“It’s never as good as you think it is and it’s never as bad as you think it is…”

22 08 2009

So says the constant mantra Dan Brown (not related to the “Angels and Demons” writer) faced in his first year at PS 88. I started the book “The Great Expectations School” last week after my girlfriend Kira and I decided to buy a book that we both will read fully and discuss. The book details Dan Brown’s first year as a fourth-grade teacher at PS 88 near 187th and Webster in the Bronx. Brown was a first-year Teaching Fellow coming in and, as I approach and past the half-way

mark on the book, I notice two things: 1) Brown is a gifted writer, making his story flow from his last months at NYU (Tisch) and his acceptance to each month of his experiences with the children, the administration, and the structure of the school in general.

2) The book offers a little more than just a continuous mantra on reflections related to teaching experiences. I’m seeing this as I’m going through one of the most frustrating months of my 21 years of life. The funny thing is… I haven’t even started to teach yet!

It all starts and ends with a small room. In the midst of having fantastic hang-outs with my best friends, heart-melting experiences with Kira, a soul-inspiring week with Vacation Bible School, and, of course, the end of Fellows summer training, I have spent an entire month trying to find a new roommate. My past roommate is doing an amazing teaching fellowship through the Fulbright in Hong Kong.

Aside from the money I will be losing if I don’t find a roommate, the most frustrating aspect of finding a roommate is that it’s no one’s fault. When something goes wrong, I do my best to find something or someone to blame the situation on. Usually, I blame things on myself since I can control only myself. However, there’s no one at fault here. I’ve exhausted all my friend options with each of them giving me legitimate reasons why they had to reject the offer. Craigslist has only yielded sketchy results, including this response smothered with signs of “DO NOT WANT“:

Roomster and other websites have come up empty. Even now, I’m still squeezing out every option I can think of. The stress of trying to find a roommate before my lease runs out at the end of August got to be so much that I suddenly transitioned my relationship with Kira out of the “honeymoon” stage by breaking down and crying on the phone with her about the situation. I cried and prayed after the situation afterwards, not having a semblance of a clue what to do. A few minutes later, however, I got invited by a friend who I could have potentially roomed with at her place to dinner in order to talk about her apartment and to help snap me out of my temporary despair.

Despite the friend’s apartment situation not working out, that dinner was exactly what I needed in order to continue to be flexible. Afterwards, I walked to the 86th Street stop on the 1 train and started to brainstorm a couple of plans in order to try and get to my goal in any which way I can think of. I decided to go back on Craigslist, rapid posted on other websites, word of mouth, and a plan to hold on to the place for one more month, while paying off the entire rent and subletting if need be, giving me an extra month to find a new roommate.

Reflecting back on my roommate-less situation, I feel I’m getting prepped on how to teach in the first place. If something doesn’t work out, instead of trying to continue to force the same methods, I should decided to try something different in order to achieve the same goal. For example, if I want a kid to understand bar graphs, I can show him or her the information on the board. If he or she isn’t getting it, I have to change my method and have him or her draw one alongside me, using bodily-kinesthetic methods rather than a plain visual. Constantly differentiating the information effectively will get me to my goal. It’s just that point of differentiating effectively…

To end this post about how different aspects of my life seemingly connect to a first-year teaching experience I haven’t had yet, let me link you to a video of a Vacation Bible School (VBS) in Kansas. If you wondered what was my involvement in VBS this year, this was it. Reprising my role two years ago, I helped lead all the kids in worship as well as opened every Crocodile Dock session this week. I was the “Sing and Play Swamp Stomp Leader”. During all the songs, I had a team of volunteer crew leaders (all teenagers) help show all the motions of the song while I stood with the kids, showing them what they needed to do. Needless to say, the teens at Crossroads Free Methodist Church are definitely special and clear role models to the kids we had come this week.

This song is “This Little Light of Mine”. However, at Crossroads, my hand-motions to the kids were a LOT more involved and more interactive for the kids. Maybe, I’m biased, but the kids were moving, singing and loving it without being so stiff.

If you’re the praying type, please lift one or many for the roommate situation and for the kids and their families who will be at church this Sunday. We’re doing a wonderful VBS presentation throughout the service, lead by our worship team, myself, and the crew leaders/members. Hopefully things go well on all fronts…



Why the ridiculous title?

17 08 2009

As I am about to sleep and get ready for my first day at my former home church’s Vacation Bible School, where I will be “blessed” with leading this song about 10 times this week and having the song needlessly stuck in my head ten minutes into the first day, I thought it was appropriate to explain why I picked a slightly ridiculous title for the blog.

Want the short explanation? It was the only analogy I could think of that referred to both teaching and baseball.

Ever since I started to do any sort of ministry work at Paramus Catholic, I’ve known there was just something I was meant to do. I’ve done both evangelistic and service work in my last eight years at PC and Fordham. I’ve worked with little kids up to grown adults. I’ve done everything that you can almost conceive of in terms of ministry work… at least within the last eight years while earning both high school and college degrees.

However, one thing that people have constantly pushed me towards was teaching. Not necessarily physically pushing me that route, but mostly verbally. I have also been put in situations where I had to teach, whether it was something small like leading a prayer in front of 50 other teenagers while I was at Camp Timberledge to something slightly bigger like co-teaching Peace Games classes the last two years or serving as a counselor for two years at Timberledge or head male counselor for Star Lake. For some strange reason, I believe I have done mostly well in all those roles, even when I was frustrated, clueless, tired, or downright confused.

Fast-forwarding to my NYC Teaching Fellows summer training experience. I felt the last eight years have prepared me for that moment when I am standing in front of my classroom (be it, CTT or self-contained), about to give my introductory speech on my first-day ever, and inside my mind, I continuously recite the same question, “what am I supposed to do with these kids?” I have been told from my classmates at PC to my fellow Cohort 18 members that I am a “natural teacher” and I “will be a great teacher someday”. At this present moment, I still don’t see what they see.

I know I present information well and I do my best to be excited about the material given and/or prepared by me while giving each kid the respect they deserve. I know I love to be in front of kids and I view teaching like acting, only with a smaller and more intimate stage where you are on from 8 am to 3 pm every weekday. I also know that specification and clarification of material are both weak points of my teaching. Organization of material can also be a weak point as well.

I’ve been told about how hard and challenging the first year of teaching can be to a rookie coming in. I have read books about first-year Teaching Fellows’ experiences from Ms. Moffet’s First Year to The Great Expectations School (which I am in the middle of now). I have talked with many former Fellows and taken many notes. I did my best with everything that was handled to me from coursework to summer school teaching. From working on lesson plans to differentiating the material to the students in my summer school placement, I believe I pushed myself as much as I could within the exhausting 7 weeks of training and I did seem some results in forms of great grades and small steps taken by the students in my summer placement class.

However, after my training finished, I was left with an overwhelming feeling of not knowing at all what to do and what to expect when September 9th comes along. I came into the Fellows program thinking that no time in coursework or abbreviated teaching time would give me even more than a semblance of a clue of what to do as a NYC special educator. The 7 weeks did nothing to change that mindset. I will address this issue in a future blog post, though I don’t believe my thoughts after training are solitary.

I am left here on August 17th with many informative lessons, terms, and anagrams still stuck in my head with a meeting planned with my CTT teacher within two weeks and feeling like a complete rookie. Despite those thoughts of being confused and non-prepared, I do believe there is a strong teacher within this 21-year-old mind and heart. I just need to hammer out what kind of teacher I will be with my students among many other questions I can’t even fathom right now throughout the next few years. I consider myself to be a (wait for it… wait for it…) “diamond in the rough” type.

This leads me to the baseball aspect of the title. Unfortunately, I have no amazing, mind-blowing explanation behind the “diamond” except it reminds me of a baseball diamond and I refused to have my blog title be of a catch-phrase that has been around for centuries. I do enjoy going to minor and major league baseball games, especially considering my New York Yankees, as this self-created last-game-at-Yankee-Stadium photo album will attest to. Maybe the title alludes to a “rough teacher” being on a “baseball diamond”? I have no idea, but to me, it sounds and reads good and that’s all that matters at this point.

Tomorrow, or in a few hours, I will be a part of my church’s sixth Vacation Bible School venture. I myself was a part of the last five ventures, serving as the song leader and the first face the kids see every day two years ago and this year. Being able to get kids excited about the One who got me to this point in the first place is an amazing thing to be a part of. Will my second attempt at being a kids’ worship leader for five days help aid my future over-180-days first year experience? Only time will tell, stay tune.


Imagine this…

11 08 2009

Right now, it’s August 11, 2009 and I’m sitting in an empty apartment with two fans blasting at my face in below 80 degree weather. I’m going into my second week removed from the NYC Teaching Fellows summer training. I wait anxiously for a new start at the elementary school that hired me, a new roommate, and another Yankee game on the radio. I just graduated college and I’m about to embark on a teaching journey that will drain me more than any theatre production at Paramus Catholic High School, board meeting for the Fordham Observer or camp experience at Camp Timberledge or Star Lake Camp could ever do.

Most importantly though, with all of this going on, the New York Yankees are in first place with a five and a half game lead after a four-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox.

Why a blog now?

As my best friend Sarah would say, I have had an interesting history with blogs in the past. I started with LiveJournal before LiveJournal was “cool” back when I was 13 (2001). With my posts came drama, mostly started by me. After off-and-on attempted to blog, my personal posts hit both their highest quality and their lowest frequency when I started at Fordham University my freshman year. I loved to write, but I just couldn’t get enough on my posts to post frequently.

I changed direction and decided to write for MVN: The Bronx Block for a year that ended last season around the end of August. With a very recent change in the entire layout of the site, I just lost the desire to blog on my favorite team while learning a completely new system and writing about extremely specific things. However, a year can change a lot of things.

My time on the Fordham Observer really transformed my writing for the better, especially the last semester. I worked on a personal feature titled “All Kinds of Ripped“, which traced my progress in trying to lose 15 pounds by graduation. Though I only lost 5 pounds, the feature allowed me to write about anything I wanted in line with the feature. I had so much fun with it, though my time with the Observer shortly came to an end. With no public outlet for my writing, I was left with nothing to record the biggest translation my life has taken since being accepted to Fordham. Sure, I have some pictures (many I can never post due to prior shenanigans), but what about the hard, “I want to quit” days? What about the high, summer hikes up St. Nicholas Park to City College to take my summer courses? What about the small moments that may not seem a lot to most, but to a teacher, it means everything?

Without a constant presence of a camera, pictures can’t chronicle those moments, but writing can.

That brings me to the question: Why a blog now?

This blog is an outlet for many of my friends who are aspiring to be teachers. This blog is an outlet to let my friends and family know what is going on in my teaching venture. This blog is an outlet for me to talk about my favorite team, my favorite sport, my career, and my experiences within all those things and beyond. Lastly, this blog is a way for me to self-reflect on my experiences and learn from each of them as I write them out.

As I’ve been told, self-reflection is extremely important for teachers to do in order to adjust accordingly to his or her students. With this blog, I’m taking self-reflection onto the public scale mixed with reflections on my passion for baseball, my history with the Yankees, and my love for my future doctors, lawyers, professional athletes, engineers, dancers, singers, photographers, artists, cooks, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and yes, teachers.

Expect honesty posted once every two days with pictures, videos, and other oddities mixed in. I will also answer any questions about the Fellows program, about my thoughts on the Yankees, and everything in between. Lastly, I will also talk about whatever I wish, giving a friend or two a shout-out if warranted.

Think of this blog as a Jackson Pollock painting mixed with Andy Warhol’s eccentricity and Jasper Johns‘s awesomeness… wearing the interlocking NY on a midnight blue cap.

I’ll leave you with a poem that many of my Fellows friends have seen. Taylor Mali speaks about what teachers actually make.