History Lessons

About a week ago I stood in my class working through the citizenship portion of my lesson plan. Now, for most of us, citizenship sounds like something we’d never have to worry about, but for my students, it’s sometimes as close as a phone call with a date and time for an interview in Memphis.

Can you imagine anything scarier than going to an immigration interview where you’ll be asked to answer 10 questions about a country in order to prove you should become a citizen?

I’m sure there are scarier things. I can imagine them, and you can, too. But when it comes down to the wire, these students of mine are telling me how afraid they are of this citizenship interview simply because it is a daunting task. And, well, I can see why.

If you don’t know anything about the interview portion of the citizenship process, don’t worry. Neither did I until I landed this job. Every person who goes through citizenship in the U.S. has an interview where they are evaluated on their English speaking skills as well as their listening. Now, you might expect that to be easy, but what kinds of questions are you anticipating? Not nice questions about the weather.

The interview features questions about the application a person submitted what must feel like ages ago by the time they get into that room. The application is multiple pages long and asks tough questions of a non-English speaker. So by the time they sit before an immigration official, they have to recall information they put down on paper, sometimes with a lawyer for accuracy, months prior about their backgrounds and their families.

But I digress.

The citizenship lesson I was teaching was about the actual questions that each applicant is required to study in order to pass the test for citizenship. Applicants are given a test booklet with 100 possible questions they have to study. These questions range over a number of topics from history, government, geography, and U.S. symbols. The thing is, if you go to an immigration officer, you have no idea what questions you’ll be asked, and you only get 10 questions to answer.

Applicants have to answer 6 questions correctly to pass the test.

As I was saying, I was going over as many questions as possible in class last week when I stumbled upon a topic that apparently left my students a tad confused. We were discussing federal holidays when I explained Columbus Day to my students. Admittedly, most Americans don’t care for the holiday as it’s just another mark on a calendar, a day for their kids to come home from school with strange cardboard hats and colored drawings of old-fashioned people in boats. But this holiday struck something in my students, and we had a lively discussion around one question.

If there were already people living in the U.S. when Columbus came here, why do we celebrate him as discovering the country?


I had to pin down the real question here before I could answer it, but it honestly came back to the question of colonization. The U.S. wasn’t just a hunk of land with no habitation. So why did it matter that it was discovered by some strange European and subsequently explored and colonized by other strange Europeans?

And this was where our conversation led us. We discussed Columbus’ travels and how most Europeans had no concept of the world as including these other pieces of land we now know as North America and South America. We discussed the discoveries from the perspectives of Europeans expecting Columbus to sail west and find the other side of the world containing China instead of these strange new lands.

And I rediscovered how fun it is to teach these concepts to people who have no exposure to our version of history, no exposure to our education system, no exposure to what makes this side of history so interesting!

I say that not to say that history isn’t amazing around the world. I have always been fascinated by world history. I love learning about history in different countries. But to teach something that I’ve always found so simple and such a normal part of American history to people who have never really had this education is exciting. To see them understand this discovery for what it is, what it meant in its time, was something that really made my day.

And yet, I heard from my husband this morning that contestants on a local radio show couldn’t figure out how old the country would be in 20 years. The tie answer was 450 years.

How easily we forget our history.

In fact, the answer would be 250 years.

From 1776, the year we declared independence to 2026. We are a young country, are we not?

And here I sit, enjoying my students and their curious questions about our history, our language, and their desire to understand. This is why I wanted to get out of the cube.

– RaeNezL


Summer Daze

Can you believe it’s almost summer? I know, technically summer doesn’t begin till the end of June if we’re talking calendar days. But realistically summer is here for many of us. And that means summer plans, like going on trips, taking nice vacations, and relaxing in the summer daze of heat and sun.

I’ve already started a bit of my summer daze with Fernando, actually. I’m still teaching and will be till the middle of June, but we spent our Memorial Day at the local waterpark. It was wonderful to go out and get some sun and enjoy the lazy river and wave pool and then splash through the slides and water coasters.

However, now that I’ve got two extra days free during my week, I’m trying to make some plans for how I’ll spend my June and then my July, which will be whole weeks of free time. I might as well admit that I don’t want to get wrapped up in doing nothing for days on end because that leaves me looking a bit like a slug, complete with fat rolls upon fat rolls.

So in order to make some plans, I figured this would be a good place to announce what I’d like to accomplish in the near future!

End of May/June

This will be a month of teaching twice a week (technically four times but limited to two days), so I’ll be trying to use my off days to get things accomplished around the apartment. Here are the few things I want to get done by the end of June:

  • Figure out how to make a Paleo style diet for myself (and possibly Fernando, too). We’re going to the beach at the end of June, so it would be nice to make a change between now and then. Besides, I haven’t felt very good doing SAD lately and have had some negative side effects from that particular lifestyle, so making a change would be nice.
  • Find a way to budget my groceries that works. This ties in to doing a Paleo style of diet. It’s important that I don’t go overboard. But since it’s summer, it’ll be easier to buy fresh fruits and vegetables to make it work for right now. I’ll just have to adjust once the weather cools off again.
  • Go through my wardrobe and clean it out using the KonMarie method. This is rather terrifying, but I have way too many clothes I don’t wear and just need to donate to a good cause, like our local organization that gives back to homeless people. So my idea is to get this done as soon as possible so Fernando can make use of one of our dressers. (Yes, I’m taking up two dressers with all my clothes right now!)
  • Tackle the stuff (junk, garbage, excess, etc.) that’s filling up our extra bedroom and sort it, get rid of what doesn’t belong, and make sure to tag anything that needs to go back to the school office at the end of the month. This is the one task that terrifies me the most. If you could see my extra bedroom, you’d know why. I probably need a small army to come in and pull everything out of there, but there’s only me. However, since I do have to return a number of things to the school office at the end of the month of June, it’s important I get things sorted and filed in some form of organization prior to the month’s end so I don’t rip my hair out at the last minute.

Those are the top things on my list for June. Is that a lot? Maybe. But if I can accomplish all that this month, it’ll make July so much more pleasant. I won’t feel like I have a monumental task looming over me. And, yes, that monumental task is specific to the extra bedroom at this point.

If Fernando and I decide to move when our lease is up, I have to tackle that space anyway. So I might as well get it done this summer and clean it out while I have time and don’t have to worry about lesson plans clogging up my time and energy. Right? Right. Besides, it’s probably a good idea to go through and get rid of a bunch of the stuff in the apartment before we move. If I do it now, it won’t be as painful as it would be trying to decide what needs to go before we pack things away.

Here’s to spring cleaning in summer and decluttering year-round! What are your plans for the summer?

– RaeNezL

Beginnings and Endings

Life is always full of beginnings and endings. We always watch as one door opens and another one closes. In the end, I think the best part is being able to look back and see the things that we experienced and smile at those experiences.

This week is a series of beginnings and endings for Fernando and myself. Perhaps for you, too.

I’ll start by saying that the world of social media is a great place to watch people take their steps from one ending to a new beginning. Just this week alone in my world of social media, I watched the following:

  • A friend moved to a new city in a new state.
  • A cousin had a first baby.
  • Another cousin became engaged.
  • A friend announced a first pregnancy.
  • A friend posted her engagement photos.

All those beginnings! And each of them marks the end of something, too, when you think about it.

Well, we had our own humble endings and beginnings this week.

Fernando finished out his last day in the fast food world on Sunday. It was, perhaps, not the best shift he could have had, but then again, it’s over. And that’s just it. It’s over!

Poof. One shift, and he never goes back to work there again. He left his keys in the safe, and that was that.

Then I had my own endings this week.

On Monday, I spent my day teaching my class and another teacher’s class because that teacher’s children were sick. Suffice it to say my best laid plans don’t always include teaching four different levels of students! But it all seemed to work out in the wash as I was even complimented by one of the students from the other class about how she enjoyed my class.

Wednesday marked the end of my class, however. It’s the end of a school year here, and while two of my classes will continue through June, this one will not. I said goodbye to my students and enjoyed one last class with my ladies in this class (all females at this point!). Some of them will take amazing trips this summer, and some will go back to their countries, either to visit or to return forever. But wherever they go, they will always hold a place in my heart, and I’m hoping to see them again sometime September when classes begin again.

It’s amazing to think that I started in this class in September and went the entire school year with them. I’m so proud of the work all the students in my class here have achieved. They’ve done so well, and some of them have gone so far just in one school year. But it’s come to a close and is time to move to a new beginning. I just haven’t decided what that is yet.

On the other hand, Fernando’s new beginning started the same day as my ending. Wednesday marked his first day at the internship! He was excited and had bought some new clothes so he could go properly dressed in his business casual attire. It’s now all about learning the ropes for him as he starts a totally new position. I couldn’t be more proud of him.

Beginnings and endings are the markers in our lives, and this week has been full of them. Have you had any beginnings and endings to share this week?

– 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

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