Texas!

•May 28, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I am at that highly transitional period of life where I have some variation of the same conversation with everyone I know. I feel like I’m at my high school graduation party again, but the answers to those “what are you doing with your life?” questions have changed considerably. So here it is, all typed out for you to read at your leisure. Now maybe our small talk can return to topics like the weather, or how silly you look in that hat. 

I graduated last December and finished out the school year as a second grade teacher in Junction City. I turned down the offer to renew my contract for next year so that I can move several hours away to a city that I’ve never visited where I have no job and know almost no one. Naturally, revealing these details tends to throw a kink in the normal flow of conversation, and people are not as good as they think at disguising how crazy my plan seems to them. Good thing I’m all about crazy, and although my anxiety levels sometimes shoot through the roof when I dwell on it for any length of time, I still have felt really confident in each decision I’ve made so far.

Here’s my plan: next week I’m headed to San Marcos, Texas to find a place to live. My Manhattan lease ends in July, so I’ll be moving later this summer and will hopefully have a teaching job for next school year. I have a one-year provisional teaching license in Texas, during which time I will take all the tests I need to be officially licensed. Texas seems to be on a bit later schedule than Kansas is, in terms of hiring teachers for next year, and many districts have not even posted openings yet. I would feel a lot better if I had something lined up before I move, but I decided that this is the point in my life to change location, regardless of my job outcome. That being said, I have applied to a few places and would appreciate your prayers that I find the right position. It’d be pretty neat to find a forever job instead of a right now job.

So, why? Why leave my friends, family, job security, and a town I love? My dream about this life change has been narrowing in focus over the last several years. For one thing, my body is obviously designed for a warmer climate. I am truly miserable in the winter. There is absolutely no reason to suffer for the rest of my life when I could live in a place where the weather doesn’t alter my mood or give me physical pain. Secondly, my skill set includes Spanish and English as a second language. This is the best part of the country for me to live in if I want to work with the Hispanic population or teach English to immigrants. I am extremely excited about both the professional and ministry opportunities in Texas. San Marcos is a college town about the same size as Manhattan with low cost of living and low crime. It’s located between Austin and San Antonio, and one of the fastest-growing small cities in America. Most of the population is in their twenties and thirties. It seems to have everything that I like about Manhattan, just in a better part of the country for me. Again, it was a very clear decision that this is where I should be. During my research there wasn’t another city that even came in second place.

Although I’m sad to go, I am beyond thrilled about all the adventures and relationships that get to be a part of my new life. Hopefully I’ll have news soon about an apartment, moving date, and a job!

Would you like any ranch, bleu cheese, or celery with that?

•August 7, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Yesterday, I walked out of Buffalo Wild Wings after four and a half years. Tomorrow I walk into student teacher orientation. Although you’d be surprised how frequently these two worlds overlap, it is still a huge transition in my life. Keeping with my tradition of blogging during periods of change, here we go!

BWW was my first real job outside of the my church, so many of things I learned from this job just happened because I was heavily interacting with the public for the first time. I learned how to talk to just about anyone and work with people from all walks of life. I learned to articulate myself well and communicate clearly in a high-stress environment. I learned to keep a straight face when presented with an absurd complaint or question, and to spin any situation in the guest’s favor. I learned what people want to hear.

No job is perfect, and BWW was downright terrible at times. This being said, I think I had more positive feelings toward my job than the vast majority of my coworkers. But considering I’ve been under at least eleven managers (not counting temps, shift leads, or ones at the Wichita store I worked at for a summer) and that a majority of the staff flips over about twice a year, I’ve had to work with some difficult people. I’ve developed the mental stamina to combat boredom beyond what I ever thought possible, and am better at battling the temptation to let frustration or sheer exhaustion overpower my work ethic.  I also discovered that having doing the right thing is better than beating myself up about it later, no matter what I miss out on.

When I walked around Aggieville filling out job applications with one of my roommates freshman year, I never ever thought it would turn into this. I thrived on doing little things to make my tables have an awesome experience, and really enjoyed when I got to train someone and pass along all the tricks it took me years to figure out. It forever changed the way I eat at restaurants and interact with anyone in the service industry. I met people I would have never had a reason to talk to otherwise. I’ve learned so much from chatting with our regulars. The majority of my closest friends I have met through BWW in some roundabout way. This job helped determine where I live and my class schedules. I actually missed my job when I was away even for just a week, and I loved the person I got to be while I was there.

Thanks for everything, Buffalo Wild Wings. Time for the next adventure!

love from the dub

Intentional

•June 25, 2013 • Leave a Comment

This has been the year of good intentions. Goals, diets, fasts, and ambitious deep conversations, all designed to ingrain certain character traits or habits into my life. Some have worked, some have been “reevaluated,” and some have frankly fallen quite short. Regardless, I am satisfied in that I am doing life differently and that I am conscious of subtle details. I don’t want to go through life stagnant and numb. 

I read this article tonight. Interesting story and perspective, but this quote articulates something I’ve noticed and want to work to change:

“[W]e live in a world that eschews intimacy and affection in favor of the allegedly ‘comfortable’ distance we choose to keep that is actually making a large portion of the population feel cripplingly lonely.”

I have been both the victim and the offender in this situation, many times over. We hesitate to connect with someone either verbally or physically because a little paranoid alarm flashes in our heads. We think that person will find us weird, too forward, or that we need to respect their privacy or personal space. Instead, we sit in crowded waiting rooms pretending to read magazines and stare at the ceilings in elevators.

One factor that seems to perpetuate this issue is time. If I haven’t connected with someone in several months, even years, that doesn’t mean that whatever relationship we had before is suddenly null and void, and I inherently know this. So then why, when I pass someone on the street who I had a class with freshman year, do I suddenly feel the need to act as though I’ve never seen her before in my life? It’s as though I’m afraid to show that working on that one project together had enough impact on my life to acknowledge it years later, coupled with the overwhelming fear that she probably doesn’t remember me anyways. People mutually ignore each other all the time just because they feel like whatever connection they have or had is not strong enough to smile and say hello.

This is silly and ridiculous, and there are probably few people who would disagree with my assessment above. But we’ve trained our social gauges to respond this way our entire lives, and it’s scary to throw yourself out there like that. I’ve been trying, and it helps me to put myself in their position. Are you ever repulsed by someone saying “hey, how’s it going?” to you in passing, even if you’ve never met them? Exactly. Surely it will not completely backfire with a person you might actually have a reason to talk to. We all yearn for acceptance and companionship on some level, and so often people miss out on chances to have these needs met simply because both sides fear crossing these stupid lines society has drawn.

So please, join me in throwing yourself out there even when it’s tough. I’m still not great at it, but I’m getting better. Tell people when you’re thinking about them. Reconnect with people and find something that you missed in their absence. Tell people what you admire about them. Tell people when they impact you, and how. Be intentional.

You never know when it will be exactly what someone needs to hear that day. It might change their life, and living this way will certainly change yours.

Guatemala 2012 blog updates, part 3

•August 29, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The third and final installment of my Guatemala posts this summer, be sure you caught the first two sections!
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June 28, 2012–> Watch me teach!

I decided to leave this unedited and just post it like this. Here’s part of one of my third grade English classes in Guatemala. The two caucasian  boys on the right of the screen are from Canada and already speak English, so they just kinda do their own thing or work on Spanish during the English time. I thought this would be a neat way to show classroom dynamics, and the routine we used with dates to start class. Almost everything in this video is review for them.

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June 26, 2012 —> Teaching Prepatoria

First off, I traveled to El Salvador this week on a school staff retreat and we went to an all-inclusive beach resort. It was incredible and relaxing and great to bond with the other teachers and staff at the school. I posted an entire album of pictures on facebook. Please check ‘em out! Here’s a glimpse:

 

 

But as you can see from the title, that’s not what this post is about. These kids are in Prepatoria, which is actually the third level of school here in Guatemala. I usually call it Kindergarten when I talk to people in the States about this class, because these kids are the same age and maturity. They start PreKinder when they are about 3, and it is basically daycare. Some parents choose not to start their kids until Kinder, which is mostly 4-year-olds. The next year is Prepatoria (or Prepa) and finally they start first grade around age 6.

 

Teaching this class has been one of the most challenging aspects of my time here. I have never taught English this young before, and the structure and discipline in classrooms here is much different. I was extremely overwhelmed the first week and would often just be frustrated to tears after class. These students don’t even know their alphabet in Spanish, how am I supposed to teach it in English? They can’t read or write, so they are just repeating the way words sound to them.  It was tough. It still is, but I’ve learned a whole lot through the process. My biggest problems were:

1. I had no authority. I was teaching the students in their regular classroom with their regular teacher sitting at the desk watching. She would always step in and yell at the students, or just take over and start running the activity. I know she was trying to help, but in turn she showed the students that they didn’t need to listen to me.

2. English class is scheduled right after recess so they come in craaazy hyper. There are like 20 students or so, and they literally run in circles around, under, and over the tables. They bang on their tin pencil cups, they throw chairs…I can not even explain how much energy there is. “Let’s sit down and learn some new vocabulary in English” isn’t really an option. AND I’m supposed to have an hour-long English class. No matter how many activities and different topics I prepared, I was never able to keep them tuned in for a full hour. No way, no how.

It was such a bad situation that after a couple days the regular classroom teacher just gave up trying to help, and just sat at her desk looking amused and watched me struggle. Once a student slapped me on the bottom and the two teachers that were in the room just laughed, which was the point when I realized something had to change.

Good news is, I fixed it! I now take half the class over to the English classroom for the first thirty minutes, then the other half for the second thirty min. This way, I can focus more on each student, and they are in an environment where I have complete authority and there are no distractions. It usually works out pretty well. Divide and conquer, literally. I think my students learn more in those thirty minutes than they ever did in the hour-long sessions.

 

One day I recorded the students singing an animal song we had be working on, and they asked to see themselves on that video every day after that. As they watched, they would sit there and giggle and they absolutely LOVED it. That gave me an idea. I thought the students would be more engaged if we created our own videos to learn, and so we made this alphabet video:

Aren’t they the cutest kids on the planet? Well, I might be biased, but it did work to help them learn. One challenge in being in the English room is that the students have no school supplies with them, but I’ve figured out how to work around that. They are fairly competitive and love games and incentives and will work the entire time just for a smiley face sticker. I’m more proud of this class than my other in a lot of ways, just for how far we’ve come. I’ve grown as a teacher and although it has stretched me, I am better for it.

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Alright, that’s it! Remember, if you want to see more about my teaching experiences you can always explore my website at www.misstaylorteaches.com.

Guatemala 2012 blog updates, part 2

•August 29, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Continuing with the import of my entries from Guatemala this summer, please go to this link to check out the facilities where I stayed this summer. It’s full of pictures with just short descriptions, so it will be a better viewing experience if you just pop over to my other site for a sec. I’ll put the other entries here though:

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June 8, 2012 –> Teaching Tercero:

I am currently teaching two completely different English classes, one is third grade (Tercero) and the other is a class of 5-6 year olds (Prepatoria). This post will specifically be about teaching the third grade students, and the activities I have done with them in the four and a half hours of classroom time we’ve spent together so far over the last two weeks.  I decided to begin with a unit on body parts and transition into clothing for two reasons:

1. The students have been taking an English class here already. I wanted to start something completely new for them, because they tend to tune out things they think they already know.
2. These units were really successful when I was in Guatemala last year, and I already had lots of ideas and ways to improve on previous plans. You can see these units last year here.

Something important I learned last year was to establish a system for learning right away. I started my first class by teaching them words and actions for the words “Listen,” “Repeat,” and “In Spanish?” so that I could efficiently teach and quiz them on vocabulary while utilizing as much English as possible.

Body

We labeled paper-doll-type body cutouts as we learned each word. I always called the doll “body” so that served to reinforce this word. After this we worked on the actions to the song “Head and Shoulders.” The first day we only learned the words “head, shoulders, knees, and toes.” When we sang the song we just substituted “La, la, la, la, laaaaa, la” to the tune of “eyes and ears and mouth and nose” so that they could focus on the pronunciation and meaning of the other vocabulary.

The next day we focused specifically on the parts of the face. I taught them the verbs “write” and “draw” and used them to fill in the faces on their “bodies. We also really focused on enunciation in the song. I wouldn’t let them sing it faster until I was satisfied with their pronunciation, and this seemed to be sufficient motivation. I also showed them the video of my class last year and told them I would record them and we could see who sang best. Here’s what the song looked like on day 3:

Each day after learning the content we played Simon Says (which they already knew as “Simon dice”) with the words. I taught the verb “touch” and would say things like “Simon says touch your shoulders. Simon says touch your head. Now touch your nose.” We played it until we found a winner a few times, which was an easy assessment tool to see who really knew their vocabulary well. I would go really fast once it got down to just a few students, and I was surprised how well they kept up.

After reviewing all the body parts and verbs (write, draw, say, read, touch, listen, repeat) and writing them all randomly across the board, I gave each student a notecard. I then would point to a body part or say a verb in Spanish and they would have to find the word on the board and write it on their card. Some students still spelled the words phonetically, and there was some confusion between “read” and “head,” but only two students missed more than one and eight got 100%. I then had the students turn their cards over and write three words that they wanted to learn in English so I could see what they were interested in:

 

Clothing:

I brought a huge bag full of clothing to use as visuals while teaching clothing. We added clothing to our “bodies” from the body unit as we learned, and they ended up super cute! The was also a good chance to teach the verb and noun “glue.”  We reviewed verbs at this time and wrote down all the verbs we knew so far in our “notebooks,” another word learned!

 

The vocab for the dolls included “hat, shirt, jacket, pants, and shoes.” I also taught “dress” and “socks” for use in a game later. The kids love the dolls, and were sad when I collected them, but they are a really big distraction in class otherwise. I gave them back at the end of class on Friday so they could take them home.

We played the clothing relay game like last year, but this time we didn’t have teams. I had each student draw a number out of the hat to find an opponent, and so both students who chose “one” had to come and find the clothing in the pile the fastest. The winner wrote his/her name on the board next to the 1. and we continued that way through ten. Then the winners from rounds one and two challenged each other, three and four, etc. We kept going until we had a champion and I brought prizes for the winners of each round. This was yesterday, but when I came in today the students all kept asking me if we could play again, so I think they enjoyed it.

After this we learned our last two body parts, “hand and foot.” I waited to teach these because they go with the song “the Hokey Pokey” and so I wanted to space out the songs with clothing between. Also this starts us on part of our next unit with opposites, because I then had them make an “opposite list” and we learned the words “in” and “out.” We will keep adding to this list throughout my time here. I edited another video to create a SUPER simple version of the Hokey Pokey, which I daresay others might want to use in their classrooms. It doesn’t use “right” or “left” or any extra words. Check it out:

I know this was long, but I thought it might help someone else. Also, I wanted to show that I am actually doing something productive down here! It’s been a lot of fun and I’m learning so much. I will post about the younger kids next week once I get some more pictures!

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June 16, 2012 –> God Speaks Spanish

knew this, of course, but it’s so easy to forget how big God is. I’ve had the opportunity to witness so many incredible things here, to hear stories from great men and women of God, and to participate in the day-to-day experience of sharing life together as a body of believers. That whole new testament church thing from Acts 2 that people are always envisioning? Yeah. It actually exists.

When I talk about the church here, I am talking about the general Christian community, not a specific building and membership group. I have been to more churches in the USA than I can count, and I feel as though I have a pretty good grasp on the way things are done there, even across a variety of denominations and demographics. (So, that would be “the church” in the States.) Not that “the church” here is better or perfect in any way, but there are some differences I have observed and enjoyed.

When I took the Perspectives class last semester, I learned how different culture groups bring out different aspects of God’s character. He’s still the same God, but our worldview and values affect the way we interpret who God is. By participating in this culture, I am essentially getting to know another side of God that I could have never seen in the States. I am incredibly jealous of missionaries who have worked with numerous cultures and therefore know God in an unparalleled way. I want to know God in a tribe in Africa, God in each caste level in India, God in the Middle East, God in China. I can’t even get my mind around it.

House Churches

At least three or four nights a week, we load up the bus and head into town, picking up various church members on the way to someone’s house or place of business. Sometimes we meet because someone was unable to make it to the church service, but other times because a family wants to have us in their home. We have some worship, prayer, a message, and then we usually eat something small together with a warm drink. There are usually about 15 to 20 people at these meetings.  Click here to see an image of Joaquin leading worship.

 

House church meeting.

Events
Mother’s day was the first big event I was here for. There was a celebration at the school, and then another with the church. Both events had meals. The one with the women of the church included games, special music, and a time when the women could all write down what they desired most for their children and then prayed over it. With the school all the students prepared songs and dances with costumes. My job was to hang out with the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade girls that were not performing and help them get changed and such.

 

 

We did something similar for Father’s day, and I got to go to the market and then cook with the women all day. There will be another blog post about cooking here in Guatemala, so that will go there. But there were songs, decorations, games, and a dinner at that event too.

 

We did an event with some of the youth here that are training to be PE teachers. There were a few messages, including a neat Eagle rebirth analogy that later turned out to be false. We ate and got to talk to some of the students. One young man ended up calling the pastor early one morning to talk, and then coming to church that Sunday and giving his life to Christ. So cool!

 

That’s me on the bottom-right in the purple.

 

The last event that we did took place in a men’s alcohol rehabilitation center. About 30 men live there. We spent the afternoon making snacks for them (tortillas with beans and goat cheese) and horchata to drink. We showed a film about men struggling with alcoholism and how Christ can help you change and then delivered a short message. A lot of the men seemed to be really thinking, so hopefully we made a difference.

 

Church Services

Each Sunday we meet at around 4pm. I have written about the church here on the compound before, so I will just show some pictures as previously promised:

Pastor Tony from Nicaragua preaching while pastor Joaquin plays piano in the background.

The general size of the congregation. I’m sitting on the back row, directly to the right of the window along the back wall.

 

 

One Sunday we went to church with one of the teachers here and got connected with some other ministries and North American missionaries. Hopefully we will be involved more with them this week and I can write more about that at a later time.

Heading to El Salvador tomorrow with the school staff for a little midterm vacation at a resort. Can’t wait!

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An apology to those who get updates to my blog sent to their email. There will only be one more section, don’t worry!

Guatemala 2012 blog updates, part 1

•August 29, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Hello everyone,
Once upon a time I was in Guatemala. This summer, actually. My internet there was verrrrry sketch so I was only able to upload to my teaching website, http://www.misstaylorteaches.com. That was okay, since that was the link I gave most people to follow during my adventures, but for my wordpress buddies it was less than ideal. My life since I got back has been crazy busy, and I am finally getting around to importing my posts. So here it goes:

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May 19, 2012 –> Giant Carrots and Strange Bugs

I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure the view outside your window doesn’t look like this. Just in case I forget where I am, I can pull back the curtain and be completely wowed at any point in time. Currently on day number four!

The setup here is similar to a compound, with the church, cafeteria, school, apartments, and houses all surrounding a courtyard with a basketball court and soccer field between. We’re less than ten minutes outside of town, though, so going into Jalapa for dinner or to run an errand is no big deal.

Yesterday I met all the teachers and hung out at the school (which basically means walking downstairs) during the morning. I talked with the English teacher they have here a bit, and looked at her lesson plans. She is Guatemalan and learned English in a school here, but has never really gotten to practice it. They have English classes Mon-Thurs, but then a Bible class on Fridays, so I won’t be able to observe English classes until Monday. Their school day is fairly short and English classes are only 30 minutes long, but she has around five different classes, one for each grade. Some of the class sizes are as small as seven students, so it will be really easy to work one-on-one with them. My biggest concern is that the students have learned incorrect pronunciation: they are preparing a concert for mother’s day and sang a song “in English” that I couldn’t even understand. Observing classes on Monday should be interesting and give me a better idea of where I can start.

I was feeling pretty isolated just hanging out in my apartment here, and hadn’t spoken English in nearly three days, when a group of “gringos” rolls into the complex to stay for the weekend. There is a missionary couple on their way to Nicaragua who stopped to visit the pastor here from Nicaragua who they had worked with during the ten years or so that they lived there. Apparently, right before crossing the border into Mexico, they met these two other guys who are also headed to the same city in Nicaragua and have been traveling together, helping them with the language barrier and such. They both have huge Rottweiler dogs, it is an amazing coincidence that they met and were able to travel together. They are staying in the apartments here with me, so it is good to have some English-speaking company around. I also have got to hear some amazing stories and make connections with them, it has been really neat and just what I needed to make it through the weekend.

We’ve gone out to dinner the last two nights, for pizza both times. Today we picked up some fried chicken, tortillas, and fruit, and went to a pool area to eat and let the kids swim. Not sure if there are any plans for tonight, but I know church is on the agenda for tomorrow. Not a lot to report this time, but I have taken a few neat pictures in the last few days:

This is little Tony, one pastor’s son.

Check out how HUGE those carrots are! As big as my arm!

This guy was hanging outside my apartment today…which is okay as long as he stays out of my bed!

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May 23, 2012 –> Saw this out my window the other day…
(please click link to original entry to view a short video, uploading it again here would slow things down quite a bit)

I have officially been here over a week, although it feels much much longer. There are pros and cons to these long days, but it is certainly a different pace of life than the insane busyness that I maintain in the States. My body and brain are very confused that they are getting a sufficient amount of sleep and even have some time to relax.

The church service here is during the afternoons each Sunday. Not much was happening in the morning, so I did some laundry and the dishes. Hanging my clothes on the line outside made me feel like an authentic Guatemalan! We went into town to grab some burgers for lunch, and then back again at 3pm with the school bus to pick up the congregation. Church lasted about 3 hours or so, it’s hard to gauge because I don’t know what time it started, just whenever everyone showed up. I was brought to the front and introduced to everyone. They had lots of times where anyone could come up to the front and share as they wished, read scripture, or sing a praise song or two or three, so that was interesting.

I went to another church service on Tuesday night in Jalapa. We met in the back of a boutique clothing store after they closed. There were twelve of us there, although the families of the two pastors comprised over half the group. It was very cool to really see the church being a community and not a building, and just meeting to fellowship and praise God.

This week I’ve been in the school each day getting to know the students and teachers, as well as observing and helping out in the English classes. They have been preparing for a big mother’s day program that they had today, so there have been lots of rehearsals that take out a significant amount of class time. Wednesday I met with the English teacher and the pastor and we decided that I will start teaching the 3rd grade class next Monday. That is the oldest grade currently at the school. Another girl comes next week, so she will take the 2nd grade class, and the English teacher at the school will be able to focus more on the younger grades.

I’ve been discouraged that I haven’t been able to really start teaching yet after being here so long, but it is good because I know the students pretty well now and have been able to really assess their English abilities. Yesterday I was watching the 2nd and 3rd grade girls in a classroom and I taught them some games in English, so that was fun. I’m excited to start teaching, but the class periods are only 30 minutes long so I will have to use my time very efficiently. Wednesday I rode the bus to drop all the students off at their houses and got to see where they each live. There are some poorer parts of Jalapa that I wasn’t aware existed, and it was heartbreaking to see students who didn’t want to get off the bus to go home.

This post has been fairly long, but I don’t have internet very often so I’m trying to squeeze in as much as possible. Romans 15:5 talks about “the God of endurance and encouragement.” If you could pray these things for me over the next few days it would be greatly appreciated.

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Alright guys, those are the first two posts. Trying to keep the size of each entry reasonable, so the next entries will be in my next post.

Bad News, WordPress.

•May 20, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I am here in Guatemala, and updating at http://www.misstaylorteaches.com because I can compose my posts offline and then post them during the rare times that I get internet access. Sadly, for my followers, it means you’ll have to go there to read them during my trip. I will copy my posts over once I get back in the states, but for now please check the above site every week or so to see what I’m up to! Sorry for the inconvenience, and thanks for reading!