Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Summer Vocation

I just finished reading Phillip Done’s book “32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny.” Done is a teacher who writes sincerely and comically of the day-to-day adventures in his classroom. I found myself sympathizing with his tales on more than more occasion. It had me thinking that despite the best efforts of teacher preparation programs there is no way to prepare teachers for the challenges that they will face at school- perhaps most specifically in their first year of teaching.

Upon completing my first year teaching I have taken time this summer to catch my breath and reflect. Now, my Luther College education did instill in me, again and again, the importance for a teacher to reflect. What I didn’t learn in college is that there is very limited time to reflect. Obviously I would reflect on the successes and failures of my lessons- usually on my commute home. Walking around the room between mini-lessons on how to open milk cartons and how to efficiently eat a string cheese in 15 minutes, I was wrapping my mind around the challenges presented during the phonics lesson and preparing a game plan for re-teaching the lesson in a small group after snack time. Reflection happens. However I’m still wondering when and how I’ll make time in my schedule to reflect on my questions of vocational discernment. Is this my life’s calling? Is teaching the job where I get to put my gifts, abilities, and talents to best use? Am I making a difference? These questions are put on the back burner as I’m bombarded with “May I go to the bathroom?” “Can I bring treats for my Wildcat of the Week presentation?” “Is today the day we finish reading James and the Giant Peach?” and “Did we already eat lunch or not?” Perhaps June, July, and August are the months I am to dedicate to answering my soul searching questions? I’m nearing the end of my summer vacation and ready for round two- so in some sense I’ve answered part of the question.

There is a steep learning curve that occurs that first year. And while I have a lot to learn yet, I feel much more seasoned as I prepare for the next school year having a year under my belt. For those new teachers out there I can share some of my experiences- but ultimately you are initiated by fire. I don’t believe any amount of college courses, student teaching, or substitute teaching can really prepare someone for having their “own” classroom. Most lessons need to be learned on the job, sometimes at the expense of tears, pride, and hopefully some laughs.

No one told me, for example, that lost tooth necklaces are not meant to be worn around one’s neck. T lost her tooth and placed it in said necklace, which she proudly collected from the Nurse’s office. T wore her toothless grin and necklace for 3 minutes before her lost tooth was lost again. This time on the carpet- she thought. Twenty little bodies promptly dropped to the ground in search of the missing tooth and quickly retrieved the tooth (and many other particles from the carpet). You would think that I’d learned my lesson. Nope. I directed T to secure the tooth again in her necklace before switching rooms for math. At the end of math class she lost her lost tooth again, this time amidst the shuffle of 140 first grade students between their math classes in the hallway. This time it was lost for real. I suggested to T that she write a letter explaining the situation to the Tooth Fairy and told her she’d probably still get a treat in exchange. From then on lost teeth and tooth necklaces were secured in Ziploc bags and immediately deposited into backpacks only to be brought out at home.

No one told me that my first paycheck would be spent purchasing classroom materials at Target, Michael’s, Barnes and Noble, and Lakeshore Learning. No one told me that my rent checks would have been better spent on a blow up mattress and sleeping bag to be kept at school.

No one told me that all of my time would be spent preparing students to perform on exams. That there wouldn’t be enough time to teach my favorite unit on Cinderella stories from around the globe. That autumn might come and go without a moment to transform Q-tips into skeletons.

No one told me that our class pet (a four-foot tall stuffed animal giraffe) was not immune to head lice.

No one told me that I’d never be able to part with another paper towel or toilet paper tube. No one told me that glue sticks have innumerable applications. No one told me that I’d never be able to pass a garage sale again without wondering what school supplies they might possess.

No one told me what an honor I would have in introducing students to the worlds of Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein, and Eric Carle. No one told me how important writing letters and words are for young hands- and the power in sharing one’s own story.

No one told me that first graders have their own written language, or that it would take me a month before I would catch onto it. No one told me that not even parents can decode this written language and I would be serving as translator at parent-teacher conferences.

No one told me that I’d be expected to remember who owns what pet at home and what their names are and what their favorite food is. No one told me how excited students are when you recall this information, especially in front of their classmates.

No one told me that I would never look at a granola bar wrapper the same way again- scouring the package for traces of peanuts or gluten or eggs or dairy.

No one told me how magical it is for first graders to transform ice, strawberries, yogurt, and juice into fruit smoothies.

No one told me that it was possible to listen to “Down by the Bay” over 300 times in one school year. No one told me that I would hardly ever listen to music in my car or my home because I wouldn’t want to ruin the silence.

No one told me how fun it would be to grow our own plants from seeds- that students would rush into the room first thing in the morning to chart the growth of sunflowers and grass. No one told me that if I looked carefully enough I might just see the first graders growing before my eyes too- an inch here, a wrinkle there, a lost tooth or two or three there. No one told me that I would see them learning before my eyes- like light bulbs new connections being made inside their minds.

No one told me that June, July, and August would pass faster than the other 9 months of the school year. No one told me that my time for reflection would be spent wondering if B had enough food in his belly now that he wasn’t receiving meals at school, if K made new friends easily when he moved to his dad’s place for the summer, if S was finding someone to practice her addition facts with, and if Y was able to make a trip to the public library every week to get his hands on some good books.

No one told me that at the end of the year I would cry and wonder how on earth I was ever going to be able to open my heart to 21 kids again when I knew in a year they’d leave me.

Perhaps “Summer Vacation” should be called “Summer Vocation”- time dedicated for teachers to catch their breath and remember again why we look forward to the first day of school.

“The main reason I became a teacher is that I like being the first one to introduce kids to words and music and books and people and numbers and concepts and ideas that they have never heard about or thought about before.

Just think about what you know today. You read. You write. You work with numbers. You solve problems. We take all these things for granted. But of course you haven’t always read. You haven’t always known how to write. You weren’t born knowing how to subtract 199 from 600. Someone showed you. There was a moment when you moved from not knowing to knowing. There was a moment when you moved from not understanding to understanding.

That’s why I became a teacher.”
Phillip Done

Monday, June 29, 2009

A few of my favorite things...

watching movies on the Holden Cineplex Outdoor Theater Screen- namely "The Sound of Music," dressed as my favorite SoM character (Maria, of course). The Utilities crew sure knows how to put on a show!

living in the mountains and taking weekends to enjoy hiking them. 20 miles may have been a bit ambitious today, but it was well worth the scenery and conversation.

family potlucks with my adopted, extended family. Steak, salads, cheese, blueberry beer, and Michael's delicious ice cream cake!

dance parties- especially girls only dance parties in celebration of Elise's engagement and life in general.

living in Chalet 12- aka The Treehouse with 5 incredible women.

receiving snail mail- most recently from Karen Martin-Schramm!

llamas- which I spotted again today- this time on the trail.

thank you cards from 3 of the cutest Narnia kids. Okay... they're all cute.

a beautiful Eucharist service to complete the week. Tomorrow I'll be singing "I have confidence in me" (Maria's second song in SoM) as I gear up for the biggest week yet.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Llamas and Lounging

Today is officially "Llama Day" here at Holden Village. Llamas are pack animals and are utilized by the US Forest Service to help maintain hiking trails. Today 7 llamas arrived on our luggage truck! Not our average delivery! Soon Main Street (well, the only street) was filled with curious folks aiming to touch, photograph, and otherwise encounter the llamas. The llamaliers (the couple who care for the llamas) passed the reigns over to the village kids and let us interact with them. It was amazing! Rumor has it the llamas will make an appearance in our 4th of July parade!

This afternoon the sun is shining and making for a great day to be outside enjoy friends and slack lining. Ice cream too. What a great day!

82 kids are scheduled to be in Narnia next week- time for me to relax and gear up for that (and not be on the computer)!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I love this place!

This past month at Holden has been all that I had hoped for. I was so anxious to return to this place and experience village life in a new season. The transition from Spring into Summer has provided me with a taste of a new way of life here. I've traded my snowshoes and long underwear for hiking boots and my swim suit and enjoying a variety of activities only accessible after the Spring thaw. This is a magical place to be- whatever time of the year (and I think I'd like a year to prove it).

In the past month I've celebrated Cameroon's Independence Day by playing soccer beside mountains. I cut and wore my hair in a mullet for about a week. I attended Prom (for the second time in my life) and dressed as Sporty Spice as the theme was Jane Austen and all things English. I think I watched a meteor shower (my friend Tom and I sat for an hour and a half in a field and spotted no less than 12 shooting stars!). I have spent time with a new friend learning about her life as a young girl growing up when Holden was still a mine. I've traded my toilet scrubbing duties for diaper changing duties in Narnia. I've learned to serve a "Holden Scoop" (which is appx. 3 times the size of any other "scoop") of ice cream by working in the Snack Bar. Not bad for a month's work!

I've also said goodbye to many friends already. It seems that my heart has grown strong from saying so many goodbyes here and elsewhere. Good thing too because it seems some days my heart would break where it not so strong. It's hard to make so many good friends (of all ages) and see bus loads of cool folks leave daily.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A summer at Holden Village

I am alive and well at Holden Village- a Lutheran retreat center located in the Northern Cascade Mountains in Washington State. This is such a beautiful place- and providing me with much needed stimulus. Currently I'm working as a housekeeper and will begin working with the Narnia program this summer (working with kids 0-10 years old). This place sure is different than the last time we were here- but when I arrived it was snowing! Flurries that didn't stick but a moment on the ground- but nevertheless had me thinking that I packed too many tank tops and not enough fleece! The village is full of friendly faces- many of them familiar. I received many hugs and "welcome backs." It's fun to see how this place has changed, and remained the same from when I studied here during J-term of '08.

I work hard to get my housekeeping done in the mornings so I can play in the afternoon. This means I've already accomplished many of my "summer goals." If you know me well you know that I keep a long and ambitious "to do" list for summer adventures. Here are a few:

Summer Goal #1: Go hiking everyday
So far so good! Having the Cascade Mountains in my backyard is quite different than living around the lakes- and I'm enjoying the opportunity to put my new hiking boots to good use. Can't beat the fresh mountain air!

Summer Goal #2: See a black bear in it's natural habitat
I've been able to see two different bears in their climb to the highlands and one on several occasions- sometimes closer than I would like.

Summer Goal #3: Swim in Lake Chelan
I rode down to meet the ferry with a group of folks to unload over 70 boxes of food (everything we consume at Holden comes from the ferry- and it takes 45 minutes to drive it back up to the village). While waiting on the dock for the boat to arrive I couldn't resist jumping in the calm lake. Lake Chelan is over 1,400 feet deep in places, which means the water is always cold! The guys I drove down with prepared for the swim with suits and towels. I did not come prepared and couldn't resist the urge to jump in. I didn't leave myself quite enough time to dry off in the sun as the ferry finally arrived so it was a wet ride back to Holden. Totally worth it!

Summer Goal #4: Go on an overnight hike
My new friend Daniel and I packed up a couple bags for a journey to Hart Lake with hopes of reaching Lyman Lake and Cloudy Pass (both high in the mountains). Our packs weighed 40 pounds and included snowshoes and avalanche shovels. We started at 7:30 at night- both after working long days. No less than 12 minutes into our trek we came upon a black bear who frequents the old drain field. We were on the lower road and consequently looked up to see the bear within feet of us on the overlaying field. We locked eyes, perhaps whispered some expletives, and watched as the equally surprised bear ran the opposite direction of us. Whew!

Our campsite lay beyond an avalanche field- the first I've had the opportunity of climbing over. Snow is a powerful force- and I'm glad the avalanches we saw had fallen earlier in the winter. The smell of pine (or fir?) was pervasive- and other debris from the mountain accompanied the broken branches, snow, and rock face. At 9:30 we'd reached our destination as it started to rain. Daniel hung the bear bag while I scouted a campsite. Soon we were settled in for the night.

The next day we started with PB and J sandwiches and optimism despite awaking to flurries. We began a steeper assent into the mountains and found the trail was hard to find under another avalanche field (this one 3 times the size of the last). We finally found the trail and followed it- moving against the flow of snow melt. Soon we were at the switchbacks and in need of snowshoes. Not long after this we couldn't locate the trail and decided it best to turn back. And though Daniel deemed me as the "Voice of Reason" he overcame his Invincible Young Male Syndrome and determined it would be better to take on Lyman and Cloudy later this summer. After enjoying a warm meal in the sun we hiked back to the village to sauna and rest. Two days, 14 miles and 9 hours of hiking. Not bad for my first day off!

Summer Goal #5: Make time to read
And with that I'm off...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Farewell Vietnam!

I am currently reaping the benefits of the Incheon/Seoul airport: free wi-fi and a beautiful sunrise, not to mention free arts and crafts at the culture station to help pass the time during this five hour layover.

Last week was a whirlwind of observations and goodbyes. I spent time observing classrooms at the middle school and high school, as well as spending some time with second graders in the elementary school (my next placement is with a second grade classroom in Eden Prairie). During my MS/HS observations I found myself thinking that I might really enjoy working in that setting, but my third graders really surprised me during my last few weeks with them. I'd definately consider trying an elementary school placement now having fallen in love with my students and the energy and enthusiasm they bring to the third grade!

My time at SSIS was just what I needed- a practical experience to learn in the field from my cooperating teacher and my students! I can teach! The next question is do I want to? My friend Zanna put it best yesterday. She was decribing a time in her life when she felt empowered and overwhelmed with opportunities: "I can do anything, but I can't do everything." I feel the same way at the end of this experience- I feel empowered to teach (internationally or within the US) and confident in my ability to do so, and to do it well. I'm also considering moving out to the Cascade Mountains and exploring life at Holden Village. Substitute teaching and working at a children's bookstore also intrigues me. "I can do anything, but I can't do everything." And the discerning process continues...

Friday was really special as my students shared advice with me on how to be the best second grade teacher I can be. Having just graduated from second grade they are really the experts. The parameters of the assignment allowed the students to suggest one silly piece of advice and one serious piece of advice. "Don't eat your students" was perhaps my favorite suggestion. I cried as I thanked them for teaching me so much this quarter. In fact I actually started crying ON the students sitting in front of me. Kenny provided much needed comic relief as he announced to the class that I was dripping on him. Lots of hugs and oragami creatures were shared. A great day followed by a great evening meal at my student's family's restaurant again! 13 courses of the best Chinese food I've ever eaten- and in good company too!

Jerod shared some more questions with me that I'll attempt to answer now (though forgive me if I'm not very coheisive- exhaustion is setting in).

What surprised you about your experience in Vietnam that you didn't expect, if anything?

I was surprised at how different this traveling experience was from any I've had before. I felt disconnected from the local culture primarily because of language barriers. My time and energy was spent at the school learning the ins and outs of international education and how third graders develop. I know that is my purpose in being here, but I was surprised that I never really felt like I had sufficient time to really BE in Vietnam. Though a friend helped to remind me I was in Vietnam, it was just one of many realities of Vietnam.

You've now spent a lot of time overseas in various countries, is there a place you could see making a more permanent home for at least 5 years, or, despite missing the
students, are you ready to move on after a few months?

I would be interested in moving to South America. I really enjoyed living in Brasil and Ecuador and could consider doing so for an extended period of time. Though I'm also excited to return home. I love the Twin Cities and know that I have a lot to explore in the states too. When considering teaching internationally I think I would be happiest in a country where I could put my Spanish to good use.

Is the fact that we were at war in this country always in the back of your mind,do you feel conflicted based on just being around the people, or is it the politics involved?

In preparation for this trip I was anxious to see how I would be received as an American. During my time here I didn't have any negative experiences based on my citizenship. I wouldn't say that the fact that we were at war here is always on the back of my mind, sometimes it is more obvious than others. For example when walking in downtown Saigon I was often approached by beggars- people physically affected by the war (I presume) and living with the affects of Agent Orange, landmines, and the general affects of warfare. It strikes me during these times that my country had a stake in influencing these people, these bodies, and not only that but the land too. While traveling to the Cu Chi Tunnels I was trying to imagine the area after Napalm had defoiled trees and seeped into the soil. For many years the soil would not sustain any crops. Water is not to be drunk from the tap in fear of remaining contaminants. I am sorry to say that was pretty easy to forget about the war while teaching in the classroom, but the effects were seen in town and around the countryside.

And with that it's time to stretch my legs before 13 hours on a plane. Thanks for reading my blog!

Monday, October 6, 2008

A tour of my 'hood

The following Google Map will provide you with some perspective of my neighborhood. Keep in mind this satellite view was taken in 2003 and new buildings have sprung up everywhere. Nevertheless this is a good place to begin.

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