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About 3 years ago, my school participated in a pilot program for AISD.  I was one of 10 teachers to help pilot this program, called A Legacy of Giving (ALOG).  ALOG is a non-profit organization started by Linda Brucker after watching her son give back to the community for part of a school assignment.  The assignment that the kindergarten teacher gave her students was to observe the homeless in our community, find out what they need, and then act on that.

ALOG’s primary purpose is to expose and educate young children about philanthropy so they will grow up giving back to their communities.  Sounds great, right?  To be completely honest (and expose just how selfish I am), I was NOT excited about being part of this pilot program.  Like many programs that get thrown at teachers, this program required us to attend trainings, integrate yet more curriculum, and organize comminity service projects for our school-in other words, more work.  In the three years I taught this program, my effort was probably half-hearted.  Sure, there were things that I liked about what we did, but I wouldn’t have felt bad if the district cut the program.

The last training I went to was in May.  At this training, Linda Brucker told us the story of why she started ALOG and described the project that her kindergarten son was assigned several years ago.  Through his observation and research, he concluded that homeless people really needed clean socks.  So, that day at the training, we replicated what that 6 year old had done several years before: we made tube sock gifts to give out to the homeless we saw on the street.  Inside one tube sock we placed a juice box, crackers, candy, etc, along with the other sock.  We each made two and were given the instruction to hand these out when we passed a homeless person in our cars.

I went along with the project, but I doubted I would ever hand out the sock.  Something about it made me uncomfortable.

Well, weeks went by and the socks sat on my desk.  Then I moved out of my classroom, and the socks made it to the back of my car. I wasn’t thrilled about handing these out, but I couldn’t just throw them away either.  One day a few weeks ago I was at a stoplight on 290 and saw a homeless woman asking for money.  With my heart pounding, I reached back behind me and grabbed the sock.  Waving at the woman, I hesitantly asked her, “Would you like a sock?”  I didn’t expect the response I got: smiling, she said, “Sure! I could always use clean socks!  God bless you!”

Needless to say, I was humbled.  And happy.  And surprised.  I’m not sure what was holding me back (pride, fear, shame, disdain, selfishness?), but once I got over it and did this kind deed (though small), I felt good.  In that moment, I connected with her, and we were equals.

Last week I gave out my second sock to another homeless man who was equally as grateful.  Do you ever feel guilty when you drive past a homeless person on the side of the road?  I think that perhaps I feel this as I look away and pretend they’re not there.  Something about such a small act changed that.  It’s hardly anything tangible that I’m giving, but maybe there’s more to it.  I’m giving kindness? respect? care?  acknowledgment? And in return I’m getting peace. satisfaction. gratitude. thanks.

After three years of teaching children about philanthropy, I think I’m finally learning about it myself.  All it took was a couple of juice boxes, some tube socks, and a few people who care about our community.  Thanks, ALOG.  You’re reaching more than you know.

Because I’m a teacher, I tend to read alot of youth/teen novels.  I enjoy them  because they are usually pretty imaginative, they are quick reads, and I can recommend them to my students.  Yesterday I finished Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements.  Clements is a pretty popular childrens author, best known for his first novel, Frindle.

Excitement jumps out on the first page when Bobby, the main character, discovers he has just become invisible.  He immediately shocks his parents with the news, and they all decide it’s best to tell no one.

On his quest to materialize his body again, he meets a blind girl named Alicia, and they soon become friends.

This story does not reveal the expected response of new found invisibility-breaking into banks or spying in the girls locker room-but Clements creates a fairly believable emotional response of a 15 year old boy.

I would recommend this book to kids ages 12-16, or to someone who likes to read kid novels.  Things Not Seen is by no means the best of this genre, but it’s an enjoyable read and fairly well-written.

Last week in training, the principle of the school where I teach showed us a video of students sharing their hopes for the upcoming year.  A recurring theme in all of their responses was their hope for a “nice” teacher.  What is nice anyway?  She asked us what this meant for a teacher.  It got me thinking about something a student told me once…

From the first day of class, I had a poor attitude about a certain student.  I didn’t really want this student in my class.  She just rubbed me the wrong way and irritated me.  Actually, she sort-of reminded me of the “cool” girls that I was so jealous of in middle/high school–the ones I hated but actually wanted to be like.  It’s funny how you can see someone and instantly make a judgement call about them.  (People do it all the time, even if they don’t mean to.  I’m pretty sure that even if someone says they don’t judge others, they really do.  We can’t help it.)

Over the course of the year, I tried to change my attitude.  Obviously this student was not leaving my class, so I needed to figure out a way to get some mutual respect going instead of thinking badly of her all year.  I guess I prayed about it; I wanted to find something good in her, so I started looking.  You know, as soon as I did that, the negative things seemed to turn into positive things.  This student really began to delight me with her confidence and leadership, her wit and humor, and the way she loved life, I guess.  She didn’t care about looking silly or what others thought of her.  She tried and did what she could, and the rest didn’t really matter.  I found that I enjoyed her because she was different than I am.  I now think about her with pleasure, and she’s a student that I wouldn’t mind having for a second time.

The part that really surprised me was at the end of the year.  As the students went around and shared thoughts and memories from the year, this girl spoke up.  She spoke to me, “At the beginning of the year, I thought you were going to be a mean teacher…but now, I think you’re really nice.” How ironic, I thought.

I wonder if people’s perceptions of you has to do with your perceptions of them?  If I enjoy being around someone, perhaps they think I’m nice?  Or if I hate someone’s guts, would it surprise you if they said I was mean?

This lesson is kind of teaching me a little about being a teacher, as well as being a person.  I’m realizing that even if there is someone that I don’t like at first, it’s important to look past your initial impressions.  We need to find the good in each other.  And I really believe that I couldn’t have done it without prayer.  I know that without Jesus I’m an incredibly selfish person who wouldn’t care a bit about anyone else.

So, I guess the lesson is: If you want others to like you, like them first.  Seems simple, but I guess it took me a year to figure it out.

I found this really fascinating website where you can search the outer parts of our universe and classify stars and galaxies.  I guess the “space guys” have figured out a way to make their jobs easier.  Pretty smart if you ask me…

Here is a podcast of what Galaxy Zoo is about, and how a TEACHER discovered something rare and unusual in the universe.  They named the unusual feature after her!  Maybe I’ll make an amazing discovery one day…