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Well…. It depends.

Dedicated to the BYU Professors and mentors who have shaped me into the teacher I am.

As I near the end of my BYU experience, I have taken a lot of time to reflect on what I’ve learned. It is incredible how unprepared I was for my own classroom, even after three years of schooling. Now with that being said, that doesn’t mean I didn’t richly benefit from my education here at BYU. Looking back, I wish I would have engaged more in my classes and realized my professors actually knew what they were talking about. ;)

Over and over in class after class at BYU, one of my classmates or I would present a situation and our teacher would always respond with a sort of “heh” sounding chuckle, a slight smile, and say, “Well… it depends.” How could it depend?! Why couldn’t they just tell me “If [fill in the blank] happens in your classroom, you should [fill in the blank]”? But it NEVER happened. My cohort (group of students that attend the same classes) used to joke that we should make t-shirts that said “Well… it depends.” I couldn’t begin to count how many times I heard that phrase. I thought once I started teaching I would be able to fill in those blanks for my fellow teacher candidates. And here I am saying that the answer to everything in the classroom is… “Well… it depends.”

How could any of my professors have prepared me for the twenty-eight unique children that walked through my doorway on the first day of school? They couldn’t have. No one could have. Each child not only had successes and struggles prior to coming into my classroom, but also had a story behind it all.

How could my professors have prepped me for a child that walks in with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that receives Special Education services but is also a ward of the state with no home support and is struggling to learn English? You’re right, they couldn’t have.

Back in my classes at BYU I would ask, “What is the best way to deal with misbehavior in the classroom?” Time after time I’d hear, “Well… it depends.” My teachers taught me that misbehavior in the classroom is never because the child is inherently bad. It always has a reason. In my five weeks of teaching, here are some experiences I’ve had with misbehavior.

One student was throwing pencils at another student. When I asked the poor child that was being attacked by a barrage of pencils to come talk to me, he became belligerent and argumentative. The perpetrator had no problem coming to talk to me. Why? After many tears and much confusion and frustration, I figured out it was all because the student who was being attacked thought I was going to get upset and punish him. His misbehavior was an attempt to avoid punishment. Not very logical, but to a 3rd grader, it was the best option he thought he had. So he misbehaved.

The other day, a little girl in my class told me to straight out “stop it” and started to yell at me when I took her out in the hallway to sort out an issue. Why in the world would she think that was appropriate? Turns out she figured out in prior classes or through home life that when she argues with an adult, she gets attention. Negative attention mind you—but attention nonetheless. In her mind, misbehaving is her way of fulfilling her need for attention.

A boy in my class called out constantly, refused to take his reading test, and continually argued with me. I could not figure it out, so I called him out in the hallway. As I talked with him, I felt prompted to ask him if he had been called a “bad student” in the past. The big, tough, tackle-football-playing third grader teared up and nodded. He could barely get his words out. He was acting up because he was already labeled as a trouble maker. Simple as that.

Now what do all these experiences have in common? All the students were argumentative and didn’t listen to me. Imagine if my professors had said “When a student gets argumentative, you need to…” and gave me a formula for stopping the behavior. In three similar situations, one I simply had to take the student aside and explain I wasn’t mad. Another one I needed to ignore her until she behaved, then give her attention and praise once she complied. My last one is still a work in progress, but he just needs a reminder to behave and be given constant positive reinforcement.

The best advice I ever received was from Jerrie Reader, a first grade teacher (my first mentor teacher) at Westridge Elementary. One day she turned to me and said, “You know, as a teacher you never really get there. As soon as you stop learning as a teacher, it is time to retire.” I’m here to tell you, NOTHING stays the same in my classroom every day. Nothing. Not even me. And that is how it should be. So when it comes to anything in my classroom, “well… it depends.”

I have learned so much the past few weeks. But with that being said, my BYU experience has completely shaped my responses to all that happens in my classroom. When a student misbehaves, I can hear Sister Jill Shumway (my classroom management professor) calmly saying, “Now why is this behavior happening?”

How grateful I am that they told me in my classes that when it comes to all things in the classroom, “well… it depends.” Because truly. It does. I am glad they challenged my thinking and forced me to answer my own questions. That has made me the teacher I am today.

So to my fellow BYU students, don’t tune out, don’t disengage, and from the wise words of one of my 3rd graders: when you get bored in class, remember “boredom is a mental thing. You can make yourself not bored.”

True Courage

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I remember watching the Disney classics as a child. I sat in front of the screen and learned about true courage and bravery. Hercules taught me about the true nature of love. Mulan taught me that anyone can be a hero. Ariel taught me that I can overcome any foe. As I watched, my favorite movie characters taught me the meaning of true bravery. I realized these characters did not think of themselves, but instead looked to others. They made the right choices, not only when it was easy, but most importantly, when it was hard. C. S. Lewis wrote, “Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”

Each Sunday, my husband and I work with a small group of four-year-old children. As I watch these children, I am surprised to learn so much about the pure nature of human beings. In our wonderful group there is a boy who suffers from physical ailments as well as some social difficulties. As the children play with one another, I am surprised to notice that the innocent children in our class do not even recognize that this young boy is different. Instead, they treat him exactly like they treat each other: with love and respect. This is true courage. These children, despite their differences, reach out to one another. As a teacher, look to your children. They will guide and teach you the importance of living bravely.

Today’s world is full of those feigning bravery. In fact, the true nature of courage is being buried. Instead of true bravery, people today attribute courage to those who are the loudest or hold the individual the strongest opinion. Instead, I believe courage is quiet and meek. Not all truly courageous acts are committed for the world to see. Courage is being a friend to those who have none. Courage is learning to say no when everyone around you tells you to say yes. Learn from your students the true meaning of courage and teach them. Your life and theirs will surely be blessed.

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Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher

A typical day for me starts around 6:45 a.m. when I wake up and get ready to teach. The second my eyes open, I am completely engrossed in thought about my classroom, from what I am teaching to what I’m going to wear that day. And yes, that matters when you are a teacher. It seems like everything I do is impacted by my career as a teacher. I go to school and teach, then come home and plan for the next day. Even when I’m exhausted and head to bed, I’m still thinking about one lesson, one student, one thing I forgot. Once you’re a teacher, you are ALWAYS a teacher.

As I began my career, people who didn’t know I was going into teaching always would say things like, “What do you do for a living?” or “What are you in school for?” I would always proudly tell them I was an elementary education major looking to become an elementary school teacher. Nine times out of ten, their response was, “Oh, yeah, you’re definitely the teacher type. I could have guessed.” It is almost like I wear a sign that flashes: “I am a teacher!”

I see teaching in everything I do and say. When someone asks me if I have kids, instead of realizing it’s just me and my husband at home, I say, “Yes! I have 29!” While an awkward response, to me it is reality. I have 29 kids I see five days a week for longer than their parents do. In a lot of ways it seems that I really do have kids!

If my husband and I can’t decide on where to go to dinner, I find myself holding up my hand and saying, “You have five seconds to make a decision or I will help you make a choice.” Then I begin counting down from five, just like I do with my students that don’t want to listen. He responds, “Yes, Mrs. Lyon.”

Teaching is in every aspect of my life. It is in the way I pause when interrupted and say, “I’ll wait” when others are talking. It is in the way I walk so slowly to match the stride of a third grader. It is in the way I project my voice so that 29 little pairs of ears can hear every word I say even out on the playground. My husband always jokes, but I am always in teacher mode.

However, as I have been a teacher, it has been crucial for me to realize that I can’t just always be in teacher mode. There are still many other “modes” that I need to take care of. It has been so difficult for me to not just completely engross myself in teaching. I have learned that there are times when I just need time for myself. I could feel myself already getting burnt out during my first month of teaching. Sometimes it is okay to put down my plan book, step away from my computer, and just relax. It does wonders for me and makes for a happier teacher. I am sure my (29) kids appreciate it :).

So if you are aspiring to be a teacher, be ready for it to absorb your life, your personality, and you. But also be ready to fight back against the burn out. Your students need a teacher that is not only devoted to them, but is devoted to her or himself. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland counseled in the October 2014 Latter-day Saint General Conference, it is important that we “do what [we] can” and be pleased with our efforts.

 

Recipe for Happiness

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Three cups of hard work, one heaping cup of humility, half a cup of fun, two tablespoons of love, and a teaspoon of passion. From skiing to laying on the couch, we all have our own recipe for happiness. For me, my formula has three heaping spoonfuls of dance. In my lifetime, I have shimmied my way through breakups and poor test scores. Glided my way through success and failure. In the classroom we will all fail. But it is the ability to “dance” through these trials that will separate the good teachers from the great ones.  When I say dance, I am not referring to the ballet or formal dance. The dance I believe in is more like flinging your body around the room. For me, dance isn’t about a perfect technique or style of movement. Dance is pure joy in physical form. I dance because I love it.

We all have our own “dance.” It’s a way in which we overcome our deepest hurts or celebrate our happiest moments. For my brother, it is singing. He sings in the shower and he sings in the car. He makes up silly songs for his nieces and he turns to music when he is sad. Whatever form dance takes in your life, it is how we escape from the mundane. The way we choose to do something that has no purpose other than to make us happy, to let us feel something beyond the everyday. We live in a world of deadlines and pressures. Each day, we feel compelled to make our time meaningful; To accomplish something important. I love dance because in the words of Dr. Wayne Dyer, “When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It’s to enjoy each step along the way…I am learning to be a wife. I am working on my degree, taking 16 credits and working 2 jobs. My life is goal-oriented and purpose-driven but sometimes I just have to dance. It is then that I remember why I work so hard.

Dance reminds me of where I came from. It takes me home to our kitchen when we were doing dishes and my entire family would start dancing, weaving across the kitchen, laughing and spinning and bumping into each other. Dance brought a joy into my home that my whole family could participate in. It transports me to the night I was married and I danced with my husband for the first time. It reminds me of my first prom and sharing one last great memory with my childhood friends. Dance reminds me of who I am. I may be the stressed college student, but I’m also the little girl dancing around her room and dreaming of the life I would create. Dance is an expression of the joy that transcends time and situation. I believe in dance. I believe in finding what makes you happy and doing it just because of the joy you feel. Life is not always about where you are going but the fun you have getting there. We all have our own recipes for happiness. Take the time to figure out yours. As teachers we must all find time to enjoy life and the classroom. This I how I do it. Please share a love for life with your students and your joy will soon become theirs.