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Will Technology Destroy My Teaching?

This morning my daughter announces that her class is going on a field trip to the University Astronomy Lab.

Her personal favorite planet is Jupiter.

All day, I’ve been thinking about the wonder she’ll feel.  These planetarium shows, according to the website, “feature spectacular astronomical images from the surface of Mars, to dusty nebulae, to dazzling galaxies, rendered in three dimensions with the aid of special eyeglasses and projection screens.”

This kind of technology might just provide a sublime experience for these children.  They might go on to study astrophysics, probing deeper into the mysteries of the universe.

I wish I were there with her.

But I had my own experience with technology and education today.  I received my classroom assignment for next semester, so on my way back to the parking lot, I casually pop into my future classrooms.  One of them hides deep within an ancient campus building.  The tiny room has 25 chairs and desks and a long table up front (for me).  I’m not sure I even have a chalkboard to use in that room.  These are the rooms instructors beg to get switched.  They shed tears over these assignments and bribe administrative assistants to send them to any other classroom. 

But I love rooms like that.  I request the simplest classroom.  

The second classroom resides in a building I haven’t visited yet–the Business School.  I walk in, and I’m immediately transported to another universe.  A ticker on the wall brags out the stock market numbers.  Flat screen TV’s broadcast major network news.  Coffee shops send out an aroma that, in this environment, makes me feel rushed and nervous.  Everybody’s in suits, and the click of high heels on the floor breeds a strange insecurity in me.

I find my classroom.

It’s spectacular, dazzling.  Each wall has a projection screen, and I count no less than 7 white boards that light up for my notes.  My podium up front features more buttons than I could ever figure out what to do with.  It has a microphone. If I touch this one button, the lights dim and a huge screen descends behind me.

Maybe another button ushers in my avatar who teaches for me while I go get a latte.

The students’ seats swivel, and I’m not sure, but I wonder if each desk has its own laptop built in. 

I turn a circle in this future classroom, and then I immediately think:  “This is so . . . distracting!” 

What will I do with so much technology?  What could it inspire in folks trying to learn to use strong verbs and varied sentence structure?  Am I now putting on a show with lights and sounds? At what point does the technology distract rather than enrich?

I’ve posed the question to my technology-inundated students.  Shall I change my course?  One man leaned back (in his old desk) and said, “Don’t do it.  Don’t use the technology.  People want to talk about their ideas together in class.  That’s what they really want.”  

But is there something I’m missing? 

Living with flair means I figure out how to use technology in ways that enrich and offer sublime experiences.  Because it can.  I just don’t know how–as a writing teacher–it will.

Do you know?

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What You’ve Been Given

It’s officially winter here. 

Snow swirls up and settles, finally, on the land.  

But it’s the worst kind of snow because there’s not enough to do anything with it.

But the neighborhood children, despite the lack of significant snow accumulation, still coax sleds down hills all afternoon.  And they still make snowmen no matter how little they are given.  In one child’s front yard, I stop and notice she’s made a mama and a baby snowman, in miniature.

Miniature Snowman

Lord, help me take what I’ve been given today and turn it into a beautiful thing. 

Living with flair means I make something out of whatever I’m given.   

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How College Should Be

Last night, an entire class of students comes by my house with food for a huge potluck.  This isn’t part of the job description of a college instructor, and I know it’s unusual–at least at a big state school–to invite students into your home.

I’m supposed to keep my professional distance.

But my undergraduate education at the University of Virginia ruined me regarding professional distance.  In those days, I dined with professors nearly every evening.  As part of the Jeffersonian ideal of the “academic village,” professors joined students in dining halls or else invited them into their homes for dinner, dessert, or coffee.  Some of my favorite memories from college have to do with meeting my instructors outside of the classroom.  I remember walking into the living room of my English professor and sitting around a table with a group of other students and just talking–like it were an ordinary, everyday thing–about beauty.

Another professor, Rita Dove–the Poet Laureate of the United States at the time and Pulitzer Prize winner –actually hosted class in my dorm room.  She actually sat on my bed and talked to me about my poems.  The other students sat in a circle on my floor.  How could I not feel like I’d entered a portal into adulthood, into intellectual communities that wanted to hear my voice?

Later that semester, Ms. Dove hosted us all for dinner.

I talked about my life.  I talked about things I hoped for and things I cared about.  Those conversations changed me forever.

Those conversations made me feel truly adult, truly independent.   It was college at its best.  

My class piles into my living room, and one student plays her guitar while others sing around the piano.  We decide to talk about creativity, future careers, and the burden of having to decide how to choose a career when you love too many things.  And these students actually want to talk about their writing projects.  They pose questions, make comments, and grapple with their revision process all while petting my cats and eating homemade apple pie.  One student says, “Dr. H., I want to write my memoir about this,” as she gestures to our group gathered about her. 

I have to force them out the door so I can go to bed.  

When most people think of the college scene, they visualize the alcohol and the parties.  But for at least one night, a group of students sat around and talked about ideas–not because anybody was taking attendance–but because they wanted be together and share their ideas and their lives.  That’s what makes college so good.

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The One Word Reminder

Years ago, I read a parenting book about the power of the one word reminder.  Instead of spouting out long, elaborate directions to children, especially in times of transition (leaving for school, going to bed), you simply call out the one word reminder.

Shoes! 

The single reminder houses an entire narrative:  the child remembers now to get her jeans on, put on her socks, and find her shoes.  She doesn’t need my monologue.  One word does it. 

As I thought about the power of one word to invoke a whole series of commands, and how that one word gets a child’s train of thought back on the right track, I wondered about my own one word commands.

What if I used one word reminders to get my mind where it should be and to realign my heart with the truth?  If one word helps children, why can’t one word help adults too?

I used a couple on myself today. 

In the slopping rain, I call out to myself: flair.  Suddenly, I remember to look for it.   Later, I use the single word gentle to remind myself to be gracious and gentle with myself and others. I’ve been known to call out the word “Jesus” to invoke the enormity of the gospel into whatever situation I’m in. 

One word triggers–mantras of focus and truth–can reshape the day, get my head out of a muddle, and refocus my heart. We have an entire arsenal of power here.  We can apply it right now, that one word reminder, that will change everything.  

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Belongingness?

I learned last week about the word “belongingness.”  It’s the human need to feel like we belong to a group and that we are part of something greater than ourselves. Right after the basic need for food, water, and shelter, belongingness ranks next in importance.

I think we skip this need and move right onto the need for esteem and self-actualization.  We abandon belongingness because it doesn’t seem important.  And yet, so many of us suffer from profound loneliness and the kind of isolation that drives us to despair.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes. 

My students often make comments that they felt like they really “belonged” in my classroom.  Feeling like you belong–that you are in the right place, in the right situation, with the right people–might be one of the best feelings in the world. I labor towards this goal for my students; I learn about them, share about myself, and insist on ridiculous name games for the entire semester, long after we know each other. 

Vibrant community–lived out in faith and love–fills the soul so deeply.   I’m learning that it takes effort to build community.  You have to do something:  walk kids to school, launch fitness groups, host potlucks, inspire creative project nights, arrange play dates for dads.

One day, you will all feel like you belong to each other.  You’ll never be the same when you look around you and feel belongingness. 

Folks are suffering from a lack of where to belong.   Living with flair means I gather as many folks as I can and help them find a place to belong.  I don’t wait for somebody else to do this work.  And before I know it, my heart overflows.

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My Daughter’s Perspective on Holiday Shopping

We’re in a glitzy store, admiring all the ornaments and enjoying the holiday smells.  As my children wander down the aisles to observe the dazzling toys, my youngest cries out:

“Mommy!  You have got to come see this!  It’s amazing!  Come here right now!”  She’s calling out to me, weaving in and out of shoppers to pull me to her side.  I think she’s about to show me some toy–the kind with bells and whistles and a price tag we’ll never be able to afford.

Instead, she drags me to. . . nothing.  In silence, she points to the floor.  There, on the store’s carpet, imprinted with the markings of a thousand holiday shoppers’ shoes, a rectangular rainbow appears from the perfect configuration of light coming through the window through some prism I cannot see.

“Look at it.  Just look at it!”  She moves her feet and hands within the rainbow, and I do the same.  The light on our skin makes us blaze with a spectrum of colors.  She’s filled with wonder at this rainbow on the floor.

It cost me nothing.

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Snowflake Photography

Early this morning, the children race around the house to announce the news:  Snow!  Just flurries, but still the excitement mounts as the sun rises on our town.

I grab my camera and go outside on this blustery morning.  I’m in thin pajamas–no hat, no gloves, not even my coat–and it’s amazing how I don’t notice the cold.

First Snow on a Berry

It’s because I see something so magnificent it diminishes me for once.  I’m not even aware of my own frozen fingers. 

Snowflake on Concrete

Is it true that each one is different?  And why does this design delight? 

 
Snowflake on a Stone

Close up, I see something so wonderful, so miniature in its grandeur.  

Snowflake on a Log

The beauty of these tiny designs keeps me outside too long.  But I don’t notice what comes against me; I don’t notice myself at all.  That’s what beauty–real beauty–does to a soul.

You get caught up in the awe of it, and even in the cold gray of a winter morning, you are set free from yourself.

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Spiritual and Stylish Too?

Today, my very stylish sister takes me shopping.  I used to be stylish–maybe 20 years ago–when I had the means, the time, and the desire to look my best.  While my internal flair has grown exponentially this year, my external style needs help. 

I’m too tired, too old, to be cute.  

I’m too spiritual to be stylish. I’m too academic, too poetic. 

But there’s a part of me that I’ve left behind somewhere.  My external flair has turned to. . . frump.   

So my sister has me in a dressing room at a very stylish store.  As I pull on layers of beautiful clothing, I’m surprised at what my heart feels.  

It feels wonderful to be in these clothes.

And then it feels awful that it feels so wonderful.  I know that life is not found in clothing; I know that true joy will never come from a shopping trip.  Living with flair means I find my true self in relation to God, not this soft pink sweater or these jeans that somehow make me look like I’m 18 years old again.  Besides, I’m on a tight budget.  Who can afford these things?  

I’m looking at price tags and frowning.  My sister sings out as she shoves more clothing into the dressing room:  “It’s all 40% off!  We can buy a whole new outfit!”

I have a whimsical shopping bag tied with a bright bow with new jeans and a pink sweater.  As we leave the store, I mention to my sister that I feel guilty feeling so happy about an outfit.  I don’t shop.  I never buy new clothes.  I’m above that pull of materialism and addictive consumerism.  I don’t need these things. 

My sister reminds me that I’ve swung the pendulum too far.  She tells me I can celebrate being a woman in ways that showcase my unique style and elegance.  It’s not ungodly to dress well.

I’m still figuring this all out.  I know there are wise and balanced ways to be stylish, and I want to learn them.

Do you have any advice for me on this journey?  How do you balance spending money on clothes while keeping perspective on what matters most in life?  Do you fear shopping addiction and materialism too? 

(It didn’t help when I asked the saleswoman for her advice about my guilty feelings.  She said, “Oh, those? Don’t worry.  They go away in a couple hours.”)

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A Double Serving of Peace

I’m racing about, scrubbing floors and making beds, and my cell phone rings and rings.  Who has time to chat at a time like this?

Besides, it’s storming outside and my beautifully raked lawn is now a tangle of leaves and branches.  Everything was supposed to be perfect as my family arrives for Thanksgiving. 

Nothing is going to be perfect.  I know this. 

I check the voice mail and a neighbor chirps:  “Go outside!  There’s a rainbow sitting on top of your house!”

The Rainbow

The phone rings again.  It’s my husband.  “Go outside!  There’s a rainbow!  Show the girls!”

We stop everything and observe this glorious display.  It doesn’t matter how anything else looks right now because there’s a rainbow over me.  And it’s now a double rainbow, barely visible, but there.  

I marvel at that sign of God’s goodness and love, that sign of peace.  It’s over me, barely visible, but there.   

There’s a rainbow over you right now.

A double serving of Thanksgiving peace.  

 


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