We are all familiar with the adage: you never know what someone is experiencing, so it’s important to be kind. This cautionary piece of advice couldn’t be more true for me today. There are special people in my life experiencing severe trauma and pain. Many of these people are pillars in their community, functioning at a high level and excelling in ways that most people could never achieve. Yet, behind the success, there seems to a masked version of their real life, only visible to a certain number of people.
Maybe because I’m a teacher or because I have been told that I have an open spirit, but lately folks in my life have come to me, revealing their secrets and struggles, and while they are not looking for a solution, in some ways I feel responsible to help them. I’m not a therapist or have any kind of technical training, so my help can be very limited. I think the best thing I can offer, besides being a comforting ear, is the remind people to be kind to others. We really don’t know what people are experiencing. We can only imagine. So, if you find yourself at the airport, grocery store, park or any where surrounded by others, the simple thing you can do is smile and be kind. Believe me, these small acts of kindness go a very long way.
It would be nice to say that 2023 began in a healthy, relaxing and peaceful way. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case. My husband and I were affected by the nationwide airline flight cancellations, so we were “stuck” in the bay area for a week longer than we had planned. When we finally arrived home, it was New Year’s Eve and I ended up getting sick, so we had to cancel plans with our friends. Then just this past week, I experienced a hives episode where the welts were so itchy and enflamed that I had to take over the counter allergy medicine. Even with the medication, they didn’t subside till two days later. This is not how I imagined the new year would begin.
There is good news to embrace! One of my main goals for this year was to start a completely different professional journey. While I enjoyed the last 15 years of my life teaching middle and high school students, I wanted to focus more on writing and teaching ESL for adults. I started applying for jobs earlier this month, and yesterday I accepted an ESL instructor role to teach online. While I am nervous about this new job, I know that this is a new chapter that will help me with my professional goals of teaching community college or post secondary education. As far as writing, I am back to posting blogs and I submitted an application to Kundiman. This will be my 3rd time applying, and I am expecting that it will be a no, but that doesn’t mean that I will give up. It’s no news that I’ve been having a hard time finding the joy in life. I spoke and wrote about this feeling of “emptiness” during the pandemic, which was the main reason why I started to blog regularly. The things I once found comfort in such as reading, writing, hiking, traveling, spending time with friends, didn’t have the same effect on me. But I haven’t given. It’s important to search for the joy- not search for the forlorn or sorrow.
My COVID experience started on September 2, 2021, when I made a comment to my co-worker that I might not come to work tomorrow because my throat felt a little sore. It was very minor- just a scratchy sensation. I had been testing students one-on-one the last two weeks, so I assumed it was the overuse of my voice, or my body adjusting to going back to work, wearing my mask for long hours. The next day, more symptoms developed: congestion, body aches, tiredness, which felt normal because I associated them with my recurring sinus infection. On Sunday I spoke to the Kaiser advice nurse, on Monday I spoke to the doctor who expedited a COVID test. On Tuesday morning I took my test, and that night I received my results. It was positive. By then, when I lost my sense of smell and taste, I already had an inclining that I had COVID. The test confirmed it. Turns out, I probably had COVID sometime at the end of August, then symptoms developed 3-5 days later, and I didn’t test ‘till three days after that. It’s easy to see how the virus spreads so quickly.
You hear how unpredictable COVID is, how it affects people differently, how there is no definite way to predict how your body will respond. I know many people who survived COVID, but I also knew a few people who didn’t. I wondered where I would fall on the spectrum. I wondered if my asthma, my weight, my thyroid would affect my experience. When I developed a form of pink eye on the 5th day, I cautioned if my symptoms would unexpectedly turn severe like other cases I read about.
I don’t know how I contracted COVID. There’s a myriad of sources- my husband went to the dentist, I work at two schools where the students are not old enough to get the vaccine, my brother-in law visited one day. I wear a mask, I’m vaccinated and I’m as safe as I can be in public settings. But with COVID, especially with Delta we know it spreads faster and it’s more infectious than the outset of the pandemic. I believe my breakthrough COVID case was bound to happen; it was just a matter of time. It is also worrisome that at my schools, it seems as if there is a positive COVID case everyday; students are in the hallways sitting next to a garbage can, vomiting. The outdoor isolation tent seems to have students daily, waiting for a parent to pick him/her up. When I see students playing, hear them laughing, or witness them smiling with their eyes, it’s easy to forget that we’re in a pandemic, and it seems like kids at school is the right decision, but when COVID cases rise and as I see adults and students get sick and the after effects of COVID unknown, I’ve decided that school is probably not the safest place for people to be, especially those unvaccinated. I’m lucky that when I return to my job, my interaction with people will be limited, and I’m taking it one day at a time.
The support from friends and family, the daily calls, check ins or even the delivery of organic Gatorade from a dear friend were sources of comfort for me. I was also surprised with the care I received from Kaiser. They sent me a care package complete with high grade cleaning solution, sanitizer, alcohol wipes, body wash, shampoo, condition, face masks, gloves, eating utensils, plates, cups, even a thermometer. Although I had most of the items at home, it was reassuring to know that in all aspects of my life, including my health care, everything was easy so I could just focus on my health and healing. Even when I was contacted by Contra Costa County they offered to do the trace contact on my behalf and asked if I needed help financially and with food preparation. I wondered about all the people who were affected at the onset of the pandemic, when a lot was unknown, when the system and after care weren’t as robust, how lonely and frustrating and expensive it might have been, especially the immediate hours after testing positive. It’s an odd time. Many thoughts run through your head and the imagination runs wild. The care I received from my circle, including the County and Kaiser made things feel less helpless, less overwhelmed, less like I was a statistic. This was the care I received for my case; I only hope others receive the same care, especially those with more severe cases.
There’s a mental condition called Survivor’s Guilt , where a person who survived a life threatening situation, while others did not feels guilty for surviving. Many people have experienced this in traumas we’re familiar with such as 9/11, Pulse nightclub, a car accident, Cancer, and most recently COVID. While my COVID case was relatively mild compared to others, I do wonder about those who weren’t so lucky, particularly family members who died because of COVID. Some didn’t live long enough for the vaccine to become available to them, so by chance and by time, I was fortunate to have a chance simply because of a timeline. It could also be because I haven’t eaten meat in over a year, or that I received both vaccines of the Moderna, it could also be because my family prayed for me and my mother in law added our names to a congregation of nuns who prayed for us. Who knows why I was lucky and relatively unscathed. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge those who had a different experience, those who needed a pacemaker after COVID, those whose sense of taste never returned after COVID, those who will have life long lung issues after COVID.
And it wasn’t just me who tested positive. My husband, my brother-in-law and two other people , including a friend’s children, tested positive. It was clear that our 6 degrees of separation had been compromised. Could I have been the COVID culprit? Probably. Most likely. The conditions at my school make it the obvious answer. And I carry a lot of guilt for that possibility. It is wild when I think about it. How a simple action turned into something possibly life threatening. We found humor in the situation though. We jokingly thought about having a quarantine routine or eating an entire onion or durian. And I affectionately referred to us as the COVID Crew. My mother in law, in jest, said something to the effect of: “I can’t believe all my children have COVID all at the same time”. But it all turned serious when my niece all of a sudden had a fever of 103 and then my sister developed flu-like symptoms, the possibility of spreading the virus to them became even more severe. My niece is only three. She’s lived most in her life in the pandemic, and it didn’t seem fair that she was a bystander of poor actions. They ended up testing negative; which was a huge relief, but the guilt ensued. I was sorry and sad. I’m grateful that my family has been kind, understanding and has found humor in a grave situation. I love them very much.
As of today, day 10 of my quarantine, the only symptoms I feel are fatigue, loss of smell and taste and a slight congestion. My days are strange. I haven’t been outside since September 2, and I have urges to take long naps throughout the day. I miss my hikes; I miss my family; I miss my tastebuds. I don’t find pleasure in the things I’ve taken for granted like eating, drinking, or smelling my favorite perfume, a home cooked meal or the wonderful outdoors. I think about the possible long term effects I might endure like COVID brain fog or a persistent disorienting metallic taste in my mouth. I think about the last flavorful thing I ate: a nori roll wrap with sunflower seed pate, alfalfa sprouts, cucumber, tomatoes, onions, avocado. I think about the email I got from work urging me to take advantage of mental health services they are offering for free.
I go back to work tomorrow (Tuesday, September 14), and it will be 13 days since I set foot on campus. I’m looking forward to putting this behind me, but I do worry that COVID might make its way back, like others I read about who had COVID twice, like the CDC study in Kentucky. The most I can do is take the same precautions I took before: sanitize, wear a mask, physical distance, wash my hands, get tested regularly. But even with all of that in place, the chances are still there, albeit significantly less, but still there. What I’ve learned from this situation is that being infected with COVID means different things for everyone. Cases vary in degrees and people respond differently- socially, emotionally, mentally, physically. I think about the positives: the support of family and friends. The surprising outreach from work, Contra Costa County and Kaiser Permanente. It seems once you test positive,all hands and feet are on deck and on the ground and an army of people are there to help with the process. I’m thankful for the vaccine; I am assuming it prevented my symptoms from escalating and me being admitted to the hospital. I’m grateful to all of you who have also chosen to get vaccinated as well; it may have saved your life and others. If you are still considering not getting the vaccine, which is now approved by the FDA, I hope my experience encourages you to reconsider or at the very least to have a conversation with those around you, especially those who you love. Being positive affects your entire community. Even if you live alone, if you step foot outside your door, you’re impacting life all around you and there’s a strong possibility that your actions might impact the health of another person. I honor each person’s individual choice and what is best for you and your family. But after experiencing this and contending with all the possible outcomes that could have been, it would be irresponsible of me to not share this story, my story. A possible life may depend on it. And that’s a chance I’m not willing to take. Stay safe and thank you for reading.
I grew up on Black television. I watched shows like the Cosby Show, A Different World, In Living Color, Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Living Single, and years later, when I reflect on that time in my life, two shows that inspired me were A Different World and Living Single. I imagined that when it was time for me to attend college, I would live in the dorms like Dennis while attending classes taught by obscure teachers and hanging out with friends at the Pit. Then when I graduated, I would live in New York, similar to Khadeja James who was the owner of Flavor magazine I imagined. I too, could be a writer and live with my friends in an opulent townhouse in Manhattan.
The reality is my life was nothing close to the TV shows. I attended college in San Diego and lived off campus. I moved about 5 times and by the time I graduated, I lived four blocks from the beach and could walk to the strip of bars and restaurants with my two blond roommates from the OC. My professors didn’t seem worldly at the time, as English professors, their teaching styles were mostly lecture while students mostly listened, with the one exception. I had a teacher who had big curly brown hair and we read books by different authors on color, including Michele Serros who has been a formidable literary role model to me. I didn’t have much of a campus life- most of the people I spent time with were from Los Angeles or my home town ( they visited me often). And the entire time I was in San Diego, I was in a long distance relationship with a boy from my home town. I always wondered what would have happened if made other decisions like joining a sorority, breaking up with my boyfriend, spending more time exploring the campus rather than rushing home and talking to my boyfriend on the phone. Had I done this, would I have lived a life closer to what I had envisioned when I watched A Different Word. Maybe. But the greatest lesson I thought that would have the biggest impact on me would be moving to a city and not knowing anyone. Turns out, the greatest lesson was moving to a new city and loving someone 600 miles away.
After about a month or so on being on hiatus, I’m slowly crawling back to my safe space– this blog. After blogmas and the holidays, my professional schedule ramped up with trainings and conferences in which I was main facilitator. Hosting these events for teachers has been the highlight of my career; I am gaining teachers’ trust and helping them navigate through curriculum and instruction during one of the most tumultuous times in education. It’s been rewarding for me to hear teachers say that I’ve helped them in some way. It’s something I have missed. I used to hear students thank me, and every since I’ve taken District positions, it’s been difficult to get accolades from teachers; they are usually the most critical crowd, especially since I’m not a teacher from this district who has built a vetted reputation. I am new, and like most people in this situation, it takes time to build trust. I’m slowly making my way.
What else has been new for me? Hiking.
I go on long hikes anywhere from 4- 8 miles, 2-4 hours. I’m so enamored with this activity that I even bought hiking boots and hiking poles.
The reasons I’ve enjoyed hiking are the security and challenge it provides me. With each step, as the teeth of my rubber soles of my hiking boots, crunch and snap pebbles and acorns, and as my labored and steady breath inhales and exhales through the peaks of the green mountains and dirt trail, I know that this ascend is only for a moment before the ground is leveled and smooth. If I want, I can stop. I can collect my breath, stretch my legs and enjoy the expansive view before continuing the climb. If I really want, I can even turn around and head back down.
It’s fitting that I’ve found hiking as an escape. My mantras for hiking can be easily applied to my challenges at work. Yes, work has been difficult. Yes, it is unfamiliar terrain. Yes, it requires composure and measurable inner strength. At any moment, I can stop, pause, breath and even turn around (start all over). Despite some of the hikes being difficult, I have yet to stop and turn around. I’m always curious to see what’s over the next hill, what’s over the next peak. As demanding the hikes are and the amount of dedication that’s been required, I haven’t given up. And just like my job, I know this obstacle is only momentary. I focus on the determination and grit I’m developing, feeling assured knowing that it’ll prepare me for what is ahead.
My alarm went off at 7:30 AM, and with only 4 hours of sleep, it’s safe to say that I swiped to the snooze feature more than once. By the time I realized it was “really” time to get up, I only had 15 minutes before my 9:00 AM meeting. It was a quick shower. Thank goodness I practice intermittent fasting, so I’m already accustomed to not eating breakfast.
I share this with you because everything I had intended on doing to start the day never happened. I planned to meditate, clean an area of the house, pray and journal and exercise. As lofty and ambitious as all this sounds, there was a time in my life when I actually accomplished all of this, even when I had to commute to work.
I thought I’d be more successful before the start of the work day; I imagined a relaxed, productive version of myself walking into my home office with a cup of warm tea, opening the blinds to let in the sun, burning sage and setting in a positive intension and clicking into the zoom link for my first meeting. Today’s realistic version included a groggy me stumbling to the shower, then pouring myself a glass of cold water, opening the blinds to see the rain and grey sky and clicking on my zoom link a minute past the meeting. I greeted everyone with wet hair and bags under my eyes! This was not the appearance or energy I wanted to bring for the start of the school year.
Yet, when I reflect on what happened after work, I’m surprised how pleasant the day ended. I was able to jog two miles, beating my previous time, my good friend Krystal stopped by to visit me outside, I drank a gallon of water throughout the day, made time to read, post a blog, and now I’m getting ready to “draw/paint” on my ipad.
Although I hadn’t checked off all the tasks I meant to accomplish this morning, I was able to achieve other under takings that afforded a calm and peaceful night. So, maybe I’m not a morning person, maybe it was the rain, maybe it was manic Monday, what ever the reason, I’m content with letting go of expectations and instead embracing the surprising wins and sense of accomplishments anytime of the day.
I was facilitating a training on zoom today, and when the last teacher we were waiting on joined the call, although we could only see her face virtually, it was very clear that she was under distress. The other teacher asked her if she was ok and without hesitation, she immediately began crying. I didn’t know the teacher very well, unlike the other two teachers, so I just listened as they carefully broached her. It was then that the teacher revealed that she just found out that both of her parents tested positive for COVID. What was worse about the situation was that the father had contracted it at work, where eight people also became effected.
The teacher went into details that included why the father was still working, that they lived in a small town in a different state and before the positive results, months ago, had already decided that they weren’t traveling to the Bay Area for the holidays– it was too risky.
Some time during the conversation it dawned on me how each of us on the call had been affected by COVID. While we weren’t tested positive, our lives, though vastly different were suffering in some ways.
As you know, for me, COVID and the pandemic, affected me two months into sheltering in place. My husband was furloughed and eventually let go and because we were down to one income, we made the decision to move to the east bay. If I have to return to work, my previous 2 mile commute will now change to a 45 mile commute. On a good day, I’ll be lucky if the travel to and from work will be under two hours. There is the other possibility of me getting a different job, something closer to home. While this may be an exciting opportunity, it really saddens me because working in South San Francisco has been my dream job.
Then there’s teacher #2 who has to manage working and providing child care for her two boys. She and her husband both have very demanding jobs and between the two of them, they have to schedule meetings, find quiet spaces in the house, arrange time to share the working computer all while feeding, disciplining, watching, and playing with their sons. She confessed to me at the end of the school year in distance learning that she felt she was failing. She shared tears on that call too. I managed to tell her that we know she’s doing the best she can do. Still, there was something in her voice that let me know that she felt like she needed to more, even though I reassured her that we are all adjusting, and that what she was doing at work and at home was more than what anyone could expect during this very complicated time.
The other teacher brought up how not seeing her students has greatly affected her. She also confessed that for some people, sheltering in place in isolation is too much for a single person. Going months without talking to another individual, in person, including her students made her feel more alone.
There we were, on the zoom call, through our computer screens, four women, talking about the different ways COVID had affected our lives. In that moment, I had never felt more connected with a group of people I barely even knew.
Today, I had another great opportunity to take a virtual writing class with Tony Robles,”The People’s Poet”, the author of the poetry and short story collections, Cool Don’t Live Here No More–A letter to San Francisco and Fingerprints of a Hunger Strike. He is the current writer in residence at the Carl Sandburg Historic Home in Flat Rock North Carolina.” More information taken from his website states that “his works have been widely published in anthologies and journals including, Where are you From?, Endangered Species, Your Golden Sun Still Shines, Born and Raised in Frisco and Growing up Filipino Volume II. He was shortlist nominated for Poet Laureate of San Francisco in 2018 and a recipient of the San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Literary Artist Grant in 2018. He is a housing justice advocate and the nephew of the late Filipino-American poet and historian Al Robles.
This is my second class with Tony, and I have to say his classes are life changing. He holds space and provides craft talk while providing ample time to write, share and receive encouragement and feedback. It was a two hour class but because it was so engaging, it felt like 30 minutes.
I’m not a poet; I’m more of a prose writer but, here is one piece I wrote today during class:
Christmas smelled like sizzling garlic and roasted pig
A white ceramic place greeted me – filled with bright greens leaves
cold orange wedges
noodles shaped like the letter S
soft and sinewy, salted with soy and ginger.
Your feet worked in this kitchen
Your belly rested above the plaid waist apron
You pushed the meaty flesh of your skin against the counter,
Pushing the rolling pin covered in white speckled dust like new fallen snow
Today I attended the Pinayista Summit — “a weekend gathering of pinays in the hustle filled with speakers, panels, lightning talks, interactive workshops, music, sporadic dancing, and meaningful connections.” I wanted to join this summit because I’ve had a trying and challenging 8 weeks at work I needed space to be held by a community and creatives. I desperately needed this experience.
There were many moments in the summit that were valuable and memorable, but one in particular was during the Healing Racial Trauma In Our Bodies & Bloodlines workshop with Chanel Durley from 33 and Rising. Here’s more about the workshop:
“For many of us, the last few months has been triggering on a deep emotional level. As we commit to learning and doing the inner work of being Anti-racist, many are feeling paralyzed by the emotions and realizations that are coming to the surface. The fact of the matter is, we can’t talk about Race without bringing up Trauma – The Trauma of old memories, past lived experiences and the Generational Trauma that has been passed down to us from our Ancestors. But if these traumas can be passed down, so can our healing. In this workshop, we will dive deeper into Healing Racial Trauma in our bodies with a focus on Identity. We will explore the effects of White body supremacy mindset, and how we are all complicit in adopting this mindset in society. We’ll end with a short active Breathwork meditation. When we heal ourselves, we heal the generations that have come before us, and the generations that will come after us. This workshop will arm you with innate tools and knowledge to integrate healing in your body as you continue on in this Revolution.”
As you can see, it was a very deep and transformative session, one that literally left me shaking and breathing deeply, in healthy and healing ways. At the onset, I called my ancestors Lolo Imo and Lola Connie to help me prepare for the moment. I didn’t necessary grow up with Lolo Imo and Lola Connie. but I have pivotal memories that included them during my primal years. Lola Connie lived with us when she was diagnosed and battling Cancer. Father Imo died in his sleep one morning in the summer. I was the second person to find him. The first was his wife, my grandmother, Lola Tad, who shook me awake and asked me to “wake up, Grandpa.” When I saw him lying on the bed, mouth slightly agape, I instinctively knew something was wrong. Minutes later, when the ambulance arrived, they couldn’t resuscitate him and pronounced him dead. M grandmother, with her limited English, didn’t understand. It was one of the hardest, most difficult, most traumatic memories in my life. Till this day, my husband is still not allowed to sleep before me, an agreement I set early on in our relationship since my lolo’s death has ultimately triggered the way I view sleep and rest.
I bring this up because one of the statements that Chanel brought up was:
“You are your ancestors’ wildest dream”
I don’t know if Chanel is the original person to have said this quote, but I heard it the first time from her, so I’m giving her full credit.
When I think about the purpose of my life and the achievements, large or small, I’ve achieved in my life, I wonder if that is what my ancestors, specifically my Lola and Lola had in mind as they fought cancer, as they slumbered and took their last breath. Am what I’m doing now worthy of their life struggles? Did everything they did in life to guarantee the success of their children, which led to the trajectory of my life, honor them by the way I lived my life? It’s a question I’ve asked myself before Chanel’s workshop but given the quote and wisdom Chanel shared, I examined the answer a little differently.
According to Chanel, she said that we must release this burden from ourselves.We must replace that burden with acknowledgement and full sincerity, meaning we have to let go of their survival and acknowledge that your ancestors did this for you to be here today! In those words, I reckoned with this guilt and shame that I carried in my body, specifically in my lower belly where trauma and stress live. I realized that my lolo and lola didn’t put any expectation on me to carry out a certain fulfillment. Besides, I don’t think there’s anything I can do to honor the sacrifices they made in life, for the sake of my and my family’s well- being. I can be successful and be a millionaire yet that still doesn’t seem like the most apt and significant ways to honor my ancestors and their struggles. This also doesn’t necessarily mean that I shouldn’t apply myself either. When I look at my life, sure there are many aspects that I can work on — like owning a house, having a child, saving more money. But overall I’m thriving. I feel it in my body and in my heart. I have a safe space to call home. I have a loving and supportive husband. I read and write, and at times I have the privilege of sharing my work in places I never dreamed to be a part of. I have a few things published in the literary world and hold a graduate degree in Creative Writing. I mention these things not to gloat, but rather to recognize that for a person who’s entire family spoke a different language and attended school at a certain grade, it is quite glorious to be able to say that in my small ways I carry my ancestors through words and wisdom. These might not equate to monetary success, but I am remarkably valiant and hopeful that my ancestors are proud of me.
Part of my job requires me to administer Statewide tests to students and notify parents of the outcome. Today, I had the pleasure of notifying parents that their child met all the requirements for RFEP- which basically means that the student “routinely demonstrates fluent English proficiency in order to access grade-level content instruction delivered in English with minimal linguistic support.” Many students who speak another language rarely achieve this accomplishment, so it was particularly heart-warming to bear good news, especially in a time when many parents and children have been affected by distance learning. I know some cases where students are hanging up in the middle of zoom class because they’re confused by the lecture or assignment or families having spotty internet because they are living out of a friend’s garage, or many families relying on the school’s free lunch so that at least the children are fed daily. Many of these inequalities have occurred long before COVID, but surely the pandemic has exacerbated the disproportion of resources for many of our vulnerable families. So, although my conversion with families today didn’t necessarily provide an extra form of income, an extra meal or even a house, the news did bring temporary relief– that despite all the economical, social and academic challenges, their child is excelling and being recognized by their mastery level. I hope hearing this triumphant recognition was a much needed respite that so many families are in desperate need of hearing.
They say death comes in threes, and today I was gravely reminded of this omen. When I woke up, I scrolled on Facebook and saw that a friend’s sister had gotten her tombstone engraved. The headstone said that she was a mother, nurse, sister, daughter and friend. I didn’t know her well, but I remembered her bright smile and silky black hair. Then in the middle of the day, when I had a few minutes between meetings, I scrolled on to Facebook again and saw that a fundraiser had been organized for an 11-year old boy who recently passed away. He was diagnosed with cancer in February and fought through the doctor visits, sleepless nights and unbearable pain. When I clicked on the link, the $25,000 goal was near its target, even only having a day’s notice. I didn’t know the young boy, but at 11- years old, he could have easily been one of my future students. Then later that night, as I was winding down on the couch, I scrolled on Instagram and saw that Chrissy Teigen and John Legend had lost their baby. There were complications that forced her to go to the hospital, and after severe bleeding, their son didn’t survive. I stared at the black and white picture of her sitting on a hospital bed with the starched sheets wrapped around her tiny son in her embrace while John sobbed into Chrissy, his head pressed against her eyebrow, his lips on her arm.
The news of death in one day certainly puts things in perspective. Today, I experienced one of the most challenging professional days in my career. In short, a principal complained to my directors about his dismay about my performance and lack of support. My director called a meeting and ultimately offered her support, but I know she was disappointed in me and expressed that I needed to listen and focus to repair the situation. This weighed heavy on me all day, as this was the first time I’ve felt “reprimanded” for a job I felt strongly about. I felt shame and discouragement, letting the situation overcome my thoughts. Even when my sister, her boyfriend, niece and brother came over for dinner, I didn’t feel present– the trepidation from the day clouded my mind.
Yet, as I write this and I think about the three omens that anchored my day from this morning, to the late afternoon, to the evening, I’m reminded that a “bad” day at work is nothing compared to the loss of a sister, a student or a son. Sure we all have heavy, troublesome days, we might even be chided by our superiors, but when I think about the days that others are fighting, I’d be remised if I didn’t acknowledge their strength , their struggles and their loss. Yes, there’s many things I can certainly complain about, but a loss is not one of them. If I did, I wouldn’t have anything to gain.
I don’t know what the rest of the world’s impression is of our current leader after watching tonight’s presidential debate. For me, it was very exhausting, disorienting and pensive. I assumed during a time of unrest, COVID, and fires a leader would offer a plan, or at the very least calm anxiety, not perpetuate it. After watching today’s debate, I didn’t feel motivated or assured. I was reminded of how I felt as a first year teacher, when I didn’t know how to manage my class and I had yet to evolve as a leader or an effective director. Fortunately for me, I learned to listen and accept feedback- true signs of a person bettering themselves. Unfortunately and shamefully, what I witnessed tonight showed no promise of the true leadership it requires to unite a nation. I saw a person taunt, bully and act in the most unprofessional manner. For one to be president, he/she must conduct in a way that is presidential. This beholden title is more than just a role, it’s a way in which a person performs and interacts. I don’t know what the rest of society is feeling at the moment, but I hope in November we will all have a collective way of saying enough is enough, and that our exclamation will be bold, loud and presidential.
Funny, unexpected situations can occur at any moment when a teacher is out in public. One of the most random things that happened to me was running into a student’s parent at a club, and the father had no I idea I was his daughter’s English teacher. Long story short, I graciously declined his offer for a night cap. Then there as another time I was at a grocery store at 2:00 AM, and I ran into a group of students who barely recognized me because I wasn’t in my “teacher clothes.” Instead of my usual cardigan and knee length skirt, I was wearing my club outfit which included a strapless top and platform shoes. I slurred my words and mascara was smeared underneath my eyes. Again, it was 2:00 AM; obviously I was just getting back from a bar/ club and needed a snack on my way home. Both events happened early in my teacher career- back when I was 25 years-old, single and living by myself in a one-bedroom apartment. Life was different then. Because of these experiences, I vowed that I would never live in the same city I worked in. I didn’t want to “run” into students on my personal time; I needed to separate my private life from my professional life, and for the past 15+ I’ve managed to do just that. I haven’t run into a student in over a decade.
Today, at Sports Basement, as I was sliding my debit card in the registrar and the cashier saw my name flash across the screen, I heard the familiar phrase: “Ms. Navarro? Do you remember me?” We were both wearing a mask, and I had on my sunglasses, and it took me a moment to take in his face, but when I read his name badge- Aldrin, it didn’t take me long to remember him. Aldrin happened to be one of the few Filipinos I taught in Pittsburg, and I even though I didn’t have vivid memories of him as a student, I did remember him fondly in overt details like that he was over-all athletic and liked to offer his help. It made sense that he now works at Sports Basement. Even though his mouth was covered with a mask, I sensed that he was smiling when I said “Yes, I remember you!”
There as an awkward pause because it had been about 13 years since I last saw him, so I needed to do a temperature check before I dove right in to ask him questions about his life. I broke the ice with: “How cool is it to work here! Adventure all around you” as I pointed to the hiking boots and skis on display. He chuckled and agreed. He massaged his curved chin and relaxed his shoulders. He shared that he was living about 15 minutes away and his roommate was another student in my class. They were best friends and finishing up school. Because of sports basement he went on a lot of adventurous meetups and trips but because of COVID many things were put on pause. He hoped things will get better when it was safer and the company would be ready and prepared, not rush into things for the sake of adventure and when he broke eye contact and folded his arms against his chest, I genuinely felt his concern. He asked about my life and I was surprised how much in depth I went: I said I just moved here from South San Francisco and was no longer teaching but coaching teachers. I shared that I was going camping this weekend at Kirby Cove and that I was bringing an air mattress because I’m first world problem and didn’t want to sleep in a sleeping bag. He chuckled again, and then I introduced him to my sister and my niece who handed him a hand warmer as some sort of peace offering. He politely took it and pretended to ring it up. I appreciated his jovial spirit.
When I reflect about this serendipitous moment, I recall how different I was 13 years ago. Back then I would have avoided the confrontation and probably would have hid in fear of small talk and making connections. Now, I welcome them and was even disappointed that I hadn’t bought more things to prolong our conversation at the cash register. Thirteen years ago I was timid of revealing my personal life with my students in very real ways, now here I was conversing with a student, taking my time and not feeling ashamed about the way I was dressed or how I carried myself. Sure, some of this is greatly due to maturity but more than that, I’m in a different part of my life where seeing former students thriving in life and willingly offering pieces of their life with me I know are gifts that many people don’t have the luxury to experience. Do I regret avoiding this the last decade of my life? No. I’m older; I’m wiser and I like Aldrin I know when not to force something that isn’t ready.
Tonight I poured myself a glass of red wine. It was deep, robust and bold. Kinda how I’ve been feeling all week. I trained over 100 teachers for distance learning this week and introduced four different curriculums, each one having its own nuanced resources and learning platforms. I had to learn it myself and then introduce them to teachers. Like students, teachers have their own way of learning so instructing teachers online, via zoom, was met with challenges. Some couldn’t get online, some had tech glitches, some said I talked too fast, some said I talked too slow. Over all the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Teachers thanked me for sharing and pointing them to resources that they never knew existed. They expressed that they felt more prepared to teach. Some went out of their way and thanked me via email rather than the feedback form. Another teacher was almost in tears. Being able to help teachers has been weighing heavily on my mind; I feared that I didn’t have the knowledge and the experience to assist during distance learning. To my surprise, not only did I realize that I have the capacity to ease some tension and frustration, but teachers realized it too. Cheers!
Next Monday is the first day of school, and like many districts in California, South San Francisco is starting the school year in distance learning. While there are many ways to support teachers during this time, I thought it could be helpful to give gift recommendations that surpass the usual — kleenex, paper, hand sanitizer, pencils. Since teachers will be conducting their classrooms via Zoom or Google Meets, why not gift the teacher with tools to make the distance learning more comfortable and beautiful. Here are my three gifts ideas for teachers who are using zoom.
1) Chair cushion: teachers will be sitting down on their chairs, why not make it more comfortable by giving them a cushy chair cushion?
2) Headphones with a microphone – to keep things more private, teachers can wear headphones and with a microphone; students will also be able to hear the teacher better.
3) Lamp or ring light – it’s a known fact that lighting makes all the difference for video conferencing. Teachers needs to look their best, especially in the morning when the sun isn’t at its highest. Providing a lamp or ring light can be nice gestures to bring the spotlight back on the teacher.
I would have never imagined that in 2020 these gift suggestions would make sense. But here we are at the start of a new decade, 6 months in COVID/ sheltering in place, and approaching the first school year with distance learning. Perhaps teachers won’t be able to return to their classroom, but in our own ways, we can help make things easier at home by providing some comfort, sound and light.