I am illiterate

I currently live with two friends from grad school: a Turkish girl, Esra, and an American guy, Stephen, both of whom were in the English department with me. The Turkish girl and I lived together in the States as well and we all now live together in Istanbul. While Esra’s English is almost native, neither Stephen nor I knew Turkish before we moved here.

This past weekend, we all went out with friends of Esra’s and a friend of mine from work. Though my friend is Canadian, her family is Turkish and therefore she speaks the language fluently. She asked me and Stephen what it was like to move to a foreign country and not know the language. Stephen said he’s had a difficult time articulating exactly how it feels or what it’s like. Together, we decided that it is frustrating, exciting, alienating, and rewarding. All those words are fitting, yes, but still do not accurately describe the sensation. I stopped listening to the conversation for a minute and looked around the restaurant we were in. There were signs and menus and containers and lots of people talking or messing with their phones and that’s when it hit me and I rejoined the conversation:

“It’s like being illiterate, well, because technically we are.”

I cannot read the signs. Sure, I can recognize certain things: thank you, good morning, hello, one, three, fish sandwich. But the rest is a mystery. I can’t read the newspapers or books. I don’t understand many of my colleagues, the baker, the cashier, the tailor, the hairdresser, the nurse, the radio DJ. I can’t ask directions, discuss the news, or tell my waiter that I didn’t order the cheeseburger. I wouldn’t be able to carry on a conversation with a kindergartener. And even worse, that kindergartener would have a much better language acquisition than me. Imagine that you are living where you do currently and suddenly you can no longer do any of these things. As I said, it is incredibly frustrating and alienating.

But once you catch on, it’s also incredibly rewarding and exciting. Continue reading


What is the value of school?

Before I left for Turkey, my mom got me a Barnes and Noble gift card so that I could download fun things on my new and fancy, black magic Nook. Today I finally used it and downloaded Why School: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere. As a teacher and learning enthusiast, this title jumped out at me. I’m only about six pages in, but the author, Will Richards, has already raised enough valid points and questions that I felt the strong urge to send these questions into the blogosphere.

“In this new story, real learning happens anytime, anywhere, with anyone we like–not just with a teacher and some same-age peers, in a classroom, from September to June. More important, it happens around the things we learners choose to learn, not what someone else tells us to learn.

This new story requires us to ask the difficult yet crucial question: why school? I’m not suggesting we consider scrapping school altogether. I’m suggesting that this moment requires us to think deeply about why we need school. Or to ask, more specifically, what’s the value of school now that opportunities for learning without it are exploding all around us?”
This is not exactly a question that I want to answer right away. It should take some time and thought, and perhaps research. I know that, as a student, I enjoy the school setting; I enjoy classrooms and lectures and class discussions and exposure to things that perhaps I would not stumble upon on my own. Yes, I enjoy learning and researching and reading on my own, but I really do enjoy the structure of school as well. But as a teacher, I am constantly challenged to appeal to students who do not enjoy a traditional classroom setting. So what is the value of school? What can we learn in school that we can’t learn out of it? And how is the structure advantageous to the current generation? I’m not sure yet, but I’m going to keep reading and get back to you. In the meantime, I’m interested to hear the thoughts of others on this topic.

A letter to my 16 year old self

I recently stumbled across another blogger who’d written a letter to her sixteen year old self. The concept was so appealing that I immediately decided I was going to do the same. It’s interesting to think back to my former self and consider my ideas, my dreams, my worries and how they have changed, remained stagnant, or strengthened. So here is my version of a letter to myself.

Dear 16 year old Tessa,

You’re awkward and nerdy and that will never change, but you are also smart and beautiful. And the combination makes you much cooler and more interesting than you might ever give yourself credit for. Don’t be intimidated by other people and what they may think of you. Often, those people are worrying the same thing. You will soon find out that there are other people like you–friends who will love you as you are and be a part of your life for a long time.  Friends who will be there whenever you need them, no matter the hour or distance between you.  Friends who know you better than yourself.  Friends who will challenge you and show you the world. Friends who you will feel lucky just to know and who will feel the same about you.

Also, grades in high school do not at all reflect your capabilities. Academia will always be a part of your life, but you will learn that teachers, including yourself, are not always right. And you will have the passion to try and change the system–along with so many other things. Don’t listen to others. Your life is your own and it is important to know that, even now. And while your parents love you and really do want the best for you, be strong and stand up for your decisions and opinions.

Listen to yourself and trust your instinct. Your gut is never wrong. You will go so far. Soon you will find that adventurous part of yourself that has really been there all along, but needed a push or two.  You are capable of taking risks and you are more than capable of succeeding.  Confidence is key, but it’s okay to not always know the answers and it’s okay to ask for help…

Because there will be hard times. There will be sorrows. There will be times when you question everything and whether you can handle  what life gives you. But you can and you do. These are the times that you learn the most and these are the times that make you appreciate the less hectic. ( I won’t say calm, because there isn’t ever really a calm moment in your life.) Stress is capable of driving you, but don’t let it overrun you.

And don’t forget what you want at this very moment. True, some of your opinions will change and your view of life will become so broad. But never forget the person you want to be. Only adjust it to what becomes available to you, because you have no idea the awesome things you are going to see and experience.  These experiences will change you, form you, and help you to become someone you should be proud of.

Yes, I said it. Be proud. Be confident. You are smart. You are beautiful. You are capable. You are strong. You are a leader.

And as for boys… Well, believe it or not, there will be many. But you will only have the time and patience to really pay attention to few of them. And of those few, you will have great experiences and you will have heartache. And somewhere in between you will learn to let your guard down and trust others. Don’t forget to take risks in all aspects of your life, because when you don’t take risks, the rewards aren’t as great.

As for the things I have learned so far and you have still to figure out, I will leave you with what I have really found most important: Stand up for what you believe in.  Don’t try to plan life, because it cannot be tamed.  Even when things don’t seem to work out, it’s usually for the better. Almost everything is subjective, so do not back down. Laugh often. Travel as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, because people think you’re amazing. Appreciate what people have to offer. Have fun. Continue learning. And NEVER stop asking questions.

Love always,

24 year old Tessa

PS- Don’t try to tame your curls–they will only fight back. Use them to match a vibrant personality.

Always keep it interesting

Six ways to keep students interested:

One of my younger sisters doesn’t really share my passion for reading and writing. To her, I might as well speak Greek when I’m discussing words or literature or most of my favorite things. Love each other as we do, there are times when we have such few similarities that we question whether or not we’re actually related. That being said, she recently posted on my Facebook wall the following quote:

“Essays are like skirts–long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to keep it interesting.”

How great is that?! Of course, being the English nerd that I am, I immediately asked her to cite her source and tried Googling it when she didn’t. Apparently, it’s quite the common saying, because I couldn’t find the origin. Thanks Google–your overwhelming database of useless knowledge has proved useless to me once again.

I think the part about this quote that both pleased and disturbed me the most was the latter half. It disturbed me mostly because I often think of my sister as if she is still 10 years old and don’t want her thinking of why short skirts are interesting. But on the other hand, this part of the quote pleased me because, well it’s awesome and it leads me to a few questions: 1.Why hadn’t any teacher said this to me before? It would have become my motto. 2. Then again, when is this an appropriate message to use? I would love to use this with my students, but I know some of their parents would disapprove. And 3. If I did use it with my students, how many of them would actually get it and how many would just giggle or give me blank looks? Now stay with me, because this leads me to my ultimate question:

How do we keep it interesting?

As a teacher I constantly try to remain enthusiastic and a step ahead of what other teachers are doing. I look up new strategies, pay attention to what others do, research fun activities, and try to think outside the box–all because I enjoy learning and want my students to enjoy it as well.  Of course there are lots of ways that I think would be cool to present or apply information and skills, but there are always obsticals (check out the Banned Books on ALA if you don’t believe me). Continue reading