Things My Students Have Shown Me

I haven’t even been teaching a full year yet, and my students have shown me a world of amazing things. I don’t get to see the world from a child’s perspective like elementary school teachers. I don’t open young minds and help students learn what they’d like to do with their lives like middle and high school teachers. I don’t offer students the ability to learn in unique ways and communicate in different ways from regular people like special education teachers.

Most of the time, I do the learning.

Because I teach English as a Second Language, I spend a lot of my time learning. If I’m not studying up on my history, civics, and grammar in order to teach a new lesson, I’m learning about different countries and cultures straight from the students in my classes.

I know other teachers in different classroom settings learn, too. It wouldn’t be teaching if there wasn’t a certain level of continuing education that was required of educators. But sometimes I learn things from these adult students that I would love to share with even a fraction of the rest of the world.

If I could share it with even a small amount of my fellow Americans, I would consider that to be an honor.

Why? Because I’m teaching immigrant adults who have had some intense experiences upon coming to the United States of America, and they work every bit as hard–and sometimes harder–as American citizens to find a sense of belonging, a little bit of income, and a place to call home.

I won’t make the controversial statements I’d like to make in this post. I will share some of the lighthearted moments that I think are worth sharing.

Things My Students Have Shown Me:

  • Hospitality isn’t just a Southern notion. In the US, we like to think that the Southern states have a corner on hospitality. We have that Southern hospitality down, right? Well, I have some students who could teach us a thing or two about hospitality. These students band together and offer gifts and food at the drop of a hat. They invite me to their homes and are warmer than some of my fellow Southerners have ever been.
  • Giving the teacher an apple is old hat. We grew up with ideas about presenting teachers with apples. We have printable gifts featuring apples for our teachers. All the cards for teachers are apple-themed. My students? They give me everything but apples. How about chocolate-covered espresso beans from Trader Joe’s or bringing in homemade dolma (stuffed grape leaves)? I have one student who brings me Biscoff cookies regularly despite my telling her it’s not necessary. When I tried to explain this to her, she took it as an insult, and I stopped immediately.
  • Charm can come in all races. This never ceases to amaze me. I don’t consider myself to be a person who’s easy to impress in the sense that I’m easily flattered. Unless you’re my husband, you aren’t going to simply flatter me and get your way. But when I started teaching, I was highly entertained by all the students suddenly trying to charm their way out of homework or doing writing exercises in my class. Most of these were the younger men, but they came in all shapes, sizes, and races. I had to laugh or else I’d be too mad to teach.
  • A little change goes a long way. This may sound vague, and it is. However, the little change I’m referring to is in the way I wore my hair. Yep, that little. I’m typically a dry-and-straighten my hair kind of girl. I’ll wear my hair straight and down or pulled into a ponytail. The first time I changed this and scrunched it into a bit of curls, the reaction was instant. I had the attention of most of my (male) students and had other students doing double-takes and throwing me compliments in the hall. Ever since then, I get compliments every single time I wear my hair that way and told I should always wear it that way. I’m always surprised how quick they are to voice their thoughts about that.
  • If you grew up as a US citizen, you should feel very, very blessed. It doesn’t matter what country they come from, almost every student I’ve met has told me they feel lucky to be here in the US. They’ve been here a short time or a long time, but they’re excited to have the opportunities available to them in this country, opportunities most of us know nothing about. They know all about these opportunities and are happy to remind me that most Americans take these opportunities for granted. When I hear that, I remind myself to be thankful again and again.

These are just a few of the things my students have shown me. I think it’s special to have the opportunity to see the world from their eyes. I’ve learned so many things just from listening to them talk about their lives.

If anyone reads this and wants to tell me that these students have no business being in the US, then I suppose part of me can understand the frustration. But I also know that I have students who survived the horrific torture of citizens in Cambodia, who escaped war-torn parts of Africa, who left parts of China for university scholar programs here, who moved from El Salvador with no hopes of visiting home until they can achieve citizenship, who moved here from Guatemala only to be stalked and almost killed by crazy ex-boyfriends, who came from Iraq and Saudi Arabia only to be cursed and flipped off and told they are terrorists.

It must be hard to live in a country where freedom of speech allows us such liberties.

These are the things my students have shown me.

– RaeNezL

Living the Prepared Life

I’m trying to figure out how to make life for Fernando and myself a bit more prepared. We want to be frugal with our lives and spend less time and money on things that don’t matter, like lots of food that just sits in our kitchen and eventually goes bad because I haven’t spent time making a meal plan for the week.

Yeah, I’m that person.

I like the idea of having lots of food in the fridge so I can eat whenever I like. But I never seem to have a solid plan on what I’ll do with said food.

Then there are the leftovers. I’m also the person who loves the idea of leftovers but can’t seem to commit to eating them. It’s like saying that the food is only good the first night and never again. That’s how I am and how I end up with tubs of Tupperware containers in my fridge full of foods growing who knows what.

Yeah, I’m that person, too.

So in an effort to change my habits of wasting money, I’m working on only buying things that we’ll use. If that means buying things that have a longer shelf-life to save money and save me the headache of emptying containers of moldy food, then I’m attempting that. If it means not buying food until we’re out of things to eat at home, I’ve tried that.

But I’m also trying to be more conscious of how we eat. I like having fresh fruits and vegetables in the house. I just never have a plan for how we’ll use them. This becomes a problem when said fruits and vegetables inevitably go bad. And let’s not even talk about freezer burnt meats.

Instead, let’s talk about how I’m making preparedness more of a concept in a frugal lifestyle. I have a job where I work part-time and most of my income is divided between my car payments and our grocery bill. I’m attempting to make that second one a great deal smaller by utilizing Pinterest lists and actually planning what we’ll eat each week.

Have you ever done that before? Planned out your meals? It’s actually quite cathartic in a way I never imagined it could be. I spent all Saturday taking ingredients I purchased at my local Aldi and chopping, slicing, dicing, pouring, and combining them into gallon-sized bags of freezer goodness to be thawed later for the crockpot meals they’ll eventually become. How prepared is that? I was incredibly proud of myself and then realized how much of an adult I really have become.

I still have a number of meals left to prepare, but they take less chopping, slicing and dicing. They can also be done on days when I have more time and don’t just have a break between the classes I teach. So I chose to leave those well enough alone. I am, however, spending time planning out exactly what we’ll eat on each day of the week so I don’t have anything left to chance and find myself saying: “Oh, let’s go out!”

It’s a favorite thing for me.

If I have something prepared or something in mind, it’ll be harder for me to be lazy. Or so I like to tell myself. I’ll have to report back here and let you know how it goes, though.

On a side note, I think I’ve mentioned that Fernando is in university currently. He applied to two local businesses for internships even though he’s essentially still a freshman (I think a bachelor-degree holding student should automatically get some credit, but apparently having an English degree and going to study a science major puts you right back at the beginning). Well, we got some hopeful news this week!

Fernando heard back from one of the companies he applied to and has been asked to do a conference call interview on Tuesday morning! It wouldn’t be in the exact field he’s studying, but really, who cares if it gets him a foot in the door? (Not to mention out of fast food hell!) So please be thinking good thoughts and sending up some prayers for him for his interview!

– RaeNezL

Taking Care of Business

Have you ever had a to-do list piled a mile high?

Raise your hand with me cause I know you have.

I regularly feel like there are about a thousand things that need to get done. I’m sitting here in my living room with Dobby the House Corgi on my feet (he’s a good foot warmer), and all I can think about is how I should eat, get my vacuum out and get the floors vacuumed.

Well, that’s not all I can think about. My bathroom is a mess, and my dishwasher is full of clean dishes that need to be taken out and put away so I can start that whole process again. I have loads of things I could be putting in to the washing machine right now. And my extra bedroom? Let’s just say it’s a complete and total disaster area.

My to-do list seems like it’s typically a never-ending list of cleaning that needs to get done. I sprinkle in a bit of fun here and there, like writing on my novel, doing a Pilates routine, working on something crafty, and cooking delicious food. But it gets a bit disheartening to just list it all out in one long list that seems to have fewer check marks than it has items every time I turn around.

About a month ago, I started a class by a woman who runs the website Little Green Dot. It’s a health and wellness website that has lot of great information, so feel free to go check it out (after you finish reading the post here). Anyway, Militza ran a free course on How To Become A Morning Person that I subscribed to and got so much out of. The course is closed now, but I’m sure she’ll do a third round if you’re interested and go to the above link to sign up for the wait list.

One of the tips that I really got the most out of from her course was about the infamous to-do list.

We all have them, but taking care of them is another matter for some of us (read: me). Her tip was simple and is probably one you’ve seen before, but I’m going to present it here and share how I’ve used it these last few weeks.

The Tip: Write down your top three things on your to-do list every morning. 

Obviously some of us are not morning people, so the morning might become the afternoon or even evening. The principle is the same. If you have a mile-high to-do list, you’re going to get the most out of it if you simply choose your battles, so to speak. Pick the top three things you want to accomplish each day and write them down somewhere.

Why do you write them down? I’ll tell you why I do it. I’m more likely to do my to-do list if it’s written down and I feel the need to check it off. There’s that sense of accomplishment every time I put a check mark by an item.

Why three things? I think three things are more doable in our busy, packed lives. We’re all running from place to place, working for hours on end, and running on empty that trying to fit too much on our plates would lead to getting none of it done. Three things can simplify the process, get us started on daily tasks to accomplish, and help boost our confidence.

My method for this is fairly simple. I have a planner I use for this purpose. When I’m being good, I’ll write down my list daily of three top things to accomplish. By the end of the day, I’ll review my list and check off the things I’ve accomplished. Writing it down reinforces the list so I remember it more, and I tend to feel more like it’s my personal list instead of something that’s an expectation from an outside source.

One thing I’ve also learned is that choosing three things doesn’t mean I have to choose three tasks I hate. I like to choose a mix of things that need accomplishing (i.e. cleaning the kitchen, washing laundry, writing lesson plans for the next week) and things I enjoy doing (i.e. writing on my novel, doing a Pilates workout, walking the dog around the complex three times). With a mix of fun and “chore” type things, I’m more likely to take ownership of getting things done around the house and enjoy doing it at the same time.

What about you? Do you enjoy your to-do list? Do you break it into smaller chunks?

– RaeNezL

The Part-Time Job

When I first found out I was hired for the job with the local school system, I was a little hesitant. They offered me a position as a part-time administrative role. It was clear I wasn’t being hired for something I was educated for, and I felt a little as if I’d fallen into a pattern.

It’s clear that my track record with jobs hasn’t always been perfect. You just need to see my resume to see that I have rarely kept a job for longer than a year. In fact, the one job I can recall keeping for longer than a year (besides Starbucks) is the job that started this blog.

Yep. The awful cubicle job from down-below.

I worked in a call center for a year and a month, and that’s the only redeeming factor I can really give that position.

Moving right along…

I was concerned that my earning power was decreasing the more I was laid off from positions. As a young woman with a degree in a rather vague area of business, I had no expertise to offer most companies and very little real experience to leverage when looking for new positions.

Then I got this part-time job offer that was part-lifeline, part-anchor. Yes, it would keep my head above water with bills, and boy, do I have bills! But there was still that nagging feeling that I was being hired for a position that I was over-qualified for and not even in a full-time capacity where I could at least earn enough to make the job count for something.

Still I hired on with those hesitations and began what has become an adventure.

I realize a part-time job isn’t for everyone, and for me, It’s really only a temporary position until Fernando and I can get some things set in stone. However, this job has been not only the lifeline I mentioned before but a Godsend in terms of helping me find direction for my career goals.

Not everyone gets so lucky.

Have I mentioned it’s also given me time to battle the never-ending monster that is cleaning the apartment?

Let me tell you all about that one. No, wait. You probably don’t have time for that. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

However, I might have to share more about battling the monster that is cleaning in the future as part of sharing about working part-time and how it’s really changed my perspective.

What I’d like to tell you about today is how working part-time has changed my perspective on the value of jobs.

We put so much value on what kind of job we’re working and whether it’s part-time or full-time. But there are a lot of people working positions like mine: part-time positions that require a lot of time and effort outside the normal working hours just to get the job done.

We tend to think that it’s not a real job unless we’re getting paid a certain amount. Different people have different ideas about this, but in some families, there are expectations about how much a person should be making in their career at a certain age or level of employment. It can be incredibly daunting to consider trying to meet expectations like that when you’re not even employed full-time in the first place.

We think that non-traditional jobs are risky and won’t yield a good result. If you’ve ever gotten involved in a job that isn’t what you were educated for or isn’t a traditional, safe, normal job, you probably know exactly what I’m trying to say here. This applies to full-time and part-time jobs, and it can lead to all kinds of pain and frustration, especially when we find our sweet spots.

We are consumed by putting a dollar value on a job instead of a quality of life value. I think this is especially true for people who like to compare what we’re making to what we could be making if we just went to a different position or company. It’s easy to put a dollar value on a job. It’s hard to put a quality of life value on it. We’re so quick to want to make the most money and believe that will bring the most happiness, but there are times when our quality of life deteriorates as we strive for that money.

You may not agree with me about these things. But I’ve learned a few things after starting a part-time job working in a position I love. I may never make enough money in this job to support my lifestyle, and that’s okay. My lifestyle has had many changes since marriage anyway.

What I will do, however, is find a way to get more education so that I can take advantage of opportunities to make this a more full-time position.

What about you? Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts on a part-time job?

Finding My Passion

If you’ve followed this blog at all, or if you just read back a few posts, you’ll notice I was in the middle of starting a new job last year. The job was intended to be a part-time position with the local school system where I would work in what appeared to be a mostly administrative role.

Well, one of the reasons I landed the position is because of one line on my resume. It reads: English Teacher – Wuhan Textile University – Wuhan, China.

This is probably the single reason I am where I am today, and if I’d never gone to China, I likely would never have learned how much I adore teaching adult immigrants.

There. I said it.

I love teaching adult immigrants to speak the English language.

And a job that started out as very much administrative and rather boring at times turned into an interactive teaching position with students from around the world who are inspiring just as much as they are challenging. I never expected to be here, but now that I am, I’ve learned I have a real and true passion for teaching ESL.

For those of you who have no concept of what that looks like, let me just start by saying it looks a lot like trying to teach someone who only has one pronoun to understand three pronouns (going from a gender-neutral pronoun to he/she/it) and teaching too many verb tenses that are incredibly difficult for students of foreign languages to grasp (past continuous, present continuous, present perfect, past perfect, etc.). But that’s just the grammar part.

Teaching ESL well also means teaching the spoken part, and we all know that living in an English speaking nation does not mean we by any means speak with grammatically correct sentences. I teach students to write without a preposition hanging at the end of sentences, but when speaking I tell them we tend to not worry about this. (With whom are you going to the store? – That’s an awfully awkward question to speak, don’t you think?)

Not to mention I actually have a curriculum that comes text-free. In others words, I have a curriculum but strict rules about not using copyrighted material from books to supplement the curriculum in my teaching. Thank you, China, for not giving me decent material or any curriculum to work with! This gives me plenty of room to truly be creative, take the syllabus and branch into all kinds of teaching methods for making sure my students understand what they need to know in order to pass the test.

Did I mention the test? For ESL, that means a written and spoken test. Any of us who took a foreign language in high school or college will remember the grueling repetition of phrases, the attempts to reply back to teachers who ask us questions we don’t understand, and the rote memorization of dictation sentences for dictation tests.

In the world of ESL, the tests are similar but not at all easy to pass. They test on issues that most Americans wouldn’t consider important for immigrants to understand; for example, one section of the test asks students to write checks and address envelopes properly. It’s amazing how difficult this can be for new students, especially ones who come from backgrounds where they’ve had little or no formal education.

Now that I’ve been teaching since August 2014, I’ve realized there are so many amazing areas of ESL that I’d like to explore. Even though it’s challenging and the students can quickly tire of the subject matter, I may have found my sweet spot. And what a place to be!

Have you found your sweet spot? Share with me in the comments if you have!

– RaeNezL

Breathing Life Back…

…into this poor, sad blog.

I decided to come back and make a few tweaks and changes to my little blog. I’m debating about working on making writing a blog a new career move for myself, and I’d like to have a more aesthetically pleasing blog to share with people if I do follow through with this change.

Why, might you ask, would I be considering this?

For the same reasons I’m doing lots of new things these days. I am choosing to indulge in healthier habits, taking pride in my job, finding passions in my life I wasn’t aware of, and becoming a bit of a fan of adding creativity back into my world. I’d like to share that with people, even if I’m not sharing things that I was sharing before.

My blog may change a bit as a result.

However, I wanted to address a few fun things:

  • I’m still writing! I have been working on a novel and am committed to completing and posting Anti-Hero to Wattpad. Those of you who follow me there may notice there is a fancy bit of cover art I recently put up, and it has inspired me to move toward completing my current novel so I can finish Anti-Hero. 
  • I’m actually teaching ESL or English as a Second Language, and I absolutely love it! In fact, I may begin sharing some tips and tricks of the trade on my blog as I continue in this new profession. I never would have expected to find this job to be so exciting, but it’s become something I’m quite passionate about and am now considering pursuing further education in to make it a full-time career.
  • Fernando and I are still enjoying married life, much like two no longer newly weds would be, and we’ve settled into routines. If you check out the new design of the blog, you’ll see I’ve linked to my Instagram account where you can find pictures of us both as well as our favorite Dobby the House Corgi.
  • I’ve become quite a fan of exploring Pinterest ideas and putting them into practice in my little apartment. They tend to make a small space brighter, larger, and more pleasant. Feel free to check out my Pinterest link in the sidebar and get ready for upcoming posts sharing all my adventures with Pinterest creativity.
  • Last but not least, I’m becoming pretty obsessed with these little things called essential oils. I won’t go into too much detail in this post, but if you haven’t heard of the various companies out there that sell them, you should take a look at Young Living Essential Oils. I’ve been getting oils for several months now and have quite enjoyed incorporating them into my life.

Phew! You didn’t know you’d be reading a book of life changes, did you? Well, prepare for more to come as I hopefully am going to be sharing more with you about my writing, creating, teaching, loving life.

By the way, the title of my blog might seem a bit misleading, but I think I’ll also be doing a series on how I’ve been escaping cubed life over the past several years and what it’s done for me.

If you’ve hung in with me this long, thanks! Look forward to more from me, and I’ll be sharing more about life in a Cubed world.

– RaeNezL