04 November 2012

resume workshop

Every now and then I update my resume, just to keep it fresh.  I've been doing so this week, and it reminded me of an impromptu resume coaching sesh at my friends' house our second year teaching.  

Picture it:  It's 10:00 p.m. on a Friday, and four of my teacher friends and I are unwinding at the house three of our friends share near the school.  Nothing crazy, just letting our hair down after a long week.  We hear a knock at the door and wonder who it could be.  We open the door, only to discover a family from the neighborhood standing there with a giant bunch of bananas, straight from the tree.  We invite them in, and they all shuffle into the living room.  Mind you--this is a family of 8, and we all currently teach one of the children and we all had a child in our assorted classes last year, as well.  After they come into the living room, the father apologizes for dropping in unexpectedly, but he's applying for a job and would like some help writing his resume. 

TEAR!  I mean, how cute is that?!  

Of course, we helped him with his resume--he got the job!!--and enjoyed the bunch of bananas for quite some time.  So, while it can be awkward to live next door or across the street from ALL of your students (it definitely rules out getting your mail in your pajamas!), it can also be really awesome.

03 November 2012

one time stories

My sister has been talking about getting a dog lately.  Her talk of puppies reminds me of a funny story from my first year of teaching.

I was in the computer lab with one of my classes, and two boys who had just learned that they were half brothers were arguing about who was cuter.  Yes, for real.

Boy 1:  I'm cuter!
Boy 2:  No, I'm cuter!
Boy 1:  Miss, tell him who's the cutest!
Boy 2:  Yeah, it's me.  Right?!
Me:  I'll tell you what...I think you're both cute!
Boys 1 and 2:  Awww, come on Miss, you have to pick one of us!

At that moment, another boy turned to us, eyes lit up, and proclaimed...

Boy 3:  Miiisss!  One time my dog had 48 puppies!

Boys 1 and 2 looked at me and we all burst out laughing, which effectively ended the argument.  What?!  48 puppies?  Students are known to tell some tall tales while sharing their "one time stories," but this was probably the craziest one of all.

01 November 2012


Hurricane Sandy has officially passed over Wilmington now.  School was closed for the last 3 days due to lack of power, but we did not have much damage at all.  We were much luckier than surrounding areas, particularly southern DE, which has been pretty devastated by the storm.  Although we had quite a few hurricanes while I was living in Texas, I always escaped major damage, so I feel very fortunate for that.  A few weeks after I moved to Texas, we had to evacuate due to major flooding, but we were able to stay with friends who lived nearby.  12 of us were staying in two rooms and watching Napoleon Dynamite on repeat (not sure why we made that particular life choice, but anyway).  At the outset of my fourth year of teaching, we were having a hurricane during the opening assembly for teachers.  Many of us arrived a bit early for the program, and waited in the auditorium for about an hour before they told us it was canceled due to the storm.  When we went outside, the water was up to my knees!  It had been raining when we went in, but for the water to rise that much, and so quickly, was incredible.  Regardless, everyone made it home safely and most of the town was ok.

My organization shares a floor with the Red Cross of DE headquarters, and they have been working around the clock to organize services for those affected by this storm.  Please send your good thoughts to them and to the people whose homes have been destroyed.

31 October 2012

what other stories do they have?

Have you ever thought you knew someone fairly well, and then learned something about him or her that made you realize you didn't after all?  My church in Rio Grande City had a special event called "Talents Sunday" once a year.  Everyone who wanted to participate could bring in something that represented a talent s/he had.  One year, I noticed an old baseball glove on the table, and wondered who it belonged to.  I later discovered that it belonged to my elderly friend, Mr. S...and it turns out that he played professional baseball after college and before returning to the Valley to run his family's onion farm!  I didn't think I knew him inside and out, but I had been to have Thanksgiving dinner with his family before, so I had seen the inside of their house a few times, and never noticed anything dedicated to his career as a professional athlete.  What a surprise!  

When I was a child, my friend and I would visit her elderly neighbor who lived across the alley behind her house every time I went over to play with her.  He recently passed away, and my mom sent me his obituary.  While reading that, I learned that he was the lead scientist on the team that developed the first birth control pills.  Whoa--talk about a major scientific advancement.  

My last prominent example of when you learn something really surprising about someone comes from my own family.  My maternal grandmother had tons of photos from when she was a child, and my sister and I were organizing them into albums for her one summer.  Even though the photos were in black and white, I noticed that some of them seemed to have lush, tropical-seeming backdrops.  I asked her where they were taken, and she responded, "Costa Rica."  I asked, "Oh did you go on vacation there?"  She replied, "No, I used to live there."  Ummm...news to me!  How did I not know that before college?!  Anyway, that's definitely what got me started thinking about spending a lot of time in Costa Rica, which ultimately resulted in my decision to move there years later.  

I share these stories because I think it's interesting how we can always learn more about the people we know--and sometimes, we can learn really BIG things about them.  Everyone has stories saved up, and I really enjoy discovering those stories that aren't immediately obvious.  Even children who haven't lived for as long can have lots of stories about their lives.  I've realized that for all the time I spend with my kiddos, and all the stories they have shared with me (you hear a lot over the course of a 10-hour school day!), I'm sure they have thousands of other stories that I know nothing about.  

30 October 2012


If you're still reading, thank you!  Originally, I started this blog to tell about my experiences teaching.  When I moved to Costa Rica, it became more of a place to talk about my adventures living abroad.  When I returned to the U.S. and was neither living abroad nor teaching any longer, I wasn't sure what to write about any more.  However, I still have some student stories left, and it is very important to me that I tell them, as children don't always get their stories told.  So, for now, I will continue doing so, although I can't promise that I will be here as often as before.  Nevertheless, I appreciate those of you who continue to read.

And now, back to our scheduled program...

One day during the spring of my first year of teaching, the fourth graders down the hall were taking their TAKS test.  Because of the testing, my principal asked us fifth grade teachers to rotate classrooms, rather than having our students switch rooms between classes, to minimize the noise in the hallways.  Sure, great idea.  During first period, my Program Director from Teach For America (sort of like an instructional coach) came to observe me.  The observation went well, and I was feeling good.  For second period, I loaded up my science lab supplies into my trusty milk crate and trotted next door to my mentor teacher's classroom and got set up.  The kids were into the lab; life was swell.  I used the overhead projector and projection screen to illustrate a concept for my students, and they got it quickly. Yesssss.  Then, oh, then.  I pulled down on the screen to retract it to its "away" position up near the ceiling, and as I straightened up after doing so, I heard a loud BANG and saw a look of dismay on the face of one of my students sitting in the first row.  Then everything went black...

When I came to, I was laying on the floor in a pool of blood and several of my students were lifting my legs onto the teacher's chair in an attempt to roll me to the nurse's office.  (The teacher's chair was just like one of those blue plastic student chairs, except it also had a thin cushion attached to the seat and wheels on the legs.  It was kind of lame as far as teachers' chairs go but kind of awesome at the same time.)  As they were doing so, several of the students exclaimed, "Ay Miss, hay mucho sangre!" [There's a lot of blood!]  It turns out that one end of the overhead screen had somehow bounced off of its hook on the ceiling and swung down and hit me right in the face, knocking me out in the process.  The blood was from my resulting facial wounds.

A few moments later, my mentor teacher rushed in, gasped, and cried, "What if it had been me?!"  Ummm, yeah.  Then I wouldn't be lying here with a busted face, which, frankly, would be preferable to me.  But she called the nurse, which was helpful, the nurse came to cart me away in a wheelchair, which was unnecessary, and my principal sent me to the town clinic to get facial X-rays, which also turned out to be unnecessary--amazingly, despite all the blood, there was no real damage done.  My face was just super swollen for a week or so.  The best part was, while I was waiting for my appointment, I got to watch What Not to Wear at my friend's house.  Sweet!  My only concern was that my face would be all puffy and ugly when my boyfriend came to visit me.  Kind of vain, I know, but can you tell me you wouldn't be worried about that?!  Luckily, the swelling went down before he got to town.  All's well that ends well, right? :)  But between this experience and the episode with the dead bird burning in my classroom heater, part of me does wonder if observation days are somehow cursed...

08 April 2012


I received a friend request on facebook the other day from Paulina, a girl who was in my class the same year as Rivers. Paulina is another very special student. She's now in 9th grade and in JROTC, which is crazy to me, since I taught her in 5th grade, and she was the tiniest 5th grader I've ever seen. It's hard to sum up all the special things about her, but she was just so tiny and sweet. When she became frustrated with something, she would stomp her foot and exclaim, "Awww, Miss...it's my supa-bad day!" That happened rather frequently, as she was on a pre-kindergarten reading and math level. During school breaks, she would often call me to tell me that she loved me, and made me many drawings and cards to that effect. She even made "I love you" cards for my mom! (Also, when she called me over school breaks, she would end our convos by entreating me to, "Tell your mama I love her!"  I might add that she had never actually met my mom.) Given some of the things she had experienced in her life, it was just amazing that she was so kind and loving. She continued to call me for several years after I taught her, but I hadn't heard from her since moving to Costa Rica, and I was so excited and relieved to hear from her again!

Since I accepted her friend request, Paulina has sent me several messages. Her spelling isn't perfect, but I'm just so excited that she's able to type messages to me at all, as writing anything, even her own name, was somewhat of a struggle for her at the beginning of 5th grade. She made so much progress that year, and I'm glad to see that she's continued to grow since then. Of course, that's what I hope for all of my students, but sadly, it doesn't always happen. It can be hard to let go of students, especially when you don't know exactly who or where you're sending them...

05 April 2012


I don't have a real intro or conclusion for this story, because it's just so odd. Last year, I read the following announcement in my school's morning newsletter:

MS and HS: Have you ever wondered what victory tastes like? Maybe apple pie, maybe a mocha chocolate cake, maybe a torta chilena. Find out at the Dessert Social, Wednesday March 23 during third block. With a winning bid you can taste victory. *warning: babies are not safe for dishwasher use!
Ummm...what?! I have never seen such a weird announcement. Some friends and I tried to figure out what it meant, but we didn't feel great about any of the ideas we came up with.

30 March 2012


During my third year of teaching, I taught fifth grade science. It was probably my best year of teaching. I love ALL of my students, but my kiddos that year were just...so incredible. I have a soft spot in my heart for my students who struggle academically but work so, so hard, and Rivers was one of those students. Rivers was in my school's special education program, and at first, he would sit in my classroom silently. A month or two into the school year, he started walking by my classroom on his way to the bathroom from other classes and making a funny little face and the "ok" signal with his thumb and pointer finger and wiggling it back and forth in the window of my classroom door to say hi. After a few more months, he began participating in class, especially after I began letting him draw his responses to questions because he couldn't write. All along, he knew the answers; he just didn't know how to express his knowledge before being able to draw. (Side note: I know that drawing his responses was not a permanent solution, so we also worked on his writing skills during homeroom and silent reading time. But I had to start somewhere and get some gauge of his understanding of science.)

Each year, as we approached our TAKS state test time, we would hold Saturday school to help the kids review the content and skills that they were still having trouble with. Rivers attended all of my after school and Saturday tutorials. A few weeks before the TAKS, Rivers and I had a funny conversations:

"Rivers, are you coming to Saturday school this weekend?"
"Nombre-na, Miss, nombre-na!" [No way, Miss, no way!]
"Rivers, why not? TAKS is coming up and you're so close to passing!"
"Becos, Miss, I gotta go to the March par Christ, March par Christ, jeah! Jeah!" he replied while sort of rocking/dancing back and forth rhythmically while clapping his hands.

I wish I had a video of this event, because the way he sort of bopped back and forth as he exclaimed about going to the March par Christ (an annual evangelical rally that takes place in Rio Grande City) was just precious and hilarious, and it's impossible to convey in words. Absolutely everyone I've re-enacted this convo for has burst out laughing.

Fortunately, Rivers decided to show up on Saturday after all. (Turns out, March par Christ was an afternoon event.) After Saturday school let out, we both went over the March Par Christ. I mean, after that endorsement, how could I not go?!

You may be wondering how Rivers did on his TAKS test. He got commended, which means that he missed three or fewer questions! So proud of him. When I told him about his achievement, he replied, "I got commend?" So sweet.

27 March 2012


Have I ever mentioned my student Angel who had a huge impact on my entire school district during my first year of teaching? No? Ok, here goes...

Picture it: I'm preparing my students for the substitute teacher who will be coming the next day. (Read about the first time I had a substitute here.) Angel, a student with extreme behavior problems, just sits there, grinning silently as I go over my expectations.

Fast forward two days, to the morning after my substitute covered my classes. I went to my school computer to check Gmail to open up some lesson plan documents, only to find that it's been blocked. ??? I went across the hall to check with my grade level leader to see if she knew if our school was having internet problems.

"No, it's nothing like that...you should go to the computer lab to talk to Ms. Bendy," she told me.
"Why? What's wrong?" I demanded.
"Ms. Bendy caught Angel looking at porn while your class was at the computer lab yesterday, so the district decided to block a whole bunch of sites."
"Ahhh! What?! How does he even know how to do that?!"
"I don't think we want to know..."

I don't even know how to wrap up this story, except by saying, "What the hey?!"

25 March 2012

procrastinate later

It's that time of year again...for most of the teachers I work with, grades are due today. Grading papers is an unpleasant task at best, and if you don't keep up with your grading, the papers can get really out of control and the task can become completely overwhelming.

During my first year of teaching, LR, a teacher friend from my school saved ALL of her students' papers to grade until the weekend before grades were due. (What can I say, the first year is completely grueling in so many ways, and grading can seem like the least of your worries...until it's a week before report cards are due and you have literally hundreds of papers to grade and scores to enter.) After school on Friday after a particularly tough week, she couldn't stand the idea of staying at school long enough to go through all of those papers, so she decided to take them home to work on them with the tv playing in the background. It's the small things, you know? So she got out to the parking lot, put the papers on top of her car while she was loading everything else into the car, and...drove away! With all of the papers still on top of the car! Naturally, they flew all over the highway that my school was on! Luckily, that road never has much traffic on it (my school was in a tiny town), so she was able to get out and recover most of the papers, with the help of the technology teacher from my school, who saw her plight and stopped to assist.

Not surprisingly, LR has stayed on top of her grading situation since then!

23 March 2012

after school special

Kids are just the best. One day at recess during my second year of teaching, I found a very tiny student of mine wandering alone while the other kids played four square and basketball or just ran around.

"Tiny Man, why aren't you playing with the other kids?" I asked.
"I never played sports," he replied rather forlornly.

At that moment, one of my favorites from that year wandered over and held out a kickball to Tiny Man. "Do you want to play ball?" he asked, in the sweetest little voice. At that, Tiny Man grinned and they ran off together to play with the ball. Sigh. What an after school special-type moment!

26 February 2012

earth wind and...FIRE!

While I was observing a pre-school class yesterday, a little girl ran out of the room suddenly. A few seconds later, we heard the unmistakable sound of vomiting coming from the hallway. The girl came back to class a few minutes later to wait until her mom came to pick her up, and the whole incident got me thinking about a similar episode from my second year of teaching...

I was a Teach For America corps member at the time, so a staff member from the regional office was coming to observe me that fateful day. It had been unusually cold for south Texas--amazingly, although it was towards the end of the second winter I had spent down there, it was the first time I had ever had to turn on my classroom heater. As I did so, it started making weird, rackety, banging sounds. I was sort of alarmed, but I kept on teaching.

All of a sudden, smoke started coming out of the heater vent and a horrible stench filled the room. The heater was on fire! But, wait! It wasn't the heater that was on fire; it was the dead creature shacked up inside it that was burning. Ick. In response to the rancid odor, several of my students promptly vomited. All this just a short while before I was going to be observed.

We dealt with the odiferous situation by shutting off the heater, spraying tons of Febreze in the air, opening the windows to let fresh air come in, and chilling in the abandoned teachers' lounge at the end of the hall until the room was habitable again. Luckily the stink cleared out quickly, and we were able to go back in the room by the time my program director arrived to observe my class. I've always wondered if he noticed a funky smell, though...

25 February 2012

science quotes

I taught a bunch of different subjects during my six years in the classroom, and people often ask me what was my favorite thing to teach. I think it would have to be 5th grade science. Personally, I love to read, but my students never got quite as excited about reading as they did about science.

For example, they got really into using science lingo in everyday conversations:
"Miss, your earrings are so lustrous."
"Miss, my hypothesis is that science class will rule today."

And a snippet from what might be one of my personal favorite convos of all time:
Hace Leche Kid: Miss, I don't like Mondays.
Me: I know it can be hard to get back into the swing of things after having fun all weekend, but I'm always glad to see you guys.
HLK: No, I mean I don't like Mondays because we have to go to computers and can't do any experiments.

Awww! HLK was an...unwilling student a lot of the time, so it was especially great to hear that coming from him.

23 February 2012

milk...it does a body good

Over the past few weeks, I've been going through old photos, and I stumbled across this one, taken at school last year when Vaca Lula, the Dos Pinos mascot, came to town. As you might be able to tell, she really got down with some good jams, and the kids just loved her. She also gave out some really cool prizes! All of those Vaca Lula memories reminded me of another cow-related memory from my third year of teaching...

It was my first year teaching the same subject for an entire year (my placement was switched 11 times during my first two years, so I was super excited to teach something consistent for a change). I was teaching 5th grade science, and we were learning about sound energy. I explained that sound travels as vibrations, and taught them a great song about it and everything.

At one point, one of my girls raised her hand and said: "Miss! Did you know that some farmers play sad songs for their cows to make them give more milk? They hear the sounds and they think it's their babies crying, so they make a lot of milk." After that, a boy jumped up and exclaimed, "Oooooh yeah! Hace leche, hace lecheeeeeee!" [make milk, make milk] while making milking motions in the air.

We all just stared at him for a minute before bursting out laughing!

22 February 2012

in the library

As you may remember, last year I had a student named Iggy, who has Asperger's Syndrome. Due to all of the social interaction and noise involved with snack and recess, Iggy typically spent these times reading in the library. One day during recess, I went to the library to check out a personal reading book, and saw a middle-schooler talking to Iggy in the beanbag reading area at the front of the library. Instantly, I felt defensive of Iggy and moved closer to eavesdrop on what the older student was telling him. Overall, the other fourth graders were usually very nice to Iggy, but you never can tell with other kids, so my mama bear instincts were kicking in a little bit. As I moved closer to their convo, the older student went into the restroom, so I became even more suspicious, and asked Iggy what the other student had told him.

Me: What was that boy saying to you, Iggy?
Iggy: He told me he thinks it's very nice that I read all the time. He said he's proud of me.
Me: Wow, that's...so nice. Did that make you feel proud, too?
Iggy: [nod]

Say whaaaaa?!?!

How great is that?! (And how judgmental was it of me to assume that the other kid was being rude to Iggy?) I was so touched by this incident that I decided to do a little digging: Who was this mysterious kind person? A card-carrying member of the "random acts of kindness" club, evidently. After digging around and discovering more about this boy's background, I was even more amazed. I discovered that his family has been through more heartache over the past few years than anyone should have to deal with in a lifetime...and he's still out there, spreading joy. Maybe I seem a little too gung-ho about this episode, but I find that middle school is often such an awkward time. Kids are growing up like crazy, and they don't like themselves all that much, and those negative feelings are often turned outwards towards other people, particularly those who can't defend themselves as well as others might. I mean, if this kid is this nice now...he's going to be one awesome person someday! (Or actually, I guess he already is!) Natch, I tracked him down to thank him for being so friendly to Iggy, and he was just as sweet as you might imagine.

So that's the story of how my faith in humanity was restored...in the library.