a new thanksgiving tradition

Orange is the new color of choice for a group of SAS teachers during thanksgiving weekend, as we venture to Changi airport with bags packed to the brim, full of a hodgepodge of donatable school supplies, translated Khmer posters, lesson plans, art kits, and the minimal pieces of clothes and toiletries to last us through the four day break. With our bright matching Caring for Cambodia t-shirts, we assemble in orderly lines at the check-in desks. We have our passports in hand along with neatly packed bags filled with kilograms of art kits donated by students from our elementary school students. We play the game of adding art kit bags to our check-in luggage hoping that the combination won’t go over our 30kg luggage allowance. We give big smiles and hope that the airline will be as generous in return with a bags that might go over a few kilograms. We are group you can’t miss- a sea of orange shirts.

This was my third year going back to Siem Reap, Cambodia with a group of about 20 teachers volunteering to train Cambodian teachers. I had a chance to work with 5th grade teachers from schools in Siem Reap. As I reflect on my time in Cambodia, I’m reminded that being part of this CFC trip has become my new tradition. A thanksgiving dinner that involves no big family gathering in my home in NY, but an impromptu, where should we eat in town for dinner, with a group of coworkers that have become like family. We find a nice restaurant, with cheap prices and good food, but no turkey or pumpkin pie. And there is laughter, because happy hour is truly happy when drinks are only a few dollars.

The day after thanksgiving, we wake up early, grab our breakfast quickly, all before 7am, not because we want to beat the lines for black Friday, but because we have another day of training. By 7:50am, we arrive at the school, starting another day of intensive heat while training and working with our Cambodian teachers in the classrooms with no fan. I’m always trying to stay hydrated and cool with capri pants and a light t-shirt, while the Cambodian teachers are in long pants/skirts and long button down shirts, and don’t seem to break a sweat.

Saturday is the day I look forward to the most. Our training is done and we get to visit the classrooms of our teachers and observe them teach. This is truly the highlight of my trip each year; seeing the teachers take the lessons we taught them, and adapting them for their students and classrooms in Khmer. I’m always not sure what to expect, but I’m always amazed.

Sometimes, living abroad means letting go of the old traditions and embracing the new traditions that start to form. So for that, I realize there is much to be thankful for. cfc-0434cfc-0444cfc-0436cfc-0465cfc-0512cfc-0523cfc-0580cfc-0504cfc-0491cfc-0576cfc-0555cfc-0573cfc-0561cfc-0553cfc-0567cfc-0596cfc-0446

a year through photos

The other day, I was telling my friend how I had no space on my phone to download another app because of all the photos that I took. It’s true, especially when you have a 16gb memory space and you love to document everything through photos. I blame it partly on one of my strengths (according to strengths finders test) of “input” that makes me want to collect things.

I like to collect things, and photos in particular because every picture reminds me of a moment, that I will never get back. Who knows when I will need that photo or memory later on in my life? I might as well take a photo and save that moment forever. Ok, I’m sounding a bit more OCD than I really am. To clarify, I have been able to delete a lot of photos (considering my lack of memory on my phone). Currently, I only have 1,707 photos on my iphone and maybe a few videos as well.

In an attempt to reflect on this past year, I decided to look at my photos I took on my dslr camera and shared on my blog. I came across a few that stuck out to me, whether it’s the colors, emotions, or the memories they reminded me of. Each photo brings me back to a moment, big or small, from this year. Here’s a small glimpse into my 2014.

lentrecote-1099janice-0818untitled (11 of 34)janice-seoul-1344-2aimme's baby shower-0049 paris-2087 amsterdam-1618 amsterdam-1570HK2014-0310nyc_2014-0525 nyc_2014-0519beach_jake-0598penang-8581penang-8490christmas-8951christmas-8937

a baby shower tea party

For international school teachers who are living across the world from their close family and friends, your co-workers become your second family.  My friends and I had the privilege of throwing a baby shower for our co-worker and dear friend Aimee. We had a lot of fun preparing and planning our first baby shower in Singapore. After spending a lot of time on Pinterest and Etsy, we managed to put together a tea party themed baby shower! This constituted  multiple trips to Spotlight in Plaza Singapura, trying to find suitable baby shower decorations. Forget being reasonably priced (we are in Singapore), but they did have some good finds, including pink gingham napkins, baby girl serving plates, and pink and white streamers. I didn’t like the baby shower banners they had and in the end I found a good one for free online. I printed it out on white cardstock and taped it onto string.

Another one of my good finds with the decorations were the pink roses. It was my first time to Far East Flora on Thomson Road. I was pleasantly surprised at the wide arrange of flowers at whole sale prices! I bought 3 big bouquets of pink roses, and it only cost $16 altogether. The babys breath was actually more expensive at $20 for one big bunch. I will definitely be going back there for flowers! The only draw back was that I had to take all the leaves off the roses, and I didn’t have gloves. Let’s just say it was a bit painful with all the thorns on the stems. If you are in need of flowers, I highly recommend Far East Flora!

The favor bags we ordered off of Etsy and we found a vendor that shipped internationally! We put tea bags inside to go with the theme. We ordered pastries from Paul’s bakery in Takashimaya and the cupcakes from Swirls in Robertson Quay. We also had a do it yourself caesar salad bar and finger sandwiches, in addition to all the sweets! I guess you should have some “healthier” options.  Overall,  I think we can say that our first baby shower celebration in Singapore was a success!  Aimee went home with a lot of goodies for her baby girl and was shown how much she is loved by her family here in Singapore.

aimme's baby shower-2159aimme's baby shower-2161 aimme's baby shower-2162aimme's baby shower-2155 aimme's baby shower-0023aimme's baby shower-0004 aimme's baby shower-0010 aimme's baby shower-0013 aimme's baby shower-0015 aimme's baby shower-0050   aimme's baby shower-0053aimme's baby shower-0049aimme's baby shower-2156aimme's baby shower-2151aimme's baby shower-2153aimme's baby shower-2154

slice of life challenge day #3: about time

slice of life 2014

I’m a day late again for my post, but I’m going to keep going. Last night, I fell asleep with my laptop next to me on my bed, with my blank blog post for the day open on the screen. All that I had typed in was “slice of life challenge day #3”. It has been one of those weeks, incredibly draining emotionally and physically, and it’s only Tuesday night.

Sometimes you just need a break, which is hard for teachers, when it always seems to be “go, go, go”. How amazing would it be if teachers got 1 full day a month without students, no grade level meetings, no parent e-mails to respond to, no professional development meetings, and were allowed time in their classroom to plan, grade, and reflect on the learning of their students?! Even though 1 full day a month would probably not be enough time, think about the impact that could make on student learning and teacher effectiveness.

I’m not sure if it’s just part of my school culture that teachers feel so overwhelmed and busy, or maybe it’s just something that all teachers face. I’ve taught in four different schools (2 NYC public schools and 2 international schools), in the past 11 years and I can definitely say that no matter the environment (public vs. private), there always seems like there’s too much to do. How many teachers have you met can say, I have enough time in the school day to get all my planning, grading and all those other added responsibilities done? Or what about teachers that say, I never have to bring work home during the week or the weekends?  If you have met those teachers, please have them share with us their secrets.

I’ve come to realizing that we need to embrace the work load and finding ways to manage it so that it’s reasonable. One part of that would be to let go of achieving perfection, and make a priority list. Is this activity or item on my to do list really necessary? How can you decide what is necessary? For me, it’s all about going to my core beliefs and values on my role as an educator. I think a lot about how does this impact student learning.

In addition to spending time on things that will positively impact student learning, I really value building the individual relationships with my students and making sure they know they are valued. So even if it means spending extra time at home commenting on my student blogs (they are all participating in the slice of life challenge), sometimes you just need to take that time, to make sure they know that you care.  In the end, I think it will probably be those little things that you do for your students, like handwritten birthday notes, checking in with a student that looks sad after recess, or sharing how impressed you were with their writing that will resonate in their souls.

How do you manage to balance your time as an educator? How do you find the time to get everything done?

slice of life challenge day #2: missed calls

slice of life 2014

The first thing I do in the morning is usually checking my iphone or pressing the snooze button on my iphone alarm. Today was a Sunday morning, and I woke up on my own a little before 9AM. I always keep my phone on vibrate during the night, so when I checked my phone, I was surprised to see a bunch of text message and 10 missed phone calls from my dad in the States. I opened the text message from my dad that said, “Halmuni (grandmother in Korean) passed away now.”

It took some time for it to really hit me what those words meant. Everything else on my mind seemed to take a pause.  It was the moment I was dreading, the moment that deep inside I knew would happen, especially after the heart attack she had earlier on in December and considering how she was 102 years old. I just thought that I would have more time.

I kept thinking about the last conversation we had over Google hangout on Thursday night, where she asked me what I ate for dinner, and then asked me when would I see you again. And I replied, in 3 months, when I come home for the summer. It looks like it might take me a little longer to see you again. ❤


slice of life challenge day #1: the “f” word

slice of life 2014

This month, I’m committing to participating in the slice of life challenge for the entire month of March, along with my fifth grade students. It’s not an easy task, and seeing how I already missed the first day, you might think that it’s not a good sign. However, I was reminded of this TEDxYouth talk I recently saw that talked about the “F” word.

Yes, I failed on day 1 of this challenge. And at one point, I thought, I should just not even start. Why even bother with this challenge? I’ve already missed the first day. It would be so much easier if I didn’t participate. However, so many times in my life, I learned that failure is needed in order to achieve success. I am not going to fear failure, and instead I will embrace it, and move forward from it. So, I will continue to write on this journey and participate for the 3rd year in a row on the Slice of Life Writing Challenge hosted by The Two Writing Teachers. Will you join me on this challenging, but rewarding journey? It’s ok if you missed the first day, it’s definitely not too late to join. 🙂

taking a moment to listen

slice of life 2014

It was the end of a long day, my throat was hurting, I felt exhausted, and I was ready to go home. However, we still had 30 minutes of class left. As my students wrapped up typing their fantasy story drafts, I asked if anyone wanted to share their introduction. I called on a particular student to share because I was so amazed when I sat next to him and read his draft earlier on. Then, more hands went up. One student exclaimed after hearing one student’s story, “I can’t wait to hear what happens next!” Originally, I was only going to have two or three students share, but as I kept listening, and more hands went up, I wanted to hear them all.

As I listened to the stories of my students, I couldn’t help but smile. My students could write. They had voice, they had realistic dialogue, they had inner thinking, they had conflicts, they had archetypal characters, they had suspense, and they had creativity.

Most days, I’m busy beating myself up, wishing I could be a better teacher  (imagine working on a team with 13 really amazingly talented fifth grade teachers everyday), and seeing areas I can improve on. However, today was one of those days, where I just needed to sit back and listen. Listen to the voices of my 22 students, sharing a piece of themselves, in a way no one else can. I listened, I enjoyed and I smiled.

Slice of Life Tuesdays is sponsored by The Two Writing Teachers. Join us & write.