I can never understand why a student doesn’t enjoy studying. I suppose the fault must lie with the student’s immaturity or the teacher’s boringness. I remember how much I dreaded waking every morning to milk the cows when I was young. The menial was meaningless to me then.

But what causes me to really scratch my head (or rub my baldness) is chemistry. Why don’t more students love it? Math students should love the orderliness of it. The cook and the cow milker use it every day. Isn’t it cool these days to eat more proteins and fewer carbohydrates? Why then the apathy?

So I lecture and I diagram and I digress in chemistry. I talk about our stomachs and the students wonder why you can’t drink hydrochloric acid if that is what is in your stomach anyway. We pass around the small vial of HCl and practice wafting instead of sniffing. This knowledge I pass down from Lester Showalter and my time in his ninth grade chemistry class. Some students sniff and get burnt.

Another student notices the small skull and crossbones on the label. He pulls out his pencil and adds, “if swallowed, buy a coffin.”

I hope they are enjoying it a little bit.

This past week we made hydrogen.

I stopped along the main street in town and entered a tiny auto parts store. “Acid pentru baterie?” They pointed me down the street to the next shop where I bought some diluted H2SO4 in a bottle labeled “electrolit.”

Zinc was more difficult to resource. Asphalt shingles do not exist in Romania, so zinc strips don’t either. I researched the metal roofing screws that I had left over from my house, and discovered they indeed were coated with zinc.

In an ideal demonstration my sulfuric acid would have been concentrated, and my zinc would have been in beautiful chunks. But we made do with what we had, and what we had made hydrogen.

No pictures of the effect a match had on this little balloon. But it did make a handy pop.

Johnny was a chemist. Johnny is no more. For what Johnny thought was H2O, was H2SO4!

Collaborative creativity

What do teachers do with their summers?

They hang out with fellow friends and hobbyists, bouncing ideas from brain to brain, finding their own worlds enlarged and rounded.

Claudia and I are on the staff of the Curator. We are a collection of poets and artist who are trying to promote the arts among Anabaptists. The Curator publishes a poem a week, hosted a Literature Camp the beginning of August, and recently developed a hardcopy booklet of poems called Leaf Magazine.

So this past summer included meetings in which we discussed things like the font and layout of Leaf Magazine. We Curator staff met in a little café called The Rabbit and the Dragonfly that finds its space under a building in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and fills that space delightfully with themes from Tolkien and Lewis.

Here we nibbled chili cheese fries,
drank Ent-sized birch beer,
and discussed whether or not to use a stylus for the letter “a” in “Leaf”.

Then on July 23 we welcomed a daughter, Josephine!

And in August the three of us traveled to Literature Camp. This weekend included poetry workshops, sessions like this one on embodied worship in which the speaker addresses culture and theology, and also a session in which I explain why I am a poet.

So this past summer was possibly the busiest of my life so far. My beautiful daughter was born. I was a full time electrician who worked nights and weekends remodeling a house, ordered school books during morning break, and did my best to squeeze in space for family and friends.

I blogged much less than I had hoped.

We arrived back in Romania on Tuesday.

Journey over.

School starts Monday. Join me again this year as the blog reawakens.



Summer Break

Summer has come and with it this blog has fallen silent.

Not intentionally. But the rush of vacation has kept me from my computer. So now the house is hot, my blog is cold, and I’ve put me down in a coffee shop for some catch-up.

This post is about my summer work. My next several posts will tell of other activities a teacher could engage in to recreate.

A teacher joke sticks with me.

The teacher is asked to give three reasons for teaching. He replies, “June, July, and August.”

It’s true to many degrees. Could teachers hold up if they had to teach for twelve months? Could they afford it?

This summer is finding me pulling wires and digging holes and pouring concrete for an electric company. I’m grateful for the boosted income; it helps support my habit. And I’m grateful for the chance to get out and work in the dirt.img_8037IMG_8058


Because a teacher needs to keep his muscles in tune. He has desks to move, books to carry, and little boys to impress.

The last day of school I was wrapping up reports in the school office when a fourth and a fifth grader came by to give me cookies and a welcome diversion.

I can’t say how it happened, but they were soon asking about my muscle.

And eyes wide, they demanded to take a picture ;/

Pehaps they realized what a risk they had been running all year.

Being Green

Teaching in a small village means most of my students walk or bike to school.

No more big yellow busses.

From the American chatter I hear, AOC would be proud of us!

Wait! Is that a science book?

Hmm… Maybe not so much.

In His Hands

Perhaps some teachers teach for the chance to create beautiful bulletin boards. I don’t. I do care about the decor of the room and love a good bulletin board; but the work of it and finding the right materials for creation are not my favorite divisions of school teaching.

So often I try to get the students to help me.

This bulletin board is inspired by the song, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” I divided the students into teams and gave them each a part of the board to paint or create.

I loved the finished product.


Slab wood piles

Teachers need recess too, and I’ve enjoyed many diversions in my days off.

I needed some plywood to use for forms for pouring the stem wall for our little house. So a friend picked some up for me one day while he was in town, and I in the classroom. I told him I needed 22 sheets of 18 mm. He came home with 18 pieces of 12 mm.

I was happy the bill was less.

I decided to get a load of slab wood to use to brace the wimpier plywood. I asked the mission boy if he thought it would work. “Well, most of it is pretty anemic, but you might find enough stronger sticks.”

My mind was thinking of my kindling pile this past winter and all the raw barked pieces. I was also thinking of a little house on a hill, and of how raw bark trim would look around the living room windows.

So I was happy again when I got a load of scraps dumped off at the end of my lane. I started thinking slab wood furniture.

A few days later it rained and a passing driver helped himself to some slabs to fill in a large mud puddle.

But my spirits were not dampened.

This morning I finished a coffee table. Except for the finishing.

I like how wood can be drilled and sanded; how it can be fasted and hammered. And I love how it doesn’t complain or balk or turn in messy papers.

Teach a Girl to Teach

An old Asian proverb hides right up the teacher’s sleeve.


Give a man a fish; you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; you feed him for a lifetime.

That’s why today when a ninth-grader asked me a simple question from her homework, one that I knew was hidden in the lesson we completed two days ago, I grinned and said nothing.

“Why bark if you have a dog?” That’s how my mom said it. And I knew it would then be worthless to ask her to do something I could easily do myself.

A teacher is not an answer key. He is a question box. And while I will gladly do the work required for me to teach effectively, I will not do for my student what he or she was sent to school to do.

Students learn by digging; and by digging they learn to learn. This kind of learning will last a lifetime.

Sometimes it’s even one better to get them to teach.

After school on Fridays this winter, we’ve been having a kid’s club. Children from the village come to sing, have a Bible lesson, eat a snack, listen to a story, and go home again.

My students teach. And it’s been a delight for me to sit back and watch. The first evening I walked away and grinned from ear to ear all weekend. Give a girl a classroom, and she blossoms.

Give them a fish, and you feed them for today.

Teach them to teach, and they may be poor all their lives.

But they will be happy.