Saturday, August 29, 2009

One week in...

Well, the first week of school is in the books and things went swimmingly well. I had a fairly good group of girls last year, but there were four or five who insisted upon being late, loud, and littery. Amazingly, they're all gone. Transferred or moved. I'm left with about 40 girls who are well on their ways to being model citizens. They are unfailingly polite and poised, and from what I've already seen this week, seriously dedicated to academics.

But then, after all, this school is a leadership school for young women, as it says in the very name of the school. In case you're interested, the racial composition of my riders is about 60% Black and 40% Hispanic. Here is some interesting info from the school's website:

Seniors who have attended the school beginning their freshman year are guaranteed up to $12,000 for college if they meet the requirements of the Foundation for the Education of Young Women (FEYW) Scholarship, created by Lee Posey, founder of Palm Harbor Homes. The requirements include: applying for 2 scholarships per month, applying for financial aid, taking the SAT test by October of senior year. Also, students who apply to the school after their junior year will not be taken into consideration and students who have attended the school since sophomore year are only eligible to receive 75% of the amount. The scholarship is renewable for the first 4 years of a former Rangel student’s college education.

Mr. Posey passed away last year. The students were called into the auditorium at the end of the day and informed of his death. Many were very close to him and were visibly moved as they left the building. The next day, the entire student body and staff silently walked outside the school and released red and black balloons in his honor.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Monday, a new beginning...

My heart goes out to teachers everywhere tonight...since 36 times, I had to face the Sunday-night-before-the-first-Monday-of-school feelings. I hated it. I hated everything about the opening of school. I never got comfortable until I got the students (and bus riders) trained to my way of doing things. And that didn't occur until early October. Then a natural flow of the day would commence as both kids and I developed a comfort level with each other.

Now all I do is drive a school bus full of talented and gifted girls to their leadership school, and it's an absolute snap. No quivering stomach, no lesson plans, nothing to do but concentrate on driving the yellowhound safely. And that is a big item. I never forget that I've got 40-45 precious children on board, children who mean everything to their parents just as my kids do to me. So I pray about safety every day...not just about protecting my riders, but in making sure that huge hunk of iron I drive doesn't ruin anybody else's day, too.

I also hope (and pray) that I can toss a little sunshine into the path of a kid or two on days when they're down. Since I spend a lot of time with them, it's fairly easy to pick up on when they are upset, depressed, sick, or worn down by life. All of us can remember a teacher (or maybe even a bus driver) who took the time to cheer us up on a blue day and get us to smile a bit. I'm in the unique position of seeing the kids twice a day, and often they board the bus in the morning upset with something at home - or hop aboard in the afternoon after a tough school day. There is a lot I can't undo...but there is a little I can do, and I pray to be alert and wise enough to recognize opportunities and then to say precisely the right thing. It pretty much has to be a Holy Spirit operation, since I am totally unable to craft the correct words on my own.

So let's get started. I have 15,000 miles ahead of me between tomorrow and the end of the school year!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Concerning Josh Hamilton...

It was a kick to the gut when I saw the news that Josh had a night of indiscretion last January. I bought his book, Beyond Belief, and was amazed at the depth of his drug-induced spiral downward. It took a grandmother's love, a wife's commitment, and the power of God to resurrect Josh and give him not only a chance to survive, but to return to the baseball field and play again.

If one lives long enough, he will inevitably discover that a Christian friend who was thought to be devout and strong has nonetheless been unfaithful to a spouse or involved in a business scandal or some other colorful downfall. It never ceases to hurt and hurt a lot. When it's Christian public figure who trangresses and gets caught, it's bothersome because you know cynics will use that opportunity to trot out the "hypocrite" label and gleefully poke fun at Christians everywhere. We yearn for those famous believers to be perfect at all times and show the world that there is a better way.

The problem, obviously, is that we all sin and we tend to sin a lot. And the Bible does very little in the way of sin classification. Little white lies are sins as are murders and mutilating innocent animals. Apparently Christ's blood is thick enough and strong enough to eradicate sins at both ends of the shock value spectrum. God was no doubt as disappointed with whatever it was that I did wrong today as he was with what went on in that Phoenix tavern with Josh. And since Josh was totally repentent, just as I am for my unpublicized sins today, the amazing purification power of grace has rendered us both pure and spotless in God's eyes. I've got to make sure that I'm just as disgusted with my transgressions as I am with Mr. Hamilton's.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why We're Behind

I just finished the book Outliers, one of the more fascinating tomes I've read. One of the chapters deals with why Asian students achieve more than American kids. Part of the reason for this is the Asian culture, one that emphasize hard work and determination. Millions of these children are raised in the rice patties and there's a saying among the rice farmers that one will be rich if one works 360 days a year and gets up before dawn. A bit different from most American households.

But there's another reason for the Asians' academic superiority - the amount of time spent in school each year. Here in the U.S., kids average about 180 school days per annum and have about 3 months off in the summer, something that dates back to when this country was mainly agrarian and children were needed in the fields. Those days are over but the tradition remains. And Americans, both young and old, would really protest losing that block of free time that we've all grown fond of.

Asian kids pretty much go to school year 'round. They average 220-260 school days a year. School is as valued a part of their culture as video games are in ours. But their success on tests is not a racial thing. In the U.S., in schools where longer school days and longer school years have been instituted, scores have shot through the roof. The students adjust to the stricter standards and develop all sorts new self-discipline. When they get home from school, they do homework, an idea that is getting increasingly farfetched in the U.S.

Now we all know that all work and no play can create a warped world for a child. We don't want to rob children of the joy and play that kids are supposed to experience. But it sure seems like American schools could split the difference and maybe knock a month and a half off the summer break. Could it happen? Very doubtful. Parents, teachers, kids, and, ahem, school bus drivers would be beyond furious. The tourist industry would scream bloody murder. And personally, even as a retired teacher who would be only marginally affected by such a change, I would grimace over giving up a few precious weeks of summer.

I guess it all comes down to how badly the country wants to succeed. And in America, the majority of folks have no problem anymore with less-than-stellar schools.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Back to work, kinda

Tomorrow, I report for a two-hour bus driver meeting. It's kind of like being awakened by having a bucket of cold water thrown in your face. Summer has gently pulled me into an attitude and lifestyle of near-complacency. Go to bed when I wanna, get up when I wanna, do what Carole asks me to do when I wanna :).

After the meeting, I'll still have nearly two weeks before school starts. And as I've stated before, the mental attitude of a school bus driver is much different from that of a teacher this time of year. The teacher has to get mentally ready for the stress and exhaustion that goes with the territory. You practically have to get your "game-face" on. But all I have to do is remind myself of how important it is to be safe behind the wheel. And about how precious the cargo is.

I'm just real fortunate to be doing something I enjoy doing. What a blessing!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Wrestling with the Angel

Frankly, most days I struggle with two trains going in opposite directions: grace and effort. I am completely aware that Ephesians 2:8 assures us that we are saved by grace through faith. I am a baptized believer. But I can't get it out of my cranium that there is a line drawn on a sheet of paper in heaven and that my performance as a human looks like a lie-detector needle as it jerks back and forth across that line.

Why is this? Is it because of some sort of Americanized work ethic that's been drummed into me since I was 6 years old? Is it the hangover of legalistic preaching I grew up with that really did think salvation was attainable through maximum effort? And is it avoidable?

It's like I can't internalize what God is telling me. I consider all my failings and repeatedly come to the conclusion that I'm lukewarm. And we all know what happens to the lukewarm Christian. I can extricate myself from this depressing feeling by reading about grace or hearing a grace-based sermon. But sooner or later, I'm back chasing that line again. I'm like Paul, who contemplated all he left undone or unsaid and pronounced himself miserable.

The paradox of this is that when asked if I'm saved or not, I firmly answer in the affirmative. One part of my brain accepts what the shed blood of Jesus has bought for me. But as far as the day-to-day attitude I start each morning with, it's "you better start earning the gift that has been handed you."

Anybody want to chime in on this conundrum?