Pablo’s Story

I made this two weeks ago, but couldn’t figure out how to upload it. Yes, I know I have uploaded videos before, but I couldn’t remember how I did it. Sigh. Technology is hard. And one more thing: when I say tests are dumb, what I meant is–STANDARDIZED tests not designed with English Language Learners in mind–are dumb. Just wanted to clarify.

Click below for VLOG number two:

My New Neighbor Loves Led Zeppelin

The other day I was sitting in the old rocker in my sunroom organizing mail. I’m certain I had a frown on my face, because I have a strong dislike for mail. Like I seriously wish every piece of mail I received would just turn into a giant electronic cloud and load automatically onto my IPad, and I would never have to go to my mailbox again…except for greeting cards and handwritten notes–I like those.

As I was doing this, I looked out the window of my front door and saw my new neighbor walking by.  I hadn’t met him yet, but I had heard him.  He lives above me and likes to listen to Led Zeppelin.  He also had been hammering something loudly.  A lot.  I hadn’t held that against him as my strong willed daughter can be awfully loud at times, so I figured we were even.

“HI!” he said to me through the window.

“HI!” I loudly said back to him.

“I’M ___________, YOUR NEW NEIGHBOR. I LIVE UPSTAIRS!” he proclaimed.

“HI! I’M EMILY. NICE TO MEET YOU!” I nodded in the general direction of my daughter’s room. “I HAVE A DAUGHTER,” I acknowledged, in hopes that he would know it was my kid and not me who was always making noise.

“YES, I KNOW,” he stated.



“OKAY, GOTCHA!” An awkward silence ensued.


“OK, BYE.”

Because my daughter seems to also have a penchant for nosiness, curiosity, and just general people watching, I told her the next day that I finally met the new neighbor whom we have heard hammering upstairs.

“What’s his name?” she inquired.

“Oh, I dunno…He told me but I can’t remember.”

“Maybe it’s Mr. Hammerhead,” she said. “Was he carrying a hammer?”

I saw my neighbor again, two days later, when we were exiting the building at the same time.

“Oh, hi!” I said.

“Hi, Emily!” he said. 

“I’m sorry, now, what’s your name again?” I asked.

“__________,” he said.

I then repeated his name outloud, thinking that would help me remember it.

We exchanged pleasantries, and commented on the weather.  By the time I was getting into my car, I realized I didn’t remember his name anymore.  It was like my brain had pseudo-stored it.

“What the heck is wrong with me?!?!” I asked myself. I was starting to wonder why I couldn’t remember what he had literally JUST told me. His name was a generic one, too, which didn’t help of course.

I didn’t see him then for probably about two weeks, until one evening I was rushing out of my home to meet my friends for dinner.  It was freezing outside, and he was wearing shorts.

When I spotted him,  I got slightly nervous from not knowing his name, and blurted out, “Why are you wearing shorts?”

“I’m going for a run,” he said.

“Outside?” I asked.

“No, at the gym,” he said.

I then learned that we go to the same gym up the street and that he works for WFYI, the local public radio station.   The longer we chatted, the more I began to realize the inevitable–I would have to ask him his name again.

“Okay, sooooooo…you’re gonna think I’m dumb, but tell me your name again,” I said.

“Haha, no worries, it’s _____________,” he said.

Once again, I utilized my familiar tactic of repeating it outloud. As you can see, this tactic doesn’t work, since I am still filling in his name with a blank line.

Upon getting into the car, I once again realized I had completely forgotten his name. It’s like my brain was hearing his name, got overconfident in its ability to remember it, and then didn’t work to remember it at all.

I know this is just a little dumb thing, but it seems to happen to me frequently nowadays. I’m starting to get a little irritated with myself. What’s disconcerting is that sometimes I’m too far into the course of the relationship to re-ask someone his or her name. I began to wonder how it’s possible for me to learn a hundred students’ names quickly at school, yet I can’t seem to remember this one dude’s name.

I realized that it’s because 1) I’m a visual learner, and I have the advantage of seeing a student’s name in print as I learn it. 2) my classroom management and relationship building depends on me learning my kiddos’ names.

But really. Seriously. Back to Mr. No-Name Neighbor–I feel like it says something about my lack of mindfulness. My subconscious decision to not live in the present.  My overactive mind thinking so much about the fact that I didn’t remember his name, that I, in fact, wasn’t listening when THE VERY ANSWER I WANTED was given.

Sometimes I am so busy thinking about the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing that I forget THE VERY THING THAT I NEED TO DO AT THIS MOMENT.

I think about my students often, and how we, as teachers, sometimes get frustrated when they can’t remember something we have told them 1,000 times.  Yet, I can completely relate to that feeling of frustration–frustration within myself when I do the exact same thing.

One of the most fascinating research I’ve read in recent years about language learning (I’m an ESL teacher) is that in order for students to learn a new language, a teacher must work to lower their affective filter. There’s this genius linguist, Steven Krashen, who has extensively researched and developed numerous hypotheses about learning a second language.  In one of his hypotheses, he describes a person’s affective filter as this “emotional screen” that interacts with his or her brain as he or she is learning a language.

For those of you who have never been overseas or been in a situation where you were asked to produce an answer in a language other than your own, you may not know that language learning can be quite anxiety-producing–particularly speaking, which is our primary form of output and communication.

The way to go about reducing this anxiety is to find ways for students to feel successful–to scaffold the instruction while not watering down the content–and this–THIS is where you get into the genius of teaching. A teacher who shelters and scaffolds their instruction for all students–students whose first language is not English, students in poverty, students who are delayed in language, and just EVERY SINGLE KIDDO in their classroom–including the gifted ones–is on his or her way to mastering the art of educating and molding minds.

Molding minds is serious business. We can’t just let anyone into education because they think kids are cute. We can’t just give every nice, sweet person who wants into our children’s hearts and minds a “free pass.”

Because those are their MINDS. And this is my legacy as a teacher–to impact as many children in as positive way as I can.

So, in terms of the affective filter of my own mind….I may just need to give myself a break. And remember that the more anxious I am about forgetting something, the more likely it is that I will. Perhaps I could just remind myself every time I see my neighbor that it’s really “no big whup.” It will stick in time–at the precise moment when my brain is so relaxed that it doesn’t care.

And I wanted to post a recipe tonight, but I’m so tired that I’ll just post a picture of this log of summer sausage that I’m eating for dinner. Yep, that’s right. I’m eating a freaking log of sausage. 

“Yo hablo español.”

When I was 23 years old and living in Fayetteville, Arkansas, I rented an apartment in an older home. The landlord of this apartment was a retiree in his 70’s named Ray.

I had NUMEROUS issues with this apartment, but loved the hardwood floors and tall windows, so I was willing to overlook the poor insulation and the fact that animals like opossums would crawl into the basement and somehow get into my ceilings and then punch holes in the ceiling with their claws. One night, I called Ray to let him know that an opossum had made an appearance again, and asked if he could come over RIGHT AWAY because I COULD SEE THIS OPOSSUM’S CLAWED HAND POKING THROUGH MY CEILING FAN.

Ray was a soft-spoken calm man. “Don’t worry, I’ll be right over with my ladder,” he said.

When he arrived, he began to get to work at patching the ceiling with silver duct tape, which he assured me was not a permanent fix. While he was doing that, my home phone rang, and I answered.

It was my mother-in-law, and my then-husband was not at home. I began to talk to her about how she was doing, when I noticed that Ray abruptly turned around, and almost lost his footing on the ladder.

“What are you doing?? And.. What is that?” he stammered.

I didn’t understand what he was talking about and was worried about his mental sanity.

“What are those words that you’re saying?” he asked.

“Um, those words are Spanish…I’m speaking Spanish. Like I’m speaking another language, Ray.”

“Oh. Wow. That’s wild,” he said.

My ex-husband was from the Dominican Republic and his mother did not speak English, so I was speaking with her in Spanish. I speak Spanish nearly everyday on my job as well, with some of my students and my students’ parents. So it didn’t feel strange or weird to me at all that I was speaking Spanish.

I realized in that moment that bilingualism sometimes shocks people.

And I’m not sure I understand why. Or maybe I do, but I just don’t want to think about the “why” behind it. Most of my students are bilingual. When they speak English, nobody is walking around saying to them, “OH MY GOSH! YOU SPEAK ENGLISH!” So it seems that people are shocked by bilingualism when it’s a non-Hispanic American speaking a foreign language.

This summer I was teaching summer school to general education students. Some of my English Language Learners were there, but most of the students were not dual language students. One of my non-Spanish speaking students forgot to take his Adderall that morning, so his mom brought it into him. I’ll call this student, Josh. I was walking Josh down to see his mom. I introduced myself to his mom as her son’s summer school teacher, but then I saw one of my Spanish speaking parents standing behind her, waiting to talk to me as well. I greeted her in Spanish and told her that I would chat with her about her question when I was done talking with Josh’s mother.

Josh’s mother overheard me speaking in Spanish and said, “Girl, you got some mad skills!” I thanked her for the compliment, but I also realized how unusual it was for her to see a non-Hispanic teacher speaking a foreign language.

It’s even weird for my students.
Last year, my sixth grade students asked me, “Are you white?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Are you Mexican?” they asked.
“No. I just studied Spanish and learned it.”
“But are you Hispanic?”
“That’s weird.”

Bilingualism is “weird” in our culture because there are so few native English speakers who have chosen to learn a foreign language OR have been given the opportunity to learn a foreign language. Honestly, I would not be nearly as good of a Spanish speaker if I hadn’t attended Goshen College. At Goshen, going abroad for a semester is required in order to graduate. If you can’t go for whatever reason, then you have to take a semester’s worth of courses in “international education” at home. That’s because Goshen College has valued bilingualism and having a world perspective.

Although I received a great education from Goshen College, this is not an advertisement for Goshen College, and I’m not saying everyone should go there and blah blah blah. What I am saying is that I hope someday, mainly for my students, that it’s not such a weird phenomenon to see a native English speaker speaking a foreign language. And that my students can begin to see their bilingualism/biculturalism as a gift.

I definitely have felt the blessing that comes with being able to communicate with two cultures. I would love for a massive amount of people to experience that blessing as well.