When Trying to be the Hero in Your Own Classroom Fails: Kristin Lavransdatter and Allowing God to Be Glorified in the Mess

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Kristin Lavransdatter, as I mentioned in an earlier post, is the saga of a middle class Norwegian woman’s life from childhood until the very end. (There are a few SPOILERS in here, so read on with caution!) Kristin grows up in a devout Catholic family, gets seduced by a handsome trickster named Erlend, and spends most of her adult years dealing with the consequences of their damaged, yet enduring, marriage. Through it all, she moves as if on a spiraling track, first toward God, then away from him. She lets her father down, betrays her betrothed (Erlend’s competition), engages in superstitious practices to save her nephew’s life, stands by her husband through a terrible imprisonment due to a political snafu, and watches some of her children die. Eventually, her husband dies, and she is left alone with her sons, who eventually take over responsibility for the management of the estate. She spends her final months of life as a boarder in a convent; lastly, a plague comes and kills hundreds around her, and she falls prey to it herself. 

What a mess, right? But in some of her final moments on earth, she realizes that God’s relentless love for her has overcome even her own stubbornness and self-centeredness:

“It seemed to her a mystery that she could not comprehend, but she was certain that God had held her firmly in a pact which had been made for her, without her knowing it, from a love that had been poured over her–and in spite of her willfulness, in spite of her melancholy, earthbound heart, some of that love had stayed inside her, had worked on her like sun on the earth, had driven forth a crop that neither the fiercest fire of passion nor its stormiest anger could completely destroy”(Undset 1122). Kristin sinned a great deal, but she also suffered through the consequences of her sin, and she ended her life by performing an act of mercy– courageously burying a poor old woman, another plague victim, whose corpse had been abandoned. She became increasingly aware, in her later years, that her desire for God was nothing compared to His all-consuming desire for her. While she sought Him haphazardly, He sought her wholeheartedly, over and over again.

I think what I loved most about Kristin’s story was that it was truthful, often so truthful it was ugly. People in Kristin’s time didn’t have ibuprofen, cosmetic surgery, or diet soda. They couldn’t put filters on their pictures to make them look prettier. They sometimes died from wounds that we could easily treat today. And they did very hurtful things to each other, too, and these hurtful things turned into grudges and lies and insecurities. In the end, they weren’t the heroes of their own stories. If there was a hero in Kristin’s story, it was the Lord, not her.

As we’re preparing to start this school year, which will certainly be a year unlike any other, let’s keep our eyes fixed on the Lord. When everything else changes, He remains the same. When we try to measure our successes by earthly standards, He nudges us to seek sanctity for ourselves and our students, even though it will be messy. When we want to be the heroes of our own classrooms, He reminds us that He wants to be the hero; we have only to let Him. 

Undset, Sigrid. Kristin Lavransdatter. Translated by Tiina Nunnally, Penguin Classics, 2005.

15 Songs to Help You Stay Strong as a Teacher during Coronavirus

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Whatever your district, bishop, or principal has decided about how you’re going back to school (or not back to school) this fall, it’s going to be different. Remember back when we thought this was just a temporary fix and everything would smooth over during June, July and August? Ahhh, those blissful days of our ignorance!

Worship music can help you to stay strong when you’d rather just curl up on your couch and binge-eat sugary cereal (introverts, unite) or run outside and talk to everyone in sight because you miss your students so much (extraverts, unite.) These songs remind me of why I do what I do…because after all, we love Jesus, and we want everyone to know Him, especially our students and our families, even when circumstances get tough.

15. Need to refocus on your mission?

Check out Ryan Stevenson’s The Gospel–”The Gospel makes a way,” he sings, and it does, even when we can’t feel it or see what’s coming next.

14. Is this one of those days when you want chocolate, wine, and hard liquor at the same time, but you already did that last night, so you’re not sure what’s next?

(AKA Parent Teacher Conferences Night 2.)

You do have to be willing to be pepped up, but if so, the cheery and retro feel of Like You Love Me by Tauren Wells just might do the trick!

13. Anxious about how to cover up your insecurities as a teacher in all this uncertainty?

Jason Gray’s “Remind Me Who I Am” is so reassuring. It will gently lead you right into prayer.

12. Want to feel cool? (I mean, you already are, but adding little rap won’t hurt your ratings.)

A true classic, Toby Mac’s Speak Life will remind you of the radical, life-giving power of each of your words.

11. Plagued by fears about last year or next month? Trying to be more mindful (in the right kind of Catholic way)? 

The simple message of Jeremy Camp’s Keep Me in the Moment will resonate with your desire to take all of this one moment at a time.

10. Morning person? Because you will hate this if you’re not:

Good Morning by Mandisa is the kind of song you can blast in your classroom to get you pumped for the day. You know who you are.

9. NOT a morning person? Need a boost to get out of bed for Day 1 of Inservices?

Not only is the piano accompaniment on Mat Kearney’s Air I Breathe gorgeously invigorating, but the poetic lyrics will help you reclaim the Lord in all His goodness and power.

8. Discouraged by how long it takes to make literally ONE bulletin board in August?

The lyric video of The Afters, Broken Hallelujah, is seriously stunning. 

7. Getting too full of yourself? Or down on yourself?

“Nobody but Jesus” by Casting Crowns will pick you right back up again. It’s all about setting ourselves aside and letting Jesus take the stage, which is perfect as we prepare to take the stage in our classroom or on our Zoom screen this fall. Plus the girl riding the motorized scooter is just cool.

6. Worried about your school, city, or country? 

You’ve probably heard You’re the God of This City by Chris Tomlin before, in which case you know it’s perfect for such a time as this. If not, you’re in for a treat.

5. Want to feel empowered by the Holy Spirit and Sara Bareilles at the same time?

Because who wouldn’t, honestly. Her music video for Brave is amazing. My hero is the old guy in the red shirt and white pants…someday I hope to be as much of a rockstar as he is.

4. Piles of emails, forms, masks, and dirty tupperwares littering your desk already?

Give it all to Jesus with David Dunn, whose Have Everything reminds me of the zeal of my early teen years AND makes me want to get up and dance. (By myself, that is, because I am a bad dancer and now have adjustable blinds on my door for situations like this.)

3. Wish someone noticed all your hard work? It’s easier during the pandemic to feel overlooked.

 Over and Over by Riley Clemmons is a great find. The Lord chooses us over and over again, and this is our hope. Riley’s voice is so rich! 

2. Trying to be grateful but not doing that well at it?

Micah Tyler always makes me smile, and his Amen is no exception. He will draw you into praise and celebration, even when you’re surrounded by sanitizer (or “hamitizer,” as my three-year-old niece calls it, which evokes images of hamsters rubbing their paws together in a very antibacterial fashion.)

1. Just need to have a good cry?

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve played I Know by Big Daddy Weave while worrying about a student or parent issue. SOAK THIS IN. It is an incredible call to faith and opportunity to give God everyone who is on your heart and everything that breaks your heart.

Why You Need These Kinds of Teacher Friends

Why You Need These Kinds of Teacher Friends

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You know by now that having friends at work is key. Teaching is hard, and you need someone to pick you up on the rough days and to celebrate with you on the good ones. One thing I’ve learned over several years of teaching at different schools, though, is that you need to cultivate variety in your teacher friend base:

The Sassy Friend: This is the person you go to when you have tried to be sugar sweet to your kids all day, but someone in the situation is just being a/an [insert your own bad word here. This is a Catholic blog, guys.] For me, this is my friend Kate, who loves the kids to pieces but has just the right turn of phrase when the seventeen-year-olds are acting a whole lot like three-year-olds.

The Holy Friend: Okay, okay, I’ll admit it. This is me. I am not holy but am good at faking it, and when people come to me to complain, I’ll listen and then offer some nice words that end with something like, “The Lord is pleased with your efforts, even when things don’t turn out the way you’d like them to…actually, especially in those cases.” This is sometimes helpful, but not always, which is why you need your other peeps.

The “Let Me Take That One for You” Friend: I have only found two of these in my eight years, but they are awesome and worth waiting for. This is the person who says, Let me put on my department chair/lead teacher hat and just do whatever you’re trying to do but it isn’t working. As in, talk with that scary parent, say nice things to the principal on your behalf, coordinate yet another after school activity for your middle schoolers, or take your class at the last minute so you can actually catch a deep breath. Shout out to my friends Adam and Erin, who are true gems in this regard.

The “Let’s Drink” Friend: I’m mostly kidding on this one, but let’s just say that only certain people secretly stash champagne in their office and pull it out at just the right time, like to kick off Christmas Break. And only certain people agree to meet you after work for a drink and have already had a cold one by themselves by the time you arrive at the bar. I won’t name names here, but you know who you are, and I love you for it. For the record, I am pretty bad at drinking, but I dig the experience of hanging out in a dimly-lit booth with a Jack and Coke in hand.

The Chipper in a Non-Annoying Way Friend: I know a thing or two about being chipper in the annoying way due to my problem of rising early, drinking coffee, and accomplishing too much by 6 am, but I also know an amazing someone who comes by my room regularly before school and is cheery in the best possible way. Susan, who literally rises early so she can read the Gospel, eat her oatmeal and play with her cat Fred (or knit a sock) before school begins, is the most fun person to be with in the morning ever. She has a knack for being real about the crappy things in life yet delighted by the little things in life. When I found out that she often has a 10 am cookie break, I was like, “I want to be just like Susan when I grow up.” More than that, she has this uncanny way of showing up on days when I am feeling blue. Whoever in your life fits this bill, they deserve a big pat on the back today.

The Snide Email Replier Friend: I can always count on Jeff for the quickest and snarkiest email responses. Let’s be honest: No matter how efficiency-minded you are at work, there’s always time for a good back-and-forth with someone about less serious topics. Each year, we engage in a half-friendly, half-serious debate with Adam about what color paper we should use to copy our final exams. (The dilemmas of high school English teachers, right?) Jeff has been known to send very picky preferences…who knew there was such a difference between yellow and goldenrod…but he never ceases to entertain me. The best part about such email replier friends, as you’ve probably found, is you get to sneak that fun colleague banter into your day, even with people whom you don’t normally see often in person.

The Lunch Buddy Friend: You may need this friend for several reasons: You love lunch and like to get there as early as possible without looking greedy, so you bring a friend. You need a midday break to either a) vent or b) talk about something totally unrelated to work, like your favorite musicians from the 70s (shout out to Edward and Arthur!!) Or, you need someone to force you to stop working and actually be kind to yourself (shout out to Julie!). Whatever the reason, this is the person who cracks you up, offers you freeze-dried mango, and reminds you that there’s much more to life than your little bubble. They rock.

The Funny Stories Friend: Kids do dumb things in class and so do teachers. My friend Rachel has a knack for retelling these stories in ways that make me want to cry, they’re so funny. And seriously, teenagers (and middle schoolers and grade schoolers, for that matter), are pretty hilarious. You need a friend like this to make you laugh, especially after a rough day that doesn’t allow you to go out with your drinking friends afterwards.

The Mom Friend: Some of us have like three of these; my position is that more is always better, in the case of the mom friend. Pretty self-explanatory: she’s the one who feels bad for you (even when it’s probably your fault that you’re in this particular situation), brings you Starbucks just because, and regularly compliments you on your outfit. Sally, cheers to you.

I haven’t covered all of them, but this is a start. Hopefully you’ll make your own list and then tell your friends what category they’re in…and tell them how grateful you are to work together.