I have come to fall in love with teaching in Catholic schools. What are YOU in love with?...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." - Pedro Arrupe

Monday, December 30, 2013

New Years

New Years is just around the corner - here is a post from the Da Mihi Animas (Salesian) blog about suggestions for meaningful resolutions: http://salesianity.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-new-year-new-beginnings-and.html

(It's worth the read.)

Also, a personal resolution is to start making some of these words a more regular part of my vocabulary - http://oscarlearnoscarteach.tumblr.com/post/71516712434

(That's more just for fun, though. My favorites are discombobulate, gumption, fetching, and audacity. There is also a special place in my heart for 'skedaddle', as that word comes into play in the novel The Tale of Despereaux, and it reminds me of how my students in AZ went down to recess and screamed skedaddle before running out to play.)

Here's wishing you and yours a lovely new year!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Hallelujah Christmas

From the website: "This version of ‘Hallelujah’ by Cloverton will touch your heart." -->

Friday, December 27, 2013

New Year = New Look

New (upcoming) Year = New Look

(It's not a radical change, but it mixes things up a bit.)

Next goal = start thinking about those resolutions...

Define "Classic"

A few weeks ago (you know, before Christmas), I heard a disturbing conversation on the radio about voting for holiday classics - the disturbing part being that movies like "A Christmas Story," "Christmas Vacation," "Home Alone," & "Elf" topped the list.

Classics? Really? These are considered classics?

Come on now. They may be movies that everyone watches, but they aren't ones that have withstood the passing of the years - ones seen by our parents and grandparents.

So, how about these? Have you seen these holiday classics...?

If you haven't seen some of the movies above, I urge you to head to your nearest library, RedBox, or NetFlix account and check them out.

You won't be sorry - these truly are the classics.

Also, have you ever seen Claymation Christmas? If not, do you have about 30 minutes to spare to see it?...Enjoy!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Was That Choice Moral or Not? - A Classroom Activity & Assessment

Dear George, 
Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.
Thanks for the wings!
Love, Clarence

Thus (nearly) ends the beloved holiday classic, "It's a Wonderful Life" - a film that tells the story of George Bailey and the many people whose lives he touches by his innate desire to put family and friends above personal wants and human dignity above profit.

In my humble opinion (as I'm sure I've mentioned before), this is the greatest holiday classic movie of all time, so I thought it would be worthwhile to show this movie to my 6th grade students (especially since most of them had never seen it before). However, seeing as I only see each period for 40-45 minutes a day, I couldn't reconcile giving up valuable teaching time to watch a movie just for the sake of watching a movie. (On a side note - when I taught 4th grade, I didn't have any problem simply putting in a movie, as in a self-contained classroom, I saw them all day and the poor dears were restless by the end of most days leading up to Christmas break.) So, I had to find (or create) a bridge between the movie and our latest unit, which focused (at least in part) on moral decision-making.

Well, George and the other characters surely make a lot of decisions throughout the course of the movie - from saving Harry's life to not delivering the pills from Mr. Gower to sending Harry to school instead of himself so as to run the family business...the list of decisions (good and bad) goes on and on.

This is about how I felt when I figured out the connection

I would have the students apply the three components of moral decision-making that we learned about to the scenarios/decisions in the movie. So, the weekend before that last week before break, I crafted the assessment & rubric.

Looking back on the assessment (as I am currently scoring their letters/essays), there are things I would change about it for the future. For example, I would provide some scenarios from the movie for them and have them proceed to apply the moral decision-making components in order to avoid a mere summary of movie events. I would also be more explicit with the directions about including connections to our own prayer lives, as that was the source of some confusion with the movie.

But overall, I think the kiddos did a nice job. Here's an excerpt from one student's essay:

"...When George Bailey jumped into the river to save Clarence, his object was jumping into the river...his intention was to save Clarence, and the circumstances were George Bailey was on the bridge at night with freezing water. Since saving Clarence was good in all three elements, the moral decision was good..."

Well, I think most of them got the gist of the assignment. 

...And they enjoyed this holiday classic - some even told me as they left class on Thursday afternoon that this was their new favorite Christmas film. (And I do believe they were telling the truth.)

George Bailey and his friends/family sure do have a lot to teach all of us about making decisions that reflect good morals on friendship, family, and human worth. By the end of the film, we learn that George really was the richest man in town, not by the standards of Mr. Potter but by the richness of his life blessed with those whose lives he touched.

This movie never gets old. In fact, I watched it three times this year (two of those times were with my two six grade classes and one was with my family), and I never got bored. Additionally, much like the sentiment stated below, I cried every time.

I do hope you (and your loved ones) had the chance (or will soon take the chance) to watch this movie over the holiday season. May this Christmas and New Years be a blessed one for you!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Weary World Rejoices - Article

"...Which makes me wonder: Do we even remember how to rejoice? If we are believers in Christ, we are supposed to be mindful of the miracle of the Incarnation, of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. We are to rejoice in the redemptive hope of Jesus..."

A short and meaningful reflection on remembering Christmas -->  http://americamagazine.org/content/all-things/weary-world-rejoices

Have a beautiful, Christ-centered Christmas!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays...

Oh, the weather outside is...

Well, it's definitely not frightful - not here in Florida, anyways. It's much warmer than the weather we've been having recently in Chicago. (Thank goodness for that!) In fact, it makes me think of that Irving Berlin song that goes "Off with my overcoat, off with my gloves..." - so nice to put those away for 2 weeks. While being a far cry from a white Christmas, somehow I don't mind it so much this year. Sunny and 75 (or even 80) - bring on the sunshine! "All I want for Christmas is Florida sun" (pardon my shabby lyric adaptation - changing lyrics is kind of a habit with me).

Regardless of temperature and type/lack of precipitation, spending the holidays with family and friends is the best present anyone can ask for. This past week during prayer intentions in my middle school classes, my heart was warmed when students stepped outside of themselves to remember those who have no home or family to share this special time with, especially in the cold of the Chicago winter. Sometimes, though they can appear self-centered and immature, they surprise me with bits of wisdom, critical questions, and thoughtfulness. And those moments are ones to be treasured, indeed.

Only a few more days until Christmas - hard to believe, isn't it? The time seems to fly by faster each year. And since we'll be running about here and there visiting various family and friends these next few days, I don't know if I'll get to post before the big day, so in that case...

Merr(early) Christmas!

And, just for fun, in case you missed it a few years ago, here is "The Story of the Nativity" (the 'digital' version).

Thursday, December 19, 2013

What You Love

When you get a chance to make a living doing what you love, that's pretty sweet.

This week, I felt especially blessed in this way for two specific times:

1) Sharing "It's a Wonderful Life" with my 6th graders - As a wrap-up for our final unit before the holiday break, we've been learning about moral decision-making. Tomorrow (after having watched the movie all week), students will complete a project in which they will determine the morality of some of the choices of George Bailey & others in the movie. In addition, they will look at how Hollywood portrays prayer, God, etc.
While watching the end of the movie today (with both classes), I teared up. There's something about that movie and its message about friendship and family being what makes us rich. When students left my class remarking, "That was such a great movie" and "This is my new favorite Christmas movie" (and actually meaning it), I knew it was worth the time we spent. These kids need to see holiday classics like this. Personally, I think it's one of the greatest (if not greatest) movies of all time.

2) Leading the 6th graders in signing "Silent Night" at the Christmas program - The kiddos did such a great job. The principal was nearly in tears when she told me how beautiful it looked. And one parent commented, "I wish I could have just watched you the whole time. You were so graceful." All of it made me smile - because I had shared something that I had grown up with and loved with my students, and now, they are loving it too. (In fact, I had to remind the 5th and 7th graders not to sign during the show because it wasn't their turn.)

It's not every day that I feel I am doing what I love; though, overall, teaching is something I find very special and worthwhile indeed. But this week, I feel like I am so blessed. I've been encouraged and able to share things I love - and that, in a profession, makes all the difference in the world, in my humble opinion...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." (Pedro Arrupe)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Little Teacher Girl, an Adaptation

I just couldn't help myself - I love fitting words into syllable counts and trying to bring meaning out of poetry. Here's my latest attempt - I turned a favorite Christmas carol into a teacher's song.

Merry (early) Christmas!

"The Little Teacher Girl" 
(adapted from "The Little Drummer Boy")

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum 
A teacher you will be, pa rum pum pum pum 
At Notre Dame with ACE, pa rum pum pum pum 
In Phoenix you've been placed, pa rum pum pum pum, 
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

"Teach the students there," pa rum pum pum pum, 
When they come. 

Little students, pa rum pum pum pum 
I've never taught before, pa rum pum pum pum 
I don't know where to start, pa rum pum pum pum 

My greatest gift's my heart, pa rum pum pum pum, 
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, 

Shall I read with you, pa rum pum pum pum, 
Will you come? 

Soon, they nodded, pa rum pum pum pum 
The years quickly passed by, pa rum pum pum pum 
I taught subjects to them, pa rum pum pum pum 
I tried my best for them, pa rum pum pum pum, 
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, 

They still smile at me, pa rum pum pum pum 
Each day I come.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

White Christmas

Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" on the way to volleyball...Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" on the way home from volleyball...

He can sing on my radio any day...

Sing to me, Bing. Sing to me...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Snowed In? No Excuses, Please...

The thought crossed my mind about trying to switch my Ministry of Care day to a weeknight coming up when I got out of bed this morning. As it was, I already cancelled my run with my sister (and headed to the gym instead) due to the snow. And the roads just seemed to be slick and icy - not very good for driving.

However, when I got home from the gym, the driveway beckoned, pleading to be shoveled. And I, still warm from exertion, swapped my sneakers for snow boots and grabbed the shovel from my car. It probably took about 30 minutes, but it was good to be outside and breathing in the fresh, crisp air. It felt like a lost cause for 2 reasons: 1) It was still snowing, so chances were I would need to shovel it again later anyway; and 2) I was pretty determined that if I did end up going to MOC today that I would likely have to take the l and, therefore, not use my car (or the driveway) at all.

After sipping a steamy cup of coffee for a bit, my heart got the better of me, and I decided to get cleaned up and drive over to the hospital. (I mean, let's face it, this upcoming week is bound to be crazy anyways, and I had made a commitment.)

On this morning's rounds, I ended up with a short list of patients. Out of the six patients I visited, two individuals were actually in the process of leaving the hospital. Still, they were grateful for the opportunity to partake of the Eucharist, so they took the time to do so. Another patient told me, "Please come back," to which I responded, "Well, I personally won't be back until after the new year, so I hope you're still not here. However, someone from the Church will come by again later in the week."

My heart felt so happy when I left the hospital today. To think that I was about to let a little (well, a lot) of snow stop me - I am ashamed. And I am so glad I listened to my heart instead of my head. The hospital was right where I needed to be today. And I thank God for that.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Give Me Your Burdens

Today's Gospel is short but very meaningful to me, as it is the one we read as Ministers of Care when we go into each hospital room to give Communion.

Short...but comforting...especially to those undergoing treatment or recovering at the hospital.

Today's reading serves as a reminder to me why I do what I do. And, let's face it, I need that reminder every now and again, especially on those days when it's hard to get myself out the door or when it would be easier to stop going altogether. (Trust me, I thought about it - but then I realized I was just being selfish if I did quit.)

But, don't we all need those kinds of reminders - ones that give us a swift kick in the pants and tell us to keep going?

I think it's especially true now, as we find ourselves in the midst of the holiday season - all the rushing, hustle & bustle. We need a reminder to snap us into remembering what really matters.

But God already gave us a reminder - He sent us His Son.

This Christmas, Lord, may we keep your presence and glory at the center of all we do. May we make it less about the shopping and parties and gifts that our culture keeps emphasizing and advertising, and, instead, make it more about preparing for your arrival and second coming. We ask this, in your name. Amen.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Taking Prayer Back

Confession - Though I'm a religion teacher and spend most of my day teaching & discussing Church history, Catholic catechism, and various beliefs, I've been struggling in my own relationship with God...at least prayer-wise...

My prayers have recently felt...well...empty.

And I wasn't quite sure what to do about it.

But this weekend, I decided to get myself started with something new, so I bought a lined notebook and started journaling last night. Having only done this one night so far, it's hard to tell if it works or not. But I can tell you this - it helped me recognize areas in my life this weekend where I found God. And that allowed me to give thanks and reflect.

I am looking forward to continuing this practice through Advent and beyond. I'll let you know how it goes...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Immaculate Conception

What happens when you find out your students don't know what the feast your school is named for celebrates?

You panic!

Just kidding...

But you do keep trying (over and over and over) to correct that situation.

And, yes, some begin to slowly realize that the Immaculate Conception is about Mary being conceived by Anne and Joachim rather than Jesus being conceived by Mary (the Annunciation).

And, yes, some still don't know the difference...but we will keep trying.

One day, I have faith, it will register. One day, it will all click.

Mary, the Immaculate Conception, Pray for us!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mary, Did You Know...in my sleep

Tonight, I'm pretty sure I'll be signing "Mary, Did You Know?" in my sleep...you know, whenever I get to sleep...(Don't you hate it when lesson planning keeps you up at night?)

Multiple times through x 4 station group rotations x 2 retreats (4th & 5th grades) + a couple times through during 7th grade family Advent event = a LOT of repetition

Oh, yes...and how could I forget doing it two more times this afternoon at the end of study hall with the 5th grade boys. It was completely voluntary. No, scratch that. It was in high demand. They were done with their homework, and what did they want to do? Sign. (I am not kidding - you cannot make this stuff up.) I couldn't keep a straight face - they were so darn cute.

I love teaching middle school, don't get me wrong. But some days I wish I could go back to teaching ones that are just a tad younger - 4th and 5th graders are such a fun bunch. So days like today and yesterday, when I had the opportunity to lead the retreats for those grades - these are the days when, though extra-filled, I feel extremely blessed and lucky. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of those retreats.

The 7th and 8th grade retreat is next week...so we'll see how that goes. I'm a little worried because the 6th grade retreat left a little to be desired - but, then again, I only had one other teacher helping me. (On Tuesday, I should have some additional help from the principal and maybe some other teachers - at least, my fingers are crossed for that.)

Have a great weekend!!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Christmas Music

Though some of my "Top 10" Christmas songs definitely shuffle from year to year, I am inspired (from a question posed a volleyball last night) to re-post my favorites from 2011:

10. Winter Wonderland
9. The Christmas Waltz
8. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
7. Believe
6. Mary, Did You Know?
5. Little Drummer Boy
4. I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
3. O Little Town of Bethlehem
2. I'll Be Home for Christmas


1. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

There are so many other Christmas songs that make my heart happy too, especially "We Need a Little Christmas" (especially the Muppet version), "All I Want For Christmas is You" (any time of year...oh, Notre Dame), "Silver Bells," and "Mele Kalikimaka."

I found the Christmas radio station on my way to work this morning...Keep those songs coming!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Advent...

And here is the proof:

classroom Jesse Tree (sans ornaments, which the kiddos made today)

the annual "lighting" of the Advent wreath

Christmas lights and more Advent candles!

And who can resist all those Christmas lights in windows and on the streets...the smell of freshly cut Christmas trees...? Ah, I love it all. 

Advent, by all means, please take your time.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Another new year...

Happy New Year!

Err...um...well...happy new (liturgical) year.

There we go.

Oh yes, it's Advent. Light up that first purple candle and don your purple sweaters (or t-shirts if you live in the South), folks!

It's a busy season, that's for sure. No doubt about it. With the rush of the holiday shopping, it's hard to remember to slow down and think about the real cause for all this celebration.

Over the next week, I am leading 4 student retreats at our middle school campus. All of them have been designed with this in mind: keeping our eyes on Jesus and preparing our hearts for His coming at Christmas.

I'm pretty sure Advent is my favorite season - I remember how it was always a privilege to light the Advent candles on the family wreath and read the prayers each night at home. I absolutely loved the "live" Nativity show at the local Christian church (complete with animals). The songs at Mass always got me excited for Christmas too...

It's probably true that our culture has a part to play in making Advent my favorite season too - the Christmas tree lots (smell those evergreens!), the beautiful wreaths and lights, the holiday music, the flavors of peppermint and butter cookies...

It is time to ring in the new liturgical year...so let's get it started right!