My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.


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ACT Out


March 4, 2015 Dear Readers, I recognize academic burnout when I see it.  Most, if not all of us, have had it a time or two in our lifetime.  I mean, let’s face it, from about the age of 4 or 5, upwards toward 18, we have an excess of compulsory school days in this country.  So yeah, at one time or another, even I, lover of school and all things academic, have had academic burnout.  It is what caused me to dropout of college after only 1 year.  However, by that time, I had been going to school for 14 years.  The thought of continuing another 2 was simply too much for me to take.  I recognize academic burnout. Unfortunately, I am seeing this phenomenon in my students.  “Ho-hum,” some of you might sigh, “it happens to the best of us.”  And indubitably, I would agree.  However, signs of academic burnout in 12 and 13 year-olds used to be few and far between, it was the exception, not the rule. When academic burnout hit me, at age 19, I emptied out my brain of anything and everything remotely school-y, I dropped out of the college scene, and I began working as a cashier at a convenience store.  Now granted, it was certainly not the academic accolades I had always dreamt of receiving, but I worked hard, I began raising my family, and I was a contributing member of society.  And truly, what more could society expect from this college drop-out? Eventually, and by eventually I mean 14 years later, I returned to school, earned a Secondary Education/English B.A, graduated with honors, and became the teacher I knew I was always meant to be. But that was me.  That was 19, 20 year-old me.  What path is there for a 12, 13 year-old academic burnout? Even as I say it, it sounds ludicrous, “12, 13 year-old academic burnout!”  But I’ve seen it; am seeing it.  And it breaks my heart.  It breaks my heart not because they will have an adverse effect on society, although chances are…  No, it breaks my heart because the joy of learning has all been sucked out of education and out of my students’ lives, if in fact, it was ever there to begin with. My students cannot recall a time in their education when they weren’t being tested to death.  And that, dear Readers, breaks my heart. This past Tuesday marked the 21st instructional day my students have given up to testing.  Wait, scratch that; the 21st instructional day that has been stolen from my students.  Of the mere 51 school days so far this year, my students have slogged through 8 Common Formative Assessments (CFAs), 8 re-take CFAs, 4 days of Galileo Summative Assessments, and now, the ACT Explore.  The 16 CFAs to gauge how well they grasped the content of the individual standards, the 4 days of Galileo to gauge how well they grasped the content of the individual standards, and the ACT as a pre-cursor as to how well they should expect to do on their college entrance exam!  Seriously?  Seriously. As I walked up and down the rows of 8th graders, I wanted them to act out, act up, act indignant, act insulted, act like they were mad as hell and they weren’t going to take it anymore.  Admittedly, all they could do was act lethargic.  And sadly, that was no act.  21 of my students’ 51 school days have been eaten up with testing.  A full 41% of their time under my tutelage has been snatched away because of testing.  Almost every other day.  Testing. Today, and I’m no social scientist here, but today’s junior high school students are exhibiting signs of academic burnout so frequently as to be considered normal.  Is this what we, as a nation, are striving for?  Is this the goal of our education communities?  Is this how academia as we know it will end, not with a bang, but with a whimper?  Say it ain’t so, Joe, say it ain’t so.  Peace, ~v.


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In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: Be the Change

What change, big or small, would you like your blog to make in the world?

January 2, 2015

Dear Readers,

Check this out, I have been up since 5 o’clock this morning writing my latest blog post and after 8 hours I finally posted it:  You Can Change the World.   Yeah, I know, 8 hours is a long time to take to write one measly post, but I am out of practice.  After I posted, I began to read other blogs that I follow and ‘Change the World’ seemed to be a prevailing theme.  Imagine my surprise when I clicked on the Daily Prompt (see above).

Since I didn’t directly answer the question regarding my blog, I will answer it now.  I would like to see my blog bring a little bit of peace to every corner of the world.

Peace, ~v.
Be the Change


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She Talks to Angels


January 1, 2015

Dear Readers,

Her name was Jane and she was my childhood friend.  We would play school together with all of my stuffed animals.  Jane played the principal, my stuffed animals were the students, and I was always the teacher.  Jane played the principal because she didn’t like to have to stay in the classroom (my bedroom).  Jane would sit off to my left and mostly just observe.  Once in awhile she would admonish me that I was being too hard on this student or that student.  And she would never talk to me whenever one of my brothers or sisters would come into the bedroom where we were playing.

By the time I was about nine or ten years old, I had stopped talking to Jane because after all, she was imaginary.  However, I never forgot about her and I am convinced that she never forgot about me.  Certain things would happen in my life and I knew they were going to happen before they would actually happen.  This did seem somewhat weird to me, but I would just chalk it up to being a self-fulfilled prophecy.  Then came the car accident.

For years I believed I would be involved in a car accident but I knew I would survive.  I knew this because Jane had told me once a long time ago.  I would say to myself, “I know I’m going to be involved in a car accident one day, I just don’t know how I know.”  Shades of Jane would flash through my head and I would just as quickly wave them away.  I might have told a few people throughout my life about my sense of being in a car accident, but I hardly believed how I knew I certainly didn’t expect anyone else to believe me.  Then came the car accident.

After my accident, and while it was still fresh in my mind, I wrote down my thoughts here and here and here.  I have done quite a bit of soul-searching and quite a bit of praying.  Now, I may not know everything, but I do know two things:

First – It is  my life’s purpose to be of service to others.

Second – Jane was, is, and always will be my guardian angel.

Yes, I talk to angels.  Peace, ~v.


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Saved ~ Part III


November 1, 2014

Dear Readers,

This begins the third installment of one of the most profound experiences of my life. Part I can be found here. Part II can be found here.

Injury Assessment

Arriving at the emergency room, my calm demeanor belied the hustle and bustle of the emergency room.  Whisked into a room, it was all hands on deck.  I was being jostled on all sides.  Nurses were moving me from the ambulance gurney to the ER bed, inserting IV lines, and generally trying to soothe what they suspected was a terrified accident victim.  The doctor (doctors?) was listening to my Paramedic Angel give an assessment of my injuries observed at the scene, at the same time issuing instructions to notify radiology that I needed a whole host of x-rays.

As near as I could tell, both Paramedic Angel and Dr. Diligent were both trying to rule out any internal injuries I may have sustained.  After all, I had complained of pain across the left side of my abdomen.  Actually, I had pain on most of the left side of my body.  The top of my left foot, my left ankle, the left side of my left leg, my left hand, my left wrist, everything left was in pain, except my head.  My head, though it had smacked a hard surface not once, not twice, but three times, was in no pain.  This was the fact on which I concentrated.  Meanwhile, a nurse was taking care to administer a pain killer/sedative into my IV.

After receiving Paramedic Angel’s report, Dr. Diligent took great pains to carefully and completely exam his accident victim – me.  “Okay, Victoria,” I heard a voice forewarn me, “we’re going to have to cut off your clothes.”  And the cutting commenced.  My pants were the first to be shredded.  “Those are Calvin Kleins,” my dumbfounded brain sobbed.

Now, I do not wish to make light of my accident in any way.  Having said that, I must be honest about the thoughts that were going through my head as the nurse was snip, snip, snipping away my clothes.  I must also be honest in my vanity.  I have never been much of a clothes horse, no, my clothes are much more practical, much more teacher-y.  My wardrobe is what most would call functional…until recently.  This past summer, I felt I owed it to myself to put a little more thought and, subsequently, a little more money into my choice of work clothes.  After enlisting my sister’s help (she really did all of the work), I had a wardrobe I loved.

I hardly had time to recover  from the loss of my beloved pants, when the nurse began cutting away my blouse.  “Okay, with the shirt,” I calmly thought.  And then finally, the coup de grace, “No!” cried my befuddled brain.  “Not my Victoria’s Secret!”  There were three victims that afternoon; me, Calvin Klein, and sadly, Victoria’s Secret.

A Break in the Action

I am going to wrap up today’s post, as I am having difficulty getting past this point.  It’s not that anything more tragic occurs and I hate to leave you dear Readers hanging.  But, my physical well-being and my mental well-being do not mesh.  I mean, I literally walked away from this accident…calmly.  I literally walked calmly away from this accident.  My mind is having a hard time accepting that.  I have always declared that I am blessed beyond belief.  I am highly blessed and Divinely favored.  Well, please excuse me while I go give thanks and see if I might be able to solicit God’s help in reconciling my physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

I will be back.  Peace, ~v.

 

 

 


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Tu Solo Tu


October 31, 2014

Dear Readers,

Writing the first two installments of my series, “Saved” has turned out to be both a blessing and a curse.  It has helped me work through some of the more painful moments of my accident.  Of course, it has also managed to help me re-live some of them, as well.  I’m taking a break for a day or two.  I do hope you enjoy my alternatives until I publish “Saved ~ III.”  For those who would like to catch up, here is “Saved ~ I” and here is “Saved ~ II.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I come from a musical family, music runs in our blood.  Creatively, we have artists that run the gamut from singers to songwriters to players of instruments.  And we are not pigeonholed into one genre or another.  Our tastes also encompass a broad spectrum.  We grew up listening to the likes of Ry Cooder, Dr. Hook, The Temptations, The Eagles, David Allen Coe, Vikki Carr, Alabama, The Oak Ridge Boys, and Linda Ronstadt.  My dad even had the soundtrack to Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke.  And those are just the artists who sang in English.

Included in my parents’ repertoire were a myriad of singers who sang in Spanish and for the life of me, I can remember not one.  Oh I remember the songs, just not the artists.  Well, let me re-phrase that, I recognize the music when I hear one of the songs from my childhood, but not much else.  I didn’t understand the lyrics, so it was difficult for me to remember the titles and the artists.  Except one.

One of my dad’s favorite artists was Linda Ronstadt.  And jut as my dad, her musical tastes contained both breadth and depth.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ms. Ronstadt, it might surprise you to know that she was born in Tucson, Arizona and she is of Mexican descent, on her father’s side.  These two innocuous details, coupled with the fact that her vocals span several octaves, had my dad hooked.  However, it wasn’t until she released her album Canciones de mi Padre in 1987 that my dad was truly over the moon.  It is from this album that I randomly chose a song for this week’s prompt:

Select a lyric from the first, random song you hear.  Use that lyric in a piece of writing of your choosing (fiction, non-fiction, poem, letter, etc.).  The Twist – work the name of the artist into your writing as well.

I hit the music app on my iPhone, and the song Tu Solo Tu began to play.  I downloaded the song when I was overseas in 2013.  The reason I downloaded the song was two-fold:  it reminded me of home, particularly of my dad, and I wanted to learn the lyrics so I could sing it for my dad.  My dad passed away in 2001, and he and I both knew that my musical abilities began and ended with pushing the ‘Play’ button on his 8 track in our blue Dodge van.  But I was determined to learn, and sing one Spanish song; it was the one thing on my bucket list I disclosed to no one.

So many things came together in a motel room in Al Mirfa in February of 2013, it was the perfect storm.  I was 7,000 miles from home, I was by myself, wearing a t-shirt with a poem about being Chicano that my brother had written, and I was watching Arabic television.  It was then that I began my first blog.  I had been listening to Tu Solo Tu over and over and over, trying to phonetically learn the lyrics.  I took a break to watch, of all things, a One Direction video.  I remarked out loud, “What a great world we live in.  Here I am in the Middle East, a Mexican chick from America, wearing a Chicano lit. t-shirt, singing a song in Spanish, and watching a video of an English-Irish pop band!  Ain’t life grand?”

After the video finished, I turned on the news for background noise as I began to write my first post for my first blog.  As the lyrics to Tu Solo Tu ran through my head, I was struck with the thought that I didn’t know if my dad would have approved of my going to the UAE to teach.  It was a nagging, all-consuming thought that kept looping through my brain.  It was just about to drive me crazy, when I turned to watch a story on the news of citizens protesting in Tunisia.  What I saw next floored me.

The news program was showing protestors gathered in groups and holding signs.  One sign caught my eye, so much so that I grabbed my phone and snapped a picture:  1554393_10201714006164327_5562529658264456655_n  The message is written in Arabic, but look at the first three letters: gaz. Dad’s name was Guadalupe Alejandro Zubia – gaz.  For me, it was the vindication I needed that I was where I should be.  And it came from the only person I needed to hear it from, my dad.

After the initial shock, I began singing as loudly as I could, serenading my dad.  Although the rest of the lyrics don’t quite fit, the title of the song was certainly apropos:  Tu Solo Tu  (You Only You).

Peace, ~v.


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Saved ~ Part II


October 30, 2014

Dear Readers,

Today marks the second installment in a series.  Part I can be found here.  Peace, ~v.

Dazed, Not Confused

With my eyes still closed and my glasses still perched intact atop the bridge of my nose, I set about removing myself from my restraint.  My shackle, formerly known as my seat belt, held me in bondage to the wreckage that was once my truck.  Within seconds, I whipped off the shoulder strap from around my neck, unbuckled the seat belt holding me hostage, and walked away from the crash, never even looking back.

In an otherwise parallel poetic universe, this would be the end to my story.  Poetic justice dictates that I walk away from the crash a bit dazed and confused and never turn back; dramatics begs to differ.  I had to turn back, I had to look at what should have been my resting place (see what I told you…dramatics).  Besides, although completely dazed, I was certainly not confused.

As I wandered a few feet from the wreckage, I paused and turned to face my would-be tomb.  As dramatic as that sounds, it was exactly what I was thinking at the time.  You see, I knew my body had been through a traumatic experience and I also knew that it wasn’t my well-constructed truck that had saved my life.  Okay, not exactly true.  Nevertheless, I was convinced that it was The Voice who had intervened to save my life.

As I stood staring at the remains, a tall gentleman approached me, cell phone in hand.

“Are you okay?” he asked.  “You look okay. We called the paramedics.”

“Did you see what happened and how many times I rolled?” I replied.

“I didn’t, but my wife did. Hey honey,” he shouted at an unseen woman, “How many times did she roll?”

I didn’t need to hear the response, I already knew the answer.

“She said five.”
“She said three,” we both answered in unison.

He was referring to what his wife had said. I was referring to what The Voice had told me.

The gentleman shook his head, “She said five.” I let it go, I was dazed, but not confused.

“Can you call my sister, please,” and I rattled off her number.

Assessing Damages

I stood almost stock still and waited for help to arrive. I had already done a quick but thorough assessment of my injuries. I had four superficial cuts on my right hand, my left hip was smarting from the seat belt restraining me during the free fall, as was my neck and the rest of my left side, especially my left wrist, and that was all…let me repeat,…and that was all.

I neglected to take a head count of each lookie-loo who happened upon the scene. I could just feel their vibes, and their vibes screamed in disbelief that anyone had survived such a mangled mess. My vibe screamed in disbelief as well, but it was a disbelief of a different nature:  I could not conjure up The Voice

I couldn’t peel my eyes away from my used-to-be truck.  No airbag had been deployed, no glass had been left intact, and there were no instructions forthcoming from The Voice.  Then as if on cue, “M’am, where do you hurt?”  It wasn’t The Voice, but it was a voice, the voice of another angel.

This particular angel came equipped with an oxygen mask and a stretcher.  “M’am, we’re gonna have to roll you onto this board…” and his voice trailed off.  Funny, I hadn’t heard the ambulance arrive; maybe I had sustained some sort of head injury that had incapacitated my hearing.  “Oh no!” I thought as I was loaded into the awaiting ambulance, “I can’t feel my head!  My head is numb!”

As we began to pull away from the scene of the accident, Paramedic Angel began asking me questions about my injuries.  When he was finished with his inquiries he sat down next to me, adjusted the oxygen mask that by then was resting on my right cheekbone and whispered almost reverently, “You just close your eyes now and relax, because you are the luckiest person in the world right now.”  He also uttered something to the driver, who began picking up speed and running his siren.

It wasn’t until I heard the siren wailing that I realized that my hearing was still intact.  It also dawned on me that Paramedic Angel must have instructed the driver to hurry it up on my account.  “How come you told him to go faster?” I mumbled through my oxygen mask.

“Your blood pressure is low and that bothers me.”

I chuckled , “You didn’t run the siren when you came to get me because you were afraid I was dead.  And now you’re running the siren because you’re afraid I’m dying.”  He nodded his head in the affirmative.  He looked so worried that I had to tell him, “I won’t die, I stayed awake.”

His response?  “You hit your head pretty hard; you may be in shock.”  I didn’t have the heart nor the courage to tell him that the Voice had told me that if I stayed awake I would live; I did, and I did.  I just wished The Voice would come back and tell me what was wrong with my head.

My head had been knocked around at 65 mph.  Surely it must be battered and bruised.  I had only to flashback to the contorted piece of metal that had once been my driver’s side door to know what the results of the CT scans of my head would read like.  I had no pain in my head, yet I knew I had just suffered a traumatic head injury.

As I arrived at the hospital, I prayed to God that He would allow me to feel the pain of my head injury so that I might better pinpoint the epicenter of the trauma and work toward recovering.  I was still praying when the ER doctor came to my bedside to give me the news.

To be continued. 


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Saved ~ Part I


October 28, 2014

Dear Readers,

The following is Part I in a series.  It’s all true.  Peace, ~v.

Preface

I have started to write the following post more than once in the past month or so, but I could never get past the first paragraph. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to write this post, it’s just that every time I sit down to type it, my mind either goes blank or it whirls with questions whose answers I haven’t been able to receive through prayer. Either way, I end up sitting at my computer, staring off into space. Now however, it’s time.

Before I begin, I humbly ask my family, specifically my children and my mother, to forgive me for not telling them about my accident. It was, and still is so surreal that I have trouble believing it actually happened the way that it did.  Suffice it to say that mine was the only vehicle involved, and I was the only one hurt (but just a little). Also, and I suppose I should have mentioned this first, I am fine, really, really fine. Then again, that seems to be my problem.

Some Great Day

“If you can just stay awake, you’ll live,” said the voice, as my head slammed into the driver’s side door of my truck. Seconds before, I had been winding my way through the beautiful Cerbat Mountains, on my way home from an almost perfect day of school. Now, I was just another motorist involved in a highway accident, a victim, a statistic. How did I get here? And more importantly, why was I spared?

I have written and rewritten the above paragraph over and over again until I have it memorized. I can revise it no more. It is, as they say, what it is, and no amount of editing on my part is going to change that. Here’s the thing, I was in this stupid accident and I’m having difficulty writing about it, much less accepting it. The difficulty in writing is two-fold, really. I fractured my left wrist, my writing hand, so no journal writing. And typing with only my right hand is slow and tedious. As for the acceptance part, well, that one’s on its way.

My day had ended on such a high note. It was one of those rare days since becoming a teacher that I was going home without reflecting on what I could have done differently with my lesson so that more of my students would have been engaged. I didn’t have to reflect on the negatives of the lesson; all of my students had mostly been on task. They even seemed to have enjoyed the web quest I sent them on and creating power point presentations of their cyber-journey.

I must say, I was proud of my students at the end of that day. Collectively, they seemed to have conquered the maturity speed bump of behaving appropriately in the computer lab. I made a mental note to be sure and tell them how proud I was of them the next day. And with that, I locked up my classroom and started for home.

The Drive

Unburdened by the day’s events, I was more relaxed than usual. That’s not to say that I was fall-asleep-relaxed. No, I was just not as uptight as I usually am and I didn’t have a death grip on the steering wheel like I usually do. I have an hour’s ride home every day through the Cerbat Mountains and it usually takes me a good 20 minutes before I begin to loosen my grip and relax my shoulders. Any other day of the workweek, the beautiful scenery coupled with a soothing audio book is usually sufficient to bring me back to center.

As a creature of habit, I grabbed my phone, ready to peruse my digital library for a relaxing yet engaging audible to accompany me on my drive home. But before my nimble fingers had finished tapping out my super, secret pass code, I paused, I smiled, and I shook my head.

“Not today,” I said to no one in particular, unless you count Siri who was fast asleep, my having not unlocked my phone. I placed my phone in the middle console, secure in the fact that I would need no calming narrative to ease my stress; I had none. I happily eased out of the parking lot.

The next 20 minutes are difficult for me to put into words. All of my senses were heightened. I was aware of every bend in the road as I wound my way through town and up towards the mountains. At one point, it dawned on me that I had missed all of the bumps and potholes on the road without even trying. I also remember catching most, if not all green lights on my way out of town. I had a positive vibe within and without and all around me. I was happy and smiling and feeling…different.

Right before I hit the last light out of town, it dawned on me that perhaps I was feeling too prideful. Usually when I have a particularly good day, I credit myself first, my students second. That is a hard thing to admit, and my pride always goes before my fall (deservedly so, I might add). This particular day, it wasn’t like that. I was proud of my students and wasn’t even thinking that I had anything to do with their reaching a maturity milestone.

I was feeling so good that I reached for my phone with the intent of listening to some music that matched my mood. This time, my fingers didn’t even touch the screen before my hand was putting the phone back into its cradle. My mind wanted to soak up this good feeling without interference.

Rolling Over

I was doing the speed limit, 65 mph, and I was about seven miles into the uphill mountain road. Although I can recall with pristine clarity everything that occurred as my truck began to roll, I cannot explain what happened in the moments before I lost control of the truck.
I felt the truck begin to roll toward the driver’s side, only two wheels on the road. I saw a car in front of me and knew I was going to roll right into its rear end. I closed my eyes, let go of the steering wheel and went completely limp. That’s when I heard the voice.

“If you can just stay awake, you’ll live,” said the voice, as my head slammed into the driver’s side door. This was the first roll. As I rolled upside down, it dawned on me that I was in no pain. “I’m dead,” I thought as I felt the truck roll upright.

“You won’t die if you stay awake,” said the voice. This time I felt the left side of my body slam into the ground. This was the second roll. Even though my body had struck the ground, I was still belted into the cab of the truck and I was about to turn upside down, again. I could feel the roof of the cab crushing down on me. “How come my head doesn’t hurt?” I wondered. My body felt the impact each time the truck rolled over. But I couldn’t feel the pain.

As the truck began to right itself for the second time, I knew we had too much momentum to stop. “One more,” said the voice. This was the third and final roll. I could feel that my glasses had remained on my face and I was struck with the oddest of thoughts, “My head doesn’t hurt because I’m still wearing my glasses,” (I’m still trying to figure that one out). It was then that the truck pounded to a stop, right side up. “Stay awake,” spoke the voice one last time, and then it disappeared.

The truck had stopped with such force, and my body had been moving with such tremendous momentum that my legs were flung ragdoll-like out of the cab. The mangled driver’s side door having worn out its usefulness, offered no more protection. My hips were safely wedged between the lap portion of the seat belt and the desert floor as I half sat, half dangled from the front seat. The only thing stopping me from lying in repose was the seat belt shoulder strap wrapped around my neck like a noose.

Within seconds, I whipped off the shoulder strap from around my neck, unbuckled the seat belt holding me hostage, and walked away from the crash.

To be continued.

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