Category Archives: school

my prayer

San Ramon, California

San Ramon, California, where I work

Sitting in my darkened apartment, listening to the hum of traffic on University Avenue. It’s Saturday evening and my weekend has (finally) officially started. I’ve had thoughts all week about what to write right here. And yet, now, when I finally have the time . . .

the words,

the topics,

seem . . .

Misplaced.

Like me.

This past week, I met a new student at work. His name is Kaustubh, and his family moved to California from India this past year. Kaustubh is a quiet boy, and eager to please, but it wasn’t until I read his self-introduction (hand-written in perfect cursive) that I fell in love with him.

My name is *Kaustubh. I am 11 years old. I will go to 6th grade. I am born in India. All my family members are living in India. I am the eldest child in my family. I like to read books, especially non-fictional ones. I like to swim and skate. I like to play with Legos. I like to learn new things. I have very few friends. I like to eat pasta and french fries. I don’t like to fight . . . I thank my parents, my teachers, and my elders who taught me good things and made my life easier.

I like to read books, especially non-fictional ones. I like to swim and skate. I like to play with Legos . . . I have very few friends . . . I like to eat pasta and french fries.

To look at him, Kaustubh seems . . . different. In his button-up shirt and pressed blue jeans (smelling of curry and spices), with his jet-black eyes and neatly-combed hair, with his thick Indian accent and shy demeanor, it’s easy to tell: he’s not from around here. But there’s an excitement in his eyes, a glitter I can see. Different or not, Kaustubh is yet a boy. He’s a boy just like any boy who likes Legos and pasta and swimming and french fries. And Kaustubh is hopeful. America was once a foreign land of dreams — and now? It’s his home.

And I pray. Deep inside, as I hear his chatter and watch him shedding his shell, “The teacher’s are nicer — they don’t yell at you! The weather is better. The food is good . . .” I pray. Please, God. Please. Protect Kaustubh. Don’t let life take the wind out of him . . . Please.

‘Cause some days it sure does take the wind out of me.

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* name changed

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Note: I started this post two? three? weeks ago? I am just now publishing it . . . Currently in Northern California a terrible blaze is threatening to destroy the forests I grew up in. Since it started a week ago (by arson?), the King Fire has consumed more than 81,000 acres and destroyed several homes. Some of my friends have had to evacuate their homes and are waiting with baited breath, hoping to return. My heart is aching. A follow-up post to come soon.

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when i grow up (or, discouragement)

Teaching in Taiwan

Teaching in Taiwan

Do you know what you want to be when you grow up? I mean, really?

I don’t.

I’m thirty years old, and I don’t have a clue. I used to joke that I wished I could get paid to write and read and exercise. Now I wish the same, only I’d add “travel” and “work with kids” to the mix. And you know what kills me? I can do all of these things, and I likely could get paid for them, except . . . Except I don’t have the degree.

Every job description I’ve looked at lately (I’m looking for a new job) requires a CDE or an EDE or a TESL or a PhD or an M.A. or . . .

All I have is a B.A., in English.

And I know from experience that the best way to learn teaching is by teaching (not to mention by caring) . . .

The results of Friday's surgery -- no riding or running for six weeks!

The results of Friday’s surgery — no riding or running for six weeks!

But no one cares about that . . . No one cares at all . . .

No one cares that I’m a talented, passionate, caring individual who just didn’t know at 23 that I would need those degrees. No one cares that I have bills to pay and thus now have no way to obtain those degrees. No one . . .

And so I’m discouraged. Bandaged and discouraged. I know that things turn out in unexpected ways, but, at the moment . . . In the meantime . . . Perhaps I’ll be at your next take-out window. “Ketchup with your fries, mam/sir?”

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teach them to read

photo copy 2..
Thought for the day, and week, and month, I suppose, at the rate I’ve been blogging:

If you want children to write, teach them to read. If you want them to read, show them reading is fun. As a kid, I was a bookworm, but it wasn’t until I became a teacher that I realized how much reading had impacted my understanding of the structure of the English language. No one cares about adverbs and subjects and predicates and helping verbs. No 8-year-old wants to break that stuff down. What they want are action and adventure and ideas. What they want are the things of life.

Except for that one student. If you really think “will” + “not” = “willn’t,” we may have a problem . . . Except that, there, the study of grammar failed you, too. You wouldn’t have said “willn’t” in day-to-day speech. You were following a pattern, and “won’t” breaks all the rules.

– Miss Jess

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a teacher’s perspective

His eyes flashed.

“I won’t.”

“Alex*, put it down. Please,” I added, glancing nervously at the many small children buzzing and flying and sword-fighting and princess-playing all around the room.

“No.”

“Alex . . .” But it was too late. The plastic shopping cart was in the air, flying towards a ballerina with a baton. Crash! The girl and a Lego tower behind her crumpled into a heap. “Whaaaa!!!”

Alex, 7, was running from the room. Continue reading

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will we never learn?

In light of the news of the school shooting in Connecticut that I woke up to this morning, I have decided to repost an article I wrote earlier this year about the Colorado theater shooting in July. I hope my readers don’t mind. It just seems… appropriate.

gunPeople are stupid.

Just look at today’s headlines. Dumb-ass woman slays boyfriend, calls 911. Barbershop standoff leaves 1 dead, 2 wounded. Scoutmaster admits he molested boys. 20-year-old kills 26 in school shooting in Connecticut.

Okay, I added the “dumb-ass.” But you get the point. The list of stupid people goes on and on and on and on . . .

One of the most stupid recent headlines happened this past July. This was the Colorado theater shooting, when America‘s Biggest Dumb-Ass opened fire on an audience as they watched “The Dark Knight Rises,” killing 12 and injuring 58 others. (James Holmes, you disgust me.) The youngest of these victims was 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan, and, actually, rather than focus on Holmes (we all know he’s an idiot), my question today is this:

What was a 6-year-old doing in a PG-13 movie in the first place?

This is not a criticism. It is a question for all responsible parties out there.

While child development theories vary, it is widely accepted that young children have difficulty differentiating between fantasy and reality. Children learn from and imitate what they see, including TV programs, computer games, news, movies, and people. If this is so, and if youth violence is increasing across the nation (Holmes is 24; Adam Lanza, the killer in today’s shooting, was only 20), could it be that there’s a connection between what our children are seeing, and what they are doing?

map

Map of recent school shootings in the U.S. (Image credit: squidoo.com)

In 1999, the world was appalled when two boys took guns to school and killed 13 people before killing themselves. Since Columbine, more than 100 school shootings in the Unites States have taken place. Many people argue that, in addition to media violence, gun control is to blame. I think we need to dig deeper. We’re never going to eliminate guns. Violence abounds in foreign countries, too. Just look at what’s going on in Syria.

The difference is that, in Syria, people are fighting for freedom. For values. For things that many Americans seem to have forgotten.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain, inalienable rights, that among these are LIFE, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Declaration of Independence

Because why are Americans blowing each other up? Because we own a gun and feel like using it on you?

America, what the f- is wrong with you?

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aliens don’t wear hats

I took the GRE today. About halfway through, I wanted to quit. Oh, I’d studied all right. Spent hours mulling over verbal and quantitative reasoning questions and test-taking strategies.  But you couldn’t have told.

Three hours into the test, the computer screen went from glaring at me to making faces at me. You don’t know how to do this, it said. And you thought you were prepared.

Oh, bug off, I spat back, and then looked around to make sure no one was listening. A video camera was watching my cubicle, recording my every movement so as to prevent me from even thinking about trying to cheat. Or from bombing the place. Or from talking to my computer screen.

It’s been like that in every standardized test I’ve ever taken, though. An exorbitant amount of information crammed into 30-minute increments over a period of hours. The best way to prepare for the test is not to brush up on your skill set, but to “learn the ropes” of the test itself—the types of questions that will be asked, the various formats, and, of course, how the test will be scored.

And what does that show, really? How much I know, or how well I know how to take a standardized test?

But I’m not here to argue for or against standardized tests. I understand why they are needed and why educational institutions won’t be moving away from them any time soon.

At this point, I’m just wondering, Honestly, how was I supposed to know the answer to this?!

* A thanks to my friend, Mark, for showing me the above cartoon while I was living in Hong Kong. Also to my friend, Luis, for helping me prepare for questions just like these!

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if i were a tree . . .

Recently, I discovered journaling with my students. I want to encourage my students to think outside the box (gasp!) and get more comfortable expressing themselves in English. In addition, journaling gives me a chance to breathe and maybe even catch up on some grading.

The other day we started our entries with “If I were a tree . . .” and “I wish trees could . . .” Check out what Jin, my Korean student, wrote:

If I were a tree, I would grow different kinds of fruit so people don’t have to go to tree to tree. I would grow watermelons and Iwould drop it on my enemy’s head. I could also give oxygen so people can breathe fresh air.* I wish trees could grow potato chips [that] fall in your mouth. And grow money. Nobody would ever be poor! I wish trees could be time machines so that I can go to the future or the past. I also wish trees could have arms so it could do my homework.

*We learned about photosynthesis in Science earlier this year.

Or how about this one about cell phones, also by J-:

What would happen if no one had a cell phone? What if you wanted to know your friend’s birthday? What if you and your friend is 5 miles apart! You walk 5 miles just to say, “When is your birthday?” You walk 5 miles for just a little thing. [Or what if] you get lost. How can you call your mom and dad? That would happen if no one had a cell phone.

Pretty cute, huh?

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is it friday, yet?

It’s 9:58 p.m. Sunday. October I don’t even know what. The 23rd? Sounds right. I’ve just spent another perfect weekend with one of my new good friends. It’s a good life, the weekend life . . . If only life were only weekends.

You see, school stresses me out. I’m a perfectionist and not the fastest or always the most focused of workers. I get distracted from grading and planning by other more delightful things: running, working out, hiking, reading, facebooking. I love teaching because I love kids, but even teaching can be tiresome. Since becoming a teacher, my respect for teachers has increased exponentially. When the students go home at the end of the day, a teacher’s work has just begun. I could easily spend my entire weekend at the office.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about teaching, however, is the parents. Particularly at a small, private elementary school, parental support is paramount, and, unfortunately, it is here that parents are hardest to please. It is an added layer in Asia that, thanks to a save-face non-confrontational culture, no one communicates anything directly. So far I have learned of all of my students’ parents problems with me.

. . .

It’s a weird world, this world we live in. People are as varied as the countries they live in, but, in some ways, they are all the same, too. Recently I was trying to compare my experience thus far in Hong Kong to my time in Taiwan, but I find I do not know where to start. The jobs and the locations and the social networks are too dissimilar. Each grand adventure is an adventure to its own.

It is now 10:44 p.m. I suppose I should get back to my grading and planning. It’s going to be a long week, and it’s only just begun . . .

Is it Friday, yet?

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent (namely, me).

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