Garinger High – 2016-04-15

Hi, how’s your son doing?
“He’s got cancer.”

Every morning, I say hello to my student’s mother who drops him off by the parking lot where I pull duty. He’s the type of student that would have fought to have me again and that type I would have fought to have again. They just made it easier when they had him placed in my Math II roster to begin the year.

“I’m telling you this because he likes you a lot and talks about you a lot. I’ve never had an issue with him. He’s such a great child. I had a miscarriage the year before I had him and I had him when I was 37. That’s why I’ve been asking myself, why this is happening to him. He never gave me trouble. You know him, he’s an introvert, he’s such a nice kid, doesn’t bother anybody. He doesn’t want the kids at school nor his cousins to find out, because he’s more worried about how they’ll react and doesn’t want them to worry.”

Composure matters not when your own child is in jeopardy. Soon, her demeanor, confident yet weakened, condensed tears into puddles of sorrow. Because she could not see anything other than the image of his pronounced tumor behind his ear even when her eyes are open.

“Right now all I have is faith. The enemy cannot take him away from me. All I have is Jesus. Oh, I believe he rose from the dead. I believe that we are all sinners. That’s why Jesus had to die for our sins. By his stripes we are healed. Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. The enemy has been defeated. He will not take my child. I have faith that he will be healed.”

Me too.

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Garinger High – 2016-03-17

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been cursed at by my students. I’ve lost count of the number of my students who have been arrested. I’ve lost count of how much have been stolen or destroyed. My two years in one of the hardest schools to teach in Charlotte has disillusioned my understanding of morality, and I’ve very often wondered how things turned out this way.

I’ve also lost count of the number of kids who have been abandoned, disowned, and/or abused by their parent(s), legal guardians, or other adults. And as I finish off my second year, I’m becoming more and more convinced that the traumatic circumstances that my students have been placed under by no fault of their own are directly responsible for most if not almost all of their low social and academic performances.

What’s saddening to me is that I have so many capable students, many of whom I would be willing to place in any competition against the best private school students in the country. But their potential has been so truncated by trauma that I cannot help but think that the solution for educational equality (and correlated upward mobility) lies much closer to the home than the school, closer to the soul than the mind. I often think of myself as a pharmacist treating symptoms with pain medications because surgery of souls for the students and surrounding adults is required but unavailable. Such are my ruminations when I ponder the reasons behind their curses, now accustomed to the sharp attacks to which I’ve become almost fully immune to. But the sadness I feel of what could have been… It only gets harder with understanding.

No kid grows up dreaming of underperforming. I see the look on their eyes in football, soccer, and basketball games. Though often overmatched, they are happy to fulfill their desire to just compete. They just want that chance to prove themselves, sometimes even more than the victory itself. I see how excited they get when they have finally learned things that have eluded them for so long. And when I tell them that they will be better men than I am.

They have had hopes and dreams, too. Don’t you dare think less of what they aspire to do more so than they do… as I have. That was my biggest flaw in my first year, rationalizing the reasons as I stood between traumatized kids and their uncontrollable outbursts of pain and suffering. Don’t you get it? They ARE trying as hard as they can. But only left to this world by themselves. And sometimes, perhaps even rarely, you do end up being that figure they didn’t know they wanted or needed for 90 short minutes of each day. The view from the mountaintop is that much more beautiful when shared.

My Lord and my God, look kindly upon our souls.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been cursed at by my students. I’ve lost count of the number of my students who have been arrested. I’ve lost count of how much have been stolen or destroyed. My two years in one of the hardest schools to teach in Charlotte has disillusioned my understanding of morality, and I’ve very often wondered how things turned out this way.

I’ve also lost count of the number of kids who have been abandoned, disowned, and/or abused by their parent(s), legal guardians, or other adults. And as I finish off my second year, I’m becoming more and more convinced that the traumatic circumstances that my students have been placed under by no fault of their own are directly responsible for most if not almost all of their low social and academic performances.

What’s saddening to me is that I have so many capable students, many of whom I would be willing to place in any competition against the best private school students in the country. But their potential has been so truncated by trauma that I cannot help but think that the solution for educational equality (and correlated upward mobility) lies much closer to the home than the school, closer to the soul than the mind. I often think of myself as a pharmacist treating symptoms with pain medications because surgery of souls for the students and surrounding adults is required but unavailable. Such are my ruminations when I ponder the reasons behind their curses, now accustomed to the sharp attacks to which I’ve become almost fully immune to. But the sadness I feel of what could have been… It only gets harder with understanding.

No kid grows up dreaming of underperforming. I see the look on their eyes in football, soccer, and basketball games. Though often overmatched, they are happy to fulfill their desire to just compete. They just want that chance to prove themselves, sometimes even more than the victory itself. I see how excited they get when they have finally learned things that have eluded them for so long. And when I tell them that they will be better men than I am.

They have had hopes and dreams, too. Don’t you dare think less of what they aspire to do more so than they do… as I have. That was my biggest flaw in my first year, rationalizing the reasons as I stood between traumatized kids and their uncontrollable outbursts of pain and suffering. Don’t you get it? They ARE trying as hard as they can. But only left to this world by themselves. And sometimes, perhaps even rarely, you do end up being that figure they didn’t know they wanted or needed for 90 short minutes of each day. The view from the mountaintop is that much more beautiful when shared.

My Lord and my God, look kindly upon our souls.

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Garinger High – 2016-01-18

Whenever I write a longer post I let it sit for at least a day or two before posting them. This is one I ruminated over many months but wrote in a few minutes. I worry(ied) that this will be read with me as the focal point when the authorial intent is on both the plight and the fight of the kids. I also worry(ied) that this will be read as if Garinger High is not a tough place to work; I would bet that it is one of the five hardest high schools to teach in Charlotte. Nevertheless, there are things I don’t see a lot of teachers posting about for one reason or another that I think are worth bringing to light. Teaching is a tough profession; after my drive to South America and deployment for war, this has been one of the tougher things I’ve ever done. But if you can grind through the rough, you are bound to come across some diamonds.

I work at a school where exception is the norm.

Majority of the students are the minority.
Majority of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch (~93%).
Majority of the students take the bus to school.
Majority of the students have a lower GPA than the state average.
Majority of the students are performing at a lower grade level in one or more subjects.

These are the statistics that will make it to the pages of the executive white papers. How do I know? Because part of my living used to be writing those white papers. From the outside looking in, these are the exceptions that are significant. Certainly many real challenges remain, noted or otherwise, that cannot be ignored on a daily basis. Us teachers inside of these schools, however, also witness different exceptions to the norms in many of the things that matter.

Majority of the students fight vigorously and never give up.
Majority of the students happily collaborate with other minorities without thinking much of it.
Majority of the students are not envious about others’ achievements but celebrate them.
Majority of the students have utter disregard for superficiality and do not belittle others for wearing the same clothes from Salvation Army for weeks.
Majority of the students do not live with both parents and often take on the missing role.
Majority of the students care less about the color of your skin and care more about the content of your character.

How do I know? Because I no longer know how many of my students–Black, Hispanic, White, Asian, Male, or Female–have called me the father that they’ve never had. They say that they saw their missing dad and not their teacher cheering them on at the soccer game. When you remove them for disciplinary reasons, they say that they understand since you are like the daddy they never had. When you take those rare days off for personal reasons, they implore you to never leave them again like their father did and they don’t want this dad to leave them, too. When they move, they relay that they miss their father figure. They come to sit close by you after a basketball game, more happy that you are there losing your voice than saddened by the gravity of the crushing defeat. And they have forgiven me as many times as they would have forgiven their father. This childless man has become a father to the fatherless.

I work at a school where exception is the norm.

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Garinger High – 2015-12-15

The good news is that the missing girl is back. The bad news is that she had run away, come back to see her dying mother in the hospital, only to get caught by the Department of Social Services as her mother passed away. In a span of just 50 days, this child’s life has completely changed; she is now fatherless, motherless, and in the truest sense of the word, homeless. And am I to expect this child to care about geometric transformations?

But she did that, and more. More than 50 days after her disappearance, my student trotted up to smile at me before I realized it was her. “Mr. Kim, did you miss me?”

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Garinger High – 2015-10-23

Me: … so N is equal to 64
… Anyone here ever play N64?
Student: Yeah, I played Mario Kart. I’m pretty good
Me: Oh yeah? I don’t think so! I’ll own you!
Student: Nah, no way!…
Me: Bring it on! I’ll own you! So bring it!
… seriously though, bring it, cuz I don’t have an N64.

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Be killing sin or it will be killing you

Be killing sin or it will be killing you.

Mortifying sin has been one of the most excruciating processes for me. There are no shortcuts. It takes a ton of time and patience. I’ve failed too many times to count. When you finally think you’ve conquered it, it rears its ugly head. And if it doesn’t, others pop up in its place like a never ending whack-a-mole.

But I kept bending the knee of my heart, imploring him take my sins away. “Humble me, God. Humiliate me if you have to.” And so he did. But that didn’t take my sins away. “Make it hurt, Lord, when I sin.” And so he did. But that didn’t take my sins away. He has answered every one of my prayers for clemency and he gave me relief. But I kept on sinning, in spite of my best intentions and exhausting efforts.

I tried again, this time out of frustration and out of ideas. I ditched my own methods and finally surrendered, succumbed but not defeated. I withdrew to a dark corner yet again, drawing from the deepest recesses of my heart.

“I’m all out of ideas, God. You do it. You do it. You do it. I know you can. I’m begging you.”

And so he did. And he took my sins away.

Be killing sin or it will be killing you.

Perhaps John Owen was mindful of the one who tries to do it alone when he took the subject out of that sentence.

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Garinger High – 2015-10-04

Sometimes the most devilish things you witness in this world are inconspicuous.

I make it a point to shake hands with every student that walks into my classroom. I greet over 100 students in my 3 block rosters each and every day with a smile and a good morning or a good afternoon. I’ve found that it helps me start off on a good note with students and reset anything that may have happened the day before. Sometimes I’d pull students to the side to talk about a matter that pertains to that individual. But more often than not, it’s nothing more than a quick hello. I’d be lying if I told you that all of my students do a great job of making eye contact when they do.

This particular student, on this particular day, did make eye contact with me. He had his usual grin on his face that I may have always mistaken for contentment or even happiness. But for whatever inconceivable reason, my eyes led me to his right hand, and then to his right arm.

I used to love biking and skateboarding. I loved keeping my fitted cap in place as I sped down the hills and the wind seeped around my sunglasses. I also fell more often than I’d like to admit because of my reckless abandon. My arms and legs took the brunt of the falls, but I always recovered from the scratches and bruises. For a second, I mistook his injuries to be the same.

What happened? Did you fall off your bike?

“No.”

Then I saw it. Instead of long and thick scratches that covered his arm, they were short and thin. Some even ran horizontally, which never happens in a bike accident.

Wait a minute, these are razor cuts. Who did this to you?

“I did.”

I immediately swallowed my stomach as I stared in horror at both of his arms. I estimated over 40 self-inflicted wounds, and he didn’t miss his wrist. I couldn’t have placed a finger on his arm without grazing them. All of them oozed with fresh blood; he certainly had not stopped until they all did.

Wait, wait. Hold, on. Let me talk to you for a minute. You gotta go see the nurse.

He ignored my plea and prevaricated behind his circle of friends who waited for him inside. What was I to do? Sometimes Satan stares into your eyes and laughs inconspicuously in contempt. Behind that sly grin of my student was an unmistakable devilish determination.

Luckily for me, an assistant principal walked by and assisted the student. I closed the door as the bell rang. For the first time in my career as a teacher, I was at a loss for words. I searched the floor for answers. In my bewilderment I forgot to take roll. I collapsed to my seat and put my hands together in a quick prayer.

Alright class, let’s get started.

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Garinger High – 2015-09-30

I missed you the last couple days. Where have you been?
“Oh my father died.”
What? Really? Your biological dad?
“Yeah.”

Then I ask a question that I am sure teachers at schools like mine would understand.

Did he live with you?
“Yeah.”
Well what are you doing here? You can stay home as long as you need.
“Yeah, I know. But I need to be strong.”

My heart empties in pain. I step outside and shut the door to read the obituary he handed to me. Christian. Loving son, brother, and father. College graduate. Financial counselor. War veteran. Buried in a veteran’s cemetary. My knees buckle as I gaze upon the face of my student’s namesake and the one who had instilled such strength and resolve, even with his dying breaths.

Sometimes, it’s the students that teach their teachers some of the most important things in life that no one teaches in classrooms.

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Garinger High – 2015-06-09

Why are you such a butt?
Are you going to continue to be a butt?
Are you emailing them to come pick me up?
I’m going to your boss.
You think this is a game? You gonna get fired.
You a butt.

Today was the last day of normal testing, and more or less the end of my first year of teaching. I didn’t see a lot of this year’s challenges coming, though I don’t know it would have made much of a difference. I imagined some disrespect, some sly remarks here and there, but not a sustained attack like this. I’ve been working on this kid since the beginning of the year.

Seriously, though, why are you picking on me? What did I ever do to you?

It was hard not to respond. I had so much I wanted to say, especially in front of all the kids. I wanted to be shown to be in the right. But I could not. I just could not.

“Let me talk to you outside,” I said. Again. And again. And again. Calmly. Matter of factly.

That, I believe, is the difference between me as a teacher in the beginning of the first year versus the end. In September, I would not have hesitated to raise my voice and attempt to put him in his place, especially in front of everyone. Then they would all see that I was right, right? That would earn me their respect, right?

His friends enthusiastically lent him their cell phones when he asked for one. He started to make phone calls in my class.

“Let me talk to you outside,” I said again.

Calmly

Matter of factly.

And he finally went.

I managed to get him removed with some help. But far be it from me to expect him to stay there. He was brought back with some minutes to spare by the same help. Why? I do not know.

Time management is much more intuitive now. I can usually tell when I’m falling behind or getting ahead, even without looking at the clock.

“Alright, it’s time to clean up!” I looked at the time. Yup, just like clockwork, about 2 minutes remained.

I quietly worked my way to the student. “Hey let me talk to you after class.” I half-expected him to stay.

But he did stay. Finally alone without other students to influence his responses and behavior, it was my chance to ask him the burning question.

“What did I ever do to you?”

For the first time this year, he had nothing to say.

“You asked me what you did to me. Here they are. You went through my personal belongings and stole my candy bars. You stole my timer. You stole my calculator. You broke my chime…” The list went on. More than $200 in damages and stolen goods. One kid. For 5 months. And he was required to be back in my classroom after every incident.

I didn’t do those things. My friend gave me the candy bar. I didn’t steal your timer, but I know who did it. I…

“No, I’m not an idiot. I know it was you. You know what, I was trying to reconcile things with you, but you’re not ready. Good bye.”

He left without an incident and the crowded hallway emptied into my classroom. About 2 minutes remained until my 4th block was to start. Just like clockwork.

But it’s funny how 23 hours can sometimes be a blur.

“Let me talk to you outside,” I said again.

Do you hate me or something?

But he went, slowly but promptly. I managed to get the class started and went to tend to this student.

Seriously, Mr. Kim. Do you hate me or something? I mean, I admit, I did all those things that you said I did. I admit it. But that’s not anything that should make you hate me.

Key, sometimes, is to maintain eye contact, respond as promptly and firmly as you can, and not get into an argument.

“No I don’t hate you. Remember what we talked about before? I forgive you. Do you remember why?” He nodded. “Because I’ve been forgiven by God for all the evil things I’ve also done. And I hope to display the kind of forgiveness that I’ve been given, and that you’ve been given. And I know you believe in that forgiveness.” He had never been the one to look away.

“Look, let’s be honest. I don’t like you. You’re not my favorite student, fair and simple, and both of us know that. But I don’t hate you, either. I don’t even dislike you. You’re my student, and I honestly don’t care as much about whether you like me or not. My goal is not for you to like me. You wanna know what I care about? What I care more about is your success. I’d rather you be successful and hate me than for you to love me and end up on the streets. That’s what I care about.”

He held out his hand.

Ok. Now I respect you.

His handshake was as genuine as his attitude was, and he worked hard all day. Finally. After all the discussions we’ve had, with one week left to go before the finals. Now, where was that other kid I’ve been working on?

I wonder if my students know that their teachers get tested every single day much more rigorously than they do.

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Boasting in the Lord.

Boasting in the Lord.

[Jeremiah 9:23-24] Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

I very, very rarely get the remark that I am a humble person. And the few that I do get are, I think, more of exaggerations or false positives.  I do think, though, that humility should be relatively easier to strive for for the Christian than not.

If you could see all the things I do, I would not have anything to boast about. If you could hear all the things I say, I would not have anything to boast about. If you could perceive all the things I think, I would not have anything to boast about. On the very first moment of your understanding, you would not hesitate to depart from me, repulsed by the sheer filth of my rotten sins uncovered.

My friends, my standing before even you is at best a farce before the eyes of God, who can see, hear, and perceive all the things I do, say, and think, every single day of my life.

No reservoir of wisdom, might, and riches would allow me to boast over God, saying, “My own hand has saved me.” So I shall boast in the Lord because he abundantly provides me with His steadfast love, justice, and righteousness through Christ. His dripping blood had my name written all over it. I was the cause of that blood. I was the purpose of that blood. He drained his blood for my sins so that I may be part of his bloodline. There has been no greater love. There is no greater love. There will be no greater love.

I will boast only in your love, my God. For you are my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I shall boast in the Lord because He is my God who loved me too much to leave me where I am. I shall boast in the Lord because He is my God who loved me too much to leave me as I am. He did not allow my repulsive sins deter him. Like the good Samaritan, he chose the only way to pay for my redemption and recovery through his righteousness.

Though, I must confess, I cannot fathom why he loves me; I cannot understand his reasoning. I have done nothing for you. I sat on your lap only to slap your face. I slept under the blanket that you provided and then questioned the manner in which you provided it. Why would you call me? Why would you justify me? Why would you glorify me? Oh my Lord and my God, your ways are higher than my ways and your thoughts higher than my thoughts. Though I lack understanding, I will boast in this, my God. That you know me. That you care for me.  That you love me.

He loves us! OH HOW HE LOVES US!

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