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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Enjoy The Ride

 
The most important lesson I would like for my students to learn is that learning is not about finding the right answers, but about asking the right questions.  Learning doesn't end at high school, college or graduate school.  Learning is a lifelong process,  but we can't seem to get it until well into adulthood.  Most of what we learn can't be found in a book or a website, but rather in what we experience in our journey of life.  Part of the reason our message is blurred is because so much of our focus is on grades, test scores and goals - basically on quantifiable outcomes.

My ELLs are so concerned about mastering English so they can pass their classes, make more friends and land that job, that all they want to do is fast forward and arrive at that certain spot.  Well, the truth is that we never truly arrive. Once we get to a certain place, we realize we still have a way to go.  No matter how proficient in English or how successful we are academically, we always have so much room for growth.  The more we learn, the more we realize we have so much more to learn. It's not about how much we learn, but about loving to learn and hungering for more.

Learning, like life, is a journey and I hope they learn sooner rather than later, that they must enjoy the ride.

#BestYearEver

Laugh Often

A good friend in college once told me that I was a good audience because I laughed at everything. Actually, I don't really laugh at everything, but I do enjoy a good laugh and I really do make a good audience.  While I'm not exactly a comedian myself, I love to be around people who make me laugh. One of the reasons I fell in love with my husband was his sense of humor.  Early on in our marriage while we were still experiencing the growing pains of growing together as one, he would end a good fight by cracking a joke.  Humor got us through some tough times and it still does.  

Humor has been a lifesaver, not only in my marriage and family, but also in my teaching career.  I do have to say that even though humor is a staple in my classroom, I am drawing a blank as to retelling a specific story about a time in my career where humor played a part.  I hesitated in writing this post, and am therefore a day late, but all I can say is that I am utterly grateful for humor.  In my class, students know that they can relax, let their hair down and usually get a good laugh.  We don't laugh at each other, but we do laugh with each other often and lots of learning goes on as we get a good laugh. 

Some of those funny stories will eventually come to me and I'll write about them when the time comes, but for now I can tell you that laughter gets me through the bumps and makes my life worthwhile and I'm so grateful for it.

#BestYearEver

Sunday, November 9, 2014

More Than Just Good Things

When I first read today's prompt, I thought that this would be an easy one to write.  My students and I start every class period by acknowledging "good things".  We recognize little things or big things that make our life good.  On a challenging day, good things might just be acknowledging we are alive and we have hope for a better tomorrow.  However, starting the class with "good things" doesn't mean I am necessarily cultivating an attitude of gratitude.  Even though related, it's not the same thing.

So, starting immediately, we will not only recognize the good things that make our life grand, but we will be thankful.  We will not only be thankful for things but also for the people in our life and our blogging will also take on a thankfulness slant.  I will make it a point to express my gratitude and hopefully by my example, students will follow.

And this doesn't have to end with Thanksgiving.  An attitude of gratitude is good all year long.  
I'm thinking this could be the start of a really good thing and I'm so grateful for this opportunity.

#BestYearEver

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Moment To Remember

There are numerous memorable moments that fuel the fire to continue on my quest to empower young people on their journey of life.  Interestingly enough, they usually happen on days when I am at wits end, second guessing myself and wondering why in the world I do what I do. One of the most touching moments for me happened a couple of years ago.  It was the first day of the second semester for two of my Asian newcomers and there were some changes that needed to be made to their schedule.   Because their English was so limited, I knew I had to change my own schedule for the day so I could stick around and assist them with their second semester schedule changes and take them to their new classes.  Even though I don't speak their language, care and compassion don't need translation.  As I was dropping them off at class and saying good-bye for the day, one of them gave me a hug and mumbled something that sounded like "you saved my life."  I wasn't sure that I had understood her, so I ask her to repeat.  What she actually said was "You same my mom".  She was trying to tell me that I was like her mother.  Wow! I was floored and almost bawled.  While I always refer to my students as "my kids", I never expected to hear her say that I was like a mother to her. At that point, I was indeed second guessing my effectiveness as an ESL Teacher.  She and her brother were my first non-Hispanic newcomers and I was immensely challenged.  When I heard those words, I knew I was doing something right.

I still find teaching newcomers very challenging, especially in light of the rigor and depth of the secondary curriculum and the demands placed on these students by standardized tests which must be administered even in their first year.  But after that moment, I knew that I was exactly where I need to be.  I'm not only their teacher, but also their advocate, counselor and cheerleader as they walk the difficult journey of earning a high school diploma while learning a new language and adapting to a new culture.  I love what I do. It's truly an honor and a privilege.

#BestYearEver

To Know That You Know Nothing

Technology has come a long way since the early days of my teaching career when we only had PCs in a computer lab and the business education classrooms.  I entered the teaching profession as a Business Education teacher back in 1996 as schools were starting to bring the Internet into the classroom.  In fact, during my first year, we only had one computer with Internet and it was an old Mac with a dial-up connection. The following year, my old Macs were replaced with Windows 95 and a T1 line was installed, but it was limited and service was slow. Fast forward almost 20 years and I'm now an ESL teacher at a 1:1 district where every student and teacher is issued a Macbook Air. Internet is not only fast and reliable, but it is also expected as technology is seamlessly integrated into every aspect of teaching and learning.

Technology is awesome, as it creates unlimited opportunities for exploration, discovery and growth, but above all, to me it is inspiring.  The great philosopher Socrates said, "To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge."  While technology as we know it didn't exist back in his day, that same message rings true today as we attempt to keep up with all the latest tools and gadgets.  The more I immerse myself in technology, the more I discover that I have much more to learn.

While I have to admit that at times it is exhausting, it is certainly very inspiring. In terms of my classroom teaching, technology has taught me that it is not about finding all the answers, but it is about asking the right questions. That's precisely the message I convey to my students every day.  The possibilities are endless and the more we explore, the more we realize there's so much more to discover.  It's like going up in space and realizing we never reach the top.  I find that very inspiring.

#BestYearEver

Thursday, November 6, 2014

I Was Born To Make An Impact

I'm all about motivational quotes, so it was really hard to narrow this down to one.  In ESL class, motivational quotes are integrated into every unit.  Whenever possible, we read biographies and autobiographies about people who have overcome adversity and have come out ahead.  As we discuss the lives of those individuals, I take the opportunity to preach, if you will, and offer a message of hope and encouragement. I also select motivational quotes related to someone or something we are studying, I write it on the board and leave it on the announcements section of our learning program so that it stares at them as they are getting their homework assignments or uploading their work. I also use these quotes to launch them from my classroom.  ELLs need all this extra motivation, but then again so do I.

Of all the quotes and verses that I read and share in class the one that has inspired my students and me the most is this is one pictured here. Last spring, a friend of mine posted these words on Facebook and I knew I had to share them with my students.  But rather than leaving the quote up for a day or a week, I left it on there for months.  Not only was it on their screen, but we also recited the verse as they were launched from my classroom. We changed it a bit and replaced all the you's with I's.  I never heard anyone say they were impacting them, but I know they were. Recently, one of my former students asked if we still recited the quote and we don't....actually not yet.


As I'm writing this post, I realized that I need to bring this quote back and start that routine again, especially with my new students.  While some students rolled their eyes a bit, especially at first, I know it was not in vain.  


So I'm thankful for the opportunity to reflect on these words.  I hope they will bless those who read them as much as they inspire me, especially on difficult days.  We, indeed, have purpose, our story is important, our dreams counts, our voice matters because we were born to make an impact.    


#BestYearEver

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

WYSIWYG


What are my strengths? As I pondered on this question, I immediately thought of a post I wrote back in September where I listed my top three strengths: (1) outgoing personality and easygoing temperament, (2) honesty and transparency and (3) flexibility and adaptability.  I also need to add "relentlessly optimistic" to that list.  I am usually able to find some good even in the  worst of circumstances.

I'm thankful for all these traits as they have been tremendously beneficial to me socially and professionally, but I'm also thankful for my weaknesses. I'm as imperfect as they come and it's my imperfections that keep me grounded.  I'm also very honest and transparent about my imperfections and that openness creates a sense of safety and trust in my classroom.  Students are not afraid to goof up, to ask any question, to admit they are clueless when everyone.else is catching on.  My classroom is like a safe zone.  I'm not there to provide all the answers but to empower them to ask the right questions and point them to the tools that will enable to find those answers for themselves. Furthermore, they need to know that no one in this world, no matter how bright or how proficient in English, will know all the answers or have it all together.  They are reminded that it is okay to be imperfect because we are perfected by our flaws - and I practice what I preach.

So, whether you see me from afar or you see me up close, I'm the same.  No pretense or shame.  I will tell it like it is and the significant people in my life appreciate that WYSIWYG feature in me.  And for that I am grateful.

#BestYearEver

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Nicest Gifts

Webster defines a gift as something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.  There's no mention of gift wrapping or special occasion.  Most certainly not done out of obligation, but completely voluntarily.

As I thought of what I would write about today, my first thoughts were of all the nice Christmas gifts I've received over the years. From cheesy little teacher gifts to elegant well-thought out gifts to lovely ornaments to yummy homemade treats, my thoughts were all about the Christmas holiday and all the gifting that goes on in schools during that time of year.  However, as I reviewed Webster's definition I focused on the word "voluntarily" and my thoughts drifted away from the holiday.  See, no matter how fun and joyous the Christmas season is, there's an underlying sense of obligation during that time of year.  While I never feel obligated to give anyone a Christmas gift, the season itself compels us to engage in gifting.  It is voluntary, but then again it's not.

As my thoughts moved away from the Christmas holiday, I reflected on all those random, spontaneous and completely unsolicited gifts I have received over the years.  So what was the nicest gift that I've received from students, parents or colleagues?  Well, I have one in each category.  From students, the winner is a note from a student who was deathly afraid to make oral presentations and now is a confident and effective public speaker.  She wrote "Mrs. Gonzalez, you are amazing" because I helped her overcome her fear. Actually, it's the student that is amazing - I just helped her discover it.  From parents, it was a homemade Indian meal. Their willingness to share a part of their heritage with me was very touching and confirmed that all the cultural celebration I was doing in class was capturing their son's heart and mind.  Lastly, during my first week as a teacher, back in 1996, I was not only embarking on a new career, but I had just moved to a new state.  We temporarily moved into my in-laws' place before we moved into our permanent home. So, first week on the job, I was also moving and unpacking boxes.  On the first day, my principal introduced me to a number of teachers at lunch and announced that I just moved.  The next day one of the teachers showed up at school with a couple of bags of groceries and a complete meal for that evening.  At that point, I barely remembered meeting her and was floored by her kindness and generosity.  Needless to say, we were great friends from that day on.

It is moments like these that warm my heart and keep me going.

#BestYearEver

Monday, November 3, 2014

My Pride and Joy


During my early days of teaching I was not a mom and so back then when I spoke of my students I always called them "my kids".  I later became a parent, but nothing changed.  I still call my students "my kids".  Often times, I come home and tell my husband about my day and he can't tell whether I'm talking about our children at home or those in my classroom.  While my own children will naturally come first, the kids in my classroom are much more than a number on my roster.

When we use the words "pride and joy" we are referring to the children we parent, not the ones we teach.  However, in terms of my teaching career, my pride and joy are my students.  They are the focus of my profession and their successes bring me a great deal of pride and joy.  Furthermore, as an ESL teacher, their success outside of my classroom (social, academic and extracurricular) is what determines if what goes on in my classroom is truly effective.  When they earn high marks in core academic classes, when they can successfully give an oral presentation in front of their native English speaking peers, when they are able to obtain that sought after job, when they are honored with an award or even when they are gaining new friendships, they are making progress in English and they make me extremely proud.

So what am I most proud of to date in my teaching career?  While I am certainly proud of my accomplishments and growth as an educator, my greatest pride and the source of my joy comes from my students.  My career is not about me, not about my skills or abilities, not about my professional development. It is not about my performance as a teacher or how well I collaborate with my peers. My profession is about those young people who I'm honored to teach as they embark on their life journey.  While we work hard to achieve passing scores and quantifiable growth, there is so much more that goes on in our class and all of it makes me proud and brings me immeasurable joy.

In a nutshell, I'm proud of being a student-centered educator who teaches much more than English, but addresses the needs of the whole student.

#BestYearEver