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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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

Adjustments

SD12Starting a new job at a new school in a new city is familiar to me, and in many ways moving across the country feels a little like moving to a new country. After a few months, things start to shift and click. I am getting to know the concrete curves of clean light under clear skies on the way to work, and the sun turning the city gold every afternoon as it sets. Routines have begun to settle in place. I miss Michigan faces (family, friends, my old coworkers and students) but I don’t miss the hours of driving or taking naps in parking lots. I’ve replaced the hours of commuting with actual productivity. I do miss Michigan autumn, but here a different flavor of autumn has arrived slowly. Afternoons are still sunny and hot, in between cloudy mornings and cool evenings. Even on hot afternoons at school a strong breeze blows up from the ocean.

Earlier this year, in the final and more desperate stages of job searching, I was applying for anything I could find. The decision to take this job was hurried in many ways – my phone interview from my car at the side of the road in Detroit, in the middle of sirens and thunderstorms, and the decision to accept the job offer after only a few hours of weighing it against the job in the Bay Area that I had already accepted. In the end, it was almost on accident that I found almost everything I could have asked for in a teaching job. I think this is a school that will allow me to actually teach, and that will allow me to grow as a teacher. My days are not any shorter, and my much-appreciated prep time has quickly been filled with new responsibilities. But I don’t have the feeling I’ve had for the last few years, of being stretched impossibly thin without much to show for it. And a few months in, time has shifted and expanded. Some days I am surprised to find how much has fit into a handful of hours or even minutes.

I still need to learn how to leave room for myself. I am beginning to learn how to do that, now that it actually feels possible. I have a lunch break now, and I even bring lunch every day, though I’m not very good at eating it and sometimes one lunch will last several days because I keep running out of time to eat more than a few bites. Without my crazy commute, I’ve found time for some coveted moments of reading. (I started reading some books I loved as a teenager, which is wonderful except for when I found myself becoming a little too connected to my teenage self and her emotions, and began biting my nails.)

This week was probably the most exhausting, with parent teacher conferences. Between condensed teaching schedules, meeting with parents, translating conferences for Spanish-speaking families, and helping to run after school activities, I often had two or three commitments stacked up on top of each other, and planned my day in 5 minute blocks that didn’t leave much time for food or sitting down or breathing. However, after so many conversations with students and families I already feel more involved and more invested. I finished the week by chaperoning the middle school dance, and seeing some of my most reserved or least engaged students break dancing or just flailing around on the dance floor. I came home so tired that I almost fell asleep with my face on the table, as my long-suffering husband got dinner out of the oven. Next Monday, however, I think I will walk into each classroom feeling a little more ready to connect with each of my students.

My words feel a little scattered (overspent on translations and doled out in lessons) so how about some pictures?

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Distances Crossed

(You might be suspicious that I am sorting through and posting photos more than once every couple of months. What are you avoiding, you might ask? Wrapping up progress reports – that’s what.)

When moving from Michigan to California, we contemplated various methods to get two adults, two cars, one cat, some furniture, and lots of boxes across the country. In the end, we decided to sell one car and tow the other behind a moving truck.

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This involved a very long drive, a very sad cat, some terrifying mountain driving, and the limited food options available when one is tied to a very big truck and a very sad cat. (The notable exception was staying with my sister in Kansas City, and eating fresh vegetables from her garden.) However, I am glad we did this rather than flying out and shipping things. One of the things I appreciated about walking the Camino was the concrete nature of spaces traveled: seeing the hills in front of you as you climb, and the towns you have passed through behind you in the distance. Moving away from our home state has been a big transition, and airplanes still feel too much like magic. (Eyelids close and open to new cities and new climates, spread out below you beneath glass.)

I needed 2000 miles to feel like 2000 miles, and to see the scenery change as we crossed the country to the West Coast: The rain and red-touched leaves of Michigan turning to Illinois fields, Missouri corn, flat empty expanses of Kansas and Oklahoma, the hulking farm equipment of Texas, the vibrant colors of New Mexico, the mountains flattening out into desert in Arizona, and the final sunset over the hills of California, waiting for the coast. We also got to visit family along the way – my sister and brother-in-law in Kansas City, and my husband’s grandparents in Phoenix.

Now those long hours and distances have shrunk back onto a map, and some images seen through a dirty windshield.

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Just over the last hill

Postcards from the Mitten State

I often lug my camera around, but I am really bad at sifting through the results in a timely manner.

I have also neglected this personal blog in favor of a new teaching blog. (Knowing my tendencies to neglect my personal life, this should not be a surprise.)

Spring and Summer were both chaotic and emotional, navigating preparations to move and goodbyes to students, coworkers, friends, and family. (And even while looking for jobs in warmer climates I was aware that other states might not have the same magic of a Michigan Spring.) Here are some snapshots.

Spring Planting Day Read more of this post

Year Six: Leaving Loose Ends Untied

Through the eyes of my students.

At the end of the school year or of the quarter, wrapping up my time with each group of students, I always feel the same pressure: not enough time. Along with the anxious countdowns to summer vacations and sleeping in and having a personal life, I always wish I had more time. Students finishing projects or presentations without the chance to present them. Graded work that goes in the recycling bin after grades are submitted. Students that have struggled all year, and who suddenly have a light bulb go off in their brain sometime in June, just as productivity dissolves into field trips, class parties, award ceremonies, and absences. Language use blossomed at the eleventh hour: students making Spanish puns, or understanding Spanish puns and begging me to stop, students having entire conversations in Spanish, interviewing each other in Spanish, and then suddenly it’s the last day of school, and… ya está.

On the last day of school, there were lots of hugs and lots of crying, especially from graduating 8th graders. This year the end of the school year was particular emotional for me, as well. My husband and I have been toying with the idea of an out of state move all year, and in the final weeks of school I was using the time difference to my advantage, scheduling phone interviews with West Coast schools after my own school day had finished.

Remote interviews are pretty exciting. Hypothetically you could outline your professional qualifications over the phone while in a bathrobe, or via Skype in pajama pants and a blazer. (I’m not admitting that I did that, of course. But who would even know, right?) Sometimes high tech online video conference rooms malfunction, and your video flips upside down while you are describing how adept you are at integrating technology into your lessons. And sometimes you set up a phone interview for the last day of school, after emotional goodbyes to students and sharing funny and touching memories with staff over beers. This already might not be ideal, but then the sky might open up, spitting lightning and thunder, and dumping down buckets of rain right when you are trying to find a quiet parking lot for the interview.

Read more of this post

Looking Down On Cities

Last year I did a 365 Project, partially as a challenge to myself as a photographer and partially as a way to document what I guessed would be a year of transitions. As it turns out, it was. I finished my Fulbright year in Spain, traveled on my weekends, walked the Camino de Santiago, got engaged, and returned home to familiar spaces in Michigan to start a new job in Detroit.

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Many distances were crossed – by plane, train, bus, car, but sometimes on foot.

I am working on a new creative project for this coming year, but it won’t be a daily photo project – partially because the tail end of the year degenerated into commuting/grading/cat pictures, and it’s hard to measure up to last year’s images.

I had a lot of adventures in 2012. I met a lot of amazing people, and traveled to some incredible places. My favorite parts of my travels were always the times when I climbed to a high place – often at sunset – and looked down on the cities I had spent the day exploring.

I learned a lot about travel this past year, and a lot about myself as a traveler. In the future when I go to a new city, that will be my destination – somewhere I can see the shape of the city, where small individual details dissolve into twinkling lights, and the iconic buildings from postcards become small silhouettes, dwarfed by the sky.

Granada - Ciudad Encantadora

Looking down on Granada from Miguel Del Alto. (Photo by my new Brazilian friend, Carolina.)

Granada - Ciudad Encantadora

Granada – actually in late 2011, but it was the beginning of a year of looking down on cities.

Barcelona

Barcelona, from Parque Guell.

Navidad en Madrid

Madrid, last Christmas.

Paris

Paris, from Sacre Coeur in Montmartre.

Roma

Rome for Easter.

Roma

Ancient Rome

Pompei

The ruins of Pompeii

Naples

Naples

Senderismo en Jávea

Jávea / Xávia

Tabarca

Tabarca – not a city, but a small island off the coast of Alicante.

Senderismo en Calpe

Bird’s Eye view of Calpe, after a harrowing climb up the Peñón de Ifach.

Morocco

Marrakesh, Morocco, from the roof of our riad.

Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

Aït Benhaddou, Morocco – you have probably seen it in a movie.

Morocco

Not a city – but the Berber tents where we stayed in Zagora, at the edge of the Sahara.

Among all of the beautiful cities, my favorite was Alicante, where I lived for 10 months and that I often looked down on, from the heights of the Castillo de Santa Barbara. Nostalgia always adds a cast of golden light, but it was a beautiful city. Someday I will go back.

Santa Barbara

Sunset.

Tour de Alicante

All the lights lit for Christmas along Alfonso el Sabio.

Alicante

La Playa Postiguet, full of sunbathers.

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Settling into my new bedroom, slowly putting things in closets and on shelves and up on the walls.

It’s the first time I’ve lived on the first floor for a long time, and I’m having trouble sleeping because I am expecting someone to climb in my window. It will pass.

245/365

 

Moving day. I finally have an apartment!

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I’m beginning to pull down boxes of teaching stuff from the garage attic where most of my worldly possessions are still gathering dust.

I’m excited to move into my apartment and be done with living out of suitcases for a while.

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