Not just a teacher…but now a student!

21 08 2011

So…

The Pennsylvania State University.

Finally.  I am doing it.

Another life goal…in progress.

I have always known that I wanted to continue my education, but either through fear, avoidance and sometimes pure procrastination, I have put it off.  Really though, I am glad.  I have had countless conversations with Vanessa about what I wanted to go back to school for; I have laid out my dreams for her a number of times and in a number of ways.  Being the supportive wife she is, she always encouraged me to go for it…but I always stalled.  I talked a big game but I didn’t really know what I wanted.

But here is the truth.  I have always known that WAY down the road I would like to work in Higher Education.  I just have been unsure of the path to get there…and really I guess I still am uneasy about it, but I have come to the realization that I need to take a step in my education to eventually get myself there.  I did an amazing amount of self evaluation and reflection, thinking not only about my interests and desires but what is reasonable f0r me and V and what I can use to help along our path in life.  The reflection lead me to what may be obvious, I needed to pursue a Masters that has something to do with Education…I am already into my career as an Educator, I enjoy education and there are opportunities to do unique, innovative and fun things within the field.

With that decision being made I sat down with Greg MacGilpin, he is the director of the school and is someone who I have come to respect a great deal.  He helped me talk out and really think through the types of programs that I could pursue.  The number one priority for me was not to go to a program that really just proved to be a pay bump, I have seen far too many teachers go back and get a Masters for no reason but the small increase in pay.  That isn’t me.  I want a program that is going to challenge me, make me think and I am going to walk away being a better person and educator.  During my conversation with Greg he kept mentioning very prestigious programs, such as Harvard, Columbia, among others.  In my head I just laughed but his confidence in me opened my mind to the possibility of applying to schools I would normally write off.

That afternoon I sat in our living room, made a list of attributes I wanted in a program- with the most important being that I could complete it while living abroad- and started searching.  I would get really excited about a program that I would find and tell Vanessa all about it, but something always drove me to continue my search, none of the programs where exactly what I wanted.  Then my conversation with Greg crept back into my mind and I found myself perusing through Harvards website but quickly realized they don’t have a on-line program.  This lead me to use USNews to simply search for the top Educational Leadership (Administration & Supervision) Graduate Schools in the country and I started working from the top down looking to see if the University’s had on-line programs.  The search only lasted until #6 on the list- The Pennsylvania State University, the highest ranked program that has distance education program.

Penn State. The program fit so many of my key characteristics of a program.  I figured I would give it a shot.  Greg seemed to believe I could get in a school of this caliber and Vanessa was behind me 100%.  So I started the process.  Once I did I was like a machine.  I did everything I could, as quickly as I could.  I made Vanessa stay up late into the night working on essays with me…reading, re-reading, proofreading…I got the application in quickly and then I just had to wait.

I applied to other programs too.  The University of Colorado-Colorado Springs was a nice alternative to Penn State but I knew where I wanted to get in.  I really felt like I was putting myself out there by applying for Penn State.  I just barely fit the requirements to even apply and from everything that I read on their website it appears they are very, very selective with the program; allowing in under 30 applicants!

But I did it! I got in!  I am really excited.  Classes start on September 7.  Now, I don’t know what is going to happen as I go through the program or where life is actually going to lead me but what I do know is that I shot for a goal that, well…I thought I couldn’t reach, and got in.  I am super thankful for Greg, Vanessa, Sandy (my former Principal), both my Mom and Dad and everyone that heard my blather on about what I might want to do…because really, I guess, I am still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up…but this is a HUGE step in the right direction.

-M

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Our most heartfelt apologies, but we needed a break…

2 08 2011

V and I are finally back in Costa Rica!  I truly apologize for the abrupt stop in posts, followed by…nothing.  However, after posting at least once a week for the past 7/8 monts, we needed a little bit of a break.  This summer provided just that, and because it was so busy I would have driven myself insane trying to find the time to write, and write well.

Anyway, we are back “home” and ready for the start of our second year here in Costa Rica.  There is a lot of exciting things happening around here and a lot of fun things to commemorate on the blog in the coming weeks.  





Reflections on the Year: M&V

5 06 2011

Everything has Changed:  A Reflection of the Year Living Abroad

One year (well, 10 months).  I have changed. A lot.  It is simple to say; simple to write, but impossible to wrap my head around in its’ entirety.  It is hard to look past this past year and think of a more monumental year in my life.  Sure there was graduating both high school and college, there was getting married and a litany of other important times in my life but this has been an entire year of challenges, events and…change.  But with all this talk of metamorphosis I couldn’t tell you how I have changed, I just know I have.  My outlook on life: my marriage, myself, my family, my career – they are all different, all have been revolutionized.  How?  I don’t know.  What I do know is I like the change.  I needed it.  I have a life to live, and I feel like I am doing just that.  Living.

-M

—–

“Schooool’s out for Summa”:  A Reflection of the School Year

We have made it to June.  June marks the end of the school year and the beginning of the rainy season.  It seems like just a month ago I was coping with my first experience of being in a place where you could actually not see the sun for days on end.  As I sit in my dark house at 5:30, I wonder, how did this daily rain creep up again so quickly, and more importantly, can I continue calling June and July “summer” when it’s cold and raining everyday?  Probably not… so this leads me to my second question.  On the last day of school, would it be appropriate to sing the obligatory Alice Cooper song, “School’s out for summer!”?  Damn.  “School’s out for ‘green-season'” is just lame.

Green Season or not, this year has been so monumental to my growth as a teacher.  I can’t say I have ever had a year where I went through more changes than this year.  I have had to learn how to deal with the cultural differences, ie. names that I couldn’t pronounce, last minute schedule changes, and trying to start class on time when everyone else is on the dreaded “Tico-time”.  Also, Country Day has provided me with great liberties as a teacher.  I am able to teach for understanding and not for a standardized test.  I have had the opportunity to see the difference between a 32 student class to a 12 student class.  The expectation that every student has a laptop has also opened so many doors for my students and me.  It has all been so eye opening and I know I have improved as a teacher.

I think my opinion of my kids changed drastically as well.  I started the year with the expectation of these kids being something close to aliens.  In my head, they would sit quietly and absorb every ounce of information I had to give them.  They would all turn in their work on time, neatly labeled, and 100% correct.  Obviously, I let my imagination get the best of me and I failed to remember what I KNEW 11 year old kids to be: messy, needy, loud, awkward, and ridiculously sweet.  Once all of my stupid preconceptions were shattered, I began to have a great time with my kids!  They laugh at my jokes.  They read books.  And I mean, they REALLY read the books… at home!  They thank me after every class.  They turn their work in on time (most of them).  I have constantly set a higher and higher mark for them this year, and everyone of them has tried their very best to meet that mark.

Next year I will make the move to 8th grade language arts.  I will have the kids that Miguel had this year, and Miguel will have my kids.  I’m looking forward to it.  And I’m going to try my best to be realistic in my expectations this time!  But, first, I have to make it through this rainy season.

-V





Missing our Karma…

29 05 2011

Karma-Sita. We miss you.

Dharma

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her doghouse
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance—
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Gandhi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.

If only she did not shove the cat aside
every morning
and eat all his food
what a model of self-containment she
would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only she were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in her welcomes,
if only I were not her god.

-Billy Collins





Staff appreciation: Ambassadors really know how to let loose!

22 05 2011

Before we ever signed official contracts or sold just about everything we own to move to Costa Rica, we sat in a hotel room with 6 strangers and had an awkward, but eye opening “orientation” session to prepare us for what the teacher community of Country Day would be like.  As the images of classrooms, smiling children, band leaders, and staff housing flashed across the projector, I remember wondering if the pictures did any of these things justice.  Then, I saw a picture of the staff appreciation party from the previous year.  A man was dressed up as Paul Stanley from Kiss in full makeup, and another woman was in hot pink spandex and poofy hair.  They had their backs together and played air guitar with full gusto.  Paul had his mouth open as if he was singing at the top of his lungs… Needless to say, the picture stood out among typical classroom and apartment shots.  The person presenting mentioned, in passing, that this was a photo of the staff appreciation party, and that usually everyone went all out for it.  He explained, “This particular party was a ‘Rock Star’ theme.” and with that he casually said, “Next Slide.” He continued his presentation, but that image was burned into my brain, and most certainly stood out as something I could look forward to.

10 Months later… we were preparing for said staff party.  Miguel and I both struggled with how to dress for a Caribbean themed party at the U.S. Ambassador’s house.  They don’t teach you these things in school.  Would it be totally blasé to show up in a bathing suit?  What about these flip-flops?  Would the Ambassador approve?  After making conservative clothing choices (given our range of options), we headed to a friends house before the party and made double sure everyone else was dressed similarly to us.

The Pre-Party Party

We had a couple of drinks made by the pirate hostess (our outfits would obviously not be faux paux).  We all piled into Tedd’s car and headed for the Ambassador’s house.

The entrance gates have always been a pretty significant landmark in Escazu.  Mainly because it is heavily fortified, and you can never see through to what separates the U.S. Ambassador’s house from the normal world.  So, after presenting our identification and signing in, we were left to marvel at the wonders that lay beyond.

Tedd and the security guard. We were on "the list"

The ambassador's house.

We entered the Ambassador’s house and were promptly greeted by a receiving line.  The line consisted of The Ambassador and her husband (yes we assumed the ambassador was a man as well… lesson learned), the director of the school and his wife (Greg and Melissa),  and about four other people whom I was too nervous to remember their names.  The receiving line went by in a blur of awkwardness.  I couldn’t help but think as I grasped everyone’s politely offered hand in my own sweaty paw, “Thank God for Greg and Melissa!”  If not for their familiar faces, I would have been entirely overwhelmed by the whole procession.

After fumbling our way through the entry way, we entered the back yard of the house.  Immediately, we were greeted by all of the wonderful women from the Parent’s Association, the master planners of the party.  We were offered door prizes, and ushered to the tables and dance floor area.

Lasagna and salad... so delicious.

Dancing like an idiot, my favorite pass time

We were served a wonderful dinner and partook in an obscene amount of dancing.  Later on, we were surprised with Caribbean dancers and an exciting drum line.   The dancers wore amazing feather headdresses and colorfully revealing underwear.  Overall, it was an amazing night, and I left the party feeling an amazing amount of appreciation and camaraderie from our community.  We are lucky to be part of a great school community.  I just hope they won’t be showing my picture to the next group of incoming teachers.

-V

She wasn't too thrilled with her job.

I think I'm snapping and dancing here... smooth





The Great Bug Massacre

15 05 2011

It was a typical Monday evening, a slight drizzle pattering on the roof, car horns echoing in the distance, when Vanessa and I arrived back at the house after a long day of work and working out. Little did we know that we were about to be thrust into…THE GREAT BUG MASSACRE OF 2011!

The Enemy

The battle ground was to be the living room, the enemy was laying in wait looking for the right time to lay siege.  Vanessa unwittingly continued to prepare dinner and I naively shuffled through music.  As the clock struck 7:26, the unassuming doomsday hour, the bugs battle plan began to unfold.

It started simple.  Vanessa casually asked me to come kill a large flying ant that was crawling up the side of the refrigerator.  I had just shifted in to that perfect spot of comfort on the couch and so, with great effort, I begrudgingly sauntered into the kitchen to assess the ant situation.  I was a bit surprised by the size of the ant, it was about the size of a fingernail.  Without much thought I extended my index finger and squished it with the pad of my finger.  This ant, now a martyr, set off a chain of events I will not soon forget.

I started back toward my haven on the couch. But, as I exited the kitchen, Vanessa, almost prophetically said, “You know, I have seen a lot of those guys around lately.”  It was then that she looked down toward her feet and noticed that more of the ants were around.  With slight concern she warbled “Miguel! Look at them…there are more…”  So, I turned back toward my wife and with my bare feet started to kick at the ants  scurrying across the tile.  As my eyes focused and the black dots became more clear contrasted against the spotted off-white tile, I thought: “Wow, there are quite a few of them” and then my eyes followed the the line of them through the kitchen door into the living room.  I began to follow it, Vanessa trailing just behind me.  It was there, as we gazed down at the floor that we realized…holy shit…they are coming for us!  In that moment I know how Lionitas, the Spartan, felt as he and his 300 men heroically gazed at the far larger armies that were attempting to take their home.

Surprisingly, Vanessa was the first to act.  She shouted commands as she steadied herself to attack.  “Miguel! Quick, under the sink there is some Raid.”  With that she turned her head, pulled her hair back, and with fury burning in her eyes, a battle yell emanating from deep with in her soul, she charged forward and started to STOMP!

With great haste I threw open the cabinet door under the sink and found my weapon: a can of “Mata Todo!!- Fumigacion Profunda”.  The green can felt solid in my hand.  I braced my nerves as I quickly rounded the corner and entered the fray.

Trusty weapon

In a second, I assessed the situation.  Vanessa, although the first to act was quickly being over taken.  The bugs seemed to be moving in from the back door and had pushed her to my left toward the front .  This was to be a crucial decision but knowing almost no war strategy I just followed my instinct and circled around the bugs, sealing what I thought was the entrance point with the spray.  I fought from behind, moving toward Vanessa.  Seeing me take action gave Vanessa a burst of strength and soon enough, 100 bugs lay dead or injured at our feet.  The war was over…or so we thought.

As any good humanitarian would do, I grabbed the broom and began to sweep up the corpses of the fallen and returned them to their outside home.  I returned to my sanctuary and Vanessa, though shaken, started the path back toward nourishment.

a pile of the dead after the first battle

Yet, there was still an uneasiness in the air.  The second attack was to be far worse.  They attacked quietly.  The silent army of flying ants caught me in a moment of husbandly weakness.  I had abandoned my lookout post on the couch to assist in the kitchen.  They moved in quick and with greater numbers.  By the time we discovered the covert operation, we were facing an army of what seemed like 100,000.  Already shaken from the first battle, tears began to stream down Vanessa’s cheeks.  She drew her knee upward, leveled her foot, stole a fleating glance at me and began STOMPING into the living room.  She was a machine.  No stomp was wasted, each thundering footfall eliminated 5-6 bugs.

Shoeless at the time, I sprinted upstairs and grabbed sandals.  From below the haunting cries of V pushed me to act faster.  Upon returning I knew we had made a mistake in the first battle; we had not actually taken out their point of entry…but where was it?!  I scanned the movement of bugs, looking for a pattern to their attack and then it hit me.  Their plan was brilliant.  They had set it up days, even months in advance.  They had set up base in the end table next to the couch.  With heavy feet, I fought my way toward it and gingerly opened the drawer.  What emerged was overwhelming. A sea off black bodies and spindly legs scuttled out.  My vision blurred, my feet throbbed, my knees ached and my hand smelled like pesticide…a moan of determination crossed my lips.  I knew what I had to do.  I glanced toward my partner, her face scrunched in determination and I knew, I had to do this for her.  Simultaneously, I continued the ground battle while stomping, I used the green weapon in my right hand to spray cover.  I waited one second and then I grabbed the enemy stronghold with both hands, bugs threatening to overtake my body, and I ran out the back door.  I emptied the rest of the can into their fortress and then returned to help my comrade.

Knowing that we had eliminated the point of production, the war ended quickly.  Vanessa continued her straight forward attack and I flanked from the right.  It was messy, it was a massacre, but we had done it.  We had won! And not a moment too soon, because dinner was ready.

M-

Sandal of death

we won!- enemy stronghold





What are your plans for the summer?

8 05 2011

Miguel and I have begun madly preparing for our summer trip through Central America with Pam and Brian.  Planning for a trip like this is turning out to be both torturous and enjoyable at the same time.  Torturous as in, we have a ton to prepare for and look up; enjoyable as in, soon we will be done preparing for this trip and we will actually be there!  We are both really looking forward to seeing our friends and having an adventure.  And, perhaps, taking some normal photos together…

Hamburglar and Grimmace

Pam, always hilarious! I miss her!

Almost as equally exciting as traveling through Central America this summer is our trip back home.  It has been almost 10 months since we have stepped on US soil, eaten Chipotle Burritos, and partaken in some good ole micro brewed beer.  We are headed back around the beginning of July and will spend a few weeks in Colorado enjoying our summer days in the mountains with friends and family.  Until then, we will make the most of the month we have left in Costa Rica and attempt to keep our minds in the now; although, I am already dreaming of the mountains and my family.

-V

Crested Butte Mountains are poetic and beautiful. The stuff dreams are made of.








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