Friday, December 19, 2014

Reflecting on 2014

This week as one of my middle schoolers was struggling on a blog post, she questioned her ability to deeply reflect. She said, "I'm not that deep" to which I responded, "You are, keep digging."  I went on to show her my blog and she was amazed at the length of my posts - most of my students don't write more than five sentences.  I also told her that I wouldn't expect her to do anything that I wouldn't be willing or able to do myself.  Do as I do, not as I say.

After that conversation with the middle schooler I realized that at one point, I too perhaps didn't think I was that deep, even though I didn't exactly think of it that way at the time. Blogging can be challenging.  It took me a few months before I mustered the courage to take the plunge.  My main reason for not blogging sooner was that I felt I had nothing to write about.  I was also worried about my writing skills, about exposing my thoughts to the world, about being so vulnerable.  Once I started my blog, I decided that for the 2014-15 school year, I would blog at least once a week.  Thanks to the #reflectiveteacher blogging challenges, I was able to exceed my goal and I am a better teacher for it.  Furthermore, as I connect to other educators I am more purposeful about connecting with my students and the work I assign.  

Today is the last school day of 2014 and as I reflect on this calendar year, I will follow the prompt I gave my high schoolers this morning: "Reflecting on 2014, identify three good things, two things you are especially happy about and one thing you wish would have been different".  

Three good things are Twitter, Twitter, Twitter....and did I mention Twitter?  Thanks to Twitter I am connected to educators beyond my schools' walls, I am more reflective and my teaching is much more than about teaching English communication skills.  I am not only concerned about the quantifiable, but about the qualitative that makes our life complete.  I am no longer teaching English as a Second Language.  I am now teaching and empowering students whose second language happens to be English.  I have learned (and I am teaching) that stumbling blocks are usually stepping stones.

Two things I am especially happy about are this blog and about the positive phone calls I have been making. I don't have huge numbers of followers or readers, but I have found blogging to be very therapeutic.  I am also happy that my students are blogging.  While many of them whine and struggle, I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and I hope all of them will be able to see their gains at the end the school year.  As far as the positive calls, last year I decided I would include it on my PDP. Then, this summer I joined #goodcallsmovement on Twitter and my PLN has kept me accountable.  Parents really appreciate the contact, students love knowing that I care, but what's most significant is that I'm on a quest to find good so I can make those calls.  I make a minimum of two positive calls a week.  I won't lie, some weeks are easier than others, but if I seek the good, I find it.

One thing I wish would have been different?  It's hard narrowing it down to one, but I guess the top would be more reading time.  I ask my students and my own children to read daily, but I don't always do it myself.  Sure you can say that reading blogs from Twitter is reading, but there's nothing like reading a good book.  Reading for fun and inspiration, not because it's part of a lesson or professional development.  This is something I've slacked off on and need to get back on track.  Not because I have to but because I want to and most importantly because I want my students and children to "do as I do, not as I say."

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

#BestYearEver



Monday, December 15, 2014

Big Little Things

Continuing on the generosity theme for the month of December, this quote is our "Thought for the Week".  As we approach the Christmas holiday, most of my students are wrapped up (no pun intended) in what they are getting for Christmas and in shopping for gifts and outfits for the upcoming celebrations.  After posting this quote, I asked my classes about special holidays in their native country and/or families where gifting is expected. Students talked about Hindu religious festivals, New Year's Day, Three Kings Day and certainly Christmas.  I went on to ask them about the most meaningful gift they had received on any of those special days.  Their responses were all similar:  clothing, food, electronics, books, toys...all tangible gifts.  I then referred back to the quote on the whiteboard and asked them to think about intangible gifts. None of them had considered intangibles as gifts. They had to think hard and but then again so did I.  It's been years since I was a teen, but my response to a question about the most meaningful gift would not necessarily lead me to think of anything expensive, but it certainly would be tangible.

As my first block class came to a close, I posted the quote on this page, saved the draft and decided I would later write something. First, I didn't have time, but furthermore, I needed time to ponder on this question.  A few hours later, school was dismissed and I went on my phone to check out the latest Twitter feed.  A post by @BarbaraGruener about the "gift of memory" caught my eye and I clicked to read her blog.  She wrote about "an interesting reflection opportunity" one of her connections, parenting expert Annie Fox, had posed as she was preparing to write an article. This opportunity came in the form of the following prompt "Recall a meaningful gift you received as a child.  What comes to mind and why was it so special to you?"  Read Barbara's blog post here.  Before I write my response, let me say that after participating in two blogging challenges, I miss having prompts to stir my thinking, so I appreciate the question.

My most meaningful memory is of a bicycle "Santa" left for me when I was eight years old.  What's so special about a bicycle you might ask.  Well, you see a couple years before, my dad, the main breadwinner at the time, was involved in a horrible construction accident while building the second floor of a skyscraper in Miami.  He fell 19 feet head first and thankfully his hands hit the ground first, sparing his life. Recovery from this accident was lengthy and because of numerous therapies and surgeries, he didn't get back to significant full time work until three years later.  A few months after that Christmas, one of my classmates dropped the news that Santa didn't exist and it was our parents who bought our gifts.  That didn't seem possible to me in light of my parents' financial situation.  We were poor, but also proud and thanks to my dad's frugality, we lived off savings and my mother's measly income. When I confronted my mother about Santa, my first question to her was "How were you able afford my bike?"  I remember the emotion, not so much at the disappointment of Santa not being real, but at my parents' selflessness.  They gave up much that Christmas so I could have that bike.

Many years have passed and many more gifts were exchanged, but the greatest, most meaningful gift my parents gave me was their example.  My daddy has passed and my mother is aging and not shopping much anymore, but their selflessness, generosity and kindness is a gift that keeps on giving. One that I hope to pass on to my own children.

May the giving spirit of the Christmas season remain in our hearts all year long.

#BestYearEver

Friday, December 12, 2014

'Tis The Season To Be Jolly

Today is the 12th day of the 12th month of the year - one week away from our Christmas break. Yes, Christmas break. It may more politically correct to say Winter Break, but I prefer to say Christmas. Whether one is Christian or not, whether one celebrates Christmas religiously or secularly or even if one tries not to acknowledge it at all, the fact is that Christmas is a national holiday celebrated in December and the reason why we traditionally break from school for two weeks. Furthermore, it is the only holiday on which Walmart and most other business establishments are closed and commercial life nearly shuts down on that day.

Last week on #ELLchat, our topic was "December Holidays and ELLs". In ESL, we teach English language skills, but we also teach about culture in the U.S. While we don't expect anyone to leave behind their culture and traditions, it's certainly very appropriate to introduce them to traditions and holidays celebrated in the U.S. Many districts across the U.S. are so concerned about political correctness that they choose to ignore the December holidays altogether and acknowledge nothing more than the winter season. Although December brings a heightened awareness of the diversity of ethnicity and cultures that exist in this great nation, I believe that it is perfectly appropriate to teach ELLs about Christmas. Sure we can also teach them about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and any other holidays that are celebrated, but we can't deny the effect that Christmas has on this country.

I'm thankful that I live in the great state of North Carolina-the heart of the Bible belt and we can get away with a little more than in other parts of this country. I'm thankful that the area where I live and teach is not so caught up in political correctness and I have the freedom to teach my students about the culture of their American peers. Make no mistake, I'm very aware of the separation of church and state and I know where to draw the line. I'm unapologetically Christian but my bible clearly teaches that faith (or the lack thereof) is a choice, a personal choice, and even if it was legal for me to teach bible lessons in a public school, I need to respect the beliefs of others.

However, I'm very concerned that perhaps we may have swung the pendulum too far the opposite direction. We don't have to leave Christmas (or any other religious holiday) out of the classroom. I personally believe that in not teaching about Christmas we are doing a disservice to our ESL students, especially newcomers and most especially those that are not Christian. There's a difference between teaching about a holiday and teaching religious beliefs related to the holiday.

I pride myself in validating all cultures. Every Friday, my beginners have Show & Tell and students are asked to speak about a topic that usually is related to their native country and/or culture in some way. Students bring in items or memorabilia, share personal stories, traditions, holidays and their presentations often include talk of their faith or religion. Nobody is out to convert anyone. Nobody invites others to their church or temple (at least not in my classroom) but we all learn interesting facts about one another and our culture. What I've found is that in sharing about each other, we learn that we are more similar than we are different. Just this week, one of my Asian students-a practicing Buddhist-asked if we can study Christmas carols next week. She finds the songs fun and interesting and would like to learn the lyrics. Even though she and her family don't celebrate the birth of Christ, she displays a photo of herself on her laptop standing next to the Christmas tree at work and has been out shopping for gifts for friends and family.

My point in all this is that it's okay to talk about Christmas or any religious holiday without proselytizing. It's one thing to share the salvation story and it's another to address the fact that many families recognize Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ, while others just celebrate Santa Claus and all the gift giving. Some don't recognize the holiday at all and that's okay. It's their choice and that's what this country is based on - the freedom to choose.

Bottom line, Christmas is a joyful, cheerful season. A season of giving, sharing, partying and celebrating. Homes, businesses and streets are decorated with bright lights and colorful decorations. It's a season to be merry and I won't let political correctness dampen my spirit or dim my lights.

Let's focus on what we can all agree on because it's indeed the season to be jolly. Fa la la la la, la la la la

#BestYearEver

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Anonymous Gifts


After focusing on gratitude for the month of November, I found it quite fitting to focus on generosity as we enter the Christmas season. So, the first quote of the week was the quote shown above. In one of my classes, the reading selection was an article about the "Cool Clothes Closet" in South Florida where teens in need can obtain fashionable clothes for free (here's the article in case you're interested).  It was a great lesson for the ESL class.  After reading the article, I also gave them a blog prompt about anonymous gifts.  I asked the class to write about a time when someone gave them a gift but they had no idea who the giver was. They were to share what they received, when it happened, where they were living at the time and most importantly, how it made them feel. They shared some fabulous stories ranging from gifts received through a parent's customer to lunch money left on a day she thought she would go hungry to anonymous Christmas gifts. We also had some interesting discussions about giving anonymously as well. One of them wrote a lovely post about how he and a group of friends once left a donation at the door of an orphanage. It tied in beautifully with the quote for the week and I could tell each of them were emotionally impacted not so much by the article but by the discussion and blogging.  I was very touched myself and it made me realize that when I give I usually expect something in return even if just a "thank you".  I began to think about my own giving practices.  I've always thought of myself as somewhat generous and my husband and I have tried to instill that in our children.  However, I really couldn't remember the last time I gave completely anonymously, expecting nothing in return.  Sure, I give to organizations that help those less fortunate and while I am anonymous to those that benefit from those causes, I do receive a tax-deduction. I started feeling a bit selfish, thinking that I only give expecting something in return.   

Then I thought of the generosity of teachers. From school supplies to anonymous donations for students in need.  And what about all those intangibles - our time and effort. Many folks believe that teachers have a cush job. We work 7:00-2:30 and have summers off.  Quite the fictional statement.  I don't know of a single teacher at my schools whose work ends at 2:30.  Some may leave the building at 2:30, but the work continues at home.  And summers are neither a vacation nor are they paid.  We receive stipends for some of the work, but not most. The majority of teachers give so much of themselves and while it's not exactly volunteer work, there's lots we are not compensated for.

So, if real generosity is doing something nice for someone who will never find out, then teachers are some of the most generous people on this planet.  While the impact of those small (or great) acts of kindness may never be known, we certainly don't labor in vain.  Keep at it my fellow educators, the best is yet to come!

#BestYearEver

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Reflection On Reflection

When I embarked on the first Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge in September, I was certainly expecting to grow as I learned more about myself, my teaching practices and my students.  However, just like a good shopping trip where we set out to purchase one thing and find so many other good deals that we end up with bundles of items we never expected to buy, reflection has well exceeded my expectations.  Not surprisingly, as I blogged and read other blogs, I picked up ideas and inspiration that are making me a more progressive educator.  The best part is that it's changed my mindset and my students are the beneficiaries.

One thing that's surprised me is the virtual friendships I've made.  Okay, maybe I'm sounding like a real loser here, but after so many days of blogging and sharing, I have developed a strong connection to my #reflectiveteacher peeps.  So while I can't afford to continue blogging daily, I am trying to make the Tuesday night #reflectiveteacher Twitter chats.

Last night's chat was on "Encouraging Student Creativity in the Classroom". The first question posed was "What does fostering Student Creativity look like in your classroom?" to which I responded, "student voice and choice".  Well, that got my mind going and I realized that I really need to do more of that in order to foster creativity, but that's not too easy.  Most students aren't used to being in the drivers seat and react as any inexperienced driver would. They freeze.

So this morning I came to school inspired from last night's chat, ready to put my words in action.
And what did I do in my first class?  I put the ball in the student's court.  Every Friday, we have Show & Tell in my high school beginner ESL class.  Students are given a topic, usually related to their native country or culture, and they prepare a presentation and/or bring in something to show & tell the class about. For this weeks Show & Tell, I told them they were free to present anything related to generosity - which is our theme for the month.  I asked them to think about what they would like to present and email me their ideas. As expected, they froze and started asking questions in an attempt to get me to give them ideas, but I only answered with more questions.  It took a little longer to compose the emails than I had planned, but it was not lost time by any means and the emails came in with some wonderful ideas and suggestions.

Later in the day, I headed over to the middle school and used Today's Meet to gather feedback from my middle schoolers on the "words of affirmation" activity (see Brown Paper Bags post).  Most of them told me what I wanted to here, but many shared some constructive criticism.  While I didn't start any projects with them today, last night's conversations have inspired me to give them more voice. Now I will say fostering creativity in middle schoolers is more difficult than with high schoolers, but most of them are long term ELLs and having an increased English proficiency level is a benefit in it of itself. 

I also need to add that I've decided to start a monthly theme.  The idea was inspired by the "Attitude of Gratitude" Blogging Challenge. As gratitude was the theme for our blogging challenge, it also became a theme for the quotes I post and discuss in class.  So, we started with gratitude and now we are moving on to "generosity" for December.  In addition to presenting quotes about generosity and giving, we are taking it up a notch so that reading selections are also about giving.  This is the beginning of something new - a monthly theme.  This part I'm only doing at the high school level. They are my guinea pigs, if you will, the ones I test market all ideas on.

As my PLN grows, I grow and my students grow and I all know is that I still have so much more to grow.  The best is yet to come.

#BestYearEver

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Connoisseur of Gratitude

Today is November 30, last day of November and last day of the Attitude of Gratitude Blogging Challenge.  This theme was perfect for me as Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  Thanksgiving makes me reflect and appreciate everything I have.  It's so easy to get caught up in the things we want to acquire or complain about the stresses of everyday life, that we become oblivious to all we are blessed with. Having an attitude of gratitude not only makes me feel content, but it breeds generosity. I love that in the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving right before the Christmas season. Whether you are Christian or not, the Christmas holiday and all the gifting brings with it a spirit of giving and kindness. Despite the shopping madness, holiday cheer transcends all cultural traditions and religions (for most people), and if our attitude and motives are good we will experience joy and peace.

Today's prompt asks us to practice an act of kindness and blog about your experience.  Until now, I found it easy to draft a post every day (time permitting).  However, I'm going to have to put this one off for a few days.  You see, just as November is a month of gratitude for me, December is a month of generosity.  It's the season to be jolly and true joy comes from giving, not only material things, but giving of ourselves.

I'm not joining another blogging challenge, but I will make it a point to be more generous and my blog posts in December will have a generosity slant to it.  So stay tuned, as I will soon share about some random act of kindness or of how in giving I have received.  I may be writing about being on the giving end, the receiving end, the observing end, or perhaps all three, but I will definitely seek opportunities to bless others for no good reason and I will try to bless those who probably wouldn't expect someone to be kind to them.  That's my personal challenge and we'll see how it plays out.

I found this beautiful quote as I was searching for an appropriate graphic for today's post and it expresses exactly how I feel after completing this challenge.

"The more you become a connoisseur of gratitude, the less you are a victim of resentment, depression, and despair.  Gratitude will act as an elixir that will gradually dissolve the hard shell of your ego - your need to possess and control - and transform you into a generous being." -Sam Keen

I hope that as I enter the Christmas season I am indeed transformed into a generous being.

Until next time....#BestYearEver

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Inspired to Inspire

We all know someone who inspires us to be better. Actually, for me it's not someone, but it's lots of people and it's nearly impossible to narrow this down to one person so I won't even attempt it. Instead, I will share about those people who inspire me the most, motivating me to be the best I can be.

1.  My Husband.  
He believes in me more than I believe in myself.  He sure does get on my case a whole lot and perhaps he so inspires me because I want to prove him wrong.  Above all, he inspires me because despite knowing the good, the bad and the very ugly, he loves me anyway and still has faith in me. He's taught me to take more risks, to laugh at myself and to improvise when curve balls come my way.

2.  My Mother
The most generous and hard working woman I've ever known.  She came to this country in her 30s not knowing a word of English, overcame huge hurdles with a beautiful smile on her face and kind words for everyone she encountered.  She never attended college but was the child of a successful entrepreneur in Cuba and never wanted for anything - that was until Cuba was taken over by communism and she and her family lost everything my grandfather worked so hard for.  They courageously left their homeland and started over in America.  She still doesn't speak English well, because living in Miami if you speak Spanish you are good, but she knows enough to get by and is not afraid to speak broken English.  At 83, she runs circles around me and I hope that at her age I'm only half the woman she is.

3.  My Daddy
He's no longer walking this earth, but he's still in my heart and mind.  He was strict and stern and always pushed me to do my best.  When I didn't do well in school, he would remind me that he didn't come to this country for me to work at McDonalds.  He let me stand on his shoulders and go places he only dreamed of.  He wasn't born into privilege but worked tirelessly and always managed his money well.  When communism took over Cuba, he didn't fall as hard as my mother, but he still wasn't too happy about everyone being poor. As soon as he married my mother, he left Cuba with my mom and her family. He taught me to be a forward thinker and never look back.  I still hear him saying, "para atras ni para coger impulso" (never step backward, not even to pick up speed).

4.  My Kids
My husband and I were married 12 1/2 years when our first child was born, but God's timing is perfect.  By then, I had been a teacher for seven years and it was good preparation for motherhood. However, when I returned to the classroom after staying home a few years, I feel it's my kids that make me a better teacher.  I want to give my students my best because their parents are counting on it, as I am of my kids' teachers.  They keep me grounded and keep me young.  I also want them to be proud of me as they will soon be roaming the halls at my schools.

5.  My Colleagues and my PLN
Education professionals near and far really keep me going, especially those who tweet and share so many awesome ideas. I'm not very competitive by nature, but I have to admit that there's a good sense of keeping up with the Joneses that keeps me on my toes. I love taking ideas from my peers, giving them my own twist and trying them in my classroom. Sure sometimes, we huddle and vent, but above all we inspire one another.   They inspire me to continue learning and growing because they show me how much I still need to learn.

6. My Students
Last but not least, this is the reason I wake up every morning and stay up late.  As an immigrant child who grew up with parents who weren't fluent English speakers, I so connect with my students.  And not only with those who speak Spanish at home, I relate to the immigrant experience itself.  When I interviewed for my current position and was asked why I should be hired for this position, I quickly responded, "because I've been there and done that and I totally get what they are going through". Being an ESL teacher is about much more than teaching English. ELLs need to learn optimism and perseverance because life will be tougher for them than the average citizen, but having experienced some of these obstacles myself and with my parents makes my message a great deal more convincing. 

There are many others who have cheered me on and continue to do so, but this blog post would turn into a book if I include them all.  I will say that after composing this post, I will make sure to take time to thank those who encourage and inspire me.  I also would like to start paying forward the inspiration and pave the way for those who come behind.  

#BestYearEver 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Hindsight is 20/20

The year was 2011 and I was attempting to re-enter the teaching world. In order to make myself more marketable, I added three additional teacher licenses. Before becoming a mom, I was certified in Business Education and Instructional Technology. I then added Reading, ESL and Elementary Education.  At that time, my son was a rising kindergartener and my daughter a rising 3rd grader, so I was particularly interested in elementary education. I felt that being a mom of two young kids somehow would make elementary education a good fit for me. Up to that point, my only full time classroom teaching experience had been in high school business education.  I had substitute taught a few times at the elementary level, but I never held a permanent position in grades K-6.

And so I embarked on some interviews for elementary positions.  I have to admit that I was very unsure about the regular education positions, but there was one post that I was certain I was perfect for and was devastated when I wasn't selected for the job.  It was an elementary ESL position with my current district.  I was beyond disappointed and outright angry, but I also tortured myself by replaying my interview mistakes over and over again in my head.  All that coulda, shoulda, woulda that does nothing but spin wheels and take you nowhere.

Well, I got over it and took a middle school business education position in Charlotte.  I quickly realized that having young children at home didn't necessarily qualify me to be an elementary classroom teacher and secondary education is where I belonged.  Sure, it has its challenges but that's the place for me.  A few months later the Secondary ESL position opened up with MGSD.  I went for it and here I am.  

I can see it all clearly now because hindsight is 20/20.

#BestYearEver

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Time In a Bottle

Today is Thanksgiving - a day to reflect and give thanks for the people and things that make our life wonderful.  This year we are doing things a little different than usual.  Ever since I married my husband, I have been spending Thanksgiving in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  However, this year we are in sunny South Florida, enjoying the warm weather, beautiful beaches and lovely palm trees.  We came down last weekend for a wedding and stayed for Thanksgiving. The best part of course is sharing some good times with family we rarely get to see.  My husband and I have no family in North Carolina and even though we are blessed with some awesome friends and neighbors - blood is thicker than water and we so enjoy gathering with relatives from afar.

So, if I could bottle up a perfect day, what would it look like?  First of all, it must have great weather - just like today - sunny, in the mid 70s, light breezes flowing, ideal for waterfront dining.  I would be surrounded by folks that warm my heart and make me laugh so hard it hurts.  We all dress in our best fall outfits.  Conversations are harmonious and pleasant, no discord of any kind.  Music is playing and after dinner we all get up and dance.  Even those with two left feet are up dancing because we are so stuffed we need to burn some calories. Kids are behaving so well, we don't even realize they are around.

That's pretty much what Thanksgiving was like this year.  It was a blast! If only I could bottle it up and enjoy some of it every day.

Happy Thanksgiving my friends.

#BestYearEver

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Small is Huge



Webster defines pleasure as "a feeling of happiness, enjoyment or satisfaction". We are driven and directed by pleasure. We constantly seek things or people that give us pleasure and avoid that which is not enjoyable, doesn't make us happy or satisfied.  It actually sounds like pleasure is a really big deal.  Yet, true happiness, true satisfaction, true enjoyment is not found in those really big moments, but in simple pleasures.  It is small pleasures that make our life grand.

A couple of months ago, my daughter's teacher let me borrow, The Book of Awesome, which is all about those little awesome moments in life that generate feelings of happiness, enjoyment or satisfaction.  After reading it, I reflected on some awesome teacher moments and was compelled to blog about it.  You can read my post here.

As a piggyback to that blog post and as a response to today's prompt for the Attitude of Gratitude Blogging Challenge, today I will acknowledge three small pleasures in my life/day.  I have to say that it's really tough to narrow this down to three because for me, it's all about the little stuff.  I'm a simple girl, as frugal as they come.  I don't dream big and tend to enjoy the ordinary successes of everyday life.  I thrive in routine and schedule.  Thanks to my hubby who is quite the opposite, I've learned to aim higher, take greater risks and be more spontaneous.  Okay, I really wasn't that boring when I met him, but the rollercoaster ride has indeed picked up a great deal of speed since we married.  Well, here goes my top three.

1) Hugs.
I love all hugs, especially when they are unsolicited and unexpected.  My hubby and my son are super affectionate.  I am too, but they are so much more. They are my teddy bears and I can't seem to get enough.  I especially love hugs from my daughter.  Deep down inside she's sweet and caring (sometimes it's way down deep) but she's not very affectionate.  She's very competitive and strong-willed and her and I don't always see eye to eye.  When she gives me an unsolicited hug, I know it's sincere and it melts me. Did I also mention she's a sixth grader?  

2) Silence.
I'm outgoing and talkative, but I love the sound of silence.  Whether early in the morning, late at night or sometime in between, I cherish those times to myself when I can reflect or simply clear my mind. I love my family, but sometimes the four of us sound more like "19 kids and counting" and the only time there is silence is when I am alone at home.

3) Laughter
We all enjoy a good laugh, but laughter for me is necessary.  It not only brings me pleasure, it keeps me sane.  Sometimes, I laugh so hard that I cry and can't get a single word out of my mouth.  While cracking up type of laughter is reserved for when I'm off duty, I do try to inject a little laughter into my class periods.  Life is too short and you gotta have some fun.

So, let's sweat the small stuff...in a good way.  Let's not overlook those seemingly insignificant moments that although small are truly huge.

#BestYearEver

No Ifs, Ands or Buts

I pride myself in being relentlessly optimistic, in being able to find something to celebrate even in the worst of times or people, in having endless hope regardless of how grim the circumstances.  Yet today, David Pollard (@edchatirl) tweeted this photo and made me realize there's lots I still need to work on.  He challenged his followers to "Go 24 hours without complaining, not even once...then watch how your life starts changing." That was powerful.  Sure I'm grateful, positive, hopeful, but I have to admit that I do my share of whining and complaining.   I do it mostly to myself and my family, less at school (probably because I don't have much time for venting), but it happens quite a bit more than necessary.  This reflection has made me realize that I often complain and then follow it by an expression of gratitude or positivity, but I'm whining and complaining nonetheless.  If only....it's good but.....and also.  Sure, I try to end my complaining by putting a positive band-aid on it, but it still does its damage.  Instead of trying to fix it, why not try to avoid the hurt.

So what would I like to let go of?  I want to shed the doubt, the fear, the discontentment and most of all, the second guessing.  I want to move forward and be more positive from the get go.  I want to face my life head on, accept what I cannot change, change what I can - all without complaining or arguing.  I may not always be able to control my circumstances, but I can control my reaction and attitude.

Thanks, David for your tweet today.  I hope it will impact others as it has impacted me.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

#BestYearEver

I Dream That One Day

When I hear the word "dream" my thoughts are immediately transported to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.  Dr. King is one of my heroes, not only because he championed and died for the civil rights of African-Americans, but because he peacefully fought against the evils of injustice and never gave up hope in the goodness of humanity. Dr. King's life may have been taken, but his dream never died.  

When asked about my dream for the future of education, I can't help but go back and read over Dr. King's speech for inspiration.  Taking my cue from Dr. King, here are my dreams for education:
  • I have a dream that one day teachers and school administrators will determine what goes on in our classrooms, not politicians.
  • I have a dream that one day standardized testing as we know it will cease to exist and be replaced with authentic assessments and standards-based learning and grading
  • I have a dream that one day teachers will be seen as the professionals they are rather than as blue collar workers
  • I have a dream that one day all stakeholders-parents, teachers, students, and administrators - will be able to sit together and collaborate on developing an education plan for every child, guided by a child's interests and strengths, not by a goal set by state leaders. 
  • I have a dream that one day our class sizes will be more manageable so that teachers can spend their leisure time at their leisure instead of grading papers.
  • I have a dream that one day teachers will have more time to plan, prepare and collaborate.
  • I have a dream that one day every teacher in America will be provided with all necessary supplies for teaching and learning so there's no need to reach into personal budgets.
  • I have a dream that one day all schools in America regardless of geographical location be places of safety and security where all children can obtain a high-quality education.

I could go on and on. While there is absolutely no comparison between the struggles and sacrifices faced by Dr. King and the challenges faced by teachers in America, I would say to my fellow teachers as Dr. King stated in this speech. "Let us not wallow in the valley of despair" and let us never give up hope. 

#BestYearEver

Monday, November 24, 2014

Brown Paper Bags

I try to cultivate an attitude of positivity and gratitude all year long.  For me, it has nothing to do with Thanksgiving, but everything to do with succeeding in the real world. Life is hard. Inevitably we will face obstacles and curve balls and it is our reaction to these challenges that will determine whether we thrive or merely survive.  As part of the Capturing Kids Hearts program, we use various methods in class to affirm each other in an effort to maintain a safe and positive classroom culture.  
Every year, during Thanksgiving week, I bring a brown paper bag for each one of my students and I write their name on it. Each one of them is asked to write notes of affirmation to every person in their class period and place in those students' bag. I also encourage them to write notes for others outside their block who have a bag in my room.  I write a note to each student as well. This is an idea I picked up from my CKH training and love it.  This year, I had the students write their name on the bag preceded with a positive adjective that starts with the same letter as the first letter of their first name and some chose to color it and decorate it.  At my students' request, I also made a bag for myself and conveniently since my last name starts with a G,  I wrote "Grateful Gonzalez" on my bag.
  
Pictured above are my high schoolers' bags.  Newcomers participated as well, with some scaffolding of course. My middle schoolers whined a little, but everyone wrote a note to every student in their class period. I found it interesting that those students who said they had nothing affirming to write about certain students, after some thinking time, they wrote some beautiful notes.  I respected their privacy and didn't ask to see the notes, but most of them showed them to me because they wanted them supposedly proofread.  I think they just wanted some reassurance that they were on the right track.  The activity was nothing new to my returning ELLs, but it caught my 7th graders a bit off guard.

Well, after Thanksgiving, I will ask students to reflect on this activity and offer some honest feedback.  Overall, I think it went well, but I would like to hear from the kids after they have read notes written to them.  I'm thinking of having them keep their bags up all year long and asking them to write to each other more frequently.  Based on their feedback, I may need to tweak the activity some, so stay tuned for another post after I hear back from the students.

This was an awesome culmination to the "Attitude of Gratitude" month, but I'm hoping that this will spill over to every day.  I'm hoping that this will help us seek and find the good in one another, especially in those who hide it well.

#BestYearEver

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Post-Thanksgiving Tradition

As I reflect on all the things I'm grateful for I have to say that of all holidays, Thanksgiving is by far my favorite.  I love everything about it.  First of all, I love gathering with friends and family that I rarely see.   I also love the yummy food, the decor, the pumpkin pie, the days off.  Above all, I love the gratitude and humility that comes with the holiday. Thanksgiving gives us a chance to step back and reflect on our blessings, usually realizing that we have all we need and more. This reflection opens our hearts to giving and receiving, but not in the material sense like we experience during Christmas.  But Thanksgiving itself is not the family tradition I am most grateful for, it's what comes after Thanksgiving that I most enjoy and look forward to all year long.  

Long before my husband and I were married, the Gonzalez family started a tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving in the mountains of North Carolina.  Ever since my husband was a teenager, he and his family would pack up and spend Thanksgiving in a mountain cabin.  Not only did they retreat for giving thanks and sharing a special meal, they also headed to the Christmas tree farm the next day to cut their tree and take it down to Florida fresh from the farm.  Once we were married, my family and I joined in. Eventually, my husband and I made those mountains our permanent home, but the tradition of Thanksgiving in the mountains and heading to the tree farm on the next day continued.  In fact, my kids have never been to a lot or home improvement store to buy their tree.  A few years ago, we moved out of the mountains, but we still head up for Thanksgiving and to pick out our tree the day after.  It's a tradition we treasure and we hope it will continue for generations to come.  

Interestingly enough, we broke tradition this year.  One of the cousins got married yesterday and the family headed south for that happy occasion so Thanksgiving will be a little different this year.  The wedding was great and we are thankful to spend Turkey Day with the same folks that flock north this time of year, but I will miss heading to the farm to get our tree.  Thankfully, we live pretty close to those farms and we will just cut our tree a few days later than usual.  

We will have a wonderful time in Florida this year, but I am so looking forward to resuming our tradition next year, especially our post-Thanksgiving tradition of searching the farm for that perfect tree.  

#BestYearEver

Friday, November 21, 2014

Inspiring Books

I will admit that I'm not an avid reader. It's not that I don't enjoy it- actually I find it very relaxing- but I'm a rather slow reader and I'm easily distracted (perhaps some undiagnosed ADHD). I usually wait until summertime to read for fun and/or inspiration. Otherwise, I'm so consumed by school that I don't focus and it will take forever to finish a book. Therefore, most of my reading consists of blog posts, journal articles, tweets and other material related to my profession. But today's prompt is not just about reading, it asks me to list a book I am thankful to have read and has inspired me to be better at what I do. I actually need to name two.

The first is New Kids in Town: Oral Histories of Immigrant Teens. This is one I read last year with one of my students. I bought it from Amazon for $0.01 (yes, one penny-it's not a typo) plus $3.99 for shipping. A used book published in 1991-definitely an oldie but goodie. I bought it for insight, but turned out it was not only an eye-opener but also greatly inspiring. It tells stories of 11 immigrant teens, all from different backgrounds, but all came to America for the same reason: a better life. In my opinion, it's a must-read for any secondary level educator because these kids are everywhere.

The second is the good book - The Bible. I didn't grow up reading it and didn't discover it until I was 18. It introduced me to my Creator and Savior and helped me find myself. Even though I've never read it cover-to-cover, I've read (and reread) a good portion of it. It has taught me to be loving and compassionate, to not fret or fear, to be content and grateful and most of all, to know that I have a hope and a future. Even though I don't teach from it or discuss it with students, this book inspires me to be the best teacher I can be.

While these two books are very different, both have made an impact on my teaching. Both inspire me to care for and respect my students for who they are. Both have taught me that no matter where they come from or what obstacles they face, they all have the potential for greatness. Both have taught me to be more compassionate and less stereotypical. I don't teach English as a Second Language, I teach students whose second language (or sometimes their third or fourth) happens to be English. I don't just teach, I inspire and these books have inspired me to inspire them.

#BestYearEver

Thursday, November 20, 2014

You Never Know


After staying home with my children for a few years, I was ready to get back to teaching.  At that time we were living in the mountains of North Carolina in a small, sleepy town of about 10,000.  Great schools, great people, overall an awesome place to raise a family.  But there's a problem, jobs are scarce.  Back when my kids were born, the economy was thriving and so was my husband's real estate and construction business.  After the crash, not only was I ready to teach again, but our budget necessitated a second and more steady income.  I did everything I knew to keep my foot in the small school district's door. I substitute taught, tutored, offered PD and even volunteered, all to no avail. They loved me there, but there were no vacancies in my licensure area or for which I had the skills for.  Even though I added several licenses, I was inexperienced in those new areas and too experienced as a teacher which means they would have to pay me a higher salary even though I was new to the field. Understandably, someone fresh out of student teaching was a better fit for some of the positions I interviewed for.  I was disappointed but I was accepting that God would open the door for me eventually. And He did.

An old acquaintance called one day and offered me a job that would require relocation to a larger town, to Mooresville. Initially, I hesitated.  Even though we would move, our new home would be only a 1 1/2 hour drive to the mountains, so my husband could continue his work and he was willing to commute.  So it was all up to me. Interestingly enough, this was a town we visited often and my husband and I had even talked about moving there someday. Nevertheless, I agonized over the decision and fretted for months.  I lost sleep and even cried a little.  I felt I needed to do something and also knew it was a now or never situation. Furthermore, even though I really liked Mooresville, I really wanted to work for the Mooresville Graded School District, not the district where I was being offered the position. At one point, I interviewed with MGSD but wasn't hired. I was quite upset, I might add, but moved on.  Somehow, I managed to accept the fact that I needed to move and so I accepted the position and headed down the mountain.  My husband and I always said that we would try it for year and if it didn't work out, we could always go back.  Well, it turned out fine and after three months, a friend of a co-worker who worked for MGSD notified me that the secondary ESL teacher would be retiring soon and suggested I make contact with the principal.  I did and the rest is history.   

So, what lesson am I thankful for having learned?  I learned that we must take chances even when we are not so sure. So often what we think is a wrong turn is actually a brief detour that will take us to our intended destination. If I would have stayed in Alleghany County I would have missed out on so much.  Probably wouldn't even be writing this blog post.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you just have to go for it, 'cause you never know what's in store. In the words of Wayne Gretsky, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

#BestYearEver

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Little Lift

This afternoon I expressed my gratitude to a science teacher at one of the schools I serve at. She's new to our district and is putting in lots of hours creating dynamic and engaging lessons for her students.  I am especially thankful because she goes above and beyond to reach the newcomers in her class who are understandably overwhelmed by all the newness - new culture, new language, new school, new friends.  She finds resources in Spanish, translates some of the material herself (even though at the secondary level she's not obligated to do so),  she finds ways to engage them rather than isolating them and makes the content as comprehensible as possible.  In addition to differentiating for ELLs, she's goes above and beyond for all types of learners.    

I think about her often, but it wasn't until today that I verbally expressed gratitude on behalf of the English learners.  She's an awesome teacher, caring and dedicated to reaching every child every day and I wanted to make sure she knew her efforts are not going unnoticed.  She graciously thanked me, but I hope that my words add fuel to her fire and keep her light from burning out.  I won't share too many details because one never knows who will read this, but let's just say I sensed she was needing a little encouragement.  

Just paying forward what others have done for me.

#BestYearEver

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pieces of a Puzzle


As a transplant from Florida, I'm happy to call the Tar Heel State home.  I love the climate, the people, the landscape.  It's a very warm place even when temps are frigid.  I've lived here for almost 20 years and although I miss my family members and childhood friends, I can't imagine living anywhere else.  However, as far as the education profession, it's not easy here.  Even though, I'm not planning on making a career move, I can't help but recognize that it takes a great deal of devotion and commitment to teach in North Carolina.  Those that teach in our state, don't do it for the money.  It's all about the kids.

So, what do I appreciate about my colleagues? While we all have our moments of huddling and venting, I am proud to be on a very dedicated team of education professionals.  As an ESL teacher, I'm a jack of all trades, but a master of none.  In order to best serve my students, I must collaborate with all those wonderful colleagues who teach our ELLs. I'm especially grateful for all those teachers who go above and beyond to find alternative materials in their native language, who find innovative ways to differentiate and who will remember that one struggling newcomer as they plan and prepare the unit of study.  Care and compassion have no language and it is amazing to work with those who communicate that so fluently to our English learners.  

Our class sizes are increasing while our earnings are stagnant, but our passion and commitment to our students is only getting stronger.  Like pieces of a puzzle, we each have our spot and together we make a lovely mosaic.


#BestYearEver

Monday, November 17, 2014

One Year Later

It was less than a year ago that I immersed myself into the world of Twitter, as an educator that is.  I've had an account since 2010, but never got into it.   Every now and then, I would follow a news network and a few sports teams.  I kept hearing about Twitter from various sources and but I didn't really see the point of it all.  I was especially intrigued whenever a teacher mentioned that it was a great tool for PD, but for the life of me I couldn't see how social media could be used for PD.  I finally decided to check it out for professional purposes.  Like an ELL newcomer in silent period, I lurked for sometime and then I got hooked.  Not only is my use of Twitter different one year later, but also my followers and those I follow are not the same.  I've also become more careful and deliberate about those I follow.  My PLN has grown to include educators around the world.  I have evolved in my thinking, teaching and learning.  I'm more curious and more reflective.  I'm also less fearful of failure and am willing to take more risks.

One thing that is very different from a year ago that I'm grateful for is this blog.  Last spring, I took the plunge and created a blog.  I wrote a couple of posts, but it wasn't until I accepted the Teach Thought blogging challenge in September that I began to write on a regular basis.  Although daily blogging is taking its toll, I'm up for the challenge and I'm enjoying it.  I especially like November's topics.  I'm all about having an attitude of gratitude, so in the midst of all the busyness, I make time to write out my thoughts.  Best of all, I'm inspired by reading everyone else's posts and learning from others' experiences.

One year later, I'm now a tweeting teacher, a connected educator, a reflective blogger and today I signed up for my first EdCamp.  I'm so grateful for all these experiences but I'm especially grateful for how I have evolved as an educator and I believe the best is yet to come.  Still a cocoon in the hopes of evolving into a beautiful butterfly.

#BestYearEver

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Power In Numbers

Every aspect of being a connected educator is powerful because connectedness is power.  Some of us are blessed with wonderful personal and professional connections within our school building or district, but some of us are not. While I have some amazingly cooperative and collaborative colleagues in my district, being an itinerant teacher makes me sort of a misfit.  I am part of two schools, but don't completely belong to either one. Furthermore, I am the only secondary ESL teacher in my small district and even though I love it because my focus is primarily on the kids, I often felt isolated.  That was until I joined Twitter and became a connected educator.  Connecting with educators across the globe has actually brought me closer to those in the buildings where I teach and most importantly, it has brought me closer to my students. It has changed my teaching, my perspective and my passion. 

So, what is the most powerful aspect of being a connected educator? The answer for me is simple: there's power in numbers.  Being connected to hundreds of educators I've never met, and probably never will, has empowered me and helped me discover part of myself, as well as connected me to those in close proximity.  Sounds weird, but it's true - and I am so grateful.
#BestYearEver

Saturday, November 15, 2014

What the Tech?

I can't imagine my life without technology.  Although good teaching, good communicating and good living doesn't require technology it does make our lives a whole lot more dynamic. Technology has enabled me to grow exponentially both as an educator and as a person.  It's expanded my horizons and placed the world at my fingertips.

Before becoming a teacher my life was very low tech (even for back in those days). I worked in the health insurance business and had a wonderful assistant that produced all my documents on Word and Excel.  I barely knew how to print.  When I was offered the Business teacher position, I was upfront with my principal but I vowed to learn quickly and not let him down.  I'm so thankful for that opportunity.  Not only did I need a job at that point, but I found my place in this world and I discovered all the technology I was missing out on.  I so fell in love with technology that as I worked on my Business Education teaching certification, I went on to earn a Master's in Instructional Technology. Fast forward a few years and I'm now teaching in a 1:1 district where every student and teacher is issued a Macbook and technology is just how I roll.

Now back to today's prompt. What tech tools am I most grateful for? Why? How have they changed what I do?  Before I write my list, I will state why and how they have changed what I do.  Before teaching at a 1:1 district, I wasn't nearly as student-centered as I am today.  My teaching was more about curriculum, classroom management and test preparation.  I think I was an effective teacher, but the better I have integrated technology, the better teaching and learning has been in my class. Sure, I can be a good teacher without the technology, but technology has changed my role, empowered my students and deepened learning.  I am cognizant of the fact that technology is not a cure all, but I will say that with the right infrastructure, students will be more engaged and academic achievement will be higher.  Sure we have our share of problems just like any other district, but overall MGSD does an amazing job and we have the results to prove it.

Okay, now here's my list of the tools I'm most grateful for:
1. iPhone.  Can't go anywhere without it.
2. Macbook.  So grateful that my district chose Macs. Once you go Mac, you don't go back.
3. Google Drive. I'm grateful it's free and does everything I need. Sure, it could be better but it let's us create the documents we need for effective teaching, learning, communicating, collaborating, problem-solving...all those 21st century skills.
4. Skype. While I don't use it very often, it made my list because I know that I will increase its use and I'm very excited about the abounding possibilities.
5. Twitter.  Last but not definitely not least.  My family would say I'm a Twitter addict, but connecting with educational professionals around the globe has changed my perspective and accelerated my growth.

As crazy as it sounds, through technology I have come to realize that it is not about technology, but about pedagogy.  And pedagogy is not about tools, curriculum or test scores, but it's about the human lives we touch every day.

#BestYearEver

Friday, November 14, 2014

Grateful to Learn

Oh, if I only knew then what I know now.  Those famous last words. I have to admit that I became a learner when I became a teacher.  The more I learned about teaching, the more I learned about learning and it was not all academics. I learned about myself, about others and about navigating through life.  I learned about motivation, inspiration, reflection and growth.  

There's a great deal that I've learned and great deal more that's left to learn, but here's a list of five things that I'm grateful to have learned in my teaching career.

1.  School is much more than academics.  Despite all the efforts to quantify the knowledge acquired in our classrooms, schools is so much more than the three R's.  It took me a while to learn this, but all we are doing is laying a foundation for further learning.  And if we are not careful to add a little inspiration and motivation to the mix, our kids' houses will be crumbling.

2.  Questions are more important than answers.  If kids don't learn to ask the right questions, they won't obtain the right answers.  I am not developing robots with artificial intelligence, but rather empowering human beings and sending them off on their quest to explore and discover.  It's like a Google search.  If you don't search for the right things, you won't get what you need.

3.  It's okay for students to teach me a thing or two.  Or three or four or a thousand.  I learn from educational experts, from my colleagues but I learn a great deal from my students.  They are the gauge that tells me if my system is running efficiently or breaking down.  Sometimes they tell me what I want to hear, sometimes not, but I love it when they tell me something I never knew before. 


4.  I must capture a student's heart before I capture their mind.  While I don't set out to be liked, realistically if students don't believe I care about them as a person, there's no way they will be inspired and motivated to learn.  The great thing about ESL is that as we sharpen English language skills, they get to share what's on their hearts and minds.

5.  It is in failing that I succeed.  This is a message that I preach to my students and myself every day.  Failures are not the end, but only the beginning, so long as we reflect and learn. It's up to us to make them stepping stones or stumbling blocks.


Still learning, still growing and so much more left to learn and grow.


#BestYearEver

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Disconnecting

I'm proud to say that I'm a connected educator who stays plugged in well after Friday afternoon and into the weekend.  In fact, sometimes I feel like weekdays are more relaxing than my weekends. There's so much at home to catch up on (including school work) that the Energizer bunny just keeps on going and going regardless of the day of the week.  I do have to admit though that I'm energized by work, so if I relax too much, I end up feeling guilty and more stressed.  However, just like a computer, I need the occasional restart so I can operate more efficiently.

Here's how I unplug:
1.  Sunday morning worship.  I don't go to church out of obligation, but for sustenance.  This is where I unload my junk and fill up my gas tank.  I'll give up anything else, but rarely do I miss my worship. We are blessed with an awesome congregation that has uplifting music, message and amazing people to share it with.  
2.  A good pedicure.  Sitting on a chair with a good book or with a good friend and having my feet massaged and toes polished relaxes me and makes me feel like I've had a complete makeover.  It's the bomb!
3. An inspirational book.  This is one habit I need to pick up again. I don't read enough and when I do it's usually with my kids. Lately, I've been watching the news before going to bed instead of reading...it's no wonder I've been having nightmares.  Need to turn off that tube and get back to those books that are collecting dust. Last book I read for me, was I Am Malala and even though it was sort of related to education, it inspired me to inspire others.  
4. Morning workout.  Another habit I've sadly broken, but hope to pick up again.  Exercise anytime is great, but a morning workout is a jumpstart.  Walking around the neighborhood in the wee hours when everyone is still sleeping is not only healthful, but it's rejuvenating.  Maybe tomorrow morning is a good day to start.  

I'm thankful for new beginnings and for today's prompt because it made realize what I've been missing out on.  

#BestYearEver

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Powerful Image


There are so many student photos I could post that would illustrate why I am so thankful to do what I do.  Some I don't have on my laptop or my phone and some I still have yet to take. However, I decided to include this powerful image that I am so thankful for finding online. For the life of me, I can't remember where I first found it but when I searched Google images for it, it's on numerous sites.  So if you are the originator of this image and are reading my post today, please email me so I can give you proper credit.

Motivational quotes, stories and images are part of every unit I teach.  We have a quote for the week which will correlate to a reading or theme and sometimes I introduce it with a graphic.  Today, I showed this image to my students and asked them to interpret its meaning. All interpretations were written on the whiteboard and validated (they were all really good). After all students shared, one of them asked what my interpretation was.  I responded by reading the quote of the week, "The state of your life is nothing more than a reflection of your state of mind" (Dr. Wayne Dyer ). It was a powerful moment.

I'm thankful for all those graphics that help me make my point and help my students learn. While translators, dictionaries and graphic organizers are helpful to ELLs, images bring vocabulary to life and engage their minds.

Today, this image brought my students a powerful message. While they may think they are merely a kitten, if they see themselves as a lion, that's who they really are.  
 

#BestYearEver