what in the hell does “transformation” even mean?

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. ~NASB Romans 12: 2

I have spent most of my life fighting a transformation battle. 

As a preteen, in a Baptist church you could find in any suburban neighborhood, I met my first ultimatum film: choose Jesus or choose hell. A carful of teenagers, after a fatal accident, were being lowered down to the sinner’s inferno on–of all places–a freight elevator encapsulated by steel bars. As they descended, their ghostly faces were obscured by the rails, but not the harrowing screams and leaping flames engulfing them. 

After that, and not surprisingly, most of my youth—my formidable years–was marked by a paralyzing fear of the judgment of God. I had regular dreams of the second coming of Jesus. One recurring dream still sticks with me: I was looking out the window from my teenage bedroom, my hands tilted toward the sky as it churned like a gray, stormy sea and softened into a blurry and muted End. When the full moon dripped blood-red in the sky–for scientific reasons that I now know–I was reduced to a crying puddle of terror. Sometimes, when looking out from my dorm, the clouds hung low and the lights glowed warm and the air grew still, I whimpered into my folded knees. 

All of this despite being a dedicated and disciplined Christian! I was in the right church. I was pure in my romantic relationship. I was a reputable leader in the youth group. I was an active recruiter of non-believers. I did not party. I did not cheat. I did not lie. I confessed my wrongdoings and expressed my gratitude. I sought counsel and always followed the advice of my leaders. I rebuked the sin in others. I withheld my voice and strength so as not to overshadow men. I worked hard to be good, damnit.

I knew the will of God, in all its good and acceptable perfection, but what hovered in mind was this nagging question: how come I wasn’t transformed?

Eventually what I used to label as the absence of the fruits of the Spirit, like peace, joy and faithfulness, the doctors diagnosed as anxiety. One winter, while living in a ski town, we were the first responders on a flipped car. A few weeks later, we drove by a car that had slid upside down into the icy river. These scenes–much like the ultimatum movie–became a part of both my narrative and my anatomy: I was near crippled with the inability to be out on winter roads. 

Not so long after this, I raced to my dying father’s bedside; Alzheimer’s would finally cease to exist in his body as his memories had years before. As time behaves, this blurs together with receiving the call that my Mom had breast cancer. And then lung cancer. And then fatal cancer. And then I was holding her still hands, wet with my tears, in a hospital bed. Now, the winter roads that had paralyzed me became the blood coursing through my veins: cancer was inevitable; death was mine to have at any moment. At every moment.

Despite my best spiritual, therapeutic, and pharmaceutical strivings, I could not escape these weights. I could not transform. Like one of those cunning and scratchy finger traps, in my chasing of it, transformation eluded me. It was exhausting. It was depressing. 

But, unbeknownst to me, something within me was sprouting.

I found myself equally repelled by and drawn to being alone with my soul. I would spend weekends at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House in the beige foothills of Colorado, my first experience with Noble Silence. There I channelled the vacillating and extreme emotions of David the Psalmist. There I grieved the death of my parents. There I bathed in nature. Back home in my day to day life, I found peace in yoga: the communal breathing introduced me to presence. Yoga for me was also an introduction to meditation.

But, when I arrived at a 5 night silent meditation retreat at Vallecitos Mountain Retreat Center in New Mexico, I had no idea what I was getting into. 

As any similar retreat goes, we spent the entire day meditating: sitting uncomfortably on cushions, walking like Zombies in a field, chopping vegetables in the kitchen, and bringing fork to mouth during meals. Everything was slow. Everything was silent. Everything was smudged. The first few days, I was going absolutely crazy. I could not, for the life of me, get my mind to stop wandering. And then I would berate myself for not doing it right. And then I would be so discouraged at how unkind I was to myself. And then I would seek escape. 

But, alas, there was nowhere to go. Session in and session out, I met my mind on yet another battlefield of transformation. 

I began to see how this harsh treatment of myself paralleled the patterns of my life. In an effort to be better, or holy, or peaceful, I beat myself into submission. 

But just like with fear, with hypochondria…it did not work. 

My unremitting striving became my very own hell.

And so, slowly and tentatively, days three and four and five brought with them a new kind of mantra: You, too, are welcome here. Instead of condemning myself for failure, I welcomed failure. You, too, are welcome here. Instead of berating myself for distraction, I welcomed distraction. You, too, are welcome here. Instead of fearing fear, I welcomed fear. You, too, are welcome here. Like Rumi’s “The Guest House,” I began to open the door for my visitors–all of them.

Since then, I have pursued a deeper commitment to meditation. More retreats. Daily practice. Professional development so I can also lead mindfulness in my school. 

And, without even seeing it, and most definitely without even trying to make it happen, I changed from the inside out. Winter roads and scary diagnosis do not derail me anymore. I have moved overseas to Brazil, where I do not speak the language and everything is new–a feat I would never have dreamed of in my old state.

I still am anxious. 

But I also am peaceful. And I am brave. And I gracious with myself. And I now see how I misread Romans 12:2. First comes the renewing of the mind, THEN comes the transformation. 

I am grateful to God that my mind has been renewed. I have been transformed. 

gates and guardians: a reflection on the state of a sorrowful heart

Dave and I have spent the last seven days in silence.

No, we’re not in a fight.

Well…

Not with each other at least.

Rather, we have spent the last week at a six-night meditation retreat. I did something similar a few years back and wrote about here (in prose) and here (in verse).

This retreat was a completely different experience and style, but no less impacting. Reflecting with Dave on the way back (finally out of silence!), I remarked on the oddest thing: to see forty people sitting in various states of stillness–some on cushions, some on chairs, some on benches–all poised like little perfect, quiet, quaint Buddha statues. But beneath that serene image, a war wages! Thoughts, “come back to the breath,” distractions, “be here now,” stories, “just breath,” narratives, “what am I aware of?,” memories, “inhale, exhale,” plans, “damn it, just stop thinking already,”–oh my! It is like this most placid, peaceful lake, but below the still surface, sharks are devouring triathletes piece by latex-laden-one-piece swimsuits (oh, can you see what I’m worried about…).

I spent a lot of (uncomfortable) time sitting at this retreat with these questions:

How is the quality of my heart? How open is my heart?

It wasn’t pretty.

After an emotional meltdown the final day of school, for some reasons fathomed and others only felt, I have been thinking a lot about a sense of deadening I have had lately. My highs aren’t quite as high and my lows aren’t quite as low. I wondered if this is a result of my solidifying meditation practice? I mean, that can be a good thing, right? But what I know to be true about my most authentic self is passion: rip-roaring laughter followed by belly-aching bawling (not to mention a few pants-splitting farts; did I mention this retreat was vegetarian and I’ve had a lot of roughage lately?!).

Anyway, back to the matters of the heart. Literally (how about that transition?).

I also reflected on the quality of my relationships with people. After all, isn’t this the sign of an open heart? I care for people–it’s my job after all–but all too often, it is on my own terms and when I can control it. I’m not very good at accepting gestures of kindness or affection (as demonstrated on this retreat, where I felt guilty and lazy [“I must not be working hard enough,” she thought to herself, “oh wait, stop thinking…”] because it just felt too nourishing–what IS that?!).

And though I’m still sitting with it (yep, trust me, my butt hurts, and brain, and heart), I can only explore the answer to these questions (at least at this point) through the lens of grief. My mere third decade of life has been defined by the razored edges of loss and grief. Prepared, but no less heartbroken, I lost my dad in 2011. Unprepared, and all the more heartbroken, I lost my mom less than two years later. Then our very old cat. Then our very young dog. (Which, really, come on, pets? What does that matter? But when the wound is open and raw, even a faint breeze stings deeply. Not to mention the odd parallels between my parents’ and pets’ deaths [read about that bizarre connection here]).

Who am I?

am grief.

And so, I coped. I’d like to say pretty well. I have not lost the roots of gratitude nor faith to the black hole of bitterness.

But I come back to the questions at hand:

How is the quality of my heart? How open is my heart?

How could I not, on some level–hidden, deep, essential, true–close my heart after all that heartbreak?

Perhaps the loss-womb birthed a Guardian who stands at the entrance with an iron grip on the pulsing blood-veined gates.

He is fierce. He is loyal. He is protective.

But maybe it’s time I bid him farewell. In peace. In gratitude. In honor.

Dear Guardian of my heart, you came unbidden, but ached for.

Thank you for the gift of one sure, slow step at a time in the dark, tear-damp forest of the grieving soul.

Thank you for the preservation of what is good while so. much. bad. gnawed at my bones.

I bow to you. But, alas, it is time I send you on your way.

May you protect another vulnerable heart.

But for now, it is time I open the gates.

I open the gates.

I open my heart.

 

 

 

 

 

reflections: my 2nd semester overseas

It is a beautiful day today here in Sao Paulo.

As I sit on my balcony and type this, I can hear the vibrating diminuendo of the Brazilian-ice-cream-vender-flute-call. A small corner of the sky hides pale blue dancing with crisp cloud puffs. The majority is overcast, hinting at the impending showers; they come just like they did in Colorado: furious in the afternoon, then gone. With this wet promise comes the cooling caress of a breeze.

The breeze takes me back to the first ones my skin felt on this Brazilian land. I remember writing about how hard some of the transitions were. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed by a list of changes: not understanding the language; why can’t I flush toilet paper; why was that meeting so unclear; what is happening here; where are the systems I expected to be in place; do the kiddos like me; do I expect too much; is Dave ok with this adjustment; how do I collaborate with new people; who will be my friends; I want to be with my new great niece; am I good enough to be here; why is the bed wet; can I just find a restaurant to get quick and easy American food. The insecurities and misplacements and disjointings poured down on my cold (didn’t expect that!) skin.

But now, I am months into my second semester abroad. And it feels different. I feel different.

I am different.

I find myself grateful for this dual culture calendar that affords so many holidays. I mean, I was on winter there/summer here break for five weeks! Only to be followed by another week-long break in February. And all of that on top of an extensive summer there/winter break here. I can get used to this!

I am in awe of how many places we’ve experienced and how accessible travel (both in budget and transportation) is down here. Just the other day in a conversation with my students about travel plans, I heard these words come out of my mouth: “Oh I love Buenos Aires!” And then promptly followed by: “OMG, I am a person who says that kind of stuff!”

I feel like I’ve hit my stride in the classroom. I’ve found (and held tight to) colleagues who push me to be better in reflection and practice. I feel like I offer my greatest gift to my students here as I always have: preparing them rigorously while caring for their hearts. Students linger in analytical conversation in my class, but they also laugh uproariously (sorry next door neighbors). Students ask how to grow academically while I ask how they’re really doing. Students have aha’s in the classroom and say hellos in the hall. I have realized: a rich kid needs the same thing as a poor kid; everyone has his/her own trauma. My job doesn’t change from tax bracket to tax bracket or country to country…it is to teach, it is to love.

Professionally, I feel like I’ve prioritized what matters to me: leading by example and not by title. How can I contribute to a positive adult culture? How can I be above reproach in my instruction? How can I be at the top of my game? How can I be reflective and improve? How can I be trustworthy and true to my word?

I’ve made friends and so has Dave. We have more friends than time (partially that’s the innate preservation of my introverted side; I am a homebody at heart). We have several different groups we run with. And yes, though I deeply miss my besties, I don’t feel the aching sense of loneliness anymore.

We speak the language. A bit. But a bit measures a long way in the hearts of warm Brazilians. We feel comfortable in restaurants, in Ubers, in hotels. We still have a long way to go, but a language foundation helps a ton.

Our apartment is more decorated. We’ve hung up treasures from the US, memories of loved ones, and collected moments of our new life.

I guess, in the end, as now I type inside because that impending rain has arrived, I think…

I am home.

And it is beautiful.

 

 

 

 

holidays: the rhythm of life

I sit here in the glow of a twinkling tree. It is my in-law’s tree. It is Dave’s parent’s tree. It is the tree of the only parents I have anymore.

My eyes feast upon the bird feeders that gather feathery visitors of brown, yellow, blue, and grey. Flashes of red draw my attention to a couple-eternal of cardinals.

Acoustic Christmas music caresses my ears, wrapping my heart in a bow. A melody of holiday angels.

It is the first time this season I have let myself feel Christmas. Nostalgia drips from my eyes and rolls down my cheeks. My folded hands are now wet.


Back “home” in Brazil, the ocean calls to me.

I hear its thunderous heartbeat from miles away. I feel its rolling cadence kneading my spirit. I meditate on my breath, thinking of concentric inhales and exhales, waves kissing the sandy shore of my soul. I bathe in the monthly light of the moon, a recurrent concealing and unveiling of a divine mystery–the slow, secret wink of a goddess.


Our modern-day technology deceives us.

There is no calendar app to sync with the ancient, enduring, authentic meter of life. There is no alarm that vibrates when it is time to reconnect with nature, family, death, or–worst yet–ourselves.

There is so much noise and very little listening. Cars and radios and TVs and fireworks and honking and cranes and complaining and evasive eyes and white noise and racist poses and Pavlov’s bells and to-dos and exhausted yeses and meaningless nos and.

and


The holidays are an anchor, tethering us to the rhythm of life.

They demand us to stop.

They force us to grieve.

They invite us to connect.

They remind us to breathe.

They demand us to remember.

They urge us to reflect.

They inspire us to be.

 

the untethered expat: culture shock

I’ve been a bit off lately.

I’ve seen it coming, and I recognize it for what it is, but nonetheless, it’s unsettling.

I felt it on our school trip to Belem. The last presentation–the culminating speech–was in Portuguese. Again. Chaos erupted across the room as Brazilian friends leaned in to translate for their foreign peers. Someone leaned over and began translating for me. I was hot. I was itchy. I was tired. I was annoyed by an earlier rude interaction. I couldn’t focus on the speaker, I couldn’t focus on the translator, I couldn’t focus. My skin crawled. I left the room with a wet face and huddled in a bathroom stall, a secret fight with my tears.

Culture shock.

I felt it on our twelve-hour commute home from Ihlabela. The sky leaked, the traffic crawled, the language blurred–all closing our access to “normal” road trip conveniences: a bathroom where I can flush the toilet paper, a restaurant where I can read the menu, a map where I can navigate the alternative routes. No one looked like me. No one talked like me. I was trapped in a car on a road going nowhere, literally, in a foreign land.

Culture shock.

Those moments were sudden and striking compared to the undertone of malaise I’ve been experiencing lately. A sense of floating pervades my daily experience. A lack of connections confounds me. A tangled web of “what was” and “what is” and “what will be” constricts my access to air. And I already wrote about the plague of insecurity.

Culture shock.

1_8NUOaTClmFPvDi9U4HpscwRecently during some circle conversations and mindfulness moments in class, I’ve asked kiddos:

What are you grateful for? Who are you grateful for?

Like always, I was moved by their responses. However, unlike always, I was also moved by my response. Not in a good way: it took me so long to think of who or what I was grateful for. For a while, my mind was completely blank. This is not like me. I’ve written about gratitude often (see: here or here or here or here). It is important. It is foundational. It is me.

But there I sat, a silent vacuum.

Culture shock.

All of this–my response to and experience with culture shock–has been on my mind constantly. It guides my meditation practice. It is the source of dinner conversations with Dave. And I’ve come to realize that my lack of gratitude is rooted in, well, my lack of being rooted.

It honestly hurts my heart to call to mind people or things or experiences back in the US. I’ve “left.” My heart aches with a sense of abandonment.

It’s as equally challenging to root into what is new and express gratitude for the here and now. My heart aches with a fear of surrender.

And I know it doesn’t make sense.

Culture shock.

And so, as always, I am left with my breath. Gently noticing this experience, observing what it feels like from head to toe, from heart to soul, and ultimately letting go.

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expat insecurities: how moving overseas turns you into a middle schooler

This post has been marinating a while in my mind (often around 1 or 2 middle of the night: time to wake up and worry about things you can’t control. yippee!).

A variety of factors have appeared on the radar recently that I’ll attribute to a storm of culture shock brewing off the shore. An extended commute where I was stuck in a car in a land where I don’t speak the language (where is a restaurant where we can stop for a quick meal where we actually fully understand the menu without a million Google acts of translation?). My dear niece having a baby (whose cuteness level should be legit illegal). Video chatting with my best friend (oh right, your life goes on without me). The stupid fantasy that it would be easier to get healthier here (look at all those fresh, local fruits! where? well, you just have to walk past the bread and cheese aisles. what?). Texting with my godson (I shouldn’t be crying this much).

We arrived in Brazil in July (three months!), and so I expect this on some level.

But what has taken me by complete surprise is how completely insecure I am around other adults (eck! I am that adult).

It’s like my mind has been usurped by a middle schooler:

Do they like me?

I don’t fit in.

How come they didn’t invite me?

Where do I belong?

Do I look ok?

Where is the cool group and how do I get in?

Nobody likes me.

What am I doing wrong?

Gross.

Of course, as I reflect, it makes sense. I am a new country, alone except for Dave, everything is unfamiliar, nothing is easy, the majority of those around me are also in some form of transition, my family and soul friends are on another continent, etc.

Yes, a healthy social structure is essential to surviving in a foreign land.

But, a healthy social structure takes time to find.

Time to build.

So in the meantime, I will try to accept this part of the process, this part of myself.

You too, Middle-School-Mary, are welcome here.

 

 

teacher reflections: strong relationships AND high expectations

I have transitioned, now, into four different schools.

The first school, Adams City High School, I like to think I came in as a wrecking ball. Unfamiliar, new, powerful in a naive way. The second and third school, Bruce Randolph and North, respectively, where I first tiptoed around who I knew I was and who I thought my new kiddos needed. And now, I find myself in my fourth school, Graded. And once again, I am walking the wire of tension between strong relationships and high expectations.

They don’t like it.

Daily, I vacillate between “why don’t they like me?” and “why don’t they understand my high expectations?”

I’ve had that question during interviews:

Do you think students need to like a teacher in order to learn?

And my response to such a trick question, assured in a decade of experience, is a resounding “yes!” Not because I want to be popular. But rather, my desire to be liked comes from an ingrained and tried-and-trued belief that if students like the teacher, they learn better from the teacher.

And so, this week, in some of my classes where there was a clear disconnection floating among the auras in the room, I paused curriculum for some circle time.

What’s going well this year? What’s not?

Tell a story about someone who means a lot to you. Who inspires you? Why?

What is the truest thing about yourself? 

Silver strings wove among our hearts, glistening with laughter, weighted with truth, alight with authenticity, lifted with hope.

It was beautiful and magical. Just like circles can be.

Also this week was a survey. Tell me what I’m doing well. Tell me what I can improve on. I was encouraged that so many talked about how they appreciated my daily mindful moments (new this year, after some training through Mindful Schools). I was not surprised that so many said I needed to improve in clarity: of assessments, of alignment, of feedback, of grading.

After all, I myself am new to a new school, a new grading system, a new paradigm. I AM confused. Oh Hattie, if I am going to achieve your effect size of .75, I need to work on this.

And so I reflect. I adjust. I change the lesson plans. Student feedback IS the driving force of any strong classroom.

Except for in one area.

I will take your feedback and implement it to improve. After all, I ask the same of you. However, one thing I can guarantee: I will NOT lower my expectations. I have never and I never will. You deserve my highest expectations. You are worthy and capable. I will not insult you by lowering my expectations.

And so… daily in my classroom, even after a decade of experience, somethings always are changing. Yet somethings never do.

And so goes the dance of expertise with reflection.

 

 

 

 

catch up journal: days 10-31

Today marks our 31st day living in another country. We have frequent moments where we look at each other and say: “Holy cow, we LIVE here. In another country. On a different continent.” As of late, I often find myself in the stage of admiring our hefty-ball size for doing something so bold. #teampossum for the win, indeed.

It’s been awhile since I shared about the happenings down here in Sampa, so here goes.

  • Students. My students have consulates and CEO’s as parents. My students are Olympic-bound athletes. My students are well-educated and articulate and reflective. My students say thank you at the end of the lesson with sincerity in their voices. I worried I wasn’t going to be good enough for them. But alas, all my fears about not being able to meet their needs have been assuaged. As a trusted friend said: “Students are students and Mary is Mary.” I have anchored my new classroom experience in this. And it is true. The Mary who makes connections reaches the students who thrive through relationships. Or vice versa.
  • School. It has been a chaotic start to school. I’m still navigating, at times unsuccessfully, new professional relationships. The schedule has been surprisingly and frustratingly unsettled. There are so many different platforms to maneuver. I’m a bit astonished at how far behind international schools are from current US educational practices–some elements to my relief, some to my angst. And always, I am drawn to think about urban education. Despite these snafus, my current students steadily achieve at the highest levels of international competition. How I wish that were true for students for whom a defective system is just one more overarching oppression in their lives.
  • Home. We are nesting more and more. We put up one of our collage walls. Bought some rugs. Supplemented our kitchen. Figured out laundry (#godave). Got internet (hallefreakinglujah). Cooked dinner at home several times. Ordered some chairs for the guest room. Slept in and lazed around. Hooked up the tv. Bit the bullet to buy more expensive–but better–wine. The routine is starting to become more and more normal. Slowly. However, it still is a struggle with Dave not working full time and him assuming some weird imposed identity of #housebitch. What does that mean? And how do we do that? How do we adapt our roles? Well, lots more nesting to do there I guess. On the upside, it has been really good for him to take on role as JV coach for boys basketball, and to join in on staff league once a week.
  • Sampa living. It is starting to feel a bit more normal to not speak the language. We know the common greetings to give our porteiro and say them regularly. We use the beautifully industrious Google translate for images when ordering off a menu. We can consistently say “we’d like” (gostaria) and “2 more beers” (mais duas cervejas) and “no onion” (sem cebalo) and “thank you” (brigada). We are feeling more confident to order in stores by starting with whether or not someone speaks English. If not, Google translate to the rescue. We know the common questions asked at the grocery store. (No we don’t want to give our CPF. No we don’t need bags. No we don’t need parking validated. Yes credito.) [All of which clips quickly together in social Portuguese]). We regularly get around with Uber (aqui por favor) and order in with Ubereats (comida está aqui? vaminos [that’s Spanish, but it works]).
  • Climate. This one’s funny. I’m pretty sure the Brazilian-God-of-Weather is punishing me for how I made fun of people needing “winter coats down there.” Today I straight up taught in my Neff hat. I have had days where I am so cold, I have a sweater wrapped around my sweatshirt. Dave and I nightly sleep with Mom’s warm fuzzy blanket (that I told him we were bringing not for the weather, but for sentimental reasons) under another ADDITIONAL blanket. I haven’t seen the sun for the past week (as my new colleague said, “oh yeah, RAINforest”). Dave and I are currently working the miraculous two inches of warmth coming from our space heater. And it’s not the temperature that gets ya. It’s the bone-decaying-cold that comes from the humidity. I mean, come on, I’m coming from Colorado! Several nights, Dave and I have gone to bed on wet sheets. (And though I’m prone to wonder what he’s been doing all day, nope, it’s just the heavy wetness hanging in the air, perpetually. Perpetually.) When I put on clothes, they feel damp. (So NOW I know what the heck that DEhumidifier is I saw in the store a month ago. People would laugh that off the shelves in Colorado!)
  • What’s next? Well, we’re going to buy a car. Uber is convenient, but when it comes to driving out to Embu to buy furniture or shop without limit of trunk space or escaping for a hike or weekending on the beach or…  And, we need to buy some tickets. I’m really holding to the advice we’ve been given: always have a ticket in your pocket. I think first on the docket is wine country in Argentina for Thanksgiving. You know, just a few hours away by flight (insert whaaaaaaa face emoji here).

As I type this, I recognize I am in the honeymoon phase of culture shock. I feel good, for the first time in a while. (I feel like I went through every single stage every single day when I first arrived.)

But I’m here. Now.

And life is good.

 

arrival journal: days five through seven

It’s hard to believe today marks one week we’ve been living in Brazil! The past few days have been a whirlwind of continued professional introductions to the school’s systems as well as more delicious wining and dining.

Wednesday’s orientation provided time for a Portuguese 101 class with one of the school’s most charismatic Brazilian teachers. Her wide smile lights up a room and her warmth makes anyone feel at ease. She taught us through lively action made even sweeter by a table of delicious local candies. I also had my “appointment” with the school’s doctor to make sure I was fit to enter the country; good thing there was no mental exam because I might have failed (“gringa louca”). The PD session focused on feedback which is definitely something that has been on my teacher mind a lot: what will the students’ writing be like here? will I adequately know how to move them? how do I train them to give each other meaningful feedback? That night we ate at a delicious Brazilian restaurant which catered to my vegetarian preferences. For appetizers, more fried cheese on a toothpick (who are they kidding, can I just get a shovel please?!). Then, I had some kind of delicious rice dish with the palm hearts in it, yum! Oh yeah, and tons of wine and conversation with new colleagues.

The most hilarious part about Wednesday is that I came home to a, wait for it, made bed. For all of our friends and family, you also will be laughing at that. While I was at work, Dave actually made our bed (and nobody was coming to see the house and no guests were arriving)! What IS this world we live in?


Thursday’s schedule was built with more autonomous time. The sessions we were together for introduced us to the school’s Google ecosystem and supports for students with special needs [less than 10% of the school’s population (!)]; finally, two things in my wheelhouse. The best part of that latter session was hearing this:

We have to stop loving kids to death.

YES! I have a post unpublished because I can’t figure out how to say it all in the right way, but in essence that is my biggest complaint as of the last year or two. In the US urban school system, we seem to be so afraid of what kids can’t do that we just run right over them with well-intentioned-overcompensation. It infuriates me how little we believe in them.

Anyhoot (sorry to my non-teacher readers about that rant), back to the schedule. Thursday afternoon, we had a personal guide, Jo, show us the ins and outs of apartment living in Brazil, specifically ours. It was crazy helpful. We learned where the garbage goes (we had been piling it in the corner) and that we don’t take the guest elevator with groceries (we take the service elevator) and we saw our parking spot and personal storage space (I guess we don’t have to stock our bins in the fourth bathroom (!) we don’t use anyway) and that you never flush toilet paper in Brazil (!) (well we learned that earlier but I just had to throw it in–no pun intended). Thursday night Dave and I cooked for the first time in our own apartment. We’ve been loving sitting on our porches: the air is crisp and the birds are singing and the sun in shining and the city lights are twinkling.

Friday we spent the morning at the Federal Police Department taking more mug shots (seriously though, I look like a criminal in every one of these legal pictures–every single one. In fact, the one I actually was OK with that the school took, the Brazilian government was not OK with and I had to go take another mug shot, ugh).  We have heard some horror stories about how long this process could take, but we were back in time for the customary Friday lunch of feijoada–a Brazilian dish of stewed beans and meats, though of course they have a vegetarian option at the school. Soon, I’ll do a post about the #outofbounds food down here. We closed the orientation for newbies week in a staff circle of reflections and praise and laughter. Friday night was a more fancy party at the superintendent’s stunning home, complete with catered food, and open bar (by the end of the night, the bartender knew me by my winking smile and empty wine glass; he’d pick up the bottle as soon as he saw me coming) and a live Samba band (is there such thing as a dead Samba band?!). You can bet I was on that dance floor soon enough.

I’ll finish this (long, sorry) post (filled with parenthetical commentary [!]) with some reflections.

  1. One of the hardest parts of a transition to a new school (anywhere) is not knowing the curriculum and thus not being able to plan adequately. This current transition’s woes have been compounded because our entire English department is new, except for the head of the department, who unfortunately has not been able to be here to get us up and running. I like to be planned, a lot. It helps me be a better teacher. So as you can imagine, this component is stressing me out.
  2. The teacher culture here is different. There is a lot of assertive expression of “this is how I’ve done it” or “this is what has worked before.” Everyone seems so confident, so at ease. It is the same experience as going to an AP institute or an IB training. I, of course, feel out of my league. Maybe it’s because I’m not used to working with this abundant level of experienced teachers (years and countries of experience, oh my). But the more and more I’ve been reflecting, the more and more I wonder if it’s actually about my experience in urban education. I am a good teacher. I know that. However, no matter how good I have been in the last decade, it cannot and does not overcome students’ gaps of six or seven or ten years; it cannot and does not overcome the crippling effects of abuse and poverty and racism and systemic oppression; it cannot and does not overcome a pervasive sense of underachievement and hopelessness. When so many needs are in one school, it is nearly impossible to meet them all–no matter how good you are. And so, success is always relative (but no less beautiful). And so, my self-efficacy has never risen to the level of my current colleagues. (I welcome any comments on this, as I am still chewing on it…)
  3. Dave and I feel absolutely ruined by Graded. How can we go to another international school when we’ve been so completely cared for by our first one?! We prayed so much for the best, and we feel it’s been answered, thank you God. The transition has been so delicately planned out with so many of our needs thought through with the help of companies who have just the right expertise with all kinds of staff who have been working tirelessly on our behalf, it is overwhelming in a glorious way. We are grateful.

 

 

arrival journal: day four

For the last ten years in Colorado, my commute has been extensive. In Telluride, we had to drive roughly an hour over the Dallas Divide,  which literally took my breath away: both from the astonishing beauty and the sheer frightening anxiety of a snowstorm. In Evergreen’s foothills, my commute averaged about 45 minutes but could take two hours during snowstorms. When I think about how much time I’ve spent in the car over the last decade, it’s a bit depressing.

Today, however, I walked to school. Up hill. For less than 10 minutes. The birds were singing and the sun was playing hide-n-go seek with leaves and people were walking their dogs and my ass was burning from the climb. It was delightful. When Dave and I first considered potential neighborhoods, he was nervous about living near school but having nothing to do around him during his days off (#housebitchproblems). But…Morumbi has surprised us in the best way possible: greenery, parks, shops, malls, restaurants, markets, bars, and specialty shops abound within walking distance.

Today’s meetings were inspiration and instruction sewn together by the typical overwhelming thread of information overload. More and more as I settle into the school side of being down here, I find myself relaxing not just into comfort, but also excitement. The school’s clear focus on relationships resonates deeply with me, and I am starting to feel a growing sense of confidence that I will flourish here. As will my kiddos this year.

After PD time, our school’s PTA took us on field trips to the local mall where we shopped at a fancy grocery store that I would compare to Whole Foods. The moms were incredibly warm and helpful as we asked all kinds of questions like lost puppies let loose among the aisles. Dave and I bought some much needed pillows to boost the ones we have. And then we shopped for a platter dinner (wine, cheese, meats, olives, pickles, honey, crackers, and nuts; clearly we will not go hungry down here) that we enjoyed on our awesome balcony.

I am eager to nest: buy some homegoods, set up and organize, and share pictures/videos. But as soon as I think about doing all that, I freak out about all the school planning looming on the horizon.

Alas, welcome to the end of summer.

 

 

 

 

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