Stereotypes – They’re Everywhere

So I disappeared for a week, and I apologize for that. I got caught up in a lot of things happening with life, and now I’m back to continue what I’ve started!

I wanted to talk today about a trend I see on Facebook and other social media sites that I think can be rather dangerous.

You know how often we share articles, photos, memes, or anything else we find on our social media pages? It’s normal and easy to do. I love seeing what my friends have shared on their Facebook feeds most of the time. But guess what? It’s May 2015, and we’re about to enter the ever wonderful world of election season.

No? You don’t think so?

I think so. It’s going to hit like a whirlwind. News stations are going to light up like New York City at Christmas time. Media websites will feature every candidate posturing about his or her favorite go-to topic, and we’ll be inundated with the “issues” that are important for this election season.

Why do I bring this up? Because inevitably my Facebook feed and yours will be filled with tons of shares of articles from friends that are all about their political affiliations.

This is probably my least favorite time to be on Facebook, when something explodes in the media and I have to see shares about it pop up on my feed for an unknown number of days or weeks until it dies down. Now, I know that might sound silly to complain about, but realistically my main concern is how this appears.

Every time someone shares a news article and doesn’t comment on it, that person is basically agreeing with the content. 

Would you agree?

I had a Facebook friend share a link from a website that was rather uncomplimentary to immigrants this week. It essentially took some simple stereotypes of immigrants and made those stereotypes into a short story. Let’s just say I was unimpressed and downright angry. Not only because this person shared it but because his share basically amounted to approval of the content.

I don’t usually comment on things like that because it’s normally not something I like to involve myself in. Political battles aren’t my thing, and I don’t like to start arguments on social media since they’re pointless battles.

However, this past week, I’ve commented to two friends who shared things of this nature because I’m tired of seeing it all the time.

I almost never share articles on my Facebook page. Why? For the reasons I listed above. Shares amount to acceptance and promotion, and you can’t take that back. You can say you were wrong, but it never leaves the wide world of the Internet. I prefer to share things about my life and what I’m doing instead of sharing the more volatile things like my religious beliefs and political affiliations.

I also just don’t think people need to know how I feel about those issues on social media. I may share some of those things here at some point, so don’t be too surprised. However, I don’t feel that Facebook is the right platform for sharing stereotypes and political agendas and religious fights. There’s a time and place for things like that, and to me, it’s not my social media.

What do you think? Is social media the place to lay down the gauntlet of political, social, economical, and religious battles? Let me know your thoughts.

– RaeNezL

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Best Laid Plans

Over the weekend I took Dobby the House Corgi on a trip to a local Pet Fair. It was actually a lot of fun, and we got some exposure to other animals and tons of people. Best of all for Dobby, we came away loaded up with treats, toys, and lots of literature on places, people and things of note that I am now working on reading through.

That was the first experience we’ve had together in a local event for pets and pet owners, and since it went so well, I’m now planning to go to another one in June that will be bigger, last longer, and hopefully give us more delicious freebies for the pup to enjoy.

I decided this would be my year to explore things in my city, and since I’m no longer working crazy long hours with a screwed up weight loss company and I’ll actually have a summer vacation this year, I’ve searched out some fun and fairly cheap options of things to do.

Have you ever searched for local events just to see what your city has to offer?

It’s kind of crazy, actually. I know people who live in a small town might not have as many events on offer as those in big cities, but even in my moderately sized city, I was pleasantly surprised by all the options available. I’ve made plans to go to a few different festivals happening this spring, the next one in mid-May!

In fact, the one in mid-May is probably one of my favorites because it’s the most delicious festival we have. Yes, I live in the South. Yes, we make delicious food. Yes, we celebrate our amazing food. And, yes, I’m going to a festival celebrating one of our Southern specialties: the biscuit.

I’ll likely make a post about that festival as it comes time for me to attend, but suffice it to say, it’s a big festival and there are many delicious options of food.

Then there is the second dog festival we’re attending in June. That one is, as I mentioned, bigger. But it happens to be in downtown and on the same day as a chicken wing festival located in the same area. This means the festivals will celebrate dogs and their people! Can you say excited? I am super excited about this and can’t wait to see what all I can indulge. Of course, that all depends on whether I am allowed to attend the wing festival with a dog in tow. We shall see.

And the last event on my list for this spring? A little thing called Slide the City. It’s something that moves from place to place, so you may or may not have it in a location close to you. Basically this group comes in and sets up a 1000-foot slip-n-slide in the middle of a downtown city street for people to grab floats and slide down.

Can you imagine kids and grown adults screaming, shouting, and laughing their way through a downtown street on their bellies in a torrent of running water? Yeah. It’s exactly why I’m going. I’d like to get my dad’s GoPro and slap a waterproof cover on it to video the experience. We’ll see how well that works, though.

These are the few events I’ve decided to do just to see what my city has available. Is there anything you’ve got planned for the spring or summer? Share with me in the comments.

– RaeNezL

It’s Like Speaking Another Language

There are times in teaching when I look at my students and wonder how we can be so entirely different. It’s not because they come from wildly different cultural backgrounds, or maybe it is. I consider it a totally different type of speaking another language because I don’t just teach English, I teach culture.

American culture, in particular, is one of enormous differences from the cultures of most of my students. They come from backgrounds of patriarchal societies with heavy overtones of male dominance, female submission (in some cases female abuse), extreme religious views that color the lenses with which they see the world, and an adherence to traditional values that have been long abandoned by current American culture.

This is why there are times when I wonder if I’m speaking another language to my students entirely.

I have certain groups of students who are rather loathe to accept instruction from a woman. The fact they’re male is only a part of the equation. The rest of the equation is very much decided by their country of origin and background. They tolerate the teachers but are hard pressed to understand why they fail tests when they refuse to do homework or participate in class activities.

I have other groups of students that are determined to speak in their native language to ask questions about my teaching. I would understand that if they’d already asked my assistance with their question, but they, by and large, ignore me and speak to one another to try to understand whatever grammar topic we are covering. The result is usually lackluster writing and a number of raised hands asking for help to write their sentences.

There are other students who come to class with one purpose and one purpose alone: to have me sign a piece of paper so that they can continue receiving public assistance. These are some of the most entitled, privileged students I’ve come across. And while I would never assume this to be the case for the majority of my fellow Americans on public assistance, especially as I’ve had to rely on unemployment before, I’m seeing that for some of these students it’s no problem to come to class and demand that I sign a paper to verify their class time daily. It is a problem, however, for them to be asked to do homework, come to class regularly, or even participate in class like normal students.

This is the student I want to speak to in this post.

The student who comes only to fulfill credit for public assistance is the student who should find another program. It’s not to say that they have no business being in our program. It’s simply saying they take advantage of a program that other students rely on to help them advance in their education.

I have seen several students who have very little desire to be in the classes come simply to have a paper signed. They sometimes ask me to sign their papers at the beginning of class, but I refuse and only sign at the end. I’m not stupid enough to believe they would stay to the end of class with the paper already signed.

One student came to me and said she would no longer come to our classes because she no longer needed to get the paper signed. I said it was her choice to come or not to come, and she never returned. Another student asked me to fill out her paper but said she couldn’t stay for class that day. She needed the entire previous month filled out and hadn’t bothered to bring the paper to class for me to sign before, so I had to pull up my records and fill in the days she’d attended. She tried arguing with me that she attended more days than I signed.

But my greatest one happened last week.

A student who has apparently never brought in paper or pencil for class moved to my class. He’d been told by our tester she expected him to have his materials for class that day. He came in and brought nothing with him except the paper he’d need signed for public assistance. When we asked about his materials, the same excuse of having forgotten them came to his lips.

The tester called him out and told him it was an expectation. Now this particular student isn’t fond of the women who teach him and the authority they carry as teachers. He’s less fond of a little old lady calling him out for not being prepared. Essentially she angered him so much he skipped the next class.

I have no idea if he’ll be back this week.

If he comes back, I doubt he’ll bring his materials.

And really, if he can’t understand why it’s important to bring a paper and pencil to class, it really is like I’m speaking another language to him.

– RaeNezL

You’re Never Just A Teacher

One of the interesting things I’m learning about being a teacher is that you’re never just a teacher.

I can be teacher and teach English to my students, but I’m serving other roles as well. I’d like to examine a few of those other roles today.

I always knew teachers did so much more than just teach. As a student, I always held teachers up in this higher plane of existence from other fields of employment. Why? Because many of my teachers did things for me that were above and beyond teaching.

Now I know what it looks like in my own experience of teaching adults, and while it’s not quite the same, it’s still true that teaching is never just teaching.

Here are just a few of the roles I have played as an ESL Teacher:

I am test preparer. 

This may seem self-explanatory, but it falls a bit outside my role as teacher. My official role is simply to prepare students for the test they take in our program. Following that and our curriculum, what I do outside it is on my own time, and I have a student who has come to me on several occasions during class breaks and before class to discuss a test she plans to take in order to get accepted to a local community college.

What is this test? Not ours by a long shot. It’s called the Michigan Test, and it is similar to the TOEFL or other tests that are designed to test a foreign student’s English language acquisition and skills. The student who plans to take the Michigan Test has signed up for this test in May and is feverishly studying using a book similar to Baron’s study guides to try to pass this test, but she comes to me for help in deciding how to approach the test.

I mainly give her advice about how to approach her practice tests and tips we have heard over and over as students. “Take one of the practice tests and just answer all the questions with your first thought. See how you do.” This was one piece of advice I gave her. “Try to find ways to relax and stay calm. You forget things when you get tense, so try some breathing exercises.” She talks about being nervous, and one of the big concerns she has had is not being able to remember what she’s learned.

As her teacher, even though she’s already left my class for a higher level class, she continues to come to me for advice and support, and I gladly try to give her what help I can.

I am a researcher.

As with that last role, you might think this one is obvious, but until you have adults asking for information that you’ve never even considered searching out, you can’t begin to question the role of research as a teacher. Certainly I research facts, grammar rules, and information I plan to present to my students. However, I have students come to me for more information about things unrelated to class topics on a semi-regular basis.

With my student above, she came to me with questions about how to enter a community college as a foreign student, and having never been in the position myself, I set to work finding the information from the particular college’s website for her. It was certainly worth the research as I had no idea how different the procedures were depending on the varying visa types.

Another student recently came to me and questioned me about adoption. She asked if she could adopt a U.S. born child as a non-citizen. As this was not a normal circumstance, I decided to look into some of the information on adoption laws and discovered a wealth of information I’m still trying to wade through for her to pass on to her husband.

Being a researcher doesn’t just mean research for my lesson plans anymore. It means finding answers to tough questions that are hard for my students to research on their own with their limited English skills.

I am an advisor/counselor.

I think all teachers feel this at some point in their careers. I am just blessed to feel it at this stage in mine.

My students come to me frequently with questions about how to pass the test. This time I am referring to the program test. They come to me with questions about things they have heard from their American friends. They ask me how to respond when American employers say certain things to them. They ask me how to be confident about their oral tests. And they ask me about passing the citizenship exam and how to stay calm in the middle of the exam.

This is perhaps one of the great responsibilities and privileges that comes with teaching. I love this and love the opportunity to share ideas and advice with my students. I do everything in my power to give them answers that will help, and many of them have come back to thank me for the answers I’ve given them, even if it was just an answer that helped them pass the test.

I am emotional support. 

One thing that teachers see is life. Life plays out no matter what kind of classroom a teacher heads. With my adults, I see things from the perspective of parents, lovers, friends, and enemies. There is a tension that exists in a classroom of adults, similar to that in a classroom of children but with a depth that comes from knowing the bills must be paid, the work must be done, the children must be cared for, and the food must be cooked.

When life goes haywire or when things get sketchy, I find myself at the head of people in line for requests of emotional support. My student who plans to take the Michigan Test constantly asks for my prayers for her success, and I am happy to offer them on her behalf. This week I learned a student has a medical condition she cannot receive surgery for until she returns from her home country, and she had asked for my help because the condition was scary and new.

And yesterday a lovely student asked me and my boss for not only emotional support but for a ride home from the hospital after an exploratory surgery she will have to try to determine what’s going on internally. She has no family here and reached out to us because she had no one else to ask. She asked for help, support, and prayers. I can’t imagine doing any less for her.

All these roles and so many more have been a blessing.

Sometimes teaching is hard, but when I think of the ways I get to be more than just a teacher, I can’t help thinking it’s a wonderful thing to be in such a position as this.

I’m never just a teacher.

– RaeNezL

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