Tag Archives: Teaching

2 weeks


It is Monday morning and I am not in school. Usually at this time I would be in 2nd period, taking attendance and reminding my ever-so forgetful freshmen to take out their silent reading books, but not today. nope. Today I am sitting in my pajamas with uggs on my feet and a cup of tea in my hands. And it is glorious.

I like many things about my job, but the fact that I am 27 and still get a 2-week Christmas vacation is definitely up there! It’s a rough life, but someone’s gotta do it.

Here’s to Winter Break, 2 week vacations and no bells dictating the structure of my day.

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Last Day


To be quite honest, I don’t normally love graduations. They are long and sometimes boring, filled with cliché speeches and those horrible-why-were-they-ever invented blow horns, but yesterday’s graduation was a highlight of my year. This was my first graduating class from San Marcos. I have had the privilege of working with many of the students who graduated yesterday since they were freshman. That’s four years of teaching, reminding, listening, being patient, getting frustrated, forgiving, yelling, getting frustrated (again), relearning, reteaching and then doing it all over the next day.

Notice, the proud graduate in the picture. I know this kid. I have known him for 4 years. And the local newspaper could not have picked a better picture to put on the front page. This is a guy who hated school. He got in trouble in elementary school and once told me he spent more time in the principal’s office than his own classroom. He spent that past 6 months in my English class and every morning it was like pulling teeth to get him to pay attention. He liked to take 20 min long bathroom breaks and he spent more time sketching in his notebook than answering questions. I argued with him and took a way his cell phone, and often made him stay in at lunch to finish his assignments. I would assign nightly homework and he would moan “aw, ms. acker…I’m over this.” Sometimes I wanted to respond, “well, fine. I am over you too.” But something kept him (and maybe me) going. He finished. He did it. And I could not be prouder. This picture captures it.

For many of my students last night may be the only graduation they ever have. A lot of them go on to City College or start working, but may or may not actually have another graduation. Last night was their time to celebrate. I think one of the joys of my job is that I too get to mark time and celebrate with them- another year is ending, a season is done. I too, get to feel that sense of accomplishments that comes with finishing something. The year is done. Grades are entered. Good-byes are said. Yearbooks signed. Computers shut down. Doors are locked.

Today was my last day.

I love that there are natural markers to my job—clear endings and beginnings. Even though it’s becoming a familiar rhythm every 9 months, I still get a little sad at the end of each year. Don’t get me wrong I will be the first teacher to adamantly claim that “yes, June, July and August are three great reasons to teach” but there is something wonderful that happens between September and May… and that is the something that keeps me coming back.

So, here’s to the class of 2009. Congrats.

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Thank You, Sir


Today another teacher and I took our students on a field trip to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Quite an adventure for 47 students and 2 teachers- if I do say so myself. We crammed on to one of the good ol’ fashioned yellow school buses, which regardless of what they say does not in fact fit “3-to a seat” when you’re talking about high school students.

Sometimes I get nervous and a bit worried when I bring my students somewhere outside the walls of my classroom. Not because they’re bad kids, no in fact I think they’re wonderful- they are real and perceptive and lively, but sometimes they can be a little out of line. Their language is colored with four letter words and every now and then they act without thinking and end up in trouble. I guess maybe pridefully, I don’t want them and their behavior to reflect poorly on my teaching or me.

But more times than not, they amaze me. When I took them to an elementary school earlier this year to mentor and read to 4th graders they were incredible- mature, helpful, young adults who even filtered their language! And when we served dinner down at the local rescue mission they were the most patient and kind hearted servants I’ve ever seen. And today they were better than I could have expected. They were attentive, and eager to learn through a 3-hour museum tour, led by a rather intense, and passionate, in-your face kind of older gentleman (not your typical museum curator, that’s for sure).

At the end of the tour, we gathered in a small dimly lit room and our guide, with his hands raised demanded their attention:

“Close your eyes. I want you to think of one word that captures how you feel after walking through the museum.”

oh, no…I thought. I feared my honest, slightly sarcastic students would utter words like “umm, hungry” or “tired” or “bored.”

He pointed to a kid in the back; one of my most difficult students, a student who spends more time in the office than in class, What’s your word, son?

“Thank You.”

I was shocked. My loud, usually disruptive, always distracted student, just said, “thank you.”

That was the one word (ok, well two words) that stood out to him after listening and learning about the atrocities that were committed against the Jews. He was thankful; thankful for learning, thankful that someone cared enough to teach him and talk to him, probably in an interactive way that he had never experienced at a museum.

At that moment I realized how thankful I was, too. Not for the museum per se or my students, but for my own Jewish heritage. I am thankful for an American man named Varian Fry, who helped my great-grandfather escape from Germany in 1938 and for my grandmother who courageously fled on a boat when she was just 18, and for her generosity that has turned hatred and injustice for good. My grandmother has given more to me than I deserve- but that’s a whole other blog post for another time.

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Word of the Day

Rain boots are probably not the most essential item of clothing in Santa Barbara. It rains maybe, maybe 5 days out of the year here, so, any cloudy, slightly drizzly day is a good enough excuse for me to pull out my rain boots.

Today I marched into work wearing my cute, cherry rain boots. About 10 minutes into 1st period, when the rest of the class was busying coping notes off the board, one of my students in the back made a comment just loud enough for the whole class to hear:

-woah, ms. acker’s boots are flossy.

Flossy? Is that what he said? I ignored the comment partly because it was off topic, but also because I had no idea what it meant. Flossy. Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

Thanks to the fine folks at urban dictionary.com I learned a new word today:

Flossy (adjective): Superficially stylish; Showy; Attracts attention with looks or nice things; similar to “bling”; someone or something that is considered cool or stylish

examples:

“Your new cell phone is so flossy” or “We’re gonna show up all flossed out.”

Apparently Fergie’s song Glamorous also refers to “flossy flossy.”

Oh, the things I learn from high schoolers. Ill add flossy to the other slew of slang words my students say (words like dank, baller, trippin, days, hater, bumpin…and I could go on!)

At least I can rest assured that wearing flossy boots is a relatively good thing.

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The Coming Back

I’m back….back to grocery shopping and grading papers, back to the putting away, the picking up, and the sorting through the stuff that we call life. I don’t always like the coming back. Even though I’ve been to Guatemala three times I consistently fail to remember how hard it is to come back.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of good things to come back to: dear friends whom I love, wonderful roommates, a home that’s a few blocks from the beach, a job that is fulfilling AND enjoyable, not to mention being able to flush toilet paper down the toilet again. (Trust me this is a luxury that many central American sewer systems cannot handle). But there is something, something about Guatemala that is hard to bring back with me.

The people.
The culture.
The language.
The richness of simplicity.
Having time to linger over meals.
Freedom to wander and wait without a sense of urgency.

Surprisingly, I am able to find joy in what I would normally classify as inefficient or impractical. I have been able to see and experience first hand what happens when a country chooses to value relationships over accomplishments. Guatemalans will sacrifice any task at hand to be with a person. It’s a beautiful thing, really. And one that I am often guilty of neglecting when I am in my-north-american-practical-efficient-to-do-list-gotta-get’er done mentality.

The highlight from the trip was working with the 17 teachers from the two schools, Proximos Pasos and Vida y Esperanza. Now, I tend to always like teacher-type people (probably because I am one) but I get easily frustrated with some teachers when all they do is complain about the school, the students, the administration, etc, etc. I was so encouraged by these 17 teachers because not once did I hear them complain. And if any of you have sat through any type of conference you know that it can be draining and tiring (even the most exciting types when the speakers bring games and candy)

yes. this is me trying to teach a review game complete with candy prizes : )

We spent four days talking about learning styles and different ways to engage students in the classroom. We modeled some different techniques and activities for introducing new vocabulary and some review strategies to aide in memorization. We gave the teachers time to practice and had them share some of their ideas and struggles.

Perhaps what was the most interesting for me was getting to hear some of their stories.

I met Edgar: a 20-year old, who wakes up at 4am everyday to help his uncle as an ayudante for his bus company. He does one trip from his village to the capital and then takes a 40 min bus to the school, where he teaches 28 2nd graders. When school day ends at 1pm he goes back to work with the bus company and gets home around 8pm. Then does the whole thing over again!
And Joselino: He’s a 26-year old, talented musician and excellent teacher who walk around always humming a tune. He spent over 10 hours gluing empty egg cartons to the cement walls of his classroom just to improve the acoustics!

And then there’s Vivian: a 20-year old women, who stands barely 5 feet tall, but she manages and teaches 31 kindergartens and Pre-K kids with the grace and patience of someone twice her age. She takes 2 buses to get to and from work each day and she spends her Saturdays studying English.

And I could go on and on.

I have the utmost respect for these men and women, many who are between the ages of 21-24 and working for less than 12 dollars a day.

As I was talking with Wally, (the principal at Vida y Esperanza) he shared his monthly struggle to make sure the school has enough money to pay its teachers. Mirna, (the principal at Proximos Pasos) expressed how she often has to choose between “Do I pay the teachers their salary or pay the electric bill?” (She often opts for the former). And where I feel so humbled is that we are not talking about thousands or even hundreds of dollars we’re talking about 80 queztales a day (which is roughly $11.50- that’s how much I spend on a sandwich and a drink for lunch).

It just keeps things in perspective. I have access to money and resources that many Guatemalans will never know, but on the other hand they have mastered the fullness and richness of loving people. While I was there I spent some time thinking and praying.

Maybe I should to move to Guatemala? Maybe I could teach here at one of the schools?

But…no.

I felt a very real, yet subtle reminder that I am supposed to be in Santa Barbara right now. I have students and kids and friends who I care deeply about. I spent one day wondering around the quaint, tourist infiltrated streets of Antigua. In the heat of the afternoon, I parked myself on a bench right near the fountain in central park. I sat silently and watched as a little boy, no more than 8 years old scrubbed and shined the shoes of an elderly man on the bench across from me. The little boy came over to me next and motioned to my shoes. I explained empathetically that my black and white converse didn’t need to be shined, but we started a conversation.

He asked me, “De donde eres?”

Soy de los estados unidos.

He looked intrigued. Normally, someone would follow up with “Que parte? or “Cual estado?” But this little boy asked me, “Por que vienes?

That question made me think. Why do you come?

I answered, “estoy visitando solomente.”

I am visiting.

Yes, I was visiting. And I know, without a doubt I’ll go back.

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Making the Grade

I confess my blogging grade is probably somewhere close to a D-. And not for lack of effort. In fact I sometimes start blog entries and press “save now” with all the best of intentions of finishing them later– but alas, I never finish. It kind of reminds me of my students. They almost always have the best of intentions, but they fall short on the whole follow-through thing. However, they are pretty good at giving excuses.

For instance, each morning when I question, Why are you late?
“the bus left without me.” (needless to say, they weren’t there ON TIME.)
“hey, I didn’t even hear the bell” (never mind that you can hear the bell from the street corner)
“well, my sister’s…umm….friend’s…umm…mom’s car wasn’t working” (they don’t even have a sister!)
“ms. acker i can’t walk that fast” (mind you, this was a football player. hmm?)

…and my all time favorite excuse for being tardy is…

“i was across the street at Vons cuz i wanted to buy you a get-well card, but they were all out.” (creative to say the least, (this was the week after I had sinus surgery) but doubtful.

So, I will stop making excuses and start blogging more.

This photo captures a rare moment in my classroom where almost everyone is on task, almost. I know I am supposed to be teaching English and I do…well, I do my best, to teach these future minds of America (thank you Christine) to write and read, and think clearly and analyze intelligently, and spell correctly and when to use their, there, or they’re. But the truth is sometimes I feel more like a mentoring-counselor-job coaching-disciplinarian-tutoring-mom, than a teacher.

On days like today I empathize with the student whose dad’s lost his job, and then review with 2 girls how to use the point-slope form of a line on their geometry test. I explain to another that where it says “skills and abilities” on a job application is NOT the place to list what ability level you got to in the World of War Craft video game. I remind students to “push in your chair” and “don’t forget your sweatshirt.” I write hall passes and give lunch detentions. I listen to stories about his first girlfriend, her first time getting pulled over, and when he failed his driver’s test-again! My students complain and whine and sometimes, literally moan about the work they have to do, but they also share their stories with me, they write honestly, without pretense. They laugh (with or at me-depending who you ask) and they raise their hands with thoughtful, genuine questions.

My days are never boring and almost always fulfilling. I really have no excuse NOT to blog and share a bit more of my day-to-day; my adventures in the everyday.

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Snapshots

Sorry, for the lack of more timely updates, but this is the first time I have had adequate internet access. Although if I am honest, it has been quite nice to NOT have the convenience or better said, the distraction, of instant technology at my fingertips 24-hours a day. Life in Guatemala moves at a different pace- and I LOVE it! Time seems elastic here…we linger over meals, relationships, not tasks, are the priority, and “the schedule” or “the plan” for the day can change momentarily.

After spending 10 days working along side Guatemalans it is difficult to sum up my experiences into a concise blog entry. My best attempt is to provide a few snapshots of life here so you can see why I love this country and have nothing but respect, awe and admiration for the people here.

Snapshot #1 Holistic Education

Proximos Pasos, the school where 4 students and I worked every morning, is the epitome of holistic education. The 5 teachers there cared for the girls’ academic development, their emotional and social growth, their health and daily hygiene and their spiritual developmental. One day we handed out new toothbrushes and another day we washed, scrubbed, combed and picked out lice from the girl’s heads. Another day we taught PE class on this make-shift field overlooking the valley. Most days we helped teachers in the classroom or played with the girls at their break time. It is hard not fall in love with these 60 girls…not only are they kind and generous with each other, but they shower love and hugs on you daily! However, all of them live in conditions and homes where there is little money for food and education is not valued because they are needed to be at home to take care of other siblings. I was shocked and humbled when one of the teachers told me that me that many families cannot afford the monthly tuition of 25 quetzals (which is roughly $3.50—the price of a latte in the states!). It made me re-think how often I mindlessly buy a latte when I could be buying an education for beautiful little girl in Guatemala.


Snapshot #2 Complaining or The Lack of It

I think one of the most difficult parts of being a teacher in the US is the amount of complaining that teachers and students do (myself included). I cannot think of a day at work where I don’t hear another teacher complaining about a certain class, or a student whining about having too much homework, or myself venting to a friend about how much work I have to do. What surprised me most about being at Proximos Pasos is that I never, seriously, NEVER once heard one of the teachers or one of the girls complain! Now granted, I know they are not perfect, and I know don’t understand everything in Spanish, but I think I am pretty good at detecting complaining. It was truly remarkable to be at a school for an entire week and not hear one teacher or one of the students complain. Kinda of makes me want to rethink my own attitude about teaching. Why do I complain sometimes? Is from some sense of entitlement- like I expect things to be a certain way? Or is complaining some culturally appropriate way we have learned to express our frustration? Hmm…Worth thinking about? Why do Americans tend to complain so much?

Snapshot #3 TOGETHERNESS

Guatemalans tend to have the mentality of ours (nuestros), not mine (mios). Again, in the context of the school where I worked and because I am a teacher I was surprised how no one referred to things as mine, but more so as ours. When I think about my job…I describe things with the pronoun “my”— my desk, my classroom, my students, my paper, my computer, mine, mine, mine. It was so refreshing to see teachers desribe to our students, our markers, our supplies, our classrooms, our computer, etc, etc. There was this neat sense of community and togethernesses that seems hard to recreate sometimes (I don’t think togtherness is really a word, but you get my point 🙂 I want my life to have more of a sense of ours, not just mine. When Jesus teaches about loving your neighbor as yourself I think it has something to do with this idea or togetherness. I have often struggled with the idea of how do you really love your neighbor as yourself? I mean practically how do you do that? I think it may start with seeing things, people, spaces and ideas as ours, not mine.

Snapshot #4 High School Students Get it

One of the best parts of this trip was working with and leading the high school students from my church. For many of them this was their first experience in another country and certainly their first experince working with people in a different lnaguge and culture. As expected with that came their honest questions, raw observations, and of course, hilarious moments of pure laughter. I love high school students because they are willing to take risks and don’t have too many preconceived notions.

These were some of the words that they came up with when asked to summarize their experience in a single word:
overwhelming. joyful. mind-blowing. inspiring.
shocking. thankful. fun. encouraging. meaningful
eye-opening. humbling. interesting.

And if I had to add my own words to summarize my experience so far I would say:
refreshing. joyful. challenging. fulfilling.

Guatemala is always such a rich experience for me. I am not even sure if I can quite capture it in words, but I know that I feel so fulfilled here. When I am in Guatemala I live in the moment. I get to enjoy and savor each day, each conversation, and each experience. I love using my Spanish and learning from the people here. I know God works in different ways in people’s lives, but it is such a privilege to be in a place where I sense His presence each and everyday in my life and the lives around me.

***I haven’t been able to upload pictures yet….but as soon as I can I’ll put some one here***

P.S. The rest of my group flew home yesterday. I spent the day in Antigua and I am taking a bus to Xela in a few hours and will spend the rest of my time there. Adios!


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