Posts tagged Teacher
The faculty at my school have had opportunities to address the middle school with ethics speeches, and last Monday was my turn. I chose to give them a snippet of my life when I was their age and some lessons I had garnered along the way.
When I was a kid, my mom always asked me “do you want to be one of the many or one of the few?”
It sounded good to be one of the few, but being one of the “few” while also trying to fit in at school seemed like an impossible task. The time I spent trying to fit in at school has helped me relate to many of you, but I hope none of you spend the kind of time and emotional energy I did to achieve such a worthless goal. Believe it or not, many of the things I’m proud of now were once things that I was teased or criticized for.
I was teased for getting good grades. I was teased because of my curly hair, and my glasses. A lot of times, kids were mean to me just because I was an easy target. Eventually, I was teased for going to Harvard. When I started playing rugby, I was teased for being unfeminine. When I decided to go to Africa after college, I was told it was pointless.
The reason I was able to follow my gut, overcome the teasing and stick to the big decisions I mentioned is because I learned to find strength in myself, but this wasn’t always easy, especially when I was younger.
My parents divorced when I was eight. In rural Pennsylvania in the early 90’s, this was not “normal.” I felt tagged as “that girl with the divorced parents,” uncomfortable with feeling different. My younger brother, Ryan, faced it with me, but I still carried the burden of that identity, switching houses every Monday when everyone else lived in one.
When I was the age of many of you in this room, my isolation entrenched even further. Four days before Christmas when I was in seventh grade, my dad and brother were on their way to pick me up from basketball practice when they collided with another car about two minutes from our house. Ryan was killed instantly; my dad was permanently paralyzed from the chest down and will be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
As I was in the hospital with my mom that cold winter night next to my brother, I didn’t know how to deal with what was in front of me. I hadn’t done anything, yet my entire life was changed. The next day, my dad’s car was prominent on the first page of our small town’s local newspaper. In the weeks ahead there were follow-up stories about my brother’s death and the effect on his elementary school. It was impossible for me to escape the truth and impossible for me to escape my new identity.
Back in school, people didn’t know how to act around me. Mostly, people just left me alone. However, some of the kids who had teased me before, started up again after a few months. I felt lost in middle school. I wanted to find friends, I wanted to connect to others, but I was hopeless. I thought, I’m a good person, why is it so hard to be included? In an effort to fit in, I went through different phases of denying my past and trying to move forward. My goal was to be considered normal and accepted by my peers. I sometimes told people I was an only child, even going so far as to lie about my brother’s identity in photos. For those who knew what had happened, I wanted them to think I was strong, not weird. I didn’t want to be associated with my dad’s accident. I didn’t want people’s pity because it kept me from being accepted like everyone else.
Over the years though, without trying, I realized how much my dad’s accident and my brother’s death were actually giving my life new direction. People started contacting me when they knew another girl who had lost a brother and I started mentoring. I had opportunities to meet and learn about people with disabilities like my dad’s and ended up exploring the disability community in the US, and in my travels to China, Madgascar and Senegal. I like social entrepreneurship and I started a website for people with paralysis. All these experiences that came from something that was only painful for me before, were actually what allowed me to find real value in my life. These experiences made me unique.
As I began to see some of the positive results that came out of my dad’s accident, I began to see all the opportunities that arose out of other challenges I had faced. Divorce gave me wonderful step-parents and amazing siblings adopted by my parents and their new spouses. Losing my brother motivated me to make the most of the life that he never had the chance to live. Ryan would have been 22 years old this year, and I still miss him every day. There are still times that it can be painful, but I know that in the end, I love my life, and will live it to the fullest, no matter what challenges lay ahead.
When the world comes crashing down and everything feels broken, as I’m sure has happened to many of you in different ways, remember that you can always pick up the pieces and rebuild them. It might not be what you expected, but you can make it your own. Don’t be shy about the things that make you unique, that make you…you. We’re told how things should be, how to follow the pack, but the reality is, there is no one way to live a life. Once I learned to accept myself, my interests, and the things that had happened to me, I was genuinely happy. I also began to have friends that appreciated me for who I am, rather than following those I assumed I should be friends with to be cool.
You can’t let others make the decisions for you. If you love something, do it, embrace it, and be you, because no one can ever tell you otherwise. It’s by no means easy, but it leads to great happiness.
As for me, I’m a farm girl at heart, a rugby player, a friend, a Chinese teacher, a sister, a coach, a daughter, a goofball, a traveler. I am unique. I am Brittany Martin. Who are you?
We’re all accustomed to hearing ”Oh girl!! You are lookin’ FINE right now!” on an episode of Jersey Shore, but when I heard that phrase in my classroom from the mouth of a seventh grader, it was a different experience. I’ve learned in my job that unexpected situations are like being on call for a 9 alarm fire.. if you don’t react immediately and appropriately… well, you’re toast.
I had to look beyond the absurdity of the situation, and respond…fast. This student (not one I teach) had managed to drop his not-so-suave line on me a few minutes before my seventh grade class started in front of 16 other students of mine. It became obvious to me that it had to be dealt with immediately, and loudly enough that the entire classroom understood what I was (hopefully) crafting into a teaching moment.
As I very sternly looked him in the eyes and replied that his comment was, in fact, incredibly inappropriate, it became very obvious that it was not the reaction he had anticipated. His face transitioned in sequence from joking to happy to confused to uneasy to just plain scared. I have worked hard to make sure my boys know when they’ve crossed a line. I made a point that this was not just something he shouldn’t say in front of me, but why it was an issue to talk to women like that, and he affirmed that he could see the issue. He apologized profusely, and even showed up after the next class to apologize again.
This is not the only time I’ve been slapped in the face by an off the wall comment like this. When meeting with a group of high school boys who will play rugby for me this spring a few months ago, I was informed by a student that if i “dressed nicer” to attend their school meeting “more people would sign up for the team”. At first I waited for him to be joking, and as the seconds went by and he waited for my response, I realized that he was not in fact joking at all and then I was at a loss for words. A real concern on our team was not having enough numbers to play this season; his intentions were genuine. However, the fact that he fell back on blatantly “selling” his young female coach to attract his classmates to the sport, is indicative of a deeper issue that runs through their culture.
I take my job very seriously when it comes to being communicative with my boys about what it means to respect women. I also understand that they don’t always have the best examples, particularly with what they are bombarded with in the media. I’ve never seen an episode of the Jersey Shore, but I do know a a good number of 11-14 year olds that watch it religiously. Examples and influences like these might make my job more difficult, but they also make it all the more important. Setting good examples and challenging the boys to think about issues such as gender is something I often discuss with my female colleagues, many of whom have had experiences like mine. Based on my prior interactions with the students that made these comments, I don’t think for an instant that they were aiming to disrespect me; however, kids need to learn that life doesn’t operate like an episode of reality television.
About a week and a half ago, my principal sat me down and told me that one of my student’s moms had gotten us some state department invitations for an event at the White House hosted by Michelle Obama and (GASP!) President Hu Jintao from China. Once I caught my breath, I was completely overtaken by the coolness of it all. Over the course of a few days, however, the details got a little less exciting.. the White House became Howard University, Hu Jintao became an “unnamed Chinese counterpart”, but thankfully, Michelle Obama was still hosting. I had no idea if there were going to be 10 people or 1,000, so in a little corner of my mind I held onto the slightest potential prospect of meeting Michelle Obama. That excitement became justification for a new outfit and a pair of 3-in “power heels” as I like to call them, just in case I got to have a chat with the First Lady. (Props to my mom for sitting by her computer to see the photos I sent her from my iPhone in TJ Maxx… modern technology really does amazing things).
Last Wednesday morning, I rallied the troops and grabbed the keys to one of the mini-activity buses. It was my first time to embark on such an adventure in the buses, and I was definitely nervous at first.
Believe it or not, we made it to Howard University! (And even harder to believe is that I actually enjoyed the job of bus driver!) That of course, was until I entered at the wrong entrance and was approached my numerous secret service agents who made sure I felt like an idiot before they made me make a 3-point turn and escorted me (with a flashing police car) back where I came from.
Once the program started, it became pretty clear that we were not in fact going to meet Michelle Obama. I couldn’t help but think of my first Spice Girls concert in 1998, so close yet so far away from the stage, hoping maybe, just maybe, they would pick a few people in the audience to come up on stage. (And by a few people, I meant me. )Michelle Obama unfortunately did not pick up on my ESP messages to bring me up front, and thus I remained in my seat, out of range, but still very happy to be there, and even happier that my students had the chance to be there.
We first heard a speech by the Chinese Ambassador’s wife about the history of study abroad relations between China and the USA, and then Michelle Obama spoke. It was obvious that everyone in the auditorium was there to see her, and I have to admit it was pretty exciting. She is a strikingly powerful women, poised, and speaks eloquently and articulately. She spoke about study abroad as it related to cross-cultural interactions and its affect on students who partake. Here’s her speech in it’s entirety, including the nice introduction by the President of Howard University.
Following her speech, they held a panel discussion including 4 students who had recently been abroad to China. It was a good for my boys to hear a bit about what students are doing, and even career opportunities that would be available to them if they continue their studies. The students’ stories made me incredibly nostalgic for my own experiences in China and the connections I’ve made in China in the 4 times that I’ve been there. It was nice to reflect on it after the event with my students and share with them a bit about what made my trips so special. Here are some descriptions and photos below from my own trips:
My first Chinese family in Beijing in summer of 2005. They welcomed me into their home, taught me how to make dumplings, and helped me practice my Chinese as a second year student:
My family in Manyangguan Village that I stayed with the first time in November 2006 doing research on the lives of people with disabilities. Ao (my host father on the right) passed away in 2008 from AIDS that he contracted from a bad blood transfusion when he lost his leg in 1991. I visited my host mom (in the photo) and host siblings again in September 2008 and was received as a member of the family. This family was the first I connected with at a depth where everything anyone has ever said about the value of exploration and cross-cultural connection finally made sense to me. These people are like family to me.
This photo is from my trip in 2008, when I came back to Manyangguan Village and participated in a Buddhist ceremony that happens 6 months after a person’s death to help guide him or her to the next life. (Yes, I am that tall there.. and I’m probably still bending my knees a little):
And my family in Kunming, who welcomed me as a stranger, to understand the disabilities the husband and wife sustained in a car accident. They talked openly and frankly about the changes in their lives in China after becoming disabled and introduced me to members of their community. We connected on seeing a great value in life, and still remain in contact:
And lastly, a photo to represent the children that left a lasting impression on me in my travels in China. Despite being a giant and making most kids cry, I still had some precious moments where laughter and smiles won out– children’s communication doesn’t always need spoken language, and I had some great times just playing.
My favorite quote from Michelle Obama’s speech was one where she quoted another student recently home from study abroad in China. He said “I’ve come to understand the world is more complex, more interconnected, and more beautiful than I ever could’ve imagined.” Those words resonated with me and brought all these wonderful memories, people, and interactions to the surface. I have been lucky enough to have the experiences that I have had, and that they have impacted me so deeply. It gave me a new desire to inspire this kind of exploration and experience in my students because I do believe it opens doors you can’t imagine until you’re there.
Rather than the normal morning of character quizzes and chapter reviewing, we met at 6:15 this morning to trek our way to southern Beijing to visit the Pugongying Zhongxue (Dandelion Middle School).
Here’s a peak at one of the kids dorms (personal space doesn’t quite exist in a country of 1.3 billion people):
Here’s the kids lined up outside the front of the school for announcements (we each had to introduce ourselves with a microphone in front of this group!):
Pugongying is a non-profit boarding school for kids whose parents have moved to Beijing to find work. These “immigrant” families face a lot of economic and social challenges, and this school aims to give these kids who come from these situations a chance at an education. I was pretty excited that the school existed and was fascinated as our tour around campus led us to better understand not only how the school works, but also the challenges they face. The most prominent being that many of the students who graduate from our equivalent of 8th grade are stuck without any means to attend high school or more.
In China, every citizen is given what’s called a hu kou. I don’t actually know what it translates to in English, but it’s basically an identification that ties a person to the geographic area where they are from. These children have spent most of their lives in Beijing, but they are still technically tied to their hometown. In order to be eligible for high school or to be able to later test into college, students must apply in the region where their hu kou is registered. Many of these kids either can’t get back there or don’t have family there anymore and are left without a way to continue their education. What I found most interesting is that some of these kids didn’t even have their hu kou yet because their families haven’t yet had a chance to register them in their hometowns. In some cases, kids haven’t been registered because they are chao sheng, meaning their parents have “over-birthed” their quota per the one child policy. Every once in a while there is a loophole and a student will get accepted to high school, but for the majority of kids this isn’t the case. The school has since started a program where those who have graduated can stay at the school and work while they continue to study, but it doesn’t count in the Chinese education system.
Apart from this glimpse into Chinese culture, the goal of the trip was to give us some exposure to English and Chinese instruction in China, as well as give us a chance to interact with their students. We observed an English class where the kids were learning about describing one’s features related to looks “He is handsome”, weight “My sister is heavy”, and other specifics like “I have big ears”, etc. It was enough to make a lot of us smile.
We also got a chance to become teachers again (and to take a break from our Chinese language pledge) to speak English with some students in a different class. I had a group of 14 and 15 year olds, and their English was good enough for basic conversation. We talked about a variety of things from our families to our future plans. After being introduced to the problems that lie ahead for these students after middle school, I was particularly moved hearing about their “dreams” (their words) to be doctors, lawyers, writers, artists and reporters. It really made me hope that they find a way to make them a reality.
We ended the visit with some impromptu basketball and hand clapping games and each bought our own Pugongying Zhongxue t-shirts before the kids presented us with printouts of photos they had taken of us while we were working in the English class with a handwritten note thanking us. Today was one of those days where I thought to myself, Wow, I am so glad I learned Chinese. Chinese specifically has opened so many doors for me, big and small, but sometimes just the value of an hour conversation with Chinese teenagers is enough to make all the hours I spent copying characters in college worthwhile.
Over the last few months my life has felt more and more guided by the alignment of the stars than actual planning. Once again, a coincidental (and serendipitous) sequence of events have led to my imminent return to China in June.
Fun fact: China’s name in Chinese is ‘zhong guo’ which literally translates to “Middle Kingdom”
The 6-week program is for Chinese teachers whose first language is English (description fits me to a T!), and is funded by Fulbright. I’m one of (only) 10 participants. We spend 3 weeks in Beijing and 3 weeks in Chengdu, each day receiving intensive language instruction and attending seminars and lectures on teaching techniques. All of us will be signing a language pledge for the duration of the program requiring us to speak only Chinese and we will be participating in other cultural seminars and events. We also create actual lesson plans during the program, so it will put me in a good position to start off the school year in the fall.
The program’s deadline was long past by the time I had started teaching. I didn’t even know the program existed. However, due to unforeseen conflicts, one of the participants had to unexpectedly back out– and here’s where fate intervened! The coordinator of the program happened to know the high school Chinese teacher at my school, who upon hearing the situation of the new vacancy told the coordinator about me. Within 3 days, I applied, interviewed and was retroactively accepted to the program.
Coincidence? Fate? Luck? Who knows. All I know is that I’m going back to China in less than 2 months and I’m very excited.
As the newest addition to the middle school faculty, I have assumed my role as “Miss Martin” or Ma Laoshi (it translates to ‘Teacher Ma’, Ma being my Chinese last name) and have begun shadowing the current Chinese teacher who will be relinquishing her duties and enjoying maternity leave once the kids leave on spring break. I spent two days with the kids, and am scheduled to shadow another four days before officially taking over the job on April 5th.
I really enjoyed my first two days, getting to know my students and co-workers and getting a feel of the vibe of the school. It’s a completely new environment for me; not only is this my first “real” job post-college, but it’s also my first experience in a private, all boys school. I teach a very introductory 5th grade class, 2 sections of 6th graders, a 7th grade and an 8th grade class. My students cover the full spectrum of puberty, with my pint-sized 6th graders and my I’m-not-in-high school-but-will-be-soon 8th graders that are an average a foot or two taller with voices a few octaves lower than my other sections. Overall, the kids seem incredibly enthusiastic for the language and have some real skills and in the relatively few instances that I’ve really gotten to work with them on Chinese, I feel this great excitement for the upcoming months.
Coming in as a newbie, in addition to being a young woman in a male dominated environment, has it’s perks and pitfalls. I’m one of three female teachers in the middle school, but I also have the element of surprise not being Chinese. No one quite expected someone who looks like me to be the new Chinese teacher and I’m trying to use that to my benefit. I’ve also caught wind of a few rather hysterical stories of some of the students’ excitement over the new “Miss” in town (we are apparently few and far between and these guys don’t get to see too many girls as it is). One of the more outgoing boys I sat with at our lunch table on Friday asked me how I was fairing in the ‘all boys’ atmosphere, and his question made me laugh. It’s definitely a new world, but I’m more and more happy each day that I’ve ended up with this job and can’t wait to see what happens over the next few months.