The trials of beginning a new school year – September 13, 2015

The third week in August, I began a new school year. Normally, I’m pumped and ready to go, but this year, something was different.

I had spent the summer completing my novel, Always Connected, and finalizing the edits of what seemed to be endless errors I had missed in the process of proofreading. I was tired yet excited at the same time. I was tired for obvious reasons, but I was excited that finally my dream of being an author was going to happen this year. This year–when my second daughter is a Senior here at my high school and my third daughter is a Freshmen with me as well.

The school year was daunting as I looked at my numbers. Too many students were in my classes and by the time the third week came around, I found myself overwhelmed with names which didn’t sound familiar and had yet to be memorized. Every day I went home and slept to save my sanity.

Now at week six, I’m used to a few students and I’m learning to relax with the multitude of faces which I still don’t know at this point in the semester. I feel bad, but survival is always key during these times.

As a teacher, what I’ve learned the most is that experience is a great teacher. It has taught me when things don’t feel right in a classroom, like the way students are acting or the way students are learning or in some cases, not learning a concept I have been covering. That experience is what gets me through tough times like these and for my students, they most likely won’t know I’m overwhelmed because I’ll never show it to them. I’ll be controlled and ready to teach because that is what I’m used to doing every day. It is what keeps me centered and focused despite the feelings going on inside me. I am there for them, not me. I always have to keep this in mind as those young aspiring faces stare at me and know me as their teacher.

So although the feelings will still be there for awhile, eventually the anxiety and overwhelming feelings will subside in time. I know this to be true. Soon my students will know me and I will learn all of their names. They will just be “my kids,” and know that I am always here for them.

A Teacher’s Thoughts Before School Begins – July 29, 2015

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The summer is almost over and every teacher in the universe is thinking the same thing, “It’s time to go back already!  So soon!”

Every teacher knows that teaching is an exhausting profession.  Many tease teachers and state, “Oh, but you get the summers off.  What a breeze!”

Not true at all.  Any teacher knows that without our summer break our brains would be mush. Teachers are leaders, counselors, parents, spiritual guides (without the religion, of course), and mentors.  They do all of these jobs, then teach, and in addition, deal with parents (and not usually under the best situations).  Sometimes the overload can be daunting, but tenured teachers don’t know any better, because this is all we have ever known. We make it through, but there are moments when we need a break and not just in summer.

However, along with the frustration of going back to school, there is also the excitement of the new year.  Organizing our new supplies, setting up our rooms, reviewing our rosters — all of these tasks are enjoyable in a sense because they remind us that we are starting fresh, with hopefully better and updated curriculum and new ideas to keep the kids engaged and learning. It is a chance for us to improve our classrooms, our students, and also ourselves as educators.

We also encounter great students who just make our day on occasions.  And then, there are other students who struggle in their home life and somehow these issues make their ways into the classroom with defiant behavior and lack of filters for appropriate behaviors.  Teachers have to take the good with the bad on a daily basis.  We know that many times our students see us more than they see their parental figures at home, and this alone makes us sympathize with the plight of the child, regardless of the age.

We are hopeful of a good upcoming year, but along the way, sometimes there are setbacks like deadlines, testing, and more testing.  All of this on top of our normal curriculum and tasks concerned with our job. Many women teachers, especially, stress over balancing their roles as teachers and mothers, and try to do both to the best of their ability.

So as the summer ends, and all teachers head back to the classroom, we are reminded that the year will be a great deal of work and sweat and then more work.  However, soon the year continues on and before we know it, we are back to summer break.

Summer for teachers is a time of relief and gratitude.  It is a time for us to truly breathe.  No other profession is offered this gift, but in our case, we can say that we truly need it to make it through.

April 14, 2015 – Imperfect in our Perfection

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All of us would love to be perfect.  It’s one of those concepts that the media, our religion, or our surroundings praise above all.  The idea of perfection — in body image, in success, in relationships, in our integrity.  The pressure to be perfect is all too overwhelming for most of us.

A  wise professor from my university once told us, “The older I get, the more imperfect I realize I become.” The quote may not have been exactly in those words, but we got the idea. Imperfection was being less than one expected.

Now, this one professor was my favorite professor of all time, mainly because he was the most down to earth teacher on campus. He often told us the most interesting stories and highlighted the details with the enthusiasm of a great storyteller.  I thought about what he said and wondered what an amiable man and pastor meant by his imperfection. I just couldn’t fathom the concept. He had raised wonderful children, been married to the same wife for numerous years, and was a pastor and respected professor.  Imperfection?  It couldn’t be.

As I look at my life now as a wife, mother and teacher, I realize exactly what he meant.  It’s not like each person is trying to be a phony or make a false persona for oneself, but it is true that as people from the outside (colleagues, extended family, friends) see us, they only see one image of us at certain moments. And that image, hopefully if one has integrity and a conscience, is a decent and upstanding image.  But now I know that as we age, we tend to make errors in different ways, maybe not to the same degree as other people might, but in our own specific ways.  We know when we disappoint ourselves and others around us.  Sometimes we know we’re lacking in our judgment, and we don’t even care.  I haven’t hit that point yet, but I’ve felt the sting of being the one not in the right. It’s not a good feeling at all.

For instance, as a wife, I know that I can try to be the best wife possible, but I will sometimes falter in some way, depending on the day, the situation, the mood I’m in, etc.  I know what I want to be – loving, understanding, compassionate, but sometimes the results aren’t what I expect of myself. Even being married to the same man for many years doesn’t guarantee that things are always perfect, but they can be nearly perfect depending on our actions to our loved one.  And it’s in these moments, that I remember my professor’s words loud and clear, even though I don’t want to admit it about myself.  I understand exactly what he meant, only now I’m the one admitting my imperfection.

The human side of my being is hard to deal with especially when you are halfway through your life and you think you have it (for the most part) “together.”  But, in this humanness, I am often brought back to my faith and what God expects of me.  Then, it truly saddens me that I gave into humanness because of weakness, or mood, or whatever caused me to not be the understanding person I normally am to my husband, or kids, or others. And I can say, for myself, that although it doesn’t happen often, when it does, it feels like my heart was torn out of my chest and thrown to the ground.  It doesn’t seem like this could be “me.”

As a mother, it has been apparent many times that what I thought was a good thing to say at the time was actually a mistake. Sometimes we as parents don’t understand how the impact of our words or actions (or the interpretation from our children) can cause pain, and not even intentionally.  We’ve all had the moments of true frustration with children when we didn’t know what to say, but said it anyhow.   Once we saw the look on our child’s face, it was already done and it was too late. We didn’t listen enough, or we heard what we wanted and overreacted, causing unneeded words to be exchanged. Again, imperfectly perfect.

In teaching, I am reminded that patience is so important in dealing with my students even when I don’t feel like being patient.  It has been one of those lessons which I learned early on in teaching, and for the most part, has served me well.  That does not mean that I tolerate disrespect or unruly behavior from students, because in those moments, they do need to be told that they will be accountable for their actions against me.  However, there are times when true understanding does need to outshine scolding.  I think of how much time I spend with kids each day, and how sometimes my students see me more than they see their own parents.  Again, I remember my professor’s words speaking loudly to me, reminding me to especially be abundant in the words I choose to uplift, encourage, or praise. His words remind me to improve myself for them, my students. However, there are moments when I’m not at my best and wish that I could be more patient in the most needed times.

Along with the lesson of imperfection from my professor, the gift of storytelling has helped me bring the gap of humanness in my students.  My students tend to only see the professional part of me when I’m sitting in front of them, conversing, teaching, analyzing their work.  However, at times, in sharing personal stories about my life, my children, or my teaching experiences, they are drawn to the human part of my story — when they see that I am not perfect, when I need forgiveness too, and when I can grow into a better person, even at my age.  Sometimes, they will look at me different, but not in the way you would expect.  They begin to open up more, relate my story to their own, and see me more connected to them. More human.

I still think back to my time at my Christian college and I still highly respect my favorite professor.  His words echo in my heart every day as a wife, a mother, and a teacher.  The idea of humanness and imperfection are two concepts hard to discern, especially with the image of others which is, for the most part,  very positive, (at least in my case).  His words remind me also that in viewing others we need to be understanding and forgiving when others falter against us and when they are sincerely sorry for their actions.

I know that part of our perception of the world comes from our background, our beliefs, and our experiences in life. However, the idea of being good, righteous, loving, and compassionate human beings is inherent in at least most of us.  I hope that at the end of our lives, we will have used the imperfect part of ourselves to create dearly loved selves, who forgive ourselves despite our mistakes, and continue to improve our ways and actions, not only because it’s what God expects of us, but because it’s what we expect most earnestly in ourselves.  Maybe we will become that beloved husband, wife, dad, mom, son, daughter, or favorite teacher to one of our fellow humans despite our imperfections.

In our humanness, we strive for the goal of perfection.  The trick as I see it is to continue trying to be the better self that we so wish to become despite our setbacks.  Learning throughout a lifetime of trials and triumphs will make us the people we were meant to be. So imperfect, yet dearly loved.

February 21, 2015 – Life with a large family

When I was young, I told myself that I would never get married and I would never have kids. Well, God must have been laughing from above. Now married and four kids later, life with a large family is all I know.

Somewhere along the journey, the thought of having four children was never planned; it just happened. With each child came a reemerging feeling that I was not done yet. Each phase of infancy, then toddlerhood made me long to have another child in our life.  My husband says he was done after the first two, but in my eyes, two children was simply too small of a number.

I came from a small family, just one sister and  then much later, a brother. Growing up in a small family can be lonely especially when all of the other families around me were much bigger in size. Granted, Hispanic families tend to be larger in number anyhow; yet, I still couldn’t understand why ours was so small.  Something about big families intrigued me — their close connections and grand laughter especially made me wonder what it was like to grow up in a large family. Bigger families equaled more love to give and more love to receive.

Four children in a family is a daunting task. Others from big families know what I’m talking about–nonstop clothes in the washer, constant grocery shopping, unmatched socks (like all of the time), and varying eating patterns from each child. The organization of daily tasks is a continual battle, for in the rush of daily life, good intentions don’t always happen. The shower that was supposed to be cleaned weeks ago , the pants that needed to be hemmed, now long past due, and the smelly food that lingers in the air when the frig is ajar– all of these are the results of the unorganized mess stemming from a loss of time in such a big family. Time just never seems to come when it’s needed in these unorganized times.

When the chaos gets unbearable, I think of my grandmother. She raised eleven children at a time when this number of children was the norm. I often wondered how my grandmother coped in raising and caring for all of her children. Most women in her day were stay at home moms, which was a job in itself. Washing , mending clothes, feeding all of her children–I can’t even imagine a day in her life.  She even made dresses out of cotton sacks of flour which were made for the girls in the family. However, times were different because most people did not have money for anything extra and the children were part of the work crew to help raise money for the family. Times were much simpler with less money to work from, yet I know there were stresses still present in their lives that today’s culture might not be able to bear, such as owning a television or electronics.

So although the chaos of certain days leave me on edge, I don’t know any different and even if I did, I would still long for the great crazy days with my four children. Days like Sunday mornings, when the kids surround the table, eating their breakfast, and laughter is our entertainment. Or the family trips when the whole crew is in tow and the kids sing the most current popular song as we drive down a long unfamiliar road.  And the smile that crosses my husband’s face as he looks at me, knowing in each other’s hearts that we’ll never forget this time in our life. Or the pride I feel when the faces of my children radiate from a family photo, revealing to the world that they are loved, happy, secure. This in itself is the best moment — realizing that I helped create such beautiful souls, souls with their gifts to bestow on the world. And in their uniqueness, I marvel at their connection to me, their mother. My blessings are so abundant.

No, I can’t say I planned my life like this, but God is usually the driver in my life. Sometimes, I just have to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Taking the good with the bad – life and fibromyalgia

There are things in life that you choose to do to yourself and others that are destined for you, although you don’t quite understand the “why.”

One self infliction was when I got a really bad perm.  My hair was half way down my back and I believed that a perm would guarantee beautiful curly long hair, just like a model with her perfectly styled spiraled mane.  Mind you, I was already married with two small children, and felt that I just needed a change.  So, the perm came and what I believed would be something wonderful winded up being a scrunched up mess.  My hair and its kinky curls shrunk to just below my neck.  Nothing seemed to calm down the curls, so I tried to make the best of it.  This was difficult for my husband to ignore, with his quick wit and nonstop humor.  He would awaken, see me, smile, and blurt out, “Good morning, Harpo!” all the while pretending to have a cigarette in his mouth as he spoke.  All I could do was smile, even though it ticked me off, because well, it was my doing. So every time my husband saw me, the words “nappy,” “fuzz head,” or my favorite, “Shirley Temple,” poured forth from his unsympathetic mouth.  Thank God, I had a sense of good humor.  I knew that my husband said these comments lovingly in his playful manner. I also knew that I took full ownership for my locks of sausage curls.  A bad hairstyle equalled a few months of wrestling with unruly hair until I could eventually have it straightened out again.  It was something I could eventually fix.  Although I felt like a fool for a while, I knew it wouldn’t be forever.

Other things in my life have been handed to me by the Lord above and all I can do is take one day at a time.

It’s something I rarely talk about, because when people see me, they wouldn’t believe me anyhow.

Fibromyalgia is something that developed in me after the birth of my third daughter. I was thirty years old and I don’t know why at that point in my life this condition came to me.  And I had no clue what it was.  About six to eight weeks after my surgery, I began to feel searing pain down my spine.  It felt like my spine was burning.  I went to my family physician and even she couldn’t find the cause.  Numerous tests revealed no damage to the spine or back.  All sorts of scans, MRIs, blood tests, etc. revealed nothing.  Nothing.

I tried to backtrack in my mind the surgery, the anesthesia, the hospital — could these elements have been contributing factors to my diagnosis?  I’ll never know because what emerged in my body after that point could only be described as a foreigner.  After the initial pain, other symptoms came to me:  ice-like feet and hands, insomnia, migraines, brain fog, depression, joint pain.  The list went on and on and because no one could see anything physically wrong with my body, they simply didn’t believe me. This included my family, some friends, pretty much everyone, including the doctors. I never at any point felt like it was “all in my head,” which is what came across the faces of many doctors who I sought out for help.  Finally after two years of seeking doctors, and enduring numerous nerve tests, one neurologist finally told me she felt it was Fibromyalgia.

The only thing I understood about Fibromyalgia at the time was that it was a condition of overactive nerves, which I had never suffered from before in my life. All the neurologist told me was that there was no cure and that I could try to manage my condition with medication. Some of these medications were worse than tolerating the pain.  They left me feeling unresponsive to life around me and with three small children at home, this just wasn’t possible. I needed to be present for my children. One medication, which I can’t recall now, made me feel so dizzy that I had to hold onto the walls to walk. What I discovered in the early stages of living with Fibromyalgia was that many doctors were quick to prescribe whatever drug would make the pain go away.  Only in my case, the pain would subside for a bit, only to bring on other side effects into my body.

It’s hard to explain to people when you feel such incredible invisible pain.  For instance, when someone is in a crash, there are bruises, cuts, scrapes, etc,.. all visible signs of trauma that one’s body has gone through.  The visible aspects of trauma make the person looking at the victim see them with eyes of compassion because the person sees the victim suffering.  With fibromyalgia, there are days that you feel like someone used you as a punching bag with every muscle, every tendon, every joint radiating with tender pain.  And no one can see the pain, including yourself.  There comes a point when the fatigue makes you feel like you’re dragging around and you’re in a fog that may take a full day to get out of until you see some light.

At one point, I sought out a support group.  What I discovered were these women were far worse than myself.  After hearing their stories, I couldn’t make my way back to listen again. Although I felt compassion for them, I also saw many of these patients consuming various drugs which didn’t seem to be doing much good, if not making them worse.  Antidepressants and pain relievers were the main drugs being used by these patients, and by looking at them, I felt like part of them was already gone, mainly their spirits.  They were there, but the part of them that saw some hope no longer remained.  It seemed as though they were hanging on for dear life, which I could totally understand since I too could empathize with their suffering.  For myself,  the thought of putting more chemicals into my body made me shudder.  I knew for these women the use of these drugs was saving them at the moment.  For myself, I needed to find a way to cope without more medications or drugs in my body.

I began to see people in a different light.  Especially those who used walkers, wheelchairs, or were immobile in some way.  I  really began to think, that could be me one day.  I would observe from a distance, a person wheeling himself around in his wheelchair, or a handicapped person getting out of her car. As much as I knew the handicapped person was grateful for the mobility of their wheelchair, I became observant of what I still had which was the pain.   And in that moment, I was grateful.  I was tremendously grateful for pain and the mobility to still move even with such pain. I’m certain that even the person with the wheelchair or disability was also in pain; however, at the time, I was still grateful that I could adjust and move about as needed. I decided early on that I was going to take each day as it came to me, pain or no pain.  It was determined that a “flare up” day with its fatigue and pressure point pain was going to be rough, but a day with some slight aches and pain was considered a good day. It was my choice to see life as it came to me; it was something I still had control over in this situation.

My faith was also part of the picture.  I knew God had never deserted me, but I also knew that I needed to rely on Him more to help me through this condition.  I reasoned that before this condition set in, I could go nonstop with all sorts of chores, activities, and plans with still enough energy to get me through an entire day.  After my condition set in, I had to choose what was important  for that day and leave some things unattended, which was a test in patience on my part, since I tended to plan too much on any given day and was determined to get all of it done.  It was important to be happy with what I accomplished for the day.  It became quite simple,  even though at times I made it difficult, thinking that my previous body was still with me.

So for today, I can say that taking the good with the bad is something I understand all too well. Because although others may see fibromyalgia as a bad situation in my life, I can still choose to see it as a blessing.  To others, it may be a burden one carries, and for me, at times, it is a heavy burden, more on my heart than anything else. However,  in a sense it has made me appreciate, even more so, those grand days when I wake up with energy, slight pain, and the ability to enjoy my family and friends. What I saw before in this beautiful life is still there, only slightly different now in the way I am able to enjoy it. It is all the more beautiful.

My First Day of School – Monroe Elementary

When I think back to my first memory of school, I always remember my first day of school.  I attended Monroe Elementary School near Monmouth (Caruthers), California.  I remember the pink dress and pink shoes which I wore on that day and the excited feeling of being with other kids.  It was my first image of elementary education and to this day, it is one of my fondest memories.

My mother was lucky enough to work as a migrant aide at this school,  and although she knew the staff well, I was to discover later that she was a bit nervous for me since I was so shy.  I was the eldest in my family and so it was a big deal for me to attend elementary school.

My first teachers were Mrs. Garrett and Mrs. Smart.  When I say teachers, I mean that they were both of my teachers along with numerous aides in the open classroom.  In the 1970’s, the open classroom was the concept of multiple grades working together;  in my case, kindergarten through third were all together (yet separate by grade level) within a big classroom.  There were bells that would ring throughout the day to move us along to our new station (or lesson) which was based on our grade level.  At the time, the idea of moving to different locations within a big classroom (this was really three separate classrooms — all open within the same level) took some time, but with practice, became second nature to the students.

Some of these stations included reading, writing (our own books), mathematics, free play, pottery/or art, and other related topics which I can’t recall.  What I do remember most was the freedom which the open classroom allowed the students to experience; it gave the students the ability to work with others while allowing them to work independently (and ahead in some cases) so that the students were always active and learning.  I never remember feelings of boredom, because there was always something to do. Now, looking back, I imagine it must have required a great deal of organization to get this open classroom to function and work efficiently. In recollection, it must have worked well, because the process was never a problem to any student; when I think about these kindergarten through third grade students, there must have been at least a hundred students or more moving in this open classroom with clear direction and purpose.

On my first day of school, I remember story time as the highlight of my day.  I was sitting in a small group of students, intrigued by the concept of being with other children my age.  Since Monroe was a country school, most of the students didn’t live close by to other children, so it was an adventure to sit by others our age.  I remember Mrs. Garrett, with her glasses and big blonde hair, look out into the audience and ask who would like to sit beside her as she read the story to the class.

With numerous students raising their hands in excitement, I just sort of sat there and looked around, smiling at all of the commotion.  Then, Mrs. Garrett pointed to me and asked me to sit beside her in front of everyone. She asked me my name and commented on the uniqueness of such a name, Genevieve.   I remember that my hair went all the way down my back, and Mrs. Garrett complimented my pretty dress and long hair.  Then, holding the book out to the children, she read the story to the class while I sat right next to her.  I wish I could remember the name of the book she read; however, this first memory and the excitement I felt about learning and reading was enough for me.  This pleasant memory has remained with me to this day.

Now, in my life as a high school teacher, I still return to this memory and the feeling I had on that day.  I think of my role as the teacher and my impact on my students and their acceptance into my classroom. I also hope that my students will feel the excitement of learning.   At high school level, I realize much has changed by the time they reach my classroom and their previous experiences in education might not be so positive.  I know that one teacher can make the biggest difference in a student’s introduction to the classroom.  My first memory in education and learning motivates me to be that difference.

New beginnings – December 24, 2014

Although this is a new venture for me (blogging), the concept of writing has never been foreign in any way.  It has always been part of my world, since my first beginning in elementary school at Monroe Elementary, to my years as a high school student at Selma High School, and now to my experience as a high school English teacher.

Writing (along with reading) has always been the awe of new, alluring words and vibrant ideas that jump from a page to the mind of the reader.  It has been, and will always be, my first love.  In the back of my mind and heart, there has always been a voice ready to speak to the world, and not in the same way as a wife, mother, daughter, teacher, or any other role.  It has solely been the voice of a writer.  Now, I find that I am all of these roles and more, and still that same whispering voice has been urging me forward to this place, this blog, and hopefully, to other projects in the near future.

And so with this introduction, I begin my journey with you and hope you stay alongside me for the ride.    Although my life has never been perfect, in its own little way, it has emerged into this reality — what it was meant to be, my life.  My belief is that gratitude (for both the good and the bad in one’s life) draws us closer to the blessings we receive in our hearts. By blessings, I refer to such qualities as patience, love, forgiveness, compassion. It is these distinct blessings which help us understand the world and make our lives so grand.  It is a beautiful life which we have been given.