Tuesday, December 23, 2014

On Christmas Spirit.

My second Christmas away from home. Home and family which is kinda, in my opinion, what Christmas spirit is all about. One of my favourite Christmas quotes: 

"It came without presents! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!" He puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps... means a little bit more."

It's so interesting being a teacher in another country teaching students who have never really experienced Christmas, Christmas spirit, and the gift of giving. When trying to teach these students about what Christmas is and why it's so important to their Canadian teachers, it's hard not to emphasize the packages, boxes, and bags. I love telling them about the beautiful decorations, the lights and colours, and the atmosphere of people bustling about buying presents, seeing family and friends, and having Christmas parties. 

I think it's important to tell them about those things, because they are a part of Christmas. But it's not what Christmas is ALL about...

For me, and what is most difficult about being away from home during the holiday season, is missing out on the family time and the warm feeling of being surrounded by the people who love you unconditionally. I don't feel homesick on a regular day, but this week there is a homesickness shadowing over me. 

A few weeks ago, my students did an interview project with my cousin Rebecca back home in New Brunswick. Their task was to find out how life for Chinese students is the same and different from that of Canadian students. During the interview, the students had a period of time to ask Rebecca questions that weren't related to the topic. Students were very curious to learn about what Rebecca had for traditions during Christmas. As she answered the questions, describing the events that take place in her household on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I sighed, pretended to cry (putting on a show for the kids), but in actuality, I teared up and had to hide it from the kids. Rebecca was quick to apologize, but I assured her I was fine. But my heart hurt a little bit. Because all of those traditions, events, and moments she spoke about - from eating cannelloni's on Christmas Eve at her house, to opening the box of gifts from Uncle David labeled with their jokes and one-liners, and playing Taboo after dinner - are things my family is involved in, and things I'm missing out on when I am here. They are the things, that when Christmas is approaching, I remember and cherish the most, and make me feel warmest. Because they are embodied in the Christmas spirit. It's what Christmas means to me - being with family. 

These are the things I try to teach my students about during the Christmas season. That Christmas is much more than presents and the amount of money you spend. It's about giving and being with the ones you love the most. About being thankful for the things we have in life and the things that can't be wrapped in beautiful, shiny paper and bows. 

The thing I've been finding myself saying the most this December: I can't WAIT for my first Christmas back home! 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Being a Teacher.

This week has been quite a week at work. It's challenged me and it's made me so grateful to be in the profession I am in. I love my job. I've said it time and time again. I am one of those lucky people that always knew what I wanted to be. And that's being an educator. Working day in and day out with some amazing students who continue to inspire me and confirm that I'm doing exactly what I was a meant to do. I can't imagine having any other job. 

Now, before I continue, I need to make a disclaimer. I am in NO WAY writing this post today to toot my own horn, to make myself seem like some almighty human being, to be self-righteous. And if you think otherwise, than I suggest you don't read any further for you will only become angry and annoyed (haha!). You should know, I'm writing this today because I experienced something I want to remember. Because when I started this blog, I started it for me. So that I would have a place to write down my thoughts and experiences, to look back and see how I've grown and remember the things I've had the joy of doing. And that's why I'm writing this post today. 

At our school, the students in grade 10 take part in an english speech competition. This year, four of my students were of the five chosen to represent our school in the competition. For almost two months now, the students have been writing, rehearsing, and practicing their pronunciation in anticipation for the competition. Some of them have been coming to see me twice a week for extra help on their speech. It's easy to say that they have been working diligently and meticulously. They were motivated. 

Tonight was the competition. I was so proud of them as they stood up there and did their speeches. They listened to my advice, were poised and spoke so eloquently! As a teacher, I've honestly NEVER felt so proud. In the end, two of my students tied for third and two of my students got honourable mentions. 

Afterwards, I went to them to give high fives and congratulations. Three of them looked and me and said, "I'm sorry." My heart dropped to the floor. I said, "Don't be silly! You did awesome! And I'm extremely proud of all of you." Their heads dropped and they walked away. 

My heart broke. Into what felt like a million pieces. We took pictures and the smiles on their faces were so forced. I tried again to cheer them up by saying, "Way to go! I'm so happy." And they again said "I'm sorry." 

I was so dumb-founded. Why were they sorry? So I asked. And the response I got will forever be engraved on my mind. "I feel like a disappointment. That I am a shame to the school. Because I didn't win." I could have cried. I still want to cry. I felt like it was a reflection on my teaching. I racked my brain trying to figure out how they got the impression that if they didn't win that I would be so angry or disappointed in them. Whenever we rehearsed, I was sure to tell them all of the things they did well with before offering my suggestions for improvement. I high-fived, told them how much they had improved, and commended them on their hard work. I honestly can't think of a time where I ever displayed any other emotion. 

What I have learned over the last year and a bit is that the culture of the Chinese education system and Chinese students is very, very different from that of the western lifestyle. Much of the classroom culture here revolves around competition and being number one. It's engraved in their minds that if you're not first, you're last and you've failed. And I know that these pressures are felt in students and children all over the world, I've just never experienced it within such a large number of students in one classroom. If nothing else, this pressure and mindset makes the students highly motivated, involved, and conscious of their grades and progress. This is a refreshing attitude to see in students as a teacher and in most cases, makes my job very enjoyable. But today was not one of those days. 

I also know that at age 15 or 16, you can't always see the bigger picture and look on the positive side. That ability comes with growing up. However, once I got the three students out of the auditorium and in to a more private area, I spoke to them about how it's okay for them to be upset, angry and frustrated with their performance. I've been there. I've gone in to something confident and aiming to win and didn't achieve my goals. I've been upset with myself and beaten myself up about my performance. I still do it. But there has to come a point where you look at something and say "Okay, I can't go back and change it. But I can move forward and decide how I can be a better person because of the experiences I've had."

And this is what I (attempted) to teach those students tonight. I gave them examples, spoke to them about how to be grateful for the experiences you get to have, and what they can do to move forward. I know they listened, because they nodded and responded with their own opinions. I told each of them how I thought they had grown over the course of doing this assignment. And I ended by challenging them to go home tonight and think of at least one thing that they can be thankful for because they got to have this experience. 

And as they walked away, one student turned around and said to me "Thanks for being my inspiration, Melissa..." Two of the other teachers were standing there as he said that to me, and I turned to them and fought back tears. They patted my back and said, "You are such a great educator with special talents when you talk to the students. They respect you." I never thought that as such a young teacher would I ever impact any students the way some of my teachers did in high school. 

I had the word "Inspire" engraved on the inside of my T-ring for many reasons. But the most important one was that I wanted the idea of inspiring to motivate me to grow and to impact others the way some of the most influential people in my life have inspired me. I want someone to look back years after graduating high school and remember that they had me as a teacher because of the way I inspired them to follow their dreams. And tonight, when that student said those words to me, something sparked inside of me that's hard to explain. Something that makes me want to grow more, do more, see more, and be more. Those words made me proud. Of him, for being so brave and standing up in front of over a hundred people and saying a speech in a different language and doing it so professionally and confidently. I was also proud of myself, of the work I do, and of the profession I get to share with so many others. Teachers are such influential people in a young persons life. For some, they see their teachers more than they see their parents. We need to lead by example, inspire them to be the best version of themselves, and shape them in to well rounded human beings. Being a teacher is so much more than the curriculum, tests, and grades. It's also about the morals, values, and lessons you teach them about life, love, successes, failures, and the world. Teachers inspire. 

I love my job. So, while today was difficult, I can use it to reflect, grow, and motivate myself to continue to inspire these students to go out in the world and be the best possible version of themselves as they can be. I get to be a teacher. And I am so lucky. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Life Lately.

// Getting over a cold that had me sneezing, sniffling, and coughing all of the time. Lost my voice one day. That's a great thing to happen to a teacher...

// Reading more often. Trying not to watch as much television at night time when I'm going to bed. 

// Also trying to be healthier. Small steps. I have stopped eating McDonald's when I have a hankering for western-style food. Now I'm working on not snacking after 9pm. So far, I'm two weeks free of both. Next goal, start going to the gym again!

// Planning a trip for February. Flights are booked! 

// Getting in to the Christmas spirit (*longer post about this soon!*)

// While trying to watch less television, at the same time, I've started watching more movies. But they are holiday movies and I gotta watch them this month, so doesn't count right? 

// Helping my brother edit his resume and cover letter in the evenings. I can't believe he is graduating college soon and will be starting his career. When I read his cover letter, I honest to goodness shed tears! For two reasons: A) the writing he did blew my mind. So professional sounding but at the same time honest and personal. I didn't know he had it in him! Maybe he's taking after his literature major, english teacher sister! and B) I can't believe he is 22 and I am 25 and this is where life is now. Growing up. 

// Still loving my job. I love my students. I love what I teach. And I love getting to introduce them to the joy and happiness that is Christmas. And while I don't get to spend it with the people I love the most, I do get to see the excitement and amazement of the students' faces when they decorate a Christmas tree for the fir
st time, when they get to see the traditions I have with my family at home (thanks for the pictures Mom & Dad), and when they decorate and bedazzle my classroom with paper snowflakes, paper chains, and handmade Christmas ornaments! I love my job.

// Being an old lady and cross stitching a lot.

// Cooking! Curries, pad thai's, slow cooker meals like roast beef, soups, and more curry! (I'm going back to Thailand in February so I'm preparing myself for the glorious thai food I'm going to eat). 

// Teaching myself how to bake. In a toaster oven. Now that's a challenge! So far, a few burnt muffin & cookie bottoms, but the end results have still been pretty tasty. Especially the chocolate brownies with peanut butter chocolate ganache. (Did I mention I'm trying to eat healthier. OOPS! Baby steps).