Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Happy Blogoversary to Me!

Yesterday, March 30, marked a year that I have been writing this blog! Just realized it this morning.

Happy Day!

Monday, March 30, 2009

¡Qué buena esta vida!

Life is so good.

Can you wake up in the morning and be excited about a new day? Can you go to bed this evening, and think of all the wonderful things in your life, and feel sincerely, that it's all good? Do you have regrets or recollections of bad times? If so, can you move past them, learn from them, and move on?

After reading Life is So Good, by George Dawson and Richard Glaubman, I was reminded again of how fortunate I've been, despite events that could have made me absolutely bitter and hateful for the rest of my life. I've been lucky and... here I am.

I would have liked to have met George Dawson. His life spanned the 20th century. He learned to read at the age of 98! The grandson of a slave, he tells the stories of his life growing up in Texas, and traveling across the United States. At a very early age, Dawson was forced to bear the cruelties of poverty and injustices of racial discrimination. I was struck though, by his ability to remain strong and optimistic. This man worked hard all his life, lived simply, and never allowed hardships to embitter him.

This book integrates real historical events with Dawson's experiences, which are told to Glaubman, an elementary school teacher who "co-writes" this book. This is not a "How-to-live-your-best-life" kind of book, but there are certainly lessons within it. Dawson reminds the reader

1. to treasure your family

2. to maintain a good work ethic

3. that sometimes you must say nothing

4. and sometimes you MUST say something

5. you don't need things to be happy

6. and how reading is a right, a gift, and a pleasure.

Life is indeed good. This evening, I enjoyed a meal with my family. I was able to write. And now to bed with another book...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

How to Stay Sane...

During the course of the school year, we teach four types of writing - expository, narrative, persuasive, and descriptive.

The "How-To" piece is one we practice often; this type of expository writing forces the students to think of steps in a process, using sequence, transitional words, illustrations and examples. The "How-To" is factual and logical. We often start our students with prompts such as "How to make a sandwich", or "How to wrap a present", or "How to give a baby a bath". Then we move on to more sophisticated topics which stem from reading non-fiction text, such as "How to start a vegetable garden", or "How to build a bird feeder", or "How to make a home-made volcano."

All of these rely, of course, on background knowledge. You can't ask students to write about things they haven't experienced, or don't care about! But what if you asked the kids to think about how to make their teachers crazy? You know they're experts!

I was feeling somewhat frazzled last week with a billion things to do. We were all in need of a little levity. So I invited my students to write "How to make your teacher CRAZY!"
The results were fantastic. My students couldn't wait for writing time. With this piece, they moved more quickly than usual from planning, to drafting, to revising, to editing. During writing conferences, I laughed out loud at what they dared to think up!

This time, each and every student published their writing. I made a cut-out of a crazed teacher (looks familiar?) and put everything up on the bulletin board outside our room. This piece of writing, frivolous as it was, showed me what I needed to see. My kids have come a long, long way.

I'm crazy about them.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cleaning is not Living

Esto de limpiar no me gusta –
no tengo tiempo y
hay muchas otras cosas que hacer.
Tampoco me fascinan los productos que compré
para que el trabajo sea más fácil –
once botellas de venenos líquidos,
latas de polvos cáusticos,
organizadas en el espacio debajo del lavaplatos.
Apenas las miro, me desanimo.

¿Por qué hay tanto que hacer?
Pasar aspiradora,
barrer la cocina,
cambiar las sábanas,
quitar lo quemado del horno,
lavar ropa,
desinfectar el baño,
mapear los pisos,
buscar la mugre que se esconde en cada rincón…
qué aburrido.

¿Quién se distrae con toda esta mierda?

Mejor sería para mí
acomodarme en el sillón con mi gato,
leer mi libro,
mirar las noticias,
o ver alguna película que acaba de salir.
Quiero tomar y gozar de mi café
mientras mire los pájaros por la ventana,
disfrutar un juego de mesa con mi hijo,
tomar una siesta,

Pero, tengo que encontrarme
con un trapo en la mano
en este fin de semana.

Mejor lo hago luego.
No vayas a pensar que soy una floja, pues
tengo muchas otras cosas que hacer.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Walking in Papi's Shoes

I've shared another bilingual book review over at Latin Baby Book Club. Go there to read about The Woman Who Outshone the Sun/La mujer que brillaba aún más que el sol by Alejandro Cruz Martinez.

My father was gracious enough to be a guest reader at my school last week, along with my mom. He read this book to my students. Retired for several years now, Papi taught high school Spanish. I'm sure that reading to a group of 4th graders had to have felt quite different after spending so many years with hormonal teenagers. Papi was the perfect maestro though; he read at the perfect pace, pausing here and there to ask a question or show the illustrations.

My dad, a former teacher, read to my students, in his dress shirt, cardigan sweater, and pressed pants. As I watched and listened, it occurred to me that I too, wear that same outfit to school every day. Papi would carry a book and paper-filled briefcase to and from work; I lug home an about-to-explode book bag. Along with that, I use and reuse the same plastic Barnes & Noble bag to carry extra papers and such; Papi did the same I remember, using a shopping bag until it almost cried for mercy. When he was teaching, he carried so much stress around, and now, I do the same. At the same time, Papi was proud to teach the Spanish language and its rich literature. That is perhaps the most special gift he has given me.

My father took me to school. He led me to teaching. And when he read to my students, I had the pleasure of bringing him back.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mami and the Dancing Tiger

El baile del tigre caught my eye as books with cats on the covers always do. The cover shows a tiger dancing with a little girl. I once tried to “commission” my sister to paint a portrait of me sitting in a cat’s lap, the cat reading me a story. I suppose I always fancied interacting with animals that way, in a fantasy world. At any rate, I borrowed El baile del tigre from the school library and was enamored by the story and the drawings. This book now carries a special memory; I had the pleasure of hearing my own mother read it to my students.

Originally published in English as The Dancing Tiger, Malachy Doyle creates a precious story of a little girl who discovers a tiger dancing in the forest in the moonlight. You can only see him when it’s quiet and the moon is full. One night, the little girl ventures out into the woods and surprises the tiger in mid-dance. He whispers to her not to tell anyone what she has seen. He promises that, if she keeps the secret, she can return to dance with him when the moon is full. And from then on, the little girl visits with the tiger once a month, season after season, to dance as only a little girl and a tiger can.

The illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher are truly special, in particular the scene where tiger and little girl waltz in the newly fallen snow, leaving their prints. This book is translated very well. The poetic text is perfect for teaching mood, setting, and descriptive language. One could even integrate the concept of seasons and phases of the moon. Personification also comes to mind, as we’ve recently discussed examples of this in my class.

In the end, the narrator is revealed as an old woman who brings her granddaughter to the forest, to continue enjoying this wonderful fantasy. The woman sits and beholds the magic of the little girl and the dancing tiger in the moonlight.

Last week, our school held a special day-long reading event, with invited guest readers. I seized the opportunity to bring my own parents to school to read to my students. I handed my mother this book to read to my fourth graders. She was wonderful, pausing to show the pictures, holding the book up for all to see. She read to my class as if she were reading to her own grandchildren. While she read to my students, I hoped that for a moment, they would remember their own grandmothers. I know that Mami and I both tucked the moment away in that place of special memories.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Small Talk

While washing my hair, a young girl tells me about her classes at the community college. She thinks she'll probably transfer to a four year school, and "go for" teaching. "Might as well" she adds. Next, she gives me a rundown of what she'll be doing this weekend.

"My boyfriend and I are going to this big party on Saturday night, and an even bigger one Sunday night. We're gonna be sooooo trashed. I'm gonna be soooooo tired. I'm gonna have to call my teacher tonight."

"Why?" I ask, bored with what I already know she's going to say.

"Well, there's no way I can go to an 8:00 am class and take an exam. Screw that. He's gonna have to let me make it up, 'cause I'm NOT taking an exam on a Monday morning when I'm so tired. Besides, I wanna have a good time Sunday night, ya know?"

"Mmmmmm, yeah" I reply, glad she has at this point hastily thrown a towel over my head, so she can't see the face I'm making. She will one day be someone's teacher. Lovely.

I then walk over to my favorite stylist's station and take my seat at the mirror. I look straight ahead, watching her behind me, her scissors flying around my head. As she does her magic, I compliment her on her tousled, brown curls, and congratulate her on her recent wedding. There's something radiant about her, and I realize she's happy, in love, the world ahead of her.

We talk about movies. She and her husband have just seen the one that has garnered all the awards last month. "I hated it!" she complains. "It was awful to see how they live! Why do I need to see that? How depressing! Why make a movie like that? My life is good. I don't need to see all that."

I remained quiet. I felt disappointed. I wanted to tell these girls so many things. But, I am not their teacher.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Metropolis by Elizabeth Gaffney

As part of Chunkster Challenge 2009, I committed to reading three to five books of 450 pages or more. For my first "chunky" book, I selected Metropolis by Elizabeth Gaffney, which caught my eye after reading the blurb on the back cover. I am attracted to stories of the immigrant experience, and once I got started, I was hooked.

The story begins with a young German immigrant who wakes up in the middle of a fire. He works in P.T. Barnum’s circus stable, and soon watches the place go up in flames, after he is only able to free several animals. He is then accused of setting the fire, and struggles for the rest of the story on many levels – to avoid the authorities, maintain his ever-changing identity, and keep his wits about him as he is followed by gang members and heart-breaking memories. He falls in love with a tough gang leader’s girl, works for a time in the sewers, and then works on the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. This character is endearing, pathetic, and heroic all at the same time.

The story unfolds in 1860s New York, and gives the reader glimpses of several facets of American history. Dietary and medicinal practices, emerging feminism, cultural conflicts and pride, and the physical and ideological “building” of a nation by its immigrants, are all part of a story that kept me engaged from beginning to end.

I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Healthy Meals in 10 Minutes!

I asked my husband, who is also a teacher, what he had for lunch today. He told me he scarfed down a chicken sandwich and a diet soda from KFC, while in his car, driving from one school to another.

My lunch today consisted of a can of V-8, lots of hot sauce shaken in, and a hard, sour-dough pretzel, the kind that cracks a molar. Somehow, the meal satisfied. As my mother always says. "Cuando hay hambre, no hay mal pan." (When you're hungry, there is no bad bread.)

I only had about 10 minutes to eat. The kids were indoors for recess, and my school is WAY to big to walk ALL the way to the teacher's lounge. Besides, I avoid that space (bad vibes, mean people) unless, of course, someone has brought bagels or some other kind of goodies.

There's nothing like the occasional sunshine fund-sponsored breakfast or special event in the teacher's lounge. We don't admit it, but some of us make sure to stop in, as busy and frenzied as we are, to grab a bagel, a handful of cookies, or a bunch of grapes. (Teachers neatly place these on a small paper plate, covered with a napkin, to take back to their rooms... for their lunch.)

If it wasn't for these occasional treats, many of us would not eat at lunch time. I happen to know many of my colleagues are working through their lunch, there is so much we have to do. I see many of my coworkers gulping down cold coffee, or microwave oatmeal, or kid-size yogurts and juice-boxes, while they write lesson plans, correct papers, make phone calls to parents, and supervise their students for lunch detention.

My nutritious lunches are quite varied! They have been:
a handful of dried fruit, or
a fruit cup or snack-size applesauce, or
a cup of instant cinnamon-spice microwave oatmeal, or
a handful of pretzels, or
a stale Pop-Tart, or
a spoonful of peanut butter, or
V-8 (vegetable juice) with hot sauce, or
a small bag of Cheez-It crackers.

I've grown accustomed to these fancy little meals. However, every now and then, the lunch gods look down on me, and my husband hands me my red and black insulated lunch bag as I run out of the house. When I finally get to sit down at my paper-laden, disaster of a desk, I open the bag and find a clear container, holding the most beautiful salad - romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes, cheese cubes and almonds. He has also packed a plastic fork, a napkin, and a can of iced green tea.

For ten minutes, I am human again.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Extendiendo, creciendo

How exciting to discover that folks from all over the globe visit my blog. One of my goals with this blog is to reach out past my immediate world; it’s great to know Reach for More has reached your homes.

Ideally, a blog should have one focus. You may have noticed this one has a few. I started this project with the intent of sharing my poetic attempts and original short stories. Then it occurred to me that it would be a place to exchange ideas with educators, people like me who live a life of swimming against the current while pushing kids ahead. My vision for this blog grew, as I thought I would also touch on issues of bilingualism, multiculturalism, and reflect on what it means to be a Latina, a professional, a working mother, and an optimist, in an environment that shifts between rejection and affirmation.

I will celebrate this blog’s 1st anniversary on March 30th. When I started this project, I was stressed by it, even somewhat obsessed, and thought, “What have I gotten myself in to?” On several occasions I considered abandoning it. I suppose I was overwhelmed with work, or even doubted I had anything important to say. I also suffered long bouts of staring at the screen without typing anything – the infamous “writer’s block.” Once, I almost let it go after someone dear to me asked, “Why do you even do it?”

Luckily, here I am still, enjoying all the directions in which Reach for More has extended. As the author of this blog, I have stretched in many ways. It makes me be and do more.

Thank you for visiting this blog, and don’t forget to leave a comment letting me know you were here. I would love for this blog’s reach to grow even more. Please share it with others, display my link on your page, or subscribe.

Reaching Out, Stretching

Qué ilusión saber que mi blog ha sido visitado por personas en otros países. Una de mis metas al escribir aquí es de alcanzar más allá de mi mundo inmediato; me encanta saber que Reach for More haya alcanzado sus hogares.

Idealmente, un blog debe de tener un enfoque. Yá se habrán dado cuenta que este blog tiene unos cuantos. Comenzé este proyecto con el plan de guardar aquí mis intentos poéticos y algunas historias originales. Se me ocurrió también que sería ideal intercambiar con otras personas que enseñan, que son maestros, que viven la vida diaria de luchar contra la corriente mientras empujan a la juventud. Luego, surgió la idea de abrir aun más este blog, para tocar los temas del bilingüismo, el multiculturalismo, y refleccionar un poco en lo que significa ser una mujer Latina, profesional, madre trabajadora, y optimista, en un ambiente que fluctua entre el rechazo y la aprobación.

El 30 de este mes, celebraré el aniversario de este blog. Cuando comenzé este proyecto, me causó algo de estrés y obsesión, y pensé “¿En qué me habré metido?” En varias ocasiones durante este pasado año, quise dejarlo. Fué porque estaba demasiada ocupada, o dudaba que tenía algo importante que decir. Muchas veces, sufrí largos ratos con los ojos mirando fijamente a la pantalla, sin escribir nada – el triste “writer’s block”. Casi lo dejo porque una persona muy querida me preguntó, “¿Por qué lo haces?”

Felizmente, aquí sigo, gozando de todas las maneras en que a crecido el “alcance” de Reach for More. El ser autora de este blog me ha extendido en tantas maneras. Me exige a ser y hacer más.

Gracias por visitar este blog, y no olviden dejar un comentario haciéndome saber que estaban aquí. Me encantaría que el alcance de este blog se amplíe más. Pido que lo compartan con otras personas, que muestren mi enlace en su propio blog, o que se subscriban.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Snow... Music to my Ears

There's a little excitement in my home today. The word is a "mega-snow" event is headed our way. The idea is uplifting to me, though I know it irks others.

Why, when I love teaching so much does the idea of a snow day make me giddy? Does my anticipation of a day off reflect on my work ethic? Or does it just mean I need a free day to LIVE, without the rushing around and stress of work?

I'll get to sleep an extra hour or so
and have time to slowly drink and savor the morning's hot cup of coffee.
I'll get to finish my book and do some writing.
My husband will make a hot lunch of soup,
served up with a sandwich he has invented.
I may sneak a nap in somewhere.
My son and I will watch an old movie favorite together,
covered up with warm blankets,
the cat purring between us.

Things will slow down a bit,
the mood will be peaceful,
as it always is on a snow day.

Friday after school, I lugged home an over-packed bookbag, filled with papers to grade, writing to edit, and lessons to plan. So, I'll do all of that today, Sunday, so I may enjoy tomorrow, Snow day.

It's nature's way of telling me to slow down, look around, live life.