Bad Student to..Good Teacher?

It was guided reading time. I was with my second group in the seventy minute block. We’d reviewed segmenting words for three minutes, they’d read the book of the day for eight minutes and there were nine minutes left for the discussion of character feelings.

“How do you think Mom and Dad feel about Baby Frog throwing the garbage out all by himself? That’s the question we are going to think about. What’s the first thing we should do?” I asked.

There were three hands up. Mason was looking out the window. I knocked slightly in front of him to get his attention and repeated the question. Ali, who was sitting next to me, was squirming in her seat. She put her face in my face with a big smile so she could be called first. I reminded her, “Everyone will get a turn.” Ali momentarily pouted but then resumed her best – hands folded, eyes tracking and back straight – to be called on next.

Desiree answered the question. “We should find the picture where Baby Frog is throwing the garbage out and look at his mom and dad’s face and actions to figure out how they are feeling.”

“Very good,” I replied. “Looking at the picture, tell me what the parents are doing and how they feel.” Ali was still sitting at her best but she looked at me with her big eyes. I smiled. “Go ahead Ali.”

“I see that the mom and dad have big smiles and they are watching Baby Frog. On the next page after Baby Frog throws the garbage away, I see that mom and dad are hugging him. That makes me think that his parents love him very much,” Ali said enthusiastically.

“Let’s do a group vote with thumbs up to show agreement.” The three children gave her thumbs up. “Yes, Baby Frog’s parents do love him very much. But today we’re going to build on that to find a better word.”

Ali’s demeanor changed. She slumped in her seat and folded her arms. “Ali,” I said leaning closer to her. “This is a new feeling we’re learning. You tried your very best and I’m proud of you.” I turned to the whole group. “Oops, I gave the answer away! Who knows what proud means?”

Mason raised his hand. “It is when you do something that is very hard. Then you feel proud of yourself.”

“Yes! It is an accomplishment. Like learning to tie your shoes or opening the lunch milk carton all by yourself! When you think ‘I did it!’ that’s when you are proud of yourself. And teachers and parents can feel proud of you too.”

Ali remained sulking but I was against the clock – seven minutes remaining – and five more questions to do. So I was firm with Ali. “You’ll get another chance and you can try again with another question,” I said and moved on.

But it’s not that simple. I know that now having to revisit taking courses to complete my teacher certification.
I stopped being a good student in high school. Sure I was in AP and Honor courses, but I stopped trying in class. I failed to see the relevance of the courses applicable to my life and the deeper the grades sunk without teacher concern the less I cared.
I see it now: my parents were always on my case to do better in school, but I was their daughter not their student. I sat in the back of my classes and wrote and teachers never asked what I wrote or what I did. They taught and enjoyed conversations with the A students.
That’s not the kind of teacher I want to be. Every child has a capability and shouldn’t be measured by expectations. I should given Ali more time to process, but that day when she got a second chance with another question and she didn’t reply, I just moved on. Because I was so focused on teaching, I didn’t even consider what she needed. I should have checked in on her later, to help her understand I believed in her even if she made a mistake, but I didn’t.
She still passed the assessment at the end of year which is dandy, but I’m not proud. So what if she can read if she can’t process her feelings?
I’m about to turn 23 and I still have trouble with that! It’s why I’m here writing instead of doing an assignment. Because after I got 3/5 and a FAIL on an assignment I spent 12 hours doing, the surprise left me bereft of all confidence. Now I’m doubting myself every step of the way in the online math program and I find myself procrastinating. After all, sanity doesn’t let you be fully engaged in something that will hurt you.
Yes, in this case its my pride and self-esteem that are hurt. But I’ve struggled with that all my life. It’s why I became a teacher, so I could help students believe in themselves from the very start. And I forgot that along the way, I was focused on taking cues from my coteacher on how to teach that I overlooked my ability to reach out to kids just like me.

Of course now I know what I can do better my second year teaching. If I stay teaching. What if I don’t pass this math class and my certification never happens? I want to be fifteen and act like I don’t care. But that’s not who I want my students to turn into. For their sake, I need to learn to not give up. If I can win this battle within myself – push past all my doubts and try my best and try again if I fail – then I can instill that value in my students. And that’s the best gift I want to give them.

 

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How to Be Comfortable as an Introvert

I like myself. But sometimes I wonder what life would be like as someone else.

I seem shy. And I’ll call myself a loner. But neither of these labels are truly fitting.

My personality comes with a social battery that only has a certain amount of energy. Once I reach the limit, I need to recharge.

It’s not easy being an introvert teacher. The other teachers are joyful with the kids and still have equal social stamina to go out for drinks after work. Me? I look forward to the kids’ elective in the morning and bathroom break in the afternoon as my time to recharge to continue to give them my best. But spending ten hours a day trying to meet the needs of my students, I’m spent by evening. A quiet dinner and a movie with Rich or my parents is all I can muster up after work. Netflix and chilling with my cat is the best choice.

Now that school’s out, I have a lot of energy left in my social battery. The irony is that after spending a year buried in my work and not being able to meet friends, they all already have plans. We simply aren’t close enough anymore for me to jump right into their plans anymore. Rich has plans with his family and my parents are traveling to Canada and because I’m not ready to leave Indigo with a petsitter, I am left alone with a with a fully charged social battery.

Teetering on the precipice of wallowing, I think about the advice our school’s literacy consultant gave about teaching a reading level we were unfamiliar with: get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I didn’t like the sound of it, but the approach of facing changes head-on allowed me to be a receptive teacher. Now it’s my turn to apply it to my life and walk through the things that make me squirm.

You don’t know just how much you are capable of until you try things by yourself.
With a week ahead of me to relax and gain insight on myself, here’s a list of things I plan to do by myself – and you should too!

1. Go shopping – a combination of window shopping and trying on clothes, my pace never matches another and now I can do it freely without the pressure of another person.

2. Binge watch a tv show – my taste in shows isn’t the same as the few friends I have, so it’s always nice to get time to watch I want.

3. Lose yourself in a new book series – if you like comics and cats, I recommend Chi’s Sweet Home! It’s adorable and a quick read and I’m definitely going out and buying the next two volumes .

4. Nature walk/hike – it’s the perfect way to immerse yourself in a small part of the world’s beauty and listen to the serenade of bird chirps.

5. Invest time in your hobby – like cooking? Try a new recipe. I love writing so I plan on diving into a few short stories and poems.

6. Call up friends you don’t see regularly – the art of calling is losing to texting nowadays, but the realness of hearing someone’s voice and laugh over the phone can’t be beat.

7. Take afternoon naps – I don’t mean the three hour ones that leave you sluggish, rather the twenty minute power naps that will have your bravery recharged to try something new.

8. Renovations – whether it’s packing away winter gear that’s still out or adding more sunchairs to your balcony, turn the insides of your home to match your mood. My apartments furnished with necessities but my walls are bare and I plan on making some art pieces to hang up. I can be frugal and creative at the same time!

9. Have a sit down dinner at a restaurant – it always seems unnerving to be yourself and embarrassing to be on your phone the whole time while you eat, but its a time to fully immerse yourself in every bite you take! I know when I eat herb crusted salmon with wild rice pilaf and asparagus I want to savor each succulent bite.

10. Do whatever you want. It sounds so vague, but that’s really the opportunity you have when you are alone. Of course it’s easier to choose to be alone than find yourself alone circumstantially. In any case, you will learn a lot about yourself. With any and all influences of others wiped away, your dislikes and likes will stand out strongly. Once you have that revelation, you can gain confidence as an introvert.

While I will try to adhere to this list to not be consumed by the sudden loneliness, I AM lucky enough to have a cat who likes to climb up on top of the refrigerator and wants to play fetch with her mice. It’ll be nice to play with her and cuddle with her, but Indigo and my personality are in sync: we can be sprawled next to each other or we can independently share a room. She is the perfect match for an introvert like me.

 

 

A Teacher is a Scholar First

In my school, each of the kindergarten classes are named after universities. So that each of the scholars know since day one they are beginning their journey to college and after.

As a homage to Dr. Seuss’s classic and the paths that lay ahead of each scholar, I wrote a poem for the kids’ mini yearbook. They graduate tomorrow ready to be first graders, many ready to dismiss their parents’ help to read the poem on their own.

Oh, the Colleges We’ll Go

We did it!
Today is our graduation.
We’re off to great adventures
and our journey has just begun.

We of NYU, Kean and Clemson Universities
learned to be professional scholars
with college hands and curious minds
we’ll go forth to paint our future in bright colors!

I remember Meet the Teachers night like it was yesterday. I read a book with Kaelyn, played blocks with Darwin and Jefferson, and colored with my shy girls. I remember the first few weeks Andrea cried to go home. Now she has grown up brave enough to touch a snake at the zoo. I remember Jasmine hiding behind her mom’s legs, smiling, but not ready to talk to me. Now she’s always raising her hand to share out. Ashley and Britany are our resident cousins and Britany was dependent on her. Since then, Britany has realized there were other Spanish speaking friends in class and she slowly opened up to them – and me with my broken Spanish. Daniel and Emmanuel, our reserved boys, now come in with eager grins and arms open for hugs every morning.

The kids knew when to laugh and when to listen to Ella, but I was the soft one. The one who listened to all their cries, tried to make amends between the kids, and was goofy with silly voices and cat obsessions. It took me twice as long to get my class back on track after I made a joke. So somewhere in the middle of the year, I became the structured teacher.  I followed lesson plans and didn’t allow for distractions. Ella would take pictures with our kids and buy prizes for them; I relied on praises and the occasional stickers. I treated then like miniature college kids in lecture halls in which every minute counted.
I forgot what it was like to be a kid.

It’s an awkward year  for me – a recent college graduate wading into adulthood, I don’t know where I belong socially. I can’t stay up to hang out with my college buds and I can’t connect with the other older teachers. Stunted, I focused on my work and it translated into strict transitions between blocks to make the most out of academics for my kids.

My first year teaching, I’m still learning the balance of fun and management. As the school year end comes to an end, I have less preparation to do and the schedule is more flexible for the kids. We had Field Day on Friday and we had so much fun. I thought, 9 months of rigorous teaching is worth it for one day of ultimate fun with the kids. But they’re five. They should be having fun every day.

I thought being a good teacher meant making sure they were set up for success in first grade and beyond. That’s always a goal. But the best teachers are the one who listen and believe in you and challenge you. Those are the teachers you remember forever.
My sixth grade math teacher, Ms. Jasper, pushed me to excel in math while encouraging me to come out of my shell during group work. My 7th grade Reading teacher, Ms. LaMarca, adored me because I was a voracious reader. By chance, I bombed an exam in her class the same time I was struggling in other classes. She wrote me a note telling me not to let recent grades get me down and keep believing in myself. My 8th grade English teacher, Ms. Nilooban, challenged me to dig deeper as a writer and listened to me about my fall-outs with friends. They are the reason I got into teaching.

So hellbent I was on doing, I forgot on being. I don’t know if my students will remember me. But I will remember them for teaching me to ease up.

I make mistakes and I doubt myself occasionally. But Ashley kisses my hand and Naomi will never leave the classroom without making sure she says bye and Jayden has to share his good news first with me and Mimi wants me to sit next to her while she writes and Jaylin wants my approval with his stand up, and Ally calls me squishy when she hugs me. They love me even when I’m not sure I’m meant to be a teacher.
My students are the true teachers of joyfulness and courage. And like any good scholar, I will remember this lesson and build upon it.

FieldDay Fun

 

Goodbye, Hello

My kindergartners are graduating in three days. My first year teaching is almost complete and it’s hard to let go of the bonds. Sure I’ll see them in the hallways or when I peek into their first grade classrooms next year, but they are no longer my babies. They are proud scholars ready to soar into the next grade.

Today the students filled out introduction sheets that will be saved and given to their corresponding first grade teacher in the fall. The students LOVED writing about themselves – a big difference from all the writing they have been doing about the Magic Tree House books, listing facts about animals they like, and basic opinion pieces about whether they like donuts or cupcakes. The best part for them was being able to share it with me and Ella.

I remember starting out the year with All About Me pieces. Back then our wee scholars wobbled in their pencil holding and could only write their names. Since then they’ve grown so much and as much as it is hard for me to see them fly from my nest, I am proud of each and every one of them.

Still, I don’t feel sad. I always knew as a teacher that none of my students would be permanent. Instead, hopefully the fun we had in our class will remain in their minds forever. That’s all I can do. Hope.

And cherish the things that are a part of my life to stay. Like my precious cat Indigo!
Yes, I’m the typical cat mom who believes her cat is truly the best. I love showing her off to my students who like to think of her growing up with them. So I made her a “first grade” introduction based on all the talking (hmph, meowing) she does.

It turned out to be a good lesson to my scholars about imagination. They’re so good at dramatic free play, but when it comes down to visualizing and considering the impossible as possible it’s still a big grow for them. Naturally. But my personification of my cat led to a discussion of what life would be like if my scholars’ toys came to life.

Every moment is a story, the collection of which can be labeled as a good memory or – not. The moments that contain fleeting interactions provide us with perspective and ways to strengthen the bonds we want to retain. Ultimately, that is the novelty of life.

I have one regret this year: I became so focused on creating a environment that encouraged curiosity and learning, I didn’t take the time to find out what my kids wanted. I don’t know if it would have fit into the curriculum, but I’m sure they would have liked it if I’d heard their voices more and not just to in response to questions I asked pertaining to lessons. We had fun building toy cars, making volcanoes and moon dust and rain in a jar, but we didn’t talk.

My hope: in the fall, I can make the time to find out more about my scholars outside of school.
The big picture: I can’t want to spend my summer and the rest of my life laughing, cuddling, and playing with those closest to me – especially Indigo.

fantasticfirst

Dating Journals

Talking to people isn’t easy. How do you start the conversation? Hello isn’t enough, there is no segue from compliments, all that’s left is questions.
But even asking to share doesn’t guarantee a bridge of compatibility will be built.

I’m on my 60th journal in eight years. I look at my bookcase that has all my handwritten and typed entries chronicling life around me. All the words I couldn’t trust to say among peers, I jotted down.

They could be a symbol of loneliness had I not done it by choice. I learned when I was 12 information was power. When you trade secrets, however much you trust that friend, there is a chance for them to use it against you.
I was that person. On a bus ride home, Shimmy and I told each other the names of our crushes. Just between us,  but I didn’t trust Shimmy not to tell. The next day as lunch gossip, I told the girls I sat with who Shimmy likes. The more “knowledge”  I got and shared, I became the Source.
Even after doing that, though, word never got around about who I liked.

In not trusting anyone, I became the Untrustworthy. Not who I wanted to be, I took advantage of my 8th grade free-writing journal assignment: write whatever we want. That freedom made me fall in love with words – and helped me be honest with myself.

I know what makes me tick, like mean jokes. There is trending relationships news that our meanest friend is really the one who wants the best for you, but I spend most of my time with that confidant: rereading my journals and twinging with regret. I don’t need another mean friend. I need someone who’ll support me to overcome my harshest critic, myself.

I know what makes me vulnerable, loving someone. To get that close to someone and to have it end is abrupt and deeply dissatisfying. I know that I avoid relationship titles – either I tell every person I love them or I tell no one. Because to pick the very best one and still lose them is like finding someone ate the last slice of your triple chocolate cake.

Most of all I know I am a bad verbal communicator. These past 8 years I have had a nose buried in a journal to vent. So now when Rich asks me how I am after a long day at work, I just stare at him. I’m not ignoring his question, I just need time to process! My journals are patient with me and accept me unfiltered. I can whine as much as I want! Aloud, I’m cut short and told to be positive. But I need to pour out all my oozing negativity first to stand tall like a glass of sparkling lemonade.

My journals highlight my weaknesses, but going through my first one from my freshman year in high school shows me so much growth! I bet my journals could have never predicted the slumping girl in the same sweater everyday would come to love her beach hair and have a closet of 200 dresses. I was waiting for someone to tear my walls down, but my confidence did it for me.
In the upcoming years I’m sure I’ll have fewer journals, just enough to showcase the better communicator I plan to be.

It’s true, you can’t be in a healthy relationship unless you are happy with yourself. The beauty of writing is you get to express yourself uninhibitedly. A cathartic outlet, scribbling will always let your prioritize yourself.

So date a journal today, April 29th, and hear yourself think.

 

 

kismet: a writer never quits

When the sun wakes up, shadows don’t fade
they’re lurking in corners, seeped deep into pavement cracks.
When your shoe snags you trip you see your own shadow:
your choice not to see where you were headed.

Patterns cannot be broken without an epiphany aspired by the mundane repetition translating into a perpetuating cycle that can heave anxiety into the humblest.

Under the surging wet white thicket, I was blind in the darkness left by the power outage. Deadlines not met, roads divided by electric lines, distanced from love, the ember of my inadequacy sparked once more. Old fashioned I returned to pen to paper, relearning my qualms are my birthmarks.

Chronicled: why is my cat throwing up is she dying/ I can’t lose power not me I have lesson plans to make/ I just moved out now I have to move back in with my parents?!/ great curfew again am I too old to be sneaking out/ how can I grow up if they can’t even trust me/ please never leave me cat I love you/ need to meet all deadlines!/ hold me my love.

compact cotton candy into a pebble
the appeal to savor fluff dried up to
reach sugar high capacity is a dare dismissed

ten commands given, none followed
my chest cavity ached, hollow and cracking inwardly
the torch of joy crisped when I stopped
looking at myself in the mirror

So I wrote my way home.

the winning rule

sixty four squares of alternating
light and dark, your journey will
not cross all of them, stand
your ground, obstacles will find you
be swift, but the number of the
fallen will pale if there is no
strategy to make the kingdom
yours, grit is not measured by
outliving but rather
persistent patience in evaluation
deliberation and action