Sunday, August 21, 2016

Stepping Out

There are a couple of things that people always to tell you about becoming a teacher. It's fulfilling. It's ridiculously difficult. It's a ton of fun. There will be tons of paperwork and grading (especially as an English teacher). There are also questions, especially for me.

"You were homeschooled? What made you decide to teach in public schools?" (The answer is, God said so, and my arguments fell pretty flat, so I decided embracing it was easier.)

"How are you going to deal with high school kids? They're crazy." (I know, and they're mostly all taller than me, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Plus, I like their crazy.)

"You realize that you aren't going to make that much, right?. How are you going to pay off your loans?" 

And there, I stop, because I honestly don't know. I spent the years in between my undergrad and my graduate work desperately trying to, 1) find ANY job, let alone a job that paid well (most of them didn't), and 2) hold off the loan collectors while I tried to figure out my life. In terms of financial decisions, going to grad school was both the most irresponsible thing and the only real option I had. If I wanted to make a real adult paycheck in my chosen career, I had to do this. I knew that, and again I had that conversation with God that went, "really? You really want me to do that?" and Him answering, "Yep. Do it."

So here I am. A year into my grad program, still alive, and having barely stayed so with a combination of student loans and my part-time job. 

But wait. Then student teaching comes up. At the beginning of the program, I didn't really think about it. 4 months, August to December, without any paychecks. And uncertain employment after that. Okay, then, I thought, well I can survive on the loan money I've been getting. 

Then I realized. Student teaching counts for more units, which eats up most of what I was hoping to get. Looking around the classroom whenever this subject came up, I saw the same emotions that were in me. Frustration. Anxiety. A bit of anger over the system that begs us to take on a low-paying job for the good of society, makes us pay through the nose for the education to get us there, and then throws in the added injustice of requiring an unpaid internship to achieve this goal. I cannot figure out the logic of this. It makes no sense to me. And, in the scheme of things, I don't even have it as bad as I could. I am in an accelerated program. I only have a semester. Most other teacher prep programs require a whole year. 

This is not just a financial hardship. This is actively taking advantage of people who have to take this path to reach the already grossly underpaid career they have chosen because they love it, and are passionate about making sure these kids get a good enough education to earn more than us.

Yet, here I am. Still 100% dedicated to finishing this out strong. I am here for a reason. I have been in dire financial straits for most of my time since graduating college. While this annoys me, and I'm not likely to stay quiet about it (it's not my style), I am not turning from the path. I do believe this is where I am supposed to be, when I was supposed to get there. Just because I'm happy to finally be at this point after so much waiting doesn't mean it doesn't suck.

That's where my faith comes in. I currently have no idea when I will get any money, and working odd jobs (which I'm still trying to do) isn't going to be enough to float me. This is not my favorite place to be in, but I've been here before. I have survived, and it has always been because God had my back. Stuff I can't explain. People handing me cash to cover what I needed that week. People buying me food that can be converted to leftovers and get me through a day. Often little things, but they add up. 

I am here. I am excited about the next four months. I am looking the fear and anxiety of having no money in the face and doing my best to strengthen my voice as I declare that I will not just survive, I will thrive during this time. I'm stepping out into the unknown and praying that God will catch me. That part, at least is certain. He hasn't dropped me yet.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Crying Discrimination

Over my self-titled "Summer of Darkness", some pretty big things happened in the world, and also in my community. I had thoughts about these things, as I nearly always do, but I wasn't exactly in a place to fully express my thoughts on them. Past a couple of incomplete thoughts on Facebook, that is. So I am here to remedy that, because some of them were brought up to me again this week.

I am going to start out with a definitive statement. I love my school. William Jessup has consistently been a place where I could come and feel safe, loved, supported, and encouraged to grow. I lived here on campus for four years. I was deeply involved in campus life, including the Jessup House of Prayer. I may have been one of the only people who loved going to chapel, because there was always something new to learn, even if I didn't always agree with the opinions presented. I always had the opportunity to hash out my faith and my relationship with God, taking it to new levels that I hadn't been aware existed.

In fact, Jessup was one of the main places that I learned how to be friends with people who didn't necessarily have the same opinion as I did. I would debate mightily with some of my closest friends about hot-button issues. The professors consistently encouraged dialogue in class that included heavy disagreement. There was even a whole class dedicated to looking at specific issues in modern culture and determining what your perspective was on them. It required me to push out of my box, consider other people's feelings, and deeply impacted how I've approached coming to my decisions about faith, life, and culture.

All that being said, I now wonder if my experience would have been as positive if I had, say, decided that I was not in fact a straight woman, but a lesbian, or bi, or even that being a guy might suit me better. I'd be lying if I said that all of those thoughts had not crossed my mind at some point during my college years. I've written here before about being a Tomboy, awkward, nerdy, and generally not super feminine. In the years since, I have determined that - at the very least - I am a girl for a reason, and I like guys (more on that in the upcoming post about my summer crisis).

Still, the thought was always there in the back of my mind. What if... What would I have done then? Continued to live in peace and harmony on the extremely conservative Christian campus without any fear? Without worrying that I might get kicked out, or made to change my living arrangements? Or decided that it wasn't worth it to keep paying money to be in a community that actively preached against what I was very deeply feeling?

This summer, a bill came through the California State legislature that tried to address those issues. As anyone who has been even remotely connected to the news knows, there was a significant amount of outcry when North Carolina passed a "bathroom bill" requiring transgender people to use the bathroom consistent with their birth gender. Soon after, a whole other group of people had their outcry moment when Target decided to change their bathroom policies to be inclusive to transgender people. I happened to be in the first group of people, who was incensed that the government still seems to think that legislating their personal views on lifestyle is an appropriate use of their elected power. The really interesting thing about this whole morass of outcry was that both groups of people who were most incensed claimed that they were being discriminated against. Now, I like history. I would like to ask you to consider the amount of times - historically - Christians have been discriminated against, compared to the amount of times Christians have discriminated against others, actively and vocally.

... I'll wait.

This California bill, as I saw it, tried to make sure that the same sort of thing that happened in North Carolina didn't happen in California's many institutions of higher learning. The UC system, the Cal State system, the Community College system, and yes, the various private universities that operate in the state, Christian or no. It contained language that would expand Title IX rights to LGBT+ individuals, in regards to not being discriminated against when it comes to admissions, housing, and participation in athletics programs. It even considered religious institutions, adding a clause where -according to my reading of it - they could choose to opt out of some of the clauses based on their strongly held beliefs.

My little corner of the internet exploded. Suddenly, I was receiving emails from the president of Jessup claiming that they, in fact, were being discriminated against in the language of this bill. To learn more about Jessup's position on this, I actually watched all four videos made to explain why they opposed the bill so heavily. Other religious institutions jumped in. Lots of money was spent to make sure this bill didn't get through the legislature in it's unsatisfactory state. Eventually (spoilers) the bill was changed, and it was counted as a victory for those dedicated to living a holy life, a triumph of righteousness. Discrimination, in their mind, was defeated.

Yet, I still wonder. What does this mean for the LGBT+ students that I know go to this school? They were here when I was a student. There weren't that many, but every student on campus knew who they were. We also knew the various details of their run-ins with campus leadership when they would cross whatever arbitrary line was currently set. Because most students were (at the time) required to live on campus for the first two years of their four-year stint, there were some hurried discussions besides closed doors about how to keep them from straying into sexual sin in our dorms, or anywhere on or off-campus. Yeah. Not even off-campus living arrangements were safe from the rules, especially if you were one of the many - athletes included - who had to sign a separate contract to make sure your life remained pure enough to represent Jessup. Other clauses included not breaking any laws, not drinking at all ever, and of course, keeping yourself "above reproach" in all other areas of life.

I have a couple of issues with this. First off, I am of the opinion that the only people who should be concerned about my sexuality are myself and Jesus, unless I choose to make it someone else's business. I think trying to regulate sexuality has gotten way out of hand, and it is no longer about trying to love people well. I don't think that ANYONE should have to deal with their private life being spread about to a whole school. Whether it's an LGBT+ person who has a run in with Campus Life, or a straight person who got caught with their significant other in a "compromising position". In a small community, some of this is inevitable. Gossip in this community (another thing the Bible says we shouldn't actually do) spreads faster than an STI. That's obviously an issue on many levels, but at the heart of it, I think we need to realize that making judgments/rules that apply to sexuality is inherently impractical, and honestly, is going to be ignored 99% of the time.

Second, I specifically disagree with the fearful eye that the Church as a whole has turned towards transgender people especially, aside from the already rampant fear and hatred towards all LGBT+ people. The stats on rates of bullying, mental health issues caused by trauma, and suicides for trans people are astoundingly high. They are very clearly cast as outcasts in society. Last time I checked, Christ accepted the outcasts, told His followers very clearly that they were to be loved, taken care of, and accepted into communities. Not that we freak out because we don't understand their choices, and we feel they will be a danger to our way of life. The data says differently. The whole argument of "we want to protect our daughters from predators," is frankly, bullshit. For one, this is making the assumption that straight women can't protect themselves, or make their own choices about who they reside with. Also, it really only focuses on one side of the issue. What about your concern for the safety of someone's daughter who has decided that they're a son, and then gets assigned to live in a dorm with straight men who may or may not be accepting of that individual's choice? Theoretically speaking, if I had chosen to make the transition from a female to a male, I would not have felt super safe living as a male in the guys dorms, unless I knew for sure that I was put in a room/wing with people that I trusted to not discriminate against me.

Finally, that brings us to the issue of discrimination. I really have a problem with anyone in a privileged group crying discrimination, while also soundly ignoring the ways that they are actively discriminating against less privileged people groups. I understand that having your beliefs challenged is difficult. After all, being at Jessup taught me that. It also taught me how to deal with it gracefully, look at scripture critically, ask Jesus about it extensively, and possibly change my beliefs to accommodate what I found out. Do I think private institutions should have the right to determine how they deal with these issues? Yes. Do I think that it gets more complicated when you take state financial aid? Absolutely. Do I think that it's discrimination when the State attempts to make sure that all of the students in all schools are protected and given equal access to all levels of education? Not at all. After all, Jessup is an at-will institution. Students choose to come here. One would assume that they know that by making that choice, they are going to be in a community that very strongly promotes certain values over others. I actually think that's an issue of free choice.

At the end of the day, there is actually one really easy answer about what Christians should do "about" LGBT+ people they run across: Love them. Simply show them that their life choices do not change how much Jesus loves them, how He created them with value, and how they have free access to His power to change their lives, and then let them figure out what that looks like. While you're at it, love the people who aren't quite there yet. Who still react in fear, because that's what they were taught, or that's how their perspective has led them to read the Bible. Despite my strongly held beliefs, and my love of "being right", I believe it's more important to be a loving person than to win every battle. Call me crazy, but I do follow a guy who got himself killed to save every soul in the world. Until I reach that level, maybe I'm not crazy enough.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Going to High School For the First Time

You know what's weird? Standing in your very first high school opening assembly, at age 27. Knowing that all the class periods you're going to be in charge of consist of at least 30 students, 11 more than were in your entire graduating class.

Being a homeschooler who chose to go into teaching in a public school is weird.

Even in college, the amount of students didn't really match up. Jessup was a small school at the time. I may have had 40-50 classmates in some of the core courses, but mostly it was 20 or 10 or even 5. The entire student body (counting the off-campus degree completion program) was just over 1,000 when I was there. The school I'm teaching at had nearly 2,000 students. 

Walking into the gym, I was nothing short of awed. The introvert in me - the one that's still standing in the corner asking why this is what I want to do for the rest of my life - was overwhelmed. I stuck to my master teacher and hid myself behind taller people (not super difficult). When they apologized for blocking my view, I assured them it was just fine. 

Not that it was all bad. The students all chosen to lead certain activities did great. I was in awe of the technique and talent of the girl chosen to sing the National Anthem, as a vocals person, and as a person who has never been the only one singing in front of 2,000+ people and nailed it. 

The assembly obviously wasn't the only new experience, just the most notable one. It was also fun looking around at all of these high school kids who are simultaneously SO LITTLE and SO MUCH TALLER THAN ME. Apparently, I looked like I knew what was going on (a relief, because I didn't feel like it) because a bunch of really lost looking freshman asked me for directions. Of course, I don't know the campus any better than they do, so I mostly just pointed them to my master teacher. It was great. I felt *very* helpful. 

It was actually a more chill day than I was expecting, mostly because my master teachers were nice and didn't toss me in front of a class to sink or swim. I am more grateful for this than I can accurately express. I mostly observed, passed out papers, and made jokes about Firefly with some of the kids in the class I'm eventually teaching after I introduced myself as an unashamed geek. So, you know, basically what I do in any new social situation. 

The thing is, this is literally the first time in my life that I have spent an entire school day on a high school campus. Any high school campus. So there's still a part of me that will probably feel like an imposter for awhile. On the other hand, there are some plus sides to the situation.

For instance, I am entering this incredibly intimidating social environment not as a freshman, utterly unsure of myself and a little terrified. I get to do this for the first time as an adult, someone who has had a few years to get used to myself and (mostly) learn how to stand in the face of people who won't all necessarily like me. Well, at least I think I have. Talk to me in December, we'll see how well that works out. 

Also, I don't have any high school traumas to drag into my teaching experience. Or at least, not any that took place on a concentrate campus. I get to come in with a really different perspective on everything that goes on, and I hope that helps me see the students in a light that not a lot of other people will.

At the end of it all, I'm only here for a semester. I have an end date already. I can't really reasonably commit to making a huge difference in these student's lives. But I can do my best to relate to them for the time that I'm there, and maybe give them a look at how they can be different and cool.

Because if there's one thing I've done really well since my own high school years, it's being really different and still cool.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Sound of a Living Heart

"I hear Jesus calling me out of the grave I've been sleeping in. With new lungs, I'll begin again. Lift my voice and sing my part. This is the sound of a living heart." - JJ Heller, Sound of a Living Heart

I haven't written in awhile. Not just here, either. I haven't written anywhere, except for the few school assignments that I somehow manage to eke out every week. No journaling, certainly no noveling, no blogging. Being so silent - silent even to myself - is odd for me. I don't like it. So I decided to break the silence, try and put into words the answer to the question I've been getting from everyone as I come back to life: How was your summer?

It seems like a simple question. On one level, the answer is also simple. I worked a lot more than I did over the school year. I also took a heavier class load. I had very little energy to devote to basically anything else. My co-workers saw me. My classmates saw me. I occasionally saw some of my closest friends. To basically everyone else, I dropped off the face of the earth. I posted things on Facebook mostly to assure people I was still alive, and that was all the interaction I could handle for awhile.

To be completely honest, it started before the summer. Somewhere around Easter I went through one of those seasons where you're digging around your history, and all of a sudden you dredge up a big 'ol chunk of bullshit that you thought you dealt with already. It was a massive piece, actually. Humongous. Monolithic. I wasn't even remotely prepared for it to be dislodged, and when I finally pulled it out of the stone it had been stuck in... I was knocked flat on my ass for awhile. (One of these days, I'll write about what it was, because the eventual process of dealing with it was cool, but for now it was just big and I'm glad it's over).

So I spent a good 4 to 5 months both dealing with that mess, which for me means isolating until someone kicks me in the butt to get a move on (usually Jesus), and then I actually ask for help and fix things. Since then, I've been cleaning up the aftermath of that mess, and desperately trying to rest and recharge because this summer of insanity comes with a nice cherry on top: a semester of student teaching, with assessments galore, hundreds of new people (an introvert's *dream*), and lots of new experiences. All good things. All things I need energy for.

The thing is, it's difficult to re-enter the world when you're already at the end of your energy stores and you have a big new thing going on. So here I am writing, because of all the things in my life, writing is the one thing I can always do. Even when I forget it's an option. I can rejoin the world a bit at a time, and I'm starting here.

When I went through the one big moment last month that finally broke through the majority of the bullshit, the first thing I listened to was the song at the top, on repeat. It was so applicable. It felt like I had life again, after months of drowning.

I can now claim a living heart. It means I feel deeply, which is painful when I have to do things like leave my job and my kids to start this new season. But it also means I get to experience life more fully, which is always something I've struggled with. I just need to learn how to manage the freedom, which is another new thing.

I hope that I follow through on my intention to work out some of the journey here. In the quiet house right now, this seems like a doable thing. Whether the week will allow for it remains to be seen. All I know is that it felt so freeing just to write this. And hey, now you all know how my summer went!