Archive of ‘musings’ category

summer reflection: on habits and the teaching-family connection

By Kristina

The 2016-2017 school year is finally over (as of June 28), and I’m now in the Brandeis teacher leadership program summer component for most of July. This year has been incredibly rewarding in terms of growth as a teacher and as a leader, but I haven’t quite figured out how to reflect on that growth or figure out how to just sit down and write!

Changing habits is an interesting beast. The “run at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays” habit finally gelled for me this year, when I tricked myself into running before work so that I could hang out with my husband and son after work. That habit wasn’t as difficult to start as some others because I’ve been running since 1995, so I had some subconscious muscle memory going there. This year I finally wrote my first DonorsChoose project proposals after years of thinking “no one will fund that” or “I don’t have time to write that.” Turns out that encouraging words from a few colleagues and promising one that I’d pay him $5 if I didn’t post by the end of the day finally got me to do it. So, it’s time to trick myself into blogging and tweeting regularly (likely by telling friends “I’ll give you $5 if I don’t write this blog post”). I often store ideas in Evernote and say “I’ll blog about that” but then abandon it in favor of lesson planning or teacher leadership work, so here goes!

On September 7, 2016 (the first day of school), my dad wrote to me:
“We are confident that you are a good teacher like your late grandfather Romulo. I remember him walking miles to reach his assigned elementary schools and people always addressed him “Maestro”. Teaching is a noble profession and it is rewarding to see the learning eyes of the young. There used to be a poem titled the “ Clay of Youth” which enunciates how the youth is molded. It is a beautiful poem, see attached.”

I took a piece of plastic clay, And idly fashioned it one day, And as my
fingers pressed it, still it bent and yielded to my will.

I came again when days were past, The bit of clay was hard at last, Its
early impress still it bore, But I could change the form no more.

I took a piece of Living clay, And gently formed it day by day, And molded
with my power and art, A boy’s soft and yielding heart.

I came again when years were gone, It was a man I looked upon, My early
impress still he bore, And I could change him nevermore.

Two days later, this daycare newsletter picture of my son “teaching” his younger infant friends about the sun, clouds, and a heart made me smile. My dad commented “It is so nice to see Parker acting as a teacher! It is in his blood.”

That made me wonder more about our family history of teaching. Per my dad, both my grandparents were “educated by American teachers known as “Thomasites” sent by the United States in 1901. The Thomasites taught, English, agriculture, reading, grammar, geography, mathematics, general courses, trade courses, housekeeping and household arts (sewing, crocheting and cooking), manual trading, mechanical drawing, freehand drawing and athletics (baseball, track and field, tennis and others). This was the curriculum in 1902 – 1935.” My grandfather completed secondary education and became a teacher. My grandmother completed elementary school and then went on to raise seven children. I’d assumed she had been a teacher too because of her reputation as the town matriarch, but it turns out that she was the OG “mom-preneur” back in the day. She sent my dad’s two oldest sisters to Catholic school in a neighboring gown by managing my grandfather’s salary and earning extra income. According to my dad, “on occasion, she had to mortgage our rice lands if she was short of cash for school fees. She was very good in raising supplemental income by raising live stocks, like pigs, chickens, turkey, ducks, goats, cows and grow exotic orchids and beautiful potted roses for a good price to the wealthy folks in our town. She was able to own and operate a small convenient store which provided additional income to her family. Because we were barely making a good threshold of standard of living, our birthday celebration was to plant a fruit tree to commemorate the occasion. If we are not around, she will plant the fruit tree for us. The land is filled with fruit bearing trees which provide income from the sale of fruits.”

We don’t have any pictures of my grandfather Romulo teaching, but my dad sent this 1982 picture of my aunt Betty (one of his six siblings) who became a teacher.

Parker’s been to my 106-year-old school (as an infant during my 2015 maternity leave), so he’s used to visiting historical school buildings. I hope that one day he could also see the schools in which his great-aunt and great-grandfather taught (if they still exist), and to see the fruit trees from long ago.

One of my Brandeis classmates told me “we can’t turn our kids into what we want. They already have personalities and temperaments. We can get to know *who* they are.” Parker is still in the “moldable” clay stage and I look forward to learning what kind of learner he will be. As I head into the second week of my teacher leadership program, I hope to retain some of that moldable quality and keep an open mind for my tenth year of teaching.

first day of work

By Kristina


I’ve been looking forward to (and sometimes dreading) my return to teaching after maternity leave. It’s so exciting to get that part of my identity back, but it feels like getting a new job after I’ve been spending so much time learning how to be a mom. Becoming a mom has strengthened and subtly changed my relationship with my own mom. For instance, she recently shared a story about how she left the Philippines to start work at the World Bank. The story was for her baby apo (how you say grandson in Tagalog), but it meant a lot to me too.

She sent these two pictures from January 1971, when she flew to the U.S. with two other women also starting jobs at the World Bank from a group of eight who were recruited from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). She had no idea at all where I was going except the knowledge that she was going to work at the World Bank. Since she was traveling with two friends she just went with the flow. The picture on the left is from her airport sendoff with family (she’s in the fabulous ’70s yellow/orange/green outfit). The other picture was from a stopover in Hong Kong, which was followed by San Francisco, L.A., and then Disneyland. In L.A., she marveled at the amazing things she had never seen before. She had a very enjoyable time because all expenses were paid by the Bank (she had left home with only about $100 in pocket money). On January 31, she and her friends flew to Dulles airport and were met by a World Bank car and driver. They stayed at the YMCA on 16th Street for about four days until they found an apartment where two other ADB girls lived (at 2430 Pennsylvania Ave NW).

Her first day of work was February 1 (I find that symbolic because of today’s date). She recalled being very sleepy at 5 p.m. during orientation and pinching her arm to keep herself awake. She didn’t know what fate awaited her in D.C…only that a certain Florido Buenafe lived on the same apartment floor as her and her roommate Cora. And the rest was history (helped along by my dad trying to woo her by bringing her a watermelon and sabotaging any would-be suitors by telling them that she moved away 🙂

on making

By Kristina

This Atlantic article examines tech culture’s celebration of creation (often at the expense of teaching and caretaking). It delves into how society values the traditionally male domain of “making” and devalues the traditionally female domain of caregiving (e.g., teaching, healthcare). Before I finished reading the first sentence, I immediately thought of What Teachers Make, a poem by Taylor Mali.

What Teachers Make
by Taylor Mali

He says the problem with teachers is
What’s a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life
was to become a teacher?
He reminds the other dinner guests that it’s true
what they say about teachers:
Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.
I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the dinner guests
that it’s also true what they say about lawyers.
Because we’re eating, after all, and this is polite conversation.

I mean, you’re a teacher, Taylor.
Be honest. What do you make?

And I wish he hadn’t done that— asked me to be honest—
because, you see, I have this policy about honesty and ass-­‐kicking:
if you ask for it, then I have to let you have it.
You want to know what I make?
I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor
and an A-­‐ feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time
with anything less than your very best.
I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won’t I let you go to the bathroom?
Because you’re bored.
And you don’t really have to go to the bathroom, do you?
I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
Hi. This is Mr. Mali. I hope I haven’t called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something your son said today.
To the biggest bully in the grade, he said,
“Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don’t you?
It’s no big deal.”
And that was noblest act of courage I have ever seen.
I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.

You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math
and hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you’ve got this,
then you follow this,
and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this.

Here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
Teachers make a goddamn difference! Now what about you?

I often feel that teachers have to defend or justify the rigor and validity of what we make and do. What we make can’t be sold, but it’s pretty awesome.Good teachers do follow the design process when creating and refining their curriculum. Creating complex math tasks or guiding students into mathematical discourse do not get featured on the cover of Wired magazine. Just because these educational things weren’t born out of Mountain Dew-fueled coding rampages and didn’t have an IPO of $1 billion doesn’t make them any less “made.”

Similarly, arts and crafts don’t get the same level of respect as robots or other technological “made” things. Case in point: back in engineering school, fellow engineering majors would scoff at those in the College of Arts and Sciences, calling it the College of Arts and Crafts. But don’t arts include design, iteration, and planning of resources? My mother-in-law probably wouldn’t consider herself a maker, but she makes some amazing Halloween costumes. Her process of research, design, locating materials, and creating is pretty spot-on.


So what will it take for us to “recognize the work of the educators, those that analyze and characterize and critique, everyone who fixes things, all the other people who do valuable work with and for others—above all, the caregivers—whose work isn’t about something you can put in a box and sell”?

first run back

By Kristina


…and first blog post back since IB exams, the end of the school year, and the birth of my son Parker. It feels like an eternity since I was plie-ing and planking through a Flybarre class. It feels like an eternity since I last did my Sunday routine of Market Basket + Costco + cooking + lesson planning. It feels like an eternity since I last taught in my classroom. I know these things will all come back in their own time (well, teaching is coming back in January 2016 whether I like it or not), but the prospect of rebuilding feels scary.

I stopped running pretty soon into my pregnancy. I can recall every single run I did because there were so few: one CRC long run, two runs on the beach in Tampa, a Super Bowl Sunday 5K, one neighborhood run, and two Barry’s Bootcamp classes (prior to doing double-floor). As I made the switch to spin classes and prenatal yoga, I thought that getting back into running shape would be difficult after giving birth. I’m surprised that getting back into running shape, though difficult, seems so much easier than rebuilding the teaching and life routines.

After lacing up my shoes and getting out on the Alewife Greenway path earlier this week, I realize that it’s because I already know what it’s like physically and mentally to train for races. The crunch of the gravel under my feet and the crisp fall air felt liberating, bringing back memories of running along the Esplanade with the JQUS Running Club and racing fall 5Ks like the Mayor’s Cup and Somerville Homeless Coalition 5K. Though my legs felt like jelly and I was slogging along at three minutes per mile slower than last October, I felt joyful to have that familiarity back. I know that strength and endurance will come back and that I will be proud to cross the finish line of the 2016 Run to Remember–which will be my first half marathon as a mom.

However, I miss the other major familiarity of fall–back to school. For the first time in eight years, I haven’t prepared my classroom, syllabus, and lesson plans for a new crop of students. I wake up not to a 5:30 a.m. alarm but to Parker’s cries. My days are no longer regimented in chunks of 47 minutes. My T pass hasn’t been used since July 30. IB coordinator meetings and school leadership team meetings no longer take up their spots in my Google Calendar. The familiarity came back a bit when I visited school with Parker last month. Seeing colleagues and students was exciting, and I was glad to see that my room setup still looks the same (even my Star Wars SBG and growth mindset posters remained). One of my colleagues asked how maternity leave was. I replied that it was like being hazed by a very cute dictator and that as hard as teaching could be, it was still way easier than taking care of a newborn!

Four weeks later, motherhood has gotten much easier. I don’t miss school as much now that I’m developing routines with Parker and my mom-friends. My mind feels like it’s getting used to this new mental workout of motherhood and I’m getting psyched for the next stages of the journey!

private schools vs. public schools

By Kristina

My husband spoke at “girls who code”-type of event a very wealthy private school in Greenwich, Connecticut today. His speaker gift: a Vineyard Vines tie with the school’s initials and a Henley shirt with the school’s logo and “There are 10 types of people. Those who know binary and those who don’t.” Such a different school than the one where I teach. Can’t imagine giving out Vineyard Vines ties with tiny phoenixes out one day…

gratitude list

By Kristina

I have not yet figured out how to let down my guard about sharing the trials and tribulations of my school days. I’m going to try putting up lists of three things I’m grateful for on a given day instead and elaborating on those as I see fit.

1) I have been off Facebook and Instagram for two weeks. I miss sharing things like the funny signs on the Sav-Mor liquor store and looking at cute fat babies, but I am gradually freeing myself of the mentally poisonous cycle of looking at these sites on my downtime. I told my students this. One commented “but you’re missing so much!”

What *am* I missing?

a) Comparisons to the following people: the runner who humblebrags about her oh-so-badass polar vortex marathon training run, the mom who created a Pinterest-perfect party for her toddler, or the hashtag-addicted Top Chef who crafted three perfectly-lit, scrumptious Whole30-compliant feasts.

b) The negative energy of those who complain all the time about everything under the sun. From a teenager, this is understandable. From an adult in his/her late 30’s, the “woe is me” behavior is unfollow-worthy. From a supposedly educated liberal, ignorant comments about things like Ferguson are unfriend-worthy.

c) Clickbait from Buzzfeed, Quartz, Elite Daily, Clickhole, and ThoughtCatalog. No wonder I’m behind on reading real books…I’m just reading crap on my T rides and while waiting in lines!

2) Friends on Netflix makes me really happy. It makes me think of high school and college friendships that were more meaningful than Facebook-only ties.

3) My husband and I got to eat breakfast together because it’s a holiday. He’s usually not up when I leave for school, so it was nice to enjoy egg bagels over CNN with him.

we came for the sports

By Kristina

The latest edition of the TJHSST alumni newsletter says “The students still come for the sports! 42% of the TJ football team senior class were named 2015 National Merit semi-finalists.”

I still have this bumper sticker on my car. I remember starting homework after long track or cross-country practices. I remember poring over Cliffs Notes, slogging through math problems, and drawing diagrams of mitosis and meiosis late into the night. I remember trying not to fall asleep in class the next day. I also remember that my grades were the highest they ever were at during those sports seasons.

The stat about the TJ football players makes it seem like students should “have it all”–“all” meaning mastery of a varsity sport and AP classes. I worry how JQUS staff, students, and alumni interpret this kind of “ideal” student. At our staff retreat this summer, several alumni came to speak to us about their experiences post-JQUS and what we could do as teachers to make it better for current students. Most of the panel stated that we should give more work (based on their experiences dealing with a heavier college workload).

I wish they’d said “help students learn how to manage their time so that they learn how to deal with more work.” I could add 50 problems to each homework set I assign and then start grading homework again, but I’d bet that I wouldn’t see much, if any, improvement in student learning. Though I am glad that many of my students participated in football, cross-country, volleyball, and soccer during the fall, I worry for those who don’t have the traits of self-management and perseverance. I don’t advocate that all students should quit sports in favor of math, or that they should join as many after-school programs as possibility to market themselves more desirably in the eyes of college admissions officers. Some of my best students were on the volleyball team that made it to the state tournament, but some students who needed the most help in math were also on sports teams.

The culture of “go to tutoring to improve your grades” is getting better in our school. Several of our students are attending a local tutoring program run by the Boston Scholar Athletes program, and the program wants to offer its services to non-athletes as well. We also have tutors from local colleges coming every day after school to help students if needed. We can mandate that they attend these sessions now, but how will they fare in college, when these external supports aren’t in place? How will they fare post-college, when you have to find your own supports to learn new skills that aren’t mandated by school?

blog chain letter

By Kristina


Today is a throwback to the ’80’s and ’90s…with a blog chain letter! Don’t worry, this isn’t something like an underwear exchange…just a view into the writing process.

My friend Jess at Little Miss Runshine invited me to be part of the “My Writing Process” blog tour, where you share about your other writing process and other bloggers. I’m coining the term “Jess-of-all-trades” to describe her, because she excels at so many things (running, yoga, barre, spinning, Tough Mudders, cooking, and blogging). We met in Cambridge Running Club, and she has inspired me to get into blogging and to try all sort of new fitness pursuits!

1) What am I working on?
Right now, I’m on a bit of a hiatus because of being in the middle of IB exams, prom, and graduation at the high school where I teach (and IB coordinate). I’m also getting married in about a month, so I’ll be writing about more of my favorite things this summer: creative lesson ideas, forays into cooking, and reflections on education.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
When I started blogging, I thought I would follow in the footsteps of other food or healthy living bloggers, but that wasn’t really me. I started sharing more about my lesson ideas or thoughts on education after being inspired by other teacher-bloggers and realizing that I didn’t need to be SuperTeacher in order to feel justified in sharing my thoughts and ideas.

3) Why do I write what I do?
I write to reflect and to share my thoughts, and so I can become a better teacher and cook. I like getting feedback on my lesson ideas and would love to be able to start interesting discussions about curriculum or pedagogy.

4) How does your writing process work?
My writing process is usually “write when the mood strikes me.” Sometimes I like writing a few posts on weekend days and scheduling them throughout the week. Ideally, I’d like to write one or two detailed posts per week. I’ve tried a couple of 30-day blog challenges (NaBloPoMo and MtBos30), but didn’t feel completely successful with either of those. With the NaBloPoMo, I was grateful that I had to tackle questions and topics I wouldn’t have normally chose. With the MtBos30, I was grateful for developing a little consistency (made it through 21 of the 30 days before finally succumbing to the “just go to sleep when getting home” urge).

Um…because my writing style is often procrastinatory, I’m tagging three lovely bloggers and hoping that they will respond!

1) Sophia at Skimming Deep, whom I met through the Massachusetts Asian American Educators Association in 2008. She’s amazing at working with youth, a foodie, and a world traveler.

2) Joslynn at Adventuring the Unventured, whom I also met through Cambridge Running Club. She’s a newly minted PhD, ultrarunner, and now a Minnesotan.

3) Victoria at Take Time Away, whose blog I found through Blog and Tweet Boston. She’s an awesome cook, photographer, and arbiter of the Boston food scene.

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