Learning about English Learning – The WIDA Institute

Pardon the interruption, but I am going to talk about something that veers down a different path. For those of you who read the usual travel posts, or various poems, or review of board games, this post might not be for you. Many of you might not know this, but I spend a lot of time as an educator. For those of you have your educator license in the United States know that one of the requirements to keep that license is professional development. As an international teacher, this means some time during the summer I have to travel to various parts of the world to take a course that I might find useful in my craft as an educator.

I picked the word ‘might’ for a specific reason. There are many educators out there that will know the meaning of that word choice. Professional development, a lot of the time, is just a moment in your career where you try to develop your ability to remain professional. A lot of the time, it is a rehashing of what you already do, or a way for some retiree to make some extra side money by selling some program that they developed during their teaching career. You have to sit in this program, and nod your head as you try not to get mad that you paid money for this checking of the box that you need in order to renew your license. Rather, you would like to get that professional development that you can bring back to your classroom and use to fill in those gaps within your own instruction.

This brings me to this year’s summertime professional development. I took off to Wisconsin for a week so I could learn everything I could about WIDA, World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment. For those teachers out there, this is probably a program that they are familiar with, and may even implement in their own schools. For everybody else, WIDA is a program used for English language learners to help them in that struggle while they still try to be successful in their content classes. It is usually used for those teachers who run the English language learning programs in their schools, and their purpose is to guide the other teachers as to what they can do in their classrooms to help these students.

I know what you are asking now?

What is an English teacher doing getting trained on how to support English language learners?

Well, the short answer is that in the state of Colorado where my license is, I need to have a a certain amount of hours of English language learning in order to renew my license. There are many Colorado teachers are annoyed by having to jump through this hoop in order to renew their license. I get that feeling, but I like to go into these trainings with the idea that there is something that I can get out of it that I can take back to this classroom. It is this positive attitude that makes these professional development moments worth it.

It was pretty easy to go into this training with this attitude though. The conference covered an area that all international teachers should be aware of when working with their students. There are a variety of languages that are brought to my classroom though I can easily forget this fact because everybody is expected to speak English. Though they speak, read, write, and listen to this language in my classroom, they may still struggle with processing and expressing themselves using this language, and might need those extra structures in place to be successful. What I discovered in this training was that the structures that I could implement for my language users could also be used for my regular students, helping to reach those higher level of expression as well.

I am also starting to see why the state of Colorado requires this training as well. Whether you like it or not, the United States is becoming more multilingual every year, and in ways that would surprise many people. I was talking to a person from North Carolina who is working with many students that use Arabic as their first language. I know that Denver has a huge population of Russian immigrants where certain parts of town, that is the major language spoken. Los Angeles has the second largest population of Korean speakers over any other city in the world, except for Seoul. There are Chinese, Hmong, and Ukrainian speakers coming in all the time, and it is the role of the teacher to help these students learn the material. Even walking around Madison where I was getting the training, I heard a variety of languages spoken from the students that were getting some extra credits during the summer. It is no longer the need to know Spanish in order to help the students coming from Latin America, but a variety of tools that can be used to help all students.

I am really glad that I took some time this summer to go to this institute and learn what they had to teach me. It will definitely help my practice when I arrive in Jordan for my second year there, and it introduced me to other conferences that I will want to take in the future. My only regret was that I was the only content teacher in the training, and I wish that there were more of us there rather than just the English Language Learning teachers that I got to work with. I would hope that more content teachers take that leap and take this class. It will not only help their craft, but it will help to bridge that important gap between them and the English Language Learning teachers in their schools. It will create a classroom that everybody can learn in, and not just the ones who are already comfortable with the language.

Wet versus Dry

It is a rare thing when Colorado gets to be in the national spotlight, or even talked about at a level internationally. Usually, when it happens, it is due to some extreme story that does not make this part of the United States look great. There have been many tragic shootings, and fires that have devastated much of the forests in the mountains. But the fire that took place recently outside of Boulder, Colorado might be one of the most tragic that Colorado has encountered. Though only a couple people have ended up missing, over a thousand home burned down, and has changed the lives of all those people who have been displaced.

At the time of this writing, it is still has not been determined how the fire in the middle of a residential area got started. The initial thought that high, strong winds knocked down some power lines has been ruled out, but one thing is sure that if it was an act of nature, an accident, or something more malicious, there is one factor that cannot be denied about why it was so destructive, the dry conditions that Colorado has been experiencing this winter. After talking with people there, I was told about how little moisture they had been getting. There was a heavy rain back in the end of July, and they had a snow that collected an inch during the early days of autumn, but besides that there has been nothing. Colorado is already a desolate looking place during the autumn months, but extend that into winter, and it is only a matter of time that a fire will get started and we will witness the destruction like we last week.

On the flip side of that coin is too much rain. I have also been lucky to have spent some time in Oregon during this break as well, and if the main color in Colorado in December was brown, the main color in Oregon has been a bright green. This is not true for the whole state, but I have only been able to see what life is like in Portland, and it has rained most of the time that I have gotten off of the plane until now. It hasn’t been the typical mist in the air kind of rain that Portland usually experiences during the holidays either. There have been significant downpours, and if you travel further west into the higher elevations, this rain has turned into snow. And they are getting a lot of snow too. I-84 and a lot of the mountain passes have been closed due to too much snow falling in a short period of time, and it does not look like it will be stopping anytime soon. In fact, in certain parts of Portland, there have been Flood Watches and Advisories issued through Friday afternoon.

It all comes down to a statement that a lot of people have been saying to others lately, “Odd weather we’ve been having lately.” These statements are not just uttered in Colorado or Oregon either. There have been December tornadoes in Kentucky, severe drought conditions in Jordan, cyclone warnings in Australia, and sunny days in Antartica. Weather is out of balance, and we sit around and comment about how that is odd. There is a simple explanation for this odd behavior, but seem to want to be too polite to actually say it out loud in the random chance that we might offend someone. But these occurrences are going to get stranger, and more frequent unless we acknowledge that there is a problem, and start to do something to correct this problem. We have to admit that climate change is happening, and we not only need to change our habits to try to correct it, but we need to make sure that our laws and economic future also reflect these changes in our behavior. But it all starts by admitting that it is out there. So the next time you talk about the tragedy of nature, or the odd weather that we are experience, let the person know who you are talking to that it is a matter of climate change. They need to hear it, and the only way we will change our ways if we quit being polite about it.

Back to the On-line Grind

I know that the New Year should be greeted with renewed optimism, and excitement for the days ahead. We should be looking at what has come in the past, and how it has allowed us to grow in the future. It is a time of reflection, and adjustment, one that we should look forward to every year.

This was before the advent of Covid-19. The last two year have felt like a decade and it is hard to believe that this world-shattering event hasn’t even reached its second anniversary. We always seem to be able to take a couple of steps forward so we can return to a lifestyle we once knew, but then something else comes into play that reminds us that this pandemic has not ended yet. First, it was the Delta variant over the Summer, and now it is the evil sounding Omicron that is producing numbers the likes of we have never seen since this pandemic began. It has forced us to return to the ways that we were hoping to avoid all along. So 2022 will start with the one thing I have been hoping to avoid all school year, on-line learning.

A recent email from my school stated that when we return to school after the break, we will be going on-line until the 17th. This date may be extended depending on what is happening with the Covid pandemic at the time, and the way it is going, it looks like this is a strong possibility. I know that it is the right thing to do. Schools need to keep their students and staff safe, and we should not be subjected to the chances of people who are not willing to take the necessary precautions to make sure everyone is safe. Schools are also a great breeding ground for the disease. There is not a single a elementary school teacher that can go the whole year without catching some disease from their walking petri-dishes that inhabit their classrooms. And it should not surprise people that high school students can be just as bad. They share food and water bottles without thinking what they are doing and what they are spreading. Many of them complain about having to wear the masks in the first place because it hinders their ability to look good, so it is a constant battle to get them to put them on correctly. With all of these factors, it is no surprising that we are going back on-line, especially as the numbers worldwide spike to more than a million new cases a day.

Still, it is not a great way to start the new year. There are many challenges that come with teaching on-line. Many students are not as engaged in the lessons, and many of them fall further and further behind in their studies. My students this year are significantly behind where they should be because they has spent all of last year on-line, and they are complaining that they are being pushed too hard. It scares me to think what the next generation of people will bring because of this pandemic, and the holes that students are getting in their learning. But the battle must rage on and I need to prepare to push through. I need to make sure that my students get the education that they need to be successful in life and to take the ever increasing challenges that the world will present.

The point being is that if you know any teachers who are going through this, please understand that they are doing their best to give the best education possible. Also remember that students are going through a lot at this time as well, and they need the encouragement to keep moving forward. There are also the parents of these students whose lives have been turned upside down because of this new way of living. They have to give up a lot to make sure that their sons and daughters are being taken care of properly. Give them all the patience that they need as they continue to work their way through this challenging time.

And most importantly, do what you can to bring this pandemic to an end. Avoid large gatherings, wear your mask, and most importantly get vaccinated. They are small things, but if we pull together as a world society we will defeat this ugly beast, and return to a world that is better for everybody involved.

Thank you, and have a Happy New Year.

Celebrating Fifty Years

There are always those milestone years that we reach that bring everybody together to celebrate that milestone. They come pretty quick when we are younger: the first time we hit double digit, when we become a teenager, when we turn sixteen and are able to drive, when we turn eighteen and legally become an adult, and when we turn twenty-one and can drink at bars. When we are these ages, we get excited about the days and we look forward to the moments that make it memorable, whether that is a birthday cake, a set of car keys, a new ID, or a collection of empty shot glasses paid for by our friends.

As we get older these milestone years come less and less and eventually they only come every ten years. At first, it is still fun to hold these celebrations, and we try to return to our younger days to prove that we are still young. We quickly learn that time is not working in our favor at this time, and we cannot return to those old ways, and we must think of new ways that we can celebrate the passing of time in our lives. For some people it is the rush to spend the money that we have collected over the years, but most of these outrageous purchases end up being dismissed as a display of our mid-life crises. Others of us create a challenge that reflects the age we are turning while making it obtainable at the same time. It is that step towards a new beginning that shows the world that we are still able to be a factor in our remaining years. It is a show of strength and endurance that reflects the struggles we have been through with our time on Earth.

My brother is hitting one of those milestones today. He is turning a half of a century old, and there will be all of the trappings of such a milestone. There will be a party where friends from all over the world will gather together to celebrate. They will share drink and food, and people will celebrate his fifty years. There will only be one thing missing from this equation, my brother. He will be close by and we will all be sitting on his driveway to wave at him every once in awhile as he makes his occasional presence, but for the most part, we will be celebrating without him. He will be trying to achieve a milestone of his own, fifty miles on his fiftieth birthday.

This will be quite the achievement, and a commend him for making this attempt. He started early this morning on his first five mile loop that will send him back to the front of his house about once every hour. At that time, he will drop off a group of people who ran with him to pick up another group to do another five miles. This way he gets to spend a lot of time with his friends and family on his birthday while trying to prove something to everybody that will not leave him with a weird purchase, or send him to hospital for the poor choices he made. And after he is all finished all of his loved ones will be there to celebrate not only the achievement, but the fact that he has turned one year older. I hope that in a couple of years, I, too, can accomplish something as meaningful as this, but in the meantime, I wish him the best of luck on his ordeal, and I will be there to cheer him on as he finish his epic task.

Teaching to the Test

I am now one of those people who is over the age of thirty and living in their parents’ basement. This is not because I am a jobless bum, but rather because I am in-between jobs and in the process of moving from one country to another. My stuff is sprawled over the basement as I sort through what I should take and what I should leave behind. I have to make predictions about what my life will be like in the new country that I am moving to, and what I will need for clothes and for entertainment. Most of this is old habit as I have learned much from past experiences about how to stay informed about my sports teams, and watch their important games, what television shows I can access, how many books and new music will keep me engaged until I can make my way back to the United States, and most importantly how I can engage with my new fellow colleagues. I am excited about the change, and nervous, but not as nervous as I was when I made my first leap to a different country six years ago. The whole reason I don’t feel the same kind of fear of what I was getting into during that first time is because I have lived through it before, and I know a little bit of what I should be expecting. I am prepared. There is something about being prepared and how that helps to reduce stress in your life.

It is part of what I have been doing this past week. Every day, my alarm has been waking me up, so I could crawl over to my computer, hop on to Zoom, and participate in a workshop for a class I will teaching for the first time next year, AP Literature and Composition. I knew a little bit about the class from teaching in an AP school for four years, but I had a few questions that I needed answered to make sure that I could give my students the support that they will need. I have been looking at different lessons, and different texts to use in those different lessons. It has taken me back to my college days and all of the literature classes I took back then. I am sitting in a room with like minded people who love to read and talk about what they read, and it has been fun to engage with texts in this way again. But we have also looked at many students’ essays based on the prompts they might encounter on the test, and we have gone over what the College Board will be looking for when they grade them. It reminds me of the drudgery I go through any time I have student plop a completed essay on to my desk and the task I have to go through in order to grade them all and get the feedback to them. Granted, these are the higher end students writing literary analysis and for the most part, they are engaging and well written. Also, most of these essays were written in a time period of only forty minutes, so they do not take that long to grade. But I appreciated the opportunity to look at this final product because it helped me understand where I need to get my students in order to be successful in this class and on this exam.

This gets me to one of the biggest discussions that teachers have when they are assigned to one of these classes with a big exam at the end of it. Should I be teaching to this test or does that do my students a great disservice because I am not preparing them for the more important thing, life? I do believe that this is an important question to examine. If I am being honest, there will be very few of my students who will need to know how to to write a good literary analysis essay in order to be successful in life. There are very few professions that need to know how to do this, so why should I spend so much time nurturing this skill within my students? Wouldn’t the time be better spent exploring the ideas presented in the literature and having my students talk about these issues to become better citizens after they have graduated from high school? Does the test actually measure their ability to do this, and why do a bunch of dead white males hold the keys to this kind of profound thinking?

But then again I look at the reason I love literature so much, and why I want to instill that same kind of love into my students. There is a reason that the most successful people have the ability, desire, and ambition to read a large amount of fiction in common. Every story that they read teaches them the capacity to understand the world from a different person’s point of view. They get to live hundreds of pages in the mind of another person. It is the true definition of empathy, and this ability makes successful people great leaders and amazing innovators. The ability to dig deep into a piece of prose or poetry and analyze it in a way that is profound and purposeful. This may not be a skill that an engineer or a lawyer might need to know, but it is something that a human being needs to know. And though it is important to have a profession in life, it is also important to be able to practice that skill of empathy so you can have those connections in life that are meaningful.

Can I reach that level of understanding by teaching to the test? Normally, I would say no, but I do believe that AP Lit is a different class. It is a skills based class. I will be teaching students how to write effectively, and writing effectively is nothing more than an act of thinking effectively, so essentially what I will be teaching students is how to think effectively, and if they can do that then they will be successful on this test, and this test will allow them to reach that level of understanding that they need with others so they can be empathetic and successful. Why wouldn’t I then teach to the test? It is what I should be teaching anyways.

So as I prepare to take the leap to a new country again, I have been taking some time out of packing and getting the supplies I will need to be comfortable in this new country, I will take a little time to make sure that I am also prepared to teach this class for the first time. It will allow me to get my students to the place where they will need to be in order to be successful not only on the test, but life as well. I now look forward to the new school year with anticipation because it will a great one filled with a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to get to it.

Things

I am already thinking about winter. It was one of the chores that I knew I had to do while I was in the United States because I knew that the clothes I had shipped to Jordan from Thailand would only be appropriate during the first couple of months out there, and then I would need some long sleeves, pants, and hats. I had some of that stuff in Thailand because my thought was we would travel to cooler places to get away from the tropical heat, but then, Covid. So I do have a weeks worth of clothes that will allow me survive in those conditions, and they are not for the really cold temperature that Amman can sometimes get to.

So this is why I have been thinking about winter.

Growing up in Colorado, and visiting Oregon often means that I do have these clothes, but I pushed them in some boxes and bags and left them in storage some place in one of these two states, and even then, I am not sure where I left them in those states. It has been a little game of hide and seek so far this summer, rummaging through this box and that one trying to find what I know is out there, and yesterday, I went to my storage unit in Colorado.

Lo and behold, I found the missing clothes among piles of things that I am not sure what they are anymore. This little game made me realize what has become of my life, and my things as they are strewn across the world. Of course right now I am living out of bags and have to rummage through them every morning to find the things that I need to be a part of society. I have some rare discs and records tucked away in a closet at my parents’ house, and a couple boxes of random stuff at my in-laws’ house. And somewhere, en route, there is a shipping container full of more stuff and things finding its way to my new place in Jordan. I have truly become a man of the world, and like a teenager does in their room, I have left myself wherever I just happen to drop it.

While looking at my stuff, and all of the places where it is, I am constantly thinking about a story I taught a couple of times early in my teaching career by D.H. Lawrence called “Things”. It told the story of a couple who started taking teaching jobs overseas. Of course, they did not want to bring all of their stuff with them, so they put some stuff in storage here, and other things in storage over there. They bought art and mementos along the way, but they did not have a place in their house to display them, so they stored those in other countries. They ended up having places all over the world to hold their stuff for them. I now thing of that story and realize that I am now living it. (I will put a link to the story at the end of the post if you are interested to read for yourself.)

There are a couple of themes that could be looked at while reading this story, but the one that stuck with me and the one that I always return to is how we no longer own our possessions, but instead they start to own us. Part of the lives of these characters was to tend to their things, and I am participating in the same ritual. Some of these things are easy to attend to; whereas, others are going to be a surprise when I return to them years later. I will have forgotten that I have some of these things, and it will be like a return to Christmas when I find them again. But it makes me start to wonder how much of it I really need, and how much of it I can give away.

My wife and I always talk about going to the storage unit every summer and reorganizing it to move to a smaller storage unit, but something always comes up that makes us put that off for another year. Basically, it is easier to maintain my things than to deal with them, but someday I will have to deal with them. Until then, I will just lock the door to the storage unit, push that box in the corner of the room where I found it, and track my shipment over the internet until it arrives, and I will continue to play this game with my things.

“Things” by D.H. Lawrence

Show Off Those Guns Vaccinated People

No, we are not wearing bandaids because we got boo boos, and most of the time my workout routine does not highlight the definition of my arms, but this was an exciting moment. It was that final step that we needed to take to get back to the lives we wanted to live, and not one where we are stuck indoors all the time. It will make a little bit easier, but it won’t get to that perfect place until the rest of the population does their parts and gets vaccinated as well. Then the masks will be able to come off, the restaurants will open again to full service, and the one I am looking forward to the most, travel will start up again. Everyday, the country inches closer to that goal of herd immunity and I can’t wait until it gets there. As of the writing of this post, Oregon (where I am at right now) has 58.1% of the population vaccinated, Colorado (where I will be next) has 57.4%, and the country of Jordan (the place I will be moving to at the end of the year) is at 21.7%. Those are some exciting numbers. It does not mean that I will get to see that goal of being able to travel around the world freely anytime soon, but at least things seem to be moving in the right direction.

Getting my second shot almost didn’t happen too. I had an appointment scheduled at 11:00 yesterday, and the place I was going to called me up at 9:30. Their refrigerator broke the night before, causing their vaccine supply to be spoiled. At first, I didn’t know what to do, but after getting on the phone and calling a couple of other places, we were able to find one that had the same dose that we needed and we could walk right in. The pharmacy we went to was a little busy, but we were still able to get in and out within a half an hour. It showed me how easy they are making this for everybody, and if people want to get back to life as normal, they need to go in and get their shots. This way the United States government can send more vaccines to other countries. The world will get that herd immunity that is needed to make it safe again, and we can put this pandemic behind us.

I will be honest. The second dose hit me a lot harder than the first dose did. After the first shot, I only had a sore arm which made it hard if I slept on one of my sides, but after taking the second shot, I got a little bit of a chill, and a wicked headache that made sleep hard for one night. It was a little uncomfortable, but it made me realize how terrible it would be if I contracted the real Covid-19 virus. It also lets me know that the vaccine is working. After a restless night’s sleep and a couple of cups of coffee in the morning, I am feeling a lot better, and I know that it will only be one day before I can get back to feeling normal. It is a small price to pay to know that I am safe and that I will not be spreading the disease to other people that I come in contact with.

So there is only one thing left for the rest of the people to do. If you haven’t gotten your shot yet, go out there and get it. Push the numbers up and get to that herd immunity rate. Let’s get the world operating again, and let’s quit hearing these death reports and stories of people stuck indoors. Go get that bandaid and show off your guns proudly, knowing that you have done your part pushing the world to the place where it needs to be.

The End of Quarantine

As the United States edges closer to the 4th of July, and the Joe Biden goal of having 70% of Americans vaccinated by then, certain states are opening up again, and people are taking advantage of this fact by leaving their homes. I am one of those people who are excited to get out of their homes and be a part of society again, but for the time being, the state I am in has not yet reached its goal and it has not opened up yet. It might take awhile too. According to Our World in Data at the time of writing this, only 50.4% of Oregonians have been fully vaccinated with 57.1% of them receiving one dose. It is behind that magic number for herd immunity, but there is hope as the number of cases continues on a downhill trend even with the threat of the Delta variant creeping into the count in many places in the United States.

With all of this going on, I have reached the two week mark of arriving in the United States. And I know that there was not a hard rule in the United States about what incoming people to the United States should do with quarantine, but that did not stop me from doing a self-imposed quarantine. Why? Well, because it was the right thing to do. Granted, if you have been reading this blog lately, you know that it wasn’t a very strict quarantine where I stayed inside all of the time. I did go for a daily walk, but I was in a good position where I did not need to be around anybody on these walks, and I was never in close contact with anybody. The only time I have been inside with a group of people was when I got off the plane as I went into a local Target to get my first dose of the Pfizer vaccination. I think I did a pretty good job of making sure that if I brought the disease into the United States, I did not give it to anybody else and caused this pandemic to ravage on further in this country.

But I think that is part of the problem with the United States. There are some policies that if they had made a little different, it might have stopped the spread of this disease from being so bad, and with the recent push to get vaccinated, more of the country might have been open right now. I know a lot of people would claim that hindsight is 20/20 and if we had only done this, that, and the other thing than things would have been better, but how could we have known to do these things. All you have to do is look at what other countries did to know that there could have been ways of lessening this impact.

First off is to look at who was being let into the country. The borders should have been locked down, and people should not have been allowed to come and go. Many countries locked down their borders, such as New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan. All of these place had their first initial jump, but as soon as they got that under control everything flatlined. The only place that had another jump was Taiwan, and it happened around the same time that they opened up their borders for travelers again.

Looking at my three examples show that they all have something in common. They are all island countries, except for Singapore but it is close enough to being one, and it would be easy to lock down these countries. What about the ones with border butting up to other countries. If you look at Vietnam, it closed its border early in the pandemic, and has it very difficult for anybody to enter that country. For the most, they have done a very good job of keeping this pandemic under control until recently. The numbers have gone up for them, and it is probably due to the fact that they can’t control every inch of the border allowing a case or two to slip through, and any time this happens, the rate of infection will go up. It is still at a manageable rate though. If looking at a longer border, Canada would be a better example. They have been very strict about who can come in or out of the country, and even though they have had a lot more cases than these other countries, they have all been at a very manageable rate, and the impact this disease has had on this country is minimal.

All of this brings up the question of quarantine, and how other countries handle this issue that helps to minimize the problems of Covid-19. The United States does not have a policy. They do not even really screen people who come off of planes to make sure they do not have the possibility of carrying the disease. It is a free as you will kind of attitude as soon as you get off of that plane. Of course, they pull over the random individual to check to see if they have the disease to say that they are doing some form of testing, but this screams the same type of racial profiling that can be seen in their prevention of terrorism on planes. The sad reality is that this disease does not pick a certain race or nationality to attach itself to, and anybody can get the disease. It will slow things down, but everybody needs to be tested and quarantined.

It was a night and day experience when we flew into Doha, Qatar for the first leg of our flight as opposed to Seattle. Before getting off the flight in Doha, all of the screens froze, not matter where you were in the movie you were watching, and an informational video going through the steps of how to quarantine, and how to help those that you might be quarantining. It went through where to place the person, how to sanitize objects they might have used, proper glove and mask use, and cleaning procedures. It even designated which bus you would take to get to your quarantine location, whether that was a national or a visitor. The contact that a person was allowed to make with people when they got off the plane was non-existent. Qatar was making sure nobody brought this disease into their country.

The quarantine time was two weeks for people flying into Qatar, and this is the typical quarantine period for most countries. Some countries, such as South Korea and Qatar allow people to stay in their own homes if they live in the country, but a lot of other countries have required people to stay in a quarantine hotel which they pay for. This is the case for Thailand, the country we just came from, and I do believe that they are exploiting people a little bit, but it is a way for them to keep their economy running. A person can chose on what level of hotel they would like to stay in, based on how much they are willing to pay, with the more expensive one providing certain amenities and better food.

Vietnam is taking this to the extreme. They are so worried about an outbreak that they are requiring people to stay in a quarantine hotel for three weeks on arrival which they have to pay for, before moving on to their own homes for two additional weeks. I know there have been a couple of cases of people getting out of quarantine and then testing positive for Covid, but they are rare, and a five week quarantine period that would cost a couple $10,000 to go through seems a little excessive.

But all of these things would not be necessary as much anymore if the government can get people to participate in the third most important thing, getting vaccinated. This is the one thing that will allow us to get over this pandemic, and the faster that the country can get to herd immunity, the faster we can return to a more comfortable lifestyle. Certain countries are already bypassing the quarantine period for people coming into the country if they can prove they have been vaccinated, such as my next stop, Jordan. And there are a lot of countries that are working hard to get as many people vaccinated this summer so they can open up schools and business at an introductory level in the fall.

This is where the United States is driving me crazy. People are looking for an excuse not to get vaccinated and complaining about the restrictions at the same time. Yes, there were a couple of missteps when it was first rolled out almost seven months ago, and there were some legitimate concerns, but we are long enough through the process to indicate that those concerns have been addressed. The people who have been arriving at the hospitals with severe cases of Covid all have one thing in common, they have not been vaccinated. I also find that these are the people who are the most vocal about opening up the country again. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have the country open, and not have a protected population at the same time.

The vaccine is available to anybody living in the United States right now, and it just sits on the shelf waiting for people to come by and get their shot. America is the only place in the world that has this problem. Where I came from just a couple short weeks earlier, the people there would do anything to get vaccinated, and return to a lifestyle consistent with what it used to be like before all this started. I stayed in my home for two months waiting for that moment that I could get back to the United States so I could receive the vaccine and be able to breathe a little easier. I am not quite there yet. I still have one more shot left to receive, but I am happy about being able to return to society safely and responsibly, and I hope in the coming weeks, more American take that plunge. This way, more people around the world will be able to get vaccinated, and life can return to one where we don’t have to think about quarantine or the shutting of borders.

The Importance of a Break

I have a good friend who grew up in Britain, and he is always making fun of my work habit. Growing up, I was taught that hard work and constantly pushing myself to accomplish the things that my company or organization that I worked for would make me a valuable member of society. I pushed myself so hard sometimes that I would feel worn out at the end of the day and would work for long streaks without ever taking a break. There was one time when I was earning my teaching degree that I had a streak of 28 days in a row where I commitments with either work or school. In my mind, this made me important.

This idea is still a part of who I am. Rarely do I take a day off from work. Granted, as a teacher, it is actually more work to take a day off from work than it is to show up sick and just work through the pain. Of course, my thinking about this has changed with the recent pandemic, and I have since taken a few days off when I have had a cold, but even then it was a struggle.

One of the benefits of being a teacher though is having these times throughout the year where I get to take an extended break. With my work ethic, this does not mean that I stop working; it just means that I have more time during the day for myself. As an English teacher, I always have a stack of student writing that I have to chip away at, and during the summer, I have to read the works I am planning on teaching and coming up with ways that I can get my students to connect with them. But this only takes a couple hours a day as opposed to the ten to eleven hours I work on a normal school day.

If my British friend was reading this right now, he would be laughing at me and calling me a fool for putting so much effort in to an employer that would turn their back on me as soon as I decided to move on to another location. And I hate to say it, but he would be right. There are many other people that dedicate a lot of their time and energy to their profession. A lot of these people happen to come America because they are all chasing for that elusive dream that they have been told is out there. They just have to give a little bit more of themselves, and push a little harder in order to get it. What they do not realize is that this dream is already right in front of them, and as long as they accept that they already have what they are looking for, they won’t push themselves so hard to get that other things that the great American Dream is trying to sell us on. I would be a happier individual if I could only just accept this fact.

It shouldn’t come down to how much money I make in order to determine my happiness even though this is the thought that has been sold to me at a very young age. It also is sold as me working hard to make money for others so they could throw me bone from time to time and I will feel important. Another way of looking at it is trickle down economics. I work really hard to make money for somebody else, and it is not really about my happiness or how much I enjoy the work I am doing just as long as another dollar is made for the man on the top of the ladder.

But this is where my British friend comes in. Just not him, but all of the people I have met over the years from Europe. They have a different kind of thinking there. It is not about how hard you work, but how much you enjoy the work that you are doing. Now I know that there is not a single job out there where there will be a task that you will have to do that you will not enjoy. Being an English teacher is this way. I am not a big fan of reading developing writing about the same subject over and over again. It is really painful. But there is a payoff in the end. I do enjoy watching my students develop as writers as they slowly start how to get to that level as a writer that will make them successful in life. I enjoy talking about literature and thinking about the bigger ideas presented by the greatest writers in history. I love connecting students to reading and watching them become lifelong readers. I just love consuming media in general and I enjoy talking about how to consume it with an active mind.

This is where the problem comes in. For all of the things that I love that feed me energy to continue to do the job I am doing, the routine and humdrum existence of my job are enough to wear me down after awhile and make going to work a chore rather than a joy that I always hope it will be. I need a break from the routine to look at thing with a new perspective. I need to put the humdrum aside for long enough so I can get excited about all of the other aspects of the job that I love. For this reason, I need those breaks that so many people view as a benefit as opposed to something that I need in order to maintain my sanity. It is what allows me to be the effective and engaging teacher that I know I can be. 

But this is not the same attitude that a lot of companies in the United States take. They want to get the most out of their employees and they will do everything to make sure this happens. Yes, they will give them a couple of weeks vacation throughout the year, and they will close down for national holidays, but otherwise, they expect their employees to be there most of the time. This is taken up a notch in Korea too. They have their employees working ten hour days, and forcing them to spend their downtime with their bosses outside of work. They are not given much time off to recover from their hard work and they are constantly pushing themselves to do bigger things and more of them. The reality of the situation is that Korea has the most work hours out of any nation, and also the lowest productivity rate during those hours. Their workforce is overworked, and this is evident when you see the amount of effort they put in to get their job done. They spend more time scrolling through their phones rather than completing their tasks. If they were given more free time, they might actually spend that work time being more productive.

There is the other end of this spectrum as well. Scandinavian countries give their employees on an average three to four weeks of vacation time per year with Sweden claiming that the average worker there only works a six hour work day. Looking at the quality of life index and the rate that people are happy in that country, and you will see that most people are happier here than anywhere else in the world. It might be because they have a healthy balance between work and life where they do not have to feel stressed out about getting those little things done during the day and still have time to enjoy with other people. Now, I have never lived in any of the Scandinavian countries and only visited there for about two weeks over ten years ago. I cannot say if this is the reality of the situation or not, but I am willing to find out.

Basically, my point is that we are all happier when we take time off and enjoy the world around us. We all have stressful jobs, and working as a high school English teacher is no exception. Even though I still do work during those periods that I am supposed to be off, I value that time and look forward to it every time it comes close. I also find that I am more productive and a better teacher when I get back into the classroom after an extended break. I know this goes against the bottom line for a lot of companies, but if they started to do the same for their employees, they also might find a change in the work force production.

Work Identity

My class has been talking a lot about identity lately and how we determine what our personal identity is. It is not something new that I have taught, but it has been something that I have thought a lot about recently, especially the way that we go about shaping our identity. It got me thinking about how many adults determine their identity, and for most, at least the ones that I come in contact with, it is connected with their job.

I know that this should not be considered a great new revelation. People have been talking about how this has been a fact for many years. It is the first question that many people ask of each other when they first meet outside of the work place which is rare considering that most of the people we associate with come from within the work place. If I really think about it, this is even something that is ingrained is us from our college days when we question asked of many of our fellow students was what their major was, or another way of putting it, what they planned to make of their future careers.

It is strange that we tie so much of our identity to this part of our lives, yet it is the one things that most of us would love to get as far way from as soon as we can. It is also not all of us that place this much importance on our jobs, but I do believe that this is the minority out there. It makes me wonder how these people are able to leave this aspect of their lives behind, and what it is that they shape their identity around.

The obvious answer to that is their family, followed by their accomplishments. But that is still looking at our identity through the lens of another person in order to define who we are. When are we able to define ourselves through our own understanding of our identity, and not through the lens imposed on us by society? Has anybody ever come to this true understanding of self? I’m sure that there are a few who have throughout the course of history, but those are rare and I am also betting that are the more influential people the world has ever known.

Thinking about that makes me start to understand better the importance of identity. It something that I see all of my high school students struggle with, and I am sure that this is something that is typical for all people their age. But I am also starting to come to the realization that it is not only exclusive to them, but to all people of all ages. It is a struggle for all of us, and what makes it even more difficult is the changing landscape of our lives and how they automatically changes the essence of our identity.

The best I think that any of us can hope for is to come to an acceptance that this change is constantly happening and be happy with the identity that we have on any given basis understanding how it connects to the identity that proceeded it. It is what I have begun to strive to do, and I have found a certain amount of peace within myself because of this perspective.

Or maybe I should quit teaching such philosophical ideas in my class and I won’t have these deeper thoughts causing me to have an identity crisis. But then would my class be as interesting, and what would their identity be?