Habits of the Heart

In his most recent book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, Parker Palmer writes, “We can take a big step toward freeing teachers to help students with their ‘inner search’ by shaking off the mistaken notion that this is code language for the search for God.  Inner-life questions are the kind that our students (and their teachers and parents) ask regularly, with or without God talk…Creating conditions under which students can conduct an inner search does not mean dictating answers to inner-life questions, which by definition do not have answers in any conventional sense.  It means helping students learn how to ask questions that are worth asking because they are worth living, questions one can fruitfully hold at the center of one’s life.”

I put together a list of picture books for our church Sunday school that I think support discussion and exploration of the 5 habits of the heart Palmer describes.  A friend of mine who is a school librarian is looking to use them so I thought others might like to look at the list.  Many titles came to mind when I was working on this, I hope all of you will share your ideas as well.

First habit:  An understanding that we are all in this together or “I am a citizen of the world.  I can show care for people all around the world.”  Book idea:  Immi’s Gift by Karin Littlewood

Second habit: An appreciation of the value of “otherness” or “I can be friends with all kinds of people. Friendship is an amazing gift.”  Book idea:  Wave by Suzy Lee

Third habit: An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways or “I am unique, so are you.  I can learn something from our differences.”   Book idea: C.R. Mudgeon by Leslie Muir

Fourth habit: A sense of personal voice and agency or “I can make change happen.”  Book idea: The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

Fifth habit: A capacity to create community or “I can create a feeling of family with others.”  Book idea: The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant

I have put together activities and creative projects for each title and am really excited to carry out this project.

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Pedro’s vision is my mission

His name is Pedro.  I met him as a 3 soon-to-be 4 year old entering my classroom in the fall of 2008.  Small statured and full in his face, he had a smile from ear to ear.  His dark eyes sparkled as he nodded at everything I said and didn’t understand even a tiny bit of it. Eager to please and full of questions, Pedro was so excited to be in school.  His parents worked hard to be a part of the school community as well, volunteering to be representatives to the parent council and coming to parent events with Pedro and his younger brother, Salomon, and the baby, Filiberto, perched on a hip.

When Pedro went to kindergarten,  Salomon entered my classroom.  He is more soft spoken and tender, but with those same sparkly eyes and wide grin.  Another baby, Samuel, was born the second year I had Salomon.  Four wide faced boys who adore their mom and dad.  The whole family calls me “Maestra” like I”m the only one in that profession.

Now I am Filiberto’s teacher. But my other responsibility to the family has come because I provide transportation for Pedro to the eye doctor for glasses.  He is a second grader now and very committed to wearing his glasses, hence, they break —- alot.

He has been waiting for a month for his newest pair.  Luckily the technician was able to put his old ones together securely enough that Pedro will now have a “back up” pair.   It is about a 20 minute drive from school to the office and I love chatting with him about his interests.  He struggles in school but his teacher tells me he is always asking questions and is still eager to learn.

Today he told me all about the folk tale he is “adapting. ” I love that he used that word.   He hasn’t finished writing it yet and we brainstormed ways he can solve the problem of the story.   I’m looking forward to checking in with him tomorrow and finding out how he resolved the ending of his tale.

I know some question why I provide these kinds of services to the families of my students. It’s because I think the current world is rigged – rigged to help those with money, those who can help themselves just by waking up everyday and putting their feet on the floor.

I finished high school, and college, and some extra college – so did my husband – and yet we were of an income low enough to qualify for being a Self-Help Home builder.  I can’t imagine how these families make it on less than half of what we had in those days to qualify!  We had a special needs child and despite all our degrees, still struggled to figure out all the paperwork to fill out for him to get the supplies he needed.  As far as transportation goes, we lucked out because my husband’s mom would insist on buying a new car every three years and occasionally gave us her “old” one.

My husband and I have survived as a family for 35 years because we had extended family who helped us out in little ways and big ways.  I wish I could do more for Pedro’s family but I know I’m doing just the right amount for me and for him.

so God made teachers

Our superintendent sent a letter to all the staff today congratulating our district on having our high school win a 2012 Pathways to Excellence Golden Apple Award.  Included in his letter were these sentiments:

“Yesterday one of the Super Bowl commercials narrated by Paul Harvey, honored farmers in our country with a “So God made farmers” speech.  I personally thought it was one of the best commercials of the afternoon (along with the Doritos and goat ad!). However, I also then immediately thought they could have easily and rightfully remade this story with the catch phrase “So God made a teacher” or “So God made an educator”, or “So God made a ____” (we could fill in the blank with any of our entire staff here).  Maybe I’ll work on that . . . . . . . . . .?”

So pardon my plagiarism Mr. Harvey:

So God Made a Teacher

And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need someone to make sure all my children become the very best caretakers of this world they can be” so God made teachers.

God said, “I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, ready their own household for work and school, spend all day in the classroom focused on the needs of the children there and willing to stay after work to meet with parents and colleagues to insure the best is happening in the school.  I need someone who will then rush home to provide a home-life for loved ones and then review their work before bed to be sure it’s all ready for the next day.”  So God made teachers.

God said, “I need somebody who knows the school community doesn’t stop at the front door, someone who knows that some days there is no going home for dinner because there are children and parents coming in and there needs to be a listening presence ready to greet them.  I need someone who doesn’t measure their job in hours but in students and families served.” So God made teachers.

God had to have somebody willing to ride school buses the first weeks of school so that all families will be greeted, someone who will host school lunches in the classroom so all space in the school can be utilized fully, someone who will suffer the consequences of playing basketball with 5th graders and accompanying kindergarteners in a jog-a-thon, someone who will open candy-spiked Valentines and work valiantly to discern every last author so  proper thanks can be given.” So God made teachers.

God said, “I need somebody with a heart strong enough to bear witness to the most tragic stories ever written and yet gentle enough to resist the temptation to harden against the adversity so present in the world.”  So God made teachers.

It had to be somebody who’d work hard and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, plow, plant, replenish growing minds and finish a hard week’s work with a round trip of 30 miles each day.  Somebody who’d bale a classroom together with the soft, strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh, and then sigh with understanding when their own child says, “I’m thinking of being a teacher.”

So God made teachers.

I’m sure you guys can add to this tribute…..