Category Archives: Teaching: Woes and Wonder

Turkey: The Country and the Lunchmeat

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Istanbul

In three days, I’ll be traveling to Europe 🙂 Rome–>Athens–>Santorini–>Mykonos–>Istanbul–>Capadoccia! One of the things I’m most excited about is the Blue Mosque in Istanbul (the beautiful thing shown in the picture).

I’m not sure what I’m more nervous/anxious/thrilled about: this amazing summer trip or my new teaching job starting as soon as I get back. I am officially moving from 7th grade English to 9th grade English. I accepted a position at Hays High School, my alma mater! To top it off, I’ll be teaching alongside my mentor, my real-life Dumbledore, the guy who’s responsible for me writing and teaching (thanks a lot, I’ll be poor forever). My novel is actually dedicated to him! So hey teachers, feeling down? You never know, maybe a student will dedicate a book to you one day.

I’m really gonna miss my squirrely middle schoolers though. Not to mention my coworkers here in Del Valle that I’ve come to deeply love and respect.

Hence my clever title…lunchmeat, cafeteria….high school? Ok, so maybe the dots aren’t as easy to connect as I’d like to think, but whatever.

Why am I writing one blog to talk about two completely different topics? I’m lazy, y’all.

In fact, I’ve said all I wanted to say already.

Let me sum up (I just love making lists, to be honest):

1. Rome- I guess that coin I threw into the fountain a few years ago for “returning” worked. Now about that other coin…

2. Greece- Was anyone else obsessed with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants when they were younger? Yeah, I’ll be on the lookout for Kostas.

3. Turkey, the country- Please send good, safe vibes since it’s not exactly a prime time to travel there… Also: we’re going on a hot air balloon ride. Be jealous.

4. Turkey, the lunchmeat- Bring it on, freshmen.

 

Sidenote: it’ll be really nice to get away from all the book marketing exhaustion. THE WAITING ROOM is my baby and I love her…but she has been a real pain in the ass! Sorry to my WordPress/Twitter amigos- if I’m silent for a few weeks, it’s because I’m tanning on a Greek island. NBD.

Teacher Rant

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It’d be so damn cool if teachers got the respect they deserve. Or the pay. Or the acknowledgement.

I have this dream that I’ll see all those wishes of mine granted in my lifetime. I know that people who make touchdowns and music videos and movies will still be earning over triple the amount of income and recognition, but I have faith that one day after I’m gone, that will change too.

I’ve tried to pinpoint in my three short years of teaching, what exactly it is that makes our job seem so easy and worthless. Most likely, it is the fact that we get summers “off”. I guess most people don’t realize that we are never really “off”…we are constantly planning, collecting, brainstorming- bettering our teaching and our classroom. Our kids follow us everywhere like nagging/loving little hairs flying across our face at all times. They are our motivation. And let me tell you, we are forced to be the most passionate and motivated profession out there- because we’re in the business of “failure is not an option” and “no child left behind” and “give me only your best”.

We are warriors of Potential and Effort and Rigor and Pride. We are champions of Respect and gladiators of Equality. We are artists because we “mold the minds of tomorrow”. We are absolutely, bona-fide crazy- but in a “you WILL find a book that you will enjoy” kind of way. Glorified babysitters? Sure, if a glorified babysitter can stomp the flames of bullying and teach a kid what onomatopoeia means all in half an hour.

I realize we don’t carry briefcases (if we did, they’d be filled with stickers and pencils- you’d be surprised how much a kid will write for a sticker/pencil prize). We don’t wear suits. We spend our entire day with mini adults. But if we had business cards, every millimeter would be filled with tiny text, listing our hundreds of roles and responsibilities. Or they’d just say Professional Badass.

If you think juggling 100 middle schoolers, all with their individual needs, is easy, I welcome you to come trade shoes for a while. Please don’t forget to modify for the language learners and special education kids, scaffold for the different levels, add in each type of learning style, give the kids choice but structured choice, stay on top of behavior management, make sure you utilize technology, keep cultural significance in mind, let them have individual, partner, and group time, and of course, they should be engaged, participating, and having FUN!
P.S. Plus, you have a department meeting, a professional development, a team meeting, a faculty meeting, a parent meeting, tutoring sessions, UIL practice, monitoring duty, a REED, an ARD, an SST, and an observation all in the next couple days.
P.P.S. You have 100 essays to grade.

Yeah.

Sorry to go all Mali on y’all.

The #1 Way to Stay Young

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Three words. Livin’ inda ghetto.

I love, love, love it. Living on the eastside (represent!) completes me. I can get a breakfast taco from a LEGIT, just-moved-here-illegally, mustached taqueria God at any time of the day. I also never have to mess with annoying apartment gate codes because my gate is rigged to stay open at all times. Safe? Well, there are cops and ambulances around regularly, so I honestly don’t worry.

I pay half as much as I would for a place this size in a “nicer” area. I’m close to downtown, super close to my job, and if I was ever in some sort of trouble, I truly feel like I could knock on a neighbor’s door and ask for protection. I definitely live next to some shady people. In exchange, I’d help their kids learn English. That’s when Lifetime would FINALLY contact me. Working titles: The Teacher Next-Door, The Teacher Who Refused to Move, A Project in the Projects. HAHAHA. I don’t live in the projects. But you know Hollywood.

Last night, I woke up at 3:30 in the morning—I thought because of the thunder. But then I heard people partying. Loudly. I guess we Texans really do love our weather, but I didn’t think there was anyone who got wasted in the parking lot (in the intense downpour) and whooped every time lightning struck. This might not have anything to do with livin’ inda ghetto, but it’s awesome nonetheless.

Today I tried to find an alterations shop to fix one of my dresses. You know how you always hear about “fronts”? I’m not gonna lie, when I walked into the hole in the wall shop, the owners definitely looked at each other as if to say, “Oh shit, an actual costumer. What are we supposed to be again, alterations, right? Not cocaine, definitely not cocaine.”

Then we get to one of the best perks about living on the eastside—something no one ever mentioned to me (or else I would have moved here a LOT sooner). There are some FYYYNE-ass people up in hurr. Think about it—everything is cheap. What kind of people are poor (besides the obvious people mentioned above…druggies, illegals, etc.)? Well, there are the starving artists—yummy. The hot, young college boy toys (I can look, OK). The skinny jeaned, scarf loving hipsters, if you’re into that. And then there are young professionals like me who simply refuse to pay $100 more every month just to lower their chances of getting raped. You should see the sexy people at Planet Fitness on East Riverside. It’s very confusing to see so many attractive young people in one place. It’s like college—and it always takes me a minute to adjust and realize, oh yeah, I graduated a long time ago…this is not the quad…none of these people will ever be serving me a cup of trashcan punch. Going to HEB is even better—right when I’m convinced that I’m 18 and I’ve been transported to that tiny HEB right off campus, one of my students pops out from behind the bread aisle. “HI MISS MENDEZ!” Bubble bursted. But so worth it while it lasted—I haven’t felt this young since I was young.

Then there are the hidden gems of bars and food trucks. Eastside is crawling with them. My latest find was The Vortex on East Manor—they have live performances of different sorts. Attached is the Butterfly Bar, which has the coolest 1920’s vibe. And outside is Patrizi’s, the most delicious Italian food truck, with tons of seating and a stage for live music. But can you see any of this from the street? No. There’s a shady lookin’ fence you walk behind and then you’re struck with the awesomeness. As is the story with a lot of bars, restaurants, stores, and food trucks on the eastside. It’s part of the fun.

So basically, if you’re feeling old or bored or stale or lonely or uninteresting, get your ass over here! We are waiting with open, tattooed arms and smiling, gold-toothed, taco-filled faces.

On a serious note, as a post script—the eastside is really not the ghetto. I think it used to be, maybe? But it’s changed a lot. I see more of the hot people I mentioned than the shady people I mentioned, ya feel me? I mean, it’s still not smart to walk around my hood in a skanky dress, but I don’t think it’s 100% safe to do that in any area. That being said, sometimes, when I’m driving down Oltorf, I really forget that I’m in America. Every sign is in Spanish! I dig it though.

Expanding Hearts

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I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the not-so-feel-good topic of loss and how to deal with it. I guess a lot of it was sparked by the recent death of Joanna, a girl I met in Europe on a Contiki. We weren’t super close or anything—but seeing her picture splashed on news stories really got under my skin and I’ve been thinking of her pretty smile every day since they found her body.

It’s natural to think about death—it’s normal to feel anxious about your loved ones growing older, more fragile. I feel like losing someone you love is the one thing in life you can never prepare yourself for—but you wish you could or you might even feel like you already are prepared, ready, accepting of fate.

My best friend recently lost her grandmother, who was living with her. I walk by that empty room in her house now and my heart feels tight, uncomfortable. I think about them surrounding her with love, reading her poetry. Jo’s sobs still ring in my ears—I had never heard pain like that. Yet, I am envious of her. I told her this recently—that I feel like she’s stronger now, more prepared than I am, for the next inevitable passing. It’s stupid, I know. It’s not like one family death will make the next hurt any less.

Then I think about my aunts—they’ve both lost their husbands and they’ve both dealt with the loss in their own way.

My Uncle Rick was a racecar driver. I don’t remember him, but I’ve seen so many pictures and watched a couple home videos and I’ve heard about a million stories—that’s enough to know he lit up a room. He had that charm, that smile, that laugh—everyone adored him. Whenever I think about him, for some reason I get this ‘80s Tom Cruise image in my head—this cool cat who could make a rock fall in love with him. After a racing accident, he was in a coma for years before he passed away. My Aunt Debbie focused on her kids and then focused on their kids…I didn’t think she’d ever truly open back up to love. Her story made me fearful—I felt like she had this perfect marriage that ended too soon and once you have that kind of happiness, you just never get it again. I thought maybe people aren’t allowed to have that twice. But now she has John and I see this light in her eyes that I’ve never seen before. It reminds me of the pictures, the home videos, the stories—it reminds me of Uncle Rick. I don’t think she finally “filled a void,” as the saying goes, but I think she finally made room for that same kind of big love she once had.

Our hearts are bigger than we think. I feel like we’re constantly trying to cram love into a box—focusing on taking things out instead of expanding.

My Uncle Mac drove an 18-wheeler. He was in a terrible accident and became paralyzed—a quadriplegic. My Aunt Kathleen had been taking care of him for over 20 years before he passed away in 2010. I’ll never forget how positive he always was—if he was unhappy lying in that bed all day every day, he never let on, to us at least.

My Aunt Kathleen has similarly amazed me with her outlook on life. She is one of the craziest, most hilarious women I’ve ever met (she prefers the term “eccentric”). I asked her this past weekend if she’s dated at all. Her response was a big ol’ grin, a sip of her giant Long Island, and: “Not yet, there aren’t any men in Kountze! Unless I want a crazy old man who has a wife. My neighbor won’t stop calling—he wants phone sex! Can you believe that?! Anyway, I’m gonna move to Gruene and find me a man with at least a six-figure salary. That’s just the way that it is. That’s what I’m lookin’ for. I know what I want!”

Priceless. And the best part? The next day, she actually bought a piece of land in Gruene. She loved Uncle Mac deeply and always will, but she’s figured out that whole expanding-heart thing. It’s so great—and I know that both my uncles are smiling down, relieved that their loves are open to loving again.

I wish I could’ve taken a lesson from all of this sooner. People should view every hardship in this way. I always thought the key to getting over ex-boyfriends was filling the brokenness with someone new. But other people don’t fix you—you have to fix yourself. Your wounds might always be wounds, your holes may stay deep and barren—but your heart isn’t a box with a limit. There’s room for whatever, whoever, and however much. I’m still working on realizing this (isn’t it funny how you can realize something, but never really be done realizing it?). But I know that feeling worried and unprepared for loss is normal—all I can do is keep trying to expand my heart. Current effort: making room for each and every one of my new students. Even the one that guessed my age today: 49.

Love Letter

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Dear Hawaii,

I will miss your sand and everything attached to it.

I will miss the way the GPS says “Kah-may-ha-may-ha”.

I will miss warm malasadas and crunchy chicken katsu at potlucks.

I will miss those few and far between hapa hotties and North Shore board short-ed booties and tantalizing tribal tatted triceps.

I will miss driving through the mountains of H3, spotting Stairway and doing an inner I CONQUERED THAT happy dance.

I will miss the pineapple and pupus and Pidgin and the Pee-peh-lee-neh joke and Papailoa, where I go to read and bask alone.

I will miss my ohana (those staying on the island and those leaving) and so many moments in their lives, big and small. The birth of Cassie’s little man, the next time Kelly dyes her hair, the day Phil cooks a meal that doesn’t involve any frozen food and Annalise gets engaged and Leslie decides to stay a third year…

I will miss my keiki, who take up so much of my heart. I don’t ever need to have kids because I already have 200 it seems!

I will miss so much I could write a novel about the things I’ll miss. I could write a novel about the extreme anxiety I felt when I said goodbye to my favorite beaches and restaurants. I could write a novel about how the birds here are royal, expecting you to drive around them…yet, I’ll miss them.

I will miss every aspect of life here, all things, good and bad, because that’s how you miss wholly. Therefore I will miss the radio stations and lack of Mexican food right along with the rainbows, leis, honu, and mai tais.

I will miss calling this rock home. But I left home once so that I could return, maybe I’ll do the same again.

Oahu, I will miss your skies and smiles and waters, your colors and kindness. Mahalo for your patience and your always warm embrace. I will love you always, I will carry you everywhere- your sand and everything attached to it.

With aloha,
Alysha

The Keiki

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Gangstas v. Surfers

I have officially accepted a teaching job in Texas. You’d think I’d be ecstatic, right? A solid job to move back home to, back to the land of delicious Mexican food, sweet tea, and floating the river. I’ll finally get to be roommates with my best friend, I’ll finally keep a job for longer than two years…

But honestly, there’s something bothering me that I can’t quite shake. It’s not the fact that I’m leaving paradise—perfect weather, perfect tan (see I Heard This Place is Hard to Leave). It’s the keiki, man.

The kids.

I’ve been pampered for the last two years. My students might drive me crazy, but they freakin’ adore me. The biggest issue I’ve ever had is their lack of motivation…and I don’t blame them. I’d rather go to the beach than do homework too.

I remember what the kids were like in school back home. Also, I’m allowed to talk shit about the ghetto Mexicans and the white trash since I am both Mexican and white. Boom. Please remember that for the rest of this blog…

Those two types of people make up a LARGE percent of the population. Rednecks and gang members, knife fights at lunch, “pinche” being every other word out of most of their mouths, and a huge teen pregnancy problem. Ah, Tejas.

While this is an exaggeration, it’s only a slight exaggeration. So basically, I’m scared.

I spent 22 years in Texas, surrounded by a large Hispanic population, most of whom I was probably related to. But as for teaching experience? I’ve taught approximately two Hispanic kids in the past two years. Here in Central Oahu, the student population is comprised of SO many different ethnicities—Japanese, Hawaiian, Filipino, Samoan, Micronesian, Chuukese, Tongan, Korean, Chinese, and more. They’re so mixed that most of them don’t even know what to check for race on surveys. They think it’s weird that I’m “only two things” and they don’t tease each other about being “too much” of something or “not enough” of something else.

Duh, there’s still racism and homophobia and bullying and drug abuse and all those other terrible things that happen everywhere.

But I swear, Hawaii’s kids are probably the most tolerant human beings in the U.S. It’s all aloha and shaka and howzit and bruddah and sistah and auntie… it’s kind of crazy how happy people are here. Oh wait, the sun shines every day. There are rainbows every day.

The kids I went to school with would beat these kids to a pulp and then tattoo something about it on their necks. Or they’d tie my kids to cows and pour Lonestar all over them. The white kids I went to school with would call my kids Mexicans and when my kids would try to explain that they’re actually a Hawaiian-Japanese-Filipino, they’d say, “Whatever, you’re brown, so you’re Mexican.” The Mexicans I went to school with would call my kids wannabe Mexicans.

I could go on and on, trashing and exaggerating about the kind of kids I went to school with (reminder: I’m allowed), but what I’m getting at is I DON’T WANT TO TEACH TEXAS KIDS, I WANT TO TEACH HAWAII KIDS…BUT IN TEXAS.

Sigh.

Will I be facing a major culture shock? It’s kind of ironic, I realize. I was born and raised in the area, I’m obviously super familiar with the Hispanic culture. But teaching is a different story. I’ve finally reached a point where I feel qualified to teach Hawaiian mythology and “local, Pidgin kine poetry”. I feel comfortable discussing and analyzing the differences and similarities of Asian cultures. I’ve finally mastered the stereotypes, resentments, and unspoken bonds between these groups here—it’s been incredibly hard.

So will my teaching suffer?

Will it be like my first year all over again?

What about my ELL kids? Will I know how to accommodate them? Is it the same?

I know that this entire blog is probably a huge freak-out, completely uncalled for and unnecessary. I’ll adapt, I’ll be fine, and my memory about how horrible all the kids were is probably extremely blurry and skewed. Let’s be real, I only remember one knife fight in my 13 years of schooling.

Every culture is unique, and I know how important it is to learn about my students’ cultures and incorporate them into my work, but does every culture require some sort of special, secret teaching skill? No, of course not. Teaching with love, passion, and curiosity is across the board—that’s all I need…which is good, because sometimes I feel like that’s all I have to offer as a teacher.

Hopefully, my Mexican kids will love me just as much as my little mixed plate loco mocos do here. Hopefully they won’t judge me based on the fact that my Spanish is only at an intermediate level (only when I’m drunk). At least I know all the bad words, that’ll be helpful.

I will adapt and I will do it FAST, just like I did here. I still remember the first time I tried poke and spam musubi, thinking they looked like the most disgusting things I’d ever seen. Look at me now—using chop sticks like a pro and giving directions like a local.

I still say flip-flops, not slippahs. Not budging on that one.

I’ll miss this place and I’ll miss these people so much. I don’t think I’ll ever love my students more than I love these, my Hawaii babies, my keiki. But you never know. All I can do is try.

Innocence is Genius

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I wrote this poem when I was in Spain, at the Med, with my host family. They had the cutest little boy named Pablo, you couldn’t help but watch him. This is what he inspired that day:

Innocence is blonde curls and a naked, sandy butt.

Running into an ocean without checking with your toe for the temperature.

Fingering your ding-a-ling for all to see.

Confidently rambling in Spanish to foreign strangers.

Innocence is loving everyone, most of all yourself.

And your sandcastle.

 I’ve been thinking about Pablo lately, and that crazy, unyielding tolerance and unabashed nature that kids have. Losing our innocence is something we’ve all reflected on at some point in our lives, but it’s so strange being a middle school teacher, watching it happen on a daily basis. I listen to some of my students and think, oh man, why don’t I have that anymore? That spark, that unafraid boldness that creates a killer essay, hilarious journal entry, or just the truest shouted out response to a question. Sometimes it stops me mid-lesson and I just stare for a second at what I once must have had myself. I want that! I miss that!

Now, just to write this blog for example, I’ve lazily pondered and procrastinated for a month, trying to decide which topic was worthy, waiting for inspiration. I finally decided after sitting here at Starbucks for half an hour, realizing that when I was young, by this time I would’ve already written three short stories and five poems. I had spirals and diaries full of scribblings. They might have all been complete garbage, mainly about a talking dog/detective or my imaginary twin sister Ashley who had super powers, but I didn’t care, I just wrote. My latest poetry notebook is only half full and I started it three years ago. My novel has been sadly waiting for a decent edit, neglected. I’ve written one short story in the past year. What was once second nature is now analyzed to the point of destruction of the idea altogether. Everything we say and do nowadays seems to be sent through a filter of, “Is it good enough?” and “How many calories does that have?” and “What would other people think of this?”

Kids just don’t care about most things…and it’s great! I love it for them, it allows them to be more themselves than they’ll probably be for a long time. Once high school comes around, most people get swept up into being someone else, someone they think they should be, and it tends to not go away completely for quite a while. My students are hot messes of emotions—they wear it all on their sleeves and they don’t mind who sees them cry while sharing a journal, yell at their backstabbing friend in the hall, or smile the hugest smile and fist pump after getting a test back. We adults tend to hide and privatize and pretend and fake and the list goes on… I worry sometimes that this means kids are the only genuine people on the planet. They’re our future but they’re being taught to grow up just like us and lose their wide eyes, cash in their dreams, and harden. Somewhere along the line, becoming an adult came to mean valuing realism over creativity and stability over enthusiasm. Good credit, salary, and a solid health plan trump artistic abilities, honesty, and loyalty.

Other times, I realize the benefits of growing up: the reason, logic, you know, basically all that boring stuff that kids don’t give a shit about but it actually does come in handy eventually. The other day, the last bell rang, releasing my class for Thanksgiving break. Many of them were meeting in the band room for a picture, so they were all racing to the bathrooms to change. I’m typing away on my computer, thinking everyone has left. Then I notice Colby. In the corner of my room, half-naked. My immediate thought was, oh, so I’m probably going to get fired. If someone would have walked by, Jesus. The youngest teacher in school, alone in her room with a half-naked 12-year-old boy. Sounds like a news story I’ve heard a time or two. The best part was, after I flipped out on him and told him to put his clothes on, his reaction was just a sheepish grin, shrug, and “Sorry Miss.” Of course he’s not going to think of the implications, he’s simply thinking that he needs to change and all the bathrooms are full.

Things used to be simple like this. Come home, have a snack, do homework, watch TV, eat dinner, go to bed. Now we live over-complicated lives with over-complicated gadgets and “life tracks” and lists and plans and wants and worries and hopes and fears.

We know how to make smart choices now. That doesn’t mean that we always choose to make them, obviously. But at least we know the difference between what we should and shouldn’t do… But does this even matter, since we continue to make bad decisions? And maybe making those “bad” decisions should actually be seen as freeing and modes of self-expression and glimpses into the innocence we once had. There has to be some sort of balance, because innocence is genius. There has to be some way to hold onto that passion we had when we were kids, that brazen attitude that we carried around like a giant trophy. I try to capture that brash bliss every time I write, every time I eat ice cream, every time I open up to a person.

We have to try to do this more, or else our world will look so bleak, boring, and robotic fifty years from now.