Twin Day at school.
It's almost the end of the school year. It's close enough that I know that I'm going to meet my goal (survive 'til the end of the year), but far enough that I'm wondering what the hell more I'm going to teach for 6 more weeks.

And now... I'm going to blog about good stuff. Or at least, the good side of the bad stuff.

At our last staff meeting, we had long, deep discussion about our personal goals, our professional goals, our goals for our students, and our goals for our school. Then, we were asked to write an 'intention' for ourselves on a little notecard. An intention is a step that we promise to take in order to meet one of our goals. Mine was: "Come every day. Laugh every day*." (*By "every day", I meant every day from then until the end of the school year".)

Come every day.
I wrote this as my intention because... well, for one, I'm all out of sick days and paid time off. Whoops. I also wrote that intention because I've had a few moments here and there in the past couple of weeks when I didn't want to come to school--or I was at school and I wanted to call in sick for the rest of the afternoon and go home--but I stayed anyway. Sure, I stayed because I had no more PTO... but I stayed--and I survived. The roof did not come down. The lessons were--as I had feared--utter shit... but we all got through it. I even had a few itsy, bitsy, teensy, tiny 'wins' in the day, even if the wins weren't lesson related.

One minor 'win' I'll claim for myself was the time I was walking back and forth with my class in the little parking lot of our school with students (or, as we call it at our school, "P.E."), tapping one fence, only to turn around and tap the other fence, and then turn around and do it all over again. One student fell into step with me to my right--his left elbow resting on my right shoulder--and told me all about his past: how he failed out of 10th grade at his old school, how he got into trouble doing things he didn't want to do with kids he shouldn't have been hanging around with, and how he was proud of himself for turning himself around this past year with a fresh start at our school. I don't know why he chose to tell me his story or why he felt compelled to in that moment, but I was glad that I could be there for him, even if just to listen to him reflect on his recent obstacles and achievements.

Ultimately, in all those days that I felt run down, pathetic, tired, or like a terrible teacher, I was proud of myself for staying and for not calling it quits for the day. Dat's grit, yo.

I sometimes wish that I had more grit. I think that my colleagues have a lot of grit. I know that my students have a hell of a lot of grit. I know that I deal with anxiety (that I place on myself) and that sometimes, even if external circumstances seem stable or nonthreatening enough, I sometimes cave under the pressure and push and pull and mental storm tornado-ing around in my head and that sometimes my grit is spent from dealing with that and nothing all that bad actually happened in the day. And, ok, fine, I really can't compare how much grit I have with how much another person has. But sometimes, in those days when I do give up and stay/go home, I feel ashamed, like I have no grit whatsoever. (Cue my mentor coming in and telling me that it's OK to get tired and take breaks and sometimes, you REALLY ARE SICK.)

Anyway, I've been practicing pushing through hard days--all year, really. I've gotten better and better at it recently. In fact, I've been give up-free for something like 2 months now. That's a personal best!

Laugh every day.
I wrote this as my intention because I only ever love my job 1) when I get to laugh or 2) when kids beam with pride when they have an a-ha! moment. #2 is difficult to control, so I focused on #1.

I freaking love laughing with my kids. I don't consider myself a very funny person, but it turns out I'm pretty funny to some of my kids, and a lot of my kids are hella funny. I found that by some fluke, I can slightly twist and manipulate the mood of a class using my own mood. I sometimes fake a good mood to lift the mood of a class. All it takes is a laugh, a smile, a joke, maybe a little bit of innocent teasing and suddenly, the hardship of take-out-your-earphones/ do-this, do-that/ why-haven't-you-done-that-yet disappears! ...nay, becomes more bearable.

Come every day. Laugh every day.
Apparently, according to some staff and other students, amongst all the various reputations I'm sure that I have depending on which student you ask, one of my reputations is one of an 'excitable' teacher. Students sit up straighter and get a bit show-offier whenever I excitedly praise student work. "Yes! That's it! Yesyesyesyesyes! A thousands times yes! Look, you got it! You totally get it! I'm so happy!!!!" (<-- Literally all words I have said today.)

In their English class, I caught wind that some students wrote a story about me that went something like: One day, April was circulating the room, looking at student work. Suddenly, April got so excited about some student's work that she started to lift off the ground and actually start flying and whirling around the room.

Speaking of reputations, one time, a kid--one who's not in any of my classes--randomly plopped down in an open seat next to me and stared at me thoughtfully for a moment. I regarded her for half a second before returning to my lunch of a dry granola bar from the school pantry and room temperature tap water (ah, the glamour of teacher lunches). Breaking the silence, she said to me in an accusing tone, "So, April (we go by first names at our school).......... I hear you're a good teacher." "Is that true?" she demanded.  I was taken aback; I sputtered something along the lines of "who's spreading such lies?!"

Also, every now and then, a student will cut class and crash one of my classes to talk to me; when I send them out, they say "aw, come on, I just wanted to visit my favorite teacher".

Yes, these little knuckleheads very well may be yanking my chain, but they're sincere kids who try hard in school and who really have nothing to gain by sucking up to me. And yes, it's true that our tiny little school means that each kid really only has 3-4 teachers who they see repeatedly for different classes throughout the day, so even if I genuinely was a kid's favorite teacher, I'd only be best of, like, three. And all of our teachers are rockstars, so I wouldn't even be their favorite by much.

However, I do think that I've been pretty good about planting seeds of a good reputation for myself simply by consistently coming to school and being there for the kids. I always try to keep things light-hearted... while I beat them over the head with boring worksheets and textbook assignments.

Not all days are unicorns and rainbows, of course. Today, a student shouted at me across the classroom, in front of the whole class, "are you going to make us do another boring thing today like you do every day in all your classes?"

Uh. Yes. *clicks 'Play' on yet another Netflix documentary about obesity in America*

That comment totally hit me where it hurt because I'm super self-conscious of my lessons and I reallyreallyreally want my lessons to be better... but what I got is all I've got, and it's all I can do in order to be sustainable and keep coming every day. To be honest, I almost started crying when he said that. I didn't, though (because one time, when I almost started crying, another student said-- loudly, in an exasperated voice--"aw man, are you going to start crying again?"); instead, all I said was "[Student] that hurt my feelings" and left it at that. I didn't send him to the office or anything. I didn't want to turn that moment into a power play; I just wanted to run past the comment and leave it in the past. I noticed many students duck their heads and avoid eye contact, sensing the awkwardness of the situation.

The next moment, of course, as I was praising that same student's seat mate's work, Mr."Your-Class-is-Boring" hissed at his seat mate, "hey, give me a piece of your paper" and then jotted down some notes of his own. He then called me over and proudly showed me his work and waited for his praise. He then proceeded to be on-point for the rest of class.

Freaking. Goofballs.

Anyway, that's my update. Happy end-of-April. I'm making it. I've grown lightyears personally. I've grown micrometers professionally. I'm proud of having a hard job. I'm looking forward to one day being good at my job... or at least having fun along the way.



All of the photos in the blog post are thanks to Mark Andrew Gonzales. See his amazing photography on his personal website and his professional website. Thanks, Mark Andrew, for not only the photos but also the laughs, your positivity, sharing your candy, and keeping me warm in the backseat!


As dazzling and incredible as other sights I've seen around the world are, Iceland has thus far taken the cake.

Many times throughout our hikes, pit stops, and treacherous 4WD through blizzards, fog, high winds, and even clear skies, I was convinced that we'd left planet Earth without any hope of ever returning home.

Iceland is full of nature and void of people (one town we visited has a population of 380 residents!), but we still managed to make friends with locals here and there. I learned about "window weather" (when the bright, sunny--and even green!-- beautiful view outside your bedroom window suggests nothing of the wind and near-freezing temperatures that actually await you), kartöflukrydd (paprika, sugar, MSG, and basically delicious crack cocaine for your french fries), 24 hours of darkness in the winter, 24 hours of sunlight in the summer, viking soup, the banality of the Northern Lights (us: "Can you tell us where we can see the Northern Lights?" local guy: "....uh.... look up....?" us: "Is it really that visible? Can you see it from anywhere?" him: "yes! just the other day, I was shouting at the Northern Lights because it was too bright. I could not sleep. So I closed the curtains."), the lack of crime and violence in Iceland, and oh... so much more. 

When I travel, trying local dishes, learning about the history of the country, and meeting locals are often my top priorities of my trip. Here, with such limited open hours for restaurants, shops, and museums (grocery stores were often only open noon-5pm; some restaurants only opened seasonally; the liquor stores are open from 5pm-6pm), our little roving group of five had to make do with entertaining each other on the long stretches of snow-covered roads. We would go for hours wihtout seeing more than a dozen cars on the road. Every now and then, we'd pass a road sign with a pictogram of a village and a big red "slash": a warning that there are no towns ahead for several miles--so stock up on food, water, and gas at the nearest town somewhere behind you.

This trip was the first nature trip I've ever taken... here's how it looked.

A little bit of a backstory behind the ridiculous beauty that are these photos:

Mark Andrew Gonzales, a friend of Brian's, came along with us on this trip last minute. I had originally planned on going on this trip either by myself or with Brian if he could come. Then I invited two of Brian's friends, Edward and Kevin. And they all invited Mark Andrew, who, by the way, is an international award-winning photographer. What a serendipitous addition to our little tour group for such a scenic vacation. All of the photos in this blog post are courtesy of Mark Andrew.

It so happens that Mark Andrew's day job is self-employed wedding photographer. All of his other awesome photos are what he does in his down time. At the beginning of the trip, Mark Andrew asked if Brian and I would be subjects for a few photos that he'd add to his business portfolio. 

I felt a little silly because Brian and I never take lovey-dovey photos. Regardless, every day, Brian and I were Mark Andrew's willing subjects. The funniest parts were when Brian and I had to stare into each others' eyes for a few shots at a time; rather than professing our undying love for one another, we were cracking jokes and making fun of each other (me: "you have snot dripping out of your nose and I'm afraid it's going to drip on me"). Can you tell?

We saw waterfalls, glaciers, big/small/colorful/black/white birds, mountains, snowy deserts, rivers, and arctic seas. The guys, though, had their eyes on the prize. All throughout the week, our Iceland-traveling family was like a team of storm chasers, looking for the perfect viewing spot (clear skies, dark location) to see the Northern Lights. Sunday was bad. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday were bad. In fact, Tuesday was really bad. We forged un-plowed roads (which, in our defense, were clear to begin with, and only became impassable when it came time to turn around and head back), danced in darkness, and waited with a thermos of hot chocolate for the fog to roll off the snow capped mountains. Here are a couple of photos we took while waiting:

On our way back home, we made a quick wrong turn and ended up stuck in a snow bank. Uh oh. 

We spent an hour trying to dig our car out with nothing but gloved hands before we gave up and ended up calling 9-1-1 (there, 1-1-2).  The local police were eventually dispatched to 'rescue' us. They brought a gigantic shovel, we heaved and hoed our bright orange Kia... and we were forced to give up. We abandoned the car for the night. The police made two rounds to take all of us home to our AirBnB apartment.

As bad as that night was (not getting to see the Northern Lights, getting stuck in the snow, having to call the police), I hope I'll always remember that night as quirky and romantic rather than stormy and tumultuous. While the guys were off doing their own thing (I'm sure they remember exactly what they were doing, but that's a story for another time...), Brian and I enjoyed the view of a tiny patch of glowing green in the sky above, the twinkling lights of a the small town of 2,000 residents below, singing silly love songs together, and slow dancing in the fresh, powdery snow.

I was content with the bits of aurora borealis we had seen thus far into the trip. A sprinkling on Monday, an inkling on Tuesday--honestly, I was ready to go home and with proper bragging rights that I had, indeed, seen the famous winter sky wonderland. But the guys were on a mission. Every day, Brian, Edward, Kevin, and Mark Andrew kept their eyes glued to the sky. Brian kept track of a weather website reporting the particles in the atmosphere (seriously!) and the likelihood of seeing any hints of green, purple, and whatever else the sky had to offer. 

Brian became our de facto meteorologist that week. He explained the rating system used to predict the visibility and intensity of the Northern Lights. On a scale of 1-9, 1 to 2 is hardly visible, and 4 is "dazzling" (not sure what everything else in between and after count as). Most days, only a 1 through 4 is likely. I believe he said that a rating of 1 through 4 occurs 90% of the time; the likelihood of each increasing rating drops off from there.

By Thursday night, we were in Southern Iceland--the most unlikely place for the Northern Lights to be visible because of the region's inclement weather. That night, our weather app predicted a Northern Lights rating of a 5! Whaaaaaaat.

Here are the photos. No magic, no tricks--just God, a camera, and 25 seconds of exposure.

The sky is bleeding:

The cabin we called home for our last days in Iceland; Edward and Kevin drowning in the view:

My Iceland nomadic family:

And then... Brian dropped to one knee. 

And he said some things. Some very sweet things, I'm sure.

I couldn't hear any of it though, because I was an ungraceful, blubbering mess. I have no idea what was said, but at least we have photos to remember the moment by...

And well... if you've been following Brian's blog ( 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ), you know (or have known this whole time) that everyone was in on it--including in on Brian's ruse that he was nowhere near getting married, and seemed ready to run out the door at the mention of marriage. 

So, there you have it. My first "nature trip" traveling adventure. Everyone, please visit Iceland. It's not just awesome, awe-full :) . And hey, if you're free, mark your calendars and meet us there in June 2016--we'd love to show you around!


If you haven't already, now's your chance to check out Mark Andrew's work here and here. Show him some love! Consider him for your next big event--he's talented and so much fun to work with.