An interesting aspect of ”reverse culture shock” that I didn’t expect were all the flashbacks. It’s almost as if I have this three year gap of normal life experiences that gives me a bit of time warp… but somehow in that three-year-gap-time-warp are embedded a plethora of random experiences and stories that are now merely flashbacks. A struggle within reverse culture shock has been to know when I can share my flashbacks and when I should just keep my mouth shut.

For example…

I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday with a new doctor’s office that a co-worker had recommended to me. I entered suite #3000 and was greeted by a waiting room full of Spanish language and brown eyes staring back at me. I time warped into my Costa Rica experiences and approached the secretary’s window to check in. The secretary was on the phone speaking good ol’ fast Spanish and I was fully prepared to begin the conversation in my second language when she opened the window and said in perfect English, “May I help you?” This did not fit into my time warp, so I stumbled through my English (lol) of explaining that I had a doctor’s appointment.

After briefly waiting, my name was called. I headed back into the nurse’s station where the two Latina nurses took my blood pressure, asked about family health history, etc., again all in perfect English with impeccable American accents. Then this question:

“Have you recently had a pap smear?”

This was the funniest flashback that I never EVER thought I would EVER encounter again. For those of you that followed my CR blog, you will remember Trish’s and my experiences at the Seguro Social clinic because those were our best blog’s ever. (Find Trish’s experience here and mine here.)

“Excuse me?”

“Have you recently had a pap smear?”

“Umm…” (I’m trying to think if I should explain my flashback… but I decide to keep those details to myself for now…) “…Yes, I had one about two years ago.”

“Were the results normal?”

“Umm… I’m not sure… I mean, they never called me… so I assume results were normal.”

(The nurse is looking at me with a look of uncertainty.) “Where did you have it done?”

“Um… the Seguro Social in Costa Rica.”

(Then the conversation changed to rapid Spanish.)

“Do you speak Spanish?”

”Yes, of course.”

Now there I was, once again talking about pap smears (papanicolao) in Spanish, having this ridiculous flashback to having a very similar conversation in Costa Rica. The nurse continued the conversation in Spanish, and I was having one flashback after another. Like the time I was in the emergency room and the lady was like ”PAIN” really loud as if it would help me understand her question better. Or the time I was trying to explain that my eye was swollen because of a mosquito bite… LOL

So as I followed the nurse down the hallway to the patient rooms, I was cracking up to myself, wondering how on earth I would ever explain to anyone what it’s like to have flashbacks from that three year gap of ”normal life”…

That’s what makes life so interesting. : )


Mr. Giver-Upper

I have affectionately begun to call my student Mauricio my ”Mr. Giver Upper.” Our conversations go something like this:

Me ”Are you doing okay?”

Mauricio ”This is too hard.” (raises his eyebrows and stares at me above his glasses)

Me ”Why do you say that?”

M ”I don’t know, it just is…”

Me ”Do you have a specific question I can help you with?”

M ”I don’t know…” (buries his head in his now folded arms)

I had a lengthy one-on-one with Mauricio last week. I asked him who he was hurting when he decides to give up. I saw the realization dawn on his face when he thought about how he was only hurting himself when he stops trying.

It had become such an issue in the classroom that he was beginning to blurt out Spanish dichos (sayings) spontaneously during class as he was in that sink-or-swim moment. It seemed that right before he gave up, he would yell, ”Diay muchachos!! Que no me dejen!”  (Hey guys! Don’t leave me behind!) Hmm… a very creative way for a child to ask for help…

Now Mauricio has not made much progress since August when he started in my classroom. His MAP reading score is exactly the same… His F/P level is exactly the same… (Teacher acronyms for the various state tests we now administer three times a year)… Mauricio is in a sink-or-swim kind of school year. I think if I were in his shoes, I would give up too…

I even got the principal involved last week. The blurting Spanish had become such a distraction in class that I knew it was time to take some drastic measures. I think the continued conversations about not giving up are working because…

TODAY we had a math test on fractions. FRACTIONS, of all things. I mean, fractions in 5th grade have become very difficult. I´m sure you remember your own nightmares about adding fractions with unlike denominators. I just finished grading the math tests, and I just have to share the good news with you that I am going to share with Mauricio as soon as I see him in the morning: He earned a B!!!!!! Now this is seriously huge because the efforts he put forth in past chapters resulted in Ds and D minuses. I’m so proud :).

Taking life day by day and celebrating even the smallest victories… that’s the secret to not giving up.

Jumanji Reader´s Theater

I went scouring the Internet last night for a Jumanji Reader’s Theater… and it´s nowhere to be found. For those teachers that will be searching the Internet for hours like I was, here it is! : ) I wrote it for 15 students to be able to participate, and the approximate reading time is 12-15 minutes.

We will be seeing a dance interpretation of the book Jumanji next week as a class field trip, then we will perform our own Reader´s Theater of the book — no better way to motivate fluency practice : )

Copy and paste the following link in your browser and wa-lah! Feel free to edit the document for what you need.


Public School Stories #1

I thought about blogging about ”Wayside Stories from Public School”… remember those books by Louis Sachar? I was so intrigued with the irony in those books, and some of my stories to tell are also ironic.

My current 6th graders had really.bad.teachers over the last couple years, so these kids are kind of jaded against what it means to have a respectful relationship with an educator. From what they have described, it really sounds like they did not learn anything of value during those two years… Enter Miss Siscoe.

Yessenia tells me yesterday, ”Miss Siscoe, why do you let us choose our own books to read?”

Me ”Would you prefer I choose the books?”

Y (thoughtfully) ”No, I like choosing my books.”

Me ”Why’s that?”

Y ”Because then I can learn what I want to.”

Me ”Excellent. That’s what I want you to enjoy.”

Y (pauses, I can see wheels turning) ”Miss Siscoe, why are you a teacher?”

Me ”Why do you ask?”

Y ”Because some teachers don’t like kids but you do.”

Me ”Well, I’m a teacher because I’m really smart and I want to share what I know with you so you can be really smart too!”

Y (smiles) “Really? You think I can be smart too?”

Me “Yes, absolutely. I think you can do whatever you want to as long as you work for it. That’s what teachers are for.”

Y (looks skeptical, frowns) “Not all teachers want that…”

Me “The good ones do.”

Y (smiles) “Yeah, the good teachers do.”

A few weeks ago at church, I was introduced to a mother of seven kids. She quickly informed me that she homeschools her children because of the “horrible” public school district we live in. Then she asked what I do.

“I’m a teacher,” I said.

“Oh really? Where?”

“Actually here in this district.”

“Ohhhh why would you ever want to do that? The kids in this district are so poorly behaved. My children would never have learned anything in these schools.”

I held my tongue from saying what I really wanted to — something like… “Actually, the kids are very well behaved when someone makes limits clear to them. Also, I believe all children are capable of learning, even the kids in this district.” Okay, so maybe I would have said something even stronger (i.e. rude) in the moment… so it’s wise I held my tongue : ).

I truly believe teaching in a public school is a mission field. I pray I can make every moment of these 180 days with these students really count. I truly believe good teachers change lives.

Spoken Word Poetry

Spoken word poet Sarah Kay starts out, “If I should have a daughter, instead of Mom, she’s gonna call me Point B, because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.
And I’m going to paint solar systems on the backs of her hands, so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, ‘Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.’ ”

I had never heard of Spoken Word Poetry until I came across this TED talk sometime last spring. WOW. I get goosebumps listening to Sarah describe the mother/daughter relationship. Check it out.

Sarah Kay: If I Should Have a Daughter

Quotes for Thought


Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – Albert Einstein

I am continually amazed by how many students are labeled “learning disabled.” The term has even come out of my mouth over the last few months as I desperately search for the reasons for why students are flailing like fish out of water. When I came across this quote a few weeks ago, it reminded me that I’m not looking hard enough for my students’ strengths… like the boy that I’m pretty sure has some form of dyslexia is great at drawing cartoons. Or the boy who is able to decode words in a 2nd grade book is the most active participant in any kind of current events debate. We all have our gifts that we bring to the table.

Smart isn’t something you are; it’s something you get.

We all find ourselves in situations where we feel uncomfortably unskilled. It’s easy to assume that everyone else knows what they’re doing in the situation BUT even more importantly, anyone that is skilled has worked to become skilled. Current research says is takes 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert on any one topic. Mozart practiced piano for 10,000 hours before the age of five. Result? “Child prodigy.” So next time you’re feeling like everyone else “gets it,” remind yourself that it’s okay to not get it yet. You just have 9,999 hours of practice to go.

Today’s new knowledge is tomorrow’s background knowledge. — P. David Pearson

Today’s information overload can be overwhelming, especially considering that whatever I learn today will be outdated as it morphs into new news by tomorrow. The more important skills to have now include creative thinking, evaluation, and synthesizing the new with the old. No small task to ask of ourselves.

New Look, New Blog, New Inspiration

First question: Why have I not blogged in six months?

Great question. There are a flurry of reasons, including but not limited to:

1. I’ve had a serious lack of travelling adventures.

2. An insecurity surfaces and I am afraid I don´t have much to say anymore.

3. My readers were at a “comfortable” distance while I lived in Costa Rica… it was okay that I expressed opinions and thoughts that others may not agree with.

4. It’s taken some time to “get back on my feet” in the sense of living State-side.

5. Busy-ness.

Second question: Why am I blogging now?

Even better question. Again, there are a flurry of reasons, related to the above reasons for not blogging.

1. I realized that I don’t need travelling adventures to blog about… although I do miss them. There are so many other rich aspects to life to express!

2. Insecurity only brings fear, and I don’t want to live in fear. I have a lot to share, even when what I share now is different than before.

3. While I may feel more vulnerable with so many potential readers living in closer proximity to my now State-side existence, I cannot let that be my excuse for not sharing. Like in #2, I can’t get stuck on my fears.

4. I’m back on my feet now (reverse-culture-shock-speaking).

5. I’m busier than ever before as I start a Masters of Education program!! What better time to blog??? : ) This year of teaching and studying will be a blur of activity and having a blog is an outlet for taking “snapshots” of the continual metamorphosis of life.

6. I want to continue to share life with friends and family. Even though I am “closer” in the sense that I live in the same country as the majority of my friends and family, many do not live here in Elgin.

So in an attempt to stay in touch with so many of you : ), here it is: a way to share my life, a place for us to keep in mind what we have in common, perhaps neutral ground for us to realize how different we are, and simply just a way to keep in touch.

Because after all, isn’t life all about sharing?