Things My Father Taught Me

Earlier today, the pastor of my parents’ church asked Facebook, “What’s the best thing your father taught you?”

I found that I was hard-pressed to give one solitary item, since my dad has taught me so much: in words, by his example, and by virtue of what he emphasized in day-to-day life.  He catechized me well, taught me the principles of being a good student, and gave lots of other pieces of practical advice:

  • Ask interesting questions!
  • Call the city when you see a water main break.
  • Use a tape measure beforehand to be sure the furniture/ item will fit.
  • Learn how to type (this one not by example, but by making each of us kids practice 5 minutes with FastType for every 20 minutes of computer games).
  • There’s no such thing as a garment with too many pockets (this by the example of having our mother add a second breast pocket to several of his shirts). There’s also no such thing as too many flashlights.
  • Try to buy American when you can.
  • Wear shoes in places like the garage or the basement, where there might be nails or live wires afoot.
  • “Don’t watch the ads, children.” Also: look away from violent TV shows. Don’t put the television in the middle of family life; if you must have one, keep it in the basement.
  • Honor the cook by being seated when he/she brings the food. Clearly address someone by name when you want him/her to pass you food. “When you have eaten and are satisfied, return thanks to the Lord for the good land he has given you.”
  • “Is there a way to graduate early?”
  • “If you borrow a woodsman’s axe, you are borrowing his livelihood. If you borrow my pen, you’re borrowing my livelihood. So make sure to return the pen to my hand, where you got it.” The same goes for his Swiss army knife.
  • “What have you learned from this?” Usually asked at the very moment we realized that a bad situation was at least partly our own fault.
  • “When you leave a house, wish God’s peace upon it.”

I’ve recently come to appreciate that it isn’t always the case that a man with three sons and one daughter treat them alike in dignity. From the time I was young, Dad told me that I could be at the top of the class or be the “head of the company.” Thus Dad taught me that, though I am different from my brothers, neither my thoughts nor my person are worth less than they are.

He taught me that memorization of Scripture is important; invoices are also important; writing the date on things is useful; the items you own require maintenance; the items you buy represent a certain amount of time invested to earn the money so be sure it’s worth it; and that strawberries demonstrate that our God loves making beautiful things.

Last (and probably best), Dad always told me “I love you, but Jesus loves you even more!

What did your dad teach you?

Grading Lament

I have two full weeks of school left, and one week of finals. And at the end of finals week, I must have all the finals graded and entered.

Talk about crazy. My school is small, but grading 28 6-page finals (just for Intro Latin) in 2 days is already giving me nightmares and cold sweats. Not to mention the finals for the other classes.

Also, I am suffering from dull but persistent headaches, a stuffy nose, a severely sore throat, bleary eyes, and fits of sneezing. I think it is the stress and boredom of grading. Or the Texas Allergens. Po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe.

Whatever the cause, I have gone through two bottles of lemon juice and my whole bear-jar of organic honey in this weekend alone.

So instead of doing the grading that I actually have this weekend, I am adapting Adelaide’s Lament into an Official Grading Lament. Behold:


It says here:
The average full-time teacher
At the end of school year
Due to some long frustration may react
With psychosomatic symptoms
Difficult to endure
Affecting the upper respiratory tract.

In other words, just from grading a number of tests and essays untold,
A teacher can develop a cold.

You can spray her wherever you figure the streptococci lurk
You can give her a shot for whatever’s she’s got, but it just won’t work
If she’s tired of seeing “a lot” spelled as just one word,
A teacher can develop a cold.

It says here:
The teachers possessing “free time”
Just in the legal sense
Show a neurotic tendancy, see note: (looks at note)
Chronic organic symptoms
Toxic or hypertense
Involving the eye, the ear, the nose, and throat.

In other words, just from spending all weekend grading on and off,
A teacher can develop a cough.

You can feed her all day with the vitamin A and the bromofizz
But the medicine never gets anywhere near where the trouble is.
If she’s getting up early to finish correcting the 80th quiz,
A teacher can develop a cough.

And furthur more, just from spelling, and grammar,
And the uncited quip,
A teacher can develop la grippe.

When she collects all the homework on Tuesday,
And grades it by Wednesday night
She expects a free day
But remembers the final exams that she still must write,
A person can develop la grippe,
La grippe.
La post nasal drip.
With the wheezes
And the sneezes
And a sinus that’s really a pip!
From a lack of sufficient sleeping
And a red pen clutched in a death-hold,
A teacher can develop a bad, bad cold!


So go on, sing away to the anthem of teachers this time of year! And I pray that you develop no colds of your own.

Pedagogical Tattoos

You know, if I stay a violin teacher very much longer, I am most assuredly going to have some accidental tattoos. I’m just looking at my hands from teaching today. I have two girls (Same age, same name, same issues… very hard to tell them apart) that I see on Sundays. We’re working on making it so very easy to hold the violin/bow that they forget it’s not part of them.

I have a very magical x on the outside of my left index finger at the point where it meets my palm.

Correspondingly, a mystic dot on the interior side of my left thumb. There is a smiley face on the  tip of that thumb.

On my right hand, there is a dot on my thumb,the outside of my index finger, the inside second knuckles of my middle and ring finger and the tip of my pinky. Match them up to the bow, and things work better. It’s a constellation of pedagogic genius.

Unless they don’t wash off this time.

The Stars Are Shifting: Change is a Comin’


Yesterday, I received a “Back-to-School Sale” flier in the mail.

And I panicked.

Because although I have spent a good 19 years out of my 25 in school, this “Back-to School”  will be different.

This year, I will be teaching.


And the Summer is almost over!


A week from today, my dad and I will begin a cross-country road trip to move me and all of my worldly goods to the California coast.

Three weeks from yesterday, I will begin Teacher In-Service, where I will presumably be told what a teacher does.

One month from tomorrow, I will greet my little Fifth Grade students, stand in front of a classroom, and teach.


I am excited.





The moment I accepted the job, everyone began to tell me horror stories and overload me with “good” advice.

Example: “Never cry! They sense fear, and will NEVER respect you EVER again. And then they will make fun of you.”

It hadn’t even crossed my mind that I might cry. Do teachers cry in front of students? Whatever for?

As a homeschooled child, I am rather confused by the role of teachers to begin with. What exactly do they do? Just stand up front and talk? Don’t the books teach everything all ready? How do teachers organize time? Give assignments? What goes on in a typical classroom? How does one write on a blackboard?

When I was in school, I would read my chapter, do the assigned practice work, hand it to my mom to be graded, and move on to the next subject. Until High School, I was finished with all my work before lunchtime, and could spend the rest of the day reading.

In college, I transitioned to the lecture/group discussion/seminar learning style fairly easily.

But college level seminars do not seem to be applicable to Fifth Grade.

Fortunately, this school is a small, private academy, and they seem to really take care of their teachers. Already I have been sent various books on the practical management of classrooms, lesson plans, and basic life. And all the kids seem friendly and engaged.



Step 1.) Build a Teacher Wardrobe. It IS all about the clothes. Thank Heaven for my friend/personal style guru V over at classroomlaundry. (Which is soon to morph into a Teacher Fashion Blog!)

Step 2.) Project Confidence.

Step 3.) Confidence.



I am leaving the graduate school environment, a wonderful community, good, good friends, and the comfort of my cozy apartment to go to California.

Which is, apparently, full of Californians. Who knew?

I’m scared.

And I am considering dying my hair blonde, in an effort to fit in. What do you think?

Actually, now that I think about it, some of my good friends are from California. The aforementioned V is, and so is David from The Warden’s Walk.

I will survive!


It will be a huge change for me, the shy, little, homeschooled Midwesterner, and full of many challenges and (I trust!) blessings.

Hopefully it will occasion many more amusing, insightful, delectable tales for me to tell here.

But if I disappear for a while, call for help and send me a bottle of emergency Scotch.

Thank you. You will be saving my life.


And pray that my first day does not look like this!

5th Grade Compliment

Sometimes, when I am very lucky, I get to spend my work day out and about. The company I work for sends me on short (not like the last trip!) day trips to area schools. We usually take 3-4 people, a couple of instruments (one each, to be honest), some fantastic binders full of music well cataloged and organized and go play concerts for the children.

Today I went out to a school about 30 minutes away. Very easy drive. It was only foggy and snowing fast. I shrug scornfully. I and my colleagues played six 50 minute concerts for 5th and 6th graders. As always, it was a delightful experience and right up my alley. Teaching these kids about hand frames, Handel, King George I, and early jazz as anticipated by Scott Joplin the Ice Cream Truck Song Man, how better could I spend my day?

The fun part isn’t the ache in my back because I have now played a string instrument for 7 hours today. It’s not the moment when I forget I’m playing viola and auto pilot over to treble clef just long enough to derail my colleagues. The music is great, but honestly not meant for upper string trio, so that is not the fulfilling and fantastic bit. It’s the kids. The children are enthusiastic, bright eyed, and quite frankly perfectly hilarious. I have a long list of funny moments, but I want to record and share today’s.

This one needs no introduction.

Thalia: Do you guys know what opera is?
Child (dubiously): I know who Oprah is…..
Thalia: I suppose the spectacle and emotionalism could be similar… but…
(teacher cracking up, totally doubled over in a corner)

One of the classes was a fantastic audience. They were enthusiastic and excited, but still respectful and attentive. They were bright, had intriguing answers and logical questions. And oh, I tell you, their final applause brought tears to my over sensitive eyes. I looked at my colleagues and said, “We should bow for them. They were lovely.” The children hooted and clapped some more while we bowed. Now, after 18 years of violin playing and bowing, I have to say, I’m pretty good at it. That sounds funny, but it’s a skill to bow gracefully. This skill I and my colleagues posses. We rose, bowed, and sat with synchronized perfection. A hush fell on the class. A child in the back spoke in an awed voice.

“Whoa. You’re ninjas.”

Uh Huh. Oh yeah. Ninjas.