sábado, 23 de enero de 2010

New year goals for teaching/learning Spanish

I started a new job as a long-term sub teaching Spanish in a largish (1200 students) public school this month. As part of a warm-up activity my first day, I asked students to write their goals for Spanish class this semester. Most wrote what grade they wanted for the semester. One wrote that she wanted to learn some Spanish that she might remember, forever. I've been thinking about what my goals are, knowing that I have just under 6 months working with these students. It's easy to let the class become a series of grammar explanations, and exercises and games to practice translations, verb conjugations and understanding of vocabulary. I want to do more to share why I have spent so much time studying and using this language. Use more "real" language. Use a lot less English in the classroom. Start what can become a continued conversation for those students that want it. But it's hard when most of those students are focused on me as their evaluator and wanting a certain number on their report card.

sábado, 26 de diciembre de 2009

Jump, Josie (A children's caterpillar story)

Josie was a happy caterpillar. She spent all day tiptoeing her many legs across leafy green. She enjoyed how some leaves tickled her with their tiny hairs, while on others she could simply slide.

She sampled the varied leaves. She lunched on smooth shiny ones. She snacked on crisp zesty ones. She dined with some friends, nibbling the canopy above her for a better view of the setting sun. For breakfast, she ate her pillow, soft and succulent.

One day, as she was enjoying a post-brunch stroll, she noticed a friend.

“What are you doing, Francis?” she called curiously.

“I’m building my cocoon, so that I can take a long nap and wake up with wings.”

“Wings? Why would you want those? Winged creatures are always in such a rush. They don’t appreciate the solid earth, and are always searching for some new thing, some new direction the wind might take them. Why would you want that stress?”

“Josie, don’t you know? I’m a caterpillar, and so are you. But now it is time for me to transform and become a moth. When the time is right, you will transform too.”

“Time to stop enjoying my leaves and leisure? Doubtful.” She shook her head and perched several legs on her hips to emphasize her disagreement. She shut her eyes to show she did not want to hear more. But when she opened them and looked at Francis for a response, she saw that his face had been replaced by tiny silver threads. She poked him gently. He wiggled in response, but had nothing more to say on the matter.

“Well. No wings, and already he’s in too much of a rush to properly finish a conversation.”

She picked up her many feet one by one, and continued her search for something green and delicious.

“Wings? Really?” She thought as she walked. “These legs take me anywhere I want to go. And there are more leaves here than I could ever hope to digest.”

The afternoon warmth turned to chilly dusk. Josie pulled some leaves around her close for warmth. She wished for something even tighter as her eyes grew heavy. She let herself fall into what she knew would be a deep, deep sleep.

Josie woke feeling refreshed, though slightly damp. She smiled at the sunlight peeking through leaves and stretched her legs: one, two, three, four, five, six…

She let out her wings to soak up the sunlight. Wait. Wings? And where were her other legs? Could this be true?

Shocked at her transformation, she batted her wings slowly. Open, close. Open, close. After some time, thanking the sun for not rushing her, she moved forward on her new legs. She tasted a nearby leaf with her tongue. Ugh. What she remembered as a delicious pre-bed snack now felt bitter on her small tongue. She craved something sweet. But she refused to let her wings change her leisurely pace. She enjoyed the feel of balancing along a leaf stem. She enjoyed feeling each of her—now six—legs under her, and their connection to something solid.

She moved forward at a familiar crawl, searching for something that would be more pleasing to her new tongue. As she walked, she took in the sights. Bumble bees, birds, mosquitoes and flies flew above her, moving with some unknown purpose that she preferred not to share. She continued along, lifting one leg at a time.

After awhile, she noticed a spider sitting gracefully in her web. Josie stood a moment to admire the intricate details from a distance, thinking as she did: “Winged creatures move too fast to notice the everyday beauty around them.”

Suddenly, her thoughts were interrupted when a small fly dove into the web. The spider immediately jumped to the fly, and began wrapping a silky thread around it. Soon it was covered entirely, and the spider returned to a corner of her web as Josie reflected on what she saw.

Josie batted her wings gently as she replayed the encounter in her mind.

“Of course!” She thought excitedly. She knew what the spider’s silky thread reminded her of: Francis’s cocoon! It was all so clear to her now. Here, she was not the only winged creature who wished for more legs and a slower pace of moving. The spider could make her a cocoon, and after a nap, she would wake again, having reversed the transformation and returned to her cherished life as a care-free caterpillar.

With new determination, but still refusing to use her wings, Josie traced a possible path up to the spider’s web with her eyes. She started moving, one leg at a time, so pleased with her new discovery.

After her climb, Josie ventured one leg onto the soft silky thread. But when she tried to lift it and move forward, she realized the surface was tremendously sticky. She shook her leg, and became more stuck.

The spider scuttled to her quickly and cut the threads attached to Josie’s legs, scolding, “You will break my web. You are far too big!”

“Oh, no. Please, Spider. Please. I want you to make me a cocoon so that I can take a long nap and wake up as a caterpillar again. Please, won’t you help?”

The spider laughed softly. “I don’t make cocoons, young one. I make dinner. Once I wrap my prey in silk, I can drink all their delicious blood. But you are far too large for me to eat. So let me give you some advice. Jump. Open your wings, and don’t look back. It is true that in life are changes. Some are drastic, and make us wish for what was before, what was familiar. But there are changes you can’t control. When those changes happen, you move forward, and you let changes change you. Never forgetting, of course, where you’ve been. Not necessarily having a clear idea of where you are going. But knowing that to continue LIVING, we need to embrace the present, look towards the future, and move forward.”

Josie was shocked. She had been so wrong. Of course, she was not angry at the spider, who needed to eat. Her body was designed for wrapping flies and drinking their blood. Josie’s body was hungry, too. She wanted something sweet. Not knowing how to respond to this sage spider, Josie stood unmoving for a time. Then she replayed the words: “Jump. Move forward. Don’t look back.” She breathed deeply, pressed her six legs into solidness. And jumped.

I wrote this story sitting up in a strangler fig near CEC during my last week in Monteverde. I was processing a pretty difficult transition. In my original concept, the caterpillar died. My brother thought that concept would appeal to hipsters, and I thought it was somewhat Grimm's fairy tale-esque. But since I felt myself relating to the caterpillar, I decided to explore another possibility. I did confirm that some moth cocoons are silky like a spider wrapping its prey, though I want to share this with folks from the Butterfly Garden to get some expert input.

miércoles, 23 de diciembre de 2009

Coming Home

Currently writing on the eve of Christmas Eve, from PA. I'm no longer working at CEC, and quickly moving forward with a new job to avoid feeling the full effect of the reality that I packed all of my bags (who knew you could collect so much in 18 months?) when I left Monteverde this December. It's hard to describe how I've been feeling, which explains the prolonged silence. I spent the month after being let go with applying to teaching jobs and putting off saying goodbye. I flirted with the idea of finding another teaching job on the mountain, or another something else job. I still love so much of what I found in Monteverde. The one paved road and stopping along it to chat with familiar faces. Where the paved road meets the unpaved road. The door that we seldom locked and was often pushed open with an "Upe!" or a gust of wind. Learning to dance, to cook, to live with new rhythms. The rain, feeling certain that you could touch the end of a rainbow around the corner. The wind, and how it could knock you over, lift you up. Although I don't have solid plans for my future, I know that I'll be back, that I'll change and that the mountain will change, along with the folks I know who're still there and those that will come and go without me meeting them. I'm both excited and hesitant as I move forward. Being greeted in PA with a record snow storm was a smack in the face to remind me that airplanes as well as tornadoes can take you far away from what's familiar, that "there's no place like home", but that home is more than where I drop my suitcases. I smiled on Tuesday when I went to my new school, with 1100 students, and found a teacher potluck to celebrate the upcoming vacation. Although I had to rush to finish in the 30 minute lunch period, I could already see possibilities for finding new ways to expand my "home".

domingo, 11 de octubre de 2009

My Starfish Story

On my most recent vacation, in September, I took some time to explore Santa Rosa National Park, which is in the northwest corner of the country, almost in Nicaragua. A 4am wake-up and 3 buses away from Monteverde, I was in an entirely different ecosystem, less green, more sun, and the preferred home of Costa Rica's national animal, the white tailed deer.

Bus station in Liberia

The majority of the time, I had the park’s trails entirely to myself. I saw...


...cactus growing like vines,

...a completely empty beach,



...interesting driftwood,

and a starfish with a pair of gimpy legs.

When I saw the starfish, I was reminded of the starfish story (click to read the story) that my West Philly roommates Alice, Dana and Maya told me when they were in City Year. It's an inspirational story about a little girl who wants to make a difference. Smiling to myself, and channeling that little-girl enthusiasm, I picked up the starfish and threw it towards the Pacific. Unfortunately, I am not a very good throw, and it landed immediately in the crashing waves. So, realizing that rather than actually helping this little guy to get back into the ocean and live a happy starfish life, I was in fact only prolonging the hour of his death by waves onto sand to dry up in the hot Guanacaste sun. Still imagining pig-tails and good intentions, I found him again in the crashing waves and picked him up to throw him to safety. As I flung him, his leg flew off, and he plopped a few feet in front of me. Not wanting to make his situation worse, and hoping that starfish can regenerate their legs, I decided to move on.

I am not sure what the moral of this story is.

Leaf-cutter ants

Here's a peek at leaf-cutter ants. Usually they carry (you guessed it) leaves that are 3-4 times their body size, but these ones are toting pink flowers. The video is actually from my friend Dana from our day-cation to Las Juntas. She could tell you lots more about these guys, since she spent two months volunteering in Monteverde telling tourists about interesting insects at the Butterfly Garden.

Perhaps the most incredible thing to notice is that these ants make a path, with their little ant legs, from so much walking back and forth.


domingo, 13 de septiembre de 2009

Problem solving

I'm now a month into my second year at The Cloud Forest School, in my new role as the Colegio Academic Support Teacher, working with special ed and ESL students in 7th-11th grades. I've become super-slacker with regards to updating my blog, mostly because in the second semester, I accepted the position of Assistant Director of Academics, with a lot more responsibilities. I've since resigned from that role, wanting to focus more on supporting the progress of my students and growing as an educator without so many commitments. I also want to use this job, as well as friendships and the natural beauty of Monteverde as inspiration for more writing. Keeping this blog relatively up-to-date and picking up more on my writing are both personal goals I have for this year.

One thing I realized about myself last year is that I like identifying and solving problems. But also that I cannot solve all, or really any of them, alone. As trite as that sounds, it was a huge realization, and recognizing this and also the need to focus my energy on tackling one (maybe 3) problems at a time will allow me to be successful and happy.

This lesson, of relying on others to successfully face and meet challenges, was one that Becky and I presented to our 8th grade advisory a few weeks back at the start of the school year. We started with a team-building game where each person got a word on their back and had to find and link arms with the person who had a matching word (i.e. spoon & fork, rice & beans, shoes & socks) without talking. It's not possible to see the whole problem if half of the riddle is on your back, so this is successful when a third person comes and puts two partners together. When we talked about the activity, it was clear that some folks had "cheated" and either looked at their back or whispered to a friend what was on theirs. Diego claimed this was telepathy. Next, we did a trust walk with partners, and then "Magic Carpet", which involved 18 students standing on a VERY large beach towel that my mom left for me when she visited in February (although not super useful for real beach trips, which always involved backpacking and riding several hours in a public bus, this was ideal for team building purposes). They then had to flip it over without anyone getting off the carpet/ginourmous beach towel. This was finally successful only when a "lightning storm" gave 2 students superpowers and the ability to fly (and piggyback another 2 students), but pulling each other together into a tighter group and cooperating made the task easier. So, in our discussion at the end of advisory, we asked some questions about how they solved these problems that they were presented with and what they could take away and apply to other problems, expecting answers like teamwork, cooperation, communication, etc. But, my favorite responses were: telepathy and lightning.

lunes, 8 de diciembre de 2008

Growing our library

As part of our planning for improving the English curriculum in the colegio, we are also looking at growing out the colegio English classroom library, which was largely built when the high school was still growing and classes were 4-5 students. Now classes are as large as 22. Currently, Tracy uses the available resources and runs her class as a series of reading groups. We would like to be able to read some texts as a full class, with the ability to have shared conversations. If you're able, please consider donating a book on our wish list online or giving requested titles that are collecting dust in your library to me when I return home for Christmas (in just one week!).