Teacher – Student, Student- Teacher

This was originally posted on my private blog which is in a repository for ideas still processing. Some I cross-post after revisions, others I have not. Recently, I revisited some of these and wondered why I’ve kept them so protected. Perhaps it’s time to be more courageous and open myself to being more real. So, here goes – episode 1. 

So I recently gave my students the following options for a silhouettes thinkscause/effect writing assignment, all 17 of which are currently waiting in my inbox for feedback to enable draft 2…ugh. Nevertheless, it was a bit of a rough week as I’ve been trying to raise myself out of a type of mental and emotional quicksand and two of the three prompts seemed particularly apropos for me to attempt to write myself. I often catch myself wondering if I could do what I’m asking my students to do in my second language let alone in my first language. So, here’s a chance to attempt it in my first language, and hopefully do some of my own ‘processing’ along the way. I’ll choose prompt #3 for now. Bear with the “academic essay” tone.

1) What are some ways to improve your mood? In other words – what can you do to make yourself happy when you’re feeling sad or stressed out?

2) What effect(s) does technology, such as cell phones and TV, have on family relationships?

3) How do your values affect how you spend your money or time?  (This question has two parts – 1: What are your values, and 2: How can we see these values in your actions and spending habits?)

values quote

Roy Disney’s quote above serves as a great reminder for us to think about what we care about and where we want to go especially when we’re caught in the place of needing to make decisions. However, for someone having trouble delineating their values, it may be possible to uncover the truth of what you value by looking at how you spend your time and or money in daily living. Analyzing your time and money expenditures can be a valuable tool to help you understand what you care about and to recognize any disparities between what those things are and what you want them to be.

I have a hard time answering the question “what do you want for…(insert appropriate holiday here).”  This has become especially true the older I get. I’ve become so used to going out and getting what I want when I need it, that often I don’t have an answer to give. In the past few years however, my default answer has become “a gift card to REI” or “a Groupon for a new experience or new class like aerial dance or salsa lessons” and so on. As a Christmas gift to myself last year (only because I felt bad asking my family for it due to price) I bought a 1-year unlimited membership to a dance/martial arts workout studio that I’d been attending for the ten months prior. Even if I only make it to class twice a week, the experience more than pays for itself. I know that attending class gives me more energy, self-confidence, and endorphins to lift my mood. If I miss class for too long, I can tell that my quality of life suffers. 
Challenging the rock   Similarly, my sister and I have been taking turns buying punch cards to the local rock climbing gym near her house. Not only does it provide us with a chance to hang out and engage in a mutually enjoyable activity, but after two or three hours of solid climbing we both are left with the deep satisfaction that comes from accomplishing and surmounting an extreme physical challenge.  Looking back at these gift requests and monetary expenditures leads me to believe that one of my important values is either “healthy living” or “challenging my body.” To some degree, the two very well might be sides of the same coin. Furthermore,  the experience of watching my husband go from super-active Air Force Pilot to brain cancer victim who lost all physical capability was one of (if not THE) most painful experience in my life. Consequently, my subconscious brain has internalized the value of health and therefore seeks out any possible way to enjoy, preserve, and take advantage of the gift of health while I have it.

Street art Maria - mariposa y hummingbird

Bs As street art courtesy @mariacolussa

As a university level teacher, I am blessed with various breaks throughout the school year; additionally, my position allows for some paid personal time as well as an additional amount of professional development time.  A few years ago, I used said time off to visit South America twice! Likewise, in 2013, I used my long break between Fall and Winter Quarters to spend 3  1/2 weeks in Kenya, Africa. Clearly from these examples, I can determine that travel is an extremely important value in my life. However, travel seems more like an outward manifestation of some other value, or multiple values as opposed to the value itself. On this most recent trip which was part professional development, part new culture exploration, I found myself asking what it was that prompted me to spend so much time and money traveling – even in an extremely condensed time-frame. DSCN1453In my travels I’ve learned that at least part of what I enjoy the most is getting to see how people live in different contexts. I love a day when I can go to the market or walk through the streets shoulder to shoulder with myriad others, extranjeros or nativos, just being a part of humanity.  Similarly, I love seeing different visions of beauty. On my most recent trip, I discovered that street art is almost a national treasure, at least in the city of Buenos Aires. Therefore, I spent a good portion of my last day photographing various examples of BsAs street art. Finally, I love learning about different world perspectives, different views of history, different common understandings that make up culture. So perhaps a way of naming this value would be “building bridges” or “open-mindedness” or possibly “trans-border cosmopolitanism” although that last is a bit of a mouthful. 

To  be sure, I spend money on other things too. I don’t spend a lot of money buying stuff, but sometimes I will. For example, I spend money on taking classes or textbooks. I spend money on leisure books or e-books.  Reading, writing, encountering new perspectives, and engaging mentally/thinking critically are definitely values of mine. When I first moved, I spent time and money on my adorable little condo. I like to have a welcoming and cozy-simple home. True, I ought to share it more and wish I did, so I’m not the only one appreciating it, but I’m happy to entertain sporadically. Similarly, I often spend time and money going to lunch or meeting up with friends – time and money that I wouldn’t want back for anything! These areas of expenditure demonstrate that I value “always learning” and “making connections.”  Perhaps these values deserve even more time and attention. After all, without connection, and without broadening our outlook – what’s the meaning of living?

Ultimately, it is up to each of us individually to determine what  is worthy of our time and attention, let alone our financial resources. If something is important to you, if something brightens life and makes it more “colorful” as my students are fond of saying, then by all means, the expenditures are well deserved. However, if you’re finding that Rich - values image quote  most of your time and money is going to endeavors that weaken your spirit, hinder connection, or drag you down, then perhaps those would be expenditures to cut out. Either way, spending a few moments taking stock has the potential to free us to be the truest and most satisfied versions of our selves. It’s worth the sacrifice of time.


Corazón Atento

I Peter 3:15 Msg
(NVI – también)
Msg:  Through thick and thin, 15 keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, 16 and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick.
NVI:  15 Más bien, honren en su corazón a Cristo como Señor. Estén siempre preparados para responder a todo el que les pida razón de la esperanza que hay en ustedes. 16 Pero háganlo con gentileza y respeto, manteniendo la conciencia limpia, para que los que hablan mal de la buena conducta de ustedes en Cristo, se avergüencen de sus calumnias. 

“Los Politicos”

Corazón Atento 

All is tranquil and calm, expectant, but content. “Los politicos” are taking their ease at stations around the buttercream courtyard. A few are huddled together, curled in the shade of the king tree on cement pavers dislodged by roots harnessing the power of earthquakes. Others lazily clamber over the picnic table checking the remains of the food bowls while still others tumble together cuffing and nipping each other in play and practice.

“Ven politicos!” a voice rings out, strong and sure, gentle, but in charge. As with one mind, a river of cats arcs to follow, all other actions instantaneously left behind. The artist chuckles as he strides across the courtyard, “I call them politicos because they’re like a congress with marginally greater sense.”  He hasn’t brought food at this moment, but the stream converges nonetheless until he waves them back to their positions.

A cavernous room of stone, cool even in the early afternoon heat whose unframed openings set high in the walls permit the playful caribbean breezes to criss-cross through – teasing the occupants gently and preventing the air from growing stale, appears much better suited to its role as overseer of creation instead of guardian of punishment. Inside, the living detritus of sculpture, canvas, forms, and tools rests with haphazard intentionality against nearly every junction of floor and wall.  Two oblong work tables serve as twin foci for the room. creamsicle kitten 2One is tucked back into shadow at the moment. On the other, a creamsicle striped junior cat stands and arches her back as the artist approaches to give her a few pats while chatting with his apprentice. Even though the artist’s attention is clearly divided between the kitten and the other occupants of the space, the kitten is 100% focused, trying to twine ever closer to the gentle hands of rescue and preservation.

A small book and wooden rule clatter to the floor, interrupting the artist’s words. “Princesa,” directed at the cat, “I understand it was a mistake, but no más.” He admonishes as he retrieves the casualties of teenage feline adoration and then follows up the scold with a gentle pat or two knowing full well it won’t be the last moment requiring absolution.

The devotion of “los politicos” strikes me. Is that what it means to have an attentive heart? To remain occupied, but always alert; waiting, expecting, relying on the call of the master, the caretaker, the adored one?  Is that what it means to honor?  To love?

~Selah~Creamsicle kitten

Straighten up and fly right…


On lessons learned late…

Ever have one of those moments when you realize you were super slow on the uptake? I have had ever so many of them. It’s like I have all these awesome teachers and life lessons from mentors/leaders/friends/etc, and yet somehow the message never sinks in until I’ve royally screwed something up. This is a pattern I have. It’s been going on for years.  Of course, the first time I really became aware of it was a shock to me and came from my mother.

I was in Nav School, and I think I’d had my first (or only?) failed check ride. I don’t remember exactly, but I’m pretty sure it came during the radar phase of training, phase three. I was on the phone talking to my mom about it, hoping she’d cheer me up and instead, these words came out.

“You can’t just slide by in this like you did in college. You’ll fail. This is real life here.”

Wait, what? How could she say something like that? What was wrong with my college career? I’d been super on top of things my first two years. Perhaps even in over my head a bit what with crew, ROTC, band and choir, a work-study job, and an overload nearly every quarter. What did she mean slip by? I worked my tail off – staying up to finish projects till midnight then getting up at 4am and hitting the river for 3 hours, coming back, going to work, then class, then homework, right up until midnight the next night. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Of course, once I knew my ROTC place was secure, had received my scholarship and stipend, and then determined that I’d get an aircrew assignment after I graduated; I’ll admit, I did slack. Too mudiploma-pixabaych. I loved and respected my primary professors and thoroughly enjoyed the subject matter of my major and minor courses, and yet, they were easy for me. So, while I worked hard-ish on my few remaining core courses, I’ll admit, I took advantage of the ease of the Spanish and communications courses, and of my professors’ good faith based on my earlier performance in their courses. Still, my mother shouldn’t have known any of that, I’d never given her details.

My second “lesson learned late” moment came near the end of my Air Force career. I chose to separate honorably. I’d served my time, and opted out of an assignment that was just a bit too late in coming. Of course, my aha moment came a little bit before this, maybe 6 months to a year earlier.

I had somehow ended up on the fast track to a good Air Force career. I didn’t consciously intend to end up there, but I had taken my mother’s warning to heart and repackaged it as “straighten up and fly right.” So, as I had never been one to back down from a challenge that was handed to me, and  was a people pleaser who in some ways lived to serve, I did well in the military. However,  I was probably one who over-volunteered and had a pattern of doing so.

On the second day of field training (the officer’s version of basic), I found myself stepping up to take over the position of Flight Physical Training Officer when the cadet who was intended for it injured his back and had to withdraw from training. Our Officer in Charge (OIC) called us all together and told us what had happened and then asked for a volunteer to take over. As you may imagine, crickets. He asked again, and then again, and finally, I rolled my eyes and said I would do it. I was not cut out for it truly, and I think my OIC knew this, but when he asked if I could handle it, strong rower that I was, I said I could. I was fit, sure, but didn’t really know how to train others. He gave me the benefit of the doubt and the group PTO who happened to be assigned to our flight helped me out a lot. A week or two in though, another cadet emerged as far better prepared for the job and he took over while I moved on to something else.

Later, after arriving at my second permanent base after flight training, I was moved quite quickly from just being one of the squadron navigators to flight commander (CC) for 11 of the guys. I happened to be one of the more senior navs in the squadron, so while it volunteers-pixabaycaught me by surprise, it wasn’t all that unexpected. My mentor in this case gave me the bare minimums of a briefing on what was required – showed me how to use the computer software needed to manage the paperwork that went along with the position, imparted his impressions of my guys and then took off for another duty title. I lasted a few months and did fine from my superiors’ perspective, but when a position for a squadron executive officer opened up I asked for volunteers from my guys as instructed. When none appeared, I again stepped up to the plate martyr-like and took what I knew was a not-very-desirable-job from the flyer’s perspective.

Similarly, after the squadron drawdown due to BRAC was underway, my boss came to me and asked if I wanted to be the Wing Air Force Assistance Fundraiser Officer. I absolutely did not, but again, my eager to please and live-to-serve attitude kicked in and I accepted. It was just as tough as I’d imagined, but I managed to do well enough to later be offered a position at the group level doing a lot of the same things I’d been doing as a squadron exec. Again, I worked hard, but I got so caught up in the details that I was taken aback a year later when my boss came to me and said he was bringing up another airman from my squadron because he wanted to be able to mentor someone who intended to stay in.

That comment finally made it click. I’d been doing all the things a good follower should do, and somehow performed well enough in the leadership positions I was given to please those above me. But, the heart of the positions didn’t reveal itself to me until that conversation. As a leader, it wasn’t really my job to be volunteering for all the “un-wanted” jobs. Instead, I should have been getting to know my own people and grooming them for or sometimes pushing them into positions that while not necessarily flyer-desirable would be good for their growth, fit them, and benefit their career. Leadership isn’t just about being able to “straighten up and fly right,” it’s about taking time to mentor, to learn about, and then to encourage in the right direction.  I’d learned all about leadership during ROTC in college and field training, yet somehow, I didn’t truly comprehend those lessons until it was almost after the fact.20160709_120136

More recently, I recognized a missed lesson when I started a creative writing course after grad school. I was a media communications major in college with a focus on video production. As mentioned, I thoroughly enjoyed the material we covered in classes. It was very practical, hands-on, and fun. I especially loved being behind the camera – framing, calling shots live, and editing after the fact. My final project for video production was to make a short film. The idea (I now realize) was to apply everything we’d learned over our four years from story-boarding to screen-writing to selecting actors, directing production, filming, and then finally editing in post-process.

I decided to do a music video to one of my favorite songs, Be Still by the Newsboys. I took a video camera with me on a trip to our family farm in Nebraska and filmed some scenes of my sister and cousin in the snow. I think I forgot the story-board part, or did it after the fact. At any rate, I got hung up mostly on the post-production and editing part. This was in the earlier days of AVID’s video editing, long before iMovie and Movie Maker had become ubiquitous. I was, true-to-form, working late the night before it was due – so late that Campus Safety kicked me out of the editing lab and sent me home. I thought I’d recorded my tightly edited work well, but didn’t have time to check it. I submitted it the next day, and was chagrined to get the feedback from my prof that it was a blank tape. I’d saved my work on the hard drive of the computer as well, but the day it was due, the football team came in and deleted everything, so they’d have space to edit their end-of-season video. My prof gave me grace, I’d always done pretty good work for him in the past, and assigned me a passing grade, which looking back I may not have fully deserved despite the hours of work.

dsc_8445My first creative writing conference in 2014 taught me that my problem then as now has always been plot. I’m good, or at least decent, at capturing scenes or moments, in writing as well as in film. Blending those moments into something more coherent that demonstrates character growth and entrances the reader or viewer however?  Well, that’s not my strong suit. Sure, I can have a vague idea of where I want my characters to get to in the end – sometimes, but getting them there…um, not so much. It’s not my professors’ fault, this lack of mine. My media prof did everything right. I remember my notes, impressions, and respect for him and his work. And, while I was enrolled in his courses I’m sure that I was really trying to apply those principles. I think though that here too, I got bogged down in the details and lost the big picture.

I just sent an extremely rough and incomplete first draft to a dear writing friend of mine and as I clicked send, I realized that even though I’ve now “learned” this lesson about plot, it’s extremely hard to put into practice. Although I don’t think I’ve screwed up beyond repair yet, I’ll admit it is disheartening. But, contrary to the lessons learned post-college and post-AF; I’m not post-leading, post-learning, post-writing. I’m just beginning these really. So, it’s time to “straighten up and fly right” once again and keep working to really implement these going forward. Thanks to all the teachers, mentors, and friends – writing and otherwise, who keep imparting lessons as we walk through life. As my wise mother often says, “please (continue to) be patient with me, God isn’t finished with me yet.”




Contentment is an elderly lady, grandmotherly type – but old school.

Her favorite place to sit is on her front or back porch in late Spring, early Summer, or anytime in the Fall. Her long chambray skirt stops just above the ankles, she wears a yellow cotton work shirt softened with age and use. Her apron hangs on the hook by the stove, exchanged for a prayer shawl knitted of pastel multi-hued-yarn. Kitteny soft peaches, pinks and lavenders predominate. Its weight around her shoulders enfolds her in the arms of family and faith – even when alone.

alternate Aprons pic

Aprons’ Rest

She rocks gently outside, sometimes occupying her hands with quilting or mending. Occasionally, she picks up embroidery although her fading eyesight makes detail work more challenging these days. In the summer, she wanders among her flowers. Clipping here, cutting back there, weeding from her perch on a little wooden milking stool. She often hums to herself: old spirituals, tried and true hymns, even snappier jazz favorites from her younger years make their way into the mix. Sometimes, she just listens to the radio or the heavenly strains drifting down from the church choir practicing up the street.

She loves it when the children come to visit; her bloodline always brings joy, but neighborhood descendants as well, the newer ones too – young families full of hope or fear, sometimes both. They represent such hope and promise. A smile kisses her face as she watches them playing in the field, the park, or the postage-stamp front yards.

In social circles, she’s quiet more often than not; listening, nodding, smiling or tsk-tsking as the occasion warrants. She rarely complains of the aches and ailments of growing old – not as the other ladies do. But, she’s happy to listen and agree or sometimes share advice and send one off with a home-baked remedy always at least 75% love.

She’s lonely at times to be truthful. Hurting at times too. Somehow, it doesn’t seem worthy of mention. Truisms are always true whether voiced or not. Having a voice and being heard doesn’t seem as important as it once was. She’s lived and done most everything she ever imagined. Some endeavors were great successes, others spectacularly less so. She’s learned something from all of them. And the stories they’ve given her to share are absolute jewels for the special people who ever really take the time to listen.

Wrapped in faith

Wrapped in faith

Yes, life is life. Mostly it’s been good to her, even in its troubles. But troubles are just a part – requiring only that you make it through them. Having companions along the way always makes the struggle easier. Nowadays, she wonders how people do it. So busy. So tech-y. How do they ever really connect? Without that reality of face-to-face, side-by-side living, she wonders how people know whom to turn to when things are less than ideal. Although her circle has often been on the smaller side, there’s usually at least one to pat a hand, dry tears, and sing or pray together. She hopes her offspring won’t lose that. Not completely.

As the sun dips behind the mountains, she slows her rocker, sighs and pushes herself to her feet. Inside, she brews a cup of tea, turns on a lamp, and sits down to read an Agatha Christie novel since it isn’t quite late enough for bed.

It’s simple, her life, but it’s cozy too. Like the old patchwork quilt covering her knees in the armchair. Each block tells a story, each stitch shows a labor of love and friendship. The whole creates a mosaic – homespun, but true.




Digital Learning? Digital Promise? Digital ELC?

Informal Learning by Shareski – Creative Commons

I was recently doing some catching up on reading about Education in the News, sparked by the BBC story about Global Education’s WISE laurete  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15546976 , and then added to based on  TESOL bulletin info and so on. While reading, I came across a series of articles about digital learning and digital education.  As this has been a rather difficult quarter with many “battles” often focusing on disrespectful use of mobile devices and computers in the classroom, it’s a topic that has been on my mind for awhile lately.

In my Master’s program from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, I spent a lot of time working with and learning about Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and educational technology and ways to use technology effectively in the classroom.  I am still very interested in the digital world and how to make use of it. I would not consider myself and early adapter (most technology is too expensive for me to jump right on) but I like to have some idea  about what is out there and what is available. I also believe that many of the digital tools such as mobile devices and online dictionaries can be very helpful for students.  However, the program that I teach with now has a somewhat convoluted relationship with technology in the classroom. In previous quarters we did not have much access to technology, now we have more. Additionally, many of my colleagues have been burned by students cheating while using technology. Because of this, it’s a continually changing relationship. Continue reading

Critical Thinking 101?

So I was trying to grade my students’ reading exams today. An exam, btw, that my colleague and I came up with together. As I started looking at the first person’s exam, I realized that I wasn’t entirely sure that I could even answer all the questions so I went back and took the test myself.

One of the questions we asked was, “create 2 critical thinking questions using either when, why, or how.”  – A task that we’ve done some in class.  Anyway, it occurred to me as I was taking the test, that I’m not totally sure I know what “critical thinking” questions are.  It’s a term we throw around in education circles quite freely. And it comes up often in skill team meetings and I nod along with everyone else and agree that “oh yes, our students need to work on critical thinking” but, what does that mean exactly?

So, I googled it. Here’s at least one resource that came up that might lead to others, I’ll try to add more in a bit, but here’s some food for thought to start with. …


Here’s another, more in brief:

Back in a bit, after I finish grading a few more tests.

Teaching? Testing?

So, I’m not totally clear what this post will turn in to. I just finished reading the Washington Post’s The Answer Sheet post from a day or two ago. The topic was standardized testing and civil disobedience. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/guest-bloggers/a-father-agonizes-should-his-s.html?wprss=answer-sheet
I’m not quite sure what got me interested in this blog anyway, but it’s mostly about educational policy and so on. Lately it seems like there’s been a lot of chatter (or backlash) against the school system and teachers in America. I admit, I haven’t been paying close enough attention so I won’t comment much on all of that.

However, one of my colleagues and I have been talking some about testing procedures. Assessment was one of the best classes I took in my MATESOL program and I left the class firmly believing in alternative assessments, authentic assessments, and most of all: purposeful assessment. And yet, I seem to be finding myself falling back into the more typical types of tests. Maybe it’s because I’m still a novice teacher. Maybe it’s the nature of the program in that we teach people to prepare them for university studies. Or maybe it’s because I’m trying to work with colleagues and trying to meet the learning objectives set forth by the administration. We’re encouraged (maybe required?) to make our tests “Communicative” in nature – so no multiple guess etc. That’s fine, but in some ways it still seems like we are testing artificially. I don’t know, maybe I’m just not completely understanding it.

I mean, how do you test reading comprehension anyway? To me, you read to learn to read. Vocab development helps and word parts help w/figuring out new words, but are reading comprehension questions and main idea questions, etc. really the best way to assess this? I guess I’m just not sure. Everything seemed so clear cut and easy and made so much sense in the assessment class. Now, … I guess we’ll see how the first set of finals goes.

Still have a lot to learn I fear.