Mi Noveno Año: Small Victories, Big Dreams

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Estoy de acuerdo.

After nine years of teaching, I am appreciating again the process of reviewing and reflecting at the end of the year, and reading back through almost a decade of reflections on teaching. I like to do this at the beginning of the summer, but over the years the reflection process has crept across my summer… and here I am, writing just before school starts again, during the first week back at school, finishing it up during the first (long!) weekend of the school year.

Wrapping up my 9th year, I reached some milestones: Read more of this post

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A Sense Of Place

I write less and take fewer photos here in California than I did in Michigan. Maybe because any energy or time for communication or artistic expression is already monopolized in other parts of my life. Maybe it’s because I don’t need to work as hard to find beauty as I did in those long, grey winters. One sunny afternoon feels like the next, and my sense of time isn’t as rooted in fireflies / changing leaves / numb extremities / slushy roads / crocus buds.

This year I have been teaching a photography club after school. Maybe “teaching” is the wrong word because mostly I’m just handing cameras to kids and leading them rambling explorations. They climb trees, lie on the sidewalk, climb up into trees, and cluster around any available tiny leaves, unique garbage, cute dogs, and interesting patterns.

Their perspectives on the world make me more aware about my own, as I sift through the digital residue of the last few months. I’ve been in San Diego for almost three years – long enough to have routines and connections, but not to outgrow a feeling of being a newcomer. Pulling up roots can be so fast, and regrowing them so slow.

I love reading novels with a strong sense of place, and after 3 years in this place I have more senses than I have fully formed thoughts.

Cloudy May mornings.
Radio telling me about the texture of the ocean.
The bend of pelican wings above me (not quite echoed on my shoulder blade.)
Jacaranda purple pooling on sidewalks.
Palm trees bending and crackling under jet paths.
Smoke creeping over dry hills.

I can recognize the songs of humming birds & the scent of jasmine.
I am waiting for my lemon tree to produce fruit.

Year Eight: Growth vs. Grit

A new home.
Yesterday I lay on the floor of the lunch room at school and surveyed my eight years of teaching from that angle. On a floor or flat on my face can feel like the right perspective for this expanse of time. I remember lying on the floor of my empty apartment, my first year of teaching and my first year of living by myself. I remember sleeping on the floor of my first classroom, trying to gather myself together for a long commute home in the snow. I remember sunnier afternoons in Spain, where two other teachers and I lay out mats on the floor in the music room on during afternoon siestas, for un poquito de relax.

Eight years brings me here to San Diego, where we finished our two weeks of teacher prep with an hour of yoga together. Stretching and moving and lying still among a big group of my coworkers was good. For some reason I think it helped get me into an emotional place where I can actually reflect on my school year, which I try to do each summer. Maybe the equivalent of mental stretching.

As a not-new-anymore teacher, I keep checking my pulse: Am I growing or am I just surviving? The end of last year was hard because I didn’t know if I was doing either. It was an exhausting year, and the exhausted end of the year is not the best place to recognize growth. In the midst of growing pains is also not the best place to recognize growth, and there were a lot of growing pains (both as a school and as a teacher.)

And now… I’m here, and I’ve grown. So here I am with some wordy lists and some listy words (because that’s just me.) Read more of this post

Permeations

Summer! For the last few months I was completely erased by work, and as soon as I emerged and found the bits of my life again it was to take it all apart and put it into boxes.

Now there’s a new apartment in the same new city, open windows and walls that feel permeable, air that feels heavy and skin rubbed thin, borders crossed alone and familiar flight paths overhead.

Last summer was quiet and I had too much time to think. This summer is filled with voices and plans and radio waves and the moments of stillness have been rare. I’ve been teaching a bit (but not Spanish) and meeting new people (in Spanish) and meeting old friends in new places (in Hungarian & Croatian, but without remembering any.)

I’m shelving books by color instead of by contents and writing/remembering/thinking in pictures rather than words (again.)

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Vuelos

I don’t write and take pictures anymore, other than the small pieces that fit through the screen of a smartphone. So it’s March and I am just now looking through the photos I took in December, when we went back to Michigan for the holidays. Winter in Michigan is probably what I miss the least, but I do miss the people there, and the colors that are so bright and surprising in the middle of gray days.

Christmas 2015

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Gratitude

It was a quiet Thanksgiving here in our little apartment. I spent the morning drinking coffee and going through a massive amount of photos from the past six months, and the afternoon video chatting with family back in Michigan. I’ve definitely appreciated the space to breathe this week – we’ve spent so many of our breaks and even weekends out of town.

I’m not feeling particularly festive this year. It may be as small as the tragic combination of PMS and a bad haircut. (Not to be underestimated!) It may be the startled realization that it’s been over a year since we moved across the country, and that so little has changed (other than the steady trickle of bank accounts emptying into cross-country flights.) It may be that this Michigan girl still can’t reconcile the disconnect of a California Christmas, with snowflakes pinned to palm trees. More than that, it’s other contrasts: A colonizer’s holiday is celebrated in a country where having the wrong skin color can (still) be fatal. Messages of peace and goodwill decorate doors that are closed to refugees and to neighbors who worship the wrong way. People celebrate the holidays with death-defying consumerism, rushing into stores where employees can’t make a living wage but can be trampled to death.

Gratitude is important, however. It’s one small way to fight the discontent and greed and hate. I feel that I often write about gratitude, both here and elsewhere. For me, it’s the only antidote to the absolutely  human capacity for discontent.

This year I’m thankful:

  • for this still-new city, with its many beauties – both obvious and hidden
  • for my husband, who for eight years has been my adventure partner, and who more recently has become a very good cook
  • for that cat who we love despite it all
  • for friends both old and new, both near and far
  • for technology that allows us to connect with our loved ones even from far away
  • for new nephews and new sisters-in-law
  • for weddings and the chances to go to them, even from across the country
  • for my job and the chance to work hard for something I care about, with wonderful students, families, and staff
  • for the chances I’ve had to connect with others in a positive ways – my own students, exchange students, youth volunteers and children in Mexico
  • for the opportunities and the connections I’ve made via the Spanish language
  • for (oddly enough) the chance to participate in our justice system by serving on a jury
  • for health, freedom, food on the table, and a roof over my head
  • for photos to fill in the spaces when words fail me:

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Seven Years Treading Water

I just* finished my seventh year of teaching.

I’ve gotten in the habit of taking time each summer to to reflect on the school year. It’s been valuable to look back and see growth in myself. I would encourage any new teacher to journal through their first year (at the very least) just so that later on, when things feel particularly crazy, you can look back on the craziest times to see just how far you’ve come. (That’s also why Educating Esme was an important read during my first years of teaching.)

*Normally I do this before the end of August, but not this year. Still… it’s important to look back, even as I am already looking forward and planning for the coming year.

I’ve been at four different schools now, including my one year in Spain, and the longest I was at one school was three years, so my experience of teaching has been a string of fresh starts. Even within those short stints at each school, being a Specials teacher has also has been an endless cycle of fresh starts and a fair amount of flailing.

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Here’s to more than just survival.

This year brought yet another new school, yet another fresh start, and new lessons to learn: Read more of this post

La Sara en México

Mexicali 2015During Spring break this year, I spent a week in Mexicali, Mexico, interpreting for a mission team from Michigan. I went on the same mission trip two years ago, after arranging a photo show in a venue attached to the church. (We flew into San Diego, and apparently the one full day I spent there was convincing enough to move later on!) Living in a large camp with many other youth groups from around the U.S., we shared daily meals and devotions before heading out to various assignments at churches and charitable organizations. I was with a group that was running a bible camp at a local church. It was the same church I worked with two years ago, so it was good to see familiar faces. We had daily bible stories that the kids acted out, crafts, memory verses, and lots of time just to play with them. Read more of this post

Desert Colors in Anza-Borrego

We drove out on a long weekend to go camping in the Anza-Borrego State Park. Everything was vast – the sky, the mountains, the press of the sun during the day, the press of the silence at night. I sneezed a lot and only ran into one cactus.

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Marking Time

Over the holidays we flew back to Michigan twice. It was very fast… everything moved fast. It was easy to slide smoothly back into familiar places – but not quite. It was cold. We slept in basements, went to bars, held new little people entering the world, hugged people leaving it.

We flew back and abruptly reentered life here. (Crisscross of flight paths, trains, freeways, skyline, port. Cloudy mornings and afternoon sunlight. Tracing the same brief concrete arcs of road. Long days and enough sleep.) It’s my first California winter, which is not what I am used to, but I’ve retained the ability to hibernate. Still listening more than I’m talking, reading more than I’m writing, looking more than capturing, holding onto more than sharing.

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markingtime04markingtime09 Read more of this post

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