Tuesday, March 1, 2016

On balance

I'm often asked some variation of the following questions: how was your experience at Boston Latin? What did you get out of it? Should I send my child there? My answer always begins the same: BLS was awful, but I'm definitely glad I went there.

I'm still recognizing the effects BLS had on me. There are positive ones, like being inspired to become a teacher, an appreciation for community service, and the straight As I've gotten for years. But there are also some serious negative ones. I always assumed that being able to cope with handling school, jobs, extracurriculars, internships, whatever, meant I had also grown the coveted ability to balance. 

In reality, however, I just feel wildly incompetent when I'm not so overworked that I need an extra dirty chai to function even on mornings when I've had 8 hours of sleep (for the record, that's a chai latte with two shots of espresso in it; it burns my mouth, and probably my stomach lining, too). It's kind of embarrassing that it took me so long to realize that this is not exactly a healthy approach to life. I've been told it many times, but I always assumed others just didn't get understand that I function on staying overly busy (my mom is probably rolling her eyes and/or yelling "duh" at her iPad screen as she reads this).

Pushing myself has had benefits. Without it, I probably wouldn't have been able to maintain my grades, graduate early, or have such a comprehensive resume for a 21-year-old. But it has also resulted in my taking an entirely all-or-nothing approach to every aspect of life. The ultimate, dictatorial objective pushed by BLS was Doing Enough, Both in School and Out, to Get into a Good College. I (openly) felt intensely jealous of people who weren't asked to work so hard to meet that goal. I was jealous of my boyfriend, who would hang out with friends constantly and skip class and still get As. I was jealous of my best friend, not because she worked less (on the contrary, she worked incredibly hard), but because her efforts were officially acknowledged by her high school when she graduated as salutatorian.

The accomplishment I felt upon graduation was tainted with the knowledge that it didn't come from having met the paramount Get into a Good College goal, but from having survived the notorious dropout rate all incoming 7th-graders are threatened with on the first day of school. I guess my sense of disappointment rationalized the indignity I shared with my classmates at the height of the expectations to which we were held. I assumed the sense of fulfillment would come when I put my six years of unnecessarily arduous schooling to use by conquering college.

So I did that. I kicked college's butt, and it was infinitely more enjoyable than my time at BLS. But still, nearly four years after my last graduation, I again feel my huge sense of accomplishment tainted with dissatisfaction. It doesn't come from any kind of lack of recognition. I found the acknowledgement I craved at BLS in my college classes and workplaces. I'm surrounded by a fantastic support system, filled with kind and empathetic people. Despite everything I said about high school here, I really have let go of what used to be impenetrable bitterness for BLS - after all, my answer to that first question is that it was awful, but I'm definitely glad I went there. So maybe the disappointment is just the creeping sense of insecurity that most people report happens during definitive life moments, like when they buy a house or accept a job. Or maybe it's just the average quarter-life crisis of a millennial who knows how utterly f'd up the future is for our and every forthcoming generation. But I think it's the knowledge that I have to completely rework the way in which I function, because it's just not cutting it anymore.

Although it's how I have succeeded thus far, I know how utterly warped my idea of balance is. Balance is not teetering between days when you forget meals because you've been furiously typing for multiple hours and "rest" days that end in vomiting from anxiety at the thought of working again. Working hard doesn't have to be an all-consuming lifestyle that leaves you either unable to function or feeling inadequate in (what should be coveted) free time.

In other words, despite years of academic excellence, I'm only now learning how to do my homework. That is, how to work hard and do things well, while neither losing my head completely nor feeling incompetent for not being utterly demolished by my own goals. This is all probably painfully obvious to you (unless you went to Latin with me, maybe).

I know I'll always be somebody who likes to be busy. I like full days, complete with extensive to-do lists and hour-by-hour breakdowns in a planner. But I hope that as I enter a new part of life, particularly one in which I affect children, I'll learn to balance just as they do.
"Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."
"And he has Brain."
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain."
There was a long silence.
"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything."

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Happy Valentine's Day!

Andrey is currently in Saudi Arabia on business, so I've been celebrating with EdTPA (ew) and Adriana (yay). Please enjoy this picture of her torturing my cat.
Hope you have a truly lovely day!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Life Lately

Listening to: Hogwarts white noise simulations

This is probably the dorkiest thing I've ever admitted to loving… I generally listen to either classical music or white noise when studying. This week, while working on EdTPA, I've been pretty much exclusively listening to ambient white noise playlists that are based on imagined Hogwarts scenes. There's nothing quite like writing while listening to audial depictions of different common rooms, complete with quite music, rustling papers, a crackling fire, and occasional owl hoots. If you, too, have an inexplicable desire to listen to 8 hours of imagined Hogwarts settings, you can find a YouTube playlist here.

Watching: Jane the Virgin
I only started this American telenovela last week, and I'm already halfway through the second season! The first episode begins with Jane, a Catholic 23-year-old virgin, getting accidentally inseminated by her preoccupied gynecologist. Needless to say, drama and hilarity ensues, and the telenovela format truly makes it a unique gem of a show. It's also beautiful that there are now multiple TV shows with leading ladies of color! Of these, I especially love Jane the Virgin, Scandal, The Mindy Project, and How to Get Away With Murder. My kindergarteners, most of whom last semester were black, are completely obsessed with Disney Junior's Doc McStuffins - the first big children's show to feature a main black female character, despite studies consistently showing how critical egalitarian media representation is to healthy child development. If only Hollywood (where in 2014, 90% of lead actors and actresses were white, and not a single black person was nominated for this year's Academy Awards) would move in TV's direction.

Loving: Bobst Library
I don't know if I'm still allowed to visit NYU's main library because alumni have regular access or my ID's graduation date is May 2016, but I have spent a lot of time here lately. It feels strange to stroll around campus when I don't actually go here anymore, but there is no better place to write. Speaking of which, EdTPA is officially my nemesis, but this view (actually taken a few years ago) from the library and my favorite lunch spot next door make it significantly less crappy.

Eating: banana cookie dough bites
These little vegan creations are delicious sweet study treats. They're easy to make, and a great excuse to use my new food processor! I found the recipe here.

Happy Wednesday!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Life Lately

Hey everybody! Here's what I've been up to lately, in a new format I'm trying out...

READING: To the End of June
After four years of tutoring and two student teaching placements, I've seen dozens of children in varying foster care situations. I'm halfway through the book, and I've already gained so much insight from Cris Beam's thoughtful investigation of the American foster care system. In addition to informing my teaching practices, I find it especially engrossing because I've always wanted to foster/adopt children (that is, billions of years from now when I am a Real Adult).

WATCHING: American Horror Story
This season of American Horror Story is a masterpiece (and not just in comparison to the utter trash that was last season, Freak Show). Hats off to Lady Gaga, who is one of the many wildly talented lead actresses this season. That said, anybody with a dislike for completely implausible plots and occasionally gratuitous gore should steer clear.

EATING: Zoodles
Who knew a little handheld device could turn zucchini into delicious, healthy noodles?! I am officially on the hunt to spiralize every similarly-shaped vegetable I can get my hands on.

LISTENING: NPR Politics Podcast
This excellent podcast is hosted by NPR political reporters Sam Sanders (no relation to Bernie) and Tamara Keith, and generally features at least two other similarly-credentialed guests on each episode. It first became a favorite of mine during my daily commute, 90% of which is spent underground with no internet access and often too crammed to comfortably read news on a device. While I have no particular commute at the moment, things have obviously been heating up as primaries approach, and this podcast provides lighthearted yet thoughtful analysis of recent political events.

LOVING: The Dogist
The Dogist is, essentially, the dog version of Humans of New York. While I greatly enjoy HoNY (particularly the insightful project with inmates this week, which can be found here), I am loving all the precious pups featured here.

I'm officially getting down to business and conquering EdTPA. Apologies if I am somewhat MIA this week.

That's all for now!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Snow my goodness!

What a fantastically snowy weekend!!!

Apparently 26.8 inches fell in New York City on Saturday, nearly surpassing the 2006 record of 26.9. You know it's intense when even Manhattan Starbucks and bars and closed! It was especially fun after 2PM, as only plows and police cars were allowed to drive - people were literally skiing down 5th Avenue, and dozens of dogs were running ecstatically through the streets to celebrate their unprecedented freedom.
The emptiest and snowiest I've ever seen 2nd Avenue - it usually has four lanes of traffic, and you can see about thirty blocks downtown.
Winter wonderland!!!!
Shout out to Bogs, the best boots in the universe! Seriously, these things could last through a nuclear apocalypse.
This picture has nothing to do with the snow. I just wanted to show off her impossibly long whiskers and her cute lil missing tooth.
Happy snow day!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Puerto Rico

One of the best parts of living in London was the ability to take last minute (and cheap) little vacations. I haven't done much traveling since then. Luckily, a few weeks ago, Andrey's boss suggested he take a vacation before beginning his company's new project in Saudi Arabia. Our options were limited because my passport was at home in New York, which led us to take a lovely last-minute trip to Puerto Rico!

We both took the opportunity to unplug from our phones for the week, so we didn't take many pictures, but here are a few we did manage to snap:
The lovely view from our room. Our hotel was actually quite empty - we were often the only people in the pool. Even the shaded front-row beach chairs were only half-occupied! It was an unexpected advantage of staying from Sunday to Thursday, and I definitely want to travel on those days from now on!
We took a local bus to spend two of the days in Old San Juan. It was absolutely gorgeous! This is the view from Castillo de San Cristóbal, one of the two main forts in the historical district.
We also walked around the city's walls...
...which are covered in stray cats!
In addition to Old San Juan, we really enjoyed the gorgeous sunsets, the pool's swim-up bar, and spending hours in the shockingly warm, clear blue ocean full of fantastic waves (Andrey still has the boogie boarding scrapes to prove it!).
Hope we'll get to go back soon!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Blogging in 2016?

Well hey there, it's been a while.

Here's what I've been up to:

  • In summer 2015, after I last posted, I was working at a summer camp for preteens on the Upper East Side. It ended up being a busy 11-12 hours chasing around my group of girls every day (hence the blogging drop off), but it was really fun and I made some lovely fellow counselor friends I'm still in touch with.
  • During the fall semester, I finished up my last classes at NYU, student taught 10th grade history in Brooklyn, and continued working in my kindergarten classroom on the Lower East Side. 
  • I finished all my classes in December (yep, I'm a college grad! Gross!) and I'm postponing work until I get a long-awaited foot surgery. To be honest, I'm not even remotely nervous about it - I'm really excited! I got an MRI this morning, so after the results are processed, I need to follow up with the surgeon I already saw and get a second opinion before scheduling a surgery date. Also, shout out to the UK's National Health Service - I wish I could have surgery in London again, as the whole surgery/healthcare process was downright pleasant and easy two years ago.
  • I'm also finishing up the last of the six major requirements for my teaching license; if you're curious, here's what is required of a middle/high school general education teacher in NYC:
    • 1. Basic Department of Education stuff like a background check, fingerprints, medical clearance, etc. Status: done!
    • 2. Pass the Academic Literacy Skills Test. This test is designed to prove I'm literate enough to teach; it was essentially an extension of the SAT reading comprehension section. Status: done!
    • 3. Pass the Educating All Students Test. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, children are entitled to learn in what is called their Least Restrictive Environment (more on that here, if you're curious), which means students with special needs are included in general education classes whenever possible, and the general and special education teachers at the school work together to support their success. This is an excellent system that has shown to benefit all students, ranging from those with no special needs to those severely disabled (more on that here). I also think it helps teachers to be better educators, as it requires us to be more accepting overall and updated in research on teaching methods. The test itself was boring and ill-made, but I legitimately enjoyed studying for it (and props to NYU for having fantastic special ed faculty that had already taught me most of the content I needed to pass it). Status: done!
    • 4. Pass the Social Studies Content Specialty Test. This was the dumbest assessment I've ever taken, including every daily quiz from a particularly vindictive Latin teacher I had in high school. Obviously every teacher should master their content, but, as every book about teaching written in the last 15 years will say, middle and high school history classes are meant to build critical thinking skills, civic engagement, and an understanding of broad historical themes. This test had questions such as, "which of these four latitude/longitude coordinates is most likely to be in Canada?" But hey, whatever, I passed. Status: done. (This one does not deserve an exclamation point.)
    • 5. Get a degree from a state-certified teacher preparation program. Status: done! When my degree is officially conferred on January 25th, I will have a Bachelor's of Science in Secondary (middle and high school) Social Studies Education, and with a killer GPA, to boot!
    • 6. Write the edTPA, which is basically a 50+ page essay reflecting on videos I provide of myself teaching a submitted unit plan. The requirements are straightforward and simple, and it's definitely a more effective assessment for teacher qualification than the exams are. But wow, it is so very boring and  l  o  n  g .  Status: in progress.
One more thing - I also went home in August to say goodbye to our beloved, impossibly sweet darling Whisper. She had a wonderful, long life full of love and snacks. I'm so glad we had the chance to give her a perfect last day and that she had a peaceful passing, unlike so many other lost furry family members. I put together a quick little video later that day to memorialize her, and it's here if you'd like to watch it (if you get these posts in an email, you will probably need to visit the blog page to see it - TaschaTakesManhattan.blogspot.com).
So there's a life update! Now that I am not at NYU/student teaching/work for 12-16 hours every day and writing essays/planning lessons on the weekends, I'm determined to actually stick to the habit of blogging!

Talk to you soon,