Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why I Teach...

The last day of school in May was a bit emotional for me.  It was the end of my third year teaching, and it was the end of our school's third year of existence.  Thus, my 6th grade babies were graduating and moving on to high school.

I think that no matter the school or the students, a teacher's first class will always be special to him or her, and I am no exception.  I loved those classes.  They challenged me, they taught me, they laughed with me (and at me), and I delighted in them.  I still delight in them.  Nothing makes my day more than when a former student comes down to my room to say hello or to have a chat.  Or when I get a "thinking-of-you" e-mail, out of the blue.  I just love my job so much, and it humbles me whenever a thoughtful student takes time out of his or her day to re-connect with me, even if just for a short time.

At the very end of the school day, one of my favorite students came down for a visit.  We talked for a while, and even this student, who is normally quite vocal, was at a loss for words.  As the final bell dismissed students to go home for the summer, I was handed a note and was instructed not to read it until after its author was far out of my sight.  I obliged.

Normally, I wouldn't post something like this, but I'm going to for two reasons:

1.  I'm so incredibly proud of this young student, not only for how well she articulated her thoughts, but also for how well she has processed her journey.

2.  I know that the tough days I spent with this young student will happen time and time again with other students.  I want this sweet letter to be a constant reminder to me of just how worthwhile it is to never, ever, give up on a child.


Ms. Diehl.

Over the past three years you have been influential in my life, and for that I want to thank you.  You have taught me more in such a short amount of time than others have my whole life.  You've taught me that I have a voice and it deserves to be heard, but the only way anyone is going to listen is by controlling myself.  You taught me to push myself and to thrive through adversity.  You remind me that I've made progress, no matter how bad of a day I'm having.

I want to thank you for going above and beyond what you needed to in order to make your students succeed.  When I think of a great teacher, I think of someone who not only sufficiently teaches you what is required, but also how to be a good human being and who teaches you to fight for the things that you love.

Therefore, you are the best teacher I've ever had.  When I entered your classroom for he first time, I was only a child, so over the years you have watched me grow literally and metaphorically from a child into an adult, and this change would have never occurred if I hadn't had people like you in my life.

Thank You,


This letter left me speechless and in tears on that day, and will probably leave me speechless and in tears every time I read it.  What a blessing it is to be a teacher!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Breathing a Sigh of Relief

A couple months ago, 30 minutes before the start of parent-teacher conferences, my principal asked me to come to her office.

This invitation is no less intimidating as a staff member than it was as a student.

As I walked down the hall, I began racking my brain about what I might have said or done to make a parent call in about me, but I couldn't come up with anything.

She shared with me that due to a combination of budget cuts and changes in enrollment, our 6th grade team has to cut two teachers for next year.  My team leader is retiring, so that was one easy "cut," but the next one wasn't going to be so easy.  All teachers in 6th grade at my school are certified to teach grades K-6.  Except for me.  I'm certified to teach grades 4-9.  And it just so happens that the 7-8 Reading Intervention teacher is also retiring, so, as my principal informed me, if I would be willing to take that job, all other teachers in 6th grade could stay at my school.  If I decided to keep my job in 6th grade, my dear friend and neighbor teacher, Elise, would get surplussed to who-knows-where, teaching who-knows-what.

My heart sank, and I got that awful pit-in-your-stomach feeling that doesn't go away.  For weeks.

In my heart, I knew that I had to take the position upstairs... I couldn't bear the thought of Elise getting shipped off to another school.  I fully intended to tell my principal on the following Monday morning that I would take the job, and my plan was to not ever tell Elise about what had happened.  I didn't want her to feel, in any way, that she owed me anything or that I had done her any favors. 

Due to circumstances that I'm not going to discuss, Elise found out about the decision I had to make and wanted to come talk to me about it.  For more than three hours, we talked and cried and prayed and cried and weighed pros and cons and cried some more.  She couldn't have been more wonderful about the whole situation, and was very adamant that I make the choice that was best for me.

All weekend, I weighed my choices and prayed a bunch, and I kept coming back to the fact that if I stayed put, Elise would have to go.  And that idea just didn't sit well with me.

So, on Monday morning, I e-mailed my principal and told her that I would take the 7/8 job.  Although I wasn't thrilled about it, and I still felt sick at my stomach every time I thought about leaving the team that I love so much, I felt confident that I had made the decision that was best for everyone.

Throughout the next several weeks, my prayer - our prayer - was that something would happen that would allow me to stay.  Maybe another teacher would get another job or maybe our enrollment would miraculously go up.  We just kept hoping for something - anything - to happen.


Last Thursday, Elise asked me how I was doing with everything.  I told her that I had come to terms with everything and that I knew that God had a plan for me - for us - and that I trusted in it.  I was actually starting to get excited about the new curriculum and that chance to really make an impact for kids who really struggle with reading.  I told her that the optimist in me kept hoping that something would change, but the realist in me was ready to start packing up my classroom into boxes to prepare for my move.  I just didn't want to put off that daunting task until the last day of school.

On Friday, just one short day after I was ready to start packing, we got an e-mail from one of my co-workers saying. that she had accepted another teaching job across town. 

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I think I did both.

I am so sad to lose this co-worker, as she has been such an amazing teammate over the past three years.  But, selfishly, I am so thankful that this means that I get to keep my job, the curriculum that I know so well, and the team that I absolutely adore.

God is so good.

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."
-Matthew 7:7

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Happy Hunger Games!

During my first year of teaching, one of my very favorite students introduced me to a book he was reading.  I assured him - as I always assure students who recommend a book to me - that I would add it to my "to-read" list.

That "to-read" list does exist, but at the rate it is growing, I'm not likely to ever finish it.

But as I watched him as he read it, and as I watched as he convinced his friends to read it, I became increasingly interested.  My co-workers and I went on a trip to Texas, so I purchased the book from Wal-Mart for the plane ride.

Maybe you've heard of it?

It just so happened that I wasn't able to sit near my co-workers on the flight (dang it, Southwest and their unassigned seats), but I didn't even care as soon as I started reading that book.

Oh my goodness, it was good!

Our trip went on, and I was able to put the book down, but as soon as we were back on the plane, I was reading again.  And on the drive from Kansas City back to Lincoln, I read again.  And when I got back home, I had to read until I finished.

I love a good page-turner, and I hadn't read one like this in a long time!

After I read it and the two other books in the trilogy (after having to wait several months for the release of Mockingjay), I began converting my friends.  I was rather successful, if I do say so myself, and I loved finally having people over the age of 12 with whom I could discuss the books!

When I found out it was being made into a movie, it was even easier to get people to read the books.  "You have to read the book before you see the movie," is a statement that is hard to argue with.  Each day, my students and I would check the cast list to see if anyone new had been added and to express our excitement or disdain for the actors who had been cast.

The movie was released at midnight on Friday, and I had been planning to attend for months.  In fact, on the first day of school this year, I told my students that my current favorite book was The Hunger Games, and I informed them that I would not be coming to school on March 23rd because I was taking the day off to go see the midnight premiere.

I am a woman of my word.

I went with two friends from church and two friends from NASC.  My church friends thought to dress up as tributes.  I'm jealous I did not plan in advance to do the same.


Kelli's boyfriend gifted her a Hunger Games t-shirt, of which I am also jealous.

We met for dinner, and my friend Grace came prepared with printouts of Hunger Games-inspired drink recipes.  Our poor waitress and bar tender must have been so frustrated with our outlandish requests, but they were able to create everything we asked of them.

Grace also made us District 12 cookies, which were delicious!

It was a little cold and rainy outside, so we stayed inside as long as possible.  We passed the time by reading the Hunger Games issue of People and discussing our concerns and predictions for what the movie would be like.

At 9:30, we decided to head to the theater, as we found out that the line was already wrapping around the block.  It ended up being perfect timing because just as we got in line, the theater was starting to let people inside to form lines there.

It was already past Grace's preferred bed time, bless her heart.

We passed the time by playing cards and eating snacks.  In no time, we were allowed in the theater, and we had no problems finding seats.

Oh, that movie was so good!  Maybe not quite as good as the book - no movie ever is - but, it was pretty closely correlated, and it was very well-done.

The movie is violent.  It's kids fighting to the death, for goodness sake, which is not normally something that would interest me even for a minute.  But I thought that the movie was a good portrayal of the survival storyline, rather than the storyline of death, and the killing scenes that were in the movie were tastefully done.  My words don't do it justice, so you'll just have to read the book and see the movie for yourself.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Viva Las Vegas!

I have always been pretty vocal about the fact that I am the kind of person who could go her whole life without ever going to Vegas and be perfectly fine.  I'm not big on either drinking or gambling, so I didn't really see the point in going.

But when two of my co-workers proposed a quick trip over Spring Break, I found it impossible to say no.  Not because it was Vegas, but because it was a chance to get away.  And by the time Spring Break rolls around, I feel the itch to go somewhere, just for a bit.

And so, we headed for Vegas!

We got checked into our hotel, The Palms, and the first thing we did was take a nap.  I wish I was lying, but that actually happened.  We were exhausted.

We eventually woke up and got ourselves ready to go out.

We gambled for a bit before heading to Cirque de Solei.

Pretty amazing show.

A show that was not very amazing was the show at Treasure Island that we watched after we left the Cirque de Solei theater.  Very cheesy.

After that, we went back to our hotel.  I was in bed by midnight.  Yes, I am a party animal.

The next morning, we slept in a bit, then got up to walk the Strip and to go shopping

First, we watched people getting married on the ship at Treasure Island.  Not exactly the most classy of occasions, but whatever works for the couple, I suppose!

There is so much to see along the Strip!

There are also, well, some interesting people to watch along the Strip...

After walking and shopping and walking some more, we decided to go lay out by our hotel's pool.  Unfortunately, we returned to a hotel that was being transformed in preparation for MTV filming their Spring Break.

So, instead, we took a nap.  A really long nap.  Are you sensing a theme of this trip?

Then, we got up to get ready to go out again.  Our plan was to go back to the Strip to see the water show at the Bellagio and to then go to the old downtown - Fremont Street.  The Strip looks completely different at night!

The water show was awesome!  The bus ride to Fremont Street was not.  Somebody threw up on our bus, so we had to evacuate it, wait on the sidewalk for what seemed like hours, and then get on a later bus.  It ended up being a ridiculously long process, but we did make it!

By this time in our trip, I had gambled away all of $6.00.  Yes, I am quite the high roller.  In this building, I sat down at yet another penny slot machine and watched my twenty dollar bill waste away, one penny at a time.

To spice things up a bit, I hit a button that said "MAX BET," and crazy things happened.  Yin Yangs and pandas all lined up in the best kind of way, and I ended up winning 176 free games!

So, I sat back and watched as the video machine played for me 176 times.  Although boring, I will not complain about leaving $86 whole dollars richer than when I walked in.

And on that note, my Vegas gambling was finished.  I just couldn't wrap my head around throwing money away and having nothing to show for it.  Also, Courtney randomly developed hives while this whole free game thing was happening, so we had to leave to go get that taken care of.

And that was pretty much our trip!  We went to bed, woke up, and got on a plane.  It is worth noting that one of the first people we saw once we left the Omaha airport to head back home to Lincoln was this guy:

Good ol' Nebraska.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Word About the Seating Chart

Dear Students,

It's time, once again, to change seats!  I know how much you all look forward to this day, and I know how important, albeit temporary, this arrangement will be for you.  Actually, I know quite a bit about more about making the seating chart than you think I do.

Trust me.  I know who your best friends are, and I know that in a perfect world, you would get to sit next to them every single day in every single class.  And, even though you turn on your powers of persuasion every time, you know that I will simply not allow for that to happen.  It's not that I have anything against you or your best friend.  Really, I like you both.  But, as your teacher, I know better. 

First of all, you and I both know that if you sat next to each other, you would get little else done besides talk or whisper or giggle or pass notes or make paper airplanes.  And, truthfully, I could tolerate all of those things on a good day.  What I can not and will not tolerate, however, is you growing up believing that the only people with whom you're able to work and get along are the people who are just like you.

You see, the real world isn't all that different than your middle school world.  (Actually, it is different.   And it's much better.  But stay with me here.)  Even in the workplace, there are equivalents of the bully, the smelly kid, the teacher's pet, the lazy kid, the kid who dresses weirdly, the outspoken kid, and the overly emotional kid.  They might be your bosses, they might be your co-workers, or they might be your clientele.  And even in the workplace, we are expected to politely tolerate these kinds of people. At work, however, if we choose not to get along with those with whom we work, our consequences are significantly more severe than what yours would be. 

Hear me clearly on this.  If you end up sitting next to one of those kids who struggles in one way or another (with academics, with social skills, with emotions, with behavior, or with hygeine), you should take it as a compliment.  I know, I know... it's hard for you to see it that way.  But truly, I have put you in that spot for a very specific reason.  It is because I think so highly of you that out of all the students in the class, you are the one who is best equipped to manage that less-than-ideal situation.  And, rest assured, we will be changing seats again in a few weeks, at which time I'll be giving you a "break" so to speak.  I promise.

So, next time we change seats and you don't like where you sit, please don't accuse me of not caring about you.  And certainly, don't do anything at all to make your new neighbor feel in any way embarrassed, excluded, or inferior.  Instead, remember this:  I care about you so much that I want to sit you in the best possible spot to help you learn.  I want to do everything I can to set you up for success in a location that will allow you to focus 100 percent on the task-at-hand.  And more than that, I care about your future.  I care so much that I will do everything in my power to give you exposure to as many different kinds of people as possible.  Because in the real world, your ability to empathize, tolerate, communicate, cooperate, collaborate, problem-solve, and manage conflict will likely consume more of your time than anything else.

With that, I hope you'll embrace this seating chart and make the most of the opportunity that you have before you.  Get to know your neighbor, offer your help when you can, take a deep breath when you need to, and ask me for help if you need it.  I believe in you, and I know you can make this work!

All my best,
Ms. Diehl

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Black Thursday/Friday 2011

Last year, I had a positive experience with Black Friday.  I had lots of people to buy for, so I spent hours scouring the ads from the newspaper and planning my route.

This year, many things were different for me.  My family and friends have decided to celebrate the Christmas season without over-doing the gift-giving. 

{sigh of relief}

I learned in a study we're doing at church that approximately 66% percent of Americans dread the Christmas season more than they look forward to it.  As sad as it is, I can totally understand why.  I spend a lot of time stressing about what gifts to give people, how much to spend, sending out holiday cards, planning to travel... the list goes on and on.  Also, I get a bit sad around Christmas when I think about all the kids and families who are without.  Not necessarily without presents, but without a home, a job, a sense of security, or even without love.

So, my friends and co-workers decided to spend time with each other and go out to dinner rather than buy each other presents, and my family decided to stick with minimal gift-giving.  We've elected to stop buying for extended family (aunts, uncles, and cousins), as in recent years, it has been a simple exchange of gift cards.  We are simply at the point where we don't really need anything other than to spend time with each other.

Regardless, my mom and I went out on Thanksgiving night to pick up a few things and because it has become a tradition to roam among "the crazies."

This year, businesses opened earlier than ever before.  Toys R Us opened their doors at 9:00, Wal-Mart opened at 10 (but staggered their sales based on the type of product) , Kohl's, Shopko, Target, Old Navy, and numerous stores at the mall opened at midnight, and there were a few that held out until 4:00 on actual Black Friday.

In my city, there are three Wal-Marts, so my mom and I randomly chose one at which to begin. We had a plan.  I was going to drop her off at the door while I found a parking spot.  She was going to grab the few things she needed, and in the mean time, I was going to go stand in line.  By the time she would finish grabbing her items, she would join me in line, and we would be that much closer to the checkout.

So, I dropped her off at the door as planned and began looking for my parking spot.  Before I could even get into the store, my mom called me and said, "Come pick me up... we're getting out of here."  I didn't question her, and headed back toward the main entrance.  When she joined me in the car, she commented about how once she got in there, she wasn't able to even turn around.  She said that Wal-Mart had such limited quantities of some of their sale items that people were stopping at nothing to get their items-of-choice.  By the time she was able to maneuver to the palettes containing the items she wanted, they were all gone.  After attempts at only two items, she tried to get out of the store but was literally stuck in between shopping carts, unable to move.  She said she'd never experienced anything like it.

Understanding that such behavior is part of the experience, we headed to a different Wal-Mart to see if, by chance, they had our desired items left.  They did, but we then waited in line for nearly an hour.  The people in front of us decided to also do their personal grocery shopping, so we had to wait longer than people in other lines, as their transaction was quite lengthy.

After Wal-Mart, we drove by Kohl's, saw that the line was around the store, and kept on driving.  My mom wanted some boots that were in the Younkers ad, so we headed for the mall.  Younkers has an upper entrance and a lower entrance, and we elected for the upper entrance, thinking that fewer people would know about it.  The line was, indeed, shorter, but the doors to the lower entrance were mistakenly opened a few minutes early.  We were able to get the boots she wanted, but had to wait in line for nearly an hour and a half to check out.

While she waited in line, I went to other stores in the mall where lines were much shorter.  After she checked out, we headed back to Kohl's.  By the time we got there, it was after 1:30, and we thought that by that time, people would've had the chance to get what they wanted and check out.  Not the case.  We got there to find out that the lines were from the front of the store to the back of the store, and after asking people how fast the line was moving (and finding out that it was taking quite a while), we decided to head home and go back later.

We eventually decided that the rest of the items we were interested in would likely not sell out, so my mom decided to go back shopping later in the morning while my brother and I went to the Husker game.

And so, my Black Thursday/Friday experience came to a close.  We spent a record low amount of money and felt like we purchased everything we wanted and needed.  It felt good.

While waiting in check-out lines and observing the "crazies," I made a mental list of things all people should do (or not do) when shopping on Black Thursday/Friday:

1.  Stick to 10 items or fewer.  On Black Thursday/Friday, I think it is wise to focus only on a few items.  Otherwise, you may become frustrated when, by the time you've located all your desired items, you find that they are sold out.  Prioritize the things you most need or want.

2. Do NOT use a cart.  Carts make stores incredibly congested, and it makes it difficult to maneuver through the herds of people.  By carrying items in your arms, you are more easily able to maneuver through the aisles without constantly having to say "Excuse me," or having to apologize for running into people.

3.  Only buy what is on sale.  Black Thursday/Friday is not the time to do all of your shopping.  It takes too long and makes people in line behind you have to wait even longer.  Come back later for the things that aren't on sale; for now, stick to what's going to save you money.

4.  Make buying decisions ahead of time.  Black Friday is not the time to browse.  Nor is it the time to call your loved one at home asking how many they want or if they agree that it is a necessary purchase.  While you're doing these things, you're in the way of others who are trying to get the things they've already decided they want.

5.  Do NOT attempt to grocery shop during Black Thursday/Friday hours:  This one goes along with numbers 1, 2, and 3.  Not only will you have to wait an unreasonable amount of time to get through the line, but everyone behind you in line will hate you.  Plan ahead, people.

6.  Stay off the phone.  On Black Thursday/Friday, I equate talking/texting while shopping to talking/texting while driving.  You will be distracted and are likely to run into someone.  Save the conversations for while you are idly waiting in the checkout line.

7.  Do NOT wear stilettos.   People.  This is the busiest shopping day of the year.  You are going to be on your feet constantly, and you will want shoes that are comfortable.  I will not feel sorry for you when you decide to take off your heels only to discover how sticky and disgusting those retail store floors actually are.

8.  Leave the kids at home.  First and foremost, they should be at home in bed.  They have to go to school on Monday, and I will have to teach them.  I don't want to spend my Monday picking your kid's head up off their desk.  Also, I don't want to witness the 3am feeding as you wait in line.  I don't want to hear your toddler scream and yell because he may not, in fact, open those toys that are in the cart waiting to be paid for.  And I don't want to hear your kids complain about being tired and hungry and tired of waiting.  Leave them at home until they are old enough to handle the chaos, which is not likely to happen until they are maybe in their teenage years.

9.  Use debit or credit.  Cash and checks take too long, and there's more room for error.  Enough said.

10.  Use your manners.  These store employees have given up time with their families so that you may buy presents for yours.  They are likely to be just as tired and frustrated as you are.  The very least you can do is thank them for giving you directions or for checking you out and wish them a good evening or a happy holiday season.  I can't even imagine the things these people must deal with during the busy shopping season.

That's all I've got.  Here's wishing you a happy holiday shopping season.  May we all keep in mind the reason for the season and consider shopping not only for our loved ones, but also for those who are less fortunate.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Thankful Post

I love the season of Thanksgiving.

I love reading blog posts and facebook statuses and tweets listing all the many things my real friends, cyber friends, and acquaintences are thankful for.  It is a welcome change from reading the ever-present statuses and posts about all that is going wrong with boyfriends, reality television, families, school, work, and politics.  I, personally, am a fan of keeping negativity and personal problems out of social networking spaces.

Earlier this week, one of my dearest friends and co-workers informed me that it had been nearly three months since I last wrote a blog post.  The past three months have been incredibly busy and have been filled with the things I love most.

I have become increasingly more active in my church, and I have formed some amazing friendships with the people there.

Back in August, I took the Confirmation kids on a retreat.  We enjoyed team-building activities, getting to know each other, and growing in faith...

The week of Halloween, my Crossroads group hosted a car for Trunk or Treat.  These people have become such great friends of mine!

Our youth group, which I sponsor, meets every other week.  Most recently, we went bowling.

I am so thankful to have such an amazing church family, and I feel blessed to learn and serve with such wonderful people.

I've had many opportunities to celebrate with friends recently.  There have been:



Olivia had the most adorable way of telling us all that she and Trevor are expecting!

The 11.11.11 Party:


And just plain hanging out:

I can't even express how much my family means to me.  I am one of the lucky ones, you see.  My family has always been loving, supportive, positive... together.  As a teacher, I am often made aware of less-than-ideal family situations, and there are moments each and every day when I think of my family and how fortunate I have been.

Though I don't get to see them as much as I would like, our most recent get-together was in celebration of my brother's last college football game of his senior season.  They had a lovely ceremony before the game.  My parents were escorted onto the field by a cheerleader as my brother ran through a lineup of his teammates.

Prior to the game, my mom expressed to me that she doesn't know what they will do with their Saturdays now.  Football has been such a major part of their weekends for the past nine years of my brother's schooling, and now, it's just... done.  I'm sure they'll find a new hobby soon enough.

I am so proud of my brother for sticking with college and sticking with football even when it was hard or boring.  This boy kept a positive attitude and a brave face every day.  Even when his football coaches changed his position and changed it back again.  Even when he had a concussion which took him out of playing for a few weeks.  Even when his coaches were shady.  In all of the circumstances where I would not have been able to keep my mouth shut, he held his tongue.  He's a much better person than I am.

Despite his countdown to the finish and excitement as he went through his last practice and his last game, this face says a lot:

I think he'll miss it.

My goodness, I have much to be thankful for.