The things no one told me
There are certain things people never tell you about being a parent or about being a teacher.
For example, no one ever tells you how many hours you will spend preparing, or how many clever ways you will have to think up to get silence in your classroom. No one tells you that you will wake up at 3 AM thinking and worrying about a student or issue in your classroom. I never could have imagined that I would be so so thoroughly exhausted at the end of most days, and so energized on others. No one ever tells you how attached you will get to some students, or how some of them will make you want to pull your hair out. I would not have thought that students I had years ago would pop up in memories and dreams now.
As a parent, no one ever tells you just how completely wiped out you will be after nursing, not sleeping enough, and working full time. No one tells you how later on, your kids will break your heart in surprising ways. As I sit here, my first Halloween not trick or treating with my kids, I feel unexpectedly sad and nostalgic. No one ever tells you how difficult the conversations you will have with your child will really be. No one tells you how complicated and at times exasperating having a teen can be. And no one tells you how there are days where you feel like you are on the verge of hysteria from the anxiety and worry.
Luckily, our babies are cute, and working with our students is rewarding. Otherwise, who would do either of those things? And even when they are teens, there are moments of redemption, where they are sweet and loving and kind. There are moments you will admire them, and others where they will make you laugh. And there are moments you will rejoice them becoming young adults. Sometimes, you will be so proud of them, and other times, you will wonder where you went wrong as a parent. Either way, you will wonder where all the time went, and how your babies got so big or how your students got so old.
The most rewarding, exhausting, amazing, eye-opening, groan-worthy, worry-inducing, incredible two professions: teaching and parenting.
Inspired by a lesson on Syrian refugees in preparation for a Soup for Syria event at school, I decided to have my students write their immigration stories. "I don't have a story!!" half of my 6 students whined. "Everyone has an immigration story," I said "unless you are a Native American." I had to explain this concept to them, and even then, they weren't really convinced.
I got my students started by having them answer some guiding questions about who decided to move here, why they decided that, how the students felt, and so on. They still found it to be more challenging than I expected. Then, I decided to write a model for them. I explained that it wasn't my story because I didn't immigrate, but my parents and grandparents did.
I read my story aloud to my students. I had kept it simple, and added images to help their understanding. I explained how my grandfather Federico came to New York with a 4th grade education to work first at a Jewish deli, and eventually opened his own bodega called "La Fortuna". He and my grandmother, who arrived in New York with more education than him but still no high school diploma, met and married in New York.
Then, I read to them about how my parents had met in Spain on a train, and had fallen in love and married there. When my father came to live in New York, it was a challenge for him because of the language and being so far from his family.
Somehow, hearing my story motivated my students. I was especially proud of one student who came from El Salvador. He wrote for a whole period without stopping, complaining, or saying he was stuck. He wrote about how he made it over the border on his third try, only to be separated from beloved family members he had grown up with. After spending time in a detention center, he was eventually reunited with his parents, who were living here. Now he is grateful to be here for the education, but misses the rest of his family. His resilient spirit awes me.
I was in turn inspired by my students after reading their stories. I wanted to do something more with their stories. As in the past, I turned to the art experts to help. Patty, my principal, has already provided me with a ton of virtual and physical resources to help my students compile collages. Elena, the arts integration teacher with whom I worked last year on totem poles is helping me create books with the students' writing and collage art.
It is this kind of freedom to be creative and to let the students drive the curriculum that make me so grateful to teach ELL in my school. In other places, it might not be so easy. Stay tuned for the final products at some point! I am so excited to see them. Also, I';m curious if other ELL teachers out there (or ELA) have done similar projects. Let me know!
I knew it would be a challenge to step into my new position as (interim) co-assistant principal this year, especially since I would be juggling that with teaching. And I was right! When people ask me how it's going, I usually say "I'm never bored!" which is true, or "Every day is a new adventure!" - also true. That being said, I love the team I work with, and I think we work well together, and so far, I really like having this dual role. On the other hand, ask me again in March, and we'll see how I feel about things.
Here are 11 things I've found in the short time I've been ICAP:
11.Administrators LOVE acronyms, like that one I just made up (ICAP - can you figure out what it is?). There is one for everything.
10. I am invited to random meetings all the time with little or sometimes no context, yet I am expected to just know what they are about.
9. On many days, I go into school expecting one thing, and often something completely different happens. Like today, I expected to prep for my class, but instead I subbed for 20 minutes of a chorus class for my co-AP, who was on the phone with a parent. Never boring!
8.Some days I have lunch at 10, because I know I won't have another time to sit down and eat; other days, like today, I eat at 2 (practically dinner by teacher standards).
7. I know where the chocolate is hidden,
6. There is a whole other side to the office administrative assistants that I hadn't seen. They are hilarious.
5.There are small crises that happen on MOST days.
4.Students interact differently with me as an administrator than when I'm in the classroom, both in good and bad ways.
3.It is harder to get out of our office and walk the hallways, or get into classrooms to observe, than I thought it would be.
2.I never realized how much administrators actually do behind the scenes.
1.Sometimes, we just need to make decisions, knowing we can't please all people all the time. Some people will be unhappy, and we have to live with that. Good thing I am not the thin-skinned, overly sensitive girl I used to be!
This week a college friend asked over Facebook how her social studies teacher friends were thinking about addressing this election season. I've been thinking for a while about how to approach it, given that my students don't have the background knowledge about our government and how elections work here. There is a whole lot to cover, and a challenge for me is always to cover the essential information while not over-complicating and getting bogged down in details. And viewing it all from a social justice perspective. Never mind the fact that I have to keep in mind using English vocabulary that is accessible to my students.
Anyway, I turned to some of my favorite resources to help me. Sure enough, Teaching Tolerance has a unit that approaches the election by having students think about civility - something that seems to have been lost this season. I thought I would share this and other of my favorite resources. The first list is about the election; the second is for teaching about Indigenous People's Day - adopted in lieu of Columbus Day in our town this year, thanks to the activism of some students and their teachers. You'll notice some repeats from my go-to websites: tolerance.org and readwritethink.org. Many of these are great for all students, not just ELL students. Good luck!
(Copy and paste links into browser)
(readings that can be differentiated by level)
Indigenous People's Day:
My heart breaks
My heart breaks every day.
It breaks for my students who have traveled here through many dangers, including detention centers, trains where humans travel on top, criminals, and the threat of dying of thirst.
It breaks for those students who have been separated from their family members, only to join new family members in a different life. And, it breaks for the family members left behind, always wondering and missing the ones who left.
My heart breaks for the kids who go home to families struggling with addiction and with mental illnesses left untreated. It breaks for the ones with the addiction and mental illness, who can't manage life and can't take care of themselves, nevermind their kids.
My heart aches for the kids who manipulate their parents because it is the only way they know to get attention. It aches for the kids who get no attention, no matter what they do.
My heart breaks for the kids who get the wrong kind of attention, the unwanted kind, the kind that scars them forever.
My heart aches for the parents who suffer, because they came here for a better life for their kids, but their kids are uncontrollable and the parents are puzzled and confused, and don't know the system enough and don't have resources.
My heart aches for the kids who have no homes to go to, who live in motels, or cars, or on the street.
My heart aches for the kids all over the world who are forced to leave their homes with nothing, who are under the threat of constant violence, who have nothing but still smile. My heart aches for those that are not able to have a normal childhood.
Even in our happy bubble of a town, we see all of these issues. As teachers, we want to help, we want to fix, and solve our kids' problems. We want them to be worry-free, to come to school and only have to think about what they are learning next. We want them to thrive, to succeed, to be able to overcome any and all of their challenges and grow into happy and successful adults.
When it's all too much, it's good to remember that we are doing the best we can. We can't solve all the problems, but everything we do counts.