Lost Causes – Updated

Please take some time to read this beautiful post by a teacher whose blog I have been reading for some time now. Like, go click the link below and read the whole thing right now:

What I Wish I Could Tell Them About Teaching in a Title I School by Love, Teach.

A small part:

I’m also not writing this for proof or validation that I work hard. I don’t have anything to prove about my work ethic or value as a teacher, to myself or anyone else, and this is not meant to initiate a game of “who has it worse.”


No. I’m writing this because I care about what happens to my students, and other children like them in Title I schools across this country whose needs are not being met, and who are learning harmful lessons from the larger systems in place that are supposed to help them. I am writing this to give others a picture of the type of learning and teaching environments that are being created by these systems.  I’m writing because it’s 2015, and far too many children in this country are still receiving a lower quality education because of the neighborhood into which they were born. (Love, Teach)

I am in a much easier situation than this brave soldier. I do not, and have not ever, taught in a Title I public school.

But I am a teacher too, and so my heart breaks.

She says,

I would tell them that it feels like I have three choices: 1) stay where I am, continue working hard and destroy myself, 2) stay and protect myself by putting in less effort, or 3) leave and abandon a profession and kids I care about. (Ibid)

She’s in an impossible situation.

And yet, and yet, when I was reading her post, something inside me kept saying, “No!”

I don’t want this teacher to leave.

I don’t know who she is, and heaven knows I do not know what she has been through, but she is exactly the type of person — exactly the particular person — we need to stay with our kids, because she loves them. Because she gets it. Because she teaches with everything she’s got, and it’s only in losing your life that you can find it.

At least, I know many of her kids have found it.

Or maybe I feel so strongly about this because I need to believe that it is possible to stay, even under such circumstances.

If teaching drives away all of us who love our kids, by breaking our hearts and breaking our spirits, who will be left?

The teachers that don’t care enough for the injustice of our country’s school systems to affect them? The teachers that don’t try hard enough so that the job seems like the stereotypical “Christmas breaks” and “summers off” vacation? The teachers who print out worksheets every day and show movies so they don’t have to deal with the real intellectual and emotional challenge of encountering young human souls?

Not everyone is called to be a teacher. And not everyone who is called to be a teacher needs to be one forever. Perhaps I am overstepping my bounds.

But we need more teachers like this wonderful young woman who has given the last five years of her life to a seemingly “lost cause” — perhaps it is, indeed, lost for all practical purposes.

A wise lady once told me, “In every crucifixion there is a resurrection.”

Perhaps we are not going to see any clear resurrection for ourselves here.

But even for the lost causes, the most horrific crucifixions, I believe in the parable of the seed that falls to the earth and dies.

Jimmy Stewart’s character says, in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,

I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don’t know about the lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for. And he fought for them once, for the only reason that any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain simple rule: ‘Love thy neighbor.’ (Source. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”)

It’s worth watching the whole scene. I hope the author of “Love, Teach,” watches this:

Also, this, by Emily Genser at the Huffington Post: “Don’t You Quit”


The Washington Post is publishing Love, Teach’s beautiful reflection here.

Anyone who loves kids and education needs to read it.

Why I Didn’t Quit My First Year of Teaching

The first year of teaching is notoriously horrible.

stressed teacher_0
source: takepart.com

Mine was.

In fact, I came VERY close to leaving ACE around October and November of my first year. I had never worked so hard or felt so overwhelmed or under-qualified. I had never felt so lonely or inept in my life. I was far away from friends, family, security… sanity. I was mired in papers and students whom I cared about but did not know how to help.

I had pretty much made the decision to leave after my first semester of teaching. This just wasn’t for me. So many of my friends were getting married, meeting people, loving their jobs, living healthy, fulfilling lives… and here I was, in the middle of nowhere, far away from everything and everyone I loved, and not making one whit of difference no matter how hard I tried.

Project1I remember sitting at my desk, exhausted, too tired to stand and walk around the room monitoring my students as they labored over their exam.

It was December. Christmas break was in sight. I wondered what I would do when I left Louisiana, or how I could begin to explain my decision to my principal or ACE housemates.

I had never really failed at anything before. I had never tried something, given it all I had, and watched as my efforts crumbled into humiliations, day after day.

I didn’t like failing.

I had never failed a subject in school, and here I was, feeling like a failure as a teacher.

I kind of knew what some of my students must feel like. You try and try and nothing ever seems to get better.

As I sat at my desk, chin on my hand, I began to look at each of my students*. There was Kelly with a frown on her face as she scribbled down the first few sentences of her essay. She had scared me to death when I first met her, because I knew she was exactly the sort of person who would have really intimidated me when I was in high school. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind or let you know if she thought you were complete incompetent. And yet we had developed a mutual, if guarded, respect.

And then there was Jeffery, gazing off into space as he absent-mindedly chewed the end of his pen. He was always too “cool” to care about school, or most anything else for that matter. But we got along. He smiled sometimes when I forced him to write an answer down.

Then there was Peter, dark-eyed and kind of scary. The other teachers had warned me about him. But I had always given him things to do from day one. “Hey, Peter, could you please take this to the office for me?” “Peter, would you go and tell Mr. Benoit that…” “Peter, I’m going to trust you with this: please…” And I think he was so surprised I entrusted him with anything that he never acted up in my class. Not once.

I looked at smug Mike, the one who always annoyingly tried to compliment me. “Hey, Ms. Shea, I like that dress.” “Do your bell work, Mike.” “Hey, Ms. Shea, you look beautiful today.” “Irrelevant, Mike. Sit down.” “But Ms. Shea, I’m just trying’ to…” “I don’t care, Mike.” “Hey, Ms. Shea…” “I’m happy to see you too, Mike. Do your work.”

I smiled in spite of myself.

I kept looking around the room at all the faces bent down over my exam, the pens and pencils scratching, heads leaning heavily on hands that occasionally were waved vigorously to get the blood circulating again after so much writing.

And I realized something strange.

So many of my college friends were finding love in so many beautiful ways (okay, mostly via marriage and children), and yet I suddenly saw that I had found love too.

I loved my students.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but that December I realized that somewhere along the way, it had.

God may not have given me the kind of love I was looking for or hoping for, but He had given me these kids.

And I knew I couldn’t leave.

I had to stay.

And that’s why I didn’t quit my first year of teaching.

source: theteachergarden.blogspot.com



*All names have been changed.

7 Quick Takes Friday (2/14/14)


It’s Valentine’s Day. So the theme is love.


My friend Serena has written a beautiful article over at Public Discourse entitled “Politics, Art and Love: A Lesson from Dante.” You should read it. She gracefully weaves together an argument for the proper approach to debating political issues with a simple but profound explication of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

A taste:

Just like Dante, every person has the capacity to open himself to truths that are bigger than our minds can initially fathom. We can often lose sight of the fact that the answers to political questions on abortion or marriage, for example, are based on understandings of the nature of human life and love that are just too big and too profound for us to grasp all at once. The process of changing someone’s mind on such questions will probably be slow, but it can be helped along by relationships that, in love, persistently ask others to reconsider the philosophical foundations of their beliefs. (Serena Sigillito at Public Discourse)


Speaking of love…

Via Catholic News Agency Blog:


This may sound rather abrupt –

But I truly believe this: if you don’t love teaching, if you don’t love your kids, then go do something else.

You might be a very imperfect teacher (like me). You might not know everything about your content or how to “control” a classroom or how to help a student. I have struggled with all of these things. And I still do.

These things you can learn and improve upon.

But if you do not love the act of teaching itself — if you don’t love spending time with young people, if you don’t love your kids, then you should not be a teacher. You will not have anything to give if you do not have love.

The truth is, if you do not love teaching, then maybe you really are called to something else. You can show your love and serve God in a different way. And that is okay.

But please don’t stay a teacher because you get summers off and because you’re “qualified.” If you don’t love you’re kids, then you’re not qualified.

Okay. Rant over.


Here is a fascinating article in the Atlantic on “Why Writers are the Worst Procrastinators”, whose pithy title alone seems to explain my entire academic career both as a student and as a teacher.

I have always struggled with procrastination, even though I have done well in school and pretty consistently turned assignments in on time. McArdle explains:

Most writers manage to get by because, as the deadline creeps closer, their fears of turning in nothing eventually surpasses their fears of turning in something terrible. (via  The Atlantic)
This is very true. The adrenaline rush that an impending deadline provides is a much stronger motivator for me than almost anything else. Since I feel as though I no longer have a choice in the matter, the words come. They come out of my fingertips though the keyboard and onto the screen almost in spite of myself.
What makes this article even more awesome (besides explaining me to myself) is that it cites Carol Dweck’s research on success and failure, growth mindset and fixed mindset, terms that have greatly influenced my own teaching for the last few years.
Dweck argues that people often procrastinate because they are afraid of failure. If a student plays video games all night instead of studying for a test, he can always explain his failure on the test later by saying “Oh I didn’t even try to study for that” rather than by his own poor abilities or lack of understanding.
It is easier not to try in school than to try. If you try, you actually are putting yourself on the line. You are putting yourself into your work. If your work then receives all sorts of red marks on it, you feel as though you have nowhere to hide: you are a failure.
But if you don’t try at all, no matter how many “red marks” you receive, you can always attribute them to your lack of trying–not your actual talent or performance.
It’s safer that way. But it’s also cowardly, and prevent real learning from taking place:

“You never see the mistakes, or the struggle,” says Dweck. No wonder students get the idea that being a good writer is defined by not writing bad stuff.

Unfortunately, in your own work, you are confronted with every clunky paragraph, every labored metaphor and unending story that refuses to come to a point. “The reason we struggle with”insecurity,” says Pastor Steven Furtick, “is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” (Ibid)

We forget that writing–and all learning–is a labor of love. Key word: labor. No labor, no love. No mistakes, no learning.

Happy Valentines Day! Or, as some of my students informed me, “Singles Awareness Day”… aka S. A. D.
My friend Emily posted this wonderful list of Catholic Social Teaching Pick Up Lines in honor of the day.
I like these:

2. You must be poor, ’cause I’ve got a preferential option for you.

3. Hey, don’t I know you? I could have sworn we were in solidarity with one another once?

And this:



For those celebrating the S. A. D. version of today, there is a beautiful article over at the CNS Womanhood Blog about living the single life.

Best of all, the author, Elise Italiano, looks to Saint Edith Stein for her advice:

As Stein notes, one’s singlehood might not be deliberately chosen. But one does have freedom in the face of it. Father Jacques Phillippe writes in Interior Freedom, “We need to understand that there is another way of exercising freedom: less immediately exciting, poorer, humbler, but much more common, and one immensely fruitful, both humanly and spiritually. It is consenting to what we did not originally choose. (Italiano, “Edith Stein’s Advice to Single Ladies” CNS)


Which brings me to the topic of vocations.

Brother Justin Hannegan, a fellow UD graduate, recently wrote in Crisis Magazine about vocation. He made a rather startling argument – that discerning one’s vocation to the religious life, married life or single life has less to do with searching through one’s desires than it does with one’s abilities. One should not ask: what does my heart desire? But rather: what am I able to do? In other words, if you can do the religious life (with God’s grace), then do it.

He references the Church Fathers (especially Aquinas) and seems to have the first 1900 years of Catholic tradition on his side.

Hannegan’s original article: “Sacrificing Religious Life on the Altar of Egalitarianism”

His response to critics:”Sacrificing Religious Life: A Reply to Critics”

But another graduate and friend of mine from UD, Gabbi Chee, respectfully disagrees:

We have also forgotten how to discern. On that point, I agree wholeheartedly with Br. Justin. But I don’t agree that searching one’s desires is the wrong way to go about discernment. But we need to clarify and define “desire.” Earlier in the article, Br. Justin quotes one of my favorite authors, Fr. James Martin, S.J., as saying “God awakens our vocations primarily through our desires.” I can’t speak for any of the other religious orders or for their take on discernment, but in Ignatian terms, desire is not just about what I want, like ‘I want a Ferrari’ or ‘I want to live somewhere sunny’. It is about what is at the core of my being and my heart. This is not something that everyone can articulate right away. That’s what discernment is for. Discernment requires that we stop and take stock of our life and the direction it is taking and the way that God has been leading us all along.

Read her excellent article too over at Saintable: “The Role of Desire In Discernment”

What do you think?


I’m considering responding to the questions about discernment Hannegan and Chee raise. In the meantime, however, I’ll just end with a beautiful insight from Italiano’s article:

[A Dominican priest] spoke to the temptation of the person in their twenties or thirties to measure their life in a linear way: to measure their worth and success by whether or not they had achieved certain standard markers that they felt they “should” have arrived at: obtaining degrees, landing a dream job, getting married, having a set number of kids by a particular age, and buying a house. The priest said that we ought to measure our lives vertically, like the corpus on the Cross. We should measure our lives by the depth that we enter into the present moment and how much love we are putting into it. (“Edith Stein’s Advice to the Single Ladies”)

It’s all about love, people.

Happy Valentine’s Day!