"Highlight my strengths and my weaknesses will disappear." ~ Maori
Allow me to start by highlighting some of my accomplishments...I promise it'll make sense in the end!
Please don't take me wrong for beginning this post listing my accomplishments. It is not my intention to come across as a show-off by highlighting my strengths and achievements; my ultimate goal is to affirm my failures as a detour to reach my goals. If you have not read my previous posts: New Land, New Opportunity, and A Newcomer's Journey, please consider reading them.
I will never forget the last day I walked out of Martin Van Buren High School in 1998. The tears rolling down my cheeks were not of happiness as I once hoped so, but were tears of sadness, disappointment, and frustration. I was not going to be able to graduate high school because I have failed the American History end of year exam...twice!
Completing every single credit required for graduation; Giving everything I had as a newcomer; Learning the language...ALL these efforts for nothing. The sense of failure was so strong within me that for six years I suppressed everything I knew about myself. Having a career and becoming a teacher was now an impossible dream to achieve.
At the age of 18, I became part of the statistics as a Latino high school dropout, and joined the workforce as a cashier at a local supermarket. I was a very efficient cashier! I was always given additional responsibilities because of my efficiency. In 2000 I moved to North Carolina and got a job at Bass Pro Shops as a cashier as well. Again, because of my proficiency, I was quickly promoted to team leader and customer services leader. Being a cashier was a fun job...it was paying my bills!
But the desire within me about having a career and becoming a teacher wouldn't let go!
My aunt Rosy, the aunt who showed up at the airport when I was about to be deported...once again came to my rescue. She mentioned a local community college and encouraged me to find out about getting a GED. I enrolled at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and in a matter of months, I received my High School Diploma Equivalency... My High School Diploma!
Now, this might be "just a GED" to many of you, but to me, it became the key to my profession.
The Beginning of My Profession
In 2004 I took a leap of faith by submitting a college application to get my associate's degree. At the same time I submitted an employment application to Cabarrus County Schools. Clearly, because of my educational background and my employment experiences, my choices for employment were very limited. My first choice in the application was as a custodian, my second choice was a cafeteria worker, and my last (just because I had to have a third) teacher's assistant. I had great references so I honestly expected a callback. What I never expected was getting a call from principal Corey Cochran to interview for a teacher's assistant position. I played his messages so many times just to make sure I was understanding correctly. ME, as teacher's assistant! No way! However, it was the only call I received so I scheduled an interview. During the interview, I met Angie Power, the first-grade teacher who needed the assistant. I walked out of the interview very discouraged because I didn't think I had answered the questions correctly or perhaps my limited educational experiences would be evident that I was not the right person for the job.
But fate stepped in. The weekend after the interview, I got called to a registered that was not working for the cashier and customers were waiting. I rushed over just to see that the customers waiting were the teacher who interviewed me along with her husband. We greeted and hugged like we had known each other for years! Without knowing each other, we had a connection. That evening she called the principal and asked for me to be hired as her assistant. And so my career with Cabarrus County School began. Angie power took me under her wing and taught me right along with her first graders for 8 years. I learned so much from her as an educator, but I also perfected my academic language right along with her students. A lot of the foundational skills of our English language were perfected in her classroom. She always made me feel as a teacher and always trusted me to teach her class. She valued my ideas and was always encouraging me to continue my education.
While working as a teacher's assistant and a bus driver, I completed my Associate's degree at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in 2007. Walking across the stage to receive my first diploma was an experience I will never forget. This accomplishment gave me back the sense of worth, and the sense of failure started to fade away.
In 2007 I enrolled at the University of Charlotte to begin my teaching career. My courses at the university were a challenge for me. Keep in mind that the only schooling I've had in the U.S had only been three years of high school and three years obtaining my associate's degree. This is only 6 years of academic language! I had a professor say to me, "writing like this, you'll never graduate college." A very sad statement written with red pen all across my essay. I wish I can go back to her today and say, "you were wrong!"
While completing my general education credits at the university, I hit another wall. I was not able to pass the PRAXIS I which would allow me to be admitted in the college of education and take the education courses I needed to be an elementary school teacher. I took this test six times and failed every single time.
I was ready to give up. Another test was getting in my way to achieve my most desirable dream. But then it hit me! I realized that I was having this struggle not because I didn't have the motivation, or because I didn't have the knowledge...but because I was struggling with the language! Why would someone who loves education and gives all they have be deprived of being successful in completing a career?!?
Instead of quitting, I needed to know how I could help students who were having the same struggles I experienced in school and what could I do to support them. This is how I first learned about the TESOL (teachers of English to speakers of other languages) program. So here we go again...using my failure as a detour to achieve my goal. I was able to enter the graduate program after receiving an undergrad degree. In 2010 I received my Bachelor's degree in Spanish and enrolled in the graduate program to obtain a graduate certificate to teach ESL (English as Second Language). In 2012 I graduated with a graduate certificate to TEACH and continued in the program to obtain my Master's in TESOL.
In 2012 I interviewed in different surrounding counties...but in my heart, I wanted to teach in Cabarrus County School, the county that had first opened its doors to me.
And so my dream came true! In July of 2012, I received a call to start my ESL teaching career at W.M. Irvin Elementary school.
Finally...a dream come true!
I walked in room #167 telling myself:
"You did it!"; "You're a teacher now!";
"This is MY classroom."
I embrace and cherish the opportunity I have each and every day to inspire my students. I create opportunities to build relationships with my students and empower them to believe in who they are. I go above and beyond my responsibilities as an educator to reach out not only my students but their parents as well. I hold quarterly meetings with my students' parents to teach them about our school system and how to better support their children at home. I build a rapport with mainstream classroom teachers and provide strategies and methods they can use in the classroom to better support our language learners. I offer staff PDs to enlighten staff about topics that would not only make them better teacher for all students but will also make them better language teachers.
In 2016 I was elected by Irvin elementary staff to represent our school as the teacher of the year. After an interview process, and classroom observations I was named my district teacher of the year for 2016-2017.
This is what I call "the shinning wall". I choose to have these awards and titles in my classroom because I want my students to see that "Sí Se Puede!" Yes, it is possible!
Being an ESL student and having a sense of failure should not be an obstacle to achieve our dreams...nor should a TEST!
Thank you for reading!
Life is very interesting... in the end, some of your greatest pains, become your greatest strengths. ~ Drew Barrymore
I love the time of year when parents proudly post and share their children's prom and graduation pictures. It's without a doubt an accomplishment worth of celebration; It's an epoch to cherish forever! 🎓🎉
Now, this might not be the best graduation picture you've seen. It's not even an original! However, it's the only graduation picture I have!
Here I am, in a cap and gown, I was not permitted to wear after the picture was taken.
Allow me to share with you how this picture, for so many years, represented a personal narrative with FAILURE written all over it.
I encourage you to read my personal journey from Guatemala to the United States. This post provides a background of where I came from and how I made it to America as an undocumented and unaccompanied minor.
January 1994 marks the date I started attending school in the United States. I was 15 years old when I was enrolled at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village, New York. I was very confused at the thought of starting in high school since I had not completed any of the junior high school years. I was explained that because of my age I needed to be placed in the 9th grade. Talk about widening the achievement gap right?!
Anyway, I was thrilled to start school! I was fascinated by the alluring, towering, and gleaming school. It was so clean and the structure was something I had only seen on TV. I was stunned when they handed me a pass to ride the bus to and from school. For so many years I had walked miles to attend school, and now I get to ride the bus?! Oh, but wait...it got better. Free breakfast and lunch! WOW!
I sincerely could not have asked for more. I realized that school was supplying my essential needs so I can just attend school and LEARN!
From the very first day I started, I gave it ALL I had. I didn't speak a word of English but I made sure I took advantage of every single opportunity available to learn. I enrolled morning classes, afternoon classes, evening classes, and even weekend English courses. There was no stopping me! I was in a land of opportunities and I was going for it!
ESL, ESL and More ESL
During my first school year, my classes consisted on English as Second Language (ESL) one after the other. I had wonderful ESL teachers. Very friendly, always making me feel welcomed. One ESL teacher knew a little bit of Spanish so if I needed something, she was my go-to person. ESL classes were very old-school structured - textbook guided kind of lessons. There was no interaction, just a lot of note-taking and worksheet practice. I didn't understand then why I wanted to get out of ESL so bad. TODAY I realize that not being able to be part of the courses other students were taking was making me feel somewhat a failure. In some way, walking the school hallways as an ESL students made me feel inferior and worthless of "real" learning. I had different classes, different textbooks, different schedules. I was different.
A determination within me ignited to learn English to get out of the ESL status. So, during my junior year, (one and a half years after starting school), I placed out of ESL after taking the annual language assessment. I was super excited because that meant that I was allowed to enroll in core courses to gain credits for graduation.
I started taking economics, history, math, biology, health...etc. But, oh boy, this is where the real struggle as a language learner began. My sitting spot was always at front in all my classes. I wanted to be as close as possible to the teachers and the boards. I took as many notes as possible in each class. I brought home all my textbooks to review and to complete assignments. I realized that the school had a library that would give me books to take home, so I checked out 3 different types of dictionaries and thesaurus. I would use these at home to translate my notes and to complete assignments. Of course, my school work was always done after making dinner and putting my siblings to bed! Don't forget, even though we were in the U.S. I was still the oldest child and expected to care for the little ones while mom worked. My mother can attest how I would stay up till 3:00 am completing assignments and studying my notes! I enjoyed learning. I cherished new information. I was like a sponge soaking it all in!
I will never forget the day I started reading my economics textbook and the terms "supply" and "demand" began to make sense to me! I was understanding the words...I was understanding the content! I was learning!
I must have finished my economics book in a day or two. I started passing my classes and earning the required credits for graduation. I was so focused on school work that didn't care much about "Senior's field trip" or "prom". To be honest, I didn't know how important these events were. All I wanted was to get my credits, and pass required assessments to graduate! I have learned how important and necessary a high school diploma was to be able to go to college. I wanted to go college! I wanted to be the first in my family to obtain a career! I wanted to be a teacher! I wanted to make a difference! I had the vigor, so I knew I could do it. What you can't see in the graduation image above is the excitement I felt getting my graduation pictures done with my cap and gown!
The Walk of Shame
During my senior year, I was required to take some standardized state assessments. I don't remember exactly which ones I had to take, but the one I will never forget is the United States History State Exam. I was not prepared for this exam. I have not taken enough classes to learn the required information to pass the test. I had only been in the United States for 2+ years to know its history. However, this standardized exam and every other exam were required no matter what. So I took the exam...not once, but twice. First time in English and failed. Second time in Spanish but failed.
I was called into the guidance counselor's office to chat with a guidance counselor who kindly explained to me that passing the U.S. History exam was a requirement for graduation and without it, I was NOT going to be able to graduate. She said, "You have all your required credits for graduation so you don't have to continue in school."; "Go home, study, and come back next year to take the test again. Once you pass, you'll get your diploma."
"Go home"; "Study"; "Come back next year"; "You're done"
These words echoed in my head as tears ran down my cheeks. That afternoon I walked out of Martin Van Buren High School for the LAST time.
The walk of shame from the guidance counselor's office and down every step outside the building felt like an eternity! I was crushed. I was so disappointment in myself. I was disappointed in the school system for the lack of support. How was I going to explain this to my family? Where was I going to get the strengths to "study" for the test once I was out of school? I have failed. I was a failure.
I became part of the statistics of a Latino high school dropout in the United States because I didn't go back. "Why go back?" I thought... "I failed it twice, there's no way I can make it now."
So, if I wasn't going to school then I had to work. So at the age of 18, I got my first full-time job as a cashier at a local supermarket. My first job in the USA. I was a cashier at C-Town in Floral Park, NY. I was a very efficient worker. I worked hours after hours to earn money...or perhaps to forget and avoid how I was feeling.
This, of course, is not how my story ends...
Did you notice the quote above?!?
Life is very interesting... in the end, some of your greatest pains, become your greatest strengths. ~ Drew Barrymore
This was just an epoch in my life that motivated me to become who I am today. So, stay tuned for my next post and learn how my personal narrative changes from FAILURE to SUCCESS because of education.
👀 Read my post on resources to support newcomers be successful in school! 👀
Thank you for reading!