Sunday, October 16, 2016

Zaccheus's Tree

I know. I'm a horrible blogger. Long are the days when I used to post all time - I think it's that life gets overwhelmingly busy, and I end up not prioritizing my time to reflect...but it's something that I need to do more often. I've actually found other avenues of doing this - I write in my reflections in my planner, and still love handwriting things out. It's just something that I've always done since I was younger - keeping a diary, a journal of the little and big things that happen in life that I want to remember, and maybe, one day, my own two little girls will find the time to read about what their mother was like growing up, LOL. =)

But anyways, what inspired this post?

You see, there was this student in my classroom last year. Actually, I had lots of memorable students, and I wrote about a few of them before, and I absolutely loved them all - even the ones that drove me crazy. Because in the end, they're just kids, and they need positive adults in their life somehow, right? And if I can make a difference in just the life of one person, it makes what I do count somehow.

Often as teachers, we don't know if we do make a difference. I know there have been a few - they often come back, keep in touch via social media, texts and emails, and in person - and it's a blessing every time. My heart is filled to the brim each time.

Anyways, Brian was this kid who was just a normal kid at school. I'd see him at school often, early in the morning, and sometimes chat a little with him. He always packed up later than everyone else in class and would leave towards the end or as the last one from the room, and though he didn't have too much to say at the beginning, I learned a few things about him - he got in trouble a few times for jumping around the roof at campus (which I secretly thought was just awesome, because I've always wanted to jump around the roof of buildings, hee hee!), didn't like being in the AVID Excel class because he thought he could get out of the class because he was more capable, he seemed to be an honest and upright character based on his words and behavior, and so on. He wasn't a troublesome student - he did most of his work, took pride in what he did, and stayed mostly to the right of the curve.

However, when the opportunity for Catalina came up, he jumped on it - maybe because he was in a competitive class period, where even the top students were turning in extra credit to ensure their spot on the trip, so maybe that spurred him to turn in some extra credit himself and to be sure that his work was fully and completely done from that point on. Whatever it was, even though he didn't quite finish his end of the semester report (he had turned in his Element Superhero project on Potassium and a whole chunk was not done. I remember chiding him a little on that, because I was surprised when I graded it, and was looking for the name of the student who did that, and realized it was his element), he decided at that point that Catalina was an opportunity worth going for, and he went for it.

I knew that this was some sort of turning point for him, at the start of the new semester. I know that after this point, he suddenly shot up as someone that the teachers noticed was getting ahead in most of his classes, who was aiming to be successful in his classes.

But I didn't realize at all just how much of a turning point it was for him was until just last week.

He was invited to speak to 6th graders at a conference last week; we had worked with our current PL students to create this technology conference for the 6th graders at 6 different elementary schools (it was pretty amazing and actually, educationally historical, because I don't think anything like this has ever been done, btw - 8th graders, creating workshops for the past few months, and teaching 6th graders about it. The 8th graders did most of the grunt work - even having a tech team - with guidance from their teachers, but anways, I digress...!). As the closing keynote speaker, he spoke about taking responsibility for his own learning...and he mentioned his turning point came with this Catalina trip. That once he realized he could do his work, and do it well in my class, he realized that he could transfer this to all his other classes. And he did! Not only did his grades go up, but he was seen as a leader by many teachers because even his own confidence and presence changed and was noticeable by students and teachers alike.

The Catalina trip opened up a lot, as it always does, for me in terms of seeing who my students are outside of the classroom, and getting to know them as the individuals they are. Because the trip has been after school ended in the past, it's great getting to know the students better but that was the end, and the students go off to high school after. However, being in March this year, the Catalina trip allowed for the camaraderie that was created to spill into the rest of the year, in a positive way. So besides getting to know the rest of the students much better, I also spent time and got to know Brian better too. Like, he doesn't like onions. Nor pickles. He was in boy scouts. Stuff like that. Even though he was seasick for a big portion of the trip, he really did end up loving the trip, and that momentum carried into the school year with him continuing to stay on top of his work at school when he came back.

He's one of those students that I really enjoyed talking with - we actually have quite a bit in common in a strange way, and always found a way to have the best conversations - and the more I learned about how his home life is, and how he has chosen to deal with it, the more I'm amazed that people that young can choose to make positive choices despite a past that many would say is negative. Not every middle schooler has that resiliency to make a choice, because at 14 years old, most kids don't feel like they have too much of a choice in how to deal with difficult situations. It's really inspiring, and I wish all kids who are going through difficult situations could just talk to him. So having him as one of the keynote speakers was one step, but perhaps in the future, I could see him inspiring others somehow, even if it's just through a brief conversation.

Though he's moved onto high school, I'm still super proud of how he has chosen to continue working hard in school (with good grades, even in his toughest subject, like Math!), endured into football, and at the same time, is learning and playing the violin in orchestra (even though he says he's not that good at it, I do believe that if he keeps it up, like he's kept up in everything else, that he can get pretty good at it). I'm proud and overjoyed that he can enjoy the fruits of his good and purposeful choices, and hope that he can continue to make the right choice as he continues onward into a world that only seems to grow more complicated as one becomes more immersed into it.

Like most of my students in the past, I may or may not hear from him later on. (I do hope to! I really liked him as a person. But we all know high school is all consuming for most students.) However, he took that opportunity in February 2016 when Catalina was brought up, and like Zacchaeus, climbed that tree right then and there.

As teachers, we don't always know the significance of what we do - after all, most students may just see us as "just a teacher". The United States doesn't make teachers feel too valuable in all honesty, though we know what we do is important. But sometimes, knowing explicitly that it really changed someone's life is That one time a few years ago, when I picked up the business card from the Ocean Institute at a science conference that we finally got to go (and we teachers, because of funding, hadn't been to a conference in years then, and haven't since then!), applied for the program, not knowing if I'd get it or not...that it would lead to several years of a sponsored trip of $8000/year for the program. And if I hadn't done that, or be willing to find a way to get students funded fully for a trip, and if I hadn't spent those months over the hassle of dealing with multi-day applications (and that's a whole other story) and what-not...these trips wouldn't have happened. These opportunities would never have existed, and the camaraderie, the jokes, the friendship and relationships that formed amongst students and teachers on these trips would never have been made.

And what if he did not? What if he chose to not climb that tree, or got too lazy at that moment, or got a scrape and decided to quit? Would that turning point have happened? It may have happened, but maybe later - maybe later in 8th grade, or not until high school. And he might still turn out as inspiring and resilient as he would be anyways. But I'm glad he took that chance, because it might not have been "one of the best times in [his] life", as he wrote in the yearbook.

Another student, Zeke, still calls me up every now and then - that trip was given to him based on merit (In each class, I chose the top 5, and one based on merit). He was in a hard place, and dealt with emotions that no 14 year old should have had to deal with, and understandably, had more than his share of hard days in school that other kids just didn't understand. But he has already called me 3 times since the last week of school last year to say thank you. It might be a bit much, but I understand - he was in a pit, and when he started to just try to do better, I was in a position to help pull him out and acknowledge his effort and heart in dealing with his world. And he never has to contact me to let me know how much it meant for him, but at the same time, when he does, my heart is filled with the significance of what one short little Chinese girl can do as a teacher.

His phone calls mean a lot for me.

As does last week, when Brandon, in his first year of college, came to find me at school, just to visit. When Sara came back to show me she's married and has a baby. When Brandy invited me to her kids' birthday party. When I got to be a madrina at Stephanie's quinceanera. When Sarah sends me random texts about OUAT and her face painted for spirit week. When I walk onto the high school campus and am bombarded with hugs, screams and smiles from my former students who remember all our inside jokes and nicknames. When others contact me on Facebook or Instagram about how they're doing, and that they just want to say hi and catch up. When Aubrey showed up at my classroom door suddenly after school. When Marcus walks into our staff meeting to say hi, or when he sent that random Merry Christmas text. When Makayla and Lottie sent me random pictures and texts of whatever they were doing at the moment. When Adrian showed up at my classroom door one summer day during a staff meeting, and waited over 30 minutes for me, just to say hi and catch up and to show me that he's in football and doing well. When my Ninjas come back to visit even though they got busy with sports and school. When Nomiscotti brought me lunch one day at work. When Josue, who is now a little taller, stops by on his way home from school to check out what's going on in his old classroom. When Derek, who was the first student to call me Mom (by mistake), and when him and his sister Kaytie still call me Mom even though they are in their 20's! And you know, stuff like that.

Their lives are real, important, and part of the world we live in, and even if they frustrate us sometimes, showing them goodness, kindness, and forming those relationships, I hope, will help them grow into people that one day, can show that same goodness and kindness to those around them too. The core of teaching is relationships, and I'm lucky to have been able to formed those type of relationships with my students. Some more than others, and I'm more than blessed to have been a part of their lives in that positive way.

After all, I'm not perfect, but God's lovingkindness and mercy is what assures me that I can do the same for others.

And that when we see that tree that is in the right place at the right time, to just climb it all the way to the top.

Some other updates, for fun: 

  • I went paddleboarding this summer! LOVED it. Intend to do more. And I haven't fallen yet, which is a plus. If you know me at all, you know I'm a little on the clumsy side. >_< I haven't broken any bones in my lifetime just yet...*crossing my fingers, arms, legs*
  • Jiu-Jitsu? YES. Totally loved it also. I wish I could have stayed though - the cost was abysmal, and we ended up finding Aiva a piano teacher (we didn't find her one at first and thought we'd put money into my Jiu-Jitsu class instead, hee hee). The instructor was amazing, and though there's a lot of grappling, I didn't mind it too much - he was more than professional, and I was able to do some neat things, like throw people, and flips and what-not. I felt like how it was that time when I took martial arts. The instructor would show us how to do something that I thought I couldn't do, but when I went for it, I was able to do it! Sigh. I really do sometimes wish I could be a ninja or spy, and do awesome stunts like that - but I also would be a horrible one. I'm a horrible liar and you could probably read whatever I'm feeling and thinking pretty easily if you're an observant person. =P
  • Guitar: I can play a few main chords, and now, can sing and play at the same time. I guess the cost was losing feeling in your fingers for a while but's fun. =) Shelton says I can lead worship now, but I don't think I'm quite there yet.
  • Piano: As Aiva's been getting into piano and getting pretty good at it, we bought an electric piano for her to use at home. Of course, that means I get to play with it too, and re-practice all the piano skills I learned on my own, with the added bonus of picking up tips from her instructor when I take her to practices once a week. It's a win-win situation. =)
  • Never got to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but Canada was entirely too much fun - from the maple forests in Campbellville, the suburbs in Toronto, to the rich history in Quebec, and playing Pokemon Go while in Montreal, riding a horse-drawn carriage around Rue St Paul and the Notre Dame Basilica, and eating amazing food, I guess it was mostly enough. =) 
  • Oh, we did get to go to watch a Conan taping. Yay! Now, if I ever get to NYC again, I'm hoping to watch John Oliver, because he simply cracks me up. ^_^
  • I've not crafted as much this summer, nor baked as much. I want to, but life has been keeping me busy. I also haven't run as much since school started again. =( Part of it is due to Shelton being ill the past few months - taking care of work full time and home full time really has had a toll on me. I won't deny that it's been hard, and that I've broken down a few times already. I'm going to keep the details and emotions of that to myself for now though. But I am thankful for friends that have been so wonderful by showing us their love in so many different ways...We are so grateful, from the bottom of our hearts. God is good, and He has a plan, even when it's not easy to see nor understand.
  • I do need to craft, bake, and run again. It helps me relieve some stress. Guitar and piano have been my stress relievers lately, but only when I get to it here and there. The owner at Aiva's dance studio, who is also a friend, has said I can jump into the hip hop class anytime, hee hee...and I do miss hip hop! I do love dancing. ^_^ But first, I need to take my Level 1 Google Certification test. That will be sometime this week. And now that a bunch of school things are done, other than lesson planning, I'm hoping to re-prioritize. I need to. So maybe I will hip hop, bake, craft, write with pens, brush pens and calligraphy pens, and play music more soon. And funny enough, I didn't realize how tactile I was until I studied up on Learning Styles for the summit we teachers came up with for our PL students last year. It explains a lot of things, and a lot of my hobbies, hahahahaha...But it doesn't explain why I'm still pretty clumsy at some other things. Sigh.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Journey to Quebec

*Posting from my phone, so excuse any grammar mistakes. ^_~

We took a road trip from Ontario to Quebec, and some highlights included:

Stopping at The Big Apple in Cobourg. One simply cannot stop when there is a GIANT APPLE completely visible from the freeway! :) It was actually an apple orchard and pie making factory, so you can see apple pastries being made, and of course, the market sold apple everythings! 🍎 There was also putt-putt, a mini train for kids, a llama and goats and sheep to feed, and you could actually go inside the apple to learn about apple history before climbing to the open top! 

Another highlight was just staring at the beautiful scenery - Lake Ontario is not the biggest of the Great Lakes but it was still big to me, spanning many cities and townships, and incredibly beautiful and calming to gaze upon! Seriously, I love the forests, the clouds, sky, water and the land here!

We made a stop in Kingston, the original capital of Canada before Ottawa. We visited some older stone churches with stained glass windows, the marine area, the very regal City Hall fraught with Canadian history, and dined at an authentic German restaurant for sausages and schnitzel for lunch! Amadeus Cafe had a perfect little Bavarian biergarten in the back for us to eat at, filled with rustic wooden benches and surrounded by climbing vines and colorful flowers. 

I know, that's just a salad. But I loved the dressing - it was chunky, but light and refreshing and flavorful, so I'm reminding myself to make it! :) There was garlic, onion, paprika, red wine vinegar and oil. Sounds simple but I'll have to work at it to make it right! ^_^

Currywurst and Weisswurst above.

The Milaner Schnitzel was good - think chicken Milanese cutlet. I adored the potatoes! Soft yet flavorful! We also had the smoked salmon and dill crepe - good, but a little on the salty side. 

We drive by Gananoque, the quaint little town that is called the entrance to the Thousand Islands! Not the dressing, mind you, but literally, there are tons of little islands at the Saint Lawrence River! Some bigger, others smaller. Some have literally one small house built on it and that's it! We drove by the islands, marveling how tiny some of them were.

When we arrived in the Quebec province, immediately, everything turned French. The land also, to me anyways, though beautiful still, was not as lush as I saw in Ontario. Even some of the traffic lights were flipped sideways, hehehe! 

Montreal is very city like. Bustling, busy, pedestrians and Cara everywhere, tight streets, alleyways and fire escapes along the side of buildings. Graffiti along with wall murals are sprayed alongside each other.

Though beautiful, I don't think I'm a city girl at heart - I love big cities with their eclectic shops and boutiques, hipster feel, and vibrant around the clock liveliness but I would rather just visit for a while rather than live in a city, heheheh. 

Our hotel is in the middle of the Quartier de Spectacles, the Entertainment District, so it's full of people! We are also a few blocks from Le Quartier des Chinois - Chinatown. So we are close to all the excellent cheap and homestyle Cantonese food that we like! :) 

Cousins of cousins?

We visited with Shelton's cousin and his family in Markham the other day, and basically ate and played all day together, lol! Their girls are the same age as our girls, plus they have a little 2 year old boy, and the kids had so much fun together while the adults had our own fun together, hee hee. :) 

So how are the kids of your cousins related? Would they be second cousins? Cousins of cousins? Lol. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Springridge Farm

I love staying out here, where you're pretty much immersed in nature! Yes, there are bugs, but it's not that bad. Most of them are harmless. :) Sigh. I love Canada. If I had to move anywhere in the world, many of you know it'd be Canada. :) 

I've been to a few farms - not a lot, but enough to get the gist of how they are like. Springridge however, is absolutely beautiful! The skies are gorgeous here, wide and open and filled with fluffy cloud pillows, turkey vultures, red-winged blackbirds, 70 acres of green fields filled with crops of strawberries, raspberries, corn, honeybees for honey, and more! 

It's also a great spot to take little ones too - they have a Fun Farm area for only $5 CAD per person - it includes a wagon ride tour, petting zoo, some farm animals running around and others in their pens,  mini hay maze, bales of hay to climb, singing puppets, tractor dirt box, bumper tractor rides, and huge tunnels made into slides for children to slide down, and more play area for the kids. 

There's a look out point to see the whole Niagara Eacarpment, as well as a market that sells fresh fruits and veggies (the sugar snap peas were beautiful!), and their little cafe and bakery. We helped ourselves to the cafe for lunch (not bad food! I'd totally meet up with friends to catch a meal here and picnic on the benches at such a picturesque spot!), and took home their strawberry custard tarts, butter tart, some maple sugar shortbread cookies and puff pastry sausage, and blueberry blossom honey (OMG SO WONDERFUL) for later! 

I'll let some of pictures speak for itself. :)