Giving and Receiving

Today is the First Sunday of Advent. Let the waiting begin.

(If you have a minute you should check out Kristyn Brown’s work. She’s super-talented. I don’t make a dime if you do, I just like to direct people to other people who are really really good at what they do.)

Christmas time is always pretty melancholy around my house. I definitely am in tune with the mournful longing that accompanies “waiting in joyful hope”.

And we’re off to a flying start in that department this December.

All the men in my family got taken down a notch these last couple of weeks, in different ways, all job or school-related. Life is filled with little disappointments, and with big ones. I’m hurting for them, for sure. My job is to steer my boys through those times. It’s good for kids (and grown-ups) to develop some patience. To be reminded that you are not entitled to that grade you want, or to compete on a team, or to gain entrance to a selective program, or even to have people look favorably on the job you do.

This isn’t the forum to go into details. My boys will bounce back. I will too. Although I’m not gonna lie. I left a meeting in which I was delivered some bad news wondering if I should drop my old principal a line and see if she needs a math teacher.

My department chair could see the concern on my face (she is pretty perceptive and I don’t hide that sort of thing well), and I was a little worried that my students would pick up on it the next day.

We can’t have that, so…

Good strategy. We sang, self-reflected, set up and solved some tough Algebra I word problems and played with quadratics Marbleslides in Algebra II. It turned out to be one of our more enjoyable Fridays in a while. From first hour through last, they lifted me up in a way that adults in schools really can’t.


I’ve been teaching for awhile, and even after all these years there are definitely students I will never forget. For me, it’s four girls at Cimarron-Memorial High School, Las Vegas, NV. My second year teaching.

I had a small group, maybe 15 in a test-prep class for the Nevada High School Proficiency Exam. All we did every day, all hour, was work on skills and released problems for the graduation test. Every day of December before the tardy bell rang, they’d harmonize “All I Want For Christmas Is Youa capella. If I try hard enough can still see the joy on their faces as they sang. All of them are past 30 now, probably have kids of their own, and I swear to you every time I hear that song I think of them and smile. It’s a gift they never even knew they gave me.

Every year my church teams with another nearby parish to donate and deliver a 28-foot truck full of Christmas gifts to needy families in the Appalachian hills of Kentucky. Every year the people at the social services center in the town we help are stunned: “how is it that those Catholics from up north care so much about us down here?” We end up taking care of about 1800 people each year for the last 40 years.

A group from our parish also drives down for a week every summer to do repair work, install wheelchair ramps & window-unit air conditioners, do makeovers on the ladies, and generally do whatever needs done for a struggling, forgotten community. The instructions given to our parishioners is: anything that is offered to you by anyone, even something as simple as a glass of water, take it. And say thanks. It’s an opportunity for giving, and receiving. Big gifts and small.

And sometimes the very best gifts are free, and small, and things that can’t be paid back.

So: Thanks, my students. Friday you guys gave me a little gift I’ll never forget. “December Eve” is always gonna make me smile too.

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Author: thedullguy

High School Math/PLTW teacher, Valparaiso High School, Valparaiso, IN. Opinions mine.

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