Follow Your Dreams

So… I have reached the final day of my first semester as ESL teacher (the final teaching day of this semester is tomorrow). I have not written in this blog as much as I would have wanted, but I will resume in this post what I have learned and grown during these three wonderful months.

I am very grateful to God for the opportunity of finding a job as ESL teacher in a special education school. I love working with kids and teens that need extra care and extra love to thrive. They are all amazing students, each one with unique challenges and gifts. These students are very used to be treated as “less capable” than others due their disabilities. I have been blessed with the opportunity to teach them to see themselves according to who they are (not according their disabilities): as thriving human beings with the same dignity than anyone else.

What other lessons, besides ESL, I have been blessed to teach them and to learn from them? Let’s see…

You are a person, you are an amazing human being: You are not your behavior only. You are a human being, called the best person you can be. You matter as a whole person. You are loved and respected no matter how you behave.

You have rights: Your human dignity must be always respected. There are some rights called “human rights”. You have them. I have them. We all have them, because we are all human beings. We all must respect every human being just because he or she is a person with dignity.

We all have our own “learning rhythm” and that is OK: an ordinary teacher has a lesson plan to follow. I can’t work that way: I have students with learning need that require some degree of individualization. Doing lesson plans is part of my job, but the way I apply them is quite flexible. I must embrace the “learning rhythm” of each student and create a symphony with all the voices. One thing I have tried to teach to them is that is OK to have an own learning rhythm and do things in other way.

You have an amazing capacity to do good: usually when a student has behavior difficulties he or she has very clear all the wrong things he or she is capable of doing. What is not so clear to these students is all the capacity they have to do good. They sometimes surprise themselves when you show them that they did something really good, of when you simply believe in them. They need to know they are capable of doing great things.

A new beginning is always possible: I have students that are living proof that new beginnings are always possible. I have met students with very difficult pasts, students that have overcome huge obstacles in such young lives and that have demonstrated me each day that new beginnings can be possible if you reach the help you need and choose to work hard.

A disability or a medical condition doesn’t defines you: this is a VERY important lesson when you are teaching students with any kind of “disability”. We need to learn to focus in each other’s abilities, not disabilities. We are all able to follow our dreams and become the best person we can be. We all have things that we can’t to and we all have things that we can do. We can choose in which one we focus.

Growth choices help us to become the best person we can be: whatever we do, we must make “growth choices”: choices that help us to become the best person we can be. Every choice is an opportunity to become the person that we are called to be.

Our growth choices have the power to create a better culture, a better nation and a better world: our growth choices not only help us to become the best person we can be. When we choose to become the best persons we can be, when we make growth choices, we create a culture of growth, a nation that help all to grow as the best person they can be. Our choices have the power to create a better humanity and a better world. When we make a true growth choice, it doesn’t help us to become the best person we can be: it helps everyone to become the best person they can be.

We must look all persons to the eyes: in a world where we are used to judge people by their physical appearance, we must look everyone to the eyes, not focusing in their physical attributes but in who they are as persons.

We must dare to test our limits and never limit ourselves: something the fact of having a “disability” makes students limit themselves because they see themselves as “disabled”. On purpose, I have placed them on situations that are at the same time safe and a challenge to their limits, only to let them discover by themselves that they can do something they believed they couldn’t do. This can complicate things sometimes, but it is really worthy, especially when you see the student’s huge smile when he or she discover that he or she can actually do something that he or she thought that he or she couldn’t do. This help them to learn how to engage in the world that is outside of the classroom and the school, becoming citizens that have a healthy independence and know what they are able to do to serve the common good.

What happened with the “growth plans” design? I resumed my “growth plans” design by adding a “growth objective” in the lesson plans. I truly think that it can be possible to create “growth plans” besides the lesson plans, or even make both plans integrated as a “growth plan” instead of making a “lesson plan”, applying what should be taught to the personal formation of the students, but now is not the moment to design a whole “growth plan” to substitute the lesson plans with it. That enterprise would require a research capability that I currently do not have: I first need to observe, then research, and finally apply. For now, using a “growth objective” to help the students to become the best person they can be is the best choice to complete the observation phase.

Before leaving for Christmas break, I am leaving everything prepared for the first lesson plan of January: each student will create a poster with his or her New Year’s growth resolutions, resolutions that help him or her to become the best persons he or she can be. The only thing that is still needed to give this lesson plan is preparing a short message about what is a growth resolution and why they are important, or may be find a prepared short message of other person that talks about that theme (of course, in English, because it is English class 😀). I will work on that during the Christmas break. During the Holidays I will also work in the design of a Pictionary Olympics for the English Week, that is at the end of January. We will have a lot of fun! 🙂 I’m so eager to start the next semester!

My last pending classroom task before ending the semester, besides all the administrative tasks that are due in any semester ending, is putting a huge “Follow Your Dreams” in the wall, so they can all see it when they walk into the English classroom when they come back to the school in January. Here is an image of my “Follow Your Dreams” (I bought it in the online store of Carson Dellosa, but I do not recommend it, their shipping methods are terribly slow. If I need another “Follow Your Dreams” for a wall I will ask my students to make it, specially with glitter, they love glitter!).

Follow Your Dreams

I have had this “Follow Your Dreams” since weeks ago, but I have not been able to put it where I want to place it because I need to move first my teacher’s desk, some student’s desks and a book shelf in order of being able to put the “Follow Your Dreams” in the wall I want (the wall that is first seen when you get into the classroom). So, I chose to wait until the end of the semester to do all that movements needed to put the “Follow Your Dreams” in the wall safely and peacefully.

That will be the “growth objective” of the first lesson plan of the year 2019: follow your dreams. Whatever New Year’s growth they may have, they must help them to follow their dreams and to become the best person they can be. For me the phrase “follow your dreams” has a very beautiful meaning: I dream with God’s Love, seen as Jesus Charity, literally every night, so for me “follow your dreams” means following God’s Love, realizing His will in my life, whatever that may lead me and whatever that could mean. In this moment, following that dreams means being the best teacher I can be for my students. However, of course, I have never told that to my students, nor I will, because my dreams do not have to be their dreams: I want them to have their own dreams and to dare to follow those dreams. I want them to learn how to dream dreams that create a better growth community, a better society, a better world… I want then to learn how to dream dreams that are bigger than themselves, dreams that help everyone to grow as the best person they can be, beginning with themselves. We can’t get used to be less of the best we can be. We can’t get used to situations of degradation of any human being or to situations that dehumanize of our society. We are all called to be the change that the world needs to be transformed with fraternity, joy and creativity that gives life. I want them to learn that when they choose to be the best person they can be they change others for good with their growth. ☺️

Please pray for me, so I may serve my students in the best way possible and I may teach them with living lessons to dare to dream big, helping them to learn how to follow their dreams, how to make resolutions to turn those dream into a reality and how to always choose to become the best person they can be.

Merry Christmas to everyone! May you follow your dreams and may they lead you to become the best person you can be. Let’s keep growing!

PD: Here is a picture of the “Follow Your Dreams” placed in the wall of my classroom 🙂

Always Affirming the Person

At the end of September I began to work as ESL teacher of secondary level (in my school this means middle and high school) at a special education school. So far, I love it. I have six groups, mostly multiple grades groups (grade 5, grades 6-7, grade 7, grades 7-8, grades 9-10, grades 11-12). The biggest group has six student. The smallest group has only one student. Most of my students have behavorial special needs, so I must adapt my teaching methods and my disciplinary methods to meet their needs in the classroom. In total, I have 23 students, plus one more on the way (I have not meet him yet, but he will be in my classroom soon and I am already being informed of what needs he will have to be prepared when he arrives).

Although I should call it “special education”, I prefer to aim a “person-centered education.” With “person-centered” I do not mean exactly “individualized”, although sometimes I must individualize my lesson plans due my student’s needs. What I aim is “learning by forming”: teach them ESL through helping them to grow and to learn how become the best person they can be (this is what I mean with person-centered education). I could called it “learning by growing” too. I do have class books to follow, but I have a wide creative range to determine how to apply each lesson. Besides lesson plans, that are mandatory (of course they are, I would never deny their importance) I am designing “growth plans” to promote the best personal growth possible in the classroom. Designing something like this from scratch takes intellectual creativity, patience and time. Right now the only thing I can say is that with a person-centered approach almost all the attention issues and the discipline issues are avoided… but it is very, very important that students understand the importance of being person and of becoming the best persons they can be. That part can be tricky sometimes. Why? Because my students tend to reduce the definition of person to his or her behavior: we are how we behave. If you realize that special education students are constantly being evaluated according to their behavior, you understand their personal formation view perfectly. Teaching them that they are not their behavior and that the person is first and foremost a human being called to grow and be best is crucial to integrate a “growth plan” and to pursue a “person-centered learning” successfully. Right now I am working on that aspect while I keep developing the “growth plan” design. It takes time and resources, but it is worth it because you truly respect your students as persons when, instead of limiting yourself as teacher to give them certain information and skills, you keep looking how to help them to be, to do, to grow and to radiate as the best persons they can be.

Whatever I teach in the classroom, I teach it through affirming the person. It is like positive behavior, but I don’t limit myself to behavior: I affirm the whole person, so let’s call it “positive humanity” or “positive growth”. That means that my respect to the student and the opportunities that they are given to grow won’t change according to their behavior, so they learn they are valued unconditionally as human beings. They may loose privileges, but they won’t never loose “growth opportunities”. The main problem with a behavior-only approach is that the student learns to value himself or herself according to how he or she behaves, and I want them to learn to value themselves as whole human beings called to growth. I am not denying the importance of behavior: I am just integrating it to the whole person.

So far, I only have had one instance when this “growth approach” has not worked to avoid a discipline issue. One. My students have many behavior difficulties due being special education students, so having only one instance when it has not worked can be considered quite a success… but let’s see how it keeps going. I need to observe more and to refine more my methods to make more concrete conclusions. I recognize that the “growth plan objective” (value) it is not always fully reached because the students are unconsciously more focused in the “grade objective” (the lesson plan objective: the one that is graded summatively or formatively)… That is one of several of my current dilemas in the “growth plan” design: how to integrate the “growth approach” to the assessment. Right now, I am not assessing it formally, I am doing it just with observations, because I am not sure how it should be assessed. Should I make it part of the grade? But how they will learn to aim to be the best person they can be outside of the classroom if they do it only for a grade and not for life?

I can resume the difference between a “lesson plan” and a “growth plan” very easily: the lesson plan is what I must teach (the content) and the growth plan is the how I must teach it (how to help them to grow as human beings and to become the best persons they can be with the content I teach). Right now the growth plan has a “growth objective” and four phases: integration, action, realization and projection. As I said, I am designing it yet. So far, the growth plan works wonders as discipline method, although that is not its main aim. It’s main aim is affirming the person. As teacher I truly believe in always affirm the person, but it requires creative space, structure and… sometimes it also requires to skip what the book says we should do, because how the book teaches certain stuff can be truly abstract sometimes. Whatever I teach, I must apply it to the personal formation’s growth of my students, it can’t be abstract. This is impossible if you are required to prepare the students only for a standardized test.

The best part of the “growth plan” is that the teacher doesn’t wait that a student misbehave to give him or her help: you always keep seeking how to offer him help to become the best person he or she can be, no matter what. When the misbehavior occurs, it is addressed too, but the approach is not only disciplinary: is a whole-person growth approach. What this means? First: all students receive support wherever they need it most (this eliminates the view that only those who misbehave need support). Second: as teacher I am not only teacher: I am also a mentor who seeks to help my students to grow as the best person they can be, according to their own view (that is important: a mentor never imposes his or her own view but help others to develop their own view and their own growth choices). The mentor factor is important. A psychologist deals with learning or emotional difficulties only. The person in charge of discipline deals with behavior difficulties only. A mentor helps to grow as the best person the student can be, integrating the whole person, including all the difficulties that the student may have, but not from a difficulty approach, but from a affirming-the-person approach. This is a “positive growth” focus.

I will keep sharing how the “growth plans” adventure keeps going. I am truly grateful of being in a school that gives me as teacher the creative space to develop this kind of approach to deal with discipline methodology and teaching methodology.

Let’s keep growing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Better World…

Today I am going to write about something that will deeply influence my teaching style as teacher and public server: human rights. First I am going to write about the experience of being completely conscious while my human rights are fragrantly violated, giving concrete examples of those violations. Then I will write about how I am enduring it and how I am able to stand a situation like this one. Finally, I will write about how it will influence my teaching style from now on.

Through these last weeks I has discovered many things that I was unaware of. I discovered many of them suddenly, others through contemplation in prayer. I can’t tell them all in a single text, but one of the discoveries I have made is that my human rights had been, and are being, fragrantly violated. I am being subject of cruel treatment. I am being subject of torture. I am being subject of ideological persecution. These are not easy affirmations to make, especially when they involve collaboration of your own “family”, but reality must be faced.

Let’s begin with the beginning. What is a human right? A human right is “a right that is believed to belong justifiably to every person.” In words of United Nations, “Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.  Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has 30 articles.

In my own words, human rights are rights that belong to all persons unconditionally. They are not negotiable. They are not respected only in those people who believe what you believe or only in those people who stand your own ideology. Governments and public servers are entitled to guarantee that these rights are respected always.

Which violations of human rights I have endured? I will write examples.

Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person: I have been made believe that my live is in danger many times, through many different methods, and that is both against the security of person and against the right to life. These methods require coordination, resources and collaboration of many people, I am not talking about an isolated initiative. I am being exposed to certain set of sounds or images in wherever place I go, including “medical appointments” (I wouldn’t call them exactly “medical appointments” but torture, but I will talk about that later…), in order to try to control my freedom of movement and to make me believe that I have a psychiatric disorder. I have been exposed to sounds to interrupt my sleep many, many, many times, and that is against the right to life.

Article 9. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile: I still remember one of the times I was forced by the police to undergo psychiatric treatment. He did not allow me 30 minutes to finish what I was doing and gather all my things, telling me that “he did not had the time to wait, he needed to go and help more people.” Obviously, he was playing with my Twitter username, “helping to grow” (that has happened many, many, many times, specially among public servers and doctors who insist me when they are forcing me to undergo psychiatric treatment that “they only want to help me”).

I have been subject of arbitrary detention, using judicial orders that are based in manipulations of reality, by police at least three times. Police officers went inside my room, forced me to get out when I was actually being abused mentally and emotionally and I was not able to recognize it, and made me choose between jail or psychiatric treatment.

Article 10. Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him: When a tribunal insists in forcing you to seek psychiatric treatment (I have lost the count of how many times I have been hospitalized by force by the tribunal of Toa Alta, but they are around 5, and still counting…) when the real problem is the manipulation of reality and the abuse of your parents, evidently the tribunal is not impartial but part of the ideological persecution. This is especially true when your parents use the tribunal orders to try to medicate you by force, and when you are not able to defend yourself because the Government doesn’t provide you a free layer to defend yourself and you don’t have the money to hire one.

Article 12. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks: All that I am living began with the interference with my privacy. Those who are around me were accessing my thoughts and my writings through my computers and devices for years without I being able to notice. When I finally was able to notice it, I was made believe that I had a psychiatric disorder in order to not daring to denounce it publicly for fear of a forced hospitalization or to not being believed by the competent authorities. Last time I went to seek help, a few week ago to the police in Miami, I was told that I only needed to “take my meds”. I never received help of any Government authority in order to stop this interference with my privacy. My correspondence has been opened without my consent many, many, many times, and I have missed many letters too.

Article 17. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property: I have missed the count of how many things I have lost in my “own room”. My security card is not where I left it, my passport card is not where I left it, my Puerto Rican and USA flags disappeared… Through the years I have lost many, many, many things believing that the problem was me. Now I finally realize that the problem was not me in most of the cases.

Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance: Besides article 5, this is the article that has been violated most deeply. Everything that has been done, all the torture, all the privacy interferences, all the manipulations of reality, even the false psychiatric diagnosis (there was an image of the Santiago’s Way, the place where I discovered my vocation, in the promotion of the place where my parents took me for treatment) has been done in order to undermine the truth of what I have contemplated in prayer and to manipulate what I contemplate in prayer or how I live my faith. This has been truly savage. I have never understood such obsessions in manipulating the prayers of someone else or in denying the faith practices of someone. The violations to this human right has been the core of all the human rights violations that I have endured and am enduring right now.

Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers: When you are being threatened with a forced psychiatric hospitalization by many people, including doctors, if you say what you believe is the truth, evidently your freedom of expression is being violated. Also, the forced medications make me harder to write, so they also affect the freedom of expression.

Article 25. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control: Right now I had not been given money for food, medicines or anything else in two weeks. Why? I was threatened to not being given money for food, being left without car to going to mass, being left without internet to communicate… if I did not follow a psychiatric treatment. The psychiatric treatment is being forced in order to cover the truth about the violations of human rights and the abuse that is happening, and in order to avoid me to express myself freely.

Article 27. (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author:  the ideological persecution has been of such magnitude that interferes with my right of freely participate in the cultural life that surrounds me. Manipulations of reality are constantly being created by many means. I will give an example of this. My parents leave the papers of my forced hospitalization and my medical plan card besides something with a Puerto Rican flag. Then, when I go to the medical office to the forced appointment, I find that a Puerto Rican flag is placed in the desk of the secretary that receives me to the office, that belongs to a government agency. Then you are being told in that office that you need to go to the office of Medicare in Toa Alta to seek a paper, and when you go there a person with a Puerto Rican flag is “casually” walking by when you arrive to office to seek the needed paper.

The only way to avoid that kind of manipulations of reality is avoiding cultural life until everything is publicly known and you can enjoy a home free of reality manipulations that manipulate your social and cultural life.

Also, everything has been done in order to avoid me to complete my painting, Iesu Amor, and the written works related to Jesus Charity.

Article 28. Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized: As I already wrote, the ideological persecution and the violations of human rights that I have endured has not been something of one person, or two, or three. Hundreds of persons are needed to do something like this. This has not happened only in Puerto Rico: it happened in Miami and even in the cruise ship I was forced to go. A corruption of this magnitude needs some sort of political support. The democratic order is being substituted by an ideological order, and that can’t be allowed to happen. Using fear to try to manipulate people and ideas is being a terrorist, and that can’t be allowed anywhere, especially in USA, the land of the free. It is my duty as citizen to denounce what I have endured in order to avoid anyone else to endure the same violations of human rights that I have endured for my faith.

You may realize that I skipped some articles of the Declaration of Human Rights. I skipped one in purpose: the article 5. The article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Now I realize that I have endured and am enduring torture. I will explain how.

First of all, what is torture? United Nations Convention Against Torture, in its article 1.1, defines “torture” as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

Manipulating reality in such way that you believe that you have a psychiatric disorder becomes torture when Government agencies complicitly help with the scheme. You just don’t create a psychiatric disorder manipulating the reality at home and in the social environments, although that already requires a lot of coordination and resources. Besides manipulating reality, you need a psychiatric medicine faculty that complies and participates in the manipulation of reality in order to diagnose the disorder and “certify” it officially. You need a tribunal that complies and participates in the manipulation of reality in order to force you to seek treatment for that disorder even when you know that everything has been made up and that you don’t need medications that cause you secondary effects that affect your written expression. You need a public agency that has doctors and personal complicit with the manipulation or reality… Why this is torture? Because it had been made with cooperation of public servers, a public university and public authorities. You are constantly treated as a mental patient and as a disabled in such way that, if you had not a clear vision of who you are and who you are called to be, you would lose your whole personality and your identity in the process. Yes, all this is a process of dehumanization, I am well aware of it.

Now, how I have endured everything? How I am enduring all this and still remain to be myself without fears? The answer is simple: God rescued me by making me able to contemplate Jesus Charity, the contemplation of His Love incarnated in Jesus that I painted in the painting Iesu Amor. I have truly discovered that Love is not an ideology: God is Love, and that truth has defined me in such way that no dehumanization process could harm me. I am a daughter of God, a beloved princess of Heaven, a human being in the process of becoming a work of Love. Through integraction I have deepened the nature of personal formation in ways that overcome my own intellectual capacity. When I developed integraction I was not aware of what was happening around me. It was God telling me: “this is the path you must follow in order to not dehumanize yourself, in order to become who you are called to be.” God has not left me alone. The presence of His Love has saved me from hate, cruelty and dehumanization. He is giving me the gift of forgiving everything and beginning a new life, leaving my sinful past behind.

I am so grateful of what I had been given the gift of share to the whole humanity (believe me, this will be publicly known, I contemplate it clearly…) that I would endure everything again just for the opportunity of telling the whole world: truly, God is Love, God saves, God loves you. I have no idea of why all this has been allowed by public agencies and authorities, but I am sure that everything is part of God’s will and that I am safe in His hands. Just for writing this blog post, I am exposed to being hospitalized by force again. I don’t care. I can’t avoid to share with the whole world the truth: God has saved me, God has forgiven me, and can forgive you too. He is waiting you eagerly with His tenderness to help you to grow and become the best person you can be. I am not denying the reality that surrounds me: my human rights are being violated and I am being tortured… but God’s Love is protecting me from all harm and all dehumanization. God is honoring my humanity in ways that I can only be grateful, because what I have contemplated and what I am contemplating can only be a grace. The reality of God’s Love embraces everything and heals everything, including violations of human rights and torture. The charity of Jesus makes all things anew and creates true peace. Evil never has the last word. God’s Love has it. Although I have written today about all the violation of human rights I have endured, it is also true (I contemplate it…) that I have encountered many angels in my way to whom I also owe my life, and to them I will be forever grateful.

How all this influences my teaching style? I have learned that besides teaching my students to radiate Love, teaching about human rights is necessary in order to help them to achieve the best personal formation possible. Human rights must be integrated in the curriculum in order to create better persons, better citizens and a better society… and eventually, a better world. Yes, a better world. We can’t conform with mediocrity and corruption. We need to aspire to a better world. That is what Jesus call us to do when He calls us to radiate His Love unconditionally and what we are called to do as public servers. We need to teach our students how to create a better nation, a better humanity, and I have learned that human rights are an essential part of that lesson.

Let’s keep growing…

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!