Tuesday, February 9, 2016

One-Gloved Winter

I have gotten through this winter so far with one glove and I'm not even sure whose glove it is. Today, my gloveless hand braved the cold in my pocket while I walked my dog at 9 months pregnant.

I guess that's not saying much since it has been a pretty mild winter aside from the fact that we got the second biggest snowstorm in NYC history. Maybe I'm more resilient now because I'm pregnant. Maybe the universe is training me to get ready for (potentially) one of the hardest things I'll ever do so nothing seems as difficult.

Certain things don't phase me like they used to. I'm going to be a mother. This is a title and a privilege that I look forward to and it means I have to lead by example and teach my child how to approach the world with strength, strength that I now feel I am developing for the first time. I feel a sense of empowerment as she sits, kicks, stretches, yawns, in my belly. It's hard to put into words how I feel about creating an actual human being that will have her own thoughts, feelings, desires. For now, as her identity is shrouded in a little mystery, I have a clear sense of what's important in my life--family and pushing forward to a better future.  For the first time in my life, I feel beautiful. Of course, I don't mean the shine in my red hair or the glow in my green eyes, but the power within that I now, for the first time, feel a strong desire to share with others, without reserve. Hello, world! A rebirth.

She was due last Thursday and we're still waiting. A friend of mine said she was a diva so she'll come out when she's ready. Ready and wailing with half Logan and half Kerry lung capacity--which means she just might be a diva.

There is so much potential in bringing a baby into the world and raising her to be better than "us." That is what we aim to do, having as much fun, and sharing as much love on the way. In the meantime, I'm waiting to reach out with my ready and gloveless hand and hold our baby girl. Soon!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Super. Fast. Right. Now.

I was right to think that things would happen so quickly after accepting a position as a NYC Teaching fellow. I was wrong, however, that I would actually have time (or energy...or non laziness) to write while everything was happening!

My first year of teaching is done and it really did fly by. So many things happened and since I sucked at reporting on all of the unfolded events of the last year, I would like to provide an update on some my life super fast right now: 

In 2014, I joined the NYC Teaching Fellowship, started graduate school at St. John's University, and began working as an English teacher in a small transfer high school in Canarsie Brooklyn. A transfer school is an alternative school that helps over-aged and under-credited students graduate. We all deserve chances to change in this life and no matter how hard it is to teach and to motivate students, I love my job. Another cool thing about my school is that it's a blended learning school, meaning each student works at their own pace with an online curriculum that I create.

In 2015, Logan and I found out that we were having a baby! We are expecting a girl in February of 2016. Thoughts of babies, building a family, becoming a better (and balanced) teacher have taken up most of 2015. Logan also got a really cool job as a parent coach in Brownsville, Brooklyn. He gets to work with families and their babies on helping them become nurturing parents.

2016 just started and I'm teaching until my due date. The future is an exciting thing to think about. I wonder how it will all play out and when my next blog post will be...duhn duhn duhn!

Happy New Year!

Friday, June 13, 2014


This is my first blog update on American soil since returning from Ukraine in December 2013. I think about my friends and my experience in Ukraine every day and I am grateful to at least have that connection since I can not be there right now. Every day was so new and exciting when I was in Ukraine and I think my Peace Corps experience has pivoted my life in the direction of constant movement, reflection, and putting myself out there and doing things that I might have been too shy or nervous to do previously.

A lot has happened since being back. I worked at the YMCA for a brief time in their Beat the Streets Program where I had an arts, craft, and music table. I had to leave that super fun job, though, because I got accepted into the New York City Teaching Fellowship! I have signed up to be a teacher of English Language Arts in New York City's high need schools. For the last three months, I have worked as an Apprentice Teacher in a transfer school in Manhattan and that has opened my eyes to working with an older teen population. For the fellowship, I will be attending graduate school and working as a full time teacher starting in September. Training and graduate school start on Monday. My schedule for the next three months will be from 7am to 7pm and I'm slightly afraid that I won't be a nice person anymore. I'm just letting you know in case you wonder why I might look frazzled these days or why I just can't stop talking about teaching and Teach Like a Champion, and students at school, and ups and downs, and hey, we'll still have Friday nights, right? I am excited to be challenged, though. We all need a challenge sometimes to slap us in the face and help us deal with all the life that's going on while we're (sometimes) not paying attention.

Hmm what else: went to a music festival on Randalls Island with the Besties, moved back into an apartment in Brooklyn with Logan and our Peace Corps Friend who we call Peace Corps Jon, got my dog back (she's sleeping right next to me right now), my brother graduated college, my other brother turned 21(!), many of my near and dears are turning 30, and sometimes I get to use my Russian like the other day when I randomly helped translate at a school for a family and the school guidance counselors.

This will be the first post of many to come because I will find the time to reflect on all the experiences that are about to happen super fast...right...now!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Good Day For Sleeves

Today was a good day for sleeves and it wasn't because of the cold that has set in. I had my last class with my 10th form students today and I just couldn't fight back the tears when it all became quiet and they thanked me for my time with them. I love all my students and teachers at my school, but how I love them is different because love needs that. It needs to find different pathways. With this class, I loved them from the start. The first time we met, I felt their energy and saw in each of their faces such great potential.

I made them a short video to thank them for being such great students and in this video, I included a picture of them from the first year that I started teaching. They were so young and silly and now they're older and more mature (and much taller). I am so glad that I could witness their growth and be a small part of their lives here in Ukraine.

So yes, it was a good day for sleeves, but particularly the sleeves attached to the sweater which I have hand washed, laid on heaters, and worn for two years. I think they were waiting for this moment, preparing and stretching so they could fit far enough over my hands to wipe my eyes from the hardest kind of tears. Is life always this bittersweet?

I know I'll come back to Ukraine. Our heartstrings will forever be entangled. I know it's not my native country, but it has been my home for two years, and a good one, too. I have gotten used to it. I have learned its customs, I have drunk its conyak, prepared and eaten its varenyky, corrected its lack of article grammar mistakes, ridden on its busses, slept (or laid awake on) its night trains, nodded my head through confusing Russian conversations, eaten whatever anyone wanted me to eat, sang Ukrainian harmonies with my teachers in the forest, and found so many dear friends. It has all become a part of me, just like all of the other homes I've found over the years. Homes may not always be tangible, but I have marked their places on my map so I will never be lost.

Don't be fooled. I rolled up my long sleeves and quit being a baby to take this photo...

Friday, October 25, 2013

Давайте Play: Balancing Work and Play in the Classroom

This is not a "how to" post because I haven't exactly figured out how to balance work and play in the classroom. I've been at my school for two years and because I am the first American and Peace Corps Volunteer there, I still get giggly "hellos" and even "avtograph" requests. I know, I know, I'm awesome, right? Nope. If I was awesome, students would listen to me all the time during my lessons, but they don't. One reason might be because they have figured out that I have no real authority at school. I'm not allowed to escort student on trips or kick kids out of class, I usually have no idea what's going on at my school  when it comes to events, concerts, and good old surprise holidays, and the marks I give aren't always taken seriously. For example, when I give a student a 10 (out of 12) and their actual teacher says, "how about an 8 instead" the students excitement turns into disappointment and then into them not caring as much about trying hard in my class. I'll never fully understand the grading system here and I'll never fully like it...

Another reason they get a little crazy is because they kind of expect me to do something fun all the time. When I first started teaching here in Melitopol, I wanted to make a good impression so I created fun dynamic lessons. This is hard work and sometimes I get a little lazy and I just want to slip into classic "to the books" teaching mode. Don't get me wrong, I love to have fun with my students, but we can't just play games all the time, no matter how much fun I have tricking them into learning. Sometimes the English classroom should be quiet. Sometimes students should write their ideas down in their notebooks, while they peacefully ponder and make grammatical errors for me to check.

The other day, as I walked into the classroom, on of my tenth form students said, "Давайте play!" Let's play!  Only three students showed up that day due to illness, so I gave in and we played my favorite game, Celebrity (for rules on how to play, see this list of games). In that case, it was OK to play a game, but later on that day, my eighth form class did not deserve the same treatment. They were terrible. They were loud and scatterbrained and I couldn't hear the answers from the serious students in the front. Sometimes, I do the silent thing and wait until it's quiet. The students eventually get bored and confused about what to do and then they get it. This time, I did that and wrote the number 9 on the board and asked them to guess what it meant. It was the number of lessons we had left before I leave Ukraine. I said, in a calm voice because I don't like yelling, "Is this how you want to be? We have 9 classes left and you want to be noisy? You want to do nothing? 9 lessons. What do you want to do?"  Some of the students were surprised, some of them were teary (including myself), and one student decided to answer my question. She stood up with excitement and shouted, "PLAY GAMES!" Some students agreed and cheered and ruined my attempt at being sarcastic, but I could tell some students saw my frustration and respected it.

I told them we could only play games if they had good behavior and I'm trying to stick to this plan, but sometimes, I give in and put some extra effort into making class more fun. I don't know if this is good or bad or if the teacher who has to teach the kids after me suffers from leftover game energy...but I'm working on finding the balance and for now, I'll do my best to stay strong.

I've compiled a list of my favorite games on my other blog, teachloveplayenglish.blogspot.com. Here's the link to my Repertoire of Games.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

One Day: Leadership Seminar at School 16

Last Saturday, my counterpart and I organized a seminar to give Melitipol students and teachers some lessons on civic education. We received a SPA (Small Project Assistance) grant from USAID which helped us get the things we needed to make our civic education project a success. That included office supplies (paper, markers, tape, notebooks, folders...etc), a projector and a screen, a laptop, and a video camera. While these things are great for projects, they are just thatthings and things don't get us as far as the exchanging of ideas does. At these seminars, I saw students and teachers rise above the material world and use common sense and creativity to create potential and doable volunteer projects for Melitopol's community.

We split up the kids and the grownups. Students learned about leadership and participated in an active discussion about volunteerism with a living library (thanks to my dear fellow volunteers!). The adults stuck with Cynden and Logan for Project Design and Management and Fundraising training. After lunch, we did group work and had students create a potential volunteer project, with the guidance of their teachers. During this activity, I noticed that the students were more active than their adult counterparts. I also noticed that they had in their lexicon words like attainable, sustainable, and realistic.

When everyone was finished creating their project poster, we moved to the hall so the students could represent their posters and talk about their project. Everyone walked around, listened, and voted on their favorite. The winning project was called "Discover Yourself." It was a hobby club taught by volunteer students. Maybe this is not the most original idea, but they wrote down their goals and objectives, outlined steps for implementing their project, discussed potential fundraising ideas and a plan for future growth. This is very promising.

Ukraine is a great country, but it can be confusing at times. It can make you feel like you're being pulled in multiple directions: East vs. West, Ukrainian vs. Russian, "I miss the soviet union; The roads were taken care of..." vs. "The young people don't know how bad it was; They don't know that we had to eat dirt." I saw some of this at the seminars, the tension between the new generation and the older one. But it had a kind of balance. The fact that they participated showed that they care. Almost everyone tried and contributed something interesting to all of our discussions and activities and this made me happy.

At the end, I thanked the teachers for showing their students how to be good leaders. Some students came up to me afterwards to say that they really enjoyed the seminar. These are the students who will lead Ukraine into its bright future...one day.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Attack of the Idea People

Occasionally, I get ideas.

However, a lot of the time, they get tossed in a made-up file drawer or scribbled on a piece of paper way too small to get the point across. I can't count how many times I have started a sentence with a "wouldn't it be awesome if I..." and finished it with something that can't survive once exposed to the Earth's atmosphere. Just last week, I shouted a similar question into an empty room. Logan answered back from the kitchen, his voice muffled by the distance between us: "we're idea people," he said. At first, I took this to be a good thing, a compliment, proof that my brain works or is at least allowing me to voice real thoughts in my mind in real time. Now, I'm not so sure...Wouldn't it be awesome if I could just get paid to travel and write about whatever I wanted? We're getting the band back together! Is it too late to become an astronaut? 

I feel like a cartoon character with spinning stars around my head. I've been hit by the reality of the future, the end of my Peace Corps service, and the beginning of "the next step." It has caused an explosion of possibilities, ideas, and dreams and choosing one seems unfair.

In college, I had a professor tell me that I was like a goose, flying around in the clouds. That's me, pictured on the left. As goosey as I am, I think I've at least been flying towards the same goal, maybe just not so straight and steady. I did almost finish 27 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer and I wanted to join since I was a kid. It's funny how you get to the places you get to (and hey, maybe I wouldn't have gotten here if my spirit animal had been a more direct non-flying one).

Getting ready for the next chapter is not easy and it seems to get harder and harder (stranger and stranger?) the closer I get to December. I go back and forth between knowing and not knowing, feeling confident and forgetting what confidence means, being cocky and shooting myself in the foot like an idiot. It's all OK, though. я знаю. Всё будет хорошо, как всегда! I really do believe this.

The original title for this post was "The Curse of the Idea People," but I changed it. It's not a curse to have ideas, even if they're silly, even if they involve trying to go to Mars (this is real, by the way). It's a curse not to do anything with them, even if you realize that they're actually not what you really want. If you are like me and you're flapping around in the sky while others are soaring on steady wings and making decisions like BAM and getting things done like POW, it's time to launch an attack--on your motivation and on your flying skills. I wish you luck and the power of focus. I say, you can fly as high as you want, as long as you get to where you want to be. Like the quote in the Peace Corps lounge says: "It's not the journey, but the destination."