It is that first week of summer when the grades are in, the faculty workshop is over and the dreaded and excruciating student evaluations have been read and are slowly being digested. I want to be a great teacher. Most semesters I am a good one, and I am getting better. The process of learning to earn students' respect and to inspire their imaginations is slow. I am impatient.
Today I picked up my kids after school
aware that for a few days, my time belongs mostly to them. I grocery
shopped, nursed the baby, and then boiled pasta, made guacamole,
supervised the making of fruit salad, heated vegetables
from the Mexican market and a few fresh organic spinach leaves from the
backyard garden which just produced its first-fruits on Pentecost. I
felt a twinge of guilt when we sat down at the table hearing, "Mommy!!
Thank you so much for cooking this food for us!" (My own mom baked her
bread from scratch every week. I was 16 when I went to a Chinese
restaurant for the first time. In stark contrast, we have eaten many
quick meals this past month. This is not the good wife my mama raised me to be).
There are days when it feels to a working mother that she
does nothing well. Laundry piles up. Corners are cut. People are
neglected. Foods are scarfed down and thrown haphazardly into lunch
boxes. Babies cry. Compost rots on the counter. Gas tanks run dry.
Deadlines are missed despite sleepless nights.
It is on these
days when I want to spend everything in the bank on a 300-square-foot
Tumbleweed tiny house on wheels, buy a couple homing pigeons and a dozen chickens, and to go park the whole lot of us for a while in the middle
of my favorite moss-covered campground, to dig a big garden around it,
buy a goat, and settle in for the long haul of surviving on the land.
"The world is too much with us, late and soon / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers....(William Wordsworth). It is hard to keep
everyone happy, to keep the fridge full, the papers graded, and the
bills paid. A decade ago, our first pediatrician told me, "Women are
pulled into motherhood by the nipples." Some days, we go kicking and
screaming. You cannot hear it in our voices because we all have the gene
for courage, but if you look closely, you can see the panic in our
Evaluations of teaching and mothering are necessary -
room for improvement is healthy. Mostly the students were gentle, appreciative, and
kind. Only a few comments hurt, but they stung. One of my students said
I speak too much Spanish in a Spanish language class. Did I not convince her of the value of being bilingual, with my pep talks about the gift of language? Another thinks the university's cultural diversity requirement
is not worth an undergrad's time and money, and she says that language is not culture. One
student said the novel by Sandra Cisneros was okay but she hates literature, another said to cut
out poetry entirely (even though we spent only two days reading poems in a language course). Expecting eight hours a week of study time is unrealistic,
says one. Another wants grades posted online in a spreadsheet within two
days. There were grateful comments also, but I did not see those on the first read-through. Grading is grueling. I need some distance in order for the criticism to have a constructive effect---because I take evaluations seriously and I adapt and learn every semester from what has been effective for my students. They know themselves, and they know what they want (even when that is not what I think they really need).
I pour such effort into teaching language within real life, imparting
culture, and inviting students to peer over fences, to open doors, and
to build bridges. I recognize that a language requirement is a
challenge for some, as physics remains very hard for me. It should
neither surprise nor burden me that despite the lovely weather and good
company, some students really want to stay home on the couch.
We are limited by enrollment numbers, by budgets, and by a healthy respect for safety and liability. I would
like to teach my students to grow their own food and to describe and
prepare it in Spanish, to make salsa verde and mole from scratch, to turn masa into
fresh tortillas, to grow tomatillos in a little tree, to roast poblano
peppers over an open fire, to season pozole with home grown epazote and
pápalo, as my community has taught me. To complement grammar, I want to
bring my guitar and sing hymns and songs of the fight for freedom and
justice. I do this occasionally, but I would do more. I would put
"hiking boots" on the syllabus along with the required materials, and
immerse them a global experience of pilgrimage. I would walk with them
500 miles along the Camino de Santiago so they could experience the role
of global translator, a modern-day medieval traveler on a well-worn
trail. I would cheer them on back at home to listen and relate when a
migrant in their own nation says to them, "I thought I was going to die
when I walked through the desert." Then they would nod and agree,
having spent time walking a mile in well-worn shoes. This is what I
have done to learn language through culture, and it is what every global
I would ask them to write a letter in
Spanish to a person in prison on death row and then to reflect on the
letter they got back, to ask what freedom means. I would invite them to
send out and try to publish a personal essay or poem in their first or
second language, to experience fear of rejection, and to know how to
share like life depends on it.
On days like today, there is a
disconnect between school and real life, between the calling of
motherhood, the angst of writing, and the vocation of teaching. There
are gifts I cannot give my students that I can still offer my own
children, if it is not too late. I need to sink their hands into the
garden, make some bonfires, build a bigger clothesline together, and sit
on the front stoop sipping lemonade and watching the cars go by. My four becoming-bilingual children need to sleep under the stars, fly a kite, and see a movie at the
drive-in. We need to sing our favorite songs and talk about our plans
Summer break comes at a very good time.
What are your summer plans for recreation, renovation, renewal, and rest? Please share in the comments!