Plan A is Plan A

In a one-on-one session with a student today, these literal words came out of my mouth: “Bear with me with biology; it’s been 20 years since I’ve had this class.” (For the record, I teach ESOL but a student came to me for language help with her bio class.)

I became a teacher long before now. Professionally, I’ve been at it for about 15 years. But before that I taught piano lessons at my local music shop. Before that, I was giving my sisters lessons using a chalkboard mounted on the wall behind the Laz-E-Boy in the living room.

I thought teaching was a great aspiration, but for me it was always a placeholder until I could do the thing I really wanted to do: take care of my own children.

When I learned that having my own children probably wasn’t in the cards for me (for many reasons.. check out those posts here, here, and here), I had a major identity crisis. Yes, I was a teacher still, but in my heart of hearts I was also a mother. I was a wife and a mother before anything else. Besides “teacher,” it was probably the first identity that emerged when I was a little girl. I’ve always been very maternal, be it with dolls, stuffed animals, my sisters, the younger siblings of my friends. I always knew I would be very suited for a long-term relationship ax someone’s wife. And even then, becoming a wife was an avenue for becoming a mother. (Yes, I’m very traditional about some things. But only for myself. You do you.)

It’s taken now many years and dozens of therapy sessions, plus a whole lot of mental bandwidth, to disengage from my identity as a mother. During that identity crisis, I was still serving as a teacher but refused to accept that it was now (or still?) my life’s work. Another one for the record: I do believe in callings, in God’s will. As such, teaching has always been my life’s work.

It hasn’t been until this school year that I’ve finally felt liberated from my dormant and unfulfilled “mother” identity. It could be that I’m more comfortable in my own skin. Or that I’m back teaching in a high school as I spent four years in elementary, which has a role of its own in my healing from the hurt of infertility. I spent a lot of time and energy exploring other potential life paths in the past few years.

I started my professional career in high school, first in student teaching at a school in a very small town in the middle of cornfields, and then in my very own (windowless) classroom of wide-eyed Spanish students in a school surrounded by cornfields. I even started my (amateur) teaching career while I was a high school student. So many positive formative experiences happened to me while I was that age.

There’s a type of magic for me of being in a high school building. There’s not only nostalgia, but a feeling of “home,” and if you lead me to the band room, that feeling is only amplified.

School in post-COVID-closure 2020 may look very strange to my 14-year-old self who once sat in freshman biology class thinking about what 34-year-old Elizabeth would be like, or do with her life. But there’s something about imparting knowledge on others, about creating a classroom community, about leaning into the hard days and frustrations that makes me feel like I belong.

I don’t communicate these words lightly. In the five weeks since school has been back in session I have considered quitting my job at least five times. I could write many many posts about the difficulties of teaching these days, and a treatise on the inequities and bureaucratic bloat of the American public education system.

But late last week I had a realization. Me di cuenta… I realized that now is a good time to lean in. To embrace my chosen profession. To receive my new students, whom I have known for all of a month. To welcome new families, immigrants or not. To keep creating lessons that are fun to teach and hopefully to learn. To call on my creative brain to step up. To take advantage of the wealth of pedagogical knowledge I’ve amassed in the 13 years since I was a teacher candidate.

In our society that says that having a plan will make you successful, “they” are awfully silent about the plans that emerge from the shadows, or a child’s dreams that want to be Plan A when they grow up. I have come full circle, where my Plan A is still my Plan A.

Snap out of it

The world is at a fever pitch right now. Everything is heightened, stressed, tenuous, uncertain. Almost anything could be the straw that broke the camel’s back, as it were. Everyday I resist the urge to actively look for said straw. It’s tempting to fall into a feeling of hopelessness and live just for today.

I’ve had thoughts of “I can’t believe this is the world I’m living in” or “I don’t want to live in this particular world anymore.” Let me be clear: this is a thought of escapism that all humans are prone to, not one of suicidal ideation.

This thought usually comes to me at the strangest times while participating in the most mundane tasks: driving home from an uneventful grocery store trip. Sitting outside on the patio. During seriously normal things that I would be doing in any world at any time.

There are days that feel totally normal; at my school we’ve been back in the building for a week now. A week ago I was pretty nervous and unsure about it, and really having a moment saying goodbye to my home office and my furry work assistant (for now). As a person who is very easily distracted and needs a good solid block of quiet time to get good deep work done (Have you read Deep Work by Cal Newport?), I’ve curated a really cozy, quiet space at home.

It’s quite a change from when I began working from home in mid-March. I hated mixing work and home life. As soon as I walked in the door, the teacher persona came off and the regular Elizabeth returned, along with comfy clothes. But then I was Teacher and Regular Human Being in the same space. But as the time went on, it got easier and as it turns out, for me it was all a state of mind.

Being back in the building was actually nice. I was able to be in my classroom, making it quiet and cozy just like my office at home. I was able to interact with my students virtually and even get some really good deep work done.

Stepping out of my classroom after a long but good week of work, I looked at the blue sky and changing trees and realized that we have a little less than three full months left in 2020. There is a presidential election looming. Who knows what else could happen.

However, there was a salient moment when it all came together for me, and I return to this moment in my memory often. Usually I’m jolted awake by my alarm, but there was a day (probably a weekend morning) where I slowly woke up, first my mind woke up, then my eyes opened, and I found myself on one side of a very cozy Missy sandwich. She and Aaron were still fast asleep, and I just lay there, letting myself wake up, and realizing that this is what it’s all about – we’re healthy, safe, have curated a pretty nice life, actually, and we’re grateful for it.

A Little Bit (of) Sad

Today during a lesson with a newcomer student, she and I were chatting in Spanish and she said that I seemed a little sad to her. I told her, I was a little tired actually. And in her sweet Honduran Spanish, looking down at the letters she was tracing with her adorable dark pigtail braids, she told me that in her heart and mind she knows I’m a little sad.

She’s right.

In addition to being a little sad, I’m also so touched by the perception of a seven year old child who for all intents and purposes acts like a drunk adult, hiding under the table, jumping out from behind the door, skipping in the hallway. But still she (and I’m convinced all children everywhere) has an innate and intrinsic knowing about humans. They see straight to the truth.

How presumptuous we adults are, thinking that kids aren’t listening, or that they’re too young to understand. But their amusing and sometimes downright frustrating behavior belies the knowing in their hearts.

I have no idea the trauma or struggles this student of mine has gone through to now be here, on the East Coast of the United States, immersed in a language and culture she hasn’t fully grasped yet. But she knows what sad or hurt people look like. And she calls it out.

I think I’ll always carry this little bit of sad with me. I think everyone has a little bit of sad they carry with them as well. Some are just better at hiding it than others, stuffing it deep into lined pockets. Concealing it in between the couch cushions.

But unlike adults having to dig to find the little bit of sad, children can see exactly where it is and hold it gingerly for us to look at and ponder.

How interesting and providential that the absence of children broke me and now their presence has been aiding in my healing.

An unfortunate rite of passage with an okay ending.

Infertility has been an unfortunate rite of passage. It’s something I didn’t know I’d have to go through, unlike other rites of passage, and until I did, there’s a lot I didn’t know or realize about life in general. Funny how specific life circumstances can teach us so much about just… life.

Fertility or the lack thereof is the grown-up version of ‘haves and have nots’. And just like when a boy teased me in fifth grade about having ‘Walmart brand’ shoes, it’s obvious now that I don’t have the latest and greatest, if that’s what our (excessively) child-reverent culture considers as the latest and greatest these days.

Life has taken an unexpected turn. I a year ago I signed a contract for a new job that involves me working at an elementary school. With kids. Young kids. Kids who could be my kids age-wise. I was originally hired as a middle school Spanish teacher, but an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) position opened up and so I was asked to move to that role. Of course I jumped on it since ESOL is my jam. My thing. The catch? I’d be working with grades K through 5.

The peace I have as I walked through my building, and even as I passed pregnant staff in all stages, can only come from God as I’ve walked through the grief and healing process. A year ago, even six months ago, I don’t know if I could go to work and come home still in a great mood, not even thinking about how I’d be sending my kids off to school, too, at some point.

I’m thankful. I’m fortunate. There are other people I’ve known of who have to quit their teaching jobs because it’s just too heartwrenching to be around children. But teaching is my heart. I’ve been doing it since I was 14, before I even knew I wanted to be a teacher, before deciding on a college major, before meeting who I thought would be the father of my kids. Before infertility. Teaching has been a constant, and I treasure the teacher-student relationship.

I had a fantastic year. I grew to love all 20 of the students on my caseload, and many many others from my students’ classrooms. I bid them goodbye on Tuesday afternoon, their little arms and hands hanging out of the bus windows, waving. “I love you! Have a good summer! Make good choices!” were my phrases of choice.

And teaching for me still comes back around to an old cliche, well known among those of us who ‘don’t go into teaching for the money’ that ‘if I impact just one life, it was all worth it.’ And that, my friends, is the truth, and you don’t have to be a parent to accomplish that.

March 9 | Forgiveness

Forgiveness

I think when you have an attitude of servanthood to humankind, it’s easier to forgive. You see that holding grudges or anger against someone really doesn’t serve others. It doesn’t serve yourself, either.

Several years ago when I became a professional teacher, I also adopted the attitude that my number one responsibility is to serve my students, in whatever way that means. It could be picking up books that they drop, or lending them a pencil, or trying to get to the bottom of their multiple absences or tardies.

It’s easy to give that student a zero for bringing you a late assignment even though the syllabus says no late work is accepted. It’s easy to dole out a zero for a clearly plagiarized paper. It takes time to talk to a student after class, or have a meeting with him or her about the offending paper.

I had a student who was very nervous when I brought him in my office about his plagiarized paper. He knew my policy on plagiarism, but like many international students, they don’t fully understand the consequences of plagiarizing.

It turns out that this student asked his roommate to help him write the paper. He was embarrassed he couldn’t write at the same level as the other students. He didn’t want to turn in what he called ‘bad writing’.

We got to the bottom of it, and I allowed him extra time to work on the paper if he agreed to get tutoring from me and other writing tutors.

In the end, he failed the class despite his most earnest efforts. But I have no regrets about my actions towards him. He needed help, more help than I could give him in a whole-class environment in one semester. But he participated more fully in class, and even attempted freewriting exercises with more motivation than the other students.

I do not condone plagiarism, and my students will tell you that I am strict about my policies. But I err on the side of forgiveness and understanding when it comes to academic offenses. And I hope I can better extend this to my every day life.

 

 

Pacific Northwest Buzz

I’ve been in Portland for a little longer than 24 hours and I am in love. Is it really any surprise? I basically love any new city or place within minutes of being there, whether it’s El Paso, Texas or Madrid, España. I’m quite impulsive like that. 😉 I’d never been to the PNW before, and coming from the desert, the intermittent rain and high humidity were a welcome change, as well as the hilarious conversations with my sister Emily, who has wanted to move out here for years now.

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Chinese Garden

I arrived at PDX yesterday and then took the train to a stop just a block away from my hotel. I was exhausted; I’d only had about four hours of sleep the night before and I can never sleep on planes. Especially not when I feel motion sick. So I was tempted to crash in my room. However, knowing that I had less than 48 hours in this city, I decided to explore.

I was more than excited to explore this city on my own, and to get a break from normal, everyday husbandless life (Aaron spent a couple weeks with me in El Paso and then went to visit family for a couple weeks). I got settled in my room and then went out with Google Maps in hand.

After hitting up a coffee shop, Powell’s Books, and the most beautiful Target EVAR, I had the most perfect opportunity to go for a run along and over the Willamette River at sunset.

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Stumptown Coffee Roasters, only one of the places I had a “real coffee”

As seen on my run on the Willamette River
As seen on my run over the Steel Bridge, which spans the Willamette River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready to present!
Ready to present!

 

 

This morning I presented my research at the TESOL Master Student Forum, the whole reason I came here. It went well, and I had a great time getting to know the other presenters in my room. It’s crazy to me that I was able to shrink my nearly year-long thesis project into fifteen minutes of PowerPoint.

 

 

 

 

Maybe it’s the real coffee (here, Starbucks is “not real coffee”), the fresh air, the rain, or all three, but I am on a high… manic even. I feel filled with confidence and direction in life, as this conference and environment have confirmed to me that my life’s work is in linguistics/ESL teaching and research, and that I am PhD material. I feel so blessed to have found this passion so young, and to have had so many wonderful opportunities to pursue it. Go get your dreams, guys, overcome the fear. The reward is sweet.

Now that this presentation is presented and my thesis draft is written, the rest of the semester is going to be all downhill. I defend my thesis in about a month, and graduation is in less than two months. What’s next? I honestly don’t know, but I’m ready for the next phase.

P.S. I’ve been bingeing on Portlandia and I know the show is legit because I heard the theme song IN PORTLAND. Whoa.

This place is the inspiration from the Women and Women First bookstore in the show.
This place is the inspiration from the Women and Women First bookstore in the show.

Conversation with my sister
Conversation with my sister

Busy.

We are in the fifth week of the semester already. This week has been crazy! It’s not that things I do are particularly challenging; it’s that every couple hours I’m starting something different. I practically live in Liberal Arts building. But I love this program. This week I taught a class in preparation to teach it as an instructor in the fall (in Texas you have to have 18 hours to teach college level). It was great. I love that I know what I’m good at, and I love that what I’m good at is also something I enjoy. I just hope I’m not shooting myself in the foot when I graduate and going back out into a sucky teaching field. Also, who knows where we’ll be stationed in a year and a half.

Lent is underway, and one thing I was thinking of giving up was social media; however, I don’t think that’s necessary! I’m not on nearly as much as I was, and it’s been a welcome change. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to be “all in”… and I am, out of both desire and necessity.

Spring break commences in only three short weeks, and my sister Emily is coming to visit! I’m so excited to give her a little tour of the Southwest. A few places we will visit are Mesilla, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and of course different places in El Paso. Hopefully the weather will be good and not too windy. You know what they say around here, Febrero loco y marzo otro poco. Let’s hope the wind is poco.

I’ve been sick this week too, but I motivated mentally to run more, so I hope it will translate to the physical realm! My next post should be introducing to my new nephew, who is delaying his arrival into the world (my sister Leah was due three days ago!). Little stinker. 😉

A whirlwind week

Yay, it’s Friday! Although I’ve been going since 7ish this morning, it’s been a good day. In fact, all the days this week were good despite getting home late Tuesday (I have a night class) and Aaron’s crazy work schedule. One night he even had to go back in to work. Blech.

I’m loving my classes and my job. Because of this assistantship I’m super busy, but I. Am. Loving. It. I haven’t been so happy with my life since I taught Spanish at Midland. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but later after I’d quit I missed it so much! Thankfully I’ve been able to tutor several students this week from all over the world and teach a couple conversation classes. In my two weeks I’ve already met people from Turkey, Ukraine, Mexico (of course), and Palestine.

The coursework is challenging but not impossible. The finer points of linguistics like semantics and phonology are actually very similar to math in some aspects, and I love math. I love having a problem to figure out. Unlike my undergrad, I’m not constantly obsessed with every single assignment and the grade. Carrying a 4.0 over the next two years is my goal (duh!) but actually learning and discovering new things about linguistics are my priorities.

I can really see myself teaching ESOL classes in the future, whether it’s at a college here in the US or in a school overseas somewhere. Teaching just makes me so happy. Like swooning over lesson plans and rosters happy. Kind of. UTEP seems to have an amazing ESOL program and I will take advantage of every second to gain more experience. Living on the border definitely has its advantages!

Soon I’ll be starting on a research project with one of the languages/linguistics professors. I’m excited to get research experience. I have an option to do either a thesis or an extended paper (the latter requires more coursework) at the end of my program. I know a thesis involves a LOT of individual research, so if I do that I’ll need experience. Then there’s the ever-present question… to PhD or not to PhD?

Honestly, I can’t answer that for sure right now. I mean, it’d be pretty sweet to be Dr. W., but how does that fit in with moving, husband getting out of the Army (or staying in???), and starting a family? And not to mention the expense, unless I’m lucky enough to get an associateship or scholarship or whatever they call them up there in the rafters of higher ed. Anyway. We can cross that bridge later.

When I’m working towards a goal, my mind becomes a single track and sometimes it’s hard for me to see (or care) about other things that are going on. However, so far I’ve been able to balance life at home and life on campus. Because this type of busyness isn’t usually emotionally draining or downright frustrating, I still have energy to work out (occasionally) and keep the house clean. My husband would tell you that I’m much more fun to live with that when I was working at, say, Sylvan. I’ve just felt so blessed and thankful and joyful.

A challenge for every day of the week

I have to say… I quite content right now as a stay-at-home wife/nanny/tutor/seamstress/entrepreneur????/short-term missionary/volunteer “Sunday school” teacher/dog trainer… I think some of the best jobs are ones whose titles you really can’t pinpoint to a couple words.

Even with Husband Man being gone for almost three weeks (he comes home in two days, wheeeee!!) I’ve managed to keep myself quite busy. I’ve been working out 4+ days a week, hanging out with friends, sewing like a mofo, grocery shopping, cleaning….

The other day in my whirlwind of such exciting domestic activities, I got a call from a private school organization here in El Paso asking if I were interested in a part-time Spanish teaching position through the end of the school year, with a  possibility of full-time employment next year. Ehhhh. For once, I didn’t feel pressure to jump on a teaching opportunity. Besides, I’m already committed to the family I’m nannying for, committed to the trip to Honduras, and I love spending so much time with Aaron when he’s home.

Truth is, I am content. I’m truly excited for the next few months, as they’ll be super busy and challenging! I think for me, being challenged is a requirement for contentment. I feel challenged in my workouts, in training my dog (I got a Gentle Leader and it’s working well so far!), in creating something for someone when they send me a picture and say, Hey! Can you make something like this?

Just yesterday I made a messenger bag, and while I didn’t have a pattern for a smallish messenger bag, I had one for a purse with a long strap. So, with my super-awesome mathematical skills, I used proportions to make the pattern bigger and guess what? It totally worked! I may make one like this for myself….

I also finished my first legit quilt this week, with squares cut with my fancy-schmancy rotary cutter, batting, and actual quilting stitching on top! That took patience… and then I had to miter corners. Phew. However, I believe this is just one of many quilts I will make in my life.

Anyway. Today I had this idea of a shop I’d like to open someday before I die. Call it a bullet on my “Bucket List”, whatever… but a shop like the pottery shops where you can take your mom, grandma, BFF, whoever, and paint pottery. Except mine would be a sewing shop, where you can make a project in one sitting, or have your daughter’s ninth birthday party, or take a class, or buy a coffee (an in-house cafe would be essential!), or purchase supplies for a project… wouldn’t that be fun?? Maybe someday, after we are done traveling and serving around the world, and our children are grown and have given us beautiful grandbabies, and we’ve purchased that $590,000 property in the New Mexican valley, and opened our animal rescue….. and my husband would work next door in his used bookstore…. someday. 🙂

Staying missions-minded

As time goes on, it’s becoming more and more evident to us that we are being called into missions. “Called” can be a term thrown around in the Christian circles.. but basically what I mean is that we have a very strong inclination and desire to go. Aaron still has four years left in the military. He’s just passed his three-year anniversary. (I know. Seven years. Unfortunately his year of training wasn’t included in his six-year enlistment. Someone screwed up.)

But really, four years isn’t that long. That’s… high school. College. A car loan. Actually, in about three years we’ll need to start formulating a plan for life post-Army. I’m really really excited about that. And nervous. But mainly excited. We both have portable careers (me=teaching, him=computers), and we could take it around the world. We could become Assemblies of God missionaries. We could support missionaries who are already in the field. Who knows?

Where will we go? What will we do? How long will we do it? I have no idea, and I’m thankful, because being the planner I am, I would be going crazy right now.

It’s exciting to me that we will raise our family to be in the world, but not of the world. While we (well, I) wouldn’t mind moving back to Illinois, central or the Chicago suburbs, I don’t think settling down, buying a house, and having a picket fence is what God has in mind. And this isn’t a new development; we’ve felt for most of our nine-year relationship that we’re meant to travel into the world.

It’s encouraging to think that, hey, we won’t really need to buy new furniture, or appliances, or cars, for the next 3-4 years. Our cars now are old, but what’s the sense in buying newer ones if we can make these last? So many people we know are settling down, having children, buying newer and bigger cars for the children they’re having. And as well they should… we’re in our later 20’s now. It’s what happens.

It’s hard to not center my desires around what most everyone else is doing. Then I hear about some distant relatives of mine who are doing various things in Afghanistan, Uganda, Tanzania…. all over the world, and it makes me want to go somewhere, too, and leave the comfy American lifestyle behind.

I think the military was always in The Plan. I never could have guessed that it would have been. I think it’s preparing us… 1500 miles from home is only a drop in the bucket if we go to Asia, or Africa, or the Middle East. Seven years pales in comparison to a lifetime of serving globally. Trusting God for our personal finances now is small when you think about having to trust God for the finances of an entire non-for-profit, or school, or orphanage. 95 degrees in El Paso is cool compared to 115 in the Middle Eastern desert….

This is big stuff, people.