Invocation

If it is a clean-shoe and giggling stroll through the park, on the crispest of days, you’ll always be yearning for fire, desperate for even a flicker. If it is wrapped in satin and bought at the mall, you’ll wonder what the cotton feels like that she made from pieces of her youth and drapes around her shoulders every full moon. If she sums it up with memes and words she never wrote, you’ll remember the maddening covet, propelling you from just a sentence once scribbled on your refrigerator. From the oval pattern of her steps leading to the passenger side of your car, to the song in her sighs, and sage oil in her hair, she is leaving you wishing to be able to explain the phenomenon, whether you are beside her, or watching her twirl under the water below you, 52 feet deep.

I hope that while you lick batter off of your fingers, you momentarily feel as though they are my own, and that the .02-second-moment leaves you mute for the entire day. When you are slipping on your smile-for-the-picture, teeth-baring grin, which you have practiced since the 1st grade, and you’re standing near the entrance of a cafe built in 1943, I hope that the melody to escape the splinter-ridden doors cradles itself onto your skin, and follows you home. You place it into the box of items you don’t have an answer to, a file cabinet, a category, a label for. And you continue to play it, long after you’ve forgotton all names.

She is entrancing you on your living room floor, adoring your heart by way of devotional movement. You wake up and wonder where your mind had to go in order to conjure such gestures. In your waking hours, in the layer of reality just under what can be seen, you spend your time looking out for anything as tantalizing as what you see in your dreams.

I hope she writes you poetry that scares your name out of you–yes. If she doesn’t invoke The Absolute Entirety of Your Heart, she isn’t the one. The Unravelling of The Fabric of All You Think You Know, waking up cooled beneathe branches of spider-webbed new, and dying-sinking trees, on earth men have not paved or trimmed for your ease or your liking, the truth swiftly moves to sit it’s page on your forehead: you have never fallen in love with The Woods, for how could you, if you’ve never set sail to meet her?

In all the tender reasons we fall for people, may The Ability to Fly be one of yours.

I know you like simple, straightforward and logical sequences that fit into an understanding militaristic, routined, and packaged. I know that a psychology textbook brings you momentary relief from the incessant plea for rationale–the ever-liquidating “Live, Laugh, Love” mug you hold in your hands. False Order giving you temporary satisfaction. This is not a homely or agreeable Tale of Good and Evil. Predictability will not  suffice. A torn page in your Book of Being is in tatters on the street, and you’ve tried in vain to make your story meaningful without it. Kept afloat by definitions, you peel away at life vests you’ve been prescribed for too long. You long to be brave, to gaze deeply into the faces you don’t want others to see.

 

 

 

 

Authenticity & Identity Lesson

In my ELL classes we have been talking about words nationality and culture, exploring what they mean to us, having discussions in and outside of class, interweaving stories and perceptions from other people around the world by way of clips, Ted Talks, and reading about perspectives outside of Hawaii. Today’s discussions were exceptionally meaningful. Maybe because we have already been discussing these matters, so the kids have been warming up? I have been learning to ease into projects, and expose them to as much as possible before dropping the project rubric on them.  We watched Ted Talk by Hetain Patel entitled Who am I? Think Again. In his talk he has dancer Yuyu Rau translate for him until he finally joins her in speaking something other than the repeated Mandarin paragraph he “learned by heart” during his visit to China He proceeds by using various accents, emphasizing his many experiences and suits of culture he has tried on for himself, bringing him closer to his own authenticity. Throughout the lesson we looked at the transcript, discussing words like assume, assumption, authentic and authenticity. Other words were gone over and of course each class was differentiated in our explorations, according to who was in class and what questions they had. (I had little to no input in discussions). Here are the highlights:

  • One boy, who is Vietnamese, said he is assumed to be Chinese when he goes to Chinatown with his aunty, and sometimes he will be spoken to in Chinese. He also said in a different part of class that he thinks more people in younger generations have a harder time answering questions about where they’re from or what their culture is.
  • One girl expressed how she wishes she did know more about her culture, often feeling left out in one group, then not completely a part of any single group. Springing from this we talked about what it feels like to not belong, and how there must be so many people in the world who feel this way.
  • In all classes, speaking about the word “assume” surprisingly brought on discussions about what we assume when we meet people, and why we construct those assumptions. The classes came up with clothes, skin color and then of course accent and language being main causes for our assumptions. We started to then go into why these assumptions are made and why they are different for each of us.

I split the class into groups of 3, having one person as recorder, one artist, and one leader. They had a blank white sheet of paper, a computer, and markers. Going through the transcript on the Ted Talk, (which also can be translated, and which was helpful for my Chinese, Korean and Japanese students) they had to record and illustrate all of the things they found that make Hetain who he is, authentically. Collections of visuals, quotes and words were written and drawn on the sheet such as “Born and Raised in England” “Bruce Lee philosophy” and “Indian clothes not COOL” and they each had to share their creations with the class.

Overall this was an interactive way to explore components of culture and discuss ways we’re authentic because of experiences, as well as the small and large pieces that make up our culture and identity.

hetain patel

Educating with Mindfulness in Hawai’i

I no longer say “Micronesian” when referring to any group in anyway; I list Chuukese, Marshallese, Kosraean, Yapese, Pohnpeian, Palauan, Woleaian, and there are probably more I’m missing. These are different languages, customs, traditions, and even dialects within the languages that sometimes don’t understand one another. As educators in Hawai’i we need to be more mindful and aware of the way we talk to, refer to, and handle decisions which affect students from these islands. We have to be careful we are not putting them al into the same “box”. We have to be careful about how we are making them feel about themselves. These kids are hurting for various reasons, from being separated from family members, being homesick and feeling suddenly deprived of all familiarity, then being mistaken for an identity they don’t understand. Some say they’d rather be referred to and thought of as “Polynesian” than openly share they are anything “Micronesian”. We have to take the time to learn about their thoughts. There are students who were raised here and speak English perfectly fine, yet they’re assumed to speak no English and are not called upon in class, or even challenged to rise to the occasion. I have had students tell me that upon arriving to their schools, their counselors immediately placed them into ESL classes without talking to them to find out if that was even needed. Students have shared that counselors question whether they passed classes in previous schools, and gave lower levels of math and science based on assumptions. Most students just let these kinds of things slide, eager to get by and not bring any attention to themselves. We have to take time to connect and get to know people we are handling and working amongst, despite the deadlines and procedures that surround us. The connection is what we are here for. When some first arrive, they are the kind of pure spirit that smiles and dances upon impulse, without shame or hesitation. They often love fishing, dancing and singing, and if you tell them to sit and work on something, it won’t be long before they’re looking out the window into the beautiful trees and at the birds. When they learn how to study for something, or understand a math concept for the first time, you’d be surprised at how they take that new understanding and run with it, excelling farther than you imagined. The structure of school does not allow them to show you everything they’ve got. Let’s change the way we lift them up and help them in a world they’re unfamiliar, (yet sometimes very familiar) with. Let’s let them be themselves and let them be proud of where they’re from. Let’s say their names right and over-applaud every small and big thing they accomplish. Let’s let them teach us. Let’s be real with them. Let’s simply love them and allow their innate desire to learn, express and excel simply be, without testing them with empty standards within a system which have no sincere meaning.

The above text was written after a particularly challenging week, and with a heavy heart about the way my students viewed themselves, and how many are being treated in and out of school. The following are links to articles with more information and depth into the issues they are facing in Hawaii.

This first link is from an article written in 2014 on Marshallese activist and poet, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, expressing views of being from these many islands of Micronesia, and growing up in Hawaii. 

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

The second link is one I shared with my students, because I feel she is an excellent role model and example. It is her WordPress site, which includes her reciting her poem for environmental justice at the United Nations Climate Summit.

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner at UN Climate Change Summit

The third link is an article written by Civil Beat on the history, and complexity of their situations for leaving their homes and coming to Hawaii. 

Civil Beat on Civil Rights of Micronesian Immigration in Hawaii

This fourth and final link is revealing just how open the public seems to be about their disapproval and racist remarks, to where at one point it was openly shared on the radio. I still hear comments and jokes made like this today, sometimes in the fun way we joke about ourselves here in Hawaii, but sometimes with intentions of being vicious, whether conscious or subconscious… It just needs to stop. 

Racism in HI

 

Steel-Souled Shoes

I return to this post and keep it close, sometimes adjusting wording but never deleting, because it reminds me of why it is important to keep your “mad spark”. Don’t you dare refrain from showing and pouring love onto anyone, while thinking of the lens’ of others. You Are Made For This. Looking silly often means you’re doing something right
my sweet, sweet hearts.

One night during my undergrad years of multiple jobs and express buses, a high school student got onto the late-night Ewa-beach-bound route with her family, decked out in her cap and gown, neck and chest filled with leis up to her ears. She got on by the Blaisdell Center, and I found it really strange that on a bus filled with people standing and wiggling their way around bodies just to get off, only 1-2 people said anything to her or addressed the fact that she had just graduated. As she got closer I beamed at her and her family, standing up so she or her mother could have my seat, and beamed a loud “Wow–congratulations!!!” After that exchange, a man in her group told me to never, ever change, and that people like me are needed. At the time, really needing to hear that, it rippled through me and I have never forgotten the rush of appreciation that I was simply me and bravely wore my heart on my sleeve. There was a tinge of nervousness but I knew if I were this girl, or a member of this family, I would have wanted at least someone to show some enthusiasm. I also know what it’s like to arrive and depart from a memorable life-marker of an event, via public transit. I have experienced shame from being at a busstop, while people are leaving in their cars, from a party, a class, a dance, a graduation…

Recently I was told, in a joking manner of course, based on some writing I did, which he didn’t understand or have a response to, “They say that, people who can’t DO, TEACH!” It stung, despite me knowing in my heart of hearts that it was untrue. I remained silent, and now that toxic person is far removed from my life, and I have formulated a response that he may never hear, and that is okay because it is more important my soul hears it. Truth is, I am GLAD it was said, because it allowed me to remember my gifts, my purpose, and my strength. I have also endured a few brunches and dinners where people are baffled at why I “don’t teach college, or at a private  school”–not there is anything wrong with teaching at these institutions, and who is really to say that one day I won’t? Point is, I don’t simply teach English because I speak English, and I don’t teach because I can’t do. I teach because I feel everything so deeply, and to a degree his higher paycheck does not comprehend. I teach because it has only taken a few people, saying a few things to me, to lift my spirit for years on end. I teach because I have the ability to look at trash on the street at A’ala park, and see opportunity. I teach because I don’t have any fear of walking through that park and speaking with, and hugging strangers. I teach because I can find a way to laugh even without shoes, in the rain, after missing the last bus. I teach because I am built strong enough to do so. I teach because I know dark places need as many candles lit as possible, in order for peace on, and sustainability of, our earth. Most importantly, I teach because I CARE. Teaching is not about me. Like creating art, it is simply something I have to do, not something I flippantly choose to pursue. It’s a calling only people who have given in to their own calls would be able to understand.

Standing in the back of the bus on that night in May, I did not think I was going to become a teacher, and my mind was still focused on journalism as I considered tutoring and teaching to be enjoyable, yet only part-time gigs. Now, still busy as hell, and trying to find as many thrifty ways to live as possible, yet more secure than I was ever before, I am so happy that I DO what I DO–teach. And to be honest, every time someone like him comes along I imagine them in front of my most challenging classes, and just KNOW they wouldn’t be able to handle what I did, and then I just giggle and walk away.

Care: The Seed

“I tried, but he just doesn’t care!” Statements surrounding student achievement that revolve around the student(s) having no concern or care for their success always sting the space between my chest and pit of my stomach, where anger comes from. It is usually the kind of sting that results in frantic collections of things I could say in defense. I could say “Yes, they do care!” which needs to be followed by justification, and which in my first years of teaching I have had nothing to say. Recently, as I have been more vocal and defensive in conversations around the motivation kids do/do not have, then also because of more experiences with students, I have come up with a solid defense. This defense either sparks a fueled and solution-based discussion, or it is what stops the discussion entirely. Depending on the nature of the meeting and who is present, I have said it in different ways, but it is more or less the simple statement:

We need to show them they do care, and then what their individual reasons are for caring. 

Any business trying to sell something will do their absolute best to show you why you need their product. Television commercials are manipulated to seep into your psyche and tell you you are not complete, without this one material, that you have the opportunity to buy. Insurance companies will instill fear in your mind in order for you to feel that you need their policy. Boutiques will hand you a basket and welcome you into their store, sometimes even complimenting you, in order to make you feel like you belong there. Travel agencies will choose the best images and people to model the luxury you could experience in a place other than your own, flashing a price at the very end of the advertisement, after your desire for that experience is strongly in place. These tactics are used in attempts to stir your emotions up, and they often become driving forces in people’s lives, altering and forming decisions people make with their money, and ultimately, their time.

Alongside the stream of blaring ads, and subtle yet sneaky commercials, there is also a blatant interweaving of corporations using social media, music and television shows targeted at youth which enhance the aspirations to escape. Escape your natural image, and escape your surroundings. There is hardly a promotion of education, and oftentimes more disenchantment than enthusiasm for learning.

These are things we are up against as educators, particularly public educators. It is our responsibility to mold the intrinsic passion, which is apparent in everyone, and on an individual basis show them they do care, what their reasons are for caring, and what they can do with that care. The reasons are not the same for everyone, which is why we don’t reach every single student. Equally so, the things they do with the care are not the same for everyone. As we are entering into this new era of technology, ease of communication, and accessible information, the fusion of career pathways and skills will be employed more and more. Individuals have unique skills that they can use for distinctive positions.

The first step of any endeavor is activating that place that causes us to take action with intention of performing at 100%. A leader wanting to move people into action will prepare a speech, have people look it over, then practice. The speech is intended to stir people, and transfer the amount of care the leader has, to the audience. The root of consistently doing something well, is always care. If you are a company looking to hire a new employee, and have two candidates, you would hire the one most passionate about the field–one with the drive to carry out the lengthiest of tasks, over the candidate with more experience, yet no passion. You want your business to move, grow, and expand, with precision and attention to detail. This kind of consistent work ethic requires a high level of care.

What if educators had this business standpoint about selling education to our students? What if we had to market our classes to students in order for them to buy in? Would we then go to great lengths, and stir up the enthusiasm of our clientele? What if the first couple of weeks of class were spent showing and instilling the care levels, on individual basis’? Like a football team preparing for their last game of the season, which would mean a championship, what if we reached their hearts and filled them with the kind of momentum that would make them stop at nothing until they had their goal? What if we spent time learning what made each of our kids tick instead of immediately assuming they all did for the same reasons?

Also, what if we all revisited our drive to become educators, and examine our own desires, our own care. Education for all, and bridging the achievement gap, largely depends on this root driving force of care. We need to have gallon sizes of love and care for our professions, and with that we can pass it on to our kids. We can try all the tactics in the world, and then continuously strive to “sell” education to our kids with the overflowing amount of care we nourish within us.

 

Did You Know You Are an Angel?

The melody of their voices in unison, as they sing their song to perform, mixed up in sporadic giggling outbursts, will come into my mind when I am in traffic or having a particularly chaotic day. Young women tied together by culture and also a bond of understanding something essential to this world. They have no idea they are angels and I want them to see themselves in this light. As they practiced their performances, speaking in their mother’s cadences, and braiding coconut leaves for wrists and ankles, I let the sweet sounds surround me in awe. In my eyes they are proud, sweet, fierce and gentle. Their smiles and spit-fire genuine laughter and attitudes of ultimate sass bring me so much happiness. I wish to plant the seed into their minds and hearts of confidence and knowing they are capable of the highest and most incomprehensible dreams. The things they are angry about, and the issues that bring them sadness are meant to be used as fuel for teaching love and fighting for justice. They are crucial to the upward spiral we are on as a humanity. I wish to plant impenetrable seeds of pride in their language, culture, and origins, so they spread it and broadcast it for endless civilizations to learn from. From the delicate and bold steps they take, to the light in their eyes when they speak to one another, they demonstrate how to glow. I want to sprinkle tiny seeds of the strongest trees that grow fruits of independence and goddesses demanding respect, humility and divine love from any man asking for their hands in marriage.  I pray their hearts are upheld in glory, and they treat their bodies like the sacred and stunning temples they are. It is my intention to enhance their understanding in learning that they are capable of their wildest dreams, and then beyond even those.

Trajectory of a Firework

“Make ’em go AH AH AH, You’re gonna leave ’em all in AWE AWE AWE!!!”

The lyrics of this song naturally bring light to many questions for English Language Learners. Not to mention poetic devices galore!! Like yesterday, the spirit of class soared as we began, but it did not start exactly like I had hoped.

I had to improvise when a) I had a new student nervous and very anxious due to the full class, chatter, and simply being that it was his first day, in a new school, of a new and unfamiliar language, in an entirely new country. b) The class was all over the place. Nobody had their journals ready, as my other, smaller classes always do. A few people were not present and leisurely walked into the door. Earphones were in, and I stood with my hand up as a mere 5-8 students waited ready. I got their attention by saying loudly and sternly, “Everybody FREEZE.” I gave a few who were moving and speaking my “Ms. L is angry” stare (curious to know what that even looks like, but it is rather effective) and once I paused and had everyone’s attention I spoke in a low and calm voice. “When the second bell rings, everyone should be in your seat, (exaggerated pause) with your journal open, (exaggerated pause #2) no phones in sight, and binders next to you. (LONG pause again). Now, we are going to all walk back outside, and try again. It worked. They respectfully walked in, sat in their seats and were quietly ready.

Once it all worked out, I raised my joyous energy and spoke sweetly, telling them to find their purple pages with the printed Katy Perry lyrics of “Firework” where we proceeded to read line by line, stopping to explain a word or phrase. I inserted drama where it was necessary to demonstrate the meanings and concepts, and appropriate emotions provoked by the metaphors. It wasn’t until I became a teacher that I realized my loud and dramatic opera-singing attitude would serve me so well. It’s a good thing I never subdued myself into a shell of conformity despite a lot of resistance to my “singing in the rain” demeanor.

Then, I surprised them and without hesitation said “Everyone stand.” I pointed to a word written in the agenda for the day and asked them to read it to me. “Participation” they said in unison. “How do we get an A for today?!” I exclaim. Again they say in unison, “Participation!” I pressed play. I weaved in and around the groups as they smiled and read from their lyrics. I turned down the volume during AH AH AH or AWE AWE AWE to hear their angelic sweet voices as they smiled back at me, and we did it once more before the bell ring where it was even more enthusiastic of a sound. We went over their new vocabulary, stopping for sentences and examples as I tallied points for groups who made use of their minutes when directed to tell their partners a sentence with the word. Class was smoooooth and exciting. They were alert, and supportive. I was prepared and had many visuals for them at the appropriate times for different meanings, examples and explanations. I sneaked in affirmations that they had to say out loud as well. Shneaky shneaky muahahahaha. The new student beamed, and he was welcomed. Everyone learned something. I am a very pleased teacher.

Energy is Everything

 

The power of music overtook my classroom today. Although both periods responded differently, both classes responded. It opened up discussion on language, and life. I took a risk by doing it, and the plunge brought positivity to the room that carried over into every action we did thereafter. I will forever start class like this. Today has been a monumental and transformative day for me as an educator. Today confirmed and reawakened my eyes to the diverse roles a teacher plays in student’s lives. Millionaire Mindset has set me on a spiral of embracing my inner five-year-old, which is carrying over into all aspects of my day, and no doubt causing an upward vibration into years of I hope many lives other than my own. I want it to spread like a happiness wildfire and light up the most desolate and darkest of places!

The statement “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” provoked conversations regarding a girl’s abandonment by her father, struggles of learning English, then the isolating feelings of being a new student in an entirely new country, laughed at by peers.

I started the class by swinging into the song lyrics, not explaining why we were doing it. My energy was literally everything. I noticed the way my voice tone and projection had direct effects on participation, emotion, and energy of the entire room. It carried over into recess and lunch when students didn’t even know about what went on in my classes. The energy lingered and there was something joyous and sacred happening in the classroom. There were respectful and hyper conversations, and students who I taught in summer school even came trickling in to say hi and tell me about what they did during fall break.

First we recited line by line of the song. A question was asked about color vs. colour. With ultimate uber corny enthusiasm I had them say these Kelly Clarkson lyrics like they were in music videos. Slowly but surely, as we gained momentum, both the boys and girls got sassier with each verse. By the time we got to “Thanks to you I’m finally thinking about me” they were into the song whether they liked it or not. I walked by several girls and smiled from ear-to-ear remembering the times I would also regard these moments as opportunities to show off my voice, hoping the teacher/leader would notice. So I made sure to exclaim that I heard many beautiful and powerful voices in the room, remembering the way that used to bring me joy, thinking they were talking about me. Even the shyest and most stone-faced of students read the words and at least smirked, and that was enough for me. I thought about how everyone wants to be this fearless, happy and pure five-year-old self. I remembered the way one student shared a future goal of “keeping my child heart” and looked at him as he sang the words smiling boldly and peering up in enjoyment. I thought about how I could lead a song into any lesson I wanted, whether it be the grammar/language of the song, or the song’s meaning as a whole.

After we sang together, and the loud beat stopped blaring from my speakers (I had to close my doors today, but I am sure people were wondering why I was having them become mini-American idols), I had the journal prompt (a usual routine at the beginning of class, unlike the unexpected singing they experienced today): “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” What do you think of this statement? Is it true? Can you think of anything in your life that was very difficult, but that made you a stronger and better person? This is the journal that provoked the rich conversations we had. Academically we went over words like declaration, quote, lyric, statement and their meaning and uses. There was a second element of the journal where we reviewed words we had a quiz on before the fall break, then we went over new words. These activities were all done with the same attentiveness and enthusiasm built after starting the class with music in the way we did. I can’t wait to be more corny and start classes with more positive and corny cheerleader strategies I come up with!!