Blessings on My Day 1 (of Teaching)

The last of the police cars in front of my house yesterday. Hint: They weren’t there for me

Yesterday was my first day of teaching for the fall semester, my second day of Chinese class, and my third day of running (of my 11th week of training for the Long Beach Half Marathon).

I had trouble sleeping, woke up early and read some discussion board posts before taking off on my run.  After 4-miles and about 4o minutes, I was crossing the railroad tracks near my home when I realized that there were three police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck outside my front door.  I stopped to talk with an onlooking dog walker who told me that 15-20 minutes before a man had apparently randomly attacked two men on the street, punched a car window and tried to get into the passenger door of another car window before trying to enter a neighbor’s condo and being tackled in the bushes next to our front gate where he was held until the authorities could arrive.  I missed the whole thing on the 40-minutes between the time I stepped out my front door and the time I returned from my run.

Feeling fortunate to have missed that particular adventure, I went about my day, heading to Chinese class with my homework complete but confronted by the fact that I still struggle to remember tones and characters when writing.  It’s definitely still an ongoing process.

Finally, at 3:50 exactly, I was able to enter my classroom for my first (teaching) class of the semester.  I was nervous about this for a couple of reasons: 1) I wasn’t in the active learning classroom and since much of my pedagogy has been adapted to writeable surfaces, multiple whiteboards around the room (that students have easy access to) and multiple usable screens in the classroom, I was nervous about the activities in the space; 2) I was starting the semester with a new activity around compassion and mindfulness.

But, as students began to file in, I appreciated their energy, excitement (many clearly knew one another), and engagement.  We did partner interviews & introductions, explored literacy and then came to our activity around mindfulness and compassion.  I asked students to define mindfulness & compassion then asked them how they could be mindful and compassionate to others in the space and how we could be mindful and compassionate towards them.  We then did a snowball (anonymous) discussion, unpacked our mostly convergent definitions of mindfulness & compassion and then ways in which we could show compassion and mindfulness to one another in the classroom space.  Students then engaged in a conversation about why it might be important to start class in this way.  It was inspiring.

Our debrief board from the compassion & mindfulness activity

This was a good first week. It was balanced and full of community and collaborative learning.  It was a first week during which I was present to the many blessings of this work and life. I am grateful to do work that I love, work that centers compassion and mindfulness in teaching, work that broadens notions of the importance of language and literacy, work to humanize pedagogy and teacher education.

Hope the end of this week brings peace and presence to all of my (educator) friends.

Day 1/ Semester 2: A Profound Shift

Off we go! Semester 2 of Mandarin classes started today!

Today was the start of my Chinese 102 class.

I was nervous last night.  I did not practice like I wanted to over the summer.  I did begin reviewing my Chinese notes in the last two weeks, using both my son’s kindergarten flashcards and my own Chinese 101 flashcards.  And, of course, there was my jump into the deep end on The First Day of Chinese School, but I know myself, and I felt very unsure coming into day 1, semester 2.

But, you know, I’m a student who knows how to “student,” so I went to class, even though I felt like a super imposter, even though I had all the same worries as last semester (except now my picture has appeared on the campus website so people recognize me more, which makes me feel even more awkward), even though it was hard.

It also did not help that there are people in the class who: 1) are fluent Mandarin speakers; 2) have taken 3 years of Mandarin in high school; 3) clearly remember more of Chinese 101 than I do.

For reals though, I am 40 years old, and I am still comparing myself to 19 year olds in an undergraduate class (and LOSING in that comparison).

It kinda makes me laugh thinking about it.

I am grateful that I am not 18 or 19 or 21 (even though those are all great ages), and I’m grateful that this semester I’m in a class in which (even though I’m less comfortable) I feel like I’m going to practice speaking a lot more.  This class is pushing me WAY out of my comfort zone, but that is how we grow.

And continue to develop empathy.

The other thing I realized today (and somewhat on Sunday at my son’s Chinese school too) is that I actually do know some Mandarin.  (I actually teared up writing that sentence.)

Getting back a sense of my heritage language is profoundly empowering.

I am shifting in other ways too.

Tonight, while I did some Chinese homework and responded to some discussion board posts, for my own course, I also spent an hour watching videos and reading with my little girl.  The book we are reading, Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen by my friend, Debbi Michiko Florence, about a Japanese American 8-year old little girl in Los Angeles and her desire to help make mochi for New Years, is the kind of Asian American young reader novel I only could have dreamed of as a little girl.  It is the first week of the semester. I still have more work to do (when is there ever not work to do?), and I took time to be with my girl. And earlier today, I took time to drive my son home from school and talk with him about our respective classes.

In reclaiming my language and my time, I am also acknowledging all of who I am, reclaiming growing up in Canyon Country (because there’s so much about my growing up that I’ve tried hard to forget), acknowledging that it’s hard not to do all the things, learning (slowly) to say no more and yes less.

I am grateful for it all. I am grateful to be present to this shift.  I am so, so grateful for the many amazing people in my life who are with me now, have been with me through all the things, and who witness this journey.

I am always becoming, but I feel, for the first time, like I am actually arriving.  At a moment. At a station.  At a place to rest.

And I am so grateful.

The First Day of Chinese School

It’s the first day of Chinese school and we’re fine…really, we’re fine….

Those of you who either know me IRL or have been following this blog for awhile may remember that last year, I started a journey towards actively reclaiming my cultural and linguistic identity, part of which included reconnecting with people who were close to my mother, who I lost when I was 16, and part of which included starting a second bachelor’s degree in Chinese studies and taking my very first Chinese class (ever) last semester. I’ve also been doing research on Asian American teachers and their experiences, which has helped me to feel less alone as I think about my own journey as a second-generation Taiwanese American daughter, secondary teacher, mom and heritage language learner.

Today, my son started his ninth year of learning Mandarin, in one form or another. He began in a 90/10 Mandarin immersion program in Kindergarten, then a year of 5 day a week, after school  heritage classes when we moved for my university position, then 3 years of 50/50 immersion, and for the last 4 years, back to weekend heritage school.  He is awesome, which you also know if you’ve been following my Mandarin learning journey, since he’s been my main tutor and language support (I repay him by helping him with more complex English grammar rules for his essays).  He was nervous today, but also, fine.  It’s all part of the routine he’s used to during the school year.

Arguably, I am always more nervous before the start of a new Chinese school year than he is. The last four years, I have dreaded the first day of Chinese school.  He attends a weekend heritage school which is sponsored by a Taiwanese Buddhist humanitarian organization.  The volunteer staff and teachers are super nice.  The parents are kind and explain things in English to me when I don’t understand a thing.  My son consistently does well in class, and has the same classmates each year so they’re (sort of) a community of (reluctant) learners.

However, I always feel a mix of shame, guilt, sadness, and confusion.  I always worry that the parents are secretly judging me behind their kind smiles.  I always worry that because I don’t know what is being said at orientation that my son is going to miss out on important information that he needs to be successful.  I always worry that this year will be the year that his lack of a Mandarin-fluent parent will mean that he will fail his class and hate his language and culture.

I know, I know…projecting much?

My son, on the way to school, tells me not to worry about it.  He says I’m fine.  He says that I know plenty of Mandarin and that he’ll be fine. He’s a little nervous because he’s always a little nervous on the first day of class, but he’s sure it will be fine.

He finds his class, talks with his friends, and we proceed to class and parent orientation.

I understand about 50% of the presentation, which is actually WAY more than I’ve ever understood and I recognize a bunch of characters that remind me that I really should review my Chinese 101 flashcard before I start class next week.  Another parent saves me (because my Chinese still isn’t that great) from being room parent. I use my Mandarin to ask about my son’s canceled elective class (and fill out the withdraw request in English).

After the meeting, I drive across town to the Korean grocery story to buy food for lunch and dinner, and various Asian snacks (because I buy food when I feel stressed, guilty and want to show my son love), then go back to pick him up.  We both like his teacher a lot.  We got about the same amount from the orientation and generally agree on the information that we heard.  He’s excited because he can read the information in Korean on the snacks (he just started Korean classes a few weeks ago at his “regular”). He tells me about the first “quiz” that the teacher gave.  He got a 90%.  It’s above the mean so he’s satisfied.

So, we made it.  I mean, he was fine the whole time, but I made it. We’re going to learn a lot of Chinese this year, both of us, I think.  And maybe we’ll start to doubt ourselves a little less and trust ourselves a little more in the process.  I hope so.