Monday, March 28, 2011

How Great Thou Art

One of my all-time favorite hymns is "How Great Thou Art."

We sang this in church on Sunday.  I have to give props to Moody - they do the full orchestra + full choir + organ thing very well.  Combined with a large room of people loudly singing and the Spirit of God moving, there are moments when I think we are getting glimpses of Heaven...  This Sunday, during the final verse of How Great Thou Art, it was one of those moments - a small glimpse into what it will be like when we are forever worshiping God.  Check out the hymn's lyrics below:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee
how great Thou art, how great Thou art.
And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee
how great Thou art, how great Thou art.
When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!"

During that last verse, I felt like I actually wanted to be home... home in heaven.  I mean, as Christians we intellectually know that heaven is supposed to be better than life on earth, but if we're honest (or maybe it's just me), we have things we want in this life - dreams for the future.  Yet, we read in scripture that this isn't our real home, and that our life here is fleeting... I understand that truth and pray for God to make that a real desire in my heart, but it is rare when I truly have moments where my heart and head align in this area, where I truly want to just go... go up to heaven to worship God forever and ever.  But, this Sunday morning, with complete sincerity, I could sing...When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.  Then I shall bow, in humble adoration, and then proclaim "My God, how Great Thou Art!"

Thursday, March 24, 2011

$15.00 Opera

Earlier in the year, I found out that the Lyric Opera of Chicago puts on one of the operas of the season as a matinee for students and offers the tickets at the low rate of $8.00-$15.00.  I thought it would be a neat experience for my students, but then I quickly thought again... in a perfect world, i'd take my students and they'd develop some newfound appreciation for opera.  haha if someone had taken me to an opera in high school, i probably would have hated it forever.  [Actually, my mom and I went to see Porgy and Bess last year at the lyric.  It was beautiful.  I could appreciate it because I studied opera in college.  But, when it came down to staying for the last 15 minutes or catching the train so as not to have to wait 2 hours in Ogilvie... we left early!] 

Anyway, I had resolved not to take students because I didn't want to turn them off to classical music.  In a passing conversation with some of my "after-school-choir" kids, I mentioned the opera. 

student: "we want to go!"
me: "are you sure?"
"it's 4 hours long..."
"we want to go."
"it's in french."
"we want to go."
"it's 15.00"
"we want to go."
"i'd love to take you but i want you to know what you're getting yourselves into..."

we're going tomorrow.  20 students + me + my mom (the other chaperone)

"Ms. Cook! yo momma comin to the opera wit us?"

(they are very excited - lots of momma questions) 

I ordered more tickets than I had originally received money for, so I offered to all my students in all my classes - the first 7 people to pay me $15.00 could go - initially the trip was for after school choir students only.

As of yesterday afternoon, I only had 1 ticket left.  First thing this morning, a student I'll call Kiara brought me a note and the signed permission slips.  The note read something like this: "Ms. Cook, Kiara really wants to go on this trip to the opera.  Her appreciation for music is growing and she is very excited about the possibility of seeing the opera for the first time.  I do not have the $15.00 today, but could you please hold a ticket for her?  She will have the money and more for dinner tomorrow.  I promise.  Thank you for your help and support."  Of course she's coming!  By the way, I've heard nightmares about this girl from other teachers.  But in my class, she's respectful, gets all her stuff done, helps other kids who don't understand something, and extremely quiet.  She doesn't really like to sing (I've asked her one on one... she says she's too shy) although she has a nice voice and her mom is forcing her to learn to sing at church.  Anyway, I wouldn't have pegged her for dying to go to the opera.

I announced this trip a couple months ago to prepare students for the cost ($15.00 ticket + $12.00 dinner + bus money).  Since then, I have heard a couple students mention scraping up the money... "I didn't have the money either but I found a way man... cant buy those sodas at lunch." 

I'm not sure what to expect - will they like it? what are they expecting? will they be surprised by the singing?  will they fall asleep?  will they understand the plot?

It's going to be a great experience.  For some of them, a once-in-a-lifetime-thing.  Sure, it's just one opera.  But it's more than that - it's a cultural experience.  It's something new.  (And it's a professional world class opera production for $15.00 ticket on the main floor.)  By the way, I just checked - there are 5 seats left on the main floor for Sunday's production of Carmen and they are going for $247.00 each.

Au Revoir,
Mrs. Cook

Friday, March 18, 2011

same kind of different as me

this book is a must-read.  I'm a sucker for the real-life memoir type book in anyway, but this book is extra great!  I finished it in 3 days... which is saying a lot because I'm usually way too tired to do any sort of mental activity after work for an extended period of time.  If I say too much more I'll spoil it, but you (yes you) must go to your library and get it right now :)

happy reading

Proverbs 15:1

I recently heard a sermon on various Proverbs discussing getting rid of negative conflict in your home.  As various Proverbs were read, I realized some Proverbs would be especially helpful to know as a teacher.  The pastor would quote a proverb (for example, 15:1 "a gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger) and I would think "woah! that's why that works... because the Bible says it works that way."  I know that doesn't sound revolutionary, but it was very timely for me.

Why timely, you ask?  (even if you didn't ask I will gladly explain)  Well, we've about hit that point where everyone is ready for spring break.  You see, we have an ubsurd number of days off in the fall up until winter break, where there is 2 weeks off.  Then in January, because of finals, there are some extra days off.  However, since the end of January, we've been going for a long stretch.  I am all for quality education and I'm also all for quality breaks.  Plus, my student attendance is WAY down on Mondays and Fridays.  (That's one of those things that surprised me about teaching at a city high school.)  Anyway, back to the point.  Everyone is ready for spring break.  Ours is at the end of April. .. not march, APRIL!  [Now, to all my friends who have to work 12 months a year instead of 9 and think I should stop complaining... we teachers are spoiled.  i'll gladly accept that if you think that.  And likewise, I will accept empathy from my teacher friends who know why it's nice to have the breaks.]

Also timely because there is this girl in my 4th period class.  Now, if you ask my mom or any teacher I had early on in high school, they will quickly tell you I had mastered the eye-rolling-know-it-all-attitude by 13.  but this girl has me beat.  by a long shot.  I managed to establish a semi-positive relationship with her early in the year, but music isn't her favorite subject and there have been some instances in which that relationship seems to have gone sour.  (Now I know how the teachers that many students hate feel.  There is a different level of in-your-face-confrontation at our school than the high school I graduated from and let's just say it's majorly elevated if the confronter dislikes the confrontee.)  Unfortunately for this girl, as her mission seemingly was to take down my 4th period class, that class happens to be one of my best... they respond well, seem to enjoy singing (as much as a group of teenagers who are forced to be in choir can love singing), and the environment is almost always positive. 

This story is getting too long.  The point is, despite her outbursts, I was determined to employ Proverbs 15:1 with her at all times.  Although I nearly lost it when I caught her cheating on the same test for the 4th time and she lied to my face about it (despite the fact that I never called home, always offered her an opportunity to come in and simply learn the information, and continued to let her retake the test in case she truly did know the material as she claimed).... except for that instance, i have responded to her with a "gentle answer."

I have seen her "wrath" disappear before my eyes.  Yesterday and today, she spent her long division periods helping me by posting a new bulletin board with student work (2 hours worth of time).  I also let them work on a project for me during class on the condition they made up the lesson in their free time and she did.  It's not perfect... she still read durig class today (although we were just watching a movie) and I don't expect everything in our future to be coated with rainbows and sunshine, but... the word of God is true and I am thankful he's showing me how to depend on him and claim his promises, specifically as it relates to teaching.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Here are some words and phrases that have come up in ACT class;



relentless pursuit

This person’s deformity

Accepted the situation peaceably

Scientific inquiry

Tolerate adversity

Overriding concern

Did you know what most of them meant?  My students didn't.  Today, I gave them that list as a review of phrases we've seen in different readings.  We discussed the phrases when we first saw them.  (They ask when they don't know a word and we discuss the meaning.)  This exercise was supposed to be a quick review... it wasn't.  They didn't remember ANY of the phrases :( 

We've also been doing 2 vocab words per class (4 per week) that I've taken from a list of common ACT words.  Though we review them each class, they don't know more than 1 or 2 of the words :( Part of the reason is because they don't do the outside of class work.  I tell them to review their flash cards (which I provide) and/ or write the words and meanings out... they don't.  But, I'm also wondering if there are better ways to teach vocabulary... when the test is in April and they haven't seen such commonly used words! yikes! 

I don't spend too much time on vocabulary b/c I think it is in some ways close to a lost cause... not quite, but close.  They are behind in this category because of... well for a lot of reasons.  That's a whole different post.

Any ideas for teaching/ cramming vocab? 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Week 24

It is week 24 of the school year.  There are 40 weeks total... quick, do the math!  Wow!  As this year is on the down hill, I can't believe it's going/ gone so fast.  I wonder if I'll think back to this year a lot... tell stories about "that one girl Jamesha" or "this one kid Montease."  As I think about some things that have happened, I can't help but laugh.

During halloween week, a stink bomb was let off in my classroom.  The smell of rotten eggs to the 1000th power slowly filled the air, and then all of the sudden, the entire room REEKED.  [side note - truth be told, it was a shot to my classroom management pride that I didn't see who did it.]  Because these stink bombs were being let off all around the building all week, our security team came up with a fool proof plan- stop every kid on the way out of the building and drop their bag on the floor (to "detonate" any left over bombs).  It worked.  Suspended.

I have tripped over the garbage can that is in my teaching space several times.  Now that I think about it, I should move it permanently.  Although, the kids get a kick out of it every time.

student (upon hearing a slow, soulful version of amazing grace on the harmonica in a random class activity) "ms. cook, this be raw. you gotta give me those notes so i can play them on my flute" (flute = recorder)  lol!!

student: "Ms. cook, where you was yesterday?"
me: "I went home sick."
student: "you didn't fainteded?"
me: "nope. and that's not a word."
student: "because i be hearing that you fainteded and i was finna say i hope you was okay."

me: "One thing you can do to improve your focus on the ACT is to read at home - 30 minutes a day.  uninterrupted."
student: "ok. ms. cook. let me aks (ask... often pronounced axe) you a question... my momma tells me to read and i tell her i be reading my text messages and she says that don't count.  so then i tell her i be reading the street signs while i'm driving, but she say that don't count either.  but i'm reading so i wanna know why it don't count."
me: "well, those are very short things to read.  i'm not telling you to read for 30 minutes to practice reading words - i know you can read.  but those ACT passages are very boring and you have to really learn how to concentrate and understand the main ideas.  text messages are so quick - the thoughts are so short."
student: "girl, i gotch you. i'm finna go home and read right now."
me: "great."

It is the first week of March.  I still have to ask students to sit in their assigned seats.

They LOVED singing "Seasons of Love" from Rent around Christmas time... every day, at least 2 kids in every class.... "Ooo Ms. Cook, that's my sooonnng."

If those stories aren't as funny reading them, sorry! but i'm laughing as i re-imagine these scenarios... maybe you had to be there ;)

What are you standing on?

This one line from a well-known hymn has been on my mind all day:  On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

Think about that for a minute.  I've been asking myself, is that true of me?

Here's the rest of the hymn's lyrics, for further pondering... (the first and last speak the most to me personally)

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

Were it not for grace...

There, but for the grace of God, go I.

The story that is widely circulated is that the phrase was first spoken by the English evangelical preacher and martyr, John Bradford (circa 1510–1555). He is said to have uttered the variant of the expression - "There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford", when seeing criminals being led to the scaffold. He didn't enjoy that grace for long, however. He was burned at the stake in 1555, although, by all accounts he remained sanguine about his fate and is said to have suggested to a fellow victim that "We shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night."

[This story is often questioned, so don't necessarily count it as fact.  But, even if it was made up, it serves its purpose.]

It challenged me to think that when I see someone in the wrong, do I judge them?  Do I think to myself I would never... or do I thank God for his grace knowing "there, but for the grace of God, go I..."

There is an, albeit cheesy song titled "Were it Not for Grace."  (Larnelle Harris) Its lyrics are fitting.

Were it not for grace
I can tell you where Id be
Wandering down some pointless road to nowhere
With my salvation up to me
I know how that would go
The battles I would face
Forever running but losing this race
Were it not for grace

So... were it not for grace, I fill in the blank.

Thankful for grace,