Friday, November 12, 2010

Ms. Stephanie, Elementary Teacher

To be an elementary teacher is an unique profession. Do you remember the days when you were once an elementary student? Well I do. There was a distinct smell in the air. One of snot, spilled milk, dirt, and freshly sharpened pencils.

Now, as a teacher these smells still evoke strong emotions, but perhaps of a different kind. It still reminds me that I have work to do. It still makes me feel young. But most importantly it reminds me that I am in charge of 20 little ones; academically, socially, emotionally, and physically.

Sometimes I have to stop and smile. I can honestly say that I have such a great group of kids. Although sometimes they make me want to pull my hair out, I can appreciate each one of them for what they teach me.

I used to think that elementary teachers taught elementary because they were not smart enough to teach something more ´´difficult´´. Boy, was I wrong. Being an elementary teacher is quite challenging. There is so much to think about, prepare for, and check.

To keep my sanity, however, I remember to still participate in my favorite hobbies; going to the gym, learning new languages, writing, and playing the guitar. These help me to be ready for the next time one of my kids has a scraped knee, has had their pencil stolen, or doesn´t understand what to do.

Yes, the smell of snot, spilled milk, dirt, and freshly sharpened pencils reminds me that I am Ms. Stephanie, third grade teacher to twenty wonderfully unique boys and girls.

Monday, November 8, 2010

No Hay Otro Nombre

Here is a song that I prepared and sang for my Spanish class last Thursday after school. Kari Jobe is one of my favorite artists. I love how God is the same in any language. No sweeter name than Jesus!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Parras, not Paris

Our rental car.
One of the greatest things about working at an American International school in a foreign country is that you celebrate most U.S. holidays as well of the local country’s holidays. Basically you have a lot of days off. No complaints here!

Our latest holiday was “Dia de Los Muertos” (Day of the Dead). We were able to enjoy a joyous four day weekend. Some teachers chose to take an overnight bus to the beach, I did not. Instead my friend Megan and I decided to rent a car and take a day trip to a nearby city called Parras.

This city is pronounced like Paris except you must roll the “r”. The difference to a foreign ear, such as my own, is quite minute. I made the mistake of confusing the two cities one day when one of my third grade students said to me, “Miss I am going to Paris this weekend.”

I responded, “Oh really?”

He explained, “We are leaving Friday and coming back Sunday.”

With a look of confusion I nodded my head and smiled while thinking that this poor child must have been lying. After school I ran into the boy’s father and told him what his son had told me. He laughed and explained that they were not going to Paris, but instead Parras. It all made so much more sense to me.

I was quite nervous about renting a car and driving a car in Mexico, but in the end it all worked out quite nicely. The drive was only about 2 hours each way. While in Parras we met up with four other teachers who were spending the weekend there. Together we enjoyed a hike to a church on a hill, a visit to the aqueducts, a natural spring water pool, a wax museum, and a tour of the oldest winery in North America.
Megan and I after our hike up to the church on the hill.

We got back into town around dinner time, called up some friends, and asked where they wanted to go since we had a car. It was a crazy night for the four of us girls. We chose to take a trip to Carl’s Jr. and HEB.

Rainbows, how I love you!
Yummy... gorditas!
The next morning before dropping the car off I took a detour to Starbucks. I was even able to go through the drive-thru! It was very difficult to turn the car back in. I truly miss having a car and have thought several times about having one here. Then I remind myself that it is too dangerous to have a car here especially as a foreigner, a car is not a necessity here, and I don’t want to have the cost of having a car here.

All in all a great relaxing weekend. Perhaps we’ll have to rent a car again sometime!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Me and Mexico

It has been way too long since I have updated my blog. First, I was restricted from updating due to a censored China, then I was preoccupied with completing my travelogues, now I have no excuse. Actually, I will claim that my excuse is my new job assignment. I am now a third grade teacher for an International school in north central Mexico. This is my first "real" teaching job. I am three months in and am loving it. I have been, however, quite busy with grading, lesson planning, and more grading.

Long story short... I will try to write more and keep my blog updated. While you are waiting for me to post a blog, check out my travelogue from Honduras at the bottom of this page.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A New Adventure Begins

Just as my title suggests, I am now starting a new adventure in Honduras. How did I get here you may ask? Well, February 4th through the 7th I traveled to Waterloo, Iowa for the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) recruiting fair. The UNI recruiting fair is an annual event for credentialed teachers to find a job placement at an International school overseas. After spending a year in China I wanted to see more of the world. So, I decided to spend about $1,000 to travel to Iowa to try to secure a job overseas.

I was really nervous about finding a job since I had less than two years teaching experience and was narrowing the field down to either Spanish or Chinese speaking countries. However, I knew that there was still a chance for me to secure a job at the fair if I went in with an optimistic outlook and convinced schools that I would be a great asset.

Before leaving for the fair I tried to prepare by reading the monthly UNI newsletters and participating in the candidate chat pages on the UNI fair website. Although both provided me with some good information, I still felt incredibly unprepared. I decided to find a roommate to share my hotel room with while at the fair to help defer some of the associated costs. This scenario of sharing a room with a complete stranger also made me a little weary.

The week leading up to the fair I was a complete mess. I tired holding it together but eventually lost the battle one night while trying on business clothes for my mom to approve of. My mom asked me a question similar to, “What are you thinking right now” and I just lost it. I stood in my newly bought blouse and brown suit pants sobbing. My mom proceeded to grab a box of tissues, sit me down in a chair, and console me for the next 20 minutes. I was frustrated by my inability to fully be at peace with whatever the outcome of the fair might be. I was trying to put my trust in God, but still was struggling to do it completely.

My mom asked, “How would you feel if you came back from the fair without a job?”

I immediately responded with tears whelming up in my eyes, “Devastated.”

It is difficult to explain the urge I have to travel overseas. I joke about having “the travel bug” but it is so much more than that. While in China I was looking forward to coming back home. I was looking forward to spending time with family and friends, eating authentic Mexican food, understanding all that surrounded me, etc. This excitement of being back home, however, only lasted for about a week. Then, I was researching where I wanted to go to next.

I never thought that I would miss China, but I sincerely missed a lot about China. Every time I looked at the pictures of my students back in Guangzhou I had a pang deep inside my heart. I missed my apartment. I missed the lifestyle I had while in China. I missed the adventure, the challenge, and the people I met every day that shared my same passion for travel. I had to realize, however, that now I was back in California, back to reality.

I felt as though going to the UNI fair was my one and only chance to continue living and teaching abroad. I knew that the UNI fair wasn’t my only option for what I was possibly going to do in the future, but it was the option that I wanted the most. Two of my other options included finding a full time teaching position locally (difficult due to the current economic situation) or go back to school full time to earn my Master’s (difficult while maintaining a sense of independence and financial freedom). Therefore, the UNI fair was what I was counting on.

My mom ended our talk with a prayer. She prayed that God would just calm my nerves and remind me that He loves me, knows the desires of my heart, and has a plan for my life. I won’t say that at that moment all of my nerves immediately disappeared, but my mom’s talk certainly made me feel better. I love my mom so much and feel so blessed by what she does all the time for me. This is one of the reasons why she is my “From” a mix between a “friend” and a “mom.”

In the end, not only did God provide me with a two-year contract in Torreon, Mexico for 2010 - 2012 but He also provided me a job in San Pedro Sula, Honduras for the rest of school year 2009 - 2010! Why do I doubt how great He is?

In fourth grade when Mrs. McClendon was my teacher I decided that I wanted to be a teacher and that I wanted to travel the world. Fortunately I have been able to stay in contact with this wonderful teacher of mine. As I was asking for prayer while attending the recruitment fair she suggested I read Proverbs 3:5-6. It reads, "Trust the Lord with all your heart and don't depend on your own understanding. Remember the Lord in all you do and he will give you success."

The recruitment fair was a whirlwind, chaotic, stressful event. Many people were crying, some were talking on Skype trying to get advise from others, and then a few were offered jobs before the fair even started!

I and the other 599 teachers seeking employment were given a layout of the school’s tables printed on hot pink paper. We were then given 2 hours to navigate, wait in line, and then sell ourselves to the recruiters in 60 seconds or less for the chance to interview with them later that day or the next. There were a total of 120 tables. I started out with 8 of them as my top choices. I was shot down by 7 of those 8 schools because I didn’t have full time experience in a traditional classroom setting. After an hour, I felt insecure, overwhelmed, and as though I was going to have a complete breakdown.

I stepped off to the side, sat down, and then recited Proverbs 3:5-6 in my head. I asked that God would lead me in the right direction and if it was not His will for me to work overseas that I would be okay with that too. I dropped off a few more resumes and secured four interviews total. This two-hour block ended at 1:15pm and my first interview was at 1:30pm.

At about 12:45pm I looked around the room that started with 600 teachers and 120+ school administrators and saw a patheitc looking 50 teachers and 30 school administrators. The teachers left standing were probably all feeling similar to me, lost, insecure, and like we had just been chewed up and spit back out. The administrators left were from schools located in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and countries that I had never even heard of just waiting for teachers who were crazy enough to volunteer to go to their schools. A part of me wanted to start randomly passing out my resume to every administrator I saw not caring about where they were from. Fortunately this moment of insanity did not last long.

I decided that instead of wasting time talking with adminstrators in countries that I had never heard of, instead this was the perfect opportunity to head to the restroom to freshen up before the start of my first interview. Twenty mintues later I was headed across the skywalk connecting the convention center to the Ramada Inn for my first interview held in hotel room 912. Yes, most interviews were held in hotel rooms. A little weird? Yes. Normal in a situation already so chaotic and out of the norm? Yes.

As I was waiting in the lobby of the Ramada Inn for the elevator the principal of the elementary school that I was about to interview for also comes walking up to the elevator. I rode in the same elevator has her uncertain if I should make small talk or instead save it all for the interview. The ride up to the 9th floor seemed abnormally long.

Soon enough however, I found myself sitting in a room with both the superintendent of CAT (Colegio Americano de Torreon) and the principal of the elementary school. My interview was their first interview of the weekend. When I first had checked my UNI fair mailbox that morning at 7am I found a yellow paper from CAT inviting me for an interview. Obviously something in my canidate profile had stood out to them. Therefore, I felt as though this interview held a lot of promise.

Many questions and 30 mintues later I had officially survived my first interview at an international school recruitment fair. I walked out feeling on top of the world after the superintendent said to me with a smile on his face, “I like you. We will let you know first thing tomorrow morning.” The even more intersting part about this is that the roommate, Beth, I had this weekend at the fair currently works as a librarian at CAT in Torreon, Mexico. Can you believe that? She had told me that the superindendent was a scary, serious man who rarely smiles. I, however, expereinced the opposite.

After my interview I had a four hour break until my next interview at 6:00pm. I decided to take advantage of this break to go to the local walk in clinic to inquire about my ear. Before leaving for Iowa my ear had felt a little clogged. I didn’t think much of it. I thought it was just because I had been having an allergy attack of some kind. I quickly learned, however, to never fly with a stuffy head. I had two flights the day before one into Pheonix and then one into Des Moines where my ear did not pop either time. This created unbearable pressure in my ear not to mention a continual “whooshing” sound whenever I walked. I tried Sudafed, nasal spray, and ear drops but nothing helped. I was incredibly nervous about how this would affect me during the fair, but just had to try to ignore it and focus on the task at hand.

Now, fortunately I was able to think about it and try to get some medicine in me that would release the pressure. With a quick half a second look in my ear the doctor said, “Yup, it’s an ear infection.”

I felt like responding, “Ya think?”

A quick stop into the pharmancy and I had some antibiotics in hand that would hopefully cure this “stuffiness” sensation soon. Next, I decided to head back to my hotel room to take a nap feeling as though there wasn’t much more I could do to prepare for my six o’clock interview.

At 5:30 I felt refreshed and ready for round number two. This interview was not in a hotel room but instead in the same huge room as where the round robin event took place. (Only about 10 schools total decided to hold interviews in this location.) I walked into the large room and sat off to the side with the other teacher canidates waiting to interview.

There was one problem. I couldn’t remember what the administrators of this school looked like. I knew the general vicinity of where their table was located but it was across the room from where I was sitting and couldn’t quite see. After waiting a couple minutes after my supposed interview time of six o’clock and not seeing anyone moving I decided to take a risk and walk on over to the other side of the room. I approached a woman who I thought was the middle school principal. It turned out to not be her but the woman was nice enough to direct me in the right direction.

I was asked to sit down and watch a promotional video for the school. I was sitting there thinking, “Isn’t it my job to promote myself not them try to promote themselves?”

A few mintues later I was escorted to a different area to where a tiny petite woman was sitting in an all white suit. After I sat down this petitie middle school principal asked me in a soft spoken voice with a look of anticipation, “How soon can you start?”

I was incredibly taken aback. Stumbling to find the adequate words to say I stammered, “Um… eh… excuse me?”

Perhaps thinking that I didn’t hear the first time, she repeated, “How soon can you start?”

My mind was whirling with a million thoughts. What do I say? I asked, “Are you interviewing any one else?”

With holding the same pleased expecting look she responded, “No.”

I couldn’t help but showing my feeling of shock. What? Is this truly a job offer? I never even dreamed that I could be leaving for another country within the next week. How exciting! What will my parents think? Is this for real?

Without asking me any questions such as, “Explain your classroom management style. How do you feel about retaining students? Describe your philosophy of education,” she instead asked, “Any questions?”

Yes, I had a million questions, but I couldn’t seem to think about anything except, “I’m going to Honduras!”

We ended the short five minute interview with a handshake and the principal saying, “Go home, think about it tonight, and then come to our orientation tomorrow. We’ll talk more after the orientation.”

I was still stunned and remained stunned the whole evening. Ear clogged or not, I felt on cloud nine. Here it was my first recruitment fair and I was offered two jobs in my first two interviews! I had to stop and take a moment to thank God. Once again He had proven His love for me and once again I doubted His greatness. Hopefully someday I’ll learn to trust Him compeltely leaving no shadow of doubt in my mind.

Friday evening was spent talking to family on Skype, talking to my roommate Beth, and talking with administrators and fellow teacher canidates at the informal social held at the convention center. I was feeling good about the two interviews I had, but was feeling nervous because some were talking about formal contracts they were offered. I had not been offered any formal contracts.

The next morning my ear was feeling better, I put on my snazzy café colored busniess suite with a tangerine blouse, ate some breakfast, and drove to the convention center at around 10am. I eagerly checked my mailbox, but there was nothing. I tried not to panic, but it was hard not to.

I attended an orientation presentation for International Christian School in Hong Kong, went to lunch with my Bath, and attended two other orientation presentations constantly checking my mailbox. It was a little after 2pm when I finally heard from CAT in Mexico. I received a hand written note that said, “We are trying to reach you. We want to offer you a 3rd grade position. Please respond by 2pm.” I immediately looked at my watch. It was 2:07pm. Oh no! Had I missed my opportunity? I quickly ran upstairs, across the skywalk, and up to the 9th floor.

As I was getting out of the elevator on the 9th floor, there stood the elementary principal waiting to go down the elevator. She saw me and said, “Oh, hi!”

I responded, “Hi. I got your note.”

She said, “Oh great. Follow me.”

We walked down the hall and into the same room I had my interview in a little over 24 hours ago. Sitting in the room was the superintendent. He jokingly said, “The elementary principal really wanted to hire you so I had no choice.”

They handed me a formal write up of the contract they were offering me, told me to look it over, think about it, and then come back at 6pm. I knew there wasn’t much to think about. I was ready to sign right then and there.

My next stop was an interview at 2:30 on the 11th floor with International Christian School in Hong Kong. Since I was already offered a contract all I needed to do was go to the interview and politely say, “Thanks but no thanks.” At first ICS was one of my top choice schools, but when I met the administrators at the round robin sign up they didn’t seem very interested in me. They were looking for a teacher with more experience than me, but agreed to give me an interview anyways.

I walked in, shook hands with them, thanked them for the opportunity to interview at ICS, and then told them about the contract I was just offered. They were so nice about it all. They smiled, congratulated me on the position I was offered, and jokingly told me that I was going to the second best school. (Their school being the first obviously.)

Next, I wrote a note to Quality Schools International (QSI) to kindly decline the interview I had scheduled with them later that same evening. I sealed the note in a bright yellow envelope and slipped it under the door of their hotel room.

I went back to the convention center and found my roommate. We sat a table in the café section with many other teacher canidates talking about their job offers or lack there of. It seemed as though most had already been offered job offers, but there were also quite a few who had received nothing. This made me even more grateful for the jobs that had been offered to me.

At 4:30pm the middle school principal at EIS in Honduras approached me and asked if I was ready to talk some more. I went with her and explained that I was interested in excepting the job to work at EIS teaching 6th grade language arts and social studies. I was sure to explain to her that I had been offered a job in Mexico for the following two school years. She understood and said how she wished she was able to travel to Mexico too. I signed on the dotted line and said that I would be ready to leave for Honduras in 5 days on Thursday. She said great and away I went.

At 6pm I went back to the superintendent and elementary school principal of CAT in Mexico so that I could officially sign on the dotted line. I explained to them that I was going to Honduras but only until the end of the school year. They understood and were excited that I would get a little bit more experience before starting at their school in August.

I couldn’t believe it! Here I was so concerned that I wouldn’t secure a job at the fair and I secured two jobs! Truly, I owed all of my success to Him. It wasn’t by coincidence that my roommate happened to currently work for CAT as a librarian, nor that EIS happened to have a immediate position needing filled for the remainder of the school year.

That evening I met the administrators of EIS at the Red Roof restaurant along with some other staff who were hired to work at EIS for a congratulatory dinner. Unforutnately I will never see these other staff members again since I will already be in Mexico when they come down to EIS. But still it was nice to eat, talk, and enjoy the victory of securing two jobs during the fair.

Needless to say, that evening I slept very well.

The next morning I woke up, packed up my things, said goodbye to my roommate, and headed off to a local church there in Waterloo. The church I ended up going to was an Open Bible church. It was a great sermon about remembering where God has brought you from. It was an awesome time for me to reflect upon the last two years.

Two years ago I was getting out of a marriage that was destroying me emotionally and spiritually. I felt so down and so hopeless. I thank God daily for giving me the strength to leave and for blessing me with friends and family who have been so supportive. God has taken that hopeless, broken woman and has made her into the strong, adventurous woman I am today. God has restored hope into my life once again. Words can not even begin to express my gratitude for Him.

One of the worship songs that was sung that morning at church is a Matt Redman song titled, “You Never Let Go.” As we were singing the song, tears ran down my face. The song rang so true for me thus far and it is the promise I will hold on to as I travel to one of the most dangerous cities in Latin America. The song says, “I will fear no evil for my God is with me. And if my God is with me, whom then shall I fear?”

I returned back to California victorious. Now came the sad part. Telling my friends and family that after being back from China for two and half months, I was leaving again. My bible study friends made me a “Good bye Stephanie We’ll miss you” cake and my family had a good bye dinner for me. I said my farewells, see you June and off I went to start my newest adventure. Honduras here I come.