The Happiest Teacher On Earth

Today I am going to share an essay that I wrote for one of my University classes: Teaching ESL Writing. The task was writing an essay about a picture, and I chose a very special picture for me: Iesu Amor (the painting I made for imaging God’s Love) being exhibited in the Art’s Festival of the World Youth Day in Brazil. This essay explains what makes me “the happiest teacher on Earth.”

Here is the essay:

The Happiest Teacher On Earth

WYD

This picture is the portrait of the exhibition of a painting that I created, titled “Iesu Amor” (“Jesus Love” or “Jesus Charity” in English).

How I had the idea of creating an icon that imagined the Love of God? Everything began in an exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. The Eucharist was exposed for viewing, clearly visible to my sight. I had the idea of creating an icon that “imagined” God as Love in order to “discover” my vocation, which was supposedly lost (or so I believed in that moment). I was a moment of crisis in my life. I had no idea of where I belonged, where and how I could serve with my talents, or if I could be able to live my faith as catholic.

I began reading the encyclical Deus Caritas Est, of Pope Benedict XVI, and contemplating it in prayer, in front of the Blessed Sacrament or in my own room, through adoring God’s presence with my whole personal growth. Little by little, each form of the painting began to be discerned through this contemplation. I can’t mention all the symbols that the painting contain, but I can mention the first ones that were clear in my heart once I began to create a “visual imagination” of God’s Love.

The first shape of the painting to be discerned and formed was Jesus himself: the way that human being is able to “imagine” God’s Love is through Jesus, the incarnation of that Love. This choice of this imagination is inspired in two very concrete sentences of the Deus Caritas Est: “We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words, the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” So, the image of a God that is Love must be a Person: Jesus of Nazareth. This is the most basic form shaped in Iesu Amor.

The next shape to be discerned was how to imagine the nature of the “breath” (being) and “do” (action) of Jesus in unity. I discerned that with a figure of a resurrected Jesus that was in a wall behind the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament: I realized that I could imagine Jesus’ nature as light, both in the sense of light as being and light as verb, by painting him like a “living star of Heaven”, a resurrected Jesus that was a morning star, like the Book of Revelation’s star. That way, I chose to paint Jesus radiating light from the eyes, from the tunic (the own body) and from the lamp. Discerning this was harder than it seems. It was not simple for me finding a way to paint the nature of Jesus that I was contemplating through the reading of the Deus Caritas Est.

The next form to be discerned was the “giftedness”, the personal self-giving through communion. Because Jesus’ self-giftedness to the Church is complete, the painting must be a gift to the whole Church. I imagined this form in a very particular way: instead of painting this giftedness, I made the whole painting an “ecclesial gift”: I proposed it as a gift for Pope Francis. It never materialized that way, and as a matter of fact it was a way too simple painting to be considered a gift for the Pope, I knew it, but the important thing for God was the disposition. All this is inspired in the sentence of the Deus Caritas Est that says “Since God has first loved us, love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.” The encyclical says that “In a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence, this message is both timely and significant”. To that I add: in a world where the name of God is often associated with profit and worldly success, personal giftedness, learning to give us as freely as Jesus gives himself to the Church, is a timely message.

Finally, is a part in the Deus Caritas Est that says: “Love of God and love of neighbor have become one: in the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God… Love of neighbor is a path that leads to the encounter with God and that closing the eyes to our neighbor also blinds us to God.” I shaped this idea in a very particular way: Jesus is walking towards the center, towards the person, towards the neighbor… He is not walking to the right nor to the left, but towards the front, were the person who is contemplating him is. Also, the eyes are wide open, looking to the person and radiating light.

Although I did finish the painting itself, and shared it in the Arts Festival of the World Youth Day of Brazil (were this picture was taken) this creative project became the project of my life: to shape God’s Love in my own personal formation. Therefore this photo means a lot to me: it imagines the creative goal of my life, sharing and radiating God’s Love, humanely and ecclesially. As an ESL teacher, this means that teaching for me is an act of love, that I contemplate every student as person in the process of becoming a work of God’s Love and that I am called to help them to be, to do, to grow and to radiate unconditionally, and to learn to love them through my lessons as God loves us. This is a responsibility, but also a gift that makes me the happiest teacher and person on Earth.

Ordered Chaos

From yesterday at 4:00 pm until today at 8:00 am I had been in a very dynamic activity: a student camping at the school’s playground. After asking for all the necessary permissions, my mentor teacher was granted the opportunity to make a camping in the school for fourth grade as part of the theme of their English class, the universe. Twenty four students of fourth grade stayed a night at the school. The activity was called “A Night Out Under the UPR Elementary School Sky.” There were activities of several classes planned.

Here is the official program of the activity:

The first thing was building the camp. We organized the tents in a huge circle and left at least one window open in each tent to facilitate the supervision. Here is a picture of our camp:

The principal activity was related with the universe: observing the planets and the stars with telescopes of the Puerto Rico Astronomy Society. First they saw Venus. Then the people from the Astronomy Society gave an amazing conference about the Universe for the students. In the conference the students were able to make all kinds of questions about the Universe. For example: why Titan has atmosphere? Here is a video of a very small part of the conference given to the students, along two pictures:

After the conference the students were able to use the telescopes again to see other planets. The teachers and the parents also were able to see them. Everyone learned a lot, including teachers! The Astronomy Society brought two big telescopes. Here is a picture of one of them:

After using the telescopes the students had a night snack. The parents brought so much food and beverages that we the teachers thought that it was enough food to survive a whole hurricane in the school. We were wrong: as soon these kids began eating, they ate it all. I learned to never defy the appetite of a growing kid, specially if he or she spent the whole morning (the field day) and early evening (before the camping stared) playing and running with classmates.

After the snack the maths activity started. The math activity was also related with the theme of the Universe: it was building a paper rocket calculating the measures and then throw it with air propulsion and measuring how far away it went. Some parents helped with the process of building the paper rockets. Both students and parents really enjoyed this activity. This activity took so long and they enjoyed it so much that the English activity and the Language Arts activity were cancelled. Here are a video and pictures of this activity:

It was about 11:30 when this activity ended. The teachers expected that the student would be tired at this point, but they were not yet! So, we sang happy birthday to one of the students:

After singing Happy Birthday and eating cake, we made a campfire with marshmallows, honey crackers and Nutella:

After the campfire the students went to the bathrooms to put their pajamas on without any of the teachers telling them so. The parents and the teachers smiled: they were finally tired, or so we thought, so we began organizing for going to sleep. The tents were distributed: some for girls, some for boys. Parents and teachers were distributed too in such way that no tent would be unsupervised.

We discovered too late that giving this kids cake, marshmallows and Nutella before going to bed was a really unpractical idea. Soon the kids began running around and playing along themselves, switching between tents. It was an ordered chaos. Literally.

At 1:00 am we needed some discipline to help them going to sleep. We forbid being out the tent, tent switching, cell phones, tablets and flash lights. Even with those measures, most of them still were talking and laughing at 2:30 am. Teachers put on their pajamas at 3:00 am and many kids still were making chatting and laughing noises inside their tents.

At 3:30 some students complained that they could not sleep, so they were allowed to go out and play silently so the ones that were sleeping in the tents could keep sleeping without being interrupted. Because there were students without sleeping, there were also teachers and parents that would not sleep to supervise them. Of the three teachers that spend the whole night camping with the students, I was the only lucky one who slept something: from around 3:30 am to 6:00 am. I was allowed to sleep because after the school camping I had to go to class at the University, I have a class on Saturdays from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm, and after that class I need to drive home for fifty minutes, so I needed some minimum rest in order to be able to go to class later and drive in the afternoon. The other teachers would go home to sleep immediately after the camping was over. Actually, I was supposed to sleep until 7:30 am, but one of the students felt funny enough to enter to my tent spray me a green substance, so I woke up, to stop him from waking up the three sleeping girls that were in my tent. Here you can see a selfie with the thing they threw inside the tent:

At 7:00 am almost everyone was in their way to the bathrooms, although two kids insisted in keep sleeping:

At 7:30 there were many playing around:

The breakfast began at 7:30. We had scrambled eggs, cereals, oatmeal, donuts, muffins, bread, coffee and juices:

I needed to confiscate this to a student because they were doing a mess with it:

At 8:00 the parents that did not slept at the school began to arrive and the kids began to leave. At 8:30 the three teachers left everything cleaned and organized and closed the school without any student being left inside.

It is true that I am tired, all the teachers and parents that slept at the school were very tired, but we all think that this kind of activities are very important for the personal and academic well being of our kids, so it is worthy. Everyone had a blast in our ordered chaos!

Let’s keep growing!

A Document Filling Out Day

Today my students had standardized testing, so we did not have class today. I can’t be in my usual classroom due those test, so I spent the whole day in the arts classroom, surrounded by color, paints and crafts:

ArtsClassroom

What did I do during the whole day? First, I completed a lot of pending documents: the teacher student activity report, the teacher student practice hours report and the teacher journal. I did not completed any of those documents yesterday (I must complete them out daily) due the evaluation. This is one of the hardest parts of being teacher for me: keeping all the required documentation organized and updated.

Second, I had a brief meeting with the special education teacher about how to help better a specific student. Today was the perfect day to have that meeting. Having a meeting also means filling another document: the learning community relations document.

Third, my mentor teacher invited another student teacher, another teacher and me to a morning snack. That time counts as “learning community time” in our reports.

Finally, I made Tuesday’s test and also made Monday’s lesson plan. The only thing I still need to complete is the Power Point presentation for Monday’s class.

Said in other words, today was a document filling out day, but still a growing day.

Let’s keep growing!

More About “The Butterfly Circus”

Yesterday’s class movie, The Butterfly Circus, had a huge impact among the students, so the classroom plans changed and I am going to continue teaching today about the movie and about integrating diversity and being diverse. I prepared this handout to give to the students today:

The Butterfly Circus Drawing

The questions I prepared for today’s class were: What do you think about The Butterfly Circus? What did you not understood? What is being diverse? (Including people with diverse abilities.) How the Butterfly Circus is diverse? (By allowing Will to act in the circus according to what he can do, not according to what he cannot do.) How is our school diverse? (By allowing everyone to learn according to what they can do, including the teachers.) What was your favorite part of the movie? My third grade students love to draw, so they loved the handout.

My cooperator teacher, along with other ESL teacher of the school, is going to make a research for next year’s TESOL convention. He kindly invited the student teachers to participate, if they want to, and I want to. In order to participate in the research, I need to be certified by CIPSHI (“Comité institucional para la Protección de los Seres Humanos en la Investigación”). I did not understand the instructions to get myself certified by them, so I am requesting a personal meeting with someone of CIPSHI to know what I must do to be certified. My cooperator teacher is going to research the perceptions of English use within the school’s students. This would be my first formal research experience! I had a hard time looking for the CIPSHI contact information, but I finally found a telephone and some emails. No one answered the phone, so I emailed them. I am waiting their response.

After my third grade ESL class I had a meeting with the special education teacher to talk about a very important thing that is related with integrating diversity: we talked about the reasonable accommodations that I need to take in count when planning and assessing my third grade ESL group. This is a learning community meeting. Because learning community meetings are a required part of my teaching practicum, I prepared a “learning community meeting sheet” to fill out in each meeting. This is the sheet I prepared:

MeetingSheet

A student gave me a paper flower and another student gave me a hug.

Let’s keep growing!

My First Class Day

Today I observed the fourth grade class. They are giving oral presentation about the Universe, made with Power Point. Today I also began to create my physical teaching binder. It has several documents: the self-evaluation, the practice hours evidence, the effect of instruction, the schedules of community relations meetings and action researches. I have another physical binder only for the lesson plans and corrected handouts. I have already created a digital binder with my philosophy of education, my teaching journal, my daily activities report, among other things. This is one of the hardest parts of being a teacher for me: keeping up with all the required administrative documents. I designed an archive system from the very beginning.

I created a very particular interest inventory titled “My style” to know the style of my students’ personal formation. I will be giving it to them today as homework. It is a little bit long for a third grade, that’s why I chose to give it as a homework. Here are the images of my interest inventory:

My style interest inventory

My style interest inventory 2.jpgThose images are, of course, of the interest inventory that has been already corrected by my cooperator teacher. Here are the pics of first draft with all the corrections:

MyStyleCorrected1.jpg

MyStyleCorrected2

Please notice that I only wrote 6 questions, of 28, correctly! Let’s see it the positive way: it had so many mistakes that it was obvious its content was not copy-pasted from internet. I sincerely apologized to my cooperator teacher: I did so many mistakes in that interest inventory, especially considering that I am becoming an English teacher! He said that everything was all right: I am here to learn, and mistakes are part of the process of learning. He also corrected my first lesson plan and the “My abilities” handout. Those did not have so many mistakes as the interest inventory, thanks God.

I had been honored by my cooperator teacher because he told me that he had never had a student who begins her classes in the way I am doing it, admitting that I need help to achieve the best way I can and letting the students know of both my abilities and my limits. He truly believes that embracing diversity is a great way to begin to teach.

Finally, today I gave my very first class: I taught the The Butterfly Circus lesson plan I made about integrating diversity. My students were attentive and asked many question. They needed to understand why Will does not have arms and legs, among other questions. My biggest flaw as teacher was not ending in time. I need to learn the students’ names too!

Today was a great day. Let’s keep growing!