280 days. 9 months and 5 days. 200 weekdays and 80 weekend days.
6,720 hours. 403,200 minutes.
Where has the time gone? Sitting down to reflect upon the previous part of my life feels like an impossible task, but I must. Life goes on and memories are made.
Where do I begin? One chapter of my life came to an end and another has started. Doors have opened and closed.
Time has passed.
Malaysia was an incredible learning opportunity for me. I was able to turn inward and examine my own life in great detail. I contemplated my wants and needs professionally and personally. The relationships I forged with friends and colleagues have only grown stronger alongside our distance apart. My perspective of what it means to survive and thrive has changed.
The day before I left for Malaysia I looked in the mirror and prayed that, when it was all said and done, I would know a little more about the person starting back at me. Wiping the steam from the mirror the morning of my flight back to the United States, I felt that I was finally starting to recognize the man in the mirror.
1 – Tucking the Memories Away
Parting with my students in Kelantan was difficult. I did not expect my emotions to get the best of me. I had promised myself that I would put on a strong face, as time for showing emotion is not accounted in the choreographed dance that was my goodbye celebration. But sitting in the hostel canteen listening to my students choke back tears as they spoke about our shared experiences, I lost myself in the moment. Our last moment was like all of the others, completely off script.
Back in Kuala Lumpur I received a wave of messages from former students wishing me well and begging for me to return. As hard as it was to say goodbye, I knew that our time together was finite. I also hoped that my impact on my students would outlast their desire to contact me. As tough as that thought is to deal with, it is reality. My job as an educator is to inspire as long as possible. One of the first mental hurdles to clear is to remind myself that, if I do it right, my impact can stretch beyond the day-to-day learning experiences.
While I knew that some would reach out longer than others, I hoped that, as more time passed, they would tuck our memories together into a safe space in their heart and carry on with their lives.
2 – Lima Love
After a brief stint back in the United States for the Christmas holiday, I packed my life into my suitcases and headed down south. As I mentioned in a previous post, I accepted a teaching position at Newton College in Lima, Peru. I wrote back in December,
“As an IB school, Newton College takes a holistic approach to teaching and learning. Not only are students’ challenged cognitively, they are also offered opportunities to grow physically, socially and emotionally. All four of these components work harmoniously in order to prepare students for success in and out of the classroom. If there is one thing my previous teaching experiences have taught me, it is that the purposeful education is meant to prepare every student for life outside of the classroom. More than the facts and formulas, teaching and learning is about life skills and the ability to constructively fail.
My own philosophy of teaching strongly correlated with Newton’s, making my decision to accept a teaching position there an easy one. Despite the fact that I pride myself on being able to articulate my emotions on paper, I struggle to accurately describe my level of excitement for this coming school year. SMK Badak was an incredible challenge and, in some ways, it will always be my toughest yet most rewarding year of teaching. Many of the raw emotions I am experiencing in anticipation of my year at Newton College are similar to the ones I felt one year ago. Part of the nature of international teaching is that there are a lot of unknowns. Unfamiliarity with the host country, the language, the food, the climate, the school environment and the student body will all remain a mystery until I am settled in Lima. This is simultaneously captivating and terrifying.
However, just as my year in Malaysia was a rollercoaster of emotion, so too will the coming year at Newton College. In fact, this will be the case regardless of where I teach for the rest of my career. The teaching profession does not rest in a flatline position. It ebbs and flows like the sea. And just like the sea, some days the waves are overpowering while other days the waters are calm. The two most important factors to “weathering the storms” of teaching is having a strong personal foundation and an even strong support network. I had both in Malaysia and, as a result, I was able to flourish. I know I will have the same at Newton College.”
When you’re an eternal optimist, you can really hit the nail on the head with your predictions of the future.
Before Newton, I was never truly satisfied with myself professionally. I knew I could do better – make more connections to my students’ lives, link concepts across content areas, use my crazy ideas to influence daily instruction, etc. Newton has provided me with the platform to authentically insert myself as an educator into the school culture.
Over the course of the past nine months, I have discovered that there are learning environments that welcome educators who cherish the idea of lifelong learning. Newton challenges me to push my creativity to new heights – how can I challenge my learners’ ideas of what learning feels like? My learners challenge me to simplify content down to the necessary core information – what fluff can I strip away to ensure that the learning engagement’s message is clearly delivered to all? My grade-level team challenges me to collaborate and build upon their ideas and plans – how can we change what worked well in the past to cater to our current realities?
Life at Newton has not been easy. I work six or seven days a week – preparing lines of questioning (then immediately rephrasing them to account for the fact that my learners are English language learners and are therefore navigating instruction in English and Spanish on a daily basis), providing detailed feedback of completed work, revising weekly planners and searching for new resources to connect with our unit. The desire to work is omnipresent – tasks weigh me down like an unbearable weight. But as time has passed, I have learned how to better manage my time, allowing myself the necessary breaks to recharge my cognitive and emotional batteries.
However, when it is time to work, the task has never been so much fun.
3 – The Reason I Came
When I accepted my teaching position at Newton, there was one fact that I could not dismiss from my mind – I was finally going to have my own class of learners. After waiting for close to 2 years, the time had come. I was ecstatic to get to meet my class. Little did I know just how special this group would become.
Daily classes are structured differently at Newton than other schools. Because we are a bilingual school, students receive instruction everyday in English and Spanish. As an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IB PYP) school, we teach six 6-week units of inquiry focused on a central idea. Throughout each unit, my learners investigate a different broad theme centered on a universal idea. For example, our first unit was entitled Who We Are and focused on the idea of citizenship. During my English instructional time, my classes and I focused on what it means to be a citizen in today’s world. We analyzed the IB Learner Profile, a set of 10 principles that all IB learners should embody, and determined the ways in which excellent citizens demonstrate these traits through their action or inaction.
As a result of our approach to teaching and learning, I work with 49 learners on a daily basis. I teach English, Maths and Units of Inquiry to 25 learners. I teach the remaining 24 only English and Units of Inquiry.
One of the main reasons that I chose to pursue life as an educator is to bear witness to the wonders of learning. I wanted to chase those fabled “lightbulb moments.” The beauty of working with emergent bilinguals is that these moments occur more frequently. Whenever I reflect on my previous week, I can usually tease out three or four magical moments.
This year I have watched as one of my learners transformed himself from a timid boy ashamed of speaking English to a confident risk taker. He now finds ways to contribute to our daily conversations.
I have watched my learners break socially-constructed barriers and produce a drama about the negative impacts of Peru’s illegal oil refining in the Amazon Rainforest.
I have read pieces of writing from a young girl with explicit links to our previous learning experiences. Her ability to reflect upon her learning and critically analyze herself as a human being are inspirational and often force me to stop, hold her work in my hands and smile.
I have guided another of my learner’s through a total behavioral transformation, refusing to let him settle for anything less than his best, and watched as he has risen to the challenge.
Working with my kids this year has provided me with countless “lightbulb moments.” My life has been illuminated by their collective presence in my life.
When I talk to others about my job, I often use the phrase “mis niños.” This comes as a surprise to many, as this use of the possessive “mis” implies that they are, in fact, my own biological children. My response to this question is that their confusion is merely due to the fact that they themselves are not educators. When you truly dedicate yourself to your classroom community. you become just that, a community. You rise and fall as one group. You breath in the same air and feel the same pulse of the moment coursing through your veins. When this happens, there is no other possible explanation.