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.



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.


Breaking Up With Rutgers

When I walk the concrete pavements side by side Rich, I pass the shadows of the girl I used to be before I graduated two years ago. I take in the contemporary but aesthetically cold appearance of Livingston campus, the homestyle waffle fries comfort of College Avenue, the nature appreciation on Douglas and the regret that I judged Busch.

17 and graduating J.P. Stevens High School, a lot of fellow students were going to Rutgers to study engineering, computer science, biology, chemistry, physics on Busch. I wanted a fresh start so I never wanted to make the trek to that campus.
I only just gave it a chance last weekend at Rutgers’s Day. I’m still growing up.
Rich works at the physics lab and he took me to a physics show that mesmerized me as they amplified and explained physical properties to distill the tricks in front of our eyes.

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Honestly, I didn’t understand the lesson behind it, but I saw the effort the professors put in to teach. Explosions, smoke stacks (the shapes dependent on the hole they come out of), laying on a bed of nails (the more nails there are, the more it can hold body weight evenly without penetration of skin), the effect of dry ice on a balloon (it shrinks!) were more than an illusion. I had a newfound respect for the sciences that I could have had sooner.

If I’d had the time. I graduated from Rutgers a year early. It wasn’t planned. It was a hard decision that came in the middle of my 6th and final semester. I didn’t say goodbye properly – because I had just begun to date Rich who had two more years to graduate. I knew I would be back on campus.
But it wasn’t the same. I visited a few times a week, in the evenings when everyone was eating at the cafeteria or going to class. I couldn’t stay late for the events – drag shows, coffee houses, Demarest special interest meetings – they all started at 9pm. I had to drive home to be in bed by 10.

Demarest was my home for the three years. It was a dorm, but it was so much more than that. I developed my own voice and gained confidence because everyone around me was unabashedly themselves. There is a free-expression painting room in the basement that anyone can leave their mark in with a pen, with a marker, with paint. I walk into the room now and the energy is the same, screaming, letting demons out, connecting years. Demarest has clubs within the building – every night 3 different clubs run, varying from cinema studies to philosophy to crafts. I went to the discussion nights depending on the focus topic, my favorite the screening of Kingsmen Secret Service and night of henna tattoos in cultural studies.
I had Squads in Demarest. I met Rich there.
I never felt weird. I wish that was the same in the adulting world.

Now that Rich is graduating, my goodbye has to be permanent. I’ll still go to Rutgers Cinema as an alum to get discounted tickets, but I’ll never be an undergrad student going through her college firsts again. I’m left reminiscing: playing basketball in the Werblin pool with friends, the Squad dinners at Brower cafeteria that had us pushing tables together, staying up late just for the company, baking countless brownies in the tiny basement kitchen of Demarest.
The one thing I didn’t do was have a picnic under the pink trees next to Passion Puddle on Douglas. But I have hope.

Rutgers and I won’t be seeing each other for a while, but I will revisit. It’s a home that still has a part of my heart.



My Life: a Soap Opera

Different. That’s noticeable.

Is it skin color? Culture? Or simply because I am dating instead of marrying?

Rich doesn’t want to meet my parents because my dad doesn’t accept him. My mom tries very hard, but he doesn’t want to meet her either because he doesn’t trust that she won’t change her mind.
My dad won’t talk to me about my relationship. He watches TV shows in which female characters date, he knows my friends date, he has nieces who date, yet the idea of me dating is inconceivable.

Rich’s family accepts me, and I still feel shy around them. It would be insurmountably worse if they ignored me, talked behind my back, made it clear that I would never be one of them.
My dad is worried. If I were to get married to a non-brown man, what culture would our kids follow? Which community would they belong in? What if I am divorced – with three kids like my grandmother was?

I understand the discomfort. But if we don’t do things that scare us, how can we grow?
Alex, Inc. is a new TV show on ABC channel in which an interracial family’s life is turned inside out when Zach Braff, who plays the father, decides to quit his job to pursue having his own company. He struggles with finding a name for his company and is inspired by his mother-in-law. Anjana, is the name settled on, the unknown.
From a distance, the unknown is truly terrifying but wading deep in it you learn just how much resolve you have in enduring.
From the beginning, I was a ballerina on fractured ice starting a new relationship while my dad disapproved. I didn’t know if Rich and I would last, but I bandaged my toes and when the tips of flats wore down, I changed into my spares. It was worth it and I worked hard to get my own hardwood floors.

It didn’t mean I wasn’t scared. Every step of the way to earn independence and my right to date Rich, it could have been easier to be the quiet homebody my dad wanted rather than the girl sneaking out for love (mind you, this was at 21). After all, I wasn’t the ideal girlfriend for Rich because we couldn’t see each other whenever we wanted and I felt like I wasn’t good enough. I was bound to lose a relationship.
Thick in the unknown, I couldn’t afford to be a coward. Because then I would have lost all my self-worth. Resiliently, I got myself a car, a job and moved out.
My biggest lesson: it’s not about enduring the ambiguity at all, it’s about embracing the anjana.

With this knowledge, I want to bridge the distrust between the boy and the man. I don’t know who will be the man first, but I want to be a woman who doesn’t depend on a male figure to establish the kind of life she wants to live.
Some days I’ll see my parents, some days I’ll see Rich. It’s not a permanent situation and one day I may have to choose. But if neither are ready to jump in to give each other a chance, then neither can rise to the occasion of acceptance. So the best choice may be prioritizing myself and Indigo.

Cat Personality

I always wanted a puppy. A full-of-love bounding everywhere puppy who would grow into the most loving dog.

My parents said no. But every birthday, I asked shamelessly.

In college, my roommate was a cat lover. My friend was a cat owner. I loved listening to her stories and looking at pictures. I bought calendars with kittens on it. I still wanted a dog, but I admired feline friends – from afar. I hadn’t gotten over my childhood folly of being scratched by a tabby when I pulled his tail to keep him from leaving my side. I never had that problem with dogs! Such friendly creatures, they loved my company!

When Rich and I started dating, I met his fat sleepy cat. Grumpy faced, I never know what he’s thinking but I can make him purr but brushing his Persian coat. Pretty docile and independent, he isn’t a cat to play with, but a good companion to have next while relaxing, thinking, writing, or watching a movie.

Just the same, on my 22nd birthday I asked my parents, “You’re getting me a dog right?”

I decided the only way to spend time with animals was to volunteer at a shelter. Rich recommended the shelter a block from his house, Angel Paws. So I decided to check it out.
I said hello to all the kitties, some of whom I had to be rescued from by Rich because I didn’t know they didn’t like to be touched.
By chance, I met Indigo. I was eyeing a gray beauty named Cassandra, wondering if I could foster her, when I thought it would be rude to ignore the cat under Cassandra’s cage. I let Indigo sniff my fingers and to my surprise, she licked me!

I have tried to persuade Rich’s cat to lick me. I have held kibble in my palm, stuck my fingers out while he is cleaning himself, scratched him on his hindquarters (that makes him lick anything in front of him), but he only licks Rich.
Then there was Indigo.

Needless to say, Indigo’s been a part of my family for the last four months now. I can’t imagine life without her.
She’s a wily cat, very talkative, loves her play mice, energetic in doses and a great cuddle machine. Irony is I’m a lot like her. I used to pride myself in being energetic and bubbly but it comes in waves and I would tire out after my spurt of socialness (the basic lifestyle of an extrovert who is really an introvert). As I am a proud cat owner, I accept myself a little bit more each day.

The way Indigo will be chasing a squeaky mouse and then get distracted by the window? I won’t tell you how many times I checked my phone while typing this. Indigo nibbled on my boiled chicken that I was going to put in my salad, so I made her her own boiled chicken and she didn’t eat it. Rich is always surprised I can stop from devouring his meals after one bite. We just want a taste! And who doesn’t love to sleep?

This year for my 23rd birthday I won’t be asking for a dog. I love being on my couch with Indigo when we’re done running for the laser dot. (That’s right, I run too to give Indigo the fullest experience of the dot trailing everywhere in the apartment.) I just want to focus on one pet for now.

When I told people I had adopted Indigo, some of the reactions I got were, “Oh. Why?”
Those people don’t understand what a pet is. It’s not an ideal animal you want in your lifestyle, it’s the animal you bond with.

As I give favored head rubs to Indigo, the clock ticking forward to a late hour, I know that she’ll wake me up at 5:30am, up on her hindlegs, paws on the bed by my head and meowing very loudly. I don’t begrudge her because I love her. It’s a small price I pay for all the cuddles I get.