Saturday, September 19, 2015

You Know You're An English Teacher When... (A List by Rachel)

You know you're an English teacher when...

#1) get together with your friends to talk about lesson ideas and books you're reading (I do this with my fellow interns every day).

#2) decide to sleep in on Saturday and set your alarm clock for 7:30.

#3) wake up on that same Saturday at 6:40 and can't go back to sleep, but it's OK because you've still slept later than usual.

#4) head for the teachers' lounge at lunch like a dying man in the desert going for water--not because you're hungry, but because you are about to enjoy 25 minutes of sophisticated conversation using grown up vocabulary.

#5) start grading exams and fifteen minutes later you've memorized the answer key.

#6) can get up in front of a class and make them believe that you think the four sentence types or the elements of fiction writing are the MOST EXCITING THINGS ON THIS PLANET.

#7) see a poster that says "Every time you don't capitalize the letter "I," a Unicorn dies" and end up doubled over laughing.

#8) want to laugh just as hard when one of your students does a peer edit and exclaims, "I've killed so many unicorns!"

#9) dream about your upcoming class trip to the school library (not kidding, this happened to me last night).

#10) discover that it is possible to want to hug and to strangle a student all at the same time.

#11) care about your students so much that every failing grade, every misbehavior, every blank look of confusion makes you sad, and sometimes makes you wonder what you could have done differently.

(As a related tangent, this is, I feel, the glass half full-glass half empty dilemma of teaching. Most of your students will get it the first time and be engaged and be learning, but a few will not, either by choice or by nature. Every teacher has to choose whether to look at herself as a mostly success or a bit of a failure. It is so easy to see only the part-time failings and forget the success. Tangent over.)

#12) pray for 130 thirteen year olds every night.

#13) ...there's room in your heart to love them all, even (or perhaps especially) the ones who resist and misbehave and won't let you reach them or help.

#14) wonder how on earth you will ever make a difference in the lives of these kids when you yourself make so many mistakes.

#15) ...a student tells you about the book they're reading, the story their writing, the reaction they had to a class activity or short story... and suddenly everything else--all the grading and outcomes and behavior intervention and planning and worry and stress--is worth it.

Confessions of a Junior High English Teacher

It has begun. Exactly one month ago today, I became a student teacher, and my life changed. Never in my life have I felt so frazzled, so pressured, so crazy, so exhausted--and never have I felt so grown up, so desirous to do something good. Never have I questioned my career goals so often, yet never have I felt so confident that I can do what I have chosen to do. Here is a little of how it has been so far.

I began student teaching on the first day of school--August 19th. Those first few days were overwhelming in the extreme, trying to find my footing and sort through the barrage of classroom procedures, student names, colleague names, lesson plans, and things that were expected of me. Mr. Ryan, my cooperating teacher, taught that first while. The first two days of the next week were testing, and then it was on me. There were 30 kids per class looking up at me, waiting to see what kind of teacher I would be, some wondering if I would be fun or exciting, others wondering how far they could push my limits. I remember having new teachers and student teachers as a junior high and high school student, but at that age it never occurred to me in the least degree how much I might intimidate them. It was a nerve-wracking moment.

As in many new endeavors I have attempted, I surprised myself. The instant I got up in front of my students I realized that I needn't have worried. As soon as I started teaching, the worry dissolved. It comes back a little when I had to work on unit design and figure out learning outcomes and start learning about the administrative end of teaching. But when I am in front of the class and doing my thing, all of that disappears and I am the teacher, and I love it.

And the students--oh, heavens above, the students. They are a great enigma that I am constantly trying to solve. My classes are standard English, not honors, so in every class I get all types. There are the kids who don't care about assignments or homework and are content to fail. There are the kids who don't do work but will come asking me later why they have a bad grade and asking to make up their assignments (having not learning, it seems, that it is much easier to just do it right the first time). There are the kids that panic if their grade drops to a B-plus. There are the kids that do their best work and get Bs, and that's totally OK--I don't expect all of my students to get As, that would be ridiculous. There were the kids who actively resist any assignment or attempt at learning (yes, child, I can tell that you didn't read or think about a single answer on this exam. You marked answer D on a true-false question). There are loud kids who will say what comes to mind no matter who else is talking. There are chatty kids, smart kids, quiet kids, video gamers, sports fans, future authors, readers, reading rebels, you name it. And every one of them requires something different from me.

Every day I get little glimpses into who they are, and every day I see them a little more clearly. In their writing, their comments, their actions they show me. They show me single parent homes, battles with cancer (not exaggerating), hopes and dreams for future careers, despair at their own abilities. They show me their personalities, from the girl who groans every time I ask her to work with a group or partner to the boy who will chat with any girl sitting within a two seat radius of his person. They show me their interests, their loves and hates, from a student last week presenting me with my name written in Georgian (a language I didn't know existed) to the boys who, when told they must read something of their choice outside of class, insist that they have never read a book and hate the lot of them (an oxymoron if I ever heard one). Even in their misbehavior they show me a little more of who they are, and I learn a little more how to be their teacher.

It is still an emotional roller coaster. I can go from loving my job to wanting to bang my head against the whiteboard and cursing myself for not doing theatre in all of two minutes, then back the other way by the end of the period. I've been told by more seasoned teachers that this roller coaster is simply part of the career. On the days when I am hitting the lows, I remind myself that teaching need not be forever, but is something I am doing now. I remind myself that I am new at this and need not expect perfection all at once. I remember the days when the students have shown progress or have given me little hints that I might be making a difference.

One of my students asked me a few weeks ago what I would be teaching next year. I told her I didn't know, that it would depend on which school hired me on. She told me that I ought to teach 9th grade there at Diamond Fork so that she could have me as a teacher again next year.

I remember those moments, and it feels like I can do anything.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Few Thoughts on the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Most everyone who has looked at a newspaper within the last three months will have seen and heard about the recent burst of fighting in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Most everyone who has read as much will have an opinion about who is right or wrong, who is stepping out of line, and possible solutions.

I have opinions. We all have opinions. But there is a marked difference between having an opinion and choosing sides. That is not to say that I am inherently not a chooser of sides, or that choosing sides is inherently a bad thing. I would choose the allies over the axis in WWII and I choose BYU over the Utes in college football. 

The issue of Israel and Palestine, however, is more complex than choosing a football team or knowing that Hitler was a bad guy. I have found that in this issue I cannot truly choose sides, because I have seen both and love the groups and people on both sides of the conflict. I have lived there, I have seen just a glimpse of it. Jerusalem is and always will be home to me, no matter where I live, and it tears me apart to see the Holy Land tear itself apart.

That said, I would like to offer a few thoughts and facts for those who go forth forming opinions about this highly-charged question.

  • Jews and Arabs both feel deep ties to the land they are living on, and feel that their claim to it is legitimate. The Jews have ancient connections to the Holy Land, dating possibly as far back as father Abraham. Theirs is a connection of heritage, and many Jews living in Israel and especially Jerusalem take pride in having been part of the children of Israel returning to their home. The Arab claim dates almost as far back and is no less legitimate. Palestinian people have lived in Israel/Palestine for centuries, and their ancestors were there back in the time of the ancient Jews. Both claims have merit, and neither is wholly false. Both are highly valued and deep-seeded in their respective groups.
  • Both groups have a history of not respecting or accepting the claim of the other. Back in the early days of Israel, some people didn't even respect the claim of the country of Jordan to exist. I doubt that anyone thinks that now, but the history is there.
  • There are more than two distinctions here. There is the state of Israel and the state of Palestine. Then there are Jews, Christians, and Muslims. There are Arabs, Europeans, and others. Israel and Palestine are places. Jews, Christians and Muslims are religions. Arabs, Europeans, and (in some ways) Jews are nationalities and races. No group is wholly on one side of the conflict or wholly on the other--Jews in Israel, Muslims in Gaza, etc. There are Arab Israelis. There are Muslim Israelis. There are Christian Palestinians. One of my teachers was an Arab Israeli non-practicing Muslim. One woman in the Jerusalem branch was an Israeli-born Palestinian Muslim-turned-Mormon convert. You see? It's complicated. Easy version: Israel and Palestine (West Bank and Gaza) are the political entities. The religious and ethnic distinctions fall on both sides
  • Israel is a developed, first-world country. Palestine is, at best, developing--but you won't find it on any lists of developing or underdeveloped countries, whether under "Palestine," "West Bank," or "Gaza." This is not because it doesn't fall under those categories, but because it lacks the distinction of being a country.
  • A few Facts:
    • Fact: Israel has superior weaponry to Gaza and an extensive "Iron Dome" system to protect itself from outside projectiles. Gaza has limited weaponry and virtually no protection. Another fact--the leaders of both Gaza and Israel know that.
    • Fact: Israel has built settlements into West Bank and Gaza territory--really nice apartments, gardens and all.
    • Fact: Gaza  has dug tunnels into Israeli territory. Some have been found to contain weapons, tranquilizers, handcuffs, and other items for military use and/or kidnapping.
    • Fact: Israel has fired on civilian areas in Gaza, including United Nations schools, killing hundreds of innocents.
    • Fact: Gaza has hidden missiles and weapons in civilian areas, including UN schools.
    • Conclusion: Neither side is an innocent victim here.
    • Small additional fact: There are still students at the Jerusalem Center. Yes, they're safe. No, they're not being sent home. The story on the headlines and the actual day-to-day living in conflicted places are not the same thing. All is well for the BYU Jerusalem Center.
  • Another distinction. Islam is a religion of peace. Jihad as we know it--suicide bombers, plane hijackings, military strikes, etc.--were never part of the program. Judaism is a religion of peace as well. Both rely on and pray to God (Allah, Jehovah, as you will) with a devotion unparalleled by anything else I have seen. Do not judge a group by the actions of the uprising minority. Hammas is not Islam. Netanyahu's military actions are not Judaism.
  • Thought: People in Israel and Palestine want peace, and people all around the world want peace for them. It is possible. I hope someday to be able to witness it myself. I cheer for John Kerry, who, in spite of incredible odds, has chosen to continue to strive for peace between the two sides. Peace is possible.
  • Final Thought: God loves everyone. He loves Jews, Christians, and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians all alike. He does not want His children to suffer, and it is His peace alone that has power to heal the wounds and rifts of generational hatred that have torn not only Israel and Palestine, but countries and peoples around the world and throughout history. All are His children, and He understands more deeply both sides of the conflict than anyone, and loves them entirely. "All are alike unto God."

There you have it--such are my thoughts, for whatever they may be worth. In conclusion, here is one more. Don't be too quick to choose sides, until you have walked a mile in someone else's shoes--or sandals or burqa or prayer shawl or hijab or kafya or combat boots. Say a prayer in someone else's way, or in your own way on someone else's behalf. Listen to the stories of others, and tell your own as well. Walk a little way in someone else's company, and imagine the road in their shoes. That is the best any of us can do, and it is the pursuit of a lifetime. I am working on it every day. 

How about you? Shall we walk in some new shoes together?


Most of the facts in this article are based on personal knowledge and studies both recent and not. If you want source material or if something doesn't seem correct, please tell me so. Thanks so much, and God bless you!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hey fam, 
Sounds like every one is going on crazy adventures without me. That is ok though. I have my own crazy adventures here. No need to worry for me.  
This week was good. Elder Koegler and I got to see the prime minister at the community center grand opening. The ceremony was very... Jamaican, but it all went well. We are excited that it is done so that we can start seeing Paul a little more frequently.  
I went into Spanish Town on Wednesday for Zone Meeting. Zone Meeting was really good. It focused a lot on meeting with the Ward Mission Leader. We just got a new ward mission leader, so I am going to have to do a lot of coordinating and training. I am still trying to figure it out myself. 
We went for a bike ride out toward mexico (a small town somewhere in the bush) on sunday when everything fell through. As far as exploring the area goes, we did not find much.  The valley we rode into was, however, full of orange orchards. The tru-juice orchards spread out across the whole valley. It was green and absolutely beautiful. 
There was one night this week where we got home and there was no power. We had to plan with flashlights. It came back on before bed time though. 
My district has been doing great. We are all working hard here. There is much to be done. I will be going on trade off in Spanish Town tonight. It should be fun. I have not yet taught in Spanish Town. I will be with Elder Ambrose, so I am looking forward to it. Elder Ambrose is great.
Enjoy the vacation everyone. Good luck with Philmont dad. Seriously, good luck. 
I am glad to hear that Mariel is getting married. I also found out today that Gretchen Graham is getting married soon too. 
I am glad that I don't have to worry about anything for another year. Just hot sun, and ghetto gospel. haha.
I love you all!
Elder Pullan

Suit models for the ceremony on Saturday.

My latest artwork. On my desk.

The Zone

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy Windsday!

I thought that Pooh's phrase was quite appropriate this week. It is blowy here in Provo! I made the mistake of wearing a skirt to campus today, and both it and my hair were being whipped around all over the place every time I stepped out the door.

I got to go to the Timpanogos Storytelling Conference last weekend.  I committed serial neglect of my homework, harp practice, room cleaning, and responsibilities in general in favor of going down to the Provo Mariott conference wing for two days to rub shoulders with the best of the business. It was so much fun! The storytelling community is like a family. I didn't feel intimidated around the professionals or the other storytellers. They were all so friendly with me, and a couple took me in like a long-lost daughter. I had a great time and learned so much. I did workshops on story programs for kids, telling ancient myths, using storytelling in the classroom, working with masks, creating different characters, telling family stories, telling ghost stories, and more. The tellers who told and gave keynotes were amazing. One was Noah Baum, who is from Israel and uses storytelling to help people see each other's perspective and resolve conflict. My mom and I went to the Orem Library to hear her tell on Thursday night. There were tall tale tellers, ghost story tellers, personal story tellers--every variety. I was convinced yet again that if I could get away with donning a cloak, strapping harp to my back, and becoming a wandering troubadour for the rest of my life, I would be perfectly happy with that career. As it is, there isn't much money with troubadours these days--there wasn't back when they were popular--so that is that. Still, I have come to love storytelling these past years, and I look forward to putting what I have learned this week to good use.

My friend Bethany and I sang and signed a song in Sacrament meeting yesterday--"I Stand All Amazed." It turned out beautiful. My lesson went pretty well (thank Heaven--literally), and after that I caught a ride with Mariel and Jordan down to Riverton for my cousin Henry's ordination to the teacher's quorum. I missed the ordination, but I did get there for the party--and the bestowal of the green tie upon Henry. The green tie has been flying around the family for as long as I can remember. Legend has it that Grandpa Foster passed it on to one of the boys, and it was so ugly that none of them wanted to keep it, so it started being passed between them from time to time. I don't know who started giving it away on special occasions, but that has been the way of it since. It had gone into hiding for a while, but then resurfaced in Uncle Wayne's briefcase on the first day of work after a big promotion last month, and now it is with Henry. I love the Pullan family--we are a fun bunch. At any rate, it was a great afternoon--good food, lots of family and friends, and rich chocolate cake. If the celestial kingdom looked just like that when I get there, I would be eternally happy.

Today, as I said, was blustery. I wore green for St. Patrick's Day and made fruit smoothies for breakfast--my favorite. I made it through a long day in time to go to dinner at the Bishop's house with my FHE group. I am now exhausted, so I will sign off. I have been very stressed with not much sleep these days, which is a poor combination. I intend to get in a full eight hours tonight if I can get away with it. :)

TTFN! Ta ta for now!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

College Life: a Photo Essay (sort of)

This is life, in Provo, in the English Education department, in theater, and in

Sometimes I do things like this:

This is called a sentence diagram. This one was two weeks ago. Guess what? They get more complicated every day. My teacher assures me that I will not have to teach anything remotely this complicated to my students. Thank the heavens above.

Sometimes I dress like this:

Or like this:

I did my play a week ago--"I am Jane." It turned out great, in spite of the frequent disorder and difficulties with casting. We definitely had the Lord's blessings. We were able to tell that beautiful story to a lot of people--the last night we were putting extra chairs in every place possible. We dressed up like angels and pioneers, told stories, sang gospel, and all in all shared our testimonies in song and dance. Also, on one night was had audience members like this:

Yes, that's right. That is President Uchtdorf. His wife and daughter were there as well. When I came out of the bathroom from doing my makeup and saw him standing there, I about died. My fellow actress Malasia and I were looking at each other with eyes the size of dinner plates, whispering ecstatically: "Is that--" "Yes!" "That's HIM?!" "Yes, it is!" "Oh my gosh!!!" etc. Pres. Uchtdorf came into the cast room and shook hands with all of us, and was a very good sport about taking pictures afterwards. It was amazing to have him there. What an honor!

Outside of that, it's same old, same old on the college scene. I am working furiously trying to keep up in all my classes. I gave a mini lesson in my grammar class that went less than stellar, and performed in a scene in my acting class that went far better than expected. Every day has its ups and downs. I visited J. Reuben Clark law school on Wendesday night to explore whether I am interested in getting a juris doctorate at some point (the answer: right now I'm not sure. LSAT, anyone?) I also went to ASL club (always a treat). I even got to visit the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in Salt Lake on Thursday night. Well worth the trip if you have the time--it was absolutely amazing. I was in heaven--two full hours to relive my Jerusalem dreams and remember everything I learned about Hebrew, ancient tels, and pottery shards. The boy I was with (Parker) was a very good sport.

I went to ice cream with Hannah, Mariel, and (in their cases) accompanying boys. It was a lot of fun, even more so because chocolate ice cream was involved. I absolutely love my cousins--they are truly my best friends. We only miss having Amanda around the complete the foursome. :)

I also went to help my mom out with Piano festival this weekend. Have I ever mentioned that my mom is superwoman? It's true! The amount of work and service that she manages to accomplish from day to day and year to year never ceases to amaze me. My life's ambition would be fulfilled if I could become even close to the woman that she is. She has taken on so much responsibility with piano festival because she values music and giving those opportunities to the kids in our community. I was glad I was able to come help her out. It was a very successful year. Well done, Mom.

That is all for today. I am about to go off and watch The Incredibles with my friends upstairs for our weekly Disney Sunday movie. I promise to write more faithfully this time. I hope.

Adios, mi amigos i familia!

'Til next time...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

I'm Late, I'm Late, for a Very Important Date!

Ah, the dear old White Rabbit. The way this week has been going, he and I could form a support group for people with "no time to say hello, goodbye!" because that is exactly how I am feeling right now. Run, run, run, get to class, turn in such-and-such, read articles/textbooks for half an hour, forget to turn in something else, grab dinner, rush to rehearsal a few minutes late and jump into a pioneer dress, become frustrated by how close we are to the performance day and how much we have yet to do... lather, rinse, repeat. It's a little crazy here on the home front, yes?

That being so, I am going to focus here on some of the happy moments, blessings, and all around good things that happened this week. I could complain to you from now until the cows come home about the stressful things, but that just doesn't do anybody any good. Therefore, here are some good moments of the life of Rachel.

I went tubing on Monday, first with my family and then with my ward. Most of the members of my ward thought I had just come with them, then were shocked to discover that I do in fact live up there. I spent the night with a couple of friends and had a great time. We caught some excellent air on the bumps a couple of times!

I was asked to sing "There is a Balm in Gilead" for I am Jane. It is a beautiful song, and I have been flattered that everyone likes my voice enough to give me a solo.

I have gotten into Psych lately. I watch it from time to time in the evenings when I can't stand to read another scholarly word. I've also kept up on the Olympics in bits and snatches. The container of Cherry Cordial ice cream in my fridge has also been extremely beneficial for my stress levels. In the way of food, I have lately become a great fan of rose sauce--marinara and alfredo mixed together. So delicious.

We've been having a balmy spell of late. Blue skies, temperatures way up in the forties and fifties, bright sunshine... it's like the groundhog was wrong for once and spring came early. I actually studied outside a little the other day. I don't have enough confidence in Utah's late winter weather to assume that it's going to last, but I will enjoy it thoroughly until the next snow/rain/sleet/hail storm comes our way.

I am looking into moving into a house next fall-winter. I'm kind of excited about it.

I get to read YA novels for home work. Yes, you heard me. I can justify myself for reading because  I'm getting a grade! Hooray!

I got to see the musical of Little Women with my mom and sister the other night. It was a little long, but a really charming story with a fun cast and good music. Still not my top favorite of all time (nothing beats Les Mis, Aida, or Beauty and the Beast), but it was fun.

I went to the temple on Saturday with my ward. Baptisms took three hours and I didn't care. It's been over a month since I have been. There is nothing like the peace and spirit of the temple to revive and refresh and make things better. It was perfect.

Saturday was also my friend Bethany's birthday, so we and some others beat a path for Panda Express for some birthday lunch. I had a great time with my friends, as I always do--nothing makes me happier. I also got to converse with Bethany's older sister, who also made the decision not to serve a mission because she felt she needed to stay (no fiance or anything like that). With so much pressure for girls to get up and get in the MTC these days, it was a blessing to have her encouragement and know that I am not the only one who has made that choice--who has been called to serve at home.

Mio and Jordan came and picked me up yesterday night to go to The Chocolate for Hannah's birthday. Jordan paid for my dessert--his girlfriend's random cousin!--even though he didn't need to, which made me feel very cared for. He is a great guy, and I am so glad he and Mariel are dating. He managed to take on the whole family reunion experience a few weeks back, so he's won a badge of honor in my mind. It was also great to see Hannah again. I have become so much closer to her as we have been through school together the past year, and I am so grateful for her friendship.

Now it is Sunday, the highlight of every week. I never appreciated the value of a day of rest until I got to school. I still wish sometimes that I could run away from Provo and go camping somewhere peaceful and solitary, but I know that I am blessed and have a wonderful life. Things are crazy, but I am happy. "Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard? Tis not so--all is right!"

That's all for today. Love you all!