Grace and Gratitude: Final Reflection on EDSE 457 Fall 2019

The semester isn’t quite over yet. Grading remains. Observations remain.  Final meetings remain.

In fact, even when the semester is over, it won’t be over for me because I have overlapping Spring & Fall semester student teachers…

But, classes are over and that means it’s time for my final reflection.

12 hours ago, I was feeling some kinda way about the previous 48 hours.  I mean, I was feeling some kinda way about today because I’ve been feeling some kinda way about this day for the last 7 years.

But, life has taught me to ride the waves, to get it out so you can let it go.

To breathe in and then breathe out….


In doing that, and in having the first moment in a long time where it is very quiet and there aren’t things to be done and I really just want to sit, write and reflect, with a warm cup of tea, I am finding peace, and grace and gratitude.

I am ready to think over this semester.

It has been an incredibly emotional, busy, exhausting semester.

I am super blessed to be surrounded by greatness.  People in my life opened doors for me this semester and I walked through them.  I started new collaborative projects, continued other collaborative projects, presented to new people, developed new ideas, pitched a TEDx talk that I’m giving in February, submitted some article manuscripts, taught some amazing students, mentored some others in their student teaching placements, led in some inspiring faculty professional learning spaces, helped edit a guidebook, pitched a couple of books, wrote a sabbatical application (fingers crossed), amplified Asian American voices in so many spaces I occupy personally and professionally, served in my faith community, served at my son’s school, started driving him to and from school more regularly, continued actively seeking out representation in books for my daughter, designed PRESCHOOL lesson plans (I’m a secondary teacher by trade so this is kind of a big deal), finished my second semester of Chinese language class.

Yeah, I guess it was kinda busy.

But, more than ever this semester, I centered compassion and mindfulness and tried to practice it in my work and my life.  I infused it into each one of my classes. It helped get our class community through a lock down on campus.  I was more mindful about representation in my curriculum that I’m committed to.  I was more compassionate towards my students and myself.  I gave us breaks.  I took breaks.

I tried my best….except when I didn’t, and that was new, but it was a relief, because actually, the world didn’t collapse.

I didn’t always get the results I wanted.  But that’s okay too, because it has helped me to grow.

At each moment where I’ve struggled, I’ve felt the support of my community, the deep love and connection of people who lift me up, who believe in me, who have connected with what I have to offer, who have connected with who I am.

In the hardest moments of this semester, my community has never let me give up or give in, although they have told me to eat and rest.  They are a treasure and I wish for everyone in the world to have community like this.

EDSE 457 students, this semester, there were many times where I felt like I failed you, but your love and support, your learning and growth remind me that we are all doing the best we can.  I love each of you, truly, and appreciate what you have to give to your future students.  It was a gift and an honor to work with you.  Thank you.


All the things right now

My friend Christina found a great picture for a slideshow we presented yesterday that I lovingly named “shame cat” I could not find that picture so here is my sad attempt at “shame cat v. 2.0”

This has been quite the last 48 hours.  (FYI: This is a long post and messy because I’m thinking through all the things)

I didn’t study for my Chinese final.  I did prepare the written essay portion because I knew what the essay topic would be, but honestly, I had a pretty weak grasp of the vocabulary from the last 2 chapters and couldn’t/didn’t attend class for the last two weeks of the semester because of the Thanksgiving and conference travel.

I don’t know what I thought would happen when I took the final, that the vocabulary I hadn’t studied or practice might have magically been retained, I guess.

But, of course, that is not what actually happened.

I literally began laughing (quietly) at my own ignorance during the exam as there were entire SECTIONS of the final that I felt like I really couldn’t even engage with.

I did what I knew I could do, put the pinyin for what I remembered when I couldn’t remember the hanzi (characters) and did the best I could.  Then I turned in the final and knew I hadn’t done as well as I could have.

It was weird.

My whole life and most of the first 40 years of my life have been centered around performing well, always giving 100% and being successful.

And I literally walked out thinking that there was no way I could have gotten higher than a C on that exam.

Yet, strangely, I didn’t care that much.

I mean, yes, study and prepare for courses.  That’s important.  Of course, that’s true and I still believe it.  If you don’t, you won’t do as well as you could do. Cause –> consequences.

But, also, what did I do with that time that could have been dedicated to reviewing vocabulary?

I spent time with my family and friends after a grueling back-to-back conference with holiday in the middle season.  I wrote. I survived. I worked.  I did life.

And I actually learned a lot of Chinese.

What I did know was what I needed a Chinese class to learn–the structures of the language and (to some degree) the pronunciation.

I can look up vocabulary, but without the fundamentals of learning language structures and being comfortable with being uncomfortable (i.e. through speaking and interacting), I can’t grow in Chinese.  And I knew that even if I got a B as my overall grade (I had done enough to do well enough in the class that even a poor final wouldn’t have completely killed my overall grade), I had fulfilled my goal for learning which was really what mattered.

Like I said, it was weird.

After “failure” #1, I prepared to have my last class.  I knew I was doing too much, trying to cram 3 hours worth of work into 2 hours worth of a final time, but you know, my life is all about trying to make the most of time.

I get to class. I figure out how to adapt our first activity. We have an AMAZING returning teacher panel. Things are looking up.

And then, we get to our closing activity which is generally my favorite moment of the semester — the web of learning, where my students reflect on what they’re taking away (new ideas) from the course and leaving behind (ideas that have shifted) after the course.

The final student who spoke this semester said something that literally shattered me for a moment about how focusing on mindfulness and compassion can actually highlight feelings of isolation for certain students in the classroom.  I could see and feel his pain as he spoke these words.

This was much more devastating to me than a B in Chinese (obviously).

If you know me IRL, you know that my life is about humanizing education, about making visible people, ideas, and learning that is often invisible, about supporting people to express their experiences in their lives.  So this was super hard to hear, and it was a hard way to end the course which had really put compassion and mindfulness at the center.

But then, it wasn’t.

Perhaps his voice was a reminder to me to decenter myself and my goals and think about what the limits of my well-meaning attempts at reminding students to be compassionate and mindful actually were in practice.

I don’t know.

I’m still processing his words to be honest.

But in the midst of this and of many other students thanking me for the course and for enacting compassion and mindfulness in my practice (in and outside of the classroom), I’m learning to accept that this feeling of having failed this student may or may not be true and that I may not be the person to support each student.  And that I can’t be responsible for each of my student’s experiences in the classroom.

That’s hard, but it’s also real.

As I was working through this, yesterday, I gave a presentation for the first time yesterday to a group of student teachers and experienced a super blatant and ridiculous micro-aggression.

I had just finished this presentation on professionalism and a random student teaching supervisor who I did not know said to me, “Could you stop saying okay and right every word? I couldn’t even understand what you were trying to say; it was so distracting.”

I have NO IDEA how many times I said okay and right.  This is a speaking style I likely used because : 1) I was nervous; and 2) because when I am giving a presentation in which I am speaking at length, I appreciate these interjections (okay? right?) as a colloquial way for students to express affirmation and understanding of what I’m saying.

This person made ZERO comment on the content of the presentation, the preparation that went into it, did not come towards me in the middle of the presentation when there was a break for an interactive moment to gently let me know that this speaking style was challenging for her.  She said it as I was on the way to give a second presentation, flippantly, as the only interaction I’ve ever had with her.

I was taken aback.  I looked at her and just said, “Um, okay, right.” (really, I think that’s what I said).  It was so ridiculously inappropriate.

And, today, it’s the 7th anniversary of the killing of 20 children and 6 educators at Sandy Hook elementary where my nephew was in 2nd grade at the time of the shootings.

I’m trying to finish grading, coordinate church things, pick up my child, do all the things.

And I’m out of time to write this post.  I’ve gotta get my kid from Tae Kwon Do.

All the things, big and little, they add up. They matter. They weigh heavy or they don’t but they carry weight.

But, if you could, extend grace and compassion to someone today.  You may have no idea of all the things they’re carrying.  And your words may carry more weight for them that they don’t really have strength to bear.

Space: The Final Frontier?

I’m not actually talking about that space….

It’s 9:15 am and I’m at the Literacy Research Association (#LRA19) annual conference. My roommate is out at breakfast, I’ve finished some grading I chose to do instead of rushing to an 8:30 session and now I have a moment to think…about space.

First, I think about this space. This is the space to write, the space to breathe, the space to reflect.  Somehow this space seems stolen from the hectic bustle of the conference just a few floors below me, from the hectic end of the semester bustle that I know will come toward the end of the day as students scramble to get assignments in, from my life back home as my husband takes my daughter for oral surgery today and took my son to the district spelling bee yesterday.

Then, I think about the space of this conference, a literacy conference which triggers all the imposter syndrome within me.  I am trained in this field.  I have a PhD in education with an emphasis on literacy, language and culture, but I wonder what that means since my work has always been focused on teacher education, on teacher identity, on the ways that who we are shapes the choices we make.  Yes, there is literacy in all the things.  Yes, I teach secondary literacy courses that expand the boundaries of meaning making and communicating our ideas. But, do I really think that I belong in this space? A space where I have always felt on the margins?

This thinking leads me to the idea of reclaiming space.  I was talking about this with a good friend and colleague last night over dinner after Dr. Marcelle Haddix gave her presidential speech at the conference.  Marcelle talked about the need for disrupting the status quo in spaces that have not traditionally belonged to people of color and claiming our right to occupy literacy spaces, about how critical conversations about race and the systems that perpetuate inequities should be central to literacy research if our literacy research is to matter. She drew from the power of Audre Lorde, Black Feminism and current scholars of color. Her words came at a moment when I felt profoundly isolated in this space, after coming from a poorly attended but critically important session that I was presenting, ironically on the “unnatural invisibility” (Yamada, 1979) of Asian Americans.

After Marcelle’s talk, when my friend and I were going to dinner, she asked me what I thought about the conference and I told her that I wasn’t coming back after this year.  I told her that while Marcelle’s speech had profoundly touched and shifted my thinking, the words coming into my head as I was walking down the hall after the address, towards my room, were, “Not every space.” I told her that I was tired of feeling like the outsider in this space, that my time is precious, that I am finally coming to know what I’m worth, that I didn’t need this space to take that value and time from me.

As we kept talking over dinner, my friend listened, she empathized, then she reminded me of the importance of holding space for people to show up, about time to create a movement or even to create a small change.  She told me her story. I was there to listen and empathize and hold space.

Maybe I will return to this conference space.

I don’t yet know.

So…space…taking up space, reclaiming space, holding space, giving myself space, healing spaces.

I’m still thinking about space.