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We talk about failure being important. We also are warned to not make failure okay, in and of itself, because what we want for our children is to see that failure is part of success. The most successful people fail a lot! I know failure. I’ve failed a lot, at a lot of things. I try things with my students that often don’t work. I reflect, regroup and come back ready to try again. In the end I think I succeed more than I fail. At home though, I’m not feeling that way.
Growing up in the 70’s my family did okay financially. We lived in Miami, FL, so the fact that my parents didn’t speak any English was not a problem. You see, where we lived, called Little Havana, was filled with Spanish-speaking Cubans so no matter where we went people spoke Spanish so my parents didn’t really need to learn much English. My dad was a ship welder so he needed to know a bit more English but you couldn’t tell because at home he didn’t let on that he knew any English. Back then a ship welder brought home about $200 to $300 per week, which was plenty. We were renters but we rented half a house. Since we never needed to interact with the owners of the house until rent time it felt like I grew up in a house with my own room and everything. My dad was a drinker (polite way of saying he was an alcoholic) and that explains why we never became home owners. My mother had to make sure to get enough money for groceries and rent out of his pay each week before he went to his favorite bar to, um, celebrate.
We lived like that until I was about 14. My mother had had enough and decided to break free. She moved me to Glendale, CA, all the way across the country, half way through my 9th grade year. It was devastating. I had to leave my friends, our house, my own room, my cat, and our dog. In CA we stayed with a family friend while my mom looked for work. Her skill set was limited so she went to work in a factory sewing clothing. How cliche, a Hispanic woman sewing in a factory. She didn’t make enough for us to get a place of our own so in order for us to rent a one bedroom apartment my mother accepted welfare support. That meant she had enough money to pay rent and food stamps.You know, the amount of money they gave a woman and her teenage son to live for a month wasn’t enough. Every month we would do well grocery shopping the first two weeks or so of the month. We usually ended up buying a big bag of potatoes and that would make it so that we could have dinner every night for the rest of the month. My mother got very creative at making potatoes in different ways. Thanks for free lunch programs I was able to have breakfast and lunch everyday at school.
if sewing clothes in a factory wasn’t cliche enough my mother found a job that paid more, enough to get us out of welfare, cleaning house for an upper middle class family. More than that, my mother also became their children’s nanny. I never participated in the finances. My mother was too proud. According to her, it was her job to shelter me from that. Luckily for me I received a Pell Grant back in 1985 to attend UCLA. I worked a part time job, as most kids do, to eat and I commuted from home to save money on rent or dorms. So yeah, I spoke Spanish at home and my parents never went to high school. Sounds like a typical Latino situation. I got through school on my own pretty much and did okay. I’m not writing this blog to get pity or sympathy. I’m thinking through a problem in my life the way I process, through writing. I wasn’t even going to publish this but the reason I blog, besides processing, is to share. I get so much from reading other teacher’s blogs if only to know that I am not alone. That, and to learn. So I’m publishing this in the hopes that someone can learn from my mistakes and maybe steer clear of the problems I got into. Maybe someone has already gone through this and will have some insight into what I can do. Either way, as embarrassing as this is, it’s worth publishing. I live a fully transparent life and I’m okay with that.
I reflect on my past because I wonder if it has any bearing on the predicament I’ve put my family into. For a while things were going well financially for us. Then seven years ago the WA state economy tanked quite a bit and teachers took a pay cut. We took pay cuts for six years straight. For me that meant that every year for six years straight I made around $100 less per month than the year before. Yeah, fast forward six years and I was making $600/month, every month, less than I used to. The economy is starting to pick up and even though our cost of living has not been replaced I should start to see a little more money coming in. Dare I say that it is too darn late.
See, let’s add a few huge mistakes to making less every year for six years straight plus a little bit of life happening. My wife grew up differently than I did. She was middle class, I’d say upper middle class but they didn’t have a maid and nanny, so I’ll stick with middle class. She is way smarter than me at finances. The huge mistakes I made all those years of pay cuts was that I didn’t reduce our spending. I was either too proud or too delusional. I thought I would use the dreaded credit card and pay it back when I made a little extra money. Of course, life happens, right. It’s really nice to build your first home. We purchased a nice almost one acre plot of land and had an 1100 sq ft house built there. Small but just what we needed for our small family. What I never planned for is that when you get all new appliances all at once, they run the risk of all breaking down at the same time. Oh yeah. Withing months of each other, during the time of pay cuts, we had to replace the oven, the dishwasher, the microwave, the fridge, the propane stove (for heating the whole house), the washing machine, the dryer, and then the water heater too. That debt was more than I could pay back and the interest was pretty high.
I thought I was so smart. I took out a loan to pay all that off in five years. You know, that alone would have solved the problem. But I wasn’t pulling in enough to make it through each month and we had no savings and my wife couldn’t get any more hours at work. Eventually I filled another high interest credit card and rolled that over into another five year loan now owing and paying twice as much as before. You see where this is going. All the extra jobs I’m working, getting my National Board stipend, my wife working as much as she could, still not enough to make it through each month. But instead of cutting back, I’m still using credit cards to put food on my family’s table. To keep my family clothed. I’m still living the American Dream and pretending everything is okay even though I’m using credit that I can’t pay back.
So what to do now? Do we sell the house? My wife has been looking into tiny house living to see if that can save us money but that would mean our house would have to sell for a good price even though it needs fixing (which we can’t, of course, afford). Even though we’ve been paying our mortgage on time for almost 20 years, after refinancing, and saving very little doing so, we still owe most of what we originally owed!
If we can’t sell and buy a smaller home do we sell and become renters? Rent is still high enough that I’m not sure it would solve the problem. It’s sad and embarrassing that I can feel so successful at my job, at grant writing, at being innovative, yet I can’t make ends meet outside of my career, at home.
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Wednesday, July 20, the WA state Olympic STEM Pathways Partnership (OSPP) teacher leaders were able to attend an awesome event at the Galaxy Uptown Theater in Gig Harbor to review our first year of work, our second summer of training, and to look forward to our second year working with collaborating teachers in our schools! Last year we had our OSPP kickoff event at the Galaxy Uptown Theater, my first experience with that theater, and it was wonderful so it was so cool to get to go back there. Thanks to the OSPP director, Kareen Borders, who is also our Educational Service District’s (ESD) STEM director, for organizing all this and making these events and trainings happen for us!
If you’re not familiar with the Galaxy Theaters, they provide quite the experience with chairs that fully recline for the most comfortable movie viewing experience. Here’s a shot from last year when I took my family to the Galaxy Theaters so they could enjoy it too:
This year two of us teacher leaders from the OSPP, Candace Barich and I, were asked to be speakers and share highlights of our first full year working with teachers at our school as part of this OSPP and the work we did both in class and at our OSPP trainings. We shared takeaways of our NGSS trainings, our work with temperature sensors, and getting to learn from Marine Geologist, Dr Deb Kelley, and Oceanography and Biologist, Dr. Danny Grunbaum, of the University of Washington plus a host of other Scientists and Specialists from our state. We shared about STEM projects that our students are doing and coincidentally enough both our projects had a lot in common. Both of us were having students study salmon restoration and habitats while having our students go out and do field work on our neighborhood creeks! Really great stuff happening and that was just from two of us. The other 38 OSPP teacher leaders are each doing amazing things at their schools and I learn so much from them whenever we get together for our OSPP work and trainings! Getting to meet amazing teachers from schools in our region is such a wonderful benefit of participating in wonderful partnerships such as this one.
So last night we got to hear from our ESD’s Superintendent, Greg Lynch, our state Superintendent, Randy Dorn, our state Science Director, Ellen Ebert, Boeing Program Manager, Kelly Wright, our own Kareen Borders (who named the event Imagine, Inspire, Innovate), Co-Founder and CEO of Galaxy Theaters, Frank Rimkus, UW Professor and Principal Investigator of the Underwater Cabled Observatory component of the NSF’s Ocean Observatories Initiative, John Delaney, a video greeting from NASA Astrophycisist, Michelle Thaller, and US Representative of WA’s 6th Congressional District, Derek Kilmer! What an evening!
I took a few notes on Twitter and compiled them here in the following Storify:
An excellent evening and a great way of getting pumped up already for the work ahead! Luckily, we still have most of August for relaxing and planning (as well as leading and attending some trainings!). John Delaney inspired us with his work on the cabled observatories. Optic fiber cabling running through our ocean floor connects an array of sensors through high speed internet to give us all real-time data of underwater volcanoes and earthquakes! Sensors attached to remote operated vehicles (ROVs) as well as vehicles that can control themselves, yeah, are collecting data right now off our coast at a caldera volcano called Axial Seamount. So much more will come from Dr. Delaney’s work including being able to predict earthquakes, especially big ones! That is amazing!
And to top off an evening filled with things to imagine, with things that inspired, and ideas for enabling our students to innovate we were given a private screening of the new Star Trek movie, Star Trek Beyond, a full two-days before it hits theaters! That was so cool and I so very much enjoyed it (see my last tweet above)! This is what summers are for, to re-energize us and fill us with hope for another fabulous year teaching kids.
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The Common Core English Language Arts (CCSS ELA) standards were developed to provide our kids a relevant, engaging, rigorous education. At the heart of the standards are three major shifts to the way we teach our students. This year I have been fortunate enough to have one of the bloggers on our state’s CoreLaborate blog.
I managed to write a complete series on the three shifts called for in the CCSS ELA thanks to a series of trainings I attended. I attended two trainings put together by my state’s teacher union, the Washington Education Association (WEA) and a similar training put together by Achieve the Core. I have to admit that it took me all three of those trainings before I actually started to get it because there’s so much there. I ended up writing two posts for the 1st shift, two posts for the second shift and one post for the third shift. Now I teach Science and I am working on wrapping my brain around the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and since Science includes reading, researching and writing, the CCSS ELA standards are appropriate for me too. Learning about the shifts was very helpful and I got a lot of great information and resources at the trainings that I share in my shift posts.
I’m going to link to all five shift posts here so they are in one place and easy to access (reading them in order will probably be the most helpful):
Shift 2, Reading, writing and speaking grounded in evidence from text, both literary and informational. Part 1 and Part 2
Shift 3, Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction. Part 1
Here’s the page with all the posts in case that’s better.
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This 6th grader wrote a nice piece for a water pollution Public Service Announcement (PSA) activity we did in class.
Check out her blog post and see what you think!
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