Category Archives: Teaching: Woes and Wonder

I Heard This Place is Hard to Leave

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I’ve officially applied for three different school districts in the Austin area. I doubt I’ll get a job offer since I currently do not have my license, masters, nor have I taken the Texas required tests (yay for being from a state that has to create its own EVERYTHING).

But maybe that’s ok, to stay in Hawaii a little longer? Where I have a for sure job, a for sure house…ok that’s all that I have for sure. And a gym membership, I have that. And lots of shit, including my car, which I don’t want to even think about boxing or shipping or selling or throwing away…

What the hell is wrong with me?

I have these moments where I want nothing more than to stay here, in the sunshine. My skin is smiling, constantly tan. I buy random fruits just because you can’t get them on the mainland. My car is filled with sand. I drive past those trees on Kam that are bursting with the yellowest of yellow flowers and I think, “Jesus there’s nowhere more beautiful.” I appreciate never being cold. I cherish the fact that I can jump in the ocean or climb a mountain at any moment if I so choose.

But then I remember how far away I am from my family, from my best friend, from decent Mexican food, and from date-worthy men (at least, I’m guessing they’re all in Austin). I remember what it feels like in the fall, the first time you can bring the boots out from the back corner of your closet. I remember floating the river and 6th Street and The Square and Sonic Happy Hour and the baby cousin I haven’t met yet. I remember my dog, Mardi, and the deer and the quiet, country sound that is so different than the quiet sea.

But then I remember the scorpions, spiders, mosquitoes, humidity, and belt-buckled rednecks who call people fags and give our entire state a bad rep.

I realize that I’ll be surrounded by not just good memories, but all the bad ones too. You never know who you’ll see at HEB, right? The guy who completely pulverized your heart, the old friend who helped him do it, the creep who you filed sexual harassment charges against at your first real job, the boss who cared more about protecting the company’s name than protecting you, the father who you might not even recognize, but you do because he looks like you.

Here I’m safe from those people, or those kind of people. There are no extremes here, which is of course a con as well because that means there are no greats—family, friends, loves. But at least there are no extreme enemies? There are a few people who I’d prefer not to see downtown, but maybe one day I will and I’ll either run away or have an awkward, fake conversation. There’s a guy who I kind of, sort of fell for and then he promptly exchanged his boyfriend ticket for a cleaner, larger font acquaintance ticket. There are a lot of grab-bag pals, lots of pebbles, no rocks. Hawaii’s not a hideaway though, or a refuge—if anything, it’s a time capsule that forces you to dwell and make decisions and move on or hold on. But it also feels like a giant pause button of a rock.

Anyway.

I flip-flop pretty regularly. I love it here—I love the keiki, I love the beach, I love that I can get authentic Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Indian food on any part of the island. I love the aloha and the rainbows and the bright birds and I can’t stand the thought of seeing the Gulf again after I’ve seen the blueness of these waters.

But nothing beats home, brown waves and all. I forget what it’s like for people to not think it’s weird when I say “y’all” or “fixin’ to” or “coke” when I mean soda. I don’t like being so far away from my mom’s embrace, my dad’s wisdom, or my best friend’s dance moves. I don’t like being isolated in the middle of the Pacific, thousands of miles and dollars away from anyone or anything. I don’t like that no one ever stays here. You’re either here for the military, college, or the experience—all transient, all temporary. Half my fellow teachers or more will be packing their bags in May. Slowly, the numbers will dwindle and, most likely, I’ll have zero friends on Oahu by 2015.

I miss the comfort, the familiarity. But can I move back without a job? Surely, no. I’d go crazy without a teaching job, I’d go crazy if I had to resort to subbing or retail or living with my parents or taking another cubicle life-sucking 9 to 5.

So what to do? Besides wait. And dream about bringing everything and everyone that I love here, spreading them all over the islands. I heard this place is hard to leave. It’s true. I’d rather stay and create my own utopia. Some family on Maui, some friends on Kauai, or a new addition to the chain, a mini Texas island popping up above Oahu, holding everything I miss, just a ferry ride away. I crawl in bed mapping it all out.

Mom and Dad can have a house in Kailua, Johanna can live with me, Kristian would be in Kapolei, Ari and Anthony would live in a Chinatown apartment, Anne’s place would be in Haleiwa, Grandma and Aunt Debbie would live in Aiea, Tara in Lanikai, Rachel would have a studio in Waikiki, Laura and Kyle will share some North Shore shack…

…and then I fall asleep.

The Wait for June

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So it’s almost time to escape the island for a while. Six more days, and I’m free from 7th graders for two whole months. One week from then, and I’ll be in Spain. Yes, Spain. Ecstatic cannot even express my most minimal surface emotion. I’ve literally been crawling out of my skin here; I’d say that if I had to teach for seven more days instead of six, or if I had to stay on the rock past May 31, I might have a psychotic breakdown. I’m talking full-out: dye my hair, get a piercing or tattoo, sleep with that roid-head trainer at my gym, and send in an application video to one of MTV’s many shitty shows. So let’s hope my flight doesn’t get delayed, right? I’ll be teaching conversational English to a rich family all of June, and then making my way, by bus and hostels, to Pamplona for my birthday gift to myself: Running of the Bulls.

Here’s what I’m escaping:

  • 100 pre-teens that are causing extreme stress, gray hair, wistful thoughts of corporal punishment, and pessimism about this nation’s future.
  • Beaches. I know, I know, I live in a beautiful place. But I’m looking forward to the architecture, museums dripping in Picasso and Dali, and, of course, a good ol’ bull run. I never thought the sun and sand and palm trees would get old, but I guess that’s just something tourists say.
  • Disappointments. All of them, all the different kinds, big ones, small ones, fat ones, skinny ones, slimy ones…however that nobodylikesmeeverybodyhatesmeguessi’llgoeatworms song goes.

Here’s what I’m hoping to find:

  • Myself. Hahaha, just kidding. Couldn’t help it.
  • The best summer of my life. Last summer will be hard to top (Europe, moved to Hawaii), but dammit, I’m going to try.
  • Español fluency, finally? Or at least closer to it. And this time, I won’t come back to the States and stop practicing and forget everything I learned. I’ll teach in Spanish everyday if I have to. The kids can just deal.
  • Some fantastic stories. My friend suggested seducing a member of the royal family, going back to his villa, and swimming laps in his infinity pool as he occasionally feeds me grapes. I’m thinking more along the lines of slumming it with a stable boy (my host family owns an equestrian center), learning some secret enchilada recipe from a cranky old woman, and somehow waking up in France after a night of too-much-tequila. Ok, fine, whichever comes first.

If I don’t elope or get abducted, then I’ll be back in early July, probably right when I would’ve started missing teaching and beaches. But until then, GET ME THE HELL OFF OF OAHU, get me on a horse in the Andalucia region, and hand me a glass of vino. No, make it a bottle. Summer, I’m a comin’.

Poop in one hand…

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After receiving a few random comments, suggestions, lectures, rants, drunken statements, serious girl talks, life stories, and in-a-nutshells—all on the same questions (How do you know it’s a date? How do you know you’re dating someone? When should it be official?)—I decided to record some of these nuggets of wisdom. People my age, older people, younger people, and yes, my 7th grade students, have given me their opinion (some prompted, some not). Read on if you’d like some clarity (or more confusion) on all your love life wonderings.

  • Friends:

“Your dress only has one sleeve. It’s a date.”

“If you don’t order a cab, or in some cases the bus, for the person to leave at the end of the night, it’s a date. When your landlord asks for your date’s rent check, it should be official.”

“I would consider it dating when a guy tells you he wants to buy you a horse.” Smartass.

“When I go home and wait for them to call. When we text all day.”

“It’s a date if he pays, kisses you, or tries to feel you up. At least one of the three.”

“You’re dating if you’re not sleeping with other people. No wait, that’s if it’s official. No wait, what?”

“Facebook, it’s all about the Facebook relationship status. Ohhh, you guys aren’t even friends on Facebook? Ouch. That’s not dating. That’s not even friendship.”

  • Student quotes:

“Well, I mean, if she lets you hold her hand all week, everywhere you go.”

“When the whole school knows, so it’s like, really known or whatever.”

“It’s like when I let her wear my hat and she lets me wear her silly bands. That’s like, not something you do for just anybody.”

“When Ms. Mendez even knows you’re going out, and she’s all ‘Tell your boyfriend to do his poetry packet!’ it’s like DANG, you’re really going out, ya’ know?”

Mom: “A date is when the guy calls you and asks you out and he pays the check. It was just a date if you didn’t have fun, laugh, talk, and laugh some more. When you have enough in common to want to see the same person again, and again, and again, this is dating but can be done with more than one person. Exclusive dating is when two people realize they’re not seeing anyone else and don’t want to see anyone else. It’s ‘official’ when you realize it’s exclusive and it’s unspoken that it’s exclusive—there is no timeline on this. Could take a month, could take six months. It’s seriously ‘official’ when it is spoken that you are exclusive. Love finds you when you least expect it. Always be smiling, and always wear earrings when you leave the house—you never know who your audience is!”

Dad: “Poop in one hand and wish in the other. See which one fills up first.” I feel like this is actually pretty helpful. Think about it. If you’re having to wish for something to be a date, or dating, or “official,” that probably means something isn’t quite right. You shouldn’t have to really wish that hard, if both people want the same things, are on the same page. No one wants poop in their hand.

Ironically, Dad gave me another piece of dating advice one time that had to do with feces. He said, “You better get out of the shit before your shoes get dirty.” It was very profound at the time. Shit and love life seem to go together nicely, metaphorically speaking that is.

If this doesn’t make things more clear, I don’t know how to help you. My dad or I could probably come up with a new poop expression to better fit your needs though. All you have to do is ask.

The Big Complaint

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     I complain about teaching a lot, I realize this. I complain about the cocky 13 year-old who flexes in the middle of our figurative language lesson and shouts out, “Is there a vet in here because these pythons are sick!”

I complain about my students telling me I should wear my hair down, wear contacts, and wear more dresses and makeup (Why, you ask? To get a husband of course!).

I complain about the missing homework, the failures, the tardies, the absences, the laziness, the lack of organization, the disrespectful words and looks, the dress code violations, and the desk vandalism.

I complain about the “IDKs” and even worse, the “IDCs”. I complain about the “As long as I’m passing, Miss” and the “Oh no, we weren’t talking, I was asking for help!”

I complain about the stolen pencils, the sleepers, the creepers, and the girl who looks me up and down, scowling, and asks, “Why do you dress like a Filipino?”

I complain about the ones who could and should be doing better, the ones who could and should EASILY be making A’s, and the ones who should have been held back.

I complain about the awkwardness, the inappropriateness, and the uncomfortable questions like, while writing love poems, “What does a tingle feel like? Is it good, to feel tingly?”

I complain about the sarcasm (the use of it AND the lack of understanding it, which is hypocritical, I know), the smart asses—like when I told a should-be-leader, “You need to step up to the plate” and he answered, “But Miss, I can’t even see the plate! I don’t even know where the plate is!” The “You should really be more strict” to the “You’re the meanest teacher ever!”

I complain about the headaches, the stress, and the strain on my social life (which the kids thinks means no mall cruising or McDonald’s hangouts).

I complain about them making me feel old as dirt. Like “They’re not called HEADphones anymore Ms. Mendez, there’s nothing on our HEADS. They’re called EARphones now” or “What’s a cassette? What’s a Polaroid?” Kill me.

I complain about all the complaining. I guess for the amount of times I say, “I can’t treat you like a 7th grader if you’re not acting like one,” you could probably double the times it’d be appropriate for you to tell me, “Act your age, not your shoe size.” Gimme a break though, I’m in that weird (read: awesome), early twenties phase where my weekends, clothes, and tan are still more important than mailing postcards, my 401K, or sensible undergarments.

I complain about the fact that they notice literally everything, from my chipping toenail polish to the bags under my eyes to “You wear those shoes every single day. Don’t you have other ones?”

I complain about the sweatiness and stinkiness and coughs and sneezes and pink eyes. I complain about the shrimp in 3rd period who sits cross-legged, scratches his balls, and then sniffs his fingers with a damn smile on his face.

I complain about the in-my-bubble, breathing down my neck, over-the-top-curiosity of “Do you have a boyfriend? Do you drink beer? You’re a Mexican?!”

I complain about the poor grammar, the slang (“She’s being so irrez.” Ugh, you’re being irrez by saying irrez, just say irritating!), the cussing, and the PDA. I complain about the rumors (I’m dating their math teacher, I’m 18 years old, I’m divorced).

But mostly, daily actually, in my mind, I complain about the fact that I just love them too, too much. I complain that I’d go crazy without them (yes, crazier than I’m going with them). I complain that I’m only a first year teacher, why am I so attached? Maybe because I am a first year teacher. I complain that they make me laugh harder than I’ve ever laughed. I complain that I’ve become a proud mama bear, swelling with over-protective, near-psychotic emotions that could probably cause my head and heart to explode simultaneously. I complain that on random occasions, quite frequently, they make me want to be a teacher forever, just from one high-five after mastering a test or one giggle while immersed, reading a short story.

I complain that they’re about to be in 8th grade, they’re leaving me, they’ll forget me! I need more time! I wanted to do a Hunger Games unit! I’m this close to making a writer out of him, a reader out of her, learners out of them. I complain; this was not part of the plan.

Faith in Failure

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I had never been inside the gates of government housing, much less into an actual apartment. But I had to meet DJ’s parents. DJ, or Danu, who had just spent a whole hour after school with me, perfecting his essay while humming rap songs, picking at the scrapes on his arms, and drumming on his desk. He had jumped at the chance to get a ride home, but begged me not to come up into building seven. Too bad, so sad. I was going to light some kind of fire, I was so confident. This was step one in my naïve  plan. The parents would see how invested I was and they would therefore also become super involved in DJ’s English skills. It was going to work like magic. I was smiling as I climbed rusted steps, lined with “slippahs”.

DJ walked through the open door and shot upstairs, jerking a thumb towards me before he disappeared. I tiptoed in quietly, not sure if I should wait outside. I looked in the direction that his thumb had jutted toward. I saw a glimpse of two brown faces and four brown eyes. “Hi! I’m Alysha, I’m DJ’s English teacher!”  The open windows washed a breeze over everything. Flies floated around the furniture. I tried to direct my gaze only on his parents, not the large pile of dirty laundry next to the stove or the molded dishes in the sink.

No one said a word. There was a sound from both of them, I guess an acknowledgement of my presence. But I couldn’t discern if it was a grunt, a dismissal, or a standard greeting used for all. Dad pulled his shirt down, still not covering a huge, hairy belly. Mom got up off the couch reluctantly, leading me back out through the front door. A little girl appeared, her innocent smile reminding me of that same feeling of childhood excitement I see in DJ sometimes. “Ooh, look, a teacher!” Her pony tail bounced and her eyes popped. DJ’s eyes. I wanted to scoop her up and hug her tight and whisper in her tiny ear to never give up, because I already believed in her and her seashell earrings.

Mom still hadn’t said a word. DJ had finally joined us, peeking from behind the doorframe as I started an uncomfortable spiel. Her son was great. Her son had shown such, such incredible improvement. Her son was so smart, had such potential. I could see a sly grin appearing and disappearing from inside.

She gave that same grumble, almost inaudible, with a nod this time. She never looked into my eyes. In fact, she looked pissed, like I had just ranted about the complete opposite. I briefly wondered if my words could’ve somehow been misinterpreted. But no, I had been crystal clear; your son rocks. My whole body was burning, not because of the midday Hawaiian heat. I wanted to send spit flying at her neck tattoo and gold chain, I wanted to scream at all 300 pounds of her, “BE PROUD OF HIM! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT HIM! BE PROUD OF HIM YOU STUPID COW!” Because I sure as hell am. And I shouldn’t have to be the only one.

I said my goodbyes and nice-to-meet-yous and plastered on a fake smile, waving to DJ and his little sister as I made my way back to my car, completely dejected. I wanted to break down. I wanted to sob in fury and disappointment. But I couldn’t. I wanted even more to be like DJ; strong in the face of a situation in which I should be my weakest.

The next day, he cussed in class, daydreamed through half of the notes, and tried to hide in the closet after the bell rang. The usual drill. But he passed that freakin’ essay, the highest grade he’s ever made on any writing. I pulled him aside and told him how proud I was. He shrugged me off and sauntered away, but not before I saw that same giddy grin lined with dimples. He was proud of himself too. And you know what I realized? Two people having that kind of faith in an almost-failing 12-year old student is better than none. And if there aren’t more now, there will be. And that’s something.