I get all kinds of questions about the Pulsera Project, and I thought this video might help!
This is the question everyone asks me. They all want to know what I did. Did I help someone? Did I build a house? Install a well? Teach English? Teach in a school? Well, the short answer is that I didn’t do much–but in truth, I did quite a lot. I listened. I learned. I built relationships. I visited. I learned a whole lot more. And, the only actual product I made were some lessons, along with the other teachers there on the trip. Here is what I wrote upon coming home:
It was definitely NOT a mission trip! haha! I tried my best to share that as much as possible. It was an educational trip for teachers who have worked with The Pulsera Project in the past. We learned more about the organization, the other partnerships they have, the people they work with and employ, and the culture, economic systems, history, business climate, and language nuances. Then, we took that information and collaborated on lessons that will be used in nearly 2000 schools here in the United States that participate in the project. It was a whirlwind, entirely exhausting, and completely exhilarating.
In a conversation I had after returning home, another person observed that it was nice that we made lessons that would be used in Nicaragua. I corrected him by saying that The Pulsera Project believes we are the ones who have much to learn–and that the lessons would be used here in U.S. schools. He replied by asking, “And after your trip there, do you still believe that?” I gave him a resounding YES.
What more do we need to learn?
One thing we shouldn’t be doing is focusing on how poor other people are so that we can revel in our own comparative richness. Humble gratitude is something we could all stand to continue developing, however focusing in on the lack of resources that other people have as a method of producing gratitude is sort of a sick twist on that (in my opinion).
I’d like to show you what I mean by this.
These two houses are right next to each other. The woman in the photo owns them both. In fact, the mud and bamboo construction was her original home, until she received a grant through the housing project at the Pulsera Project (available to the people employed by them as an employee benefit), which she used to build the brick home she is pictured with on the right. The grant has to be used for housing, but it is up to them what they do. They can improve their homes, buy land, add walls, add windows, or build a new structure. She chose to use the money to build this brick addition. I want you to notice something here. She did not tear down her mud and bamboo home. SHE ADDED TO IT. She did not tear it down. I’ll repeat myself again here: she did not tear it down.
I’m guessing here, because although I asked her a ton of questions, it did not occur to me to ask this one at the time. But, one thought I have is that she isn’t ashamed of the house. I took the picture because I was amazed and impressed with it. I was in awe of it. She talked to our group about “re-taking” her heritage when she started weaving as a young woman, and re-taking is right! During a previous repressive government, indigenous traditions, including the style of weaving her group is renowned for, were not permitted. This home should not be the backdrop of some fifty-cents-a-day orphan commercial. This is a source of pride for her family. And I look at it now and I am amazed by the intricacies and skill it took to build.
I don’t feel sorry for her, nor do I feel sorry for a single person I met while I was there. I did not come back and hug my leather couches, though I thanked the Good Lord for air conditioning, because I’m a wimp. Rather than looking down on someone for what they don’t have, or giving others our pity, maybe what we should feel is righteous, justified anger that perfectly capable, well-educated humans don’t have access to the resources they need to implement the solutions they already have.
One of the Pulsera Project staff members related his experience owning a restaurant in Nicaragua and struggling between the “western standard of hospitality” and the Nicaraguan standard. He realized that the goal shouldn’t be to provide a western standard of hospitality, but to provide the appropriate cultural standard to their guests unapologetically. He said that when he stopped trying to fight the culture, his job got so much easier.
I believe we can all learn something from his story. We can’t fight their culture, and it isn’t our fight anyway. Our standards don’t apply, and they really shouldn’t. While we can all learn from each other, it should be just that: learning. What they do with it is up to them. And, in the end, we should be focused on helping capable people have access to the resources they need to create their own paths, not the paths we think they should follow.
So, 1200 words later: what did I do? I listened. I learned. I built relationships. I worked on some lessons designed to help students think critically about language, culture, and global citizenship.
I’m back from Nicaragua, and I promised to write about my trip, so here it goes. On Thursday when I got home, I posted this:
Goodness, this word has so many different meanings. I’m at home now. I’m with my family. But, I wasn’t not home before. In some ways the trip to Nicaragua was like returning home to where I really belong. Home isn’t always a space we occupy or the people we occupy it with. Sometimes it is what you do or the language you speak.
Tonight, I’m home. I’m back from a long trip away from where I desperately wanted to be, in profoundly more ways than one.
Of course, I’m home now. Being away from my boys for 8 days was difficult, especially with a busy schedule and limited access to internet. I missed them so much. I missed how my sons crawl into bed with us every night. I missed how my husband and I banter and discuss the details of our day. I missed how my pups only listen to me and no one else.
But, being away also brought me home in ways I can’t ignore. This last year has taken me on a long journey away from things that are essential to who I am. I never imagined an entire year where Spanish was not a part of my daily life. I never imagined feeling like an island. I never imagined I’d long so much for professional relationships and space to collaborate. I never imagined that after a year away from home, I’d get to go back by going away.
I went on this trip with amazing professional educators and Pulsera Project staff members who were dedicated to their values and ethics. An idea that came up over and over was the idea of “doing it right”. I felt like a starving bear at a buffet. I loved that my ideas were challenged and changed and valued. I loved learning and growing. I loved the validation that comes from dialogue. I loved being home for a little while.
I can’t wait to continue sharing more about this trip in the coming days! Stay tuned.
It’s funny. When I was a kid, relatives would constantly tell me that I was “going places”. They assumed my smarts and demeanor would take me away from my family and rocket me down some highway to Harvard. They weren’t wrong… but they weren’t right in the way they thought they were going to be, either.
Many teachers face the constant questions about why they became a teacher instead of something else… you know… something that could “take them somewhere”.
I’d beg to differ with them on the point that teaching can’t take a person to new places.Teaching is like learning in that it expands the mind, and it expands perspectives. Teaching takes my mind somewhere new, every day.
In 6 years, I’ve taught at every level of K-12 education. I’ve taught everything from 2nd grade (all subjects) to Beginning Spanish, to AP Spanish Literature, to English, to Math, to basic twitter use for teachers! I’ve done the math… and I’ve taught nearly 1000 students (including my final internship).
I’ve also literally gone places, of course…like the Spanish Spelling Bee in Tampa FL, where my 4 students got completely creamed, but they were ecstatic to go and compete. Like Oak Cliff (Dallas), where I never could get my second graders on a bus to take them somewhere, so I walked them outside to do a lesson on the lawn and shake things up a bit. Like Fort Worth and Desoto, where I took buses full of country kids to read to bilingual students. Like the entire stretch of 287, where I made a 250 mile drive (one way) into a day-trip, just for the fun of it, for a group of seniors who got to see a play–live on stage, and experience a protest, and see modern art.
You know… I don’t always take the kids with me, though.
In San Antonio, I changed direction as a teacher, and it changed my life. I gained a PLN I haven’t let go of since when I joined #langchat. I went on numerous adventures, professionally, and personally–as I took my first solo trip post-motherhood to attend the ACTFL conference in 2014. I ate breakfast tacos, and I didn’t have to share. I celebrated birthdays with friends from other countries. I walked alone down the streets of San Antonio, in the rain, just for fun. I discovered the Pulsera Project and it changed everything.
In San Diego, I presented at the ACTFL conference. My session didn’t go as planned, and when I started to roll with the punches, the attendees opened up and shared their needs. I threw out my whole plan and started from scratch right there, on the spot. We had an amazing time, and they told me it was the best session they attended that day. I took the fairy to my sessions, and I walked to the convention center each day. I spent my lunch hour at the beach. I got way too close to a seal. I watched a man build the longest hot wheel track I’ve ever seen, while my eyes kept glancing at a homeless man, who was searching a nearby trash can for food.
In Austin, my face melted. The world is so much bigger than we can imagine, and it is even bigger than ACTFL could help me see. Seeing what was “new” and “next” changed my praxis. Much of what I saw didn’t directly apply to me, but all of it applied to my students. So, instead of trying to jam it all into my class, I came back and tried to share what I could with those around me. I got lost in the convention center. I got every free t-shirt available in the expo hall. I managed to get a free light saber, 2 selfie sticks, and 73 free pens. I tried fried avocado. I made a point of stopping at every Buc-ees between Dallas and Austin. I made life-long friends and true collaborative relationships.
In Nicaragua this summer, who knows what I’ll experience. I know this for sure: it will be an adventure.
So. To that person in your life telling you that teaching won’t take you places: they’re wrong. Teaching will expand your mind until it hurts. It will explode your heart until you can’t help but feel every. single. thing. It will challenge your thoughts, opinions, and perspectives, until you become a person who can see many sides to a single situation. It will literally take you outside the four walls of your classroom on many occasions, if you are willing to invest the time it takes to walk out those doors. If you let it, teaching will take you all over the United States, and beyond. If you let it.
FYI: The picture of the overpass at the top of the post… is from that time I decided to walk from to the airport to my training, just because. Because if you are willing, you can find adventure anywhere. 🙂
Teaching, in and of itself, has made me an advocate of all my students, and especially, as a Spanish Speaker, an advocate for my Hispanic students and their families.
See, teachers have many names. There are posts all over the internet, and posters plastered on many classroom walls about all the roles that teachers play, including: nurse, counselor, parent, judge, comedian, party planner, etc. But the most powerful role I fill is that of an advocate for my students.
This year I’ve made the strange transition from actively teaching Spanish as a Spanish teacher, to teaching High School English. I have maintained that I am still a Spanish teacher at my core, and this is certainly still true, but being in a core-content area classroom has taught me a lot about what goes on outside of the Foreign Language hallway.
I have always had all types of students in my classroom, but their goals, abilities, and interests were diverse, and the flexible nature of language allowed me to adjust to their needs very fluidly. Teaching a course associated with a State Exam, surrounded with these same students, but with much of the flexibility reduced (not gone) and time constraints imposed, has opened my eyes further to the needs of my students–especially my Hispanic students, Spanish-speakers, and ELLs.
Before, the very culture of my classroom generally meshed with theirs. The assignments we completed were valuable, even if they came with the native speaker and heritage learner “growing pains” many of us language teachers have to overcome with these kids.
Now, I’m faced with a language of instruction that, in itself, imposes dominance. I can throw these kids a cultural bone with relevant readings or topics, but I can’t fundamentally change the elephant in the room.
I spent five years helping English Speakers understand the concept of the other.
Now, I’m reminded that the other still exists, and many of my students are part of it.
This whole issue came to a head for me today during a conversation about English Language Learners with a colleague. We discussed the intricacies and complexities involved in deciding if an English Language Learner is Dyslexic, or even in need of Special Education Services. There are so many issues here that I’d need a whole separate space to write about them. I’ll do my best with some bullet points:
I’m going to have to stop there. I really am. I got pretty fired up today, because while I tried to explain all this, the other person understood, but didn’t really understand. The person cares, as much as I do. But the misunderstandings prevail, and kids get lost in the mix.
So, today, and every day, I’m an advocate. The biggest job of an advocate is to educate. Not only do I educate my kids about the content, but I also work to educate them about themselves. I work to educate those around me. And, I keep repeating myself until someone listens.
I am a teacher. I am an advocate.
p.s. If you are reading this, please consider supporting my trip with the Pulsera Project, while I seek to continue learning how to best advocate for my students and community.