Tips on Passing the edTPA

Friends,

Last semester I had the opportunity to graduate an Education Program at Nyack College. December 16th was the last day of my undergraduate career, and I remember walking home. I remember watching the sun fade into the Hudson, and I traveled home with memories of student teaching tucked neatly into my pocket.

One thing I’ll never forget about that semester?

I’ll never forget working on my edTPA. If you’re not an Education Major, you probably don’t know what that is (no worries). It’s this portfolio Ed. Majors do on a lesson segment of their student teaching. It includes videos of you teaching, research-based strategies you implemented, academic language, and you have to follow very, very, very specific guidelines to complete this project. It’s an extensive project. You’re also required to submit your edTPA in order to become a New York State Certified Teacher. Now for the Ed. Majors…

The project is intimidating. I remember feeling intimidated.

However, friends, all is not lost. You can pass the edTPA. Now, I’d like to give a few tips that will help you pass:

  1. Read the Handbook They Give You in Boot Camp: There’s a required “Student Teaching Boot Camp” put on by the college. In this Boot Camp, they will tell you to read the edTPA handbook. This is not a suggestion. Read the entire document. You’ll need a bird’s eye view of this project, in order to strategize the how’s and when’s of completing your edTPA. Otherwise, you’ll forget vital pieces of your video.        
  2. Do Not Wait Until The Last Minute: I cannot stress this enough. This is not a paper you can cram into an all nighter and some energy drinks. I did the math, and completing the edTPA took me at least 45-50 hours of focused work. I’m not saying this to scare anyone, but it’s just a reality. Space those 50 hours into weekly segments and you’ll be fine.
  3. Shoot Videos In Your First Placement: Plan to shoot your lesson segment in your first placement. If something goes wrong, you can shoot another in your second.
  4. Figure Out Your Class: This is especially crucial for Adolescent Ed. Majors who student teach in middle schools and high schools with periods filled with different groups of students. Figure out which group of students show you off as the fantastic teacher that you are. (In other words, don’t pick the class with the kid who interrupts every five seconds to declare that, “I really have to use the bathroom”). Pick an engaged class. You’ll feel more comfortable, and you’ll look more comfortable on video.

For now, those are all the tips I can think of, but if I think of more I will let you know.

Much Courage,

A Friend

The Challenge Student

There are many types of students in this world:

The Conscientious Student: This student can be found sitting in the front rows of classrooms, feverishly taking notes, and raising his or her hand in curiousity.

The Lord… Give Me…Student: For one reason or another, this student can be found testing your patience as a teacher every single day. You may find yourself uttering the, “Lord, Give me… [insert Fruit of the Spirit here] with this student”.

The Silent Storm Student: This student speaks little in class, but his or her written work is a whirlwind of thought, depth, wisdom, and is always above grade level.

The Funny Student: This student always has a joke on hand, and has the ability to either make learning fun or distract every student in your class.

The Helpful Student: This student can be found organizing the classroom library, throwing gum wrappers in the trash, and doing it all with a smile. Helpful Student, you’re making the world a better place one gum wrapper at a time.

The Challenge Student: This is the student who marches into your classroom with folded arms (usually on the first day) and announces that they hate the subject, hate the books, and hate the color of the walls. Today, in this post I’m going to briefly discuss how to deal with this particular breed of student.

In the last year I’ve had a couple of experiences with this interesting species called the Challenge Student. The Challenge Student’s goal is to make you believe that you have no room to move as a teacher. They want you to believe that learning will not happen in your class–just because they hate the subject. However, the Challenge Student doesn’t realize that enthusiasm is contagious like a viral disease.

During my student teaching, I had a Challenge Student who marched up to me and informed me of her hate for Shakespeare. We were going to be reading Shakespeare for the next two months…Challenge accepted. As a result, every class, I made sure to specifically speak with her, and explain the plot twists in the play in the craziest and most interesting way possible. 

Excitement is contagious. By the end of my student teaching placement, this girl had read ahead in the play. It wasn’t really my doing, she found the exciting parts of the play that were already there. She just needed a little help.

My friends,

The lesson here is that we must refuse to give up on our Challenge Students. We may not reach every Challenge Student, but with a little persistence…we might find some of those students reading ahead in class.

London, P.S. I Love You

Dear London,

In 10 days, you gave me an experience of a lifetime. I thank you for showing me a culture widely different from my own, bringing a new world to my fingertips. I’ve gained a better understanding of where I am from, who I am, and who I would like to be and where I would like to go. You’ve made me a new person.

I love your rich history, how it lives in the walls of every building as if it were cigarette smoke. I’ve been where legends of science, literature, and royalty walked, dined, and lived. On various street corners, I saw doors that said, “Here lived…” and each time I stopped, I gawked with wide eyes and my phone plastered to my hand to get the shot. I marveled at Westminster Abbey, standing on the graves and memorials of those who contributed to society beyond measure. I was inspired at Poets’ Corner, where I stood before my literary idols for longer than what I imagine is socially acceptable.

I’ve seen that language, literature, and the news is not dead but very much alive. Thank you for giving me the pleasure of hearing various languages and accents and learning a different vernacular. Seeing bookstores nearly every five minutes made my heart leap. You have given me hope as an aspiring journalist that people do read the newspaper, be it walking the street or on the Tube.

Thank you for giving me the experience of new foods from various cultures I would have never had otherwise. You have also shown me the good in people, and as I heard at the Royal Military Chapel before I left London, “We don’t see people as they are; we see people as we are.” Thank you for the adventure and teaching me about another culture. I have been to places I only dreamed I would see, and in a small way, I have seen and been a part of another country’s history. Thank you for the friends I made, and because of them, I have had some of my greatest memories.

Your breathtaking views, architecture, fashion, and history all have inspired me. Although it rained every day, your beauty is a watercolor painting, bright and vibrant. I’ll never forget running into museums for shelter from the rain or being poured on in Oxford. You are as beautiful at night as you are in the day. (Big Ben, you are one handsome clock tower.) Being on the Tube, squished between bodies and luggage, I couldn’t help but people watch, wanting to know their stories and where they came from. Whether I jumped on a train or ran in the rain, I was in for an adventure. You made it so easy for me to feel comfortable and at home here. London, you have given me a piece of the world, and for that, I am grateful.

I will never forget you.

The New Semester Brings New Changes

My usual “wait until the very last minute to register for the new semester” gig is starting to get old, and yet, I have done it again. I finished everything that needed to be finished and registered for my new classes on January 17th, and the first day of classes was January 18th. In fact, I procrastinated so badly that I completely forgot to buy any of my textbooks (this is where I would put the upside down smile emoji.)

So here I am: the first week of the Spring 2017 semester is halfway over and I have no books, got financially cleared by the Grace of God, and operating under obscene stress outside of school…and *in my best Maya Angelou voice*…still I rise. I rise because I am here. I rise because God is doing amazing things, whether I can see them or not. I rise because I woke up this morning. I rise because He gives me strength to rise. I strive to be somewhat transparent on this blog, and in an effort to do so I will can honesty say that I can do nothing without Him. I will never accomplish anything worth accomplishing without Him. Without Him I am nothing. I’m not even going to pretend that I have a plan for this semester because I don’t. I have no steps to have a great semester and no formula that is going to make everything turn out alright. All I have is Jesus, and He’s honestly all I need. I find it comforting to know that the only thing we really need is ours and He’s always right there beside us, chilling.

Because of Him, I have confidence that this semester will rock. Because of Him, I am not afraid of the future. Because of Him, everything is going to be alright. For you, too.

It’s an (for lack of a more comprehensive and accurate word) interesting time in America right now. Tensions are high and peace seems to be a distant illusion. Whether or not the election garnered the results you hoped for, it’s easy to feel off kilter in your personal life as a result of the chaos happening around you. Transitions and changes are hard. It’s a new semester, new year, new president, maybe even a new you with new friends and new habits (or the same old you who always makes New Year’s resolutions but always falls back into your old ways on January 2nd, but I digress.) This much change can be earth-rocking and hard to swallow. But this too shall pass, and come tomorrow morning you will be stronger than ever.

Nyack Unfiltered: Sherilyn Blake

Nyack College has a plethora of personalities. Nyackers come from all different backgrounds and bring their stories with them. Each one has a passion, a gift, and a desire to see God’s plan for their life be fulfilled. Nyack Unfiltered is a series of interviews I am conducting featuring students on the Manhattan campus who not only I, but others, believe will do (and currently are doing) great things for God.

 The second interview in our series is Sherilyn Blake. Sherilyn, a fellow Communications major, is currently the Vice President of the Student Government Association (SGA). She is always smiling, always has cute outfits, and is going to do great things after she graduates. It was an honor interviewing her. Thank you, Sherilyn!
So, you are the Vice President of SGA…which you have to get back to after this [Sherilyn laughs]… how do you like it?

Sherilyn: I like it. I think, for me, the best part is being able to see an event through. But the work before an event is challenging, and I’m grateful we have so many student leaders who are just hands-on. I mean whenever you call them they are just there to help you. I think that’s what makes my job easier and makes events go [smoother].

Do you think that’s a Nyack thing? Or just the type of people that are around?

Sherilyn: I think that it’s a Nyack thing because ever since I got to Nyack I’ve met friendly people – helpful people. Like, all you have to do is ask and they will help. Sometimes you don’t even have to ask, they just help. It’s good to have people on deck ready and willing to help you.

Why are you at Nyack? How did you get here?

Sherilyn: Well, crazy story. I took a year off from school after my freshman year in college. And one of my friends from high school – her sister graduated from Nyack. She was like, ‘Have you ever heard of Nyack?’ I was like, ‘What’s Nyack?’ She was like, ‘It’s a Christian school. They pray. They talk about God, talk about Jesus, and you don’t have to be scared.’ I was like *gasp* Really?’ So I googled it, because I had never heard of Nyack and I was like, ‘This is a good school.’

So I applied. It was literally like two weeks before the semester started. So, I got in, I got my schedule, and then everything just seemed so – I don’t want to say a coincidence, but everything started falling into place like literally at the last minute. I actually prayed about this…and it was probably one of the greatest prayers I’ve prayed because I’ve [made] so many friends, like lifelong friends. Like now my friends have become family and we’re so close. I think it’s a blessing because you don’t always find friends like that everywhere [you go]. In other colleges most people don’t even know your name, so I think it’s a tight-knit school [where you can] feel comfortable and confident to live out your faith.

Yeah, it feels like a family.

Sherilyn: It is.

That’s funny, that’s how I did mine too. Like literally two weeks before [the semester] started I did all the paperwork – I had Googled it beforehand and everything. I did the exact same thing.
So is the school what you thought it would be?

Sherilyn: As in the work? I didn’t expect the work to be so much. It’s not that it’s really difficult – it is challenging, some of the classes, it’s just so much work that I never catch a break. But when it comes to professors, the professors are so nice. All you have to do is ask. I think sometimes they get frustrated if you don’t ask for help [because] you feel like [you] got it on your own, but I learned the hard way that I do not know everything or I wouldn’t even be in school in the first place. So I think it’s good to have professors who are knowledgeable in their subject and they are willing to help you become knowledgeable in that subject.

Has SGA affected your spiritual life?

Sherilyn: I started SGA over the summer because we started planning for this [Fall] semester and next [Spring] semester over the summer, and I started questioning myself. I thought, ‘Why did I even sign up for this? What am I doing?’ And then in the first couple weeks of school I had so much work to do, I thought, ‘I should have never have done this. This is my Senior year… why would I add something else to my plate?’ So spiritually I was in, like, this weird place. [Then] stuff started happening, and I was like ok I’m going to start praying more, like faithfully. And I’m just going to – I had to build my trust in God again. I had trust in God, but I feel like not enough that I could leave everything that I was worrying about. I still had that little ‘Mmm I don’t know, I don’t really know.’ So I thought ok, this situation is challenging. Let me pray about it. I’m just going to step back. And then I let God do what He needs to do. And that turned out so much better than me going and doing something. But I feel like from the beginning of the semester to now – now being the end of the semester – I would say that I’ve grown spiritually because I’ve learned to face…. We’ve dealt with a lot – with losing two of our friends and other leaders that I’ve realized that God is so much greater than these things that happen. Though we may not understand things at the time, God always reveals things to His people. And I feel like that made us closer. I know that we appear close, but we weren’t really like we weren’t all in the same page. I feel like we needed this wake up call, and it was an unfortunate wake up call, but it woke people up to realize that we need to start appreciating the people around us and we need to start caring for people while they’re here today so people aren’t regretting it tomorrow. So spiritually – I realized that I need to start appreciating people and things today and not wait for tomorrow.

So after you graduate, what do you want to do?

Sherilyn: I want to be a film director.

Do you want to start working on that directly after [you graduate] or later on?

Sherilyn: Truth be told, I want to start working on that now, but I don’t have the time right now. So after graduation I want to move to California, I have this whole plan in my head – a five year plan. I’m going to start making short films. I might go to graduate school. I was looking at the University of Southern California because they have an amazing Cinematic Arts program. I guess I want to study more, but I also want to apply what I’ve studied. I don’t want to spend two years and I’m not doing any work. I want to experience and [also] get knowledge.

Experience is what is going to get you where you want to be…

Sherilyn: Exactly! Like you can know everything, but if you can’t do it then you have no chance.

So you’ve spent your last 3 years here at Nyack?

Sherilyn: Well, I’ve been at Nyack for two years, since 2014.

Oh, so how do you like it?

Sherilyn: I like it. I like that it’s in the city. I like that it’s only 40 minutes away. I don’t like… what don’t I like… it’s so expensive over here! Like when I buy lunch, I have to save this lunch because not only lunch but also dinner because it’s so expensive.

Exactly. You have to save money and buy a foot-long sandwich instead of a 6-inch and eat half.

Sherilyn: Exactly, exactly. But the neighborhood is beautiful. It’s in a prime location for where we want to grow and it’s in the heart of the city, and I love the city.

So if you had to minor in something what would it be?

Sherilyn: At Nyack?

No, anywhere.

Sherilyn: Business. International business or marketing. Like one of my biggest goals is – like if I had a billion dollars right now – I would open a children’s hospital. I would charter – I know I have crazy dreams but I would have a jet and I would charter medication and doctors all over the world. Because when I was younger I needed a blood transfusion because I was born premature, and somebody was kind enough to donate their blood and save my life. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that stranger. And I love children. I have nieces and nephews and my nephew was sick when he was born. So I would open a children’s hospital for those who cannot afford the medical care that they need. And say you couldn’t afford to come to America to [get] to the hospital, we’ll send a doctor with medication to you. So I would say Business because you need to know how to run a hospital, that’s like a business. Also, if I could take a language [class] so I could know all the languages of the world then I would totally do it.

Well, did you take one as an elective?

Sherilyn: Yeah, I took Spanish. Ask me how to say a word. Can’t say it.

Chair.

Sherilyn:[She pauses and looks away for a second]…..la silla.

See! You know SOMETHING.

Sherilyn: [laughing] Yes! Thank you Professor Rodriguez! [editor’s note: Professor Rodriguez is one of the Spanish professors on the Manhattan campus.]

So after you graduate from here and go on to do major cinematic things, what do you think you will have taken from Nyack?

Sherilyn: One thing I learned from Nyack is that I need to chill out. When I first came here I was in this extreme place where [I was] like, ‘Say one bad thing about God. Watch me come after you. Say something that doesn’t match my doctrine. Watch me come after you.’ I remember one time I had an argument with my professor in Old Testament. For like twenty minutes we argued, and the whole class was sitting there like, ‘Please stop.’ I was just crazy. Then I was just like Sherilyn relax. It’s good to be strong in your faith, but don’t attack people. I learned the hard way that you don’t need to defend God because God is bigger than you. So I guess it challenged my beliefs, or what I thought was correct, and I learned to just listen before I react. That’s what I’m still learning!

That’s an important lesson to learn. How can we hope to impact this world as Christians if we don’t know how to listen? If we just lash out without thinking, what do we hope to accomplish?

Thank you again to Sherilyn for letting me interview her for this series!

Why I Love Teaching English

One of the cool things about being an Education Major at Nyack is that the School of Education, and Nyack in general, cares about developing you as a person throughout your college career. That was one of the joys of my college experience, and one of the ways God worked through my time at Nyack. One of the ways the School of Education does this is by helping you figure out your calling. The faculty at Nyack care about why you’re in your major.

They want you to untangle for yourself why you’re sitting in their classes.

It makes you own what you’re doing. It makes you confident that God is going to see you through your calling.

That’s huge on late nights when you’re studying for finals, and suddenly college is hard, hard work. It gives you perseverance.

Admittedly, I came to Nyack as an English Ed. Major because of a simple passion for literature and writing, and a love for working with middle school kids. That was about as deep as my reasoning went, but during my time at school that reasoning took root and began to change, grow.

Student teaching really helped with that.

During student teaching, I realized that teaching English gave me two distinct opportunities as a caring citizen and as a Christian. Suddenly I had a fire for what I was doing.

I realized that being an English teacher meant that I had the opportunity to teach kids critical thinking skills. Thinking about Shakespeare’s word choices, untangling Robert Frost’s poems, and understanding why Hope fights so persistently in Hope Was Here are ways that I watched students grapple to critically think about our texts. If you understand how to critically think about your world, there is less chance that it will overcome you, and there is more chance that you will learn how to change it. Critical thinking draws us away from the ills of groupthink, of blindly following the majority. Citizens who critically think change society.

I also realized that being an English teacher gave me an amazing opportunity as a Christian. This might sound crazy, because in the public school system you cannot talk about matters of faith. However, when we teach truth we are teaching the words of God, whether or not we are teaching Jeremiah or Shakespeare.

That’s not a trendy idea, that an ancient, Augustinian idea.

I watched this happen while teaching Othello during student teaching. We unraveled human nature throughout our study of the play. We talked about how envy and jealousy corrupts the individual and then the community. This was the discussion for weeks and weeks, and the discussion became personalized by the end of my time there. How does envy and jealousy begin in us? How does it wreck our communities? You’re saying nothing about Christ, not a word, and yet you have explained the hardest part of the Gospel–that we are fallen humanity filled with sin and grief. You’ve introduced a need for redemption. You leave students with questions, and you trust the Holy Spirit to perhaps one day move the rest.

These two reasons are why I don’t mind the idea of getting up early 180 days a year, or eking out my years standing at a copier. To me these reasons are fuel and fire for God’s calling in my life. What are your reasons?  

How A Professor’s Comment Led to a New Year’s “Resolution”

We counted down in unison until the world flashed with an explosion of confetti, embraces, and Instagram photos. The new year has begun. Fare thee well to last year, in all your joys and sorrows. I’m sure we’ve all experienced a measure of each. We’re all human and to share in this humanity seems to carry a measure of each. Tuck away the lessons you learned, the ones that have shifted and shaped you.

Now we open our hands to this next year, closing our eyes, murmur in surrender to the God who holds each of these days. A lot of people are trying to make this year better than the last. We’re making resolutions, but what if we rattled tradition a little?

What if instead of a list of resolutions, what if instead we changed the questions we’re asking? What if we simply shifted our perspective, and altered our responses to situations?

What if…

A question I’m going to ask is one I picked up in one of Dr. Pinkham’s English classes. In the last lecture of the semester, Dr. Pinkham challenged us with the idea that one of our most valuable jobs as Christians is to ask how can I help bring healing to this situation? That stuck with me. What if we walked through each day asking how we could bring healing?

Another question to ask this year is do I act on what I believe? Friends, this can be tricky at a Christian college. It can be tempting to immerse ourselves in all these classes where we discuss theology, philosophy, religion, politics, ethics, and all the important thoughts that drive our lives, but become nothing more than arm-chair theologians, philosophers, and politicians. Conviction requires action, and that is not simply liking a cause on Facebook.

The third question is, where are the gifts in each day? You may have slept through your alarm. You may be late to that quiz, but how did you get to class? You walked on healthy legs. You wore shoes, and maybe, just maybe a fellow student smiled in greeting as you passed the Bubble. All of those are gifts.

The final question is this: how can I contribute to my community? How can I give myself to others at school? We’re being poured into so much at Nyack College, and it’s beyond amazing. How can we take what we’ve been given, and begin pouring into our community? May we ask God to heal us, to stir us to see and feel need, and to act to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters.
Happy New Year

Attend an Open House and ask about enrolling in the Education Program at Nyack College!

Practical Gift Ideas for Education Majors

Most people seem to put Christmas on repeat during the month of December. My family has approximately four Christmas’ with different sides of the family to attend this year. Bring on the holiday cheer. When I told my boyfriend how many Christmas’s I’d be attending this year his reply was, “Whoa. That’s intense.” To me it’s just normal. We exchange gifts during each of those Christmas events, and it’s a great way to spend valuable time with family.

That being said…multiplying Christmas four or more times can be problematic with gift giving and receiving. My family has learned a few tricks about gift giving, but the receiving part can be tricky. How do you tell your grandmother that you are not going to wear that pink sweater with the glittery pom-poms?

You don’t.

Instead, before you find yourself beside a crackling fire wearing such a spectacle why not offer well-meaning relatives more…practical ideas?

Christmas does not hinge on the gifts, but my thought is that if relatives are going to buy gifts, then perhaps giving them gift ideas that you will actually use, would be a better scenario for everyone. No more glittery pom-poms.

Here are a few practical ideas for gifts for Education Majors:

A Sturdy Bookbag: You will need this, as you’re getting through your program. Education Majors seem to always be going places, whether it’s to class or field experience. Carrying books with you to study or prep for classes you’re teaching becomes essential. Jansport, SwissGear, and Timbuk2 are brands that will last several years.

A Planner: You need a planner to organize yourself and your time. If I could tell a freshman Ed. Major to buy anything it would be this. You can organize major class deadlines (papers, projects, and exams), times you have field experience, and everything else that’s important in your life.

Desk Supplies: Pens and pencils, and a pencil sharpener are essential for Education Majors, especially when you student teach.

Sticky Notes: These are a great way to give feedback to kids when you student teach, especially if you’re grading tons of English essays.

Sweaters and Cardigans: You’ll be needing some business clothes, as you’re studying to go into a professional field. We’re in New York State, which can be quite a chilly place, and schools have a reputation for being cold and drafty. Layering with sweaters and cardigans can make your teaching days much more pleasant.

A T-30ii Calculator: This is a fairly inexpensive, but impressive calculator, and you’ll discover that you’ll need a nice calculator to compute grades during your student teaching.
Here are some ideas! Hope they help you and your family celebrate Christmas…without the glittery pom-pom sweaters.

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68.9 Miles to Bethlehem

Every year we pour over the ancient words in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. If you’ve been in church for any number of years, you know the Christmas story. You’ve seen the kids in the Nativity play scamper down the church aisle likely a motley herd of sheep. You’ve probably chuckled quietly as the lead shepherd forgot his lines. Sometimes though, we forget that this ancient story is a part of real flesh and blood history. It is not a myth.

We forget that Mary was a young woman being scorned by her society, because she was perceived to be pregnant out of wedlock.

We forget Joseph who had the grace to let Mary go quietly and not press for his rights in a broken covenant, until God sent a dream and told Joseph to marry this girl.

We forget that a Roman decree sent both Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem from Nazareth.

That wasn’t a cute trip.

I looked it up online and the distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem is exactly 68.9 miles. Imagine journeying that distance and being ready to bring a child into the world any day. That wouldn’t be a cute trip if you had a bus, and they had no such transportation. Each time I read the Christmas Story I’m not struck by cuteness, I’m struck by the grace filled reactions of Mary and Joseph, despite the hardship of their situation. I’m struck by the beautiful history and tradition of our faith, but our faith is still living and active.

The word of God is still living and active.

We remember the history, the real people who lived this story, and yet when we finish reading we must head out into the frenzy of our own lives that are separated a couple thousand years from that first Christmas–

and yet the word of God is living and active.

How can a story thousands of years old speak to us who are rushing around finishing finals, wrapping Christmas presents, and journeying home for various family functions?

I believe that Scripture speaks loudly into every point in history. I believe that the Christmas Story speaks to us today.

That journey, the journey of Mary and Joseph, has been speaking to me this December. It was filled with 68.9 miles of uncertainty and possibly tragedy. Would they make it to Bethlehem? Why did the worry and uncertainty not overcome their journey? What if…What if…What if…

I suspect that the reason Mary and Joseph were not overcome, was that Mary carried the Author of Peace within her for every one of those 68.9 miles. This had never occurred to me before this December. Mary and Joseph’s beautiful reactions to the hardships of that journey must have come from a knowledge of that Peace.

We’re all headed in various directions, braving the public transit system, waiting in crowded airports…finally arriving home. We all have a task of a journey.  

Friends, may you be reminded that no matter where you are headed this Christmas, whether that place is filled with peace or strife, may you understand that knowing Christ means that you carry the Peace of the Holy Spirit for that journey. May you be overcome by that Peace this Christmas Season.

Merry, Merry Christmas.

The Joy of Jesus

Merry Christmas!

I hope you guys have been hearing that a lot. I’m currently drinking a peppermint hot chocolate and listening to Christmas carols at a very Christmas-y Starbucks. I would be wearing an ugly Christmas sweater and a Santa hat, but I have to go to work later. The point is – it’s Christmas.

Christmas joy can seem overrated if we focus on what’s in front of us. The show the Great Christmas Light Fight helped put me in the Christmas mood (even though I originally didn’t care much for it). The Babyface version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a Christmas staple for my family and makes me happier than ever. This season also brings unreasonable cheer – but why? What is it about Christmas that causes such a hullabaloo? Yea, it could definitely be the presents. It could be the unreasonably happy Christmas music (Frosty the Snowman just started playing). Or it could just be the fact that we are expected to be happy around this time. But what is the source?

As we all know, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. (Even though, apparently, Jesus wasn’t even born in December). A vast majority of our Christmas carols revolve around Jesus, especially the older ones, and Nativity scenes with plastic baby Jesuses begin to pop up on front lawns across the country. My point is that it doesn’t matter whether or not people choose to celebrate His birth because the true cause is very well known.

Jesus speaks about joy in John 15:11. He says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” His joy is the joy that is everlasting, very recognizable, and contagious. His joy was only made available to us after He came to earth, and what do we celebrate on Christmas? The day Jesus came to earth, exactly. I believe this is the reason Christmas is what it is. This holiday involves so much joy and cheer not because of the material aspects surrounding it, but because of the supernatural joy that it is rooted in. The joy of Jesus empowers the Christmas holiday. Remember that when you say Merry Christmas and when you get excited about a Christmas carol (Feliz Navidad is now playing). When you get excited about the decorations on your Christmas trees and making hot chocolate, just remember that you’re basking in Jesus’ joy.

13 Things You Learn From Teaching Othello

My second placement for student teaching has been a two month crash course on teaching Othello to high school students. It has been a wild, wild, crazy experience, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. To all you Adolescent English Majors: continue in your programs. Do not be intimidated! It is completely possible to learn how to teach high school Shakespeare, and be an engaging educator! Fear thee not. This being said, when you’re handed a wild, crazy experience you are guaranteed to learn a couple things…

Here’s what you learn from teaching Othello:

  1. You learn that 40% of your class has no idea what’s going on in the play, 55% have skipped ahead to the fight scenes, and the other 5% are working on their Shakespeare dissertations.                                                       
  2. You never take it personally, when a student declares that, “Ms. Neumann! I hate this Shakespeare stuff!”      
  3. You learn to read, read, and reread the text before you teach it. You read it in the original text. You reread it in a modern version. You don’t use Sparknotes and Cliffnotes as an excuse for laziness. You actually use them the way they were intended– a lifeline! (and a way to study the text).                                                              
  4. You learn to ALWAYS preview the movie before showing clips in class. (Use your imagination on that one. Also, check the ratings on any DVD.)                                                                                                                                   
  5. You learn that enthusiasm is as contagious as the bubonic plague, and if you can get a bunch of fifteen year old’s excited about something like Desdemona’s handkerchief? You can learn to teach anything.                       
  6. You learn that kids hate/love acting out the scenes. You learn to make them do it anyway, and eventually everyone is clapping in applause.                                                                                                                                         
  7. You learn that there’s something about plastic swords that brings out the actor in all of us.                                  
  8. You learn Shakespearean insults. “A pox on you for late homework!”                                                                         
  9. You learn to laugh at yourself when you spell Desdemona’s name wrong on the board–in front of the entire class.                                                                                                                                                                                            
  10. You learn to capitalize on the bizarre, gross, gory, and strange details of the play. Iago said what!                      
  11. You learn that ultimately teaching Shakespeare is a study in human nature, both from the characters in the text and from the reactions of your students…at being assigned homework over it.                                                 
  12. You learn that having the best supervising teacher ever makes the experience. You know who you are!  
  13. You learn that only an English teacher shouldst heed the pangs of love and agony which doth spring from the instructing of pupils on bookish fancies of a man heretofore accorded witness as Shakespeare. You learn that you are an English teacher.

Nyack Unfiltered: Joseph Vasquez

Nyack College has a plethora of personalities. Nyackers come from all different backgrounds and bring their stories with them. Each one has a passion, a gift, and a desire to see God’s plan for their life be fulfilled. Nyack Unfiltered is a series of interviews I am conducting featuring students on the Manhattan campus who not only I, but others, believe will do (and currently are doing) great things for God.

The first interview in our series is Joseph Vasquez. Even though Joseph doesn’t know me too well, he granted me the honor of interviewing him. He’s an interesting guy who will bring much honor to God’s name with the things he’s planning to do.
What’s your major?

Joseph: Psychology.

Why?

Joseph: I’m a Psych major because I believe it’s a good foundation for what I want to do. I want to be a psychotherapist. I want to be able to help people find the root of why they’re going through what they’re going through, and [help them know] that they are normal. Usually when you go to see a psychotherapist or psychologist you kind of feel freaked out and I want to create an atmosphere – like a safe haven – which I know builds up over time, but I just want to create that environment. And I want to help people understand that when they go into that office, they’re not the only ones going through what they’re going through. Even though it may seem like it, they’re not. I also believe that I am called for ministry, and I want to be able to understand the people that I’m being called to minister to – [their] mind, [their] emotions, and just integrate that with what I’ve learned on my journey with God and what the Bible teaches me. So for instance, the Bible says that the heart of a man is like a deep well and the person who understands it draws it out. So you see Psychology there, and I just like that integration.

Are you minoring in anything?

Joseph: I’m not.

If you could go back and if you had more time, would you want to?

Joseph: If I had more time, I would have done an interdisc. [editor’s note: interdisciplinary major] I would’ve done Psychology and Pastoral [Ministries]. I think even though I’m graduating – you know those kind of regrets – it’s not evident, but it’s there. So if I could go back in time I would have done Pastoral, just for the fact that I think that those classes are kind of easier than what I take. Usually when I take a Bible or Pastoral class, I get a decent grade…

Then that’s probably because that’s what you’re good at…

Yeah, and it comes easy for me so I would integrate Pastoral and Psychology because [in these classes] they teach you methods that you can use when you preach, they teach you how to read the Bible from a different perspective….and the Spiritual gifts. So these are things that make me wish I could have sat down in these classes.

So, what you want to do with psychotherapy is kind of unique. It kind of sounds like a brand. Do you want it to be your brand or do you just want it to be a job and then you do something else for your career?

Joseph: I think psychotherapy is just my second passion. I think it’s something to bring to the table, but my first passion is preaching the Gospel. So until then, psychotherapy is something that I want to do. I believe that I can’t just grab a mic and start preaching. I believe in God’s timing.

Right now, are you doing anything related to what you want to do in the future? Or are you just focusing on graduating?

Joseph: I actually started a YouTube channel over the Summer. I paused it… [Just then, a student comes through the doors of the library, gives Joseph a high-five, and wishes him good luck on his test. Joseph thanks him and smiling, continues…] but I want to eventually have a TV show, so I’m starting with a YouTube channel.

What is something you learned this month? [editor’s note: It was November.]

Joseph: I think November has taught me the power of decision and the power of your voice. I think sometimes being isolated from different voices helps you find your own voice. It’s like if there’s a fight in front of you and you’re alone, you’re more prone to break up the fight. But if you’re surrounded by people, there’s a hesitation because everyone’s looking at one another like, “Who’s gonna break up the fight?” I’m not saying to walk alone, but… even Jesus when He went into the wilderness, He was alone and He was confronted by the enemy. So, I feel like there are times or seasons when we’re alone and God isolates us from certain voices so we can find our own [voice]. So I learned the power of my voice and having my own conviction. Especially when it comes to the elections. There are a lot of voices – a lot of opinions – but in the end you’re the one voting. So you have to have a conviction and make a decision. You’re the one making a decision and that might exclude other options and you might not like the consequences of your decision, but…. that’s what I’ve learned this month.

What advice do you have for anyone – not just Nyack students and not just incoming Seniors – what advice would you have for a random person on the street who just came up to you and said “hey”? Or not even advice. What would you say – besides “hey” back?

Joseph: I would say that even though it’s comfortable to sometimes stay on the floor when you feel like life has knocked you down, when you have probably knocked yourself down, when people knocked you down – you were created to fly and just don’t give up. Even when giving up is the only thing that’s echoing in your mind. It’s something that will resonate with each and every one of us. We all get to that point where we feel like giving up – it’s literally just comfortable to give up. It’s comfortable to just stay on the floor. It’s comfortable to just settle. But even though it’s harder to not give up and just keep fighting, even though you’ve been knocked down 50,000 times, when you stand up and start flying again you realize that this is what you’ve been called to do – fly. Just keep running the race. At the end of the day, it will all make sense – at the end of the tunnel. But right now, I feel like nobody should give up. You should keep pushing, you should keep fighting. I felt like giving up a lot of times, at least in the past two years. But I literally keep pushing…there’s something inside of me that says I was born to fly. I was born to keep pushing. And even though I don’t feel like it, even though it’s hard, even though I have to repeat it, even though I have to apologize… if I mess up or I fall, I stand back up and keep fighting. Hopefully that gives hope and encouragement to other people. But not only for those people, but I think the most important thing you can do is encourage yourself. Even David said, “My soul, why are you afflicted – worship God, you know?” That’s powerful that you can encourage yourself. When nobody encourages you, you can depend on God and encourage yourself. I think that’s advice I would give to the general public.

 
Joseph’s ending words reminded me of my favorite childhood verse (and low key my favorite verse today): Isaiah 40:31 “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Thank you for letting me talk with you, Joseph!

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