Sunday, February 4, 2018

Are they learning?

I started my teaching career as an English teacher. Teaching English was my passion--I had always loved reading and writing and felt that teaching English came naturally to me. My students did well on standardized state tests (though many educators think these are useless and counterproductive) and even more national tests such as the AP test. I never went into an English classroom thinking that my students wouldn't learn at the end of the day. I can attribute my confidence teaching English to my degree in English and my love of the language. I get emails, texts, and tweets all the time from past students thanking me for teaching them and how much they learned in my class. Many are in college now and tell me how easy writing an essay is for them and thank me for pushing them even when they were being difficult.

When I transitioned to Special Education, it was almost like I lost some of my teaching passion. I'm sure many teachers have gone through the same type of experience when they are transferred from one subject to another. Special Education is individualized to the point where teaching and learning is almost not a part of the education process. Mastering IEP goals and ensuring that students are in the right classes to learn at their level is what tracks teaching and learning in Special Education. Though a broad definition, I never felt as though I could teach a group of students and everyday I was challenged to meet every kid where they were despite the learning gaps between students and each student needing something drastically different. I did not love teaching Special Ed. like I did English. Was I good at it? Not so much. What I was good at was giving my students the emotional and social confidence they needed to overcome their intellectual differences from other students. In a Special Ed. room, I was the teacher that I have always known myself to be--a relationship builder.

Moving to Denison, I originally thought I would be teaching Speech. I was fine with this as many of my high school accolades were in speaking and I have always been able to help people with public speaking. Though not an English job, Speech was appealing and the coaching fit was my predominant focus. I have always taught something on account of coaching. Whatever I have been needed to teach, I would, because of my passion for coaching softball. The only job that wasn't tied to my love of coaching was my original English job where I was actually advised not to coach because my training with Teach For America would be so rigorous--funny how life works out right?

When I was asked to teach Spanish I said to myself, "Okay, yup. I can do this." Spanish is what the district needed me to teach so I said yes. Getting my certification in English and Special Education was a walk in the park--I studied...not at all...never worried about either of them...and was almost positive I'd pass both on the first try. Spanish was a different story. I learned Spanish through immersion--I didn't sit in a classroom studying grammar or learning to write properly. I learned to speak and understand. Conversational Spanish came naturally to me. I struggle to explain it to people when they ask me how I learned the language so quickly--even I don't really know the complete answer. I can tell you my reading and writing was lacking. I went in to make the test, expecting to fail, still not having studied (yes, many of you may think this is dumb but I wanted to see where I was at before studying for hours). I scored 200 and needed a 240. I hadn't been speaking, reading, and writing Spanish constantly, mainly just translating at the school and the swimming pool that I run in the summer. Starting the year, I knew the goal I had for my students--to speak and understand. I know many people who can read and write Spanish but what people desire the most is to speak and understand the language and that is exactly what I planned to teach my student. People learn to speak a new language like a baby does--they watch how the lips of the person speaking move and how the letters sound and repeat it. I know it sounds weird but I teach my kids to watch my mouth and how it moves when we work on repetition of words etc. I struggle with teaching Spanish because I don't walk into my classroom everyday with the confidence I did everyday in an English classroom. There also isn't a test or standardized method of measuring growth or if a student is learning Spanish at all. I am always caught in a catch 22 wondering if my students are actually learning or not...until this weekend.

I don't like to write about my students' lives or stories because those are their own to tell but this weekend I received an email from a student I currently have in my Spanish class. My student explained that she was in Mexico with her family (she is not bilingual or fluent) and was able to communicate with family members she had never been able to communicate with before. She went on to tell me how amazing of a Spanish teacher I was and thanked me endlessly for teaching her how to speak and understand so that she could communicate with her family. I wrote her back and thanked her and also commended her for her willingness to learn. But wow, what a blessing it was to receive her message.

I know the same isn't true for all of my students and not all of them will be put in a situation like she was to truly gauge if they have learned the language or not. However, her message gave me a breath of fresh air and new perspective on my ability to teach Spanish. The kids I teach will come into my classroom and pay attention because for the majority, they respect me, and we have built a relationship. But now knowing that my students (or at least one for sure) are learning the language is an incredible feeling of joy to me as an educator.

Monday, December 25, 2017

If you want to be humbled...

...learn a new language. I watched my dad read one of the prayers tonight at mass, in front of a packed church, in Spanish.

I find it rather frustrating to hear people say, "I wish I could speak Spanish." The answer in my head is always, "You can! Learn it!" My dad is doing just that--learning Spanish. He was sitting on my bed the other night reading me prayers and a homily he would read in Spanish at mass. He'd read them multiple times and had practiced them over and over but they still weren't perfect. He was frustrated as he stumbled through some of the more difficult words and even some of the words that are easy to pronounce but fumble out. He groaned and I laughed, and then we laughed together. We talked together about how difficult it is to speak Spanish and I assured him his Spanish was getting better (I don't know how much he actually believed me).

You see, it's hard to believe someone that you are speaking a language better unless that is his or her mother tongue. I get it--it isn't as reassuring to him that I am telling him his Spanish is getting better as opposed to someone who has spoken Spanish all of his or her life. I spent months living in Chile for the sole purpose of learning Spanish and I still get excited when someone compliments my Spanish.

Learning a language requires an extreme amount of vulnerability...well if you are really learning it. To those of you who do Rosetta Stone or your Dualingo everyday, I commend your efforts but is that all you're doing? I'm guessing if you have done either one of those you can read, write, and speak in small phrases. However, how long would the cat have your tongue if you were asked to speak or converse with native speakers? Speaking and listening add a whole new level to learning a language. You know you will make mistakes. You know you will fumble through words. You risk being laughed at--or even worse, someone just giving up on you and saying, "Sorry, I don't understand".

When people realize I speak Spanish, I keep saying Spanish because that is how it relates to my life and perspective but I feel as if the same applies to any language, and they do not expect me to speak Spanish, the first thing I hear is, "Say something to me in Spanish!" I used to do this when I was little--but boy do I hate this phrase now. "What would you like for me to say?" I respond. "I don't know, just say something in Spanish." Wow, what an annoying and tiring conversation. Not only does it put you on the spot but it also puts doubt in your mind (or at least it does mine). For instance, what if I mess up or it doesn't sound correct--of course I can say something in Spanish but clearly that is not the point.

Even now, as a Spanish teacher, I still second guess myself many times. I can think in Spanish, have long conversations, go to a restaurant, talk on the phone, etc. all of the things that I can do requiring me to speak in English I can also do in Spanish. My dad isn't there yet, but he is well on his way and I am proud of him for that.

If you really want to learn a language, get off of Rosetta Stone and humble yourself to the world and conversations of other people from other cultures and other languages.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Dare Greatly

Looking back through my blog, I find that the majority of my posts came while in college during a time of exploration and then slowly the posts became fewer--until now, where you see a post from me once every couple of years. The two year post has always been written when a significant change is happening in my life--when I was entering Teach For America, when I was moving to my placement region, and most recently (2015), when I was moving from Raymondville to home. Writing today, being no coincidence at all, I am also experiencing a change--in town and teaching discipline.

Someone asked me the other day how long I had been teaching, and when it dawned on me that I was beginning my fifth year in the classroom, time seemed to stand still (think of a slow motion video of your life from the past few years flashing in front of you). Many of my mentors have been teaching for numerous years and have experience far surpassing my own. I am thankful to have all of these wonderful people in my life. Two weeks ago, I moved from Gruver to Denison, TX where I will be teaching Spanish and Coaching basketball and softball. When deciding where to move and continue my career, one of the most important pieces of my ideal environment were the people I would be surrounded by. I had a chance to move to a different school, as a head softball coach, where the team had been to the state tournament the past few years and will probably continue to do so for the next bit. However, in Denison, I have people. People who I love and know love me. People I am loyal to and are loyal to me. And to me, being happy is being around these kinds of people. 

When I graduated from St. Edward's University, with my degree in English Literature, I was not sure how I would be able to use my education--mainly because there are many evil articles filling the internet such as "What to do with an English degree". Though these articles are meant to be helpful, often times I think they are misguiding. I am a firm believer that with an English degree, you can get hired to do what you want to do. When I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with my Masters of Science in Education, I had no idea how I would use the degree to continue my career (I still don't--clue me in if you have any ideas). Though both experiences were different, there was one constant throughout all five years--the people surrounding me and supporting me throughout my education. If you don't already know, my parents are hands down the smartest, most selfless, most loving, and undoubtedly coolest people I know. My best friends are wonderful--whether they are near or far. All of the professors that I had in the English Literature department deserve a raise because they continue to teach me even though I no longer sit at a desk while they teach from the podium. And last but not least, my brother, who let me live with him and managed to deal with my all-day Sunday homework studies while I was working on my masters. 

The other constant support that I have received since I was sixteen is from my late dog Reggie who passed away in June. Though many of you may not understand the value of companionship with a dog, Reggie was with me through many bumps and joyous moments and was the only one who greeted me everyday after school with a twist of his body bucking up and down like a bull because he was so happy to see me. I have adopted my parents' dog Raider who is now with me in Denison. He's not Reggie and hasn't been my boy for almost ten years but he's a great companion as well and gets riled up in excitement when I get home everyday. 

The last time I wrote a post, I was fixing to be entering the world of Special Education. I wasn't worried really--I just had no idea what to expect. Teaching English is still my forte and I imagine I will love teaching Spanish as well. But at this point, I have decided that my true gift is not what I teach, my gift lies in how I teach. I am a relationship builder and have a love for teaching kids that is, at this time, unexplainable. Someone who I respect once told me that my greatest strength was being able to pull the good out of kids that no one else could even see. I know I am only able to do this because so many other teachers have done this for me. 

I moved into a rent house in Denison that some would call luxury and others would call a dump. For me, my little house is perfect. Living abroad and living in Willacy County taught me that I don't need much to be happy. I have a roof over my head, cool air, a bed, and couches that are comfy. To me, living in Gruver was luxury. Here I have a fridge that is regular size and makes ice--in the first house I lived in, I had a mini fridge and no freezer. I have my very own washer and dryer! After going to the laundromat for two years and washing my laundry at my aunt's house during college (Wid you're the best), I know the value of being able to do laundry at home--let me tell you, it's a blessing. I have wifi--which I did not have in the Valley and I also have more than five gallons of hot water. My house is just right for me--it has everything that I need and I couldn't be more thankful to have found such a great place so quickly (I also have a stove where all of the burners work). Many students that I have taught and will teach do not have these things in their houses--the harsh reality is that some are even homeless. 

Every person that I have met (seriously) in Denison has welcomed me and has told me how glad they are that I am here. The people are genuine and the Yellow Jacket family is real. Though I know few of my colleagues intimately, they are all in the arena with me--I can tell. 

Speaking of the arena, this became my mantra last year and has stayed my life mantra since--I also think this is a good place to end...for now. 

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." -Theodore Roosevelt

“I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time. Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage. A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” 
― BrenĂ© BrownRising Strong

"...if you're not in the arena getting your ass kicked, I'm not interested in your feedback." What a great way of telling the haters to shut their mouths.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Two years

For those of you who still keep up with my blog and do not know, I am leaving Raymondville to move home and teach. Teach For America is a two year program--I finished the program. Had it been a five year program, I would have stayed five years and who knows then. Is TFA the reason I'm not staying to teach in Raymondville? No. However, because my commitment to the program was over, I had the opportunity to leave if I wished. A couple of months ago I received a call from home about a job at my hometown high school asking if I would be interested in coming home--my answer was, absolutely.

After living in the community while teaching and coaching for the schools, I can tell you that my experience was nothing like what I thought it would be. My experience here was everything I had hoped it would be and more. I have spent the majority of my time at the school, gym, and softball field.

In that school are caring administrators who are always willing to sit down and have a conversation with me. In that school are the friendliest janitors and lunch ladies who will always say hi and smile. In that school are the wonderful teachers I have had the privilege of teaching with these past two years. But more than anything, in that school, all over that school, are my kids--the reason I have made it to work for the past 187 days.

Transitioning to freshmen this year was the best thing that has happened to me--I'm hoping that soon the same will be said for SPED. Freshmen are innocent, excited, and loving. We succeeded together because our energies were always merging and at some point the classroom became familial. Our end of the year project was to create a playlist of songs that is a memoir list and give each song a reason as to why you chose them. The kids were thoughtful about the project and the end of the year went, as it does, out the door.

My class of juniors is, and will most likely always be, my favorite class to teach. They were studying to pass the AP English Language and Composition exam. This class is difficult. To the juniors who made it though the year, I commend you--I know it was challenging. Keep reading. Read Faulkner, Milton, Plato...and so many others--just read, it changes your life.

Leaving this little town is difficult--this has been home. I will miss breakfast tacos at Antojito's in the mornings with dirty water. I will miss driving by Smiley Face park in the summer and watching games go on all day long. I will miss the kids and parents who always bring me food or invite me over for dinner--those people give me a family here. I will miss walking into my classroom with its blue walls, and into the gym, and onto the softball field to drag it that one last time...

Once I was talking to my kids about places that felt peaceful on campus and my top two were my classroom and the softball field. The amount of prayer and blessings that have been extended on both create a protection around them. I close the door to my classroom and everything else goes away. We hit the softball field, and as Blue and I start dragging the field round and round, everything else doesn't matter anymore.

Regardless of what the media, statists, or state assessments may say, I know that I teach the best kids--I wouldn't trade them out if I could. They are the most loving, considerate, humorous, and ridiculous people. I love them--in a completely unexplainable way.

As I begin my move home, I am excited to work for the district where I received my education. I am thrilled to work with the same group of teachers who also gave me my education. I'm excited to be the baby and not the person people ask a million questions to.

More than anything in the world, I am excited to move back to my family. They were the missing component in Raymondville and it was just too far. I loved it here. I did not get forced out nor was I ready to leave. But ready is relative and I was more ready to be with my family than I was to stay another year.

To all of those who have been with me these two years:

Thank you for letting me educate your children.
Thank you for letting me be your teacher.
Thank you for letting me work for your district.
Thank you for supporting me throughout this time.
Thank you for the smiles, for the food, for the laughter, for the tears.

"Raise 'em up."


Monday, April 13, 2015

Where do all of the lonely people go?

At the hand of one of my friends, I have finished watching the movie "Her" twice this weekend. I never would have watched this movie if I hadn't been asked to--I love movies but really only a handful of movies that I watch over and over again. I would rather watch a movie that I have seen five times than watch a movie I have never seen. Creature of habit--that's me. 

Anyways, this movie really made me think about the difference between loneliness and being alone. I think as humans we often have a hard time distinguishing between the two. Living by myself in the Valley gives me many hours of alone time--but it's not until this year that I have felt lonely. Granted, I am an introvert, I avoid social engagements at almost all costs (unless the group is limited to two or three), and when I tell people this information they are always confused as to how I ended up being a teacher in a classroom full of thirty students all day. Back to the point--I love alone time but I don't like lonely time. And these days, where do all of the lonely people go? To their phones. I'll be the first to tell you that I am on my phone a great deal of the time checking emails, answering messages, and doing...whatever--because I am lonely. I am not saying this so that you will pity me because I will also be the first to tell you that not answering my phone and talking to people (leaving my phone in another room...) doesn't make me anxious or feel like I am somehow missing out on some part of the world happenings around me. To be frank though, those moments only really happen when I am home, with my family, in a community full of people who already know me--those I am not afraid of. Most people who know me will tell you that I'm friendly, outspoken, loud, and a talker--those things are only true to those who know me. I'm generally not rude but I won't go out of my way to be your friend. If I am in a group of people I don't know, I won't speak my mind unless I am certain it is for the better of the group goal (and even then I reconsider five times). I am pretty quiet...just my thoughts are loud and most times (unless it's to my mother--or a topic I am interested in) I am not too much of a talker. I would rather read a news article than go to a group outing. I would rather sit on my couch than at a bar. I would rather spend an hour with old friends than days with new ones. But after watching "Her" I question--is this because I have underestimated the power of intimacy and only long to be reassured in my endeavors? 

Is this world meant to be affirmed by a timeline or posts on a feed? Are we meant to post our happiest moments in photographs for all of the world to see? Ten years ago if you asked someone what they would take from their house if it was burning, they might have said the family picture on the mantel--but now that picture is a cover photo on Facebook--would the picture on the mantel even matter? If my house was burning to the ground, I would want to save Reggie (my schnauzer companion of seven years) and my copy of "Paradise Lost" from my junior year in college. I have a stack of pictures on my end table but those moments don't even exist in my memory--do they matter? At this point, I think we walk the fine line trying to define what is human and what is robotic. Our phones have a switch that we never power off and our computers have a battery that we never let die. What happens when we stop and consider where all of the lonely people go?

Thursday, January 1, 2015


I cannot sum my year up in a single blog post writing in an effort to make the trials and tribulations of 2014 seem as if they are the lose ends of a rope that have simultaneously been tied off as the year comes to a close. I do not have plans to make a resolution that will slowly slide from my focus after the first week of the year. My resolutions from year to year have consistently stayed the same and are more of a bucket list than anything--I cross something new off as each year passes. I am not setting expectations for what I anticipate the new year to bring--mainly because people do the bringing, not the new year. What I am going to do is be obedient to what my mother asked of me and sit here and write this blog post.

When I was home for Christmas, I saw a quote on my door which begged the question, "If everyone on the team is doing what I am doing, is the team getting better or worse?" I was given the quote my sophomore year of high school--I only know that because it is to "Leeon" which is a nickname that lasted me all of a few games my sophomore season--and thank god because I would much rather be LAW. Thinking about the quote and about how it applied to my life in high school and the girls that I coach now, I am thankful for what basketball (and not necessarily basketball per se but a shared mutual love and passion) has brought to my life. I played with a group of girls who worked hard and all of the life lessons I learned by being a part of that team are lessons I want to teach my girls between now and the end of their senior season. No, basketball isn't life, but I would argue that it taught me more about life than most things I worked at in high school--besides Mrs. Watson's calculus class. 

I learned that just because you get a year older doesn't mean that you gain a year in ability. I remember being in a huddle down by the free-throw line at the visitor locker room and being told that just because you graduated from your junior year to your senior year didn't mean that you would get any better at basketball. I also remember in that conversation our coach telling us that not everyone will be the best player--regardless of how hard they worked. But then go back to the quote--if the best player on the team isn't working as hard as I am, are we getting better or are we getting worse? My girls and I have this conversation all of the time--about basketball and about all aspects of life--you have to work hard. 

I learned that the team doesn't need you--you need the team. Whenever a player gets to the point where they think that the team cannot succeed without them, they are a virus to the team. My principal tells us this all of the time as well--the school doesn't need any one specific teacher or administrator to function and do well. High school girls (and probably people in general) seem to particularly struggle with feeling that they are needed but I think it is a good lesson to learn sooner rather than later--the team doesn't need you. 

I learned that Press Maravich was right...

Press Maravich: [to his players at practice] I am not spending valuable hours of my life just to teach you boys to throw a ball through an iron hoop. This is a way of life, I want players to think. Work, sweat, challenge themselves, discipline themselves, because anything else you boys it just isn't worth it, to anyone. The problem with you boys is simple. You're all a bunch of dummies 'cause you think you know it all. Give me the ball.
[He draws a small circle on the ball]
Press Maravich: You see this circle? The size of this circle represents everything that I know about basketball. But the size of this ball represents everything about the game that has never been dicovered.
[He puts a small dot on the ball]
Press Maravich: This dot is what you know, combined.
[throws the ball back to the player]
Press Maravich: Now if you'll forget about the girls and cars and listen to me you can accomplish things that you never thought were possible. I don't care if you're short, slow, tall, or small. You can play with the best of them if you'll dedicate yourself to becoming better.

I'm pretty sure our coach also thought we were dumb a good portion of the time--we were definitely a bunch of know-it-alls but we were also smart girls and wanted to work hard. I don't know that we ever forgot about the boys and honestly, we didn't really accomplish anything overly great in basketball. However, I know we have accomplished things we never thought were possible--for instance, I never thought I would be the person standing on the sideline of a game. 

I grew up in a basketball town--sometimes I think it's something in the water. We played basketball all of the time. No, we weren't in the gym every single day of our lives, but a good majority of the year we were in the gym. I never had to struggle through my teammates not knowing the game or buying into whatever our goals were as a team. Everyone expected us to play basketball and at least be decent--and by everyone I mean our coaches, parents, teachers, peers, the whole community. In some ways it was easier to work towards our goals--people supported us and believed in us (or at least I think they did). I do not coach in a basketball town. No one expects my girls to play ball decently. I have watched them struggle through this season of change and their growth this year is just a testament to how much they love the game and how much they care about one another. The other two coaches are supportive of our girls and I really do love working with them because we all share a love for the game and even more, teaching the girls how to work hard. There isn't anything in the water and I doubt this will ever be a basketball town but the girls are passionate--I believe in them and the goals that they have. So if nothing else, I hope that basketball teaches my girls about life and more than anything to know that they are loved. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Next 180 Days

Today I finally logged into this page and it greeted me like a friend whose face I haven't seen in some time. I meant to write a reflection at the end of the school year about my first year teaching, again when I came back from my adventure to Chile and Peru, at the end of my time in California for the Fides et Ratio seminar, and I thought time and time again this summer how I would sit down to write, but I never did.

The end of the school year was just that--the end. There was no big hoorah celebration or sigh of relief that it was over. The year came and then it went. I learned more in my first year teaching than I have most years in my life. If I just bulleted a list of things I undeniably learned more about this year, the list would look a little something like this:

  • You have to be willing to give before you can ever expect to receive. 
  • Scheduling and planning looks different to everyone. 
  • I had no idea what the words flexible or communication really meant.
Chile and Peru I can only describe in pictures...

In California, I had the opportunity to attend a literary seminar. I was able to spend a week of my summer reading and discuss books with a group of about thirty other teachers, professors, and a few others. Among the thirty some odd books I read, I was pleased to find many of the books to be books that I had read throughout my education at St. Edward's on the list including: "The Power and the Glory", "The Diary of a Country Priest", and many of Hemmingway's short stories. We also worked through some of St. Augustine's "Confessions" as well as Woodrow Wilson's campaign speeches. I enjoyed my week discussing literature at a round table again. I was taken back to the many wonderful discussions and lectures I had the opportunity to be a part of at St. Edwards--I'm biased, but never have I ever met a more intellectual and motivating group of individuals as I have in the English literature department at SEU. As a teacher, I aspire to emulate the stimulating dialogue that my professors were capable of facilitating in our classrooms. 

As I begin this new school year, I look forward to the days ahead. I know that I will face many challenges but that in each of those I will also be given the opportunity to grow as an educator and more importantly as a person. Here's to the next 180 days.