Saturday, February 28, 2009

february (m)

it is a case of "it's not you, it's me".
it's not the island, it's me.
it's not my grad program or the degree, it's me.
i am the root. i am the irritation and the discomfort.
so, i am trying to figure out what to do? i have been reading over my journals and looking at my photos and posts on this blog and i see all these red flags, bright red and apparent.
i just am not sure if it is giving up or shifting directions.
i don't like my graduate program. i like teaching but i am not passionate about teaching english as a second/foreign language. i definitely don't want to teach at the university level anymore. so, that being said i also have to think about the fact that i am funding what isn't covered by scholarships with loans. if i quit now, then i owe money that went towards nothing. if i continue, i will triple my debt and be in a career that i don't want. it's sticky, isn't it?
usually i side with the continue and get the degree and pay off the debt. but now i am starting to wonder if it isn't worth the amount of debt accumulated for the knowledge that this isn't my path. i haven't decided yet.
i do know that i feel like i am missing out on my kids' youth because i have to spend these two years locking myself away and working on papers when i am not at work. i feel like if i could invest so much into what i don't want to do, then i should be able to do more with what i do want to do. yet such a move would be bold and courageous and i am typically timid when it comes to myself.
i wonder what my decision would be if there wasn't a recession to factor in.
these things i will continue to ponder but i will say that the idea of giving it up to be true to myself is exhilarating. it makes me feel as light as the sunshine.

february (l)

today sebastian was in a short production of the japanese folk tale "rabbit in the moon". he was a mouse. he didn't get to sacrifice himself and go live on the moon like the nobler rabbits. but he had a good time. we think. he gets a bit stage stunned when he see us in the audience (i was there by default because i work there but still...). he kept this funny face on the entire time, as you can see in the flickr pictures i just uploaded. there is video to go along with it and probably for the benefit of the grandparents, we will manage to throw that up here as well sometime this weekend. in the meantime, ooh and ahh over the photos. i was very proud of sebastian for trying to follow along as well as he did. i bought him a little assortment of presents to sneak into his bag when he left school today and included some shinkansen bandaids. when i came home from work this evening, i got a big hug and a happy "thank you for the bandaids, mama!". easy to please, that kid.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

february (k)

there is this liz phair line that runs through my head when living on this rock of paradise gets to me: "Yes, I was stuck on an island, wondering where my mind went".
so, yeah, this place gets to me. i think it is partly because it is a small town and because of my working conditions. it also has something to do with being a self-declared city person and living 3.5 hours via ferry away from a city. sometimes my students ask if i am doing okay living on such a small island. i reply cheerfully that i grew up on a small island (well, right off of a small island) and they take that to be a positive remark. of course, my hometown has a bridge. two actually. it takes maybe a minute to cross that bridge. ironically part of the reason we love japan is because everything is so close. well, close if you don't live on a tiny island in the sea. i used to love going to kyoto station and looking at the timetables for destinations all across japan. the possibilities that awaited.
we like gotou. we do. but i am not sure if we like it as in "let's live here for two years of our precious life" like it. it would be great for a couple of outdoorsy folk that i know... but then they would have to work where i work and i wouldn't wish that on anyone that i know...strangers on the other hand, beware. i kid. it's not terrible, it's just not great. sometimes that is what you have to live through.
if you haven't guessed though, i am in the process of searching for a better teaching job in my dream city. i applied to what appears to be a job designed for me and i am waiting to hear back from them. i was holding my breath but my lung capacity isn't what it used to be... what has come from this idea of a possibility is that i was reminded that we can eventually leave this outpost and be where we want to be. i think it is called hope. yes, hope has been blossoming like the plum trees around here. if it wasn't for that pesky recession we could probably be carried away in our hope but the world economy tempers our gypsy spirit and so we know that we should be grateful for what is here and now. (we are, though, ready to pack up and leave within two days. it helps we have no furniture.)
and what is here now? work, the end of sebastian's tenure as a preschooler, lots of papers on things like listening skills and modality and futurity. i am also volunteering as a proofreader for the academic journal of the teaching association that i am now a member of so that is an interesting new past-time. unfortunately for you, i rarely use my editing skills here.
anyway, back to the books. don't worry (mom and dad), i am discontent but equally content. i think it is part of being an adult.
hope you are all well. take care.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

february (j)

stillness and motion...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009

february (h)

I am listening to this show this morning. (I particularly like the bit about the whipped cream.)
In my adult intermediate class, our typical conversation either consists of comparing the funny things about our husbands or talking about American politics. We followed the election together and now we are reading President Obama's inaugural address (very slowly, it is full of new vocabulary words for my students and new contexts). It is such a rich piece of work, of history. There are places where I unwillingly get misty-eyed such as:
Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights
So many of my generation, so many of my good friends are having to face this possibility, of compromising their future from something shining and hopeful to something basic like survival. Is that life though? We must not lower our "sights", especially not now.
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

Such compassion, an element that has been missing in the halls of the White House these last eight years. This gives me hope, this willingness to move past misdeeds and into a realm of positivity for the greater good.

february (g)

how quickly the weeks pass now. school and work and family and etc. spinning together in a tornado of activity, sweeping away time. we do our best to be here for the boys on the weekends, to walk away from the computer, my homework, our house. to sit and read and draw notes to each other. sebastian's request for today: go on a picnic, go to the park, eat food, take a bath, and go to bed. i think we can fulfill his wishes today.
here are two portraits of the boys in what i think of as their natural state. nico, the brother who is a tad quieter and always inquisitive. look what is in his hand though, the secreted rock, as always.

sebastian, the energetic, the ham or daikon as it is in kansai-ben (dialect from the osaka/kyoto area). he is really into movie making now and begs me for a video camera. i have to get a flip camera for class but he wants a big chunky one that goes on his shoulder. he's really into setting up shots and acting out his scenes. this morning he reminded me to charge the battery on the camera so that he could record our picnic and park adventures later.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

february (f)

i want to respond to cyndi's thoughtful comments regarding education while expanding on what i am just beginning to discuss here but will continue to be a reoccurring topic: education. first, cyndi, don't worry, i wasn't offended. i welcome such discourse and am glad that you shared. i am sorry that you and j had such a difficult time with the school in nara. i know the school you are referring to but i don't think that they qualify as a montessori school. they, like many schools here in japan, use terms like montessori and international to attract students (or more aptly put, their parents). in a certified montessori school, the curriculum would be based upon creating peace. that is actually one of the foundations of the montessori method. if we can help children find their true selves by helping them on the path towards becoming functional adults, then a balance and peacefulness will be achieved that the child can carry with them throughout their existence. if each child was at peace with themselves, loved and respected themselves enough so that they could love others selflessly, then consider what society would be like.
maria montessori was deeply concerned with peace as a foundation of education. she said "Averting war is the work of politicians; establishing peace is the work of education." this directive was influenced in part by her experiences living in italy under the reign of mussolini, during which she was forced to flee to spain since mussolini considered her philosophy a threat to fascism. on the other hand, montessori and gandhi had an established communication and admiration for each other.

perhaps it seems overly idealistic for me to believe that a certified montessori school would be true to the founding principles. yet, again, montessori's genius is apparent. she established a system that required strict training of the classroom assistants and directress so that the principles could be adhered in the manner of a lineage. when a montessori teacher is certified especially from the association montessori internationale, montessori's original organization, then there is a sense of trust that the teacher respects and applies the true montessori method with each child. so i sincerely believe that if i could send my sons to a true montessori school, peace would play a more prominent role. i simply cannot believe that children are "just being kids" when they express such violence. a child enters this world innocent and it is the violence of adults that corrupts that state. the argument for children to play-fight is that it is just the way of the world. that is a argument i would hate to see win. violence and hatred do not have to be our reality. we are in charge. we should determine our peace.

and to revisit the idea of socialization, i wanted to clarify that i did not mean it in the traditional sense. i know that homeschooled/unschooled children are perfectly socialized. they can't help it since they are humans (i am writing this as a former homeschooled child). we are social creatures. even children raised by wolves learn to be social even if they never learn how to speak so the arguments that critics have against homeschooling/unschooling regarding social aptitude is unfounded. what i was writing about is about dealing with differences in a compassionate way that includes loving-kindness. yes, there is a lot of bullying in japanese schools and american schools (i can't speak for education systems i am not familiar with). if the child is in harm's way either physically, mentally, or spiritually it is probably for the best to remove them from the situation for a better one. yet, a lot of the time in our lives we have to be with others who we don't agree with and we need to learn how to deal with others in a cooperative and respectful manner. it is a daily lesson in non-violence with sebastian when we explain that hitting is not the answer. and when he asks, like he always does, why do the other children hit?, there is another lesson waiting, a lesson in understanding and compassion. most of the hitting is done in a "friendly" manner but even so, it should not be tolerated. i have a lot of students who hit me (sometimes hard) but they are not trying to be cruel. i do my best to let them know that it is not acceptable but since it is not being reinforced by anyone else, why would they respect me?
so, that brings us to my last short post (with the heart rock ;)). we are trying to get out of here. not japan (sorry mom) but this particular situation. i really want to move to kyoto and most of that desire is based on the fact that they have an excellent international school there that is inquiry based and provides a stable bilingual education. i would personally love to work at a better school but the most important element is that the boys have a better environment. we might switch back to homeschooling if we can't find a good school but since the boys are so energetic due to their intellect and sensitivity, it is difficult for jason to guide them along that path, especially since he is going to start working on his own education soon. besides, they love being with other kids. and children learn best from each other, provided the situation is one that generates peacefulness. if that situation is in a traditional classroom or in a loving home, that is determined by each family.
anyway, i hope this illuminated some of the ideas that i began in haste in my last few posts. hope you are all well and please, comment away. take care.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

february (e)

so, a bit of reflection and contemplation have allowed us to consider the possibility of change. and today, i took a step towards that change. i can't say what it is now but i am going to ask for you to cross your fingers once more for us. this step could be an amazing leap if it actualizes and i would love to stretch my legs for the jump.
thanks and take care.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

february (d)

so, i am not going to retract the things i wrote yesterday concerning brats. but i wanted to clarify it. i don't believe children are ever at the core brats but their behavior can be brattish. the inability to listen, to rise to a challenge, to calm their frustrations. i simply haven't worked with enough young children but i am also a little shocked to be in a room with a child that turns his/her frustration into violent action. who throws chairs, or tears class materials, or hits another child with a book. sebastian or nico have never been prone to temper tantrums. meltdowns, yes. crying, overstimulating meltdowns but it is always very self-involved. of course, now that sebastian is at school he is influenced by others and brings that home to share the good and not so good behavior with nico like a virus. this makes me question my decision to enroll him in school but i feel like for now the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. the idea of socialization is not just for sebastian to learn how to be a "regular" person: no, it includes learning how to deal with others who don't live in the same way because that ultimately is what life in society is about. our main gripe is cultural right now. japanese parents typically don't discipline or correct destructive behavior in preschoolers. jason has a really hard time of it on the playground afterschool when other kids are roughhousing and he is the only parent to take sebastian to the side and explain that we don't hit or treat others like that. then of course sebastian has a hard time because he is the only child to be scolded and he already is different from everyone else. our solution is two-step. starting next month, sebastian will stay at school a few hours longer. if this doesn't change his meltdowns, then we are going to either withdraw him from school or move to a place where he can have an education that includes peace, ideally a montessori school.
as a teacher, though, i have to be prepared to deal with children who are not, to use the montessori term, normalized. i have found a lot of wisdom lately from the book The Tao of Montessori by Catherine McTamaney. this one passage in particular under the tao: "When people see things as beautiful,/Ugliness is created./When people see things as good,/Evil is created".
It is only through empathy that we can understand the child's life. It is only through compassion that we can serve her. We must look at the child who is standing is front of us (or lying on the ground screaming in front of us!) and see the child who is yet to come. We revere the child for her potential. We respect her for her promise. While bearing witness to the normalized child serves us well, encourages us to continue to do this work, and gives foundation to our accomplishment as teachers, sometimes the most important work we do is for the child we never see change.

following this is a quote from the great Maria Montessori herself:
If we have neither sufficient experience nor love to enable us to distinguish the fine and delicate expressions of the child's life, if we do not know how to respect them, then we perceive them only when they are manifested violently.

so this creates a dilemma for me as a teacher at this school. my students don't come to me normalized nor is that the aim of anyone involved in the students' lives. the problem, obviously, is that i am a montessorian at heart and so in dealing with children, this is my approach. is it possible to practice montessori philosophy and use the methods in an unsupported context? the answer is not definite. i can do so to a certain limit and my interaction with the children can definitely carry the influence. it is hard for me though to know about this amazing way of helping children on their way to adulthood and witness so much that discourages this direction.
i am at a junction. i can either commit fully to teaching English using all the fantastic knowledge i am getting through my studies or i can switch and follow my passion.
okay, anyway, that is all for now. time to pick up the legos and work on some sandpaper letters. take care.

Friday, February 13, 2009

february (c)

Can I make Sebastian my patron saint?
I know I am a bit biased but really. My Sebastian, not Saint Sebastian. We don't need any arrows in the mix.
My sons look like angels to me tonight. Oh, the glory of comparative perspective.
I am trying to come to the point. How can I say this? Today, I saw a lot of, what is that word I am looking for? Oh yes, brats. Please capitalize the b. Yes, I know. This contradicts my staunch stance on labeling kids but the way these kids act, a-l-l t-h-e t-i-m-e, makes me believe that it can't be blamed on Friday the 13th. Most of the kids are great and in that light of comparison make my kids look scruffy and begotten. But it only takes one. Or, as I had today, five.
I will probably get in trouble for the last one, though I did nothing but try and teach him. Since it is a private school, coddling is the typical approach to keep the kids happy and the parents paying. I teach the most academic classes for all levels that come in. I actually have the nerve of trying to do what I thought was my job. I am attempting to teach them English. Most kids enjoy it but there are a few who cannot stand a challenge or even the appearance of a challenge.
But the week is over. I have papers to write and two boys to live up to. I don't know what next week will be like but for the next two days, it doesn't matter.
Hope you are having lucky 13ths. Happy weekend.
Take care. xoxo

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

february (b)

tuesdays seem to be my day to visit here now. jason has started teaching a class on these nights and nico always goes to sleep around seven, allowing me the chance to duck in here and say hello.
if you were going to ask about my classes (either the ones i teach or the ones about teaching), don't. i'm feeling rather overwhelmed and frustrated with both right now. one of my graduate classes is all about grammar. see, i told you not to ask.
jason is getting restless here on the island, anxious to be someplace else. i'm trying not to let his anxiety infect me. i like the quiet here and the natural beauty that is almost everywhere. it is enough for now.
i am wishing for a bit of positive change, though i can't define in what form i hope it will happen. i just feel a yearning for something.
well, i suppose this post now matches the picture: blurred and out of focus.
i hope you are all well. take care.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

february (a)

hello and welcome to another month. we are rising out of winter slowly but surely here. our tiny ume tree is blooming and its larger kin are following suit. spring is coming. i've been taking pictures after work to document the lightening of the evening sky. it is no longer pitch black at 6 o'clock. in a few months i will have forgotten about the cold and the darkness and will be suffering through summer, dreaming of january.

i do wish i had brought my camera today for setsubun. oh goodness, to capture the terrific terror that was experiences by my littles today when the demons/ogres(oni) climbed in through the window. and the fantastically terrible costumes worn by the oni-san: matted long black hair, masks with yellow hooked teeth and black horns, rice skirts encircling their legs and waists. setsubun is usually translated as "bean-throwing day". it is the day when people can actually face (or as my 3 year-old students preferred, run from) their demons. before the oni-san entered, the teachers gave a little show about how bad behavior invites oni-san in and how when we are good, they retreat. they also retreat when they are pelleted with dry soy beans by the thousands while hearing "oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi": out with the demons, in with happiness. it went on for a while with lots of screaming and crying as the demons chased the children about, bent on capturing them and carrying them towards an exit while the other children hysterically threw more beans.

speaking of children and their demons....

we went to nagasaki over the weekend. i had a language teachers meeting and the lantern festival was happening so it seemed like a good time to get away from the island. except that we were reminded as we always are about the effects of living in a small, quiet place with sensitive children. it makes their reactions to the hustle and bustle of a city extreme. many, many meltdowns. many, many, many occasions of sebastian running off in the middle of a crowded and large store. so, so relieved to be back. the lesson from it is: don't take the entire family to the city when we only have a weekend because with the ferry ride it is more like only having a day and a few hours and a lot of those hours are spent sleeping at the hostel. also, don't expect a five year-old to be interested in ordering shelves from muji when there is a little flashing and pinging corner of coin-hungry games across the way.
lesson learned.
i didn't get any pictures of the teachers' meeting but if you head over to flickr there are some of the lantern festival.
hope you are well. take care.
p.s. i hate thinking of titles so i will start labeling my posts by month and alphabetical order.