2017/09/20

from negative space to a positive place

man, tell me why all the complaints that i ever have when i'm feeling down and out and sorry for myself are tired-ass complaints that every teacher that's ever walked the earth has ever had.

-minimal bathroom breaks
-endless hours of planning, prepping, and grading
-work-life imbalance
-physical exhaustion from "lecturing", "coaching", "disciplining", "reminding", "reminding" again, "circulating", "reinforcing", "facilitating", motivating? inspiring?
-forgetting to eat lunch or not having a chance to sit down and eat lunch
-too many students to keep track of
-"asks" from "above" to keep track of
-not enough funding
-little to no technology
-playing catch up with students after years of falling behind in math, writing, etc.

like, why hasn't anyone solved any of these problems yet.

ok, i just really needed to get that out of the way, and now it is, so.

= ==

Lately, I've been intentionally trying to carve out time to focus on getting inspired. If I were to paint my first few years in education with broad strokes, it'd go something like-

Entering education: idealism
First year: survival, questioning my abilities, and then proud of getting through it
Second year: survival, at my wit's end, relief
Third year: getting into routine, overworked, looking for direction
Fourth year: right back into routine, bored by tedium despite knowing that i'm never realistically going to get through my to-do list, more desperately looking for direction

Back to looking for inspiration: I've found that ideas only come to me when I step away from my desk and away from the classroom. I get inspired when I take a walk around the lake at sunset, when I sit in silence in the living room, and when I open a tab for a new blog post and start typing. I get inspired when I'm at a new environment, when I'm interacting with people I admire, and when I'm in the presence of art. I get inspired when I exercise, when I read a good book, and when I write and draw in my journal.

I've lately been making time for myself in any of these various ways. Besides stepping away from work, I've found it useful to unplug from social media, watch less TV, read less of the news, and (sorry friends) see friends less. That last piece was actually not intentional, but in the accident of letting too much time slip by between meet ups with friends, I've found time to clear my head and search around for what's in there. With the constant stream of media and interactions, it's nice to be able to take a time out, regroup, and make sense of everything going on around me.

What am I hoping to learn in these times? Nothing in particular. But here are some ideas that have surfaced, some of which have already come to fruition:

  • get into grad school and take on a slightly different role at work (check)
  • use playing cards to identify desks in my classroom in order to mixup student groupings (group by number, assign roles by suit, make partners according to color, even/odd pairings and mixups, etc.) (check)
  • get recruited by the Peace Corps as professionals so B and I can get placed abroad and learn a new language while still continuing to grow in our career
  • various weekend/long weekend/seasonal break travels (check, check, and check)
  • make unit folders and a unit anticipation guide for students to help organize their understanding of the content (check)
  • go to grad school in Iceland and then in NYC one day
  • creative strategies to better support certain students with particular emotional or academic needs (ongoing)
I wonder what my future has in store for me. I want to step up but I also want to chill out. I want to continue doing meaningful work. Eventually, I'll want a change of pace and a change of environment. I want more time to read and write. I want to feel successful in my work. I want room to grow and the stepping stones to get there.

Onward.

you're making it

This is it. You've made it. Not that it's all downhill from here, and yes, things will get better still. And, right now, you've made it.

2017/09/12

what happens in Vegas

work all day, work all night, sleep late, wake up early, repeat, and repeat. B is in Vegas for a work trip. i tried calling yesterday, but he was out drinking/eating with friends. we chatted for a bit late last night, but i was so tired, i was legitimately afraid i would doze off while driving home from State. forget having any energy by the time i was in bed.

today: work all day, work all night, try calling again, no reply... finally try calling again at 11:30pm, but he's partying it up with coworkers. so, off to bed i go. time to sleep so that I can work all day and work all night tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that.

suffice to say, i am having a solo pity party right now.

one day, i will look back on this blogpost and think one of the following:
a) how was i ever a teacher, i'm so glad i'm no longer a teacher
b) why am i still a teacher, the work was killing me then and it's still killing me now
c) dear past self, it will get easier, but not any time soon, you will suffer for a bit longer, at least unless you lower your expectations for yourself and/or your students
d) dear past self, you broke your back over tons of work that week, and for what? it wasn't worth it.

and i will definitely thing the following:
stop going to bed past 10pm. you need a full 8 hours of sleep to be ready for the beast of each day that each day is.

UGH.

i suppose i should attempt escaping the negative place my mind has taken me.

= = =

i ran into J, former student of mine, at SFSU today. i taught him Health his sophomore year, Chemistry his junior year, and Algebra 2 his senior year. now, he's training to become an EMT and is working towards becoming a nurse.

are my back-breaking hours of work worth it? idk.

for now, i'll freeze frame the image of J in his SFSU jacket in my mind as I try to get some sleep and tell myself, "yes".

2017/07/28

Birthday Blogpost: 10 Lessons (or Thoughts) Collected This Year

FBAE<3

A list of lessons learned in my 29th year: [See also: 28th / 27th / 26th ]

1. To take a good picture: first, take notice. Second, take your time. Then, capture the moment. Finally, take pride. 

2. To cope with stress: practice short term memory. I believe others call it optimism.

3. When you're lost: ask for direction.

4. When you've lived up to your potential, explore what else you may be capable of (or barely capable of... or capable of with a bit more time and practice), including tangential interests.

5. You aren't exercising patience until you're aware that you are. Then, exercise patience.

6. The right pairing of chocolate and wine is the true embodiment of a sum being greater than its parts. 

7. Learning about history is more interesting when it falls into one of these categories: 1) it pertains to your heritage or an aspect of your self-identity, 2) you are walking the streets on which it took place, 3) it is a raunchy BBC drama, or 4) it is a hit, hip hop Broadway musical.

8. Neither music, nor art, nor writing require an audience; its right to exist is self-evident.

9. When you're not sure where to begin: begin in the middle. Then, work in frantic-yet-methodological circles and spirals and squiggles and doodles. Then, work on a second draft. The very beginning of anything is always the most elusive.

10. The term "hipster" arguably once implied counter-culture or fresh or young or even nothing at all except something to deny when called as such, yet it's become synonymous with 'overplayed', 'cliché', and even 'bastardized'. I fear that every corner of my life as an (albeit, late-) 20-something has been gentrified with a culture that wasn't supposed to be mine, like I've stolen a trite millennial idea of a trophy life and haven't stopped running. How can I not feel this way when I make burgers out of brown rice and zucchini instead of pork sinigang with extra rice and escape the country for a Insta-worthy rendezvous for Thanksgiving instead of attending a loud Filipino family party? One day I will look back at the 2010s decade and insist to my kids that my millennial hipster life was lit whilst wondering what what type of culture to pass on to them, but until then: fellow millennials, does hipster life continue on into your 30s?

Maybe the targeted advertising algorithm and echo chamber of shared interests (and increasingly small world) has unjustly caused me to believe my life is the worst iteration of "hipster". In truth, I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by friends and family who introduce me to new experiences and fan the flames of interest in hobbies I would have otherwise never thought possible for myself.

===

Reflections

I'm not sure what to put a cap on. Number 29 was neither quite a beginning nor an end. It was the meaty middle of a life that I've long known to be spinning out and away of any semblance of Life Expected. 

I'm past huffing and puffing and stumbling and wheezing. I'm past the runner's high, the chirping birds and buzzing bees, and seeing the neighborhood with a different perspective á la endorphins e adrenaline. I'm at a fuzzy mile-15-18. I'm lost in thought while letting thoughts run through me and past me.

I have a million and a half things to be thankful for... yet the numbness required to cope with overwork and vicarious trauma too often turns into unsolicited short-term memory. So instead of getting on my knees, I march on. The eternal sunshine of my spotless heart is groggily coming to after a year of an emotional coma.

I barely remember what happened in this past year... at least, not as fully and deeply as I would like. As with previous years, airline miles were my recreational drug of choice. Here is a list of mile-markers throughout the year:
  • Baltimore: Nostalgia meets wonder, pride, and beauty in a summer reunion with my other-life sister. 
  • NYC: The sixth sense proves triumphant in the birthday surprise that was not a surprise; the gang is reunited for a we-could-be-anywhere night and day out on the town for hipster eats, copious glasses of wine, cupcakes, and NYC-living.
  • Athens: Activity-packed; mile after mile of history and architectural mystery. And graffiti.  
  • Santorini: The site of this year's annual summer solo-travel commencement. Luxurious laziness settles; coastal views stretch for miles. As the hours, minutes, and days mount, so too the inner quiet I hadn't realized I'd been seeking.
  • Venice: On first arrival at 10 o'clock at night, as the motor of the water bus roars and romantic cafe patrons dine along canals, I am overcome with happiness for my 16-year-old self. Adolescent me knew nothing about travel--yet I dreamed of striped gondola drivers, accordion music notes dotting the night sky, and delicate canal bridges. Our arrival in this archipelago town signifies my own arrival. I'm surprised at the peace I feel with the realization that I've come to the end of teenaged-April's Life Goals List. Nowhere left to grow? No, but everything hereafter is unplanned icing on the cake.
  • Rome: My co-captain and I squeeze two lives in the time of one. Who says you can't work full time and play full time?
  • Turin (and around): An introduction to Italian life. Food, food, food, food, and food. 
  • The Grand Traversata della Alpi (The Italian Alps): Views so stunning, they rob purpose from the dreamworld. 
  • Pacific Crest Trail (50 miles of desert): I didn't know that my partaking in this trip was a simple question I was asking myself: can I? Answer: Yes, barely.
  • Irvine: Food, food, food, food, and food.
  • San Diego: Marathon #5, valuable family time, and skydiving (aka the biggest, most nauseating, adrenaline rush I've ever known and would whole-heartedly do again, 15 times out of 10), 2 NFL games, a devastating loss in the family, birthday celebrations, brewery crawl, and cherished times with even more highly cherished high school friends. 
  • South Bay trips (Halloween, ramen again and again): Will you be craving ramen 3 hours from now? Let's go! And once, the same ramen spot a mere 5 days later.
  • Santa Rosa: Countryside views and free glasses of wine--I don't recognize myself anymore either.
  • Banff: Sister time and Aurora Borealis sighting #3 (unique every time). Plenty of hiking, wild-animal-run-ins, and no sleep for 3 days.
  • Alaska: A full, unplugged, deep-dive week of adventure and relaxation. Aurora Borealis sighting #2.
  • Hawaii: Happy Retirement, Dad! 30 years of hard labor, stress, and sacrifice for your family and fellow servicemen. Untold stories finally come to light, leading only to more pride.
  • Arizona (twice): Desertscapes, snowy, alabaster foggy canyonscapes, red rock, and Sonoran Mexican food.
  • Tahoe: 6 hour slow trek through a blizzard and worth-it Christmas morning views.
  • Nashville: The gang's all here; nature walks, dead deer, city walks, Thanksgiving feasts... everyday for a week... and a surprising feast of Jazz music to boot. 
  • Santa Cruz: Tinyhouse in the woods, complete with outdoor bathtub and compost toilet. Brazilian brunch, roadtrip, and beach walks without beach weather.
  • Joshua Tree: Hiking + clement weather + friends + California Super Bloom
  • Oakland, hosting the Aba-bros: Ice cream, food, ice cream, food, food, followed by ice cream. Repeat for 3 days (or something to that effect).
  • Oakland, hosting Tita Lloyd: another childhood dream come true, this time of having family from the Philippines in the U.S. Ice cream (of course) and SF tourist things.
  • Oakland, hosting Ayumi and Andy: Proof that true friendships stand not only the test of time, but of geography. 
As for me, what did I do with/for/by myself this year? I finished my 3rd year of teaching in Oakland. I nurtured the hell out of the most important relationships in my life. I worked way too much. I let go of the past. I intravenously overdosed on movies, documentaries, books, podcasts, and social media. I felt guilty about not exercising enough. 

Cheers to 29 years of a curvy paths, jagged peaks, and desert plateaus. I predict next year to be a formulaic sequel of subplot drama, high-def 4K clips of mouth-watering food, and that "I refuse to explain or defend myself" comfort feeling you get when you re-watch episodes of Friends or Gilmore Girls. Despite the expected reprise, again I line up at midnight with anticipation, promise to devour the v10.0.1 as though it's brand new, and hope to walk away appreciating the soundtrack and other-worldly scenery.

2017/06/02

Two Years

It's strange how a death anniversary awakens the dull ache of loss. I never really believed in spirits or ghosts. And yet, your death weighs on me heavily today.

I remember my mental and emotional state two years ago. Shock, disbelief, grief, distress--the emotions felt too deep to ever overcome. Today, the grief lingers rather than chokes. The heaviness is lighter. The paradox of you, so full of life, now dead, twists my mind less.

Your life and death taught me to me surrender to the joy of unexplainable miracles. The parking lot incident at UC Irvine, the small window of perfect weather and impromptu fireworks show during our speech, seeing the northern lights again for the anniversary of our proposal and yet again the same weekend a year after we last spoke: your life and death taught me to not write these special moments off as glorified coincidences. Life is too beautifully fleeting--death is too devastatingly abrupt--to not open my heart to wonder.


We miss you, Andrew. I know you're smiling out there, somewhere. Keep watching over us; keep making your miracles happen.


Related: 12.

2017/02/15

Skittles and Today's Successes

Today:
After school, J and R were in my classroom showering me with love. It's hard to tell if R was being sarcastic, but I think he was specifically being vague about being sarcastic as a way to be comfortable showing his love. J: "You're the best teacher. I love you, April." R: "April is the best teacher! She's the best teacher I ever had [insert vague sarcasm here]."

After school, JP singled me out and gave me props for my teaching. He said that I'm solid, that I hold the space well, and that I maintain boundaries while connecting with every student.

I'm not sure what I did (or what I do) to earn their respect, but I just wanted to jot down their words for one day in the future when I'm doubting my capabilities.

Today, I bought bags of Skittles to hand out to my students for Valentine's Day. Me being me, though, I couldn't just give them Skittles for nothing. I told them that it was for a lab activity. They had to balance chemical equations using different colors of Skittles to represent atoms. Here were some of the highlights of the activity:

-JG wanting to stay past the end of class to finish the HARDEST balancing chemical equation problem
-...and JG helping MS with her equations. JG adores helping other students out; he's also usually the least engaged. MS usually gets 100s on her quizzes; she often asks for help and enjoys being helped, so it was nice to see them work together and to change up "status" in the classroom.
-FS, at the end of his period, "can I stay in here and work out the last problems? I can get a note from my teacher. I really want to figure this out."
-JDT understanding every single problem, volunteering answers, and asking for help. He even finished the assignment.
-CM helping AG during F block; they bicker and they both test my patience sometimes (off task, side talk, messing around), but they were really engaged with their assignment and were great about helping each other!
-AG saying "why do you always teach us so many ways to do the same thing?". Even though she may not realize that I do it to give students many different entry points for the same content.
-Just generally students loving getting candy and thanking me for candy (though I wasn't intentionally buying their love, I'm pretty sure I did anyway).

2017/02/02

I am NOT building bridges that span between interest, prior knowledge, zone of proximal development, personal relevance, current events, social justice, the SATs/ACTs, state standards, literacy growth, preparation "not just to college, but through college" and/or career.

Creature comforts = French fries + Fridays + wandering purposelessly through Target
I've been feeling poopy lately. It's not so much that I'm stuck in a rut--I just needed to break the pattern.

To that end, this week, I woke up earlier, started work earlier, and escaped work earlier. As a result, my time in the evening has felt so spacious--In three consecutive evenings, I've read, binge watched a show, did yoga, meditated, cooked, hung out with the fams, and hey, check me out now! I'm blogging.

For the past couple of months, I'd felt like I was spinning my wheels and running on an empty tank, without actually doing anything productive. I felt like I was on no one's radar and doing a crappy job. Come 3:30 each afternoon, I'd felt like I managed to escape another day by the skin of my teeth--woohoo, no adults called me out on my bad lesson, and no youth revolted strongly enough to call me out on my not-good-enough lesson. Good for me, bad for the kids.

For hours after work and on the weekends, I'd grade and grade and grade. I'd grade homework and classwork and quizzes and tests ranging from "hey, great, you copied notes verbatim what I wrote on the board, full marks!" to "you came with 5 minutes left in class and scribbled illegible work with a marker, 1 point!" to "you tried your best and got half of one problem right, so, um, yay you got half of one problem right! and what a joy it is when we have room to improve." to "100% on the quiz... again... and 105% on the unit test... I wish I could challenge you more, but I can barely catch my breath, let alone differentiate appropriately..."

And also, let's not forget that I wrote the quiz and the test and the classwork so that they'd all align to whatever Chemistry I thought was important to know in the way that I thought it was important to know it, and then I conveyed it in what I thought was an understandable way, or at least, I understand it that way, so what do you mean you 'don't understand the homework'? what do you mean 'the test was too hard'? it's exactly what we went over in class! what do you mean you weren't in class because the class was simultaneously too boring and too challenging and less important than that phone call you had to take for a half an hour in the hallway?

And likewise, let's also not forget, I planned and prepared those same lessons to the best of my limited ability and knowledge and experience, in the half hour I had between 2nd period and 4 period, between helping another student, and looking for paper, and cleaning a spill, and praying to the Wi-Fi gods to please, please, please connect...

...Wait, you mean to tell me, that I worked oh-so-hard for the 30 whole minutes I had to type up a warm-up, a worksheet, and an exit ticket--to scrounge the closet for extra pencils and a stapler, to scurry quiet-as-a-mouse in an occupied classroom to prep labware and scales and ziploc baggies and potassium chloride and lithium carbonate and magnesium sulfate--for a lesson that didn't build a bridge that spanned between your interest, your prior knowledge, your zone of proximal development, your life's relevance, current events, social justice, the SATs/ACTs, state standards, literacy growth, your preparation "not just to college, but through college" and/or career?

*cue mini panic attack... for the second time this week*

At worst, I'm running in a hamster wheel, churning out warm-ups and worksheets with irrelevant formulas and Lewis dot structures.

At best, I'm entertaining and caring for and encouraging and keeping kids in class and pushing other wandering kids out of my class and checking up on a kid after they've run out of the room to vomit and discerning whether the shouting in the hall is a fight or a party and listening to a kid vent over lunch or before school or after school and sparking a love for Chemistry, if not a love for a challenge, and witnessing the joy that comes with the taste of success after weeks of academic struggle.

This is fine. I'm fine. Things are good. Things are mostly good.