, are you ok with that?” she asked.

“Well, I should remind you that I’m Canadian,” I said.

“Yes, but you said you had a work permit, correct?”

“Yes, I have a work permit, but I don’t know anything about American History,” I said.

“You will by the end of the year! Here’s the textbook!” she said cheerily as she handed it to me. “Oh, so just so you know, the salary is $14,000 per year and, unfortunately, we don’t offer any benefits. Is that ok with you?”

Apparently, it was, because before I knew it, I had given notice at the architectural firm, it was Back to School night, and I was throwing up in the bathroom because I was going to be meeting parents whose kids were only six years younger than I was. Parents who were expecting the 8th-grade teacher to prepare their kids for high school. Parents who were trusting me.

Only by God’s extraordinary grace (and, I’m convinced, His sense of humor), I pulled it off.

The night ended, and they were all still going to send their kids to school the next day. I think about it now, 25 years later, and it still amazes me. I didn’t know then that those parents were desperate. That some of those homes were so ravaged by drugs and gangs and death that the school stood like a beacon of hope and light in the chaos, and the teachers there, who were willing to work for a pittance with no benefits, were like saviors come to give life to their children. They would have taken anyone with a pulse.

From Day 1, it was crazy.

The kids were slouchy, grumpy, jaded, and hurting. I was a know-nothing white girl, just another teacher using the school as a stepping stone to better things – I’d be gone before they could blink.

“Miss Henry, you can’t wear those colors to school! You’re gonna get shot!” We had moved to the ghetto to be closer to the school. We were in the “neutral” territory between two gangs. I’ve never worn black with green again.

“Miss Henry, I didn’t get my homework done because the cops showed up at my house last night.”

“Miss Henry, I don’t know where that porn magazine come from, I swear!”

“Miss Henry, why we gotta learn Shakespeare? He’s dead! Dead! Dead! Dead! Dead!”

“Miss Henry, how come we don’t read nothin’ about Puerto Rico in this book? We’s a territory, right?”

“Miss Henry, try this chicken adobo. My abuela made it. It’s amazing!”

“Miss Henry, does God harden my heart like he hardened Pharaoh’s?”

“Miss Henry, what does it mean to ‘die to self’? That just sounds weird.”

“Miss Henry, you really gonna take us to DC? I ain’t even been to downtown Chicago!”

“Miss Henry, my brother got shot last night.”

“Miss Henry, my brother died.”

“Miss Henry, will you come to my brother’s funeral?”

I can’t count the number of times my heart broke for, and with those kids. But on the flip side, I can’t count the number of times I laughed with them, questioned with them (remember, I was only six years older than they were), and, surprisingly, ate with them – Puerto Ricans make delicious food!

It was never about what I was teaching them, although of course, that was important, it was about what God was teaching me, through them. That to teach most effectively, one must love the students and be invested in their souls.

Yes, I learned how to make lesson plans, and scope and sequences, and subject goals. I even found that I have a talent for writing curriculum that I still use today. I also learned to love American History – all history in fact – and classic literature. But when I left Chicago to teach 4th and 5th grade at an affluent classical school outside the Beltway in Washington, DC, I left part of me behind. Those Jr. High kids, with their ubiquitous snark and silliness, and unending questions, as well as their increasing cynicism and sadness, quickly found a tender spot in my heart that I didn’t even know was there.

It’s been many years since I first walked into that 8th-grade classroom, and many, many students have sat with me and learned, but those kids have never left my mind.

Some of them have been lost to me, swallowed up by the ravenous pit that is inner-city life, but some have sought me out on social media and we have connected again in a new way, though they insist they must still call me “Miss Henry”. Now their children are in school. Now they are meeting the terrified teacher on Back to School Night. Some of them even chose to be teachers. I’d like to hope that I had a small role to play in that decision.

Want to know more about Nicole Henry or maybe even sign-up for some of the courses that she pours her heart and soul into?  Visit the True North Homeschool Academy blog today for more information!

Nicole Henry

Nicole Henry is the Executive Director of Invictus Classical Press, a start-up company whose mission is to create unique classical curriculum for use by private schools and homeschools. Nicole’s first passion is teaching the Bible, which dovetails nicely with her love of history, geography, art, and literature – she’s a humanities girl through and through!

When she’s not writing curriculum, homeschooling, running (or attempting to), and trying to keep her four kids fed, she can be found merrily reading through various books, listening to podcasts about all kinds of things, and teaching herself to draw. Nicole will be teaching 7th and 8th-grade History and 7th and 8th grade Bible this year at True North Homeschool Academy.

Curious about the True North Academy teachers? Check out this guest post from Nicole Henry, one of our new junior high teachers! #TrueNorthHomeschoolAcademy #JrHigh #onlinehomeschool #MiddleSchool

Dreaming Englishmen and Treason

Dreaming Englishmen and Treason

Our Founding Father’s were dreaming Englishmen who committed treason. Their dream was about about a place that allowed freedom of idea, thought and expression. It was about a place where the common man could forge his or her own destiny. They believed in the hope of that dream so much they were willing to commit treason against their fatherland, family and friends.

We are political watchers in our house and we are grieved by the denegration of that dream and the easy disposal of the liberties we’ve been afforded as Americans. It’s as if because the reality isn’t a picture perfect version of the dream, the immense good that people HAVE in America should be completely thrown away.

Dreaming Englishmen and Treason

We read the Declaration of Independence on July 4. It used to be what towns and cities gathered for. To read, hear and remember. To appreciate that the liberties we experience as commoners in America are hard fought or non-existent in many places through time, history and our current landscape.

So we read, we listen, we remember. We thank God for men and women who were bold enough to be treasonous in the face of corruption and elitism, for those who dreamed of a land where we could pursue life, liberty and happiness, and that they were willing to lay down their fortunes, families and lives for this cause.

Dreaming Englishmen & Treason

It’s not a perfect place. It is not utopia. We have a long history of not living the dream for others we want so dearly for ourselves. But, in my long and involved study of history, I can still say that America is beautiful, that it is the beautifully flawed and beautifully imperfect land of the free and home of the brave. I am grateful to be an American, grateful to still hope in a dream, however imperfectly executed, that still inspires people around the globe to want to live here.

To fully understand what America is all about; dreams, flaws and all check out Humanities: U.S. Foundations– a 2 1/2 credit course including American History, American Literature and Fine Arts, taught by Cindy Brumbarger as well as Government and Economics, taught by Jeff Burdick.

 

People of the Book

People of the Book

People of the Book

As Christians, we are people of the Book (people of the Book are adherents of Abrahamic religions that pre-date Islam). This morning in church our pastor led us in a powerful call to worship where we proclaimed ourselves to be People of the Book, people of the Word, people bound to the person of Truth, Jesus Christ. It was sweet to stand among fellow believers, Bibles raised, and proclaim our faith together.

Having just come off of two back-to-back conferences, where I’ve done nothing but breathe, sleep and think education, specifically classical, I had an epiphany.

The Power of Memory Work

When we memorize something, we are writing on the book of our minds and hearts. Last week, my son memorized and delivered 9 minutes of Patrick Henry’s speech, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.” I unabashedly chose the speech for him. I wanted him to own the beauty of Patrick Henry’s words, the profound theology, the courage and faith, of a man who was willing to lose everything for an idea, a hope, a dream… freedom.

He could have read the speech and enjoyed it and left it at that. But memorizing the speech and reciting it to an audience wrote the words on his heart, they are now part of the book of his life. He owns them forevermore.

Part of the sad state of our culture is due to the fact that we overview and use google-fu instead of memorize. We don’t take the time to intellectually own facts, scripture, speeches, plays or sermons through memory work. It’s like we’ve raised an entire generation of people who walk around with books full of blank pages. As a society we have lost the value of working memory. Working memory is the part of the memory responsible for holding and processing new information. In order to gain and process new information easily and well, we need a good working memory and the way we develop this is through memorization.

People of the Word- People of the Book

We are called to be People of the Word, and so we must never under-estimate the value of Words. We are also People of the Book. Do yourself, and your kids, a favor and write great words, awe-inspiring, profound words, in their hearts and minds- memorize- and encourage them to write a book worthy of being read!

If you don’t have any of your own great words yet, borrow some. Great men and women are always willing to share.

You might also like Humanities- U.S. Foundations as well as Western Civilization II.

Education: Power tool of Character & Virtue

Education: Power tool of Character & Virtue

Scalia Speaks

I hadn’t known the late justice Antonin Scalia was an advocate of education until the cover of the recently released Scalia Speaks caught my eye at a local bookstore. Just a few moments with the book revealed his thoughts on the deterioration of American schools, the sinking standards of higher education, and the need for learning based on scripture and civic responsibility. Drawing on his experiences in law school, on the bench, and with the younger generations he mentors, he warned urgently against following the veering moral compass of our nation.

Scalia drew his opinions extensively from the words and writings of the earliest Americans, challenging me to examine my parent’s motivations in their decision to teach me at home. Each phrase directed me to the firm understanding that knowledge was worthless unless grounded in faith and virtue. An excerpt from Noah Webster’s On the Education of Youth in America impressed me so deeply that I pondered the meaning through the rest of the day. “The virtues of men are of more consequence to society than their abilities; and for this reason, the heart should be cultivated with more assiduity than the head.”

On the Education of Youth in America

I later found a copy of Webster’s entire essay, where he outlined the subjects he believed a child must be taught in school. He emphasized a rigorous study of law, history, and ethics, seeing these studies as not merely the acquisition of knowledge, but of virtue and character.  Along with Scalia, he believed schools should place a higher importance on forming a strong character than a brilliant scholar. Furthermore, Webster did not suggest teaching these subjects to produce a successful career. He believed instead in forming citizens qualified to take their place in governing society.

Character Formation

The message resonated with me as I recalled my parents, who valued the formation of their children’s character first and foremost, guiding their decision to raise a homeschool family. They believed in education as the transmission of Christian virtues and culture to their children, and saw home education as a powerful tool in achieving this goal.

Technology, Skills, Character

In our technology driven world, a person’s knowledge and skills are incredibly important. Yet it is character that determines how those skills are put to use. A child’s moral grounding will provide the rudder to steer through career development, civic duties, and family life. My parents were confident that they could give adequate instruction in the practical skills of learning, and that they would also be in a better position to court the developing hopes, dreams, and character of their children.

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good: and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth that which is evil. For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.~ Luke 6:45

Sarah Frederes is a homeschool graduate and a Dakota Corps Scholarship recipient, which allowed her to attend and graduate from college debt free with a Summa Cum Laude and a BSN. She is the oldest of eleven children and has a love and passion for music, parrots, writing, gardening and photography. You can find more of her writing and lovely photography on her personal blog All That is Gold 
Teaching History In Your Homeschool

Teaching History In Your Homeschool

I often hear people say that they think history is boring or their kids can’t stand it because it’s dry and irrelevant. After years of teaching history, I am convinced that people often don’t like a subject because of a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of the material. In this post, I want to give you some tips and pointers about how to teach, and enjoy history!

Teaching History with Timelines

One of the most fundamental things you can do while teaching history to develop an appreciation of the importance of history is to create a timeline. There are many ways to do this- in notebooks, on the wall, even by creating a foldable file folder. It can be as simple as drawing a horizontal line across your area and then using tick marks vertically by centuries.

When a historical date, person, or event comes up, write them in where. You can use colored pencils or pens to show an event versus a person, print off small pictures, buy beautiful timeline cards, or create your own. We’ve memorized timeline cards from both Veritas Press and Classical Conversations. They are slightly different and don’t include everything, of course.  They each have 180 cards in their complete decks.

I will admit that the first 180 events and people are challenging to nail down. But once you do, you have a great framework to build on, and the next 180 people and events are much easier to memorize.  Before you know it, you’ll have hundreds of people, places, and events memorized. This memorization is a simple but profound thing because they have an immediate recall when conversing about ancient, medieval history.  For more information, check out this article on how and why to memorize a timeline.

Teaching History with Programs

Choose an engaging history program. We have loved Story of the World, have read the books and listened to the CD’s countless times and have moved on to the History of the World series, all by Susan Wise Bauer. She is a consummate historian and brings in information from around the world. My son’s understanding of the Old Testament blossomed after he read Bauer’s History of the Ancient World (though it is high school level material and not for the faint at heart).

We’ve also loved the Famous Men series by Memoria Press, History of Mystery, Beautiful Feet, various literature units and have read hundreds of historical fiction books.  You can find some fantastic history reads through Bethlehem Books, books by G.H.Henty, Veritas Press, and Sunlight catalogs.

Civics, understanding the constitution, a CLEP prep course from True North Homeschool Academy

Teaching History with Magazines

Find some good magazines that you enjoy that will bring history to your home in bite-sized pieces every month. Some magazines that we have subscribed to regularly include:   Biblical Archeology Review (from a secular perspective, but very scholarly and thoughtful discussion) and Artifax (Christian point of view) as well as National Geographic, which we intermittently subscribe too, but we have many, many old copies. Both BAR and Artifax deal with biblical research and archeology, bringing Biblical (and by association Ancient history) research to life in a real, scholarly and exciting way.

Teaching History with Websites

Check out websites that allow you to see what’s happening now in the field of history. Eliat Mezer, in Israel, is doing some ground-breaking (literally) work in Israel, as she unearths Kind David’s temple. If you want to learn about history, and the story of Judaism and Christianity as well, follow her blog. She is an interesting woman who uses the Old Testament to inform her professional life as an archeologist!

Teaching Church History

Speaking of church history (because the point of all history is Truth), Memoria Press’s church history programs for high school are not to be missed. We’ve used their high school program for our Morning Basket time (c’mon, even teens love gathering together to read, discuss and learn!) and we’ve had to really discipline ourselves time-wise or we’ll just spend the day reading, talking, looking up sites on maps and discussing this fascinating, close to our heart subject!

Teaching History with Hands-On Activities

Don’t forget about narration, recitation, and theatrical performance to cement history. Our kids have done numerous historical re-enactments, readings and full-blown plays over from everything from George Washington to Shakespeare. Memorizing information causes you to think deeply about the information and once learned, the person owns those words and ideas. Memorizing is highly overlooked and a teaching tool that I cannot say enough great things about.

True North Homeschool Academy Live on-line History Classes!

You might have noticed by now, but history is significant to our family, and we invest time in learning it. That’s why I am super excited to share our fantastic history courses with you! For spring 2019 check out our brand new Civics course!

Do you struggle with teaching history in your homeschool? Check out these great tips from a homeschool veteran. Turn history time around in your homeschool! #homeschooling #homeschool #homeschoolhistory #TrueNorthHomeschoolAcademy #teachinghistory #handsonlearning

 

Pin It on Pinterest