I decided to keep blogging, when I have WIfi, as we travel as a way to chronicle our trip; also to let family and friends know how and what we're doing.
We left our house, sad to leave Pipa and Alonso there but knowing they are in great hands with our housesitters.
Our flight was, strangely, almost empty. If you have long legs or you have ever traveled with kids, you know that's a small miracle. We could all spread out and try to get better sleep than being totally cramped. Also, Virgin Atlantic gives you these cute bags with eye masks, toothbrush and paste, and socks. A big plus in an era when airlines charge you for selecting your seats ahead of time.
The first day was a complete nightmare. It's too long to even explain here. Basically, we went from one hostel to another one, across the city, dragging our bags, and suddenly still had nowhere to stay for the night - espite my months of meticulous planning. It was a long, sad odyssey. At one point we took a cab with a driver who was very nice but I couldn't understand 1/8 of what he said. I ended up doing what I wanted to avoid - booking at a chain hotel where the cost would be much more. And thank God for that. We ate well, slept well, swam, and woke up happy to a huge breakfast! Happy hour is enough for dinner, and breakfast is like brunch almost, so all we needed was a midday snack today. Also, we are next to Wembley Stadium, which is cool, and we saw people in line for the X-Factor auditions around the corner from us.
We had a great day traipsing around London - for the most part. I'm not gonna deny there were some very cranky moments. But overall we had fun. I was surprised by how clean everything looked. Also, Londoners are quite friendly and helpful. I was also surprised by the immense diversity of people all over. At one point Celsito commented that we had spoken to more foreign-born people than native English, which is probably true. The Tube is very user-friendly, comfy, and clean.
The streets still confused me by the end of our outing. I always looked left when I should be looking right, and vice-versa, and we kept thinking that no one was driving the cars - because the drivers were on the other side. We tried to tell our cab driver that in the U.S. we drive on the "right" side but he wasn't having it.
Celsito might want to come back and study, he says :-) He feels at home here.
Now we're off to "happy hour", AKA dinner.
Positive school experiences are so important for students - and for teachers, too. Even as I tell you that I love my students, and love teaching, I can also spout off what I don't love about the current state of education in the U.S., or what makes it so very difficult to teach sometimes.
Today at Western Mass. Writing Project's Summer Institute, we held our weekly readings discussion - this week the readings focused on current issues in teaching and education. Our discussion began with the challenges - there are SO many. We ended our conversation on a positive note by talking about what brings us joy in our teaching.
Some comments I heard during our conversation:
- keep an album or folder with notes students have written you (in one case, notes of encouragement and noticing little things, from the principal to the teacher)
- those challenging students who sometimes drive us crazy tend to be the ones who need us the most
- it's about the students - once we are with them in our classrooms, all is good (usually)
- we need good support from our administrators, and strong mentors for new teachers so they learn and don't leave the profession after their first few years
- it's important to tell our students also when we notice exceptional behaviors or work
- telling our students that we care about them can be transformational for them and it's important to do so
I started doing that last item more intentionally this year. Once this year, I told my ELL class that I loved them. They didn't buy it at first. They were like, "Love? Really, Ms.Lopez?" We were going through growing pains as a class, with the loss of students who had moved and the addition of an almost entirely new group (see earlier blog posts).
By the end of the year, they wrote it to me, too - all over my whiteboard, and on goodbye notes and letters.
That was when I could tell they knew I meant it when I said I loved them. Those are the moments that keep us going as teachers, and allow us to go back, year after year, in the face of all the challenges.
Less than one week after my school year ended, here I am, back at work. Only this doesn't feel like work. It feels like a gift.
I've mentioned the Western Mass. Writing Project and the Summer Institute in previous blogs. This is my summer home. This is the place where I can get back to myself. It's the gift of time. Time to slow down, reflect, and yes - hang out with awesome teachers.
This is a class, and it is technically "PD", the much-dreaded acronym all teachers know as "Professional Development". PD is usually iffy. It can be great, or it can be a 127 slide powerpoint about a topic you are so not interested in and isn't helpful to your teaching in any way. You just never know. Except that with the WMWP Summer Institute, you DO know. I know. I know, at the start of every summer, that it's going to be great.
It's great because teachers signed up for it. It's great because they want to be here, and are ready and open-minded. It's great because we have the time we need, to talk, process, reflect, and write. We talk about teaching, we share practices, we demonstrate, we work on inquiry questions about our classrooms.
The time we have is a gift. As I write during our second day, "Writing Marathon" day, the feeling I get every summer returned. A whole day to just write? Whatever I want? No one is checking up on me? Like I'm an adult? All day? It's a liberating feeling.
I start by making a list of what I might write about. When I get settled, I start on item #1 - a short story, or maybe an intro to a longer story, about a recent incident with my son. I finish a draft and close it, knowing i will have the time to share it with others and go back to it, to edit and revise. Onto the next item - this week's blog post. All about the gift we are getting - the gift of time.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure and honor of receiving the MTA Louise Gaskins Civil Rights Teaching Award. This was a humbling and exciting day for my family and me. We traveled to Waltham Westin Hotel for the dinner and to spend the night. My husband, kids, mom and I got all dressed up for the event. Everyone looked great and I was so happy to have them all with me. Here is a picture of my mother and me right before.
I was pretty nervous about the dinner and accepting the award. I didn't realize before the dinner that I was one of 2 award recipients that night. As my name was called, though, suddenly my butterflies disappeared! Here is a copy of the thank you comments I made:
Thank you. This award is particularly meaningful since my mother, who is here tonight, received the same award 26 years ago. Also, Louise Gaskins, for whom the award was named, is here and I just had the pleasure of meeting her.
I would like to dedicate this amazing award to my students:
Paola, Junior, Jinwoo, Meylean, Darlin, Heather, Yuntian, Fieldy, Negar , and Kajssa. Without them, this award would not be possible. They believed in me as a teacher enough to listen to what I had to say. They inspire me with their stories, their hard work and dedication, and their love every day.
Receiving a lifetime award at 45 is a little intimidating. What comes next? Is it all downhill from here? I hope not. I hope that I can continue to address issues of civil rights by teaching my students about all perspectives, and by making ELL students more visible in my school. I hope that our legislators pay attention when we say we want less testing and more learning. I hope that teachers can take back education and feel empowered again. I hope that everyone can remember what this is about: the students.
There are many people to thank for this. My family is here with me tonight: Celso, my husband; my kids - Celsito, Clarita, and Lucia. My mom, who is my inspiration. Jean Fay - thank you for believing in me, nominating me, and for following my blog! Thanks to the MTA and my local chapter: the APEA. Thank you to my principal, my superintendent, and the district's human resources director for making the trip to join us and support me tonight as well.
There is one last thank you I need to say: thanks to my dad, who couldn't travel east tonight to be here. My dad is the most compassionate and empathetic person I know, and if I can even be a little like him, it will make me happy. Gracias, Papi.