Embrace Nature

Embrace Nature

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Best Crayola in the Box

When I was little, we spent much of our time creating all kinds of art projects. But we would always come back to the basics: construction paper and a box of Crayolas -- the big one, with the pencil sharpener in the back. My favorite color was blue-green, not to be confused with blue, green or green-blue. Blue-green was a very distinctive hue, mostly blue, but with just enough green to make you feel like you were swimming in the clearest, freshest, purest pool in the world.

Last week when I visited Glacier National Park, I discovered where the inspiration for Crayola's blue-green must have come from. The water there reflected the lush mountains, the white glaciers and the cloudless sky perfectly. That color combination resulted in my favorite waters I've yet to visit.

As I looked down on the creeks and lakes from my bicycle on the Going-to-the-Sun road, the view took my breath away.

If there is any place on this planet where one can still find purity and beauty, it might just be Glacier.

Now go visit before all the glaciers melt away.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Finding Peace in the Now

Lately I've been so caught up in trying to figure out my next steps that I've forgotten to let myself live in the moment. I've been researching teacher certification programs and visiting schools; I've been applying to volunteer opportunities and worrying about getting the right experience. Everyone keeps asking me what my plan is, and I have no great answer for them. I find myself saying, "Right now I'm really exploring my options," over and over and over again. It's been stressful and anxiety-causing.

But then something kind of fell into my lap.

A few weeks ago, Sam and I stopped by World Cycle after a sweet mountain bike ride. Jared gave us a tour of the whole shop -- including the employee lounge, complete with its very own kegerator (earned by reaching their April sales goal). As we were sipping our frosty beverage, Jared mentioned that he'd heard through the grapevine that I was looking for a job. Before I knew it, I had an interview lined up with the head honcho Tom, and a week later was offered a part-time position on their sales staff.

At first I was psyched not only to have some source of income, but also to be working at the coolest bike shop in town. But now, after my first week of training (spent learning all sorts of things, from sales to bike technology to clothing to working the cash register), I can say that I am even more enthusiastic about this job than before. My coworkers are fantastic. The bikes and accessories we sell are top notch. And the vibe in the shop is unbeatable. From the moment a customer walks in the door, they're treated like a friend. And I get to talk about bikes and learn about bikes all the time -- and get paid for it!

So right now, I'm pretty dang satisfied with where I am. Not to worry; I haven't lost sight of my goals or plans. But this feels good. I'm learning. I'm pushing my comfort zone. I'm immersed in something I've never done before, yet at the same time something I've done for years and years. And I'll be helping people get fit, stay active, ride to work, spend time with their families - just that thought makes me smile.

Goodbye to anxiety, hello to right now.

Monday, May 2, 2011

An End and a Beginning

Today I am filled with so many emotions.

Yesterday the President announced that the leader and founder of al-Qaeda, the endorser of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden, was killed by U.S. forces.

I think about the troops who are still putting their lives on the line, and wonder if they can come home sooner now.

I think about the terrorists and wonder if they will retaliate.

I think about the young boys in madrassas, being trained to terrorize.

I think about many things, and feel excitement, sadness, hesitance, uncertainty.

There have been about as many reactions to this news as there are people who have heard it. I think that alone proves that there can never be a single "right" solution to any problem. The question now is how we learn from this event, these past 10 years, the history of the world -- and how we move forward, embracing some sort of understanding of where everyone else is coming from.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

An Underconstrained System

I am now in the midst of deciding what to do with myself. I won't say I'm deciding what I'll be doing for the rest of my life (because that is impossible and simply untrue), but I will say that I am trying to figure out the path I'd like to take to get into the classroom, and possibly beyond.

I am exploring options at various universities, including UC Berkeley's MACSME program (Master of Arts and Certification in Science and Mathematics Education), Stanford's Teacher Education Program, University of Washington's Master in Teaching, Boise State University's Graduate Certificate in Secondary Ed.

And then there are the non-traditional options I'm exploring. There are Teacher Residency programs in the Bay Area, Denver and Boston (which I believe might be considered the "original" or at least the standard). There are Teaching Fellows options in most major cities I'd consider living in. There might even be the potential for getting an emergency certification at a high-need school.

And along with all of these options are the multiple deadlines, entrance exams, proficiency tests, volunteer hours, classroom observation requirements, recommendation letters, state school residency concerns, scholarship opportunities...the list goes on and on.

Add to all of this the potential of actually using my decent GMAT scores to apply to business school, so that I can eventually leverage an MBA with my (future) teaching experience to make an even bigger difference in education and its reform, and you get one huge, tragically unconstrained system.

I know that the key is to just start picking some constraints, like a good little engineer: where to live; what state(s) to apply in, and thus which exams to take; get a (temporary) paying job. But each of these decisions feels so final. I guess I just have to keep reminding myself that none of these choices has to be truly final, and I can always change my mind if I want to.

Like Mom always used to say when my brother and I would stare at the candy aisle for far too long, trying to pick out just one treat, "This isn't going to be the last candy bar you ever eat." Thanks, Mom. Time to make a choice.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An Open Letter to Teach for America

Dear Teach for America,

Thank you so much for your months-long interest in my abilities and in my desire to close the achievement gap in our country by becoming a stand-out teacher in a high-need school. I regret to inform you that you have made a mistake by rejecting my application for acceptance into your 2011 Corps. I would have been an immense asset to your organization, and a champion for your cause. My leadership experience, my enthusiasm for the teaching profession and my history of persistence and success would have proven themselves invaluable in a classroom of underachieving students.

Instead, I will be pursuing my certification as a secondary education mathematics teacher through an alternate route, without the promise of becoming a TFA Alum. It is my hope that you are not discouraged or disappointed upon receiving this news. I wish you all the best in the future, and I look forward to the time when our paths may cross again.

Best regards,

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Waiting for News

While doing some education news research, I ran across this article in a Harvard Business Review blog, and I thought it interesting enough to pass around. The best part, I think, is the last paragraph:

TFA stands out as a prolific spawner of entrepreneurial leadership in education. Of course, part of this is simply the reality that TFA sets forth to recruit individuals with leadership potential--and is delivering on this aim. Indeed, the TFA application process is highly selective and consists of multiple steps. Its success, however, as an educational entrepreneurial incubator, suggests that it is a potential source not only of future leaders and innovators in education but as a model for educational leadership creation in itself.

Who wouldn't want to be a part of THAT?

Why am I still doing research on education, policy, teaching, classrooms, charter schools and the latest news topics on education, weeks after the final interview has passed? Well, first of all, it's because I've become pretty dang passionate about it in the past 6 months or so. But I'm also getting extremely anxious waiting to hear back from both TFA and NYCTF. I've been back and forth with NYCTF since yesterday, and should be getting a call from them any day now. And the decision from TFA is due Monday. At a good friend's wedding this weekend, a friend (former TFA CM and current PD) of the groom told me that somewhere out there is a computer spreadsheet that already knows if I'm accepted into the 2011 Corps or not. This week is spent assigning the accepted applicants to regions. The suspense is enough to drive me a bit neurotic.

Patience is a virtue I have never really had, and I can't say I'm getting any better at it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

In Memoriam

"Ever has it been
that love knows not its own depth
until the hour of separation."
~Kahlil Gibran


Today the wind wreaks havoc on this city, on the trees and on anything not tied down in this City of Trees. The first day of a new season, a season marked by rebirth and regrowth, comes only days after an end. Perhaps apropos, but perhaps just the opposite. So loved, so much the embodiment of family and happiness and mental vitality, the man left his mark on me, even, just a distant friend. I was fortunate to meet him, not once, but twice, and for days at a time. Touched to have spent time with not only him but his loving family. To experience the place they all called home, and where, for summer after summer, the children would gather, reunite, celebrate life together. This end comes suddenly, and forces questions of meaning and a desire to know more. But I know that all who remember him will do him justice, and can be thankful for the time that they were given. Rest peacefully.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Solo


Over the course of 23 days, I journeyed my way from one home to the next.

I skied pristine powder in Tahoe. I hiked 3 miles down into the Grand Canyon. I slept in my car in a Walmart parking lot on a 15-degree-Fahrenheit night. I breathed the smog in LA. I climbed Camelback Mountain in perfect weather. I camped beneath the Superstitions. I watched eagles soaring over fields in 3 states, chased a javelina in the Granite Dells and photographed elk on the Rim Trail.

I let myself discover new limits of my own comfort. Physical comfort. Psychological comfort. Emotional comfort. I let myself discover new friends, and discovered the newness in old friends. And I found a deeper sense of oneness with the universe.

Traveling alone opened my eyes in a way that nothing else could. Like performing a solo in front of an audience, you are forced to guide yourself, to make all the decisions. People are probably watching, and you might take a misstep, but you will find a way to recover and move on. And when you're finished, oh, the sense of accomplishment and fulfillment! Try it sometime.






Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Belonging

Putting the finishing touches on my bedroom, and it feeling like a place to belong.

Being warm and cozy in my new house.

Running into a friend at my new credit union.

Eating a meal and drinking coffee at the same place almost every day I've been in town since I arrived.

Watching the rain fall outside, listening to moody music and it being perfect.

These things, seemingly so simple, are also so comforting. They lift me up, confirm in my soul that this is where I belong right now. I have been welcomed to this new city with everything good that I could have asked for. I am once again assured that my life is in my capable, eager hands. And I can do with it whatever I please.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

home is where the heart is

a little bit of sun
a little bit of rain
a little bit of love
a little bit of pain

a smile from a friend
a tear from my eye
a heart on the mend
a dove in the sky

find me in the forest
climbing in the trees
lose me in the city
wind to whipping breeze

on the move once more
through fields and mountains roam
settle in again
make me feel at home

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Reading Between the Lines

In February, I received this letter from the New York City Teaching Fellows:

Dear Christine,

Thank you for your continued interest in the NYC Teaching Fellows program. At this time, your candidacy for the June 2011 program remains under review. Because of uncertainty about the hiring needs for next school year, we are deferring most acceptance decisions until we have more information that enables us to better project the need for new Teaching Fellows.

Although we are unable to provide you with a final notification at this time, please be aware that we have already rejected many applicants, and you are part of a select group of candidates being strongly considered for our program. Candidates held in this priority group are not ranked. As such, we cannot predict our ability to offer you a Fellowship. We expect to provide you with a final decision by this spring.

We are impressed by your background and desire to close the achievement gap in New York City, and thank you in advance for your patience as we make our acceptance decisions. If you have any additional questions about the Fellowship, please do not hesitate to contact us at fellows@schools.nyc.gov.

Sincerely,
Signature
Vicki Bernstein, Executive Director
Teacher Recruitment and Quality


I kind of saw this coming.

In short, the people in control of the money don't believe education is worth the expense.

But our nation is under extreme duress. How is education NOT the answer? Isn't educating the next generation the perfect solution? Someone please explain to me what is going on here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Grand Canyon Religion

As I watched my first sunset over the Grand Canyon, and absorbed the fading rainbow-colored sky above the giant abyss, I couldn't help but feel that this is how a sky is supposed to look.

This natural skyline, its golden horizon, its multi-colored mirror, the anticipation of navy darkness and the shadowy rocks below me were so grounding, yet so spiritual. Yes, the experience was religious. A number of different Native American tribes call the area of the Grand Canyon their home, and I can imagine the multitude of beliefs they hold about it. It is a sacred place. It lifted up my heart. It wrapped me in its enormity.

The next day, as I hiked 3 miles into the canyon, and dropped 2,040 feet, I only wanted to keep going. The Colorado River beckoned me onward. I had to whisper to it that I would return. I felt it nodding back in understanding.

Nothing could have prepared me for my first visit to this world wonder. And nothing can truly describe what I felt and what I remember. I can only go back again in search of more. Come with me.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

NYC is Closing 10 Schools

I don't think this bodes well for my chances of being offered a NYCTF position.

But the larger problem, in my opinion, is what seems to be glossed over in the article:

"But studies have shown that the most difficult students have tended to gravitate to other large high schools," not the brand new, high-hopes charter schools. They end up getting lost in the system just like they were lost before, in classrooms with too many students and too few resources.

The New York Times article claims that almost 2,ooo people showed up to the panel meeting, which lasted 6 hours and ended with the vote to close the "failing schools." I want to know who those 2,000 people were. These parents obviously care about their children's education. And I am inclined to think that the panel of 13 believes they are doing what's right, too.

But who's really looking out for those lost kids?

How do we fix these problems?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Decisions, Decisions - Participate!

As a prerequisite to the final interview for TFA, I must fill out my "APF," or Assignment Preference Form. This form tells the placement committees where I'd like to be assigned if I'm accepted as a 2011 Corps Member. I think it's kind of cruel to make us think so much about where we want to go, only to potentially have our hopes crushed by a rejection. In any case, I actually have to rank every single one of their 39 regions in order of preference. I first lump them into 3 separate groups (Highly Preferred, Preferred and Least Preferred), and then within each group I must rate the regions. I can give multiple regions the same rank if I feel equally about them. (Say I put Chicago, New Orleans, and Miami-Dade in the middle group. I can give both New Orleans and Chicago a rank of 1 if I feel equally about being placed in either region.)

This is a somewhat daunting task. Part of me wants to check the box that effectively says, "Send me anywhere you want," but then I'd probably end up in the Mississippi Delta. And even if I do rank all 39 regions, I may still end up in the Mississippi Delta, but at least I'd feel like I had a say.

So I am asking for some suggestions. Below, I've listed all 39 available regions. Unfortunately, the Puget Sound isn't an active region until the 2012-13 school year. Help me out and put in the comments where you think I should (or shouldn't!) go. Give me some reasons if you can or want. There are more details about each region on the TFA website. Also feel free to vote in the polls in the right hand margin!

Thanks for your help.

*Image from Teach for America site

Teach for America Placement Regions:

* Alabama
* Baltimore
* Bay Area
* Charlotte
* Chicago
* Colorado
* Connecticut
* D.C. Region
* Dallas Fort-Worth
* Detroit
* Eastern North Carolina
* Greater Boston
* Greater New Orleans
* Hawai'i
* Houston
* Indianapolis
* Jacksonville
* Kansas City
* Las Vegas Valley
* Los Angeles
* Memphis
* Metro Atlanta
* Miami-Dade
* Mid-Atlantic
* Milwaukee
* Mississippi Delta
* Nashville
* New Mexico
* New York
* Newark
* Oklahoma
* Phoenix
* Rhode Island
* Rio Grande Valley
* San Antonio
* South Dakota
* South Louisiana
* St. Louis
* Twin Cities

Square Peg, Round Hole

While searching for a different scene from the same movie, I came across my favorite. It's only a minute long. Enjoy:



(TFA, I think you can find your ideal candidate in there somewhere...)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Awe-Inspiring and Educational

When I was in New York City recently for my NYCTF interview, I decided to check out the American Museum of Natural History. Many friends have told me that it's a great museum, but I almost passed it up because I'm not really a huge dinosaur fan or anything like that.

Skipping the opportunity to visit that museum would have been a HUGE mistake.

I was only able to go because my flight home was preemptively canceled due to snow. This is what I awoke to that Wednesday morning:


But the city was still running as usual, so I first made my way to Grand Central Station to lay my eyes upon a famous landmark:


Then I grabbed a bagel with lox and cream cheese, and caught the subway to the west side of Central Park.

What I found in the AMNH was beyond anything I could have imagined. Of course there were dinosaur fossils. But there weren't just a few fossils here and there. I saw hundreds upon hundreds of REAL fossils!


That Tyrannosaurus rex is a largely complete skeleton. The skull that is displayed as part of the body is a cast, but the actual skull lies in a glass case by its side, too heavy to be suspended. The "Fossil Experts" (so proclaimed by the badges they wore) were elated to talk with me for over 20 minutes about all of the fossils that were stored in the catacombs of the museum, as well as the ones on display in that room. According to the museum's website, they possess over 3 million specimens!

Velociraptor skull:

Pteradon:

One of my other favorite skeletons was this woolly mammoth, as well as an accompanying section mummified mammoth FACE!


Of course, the dinosaurs weren't the only incredible part of the museum. After strolling through about 2-3 rooms of dino bones, I hustled back to the entrance to catch a free tour of the museum. Our guide was a wonderful old British woman who played the part in every way. She cracked jokes deadpan and spoke in a very no-nonsense fashion. I loved her!

First she showed us some beautifully made dioramas of African animals, and explained to us how they were constructed. The method in which the animals were prepared seemed painstaking and perfect.

Then we moved on to Hayden planetarium, which includes scale models of our entire solar system. The exhibit was recently renovated, with a floor-to-ceiling glass window enclosure, an internal spherical planetarium and a downward spiraling ramp to observe all the models and read the intriguing facts. I was there during the day, with the sun pouring in through the windows and creating a beautiful space, but the photos of the place at night seem simply celestial.

I just can't recount all of the amazing exhibits we saw, but I'll leave you with one last mental image. Did you know that the largest animal ever known to be on our planet is the blue whale? Upon walking through the archway into the Hall of Oceanic Life, one encounters, mounted from the ceiling, a full-scale cast of a real blue whale that once washed up on the shore. My jaw just dropped when I saw it. The hall is 2 levels, with the second level open to the one below, and the whale takes up much of this space. Photos do not do it justice.

Every foot - no - every inch of this museum has been carefully planned and executed. The minerals and gems, the cast of cro-magnon man, the dioramas of so many areas on earth, the Native American artifacts... I spent 4 hours - yes, FOUR whole hours - walking the museum, and didn't see half of it.

Once I returned to my host's home and told him where I spent my afternoon, he was elated. It's his favorite place in the city. Then I told a friend who now lives in Houston but grew up in Scranton, PA, and she was excited for me too -- she has wonderful memories of the museum from her childhood. When I returned to New Mexico, I told Rick, who used to design and build museum exhibits for a living. He was ecstatic that I had gone and had such a great time. It's one of his favorite museums.

It is hard for me to believe I almost passed up the opportunity to visit this place, but I am so glad I did. The American Museum of Natural History is NOT to miss if you make your way to the Big Apple. And please let me know what you think!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

No Excuses

Tonight I had a realization.

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you did everything you possibly could to achieve it?

I recently realized that I have been destined to be a teacher since I was a little girl. I remember hoarding office supplies in my room, setting them up on a TV tray, then pretending that it was my desk and that I was the teacher. I'm not sure whom I was teaching, but there I was. All my life I've loved explaining things to people, realizing when the explanation wasn't getting through, adjusting my approach, and checking for their understanding. Now that I have all of those experiences to look back on, I can confidently say that I am supposed to teach. I daresay it is my calling.

And now that I know that, I want it to become a reality as soon as possible.

So I've applied to Teach for America.

Per the recommendation of a friend and former TFA teacher, I read the book Relentless Pursuit, which documents a year in one particular school with TFA Corps Members. It doesn't seem to hide much. The first-year teachers struggle. Immensely. They cry, they nearly give up, they work themselves sick. And in the end, most of them succeed. Not only do they succeed, but they end up continuing their careers in education.

While portraying each of these Corps Members, the book also candidly reveals information about how TFA performs its selection of new teachers. As I read all of this, the selection criteria as well as the horror stories, I knew that I could do it. I became confident that not only am I meant to be a teacher, but I am supposed to be a Teach for America Corps Member, learning to teach in any of the most high-need schools in our nation. I am nothing if not a person who sets lofty (ambitious? idealistic?) goals and works hard to attain them, and this shall be my next attempt. My next conquest?

Once I decided TFA was for me, I threw myself into learning as much as I could about the organization, the mission, the teachers, the students, the alumni, the methodology, the selection process...everything. I submitted my written application online. I have been invited to a 45-minute phone interview. That interview is today. The potential next step would be a final day-long interview with other hopeful applicants.

I have prepared in every way. I have researched interview questions. I have reviewed the mission and vision. I have spoken to TFA alumni and picked the brain of an interview expert. I have read books on the achievement gap and education. I have outlined the ways in which I meet each of the 7 attributes that they look for in their applicants; attributes which they believe make successful teachers.

I have no excuses. If they do not choose me now, it will not be because I wasn't ready. It will be because I just do not fit their bill. And as shot-down as I may feel, I can accept it. I even have some backup plans.

My fingers are crossed that I won't have to use them.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Observance

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Dr. King was born on January 15, 1929. He is most remembered for his nonviolent activism in the civil rights movement, but also spent the last years of his life in opposition to the Vietnam War and working to end poverty. His "I Have a Dream" speech is a legacy, and a testament to his stellar oratory skills. He has received the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Nobel Peace Prize.

On the third Monday in January, U.S. government employees, bankers and most schoolchildren are given the day off, ostensibly to reflect upon King's lifetime accomplishments and aspirations. But are we living his dream? Are we even working towards it?

I can hear the protest now: "But we have a black president! That proves we're moving forward."

All you have to do is walk through the hallways of some of the highest need schools in our country to realize that segregation is not a thing of the past. All you have to do is talk to the teachers or read the first chapter of Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities. Look at the numbers, the statistics. Read the literature.

Today I challenge everyone to learn a little bit more about the dream, how far we are from achieving it and what each individual can do to make it a reality. I challenge you to truly observe the holiday. And when you do that, I thank you for being a part of history, and for being a part of a better future.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Inspiration

Tonight I remember reading Sandra Cisneros when I was in 10th grade. That was the same year I decided I wanted to be an engineer. Look at me now. Here I am in New York City, interviewing for a fellowship that would take me in an entirely different direction.

I am nervous. I am nervous about the lesson that they want me to complete in only 5 minutes. I am afraid they won't realize that I'm perfect for the job. Because I know I am. But I'm nervous anyways.

And then there's the nervousness that shouldn't come till later. The uneasiness that is the tiny little voices asking, "Can you really do it?" and "Are you sure this is what you want?" and "Why would you move across the country again?" But I silence most of those by saying, "Yes," and "Of course," and "Why not?"

I sit here in this inspiring apartment in Brooklyn. I have been lent this extremely comfortable bed in this particularly well-decorated room. I look around, I look out the window. I wonder what the people who walk on the street below are thinking. I wonder what I will eat for breakfast. I wonder how I will ever plan the lesson that I want to teach on why the earth experiences seasons. (The answer is axial tilt.)

I realize it's far past midnight. I hear one of my hosts awake, pfaffing in the kitchen. I hear her clear her throat, in the same way that my friend whom I reconnected with earlier today clears hers. I should sleep. Tomorrow I will plan and practice my lesson.

I love the way this comforter feels. I love the warmth of this place. I love the soft rumble of the train as it passes by. And I am loving all the options in front of me right now.