Brian's Ramblings

My thoughts in text, photo, and video form

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Finding the "Last"

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, t keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." - 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

The Last by Wong Fu Productions

I've recently discovered a channel on YouTube that produces short stories about life, relationships, love, amongst other related topics.  They're really well made.  The clip in this entry is called "The Last."  You can view it as background knowledge for this blog entry, if you wish.

As children, we all want to feel accepted by our peers.  We want friends!  Go to any neighborhood park and you'll see children of all backgrounds, especially in Hawaii, playing happily together, while parents watch and observe.  Sometimes parents befriend other parents, finding acceptance themselves!

At some point, we develop feelings of being attracted to others.  Often, we're too young to fully know what we're experiencing, but this is the sprouting of the seed called "love!"  I believe everyone has this seed within them.  Some seeds are rooted in soil that allows for better growth, some receive more water to be nurtured, while others might not receive as much attention or the seed could be in the shadows.  In order to grow, seeds require light!  This could be seen as being able to love freely.

Children telling their parents, "I love you!" or expressing love towards grandparents, to demonstrating love towards pets.  All of these little steps are required if we're to love as fully and as openly as we can.

Growing up in Hawaii, in a Japanese-American family, expressing emotion openly was not something that was common.  Sure, my parents would tell my sisters and I they loved us (mom more so than dad) and my grandparents would say they loved us.  But anything beyond that was tempered, bottled up and kept closed.

So, the whole concept of loving someone other than family members was a very foreign concept...to me, at least.  However, you start developing feelings of attraction, maybe this would be referred to as a "crush."

I remember going to the after school program at Easter Seals of Hawaii as a elementary school aged kid.  Each week, a student from a high school would visit to help out with activities and to interact with children - I'll call her "Mary" just in case she's reading this and doesn't want her name on some silly blog.  I have no idea why I took a liking to Mary, but I did.  I looked forward to her visits and I don't really remember what we did, but I know I was happy!  I can't recall the details, but my family and I attended her high school graduation....life went on.

While in the fifth grade, I had two good friends, Leo and Travis.  They accepted me for who I was and we'd do fun things like trade baseball cards or Garbage Pail Kids cards.  It felt great to have common interests and to just have friends!  Other students knew who I was; it's hard not to notice a kid, who uses a motorized wheelchair and communicates through a letter board, coming into your class each day for most of the day.  As my time in fifth grade went on, I noticed a girl, who happened to be the most popular girl in the school, who I'll refer to as "Katie," in case she's reading this and doesn't want to be identified, too.  I liked Katie and would just feel happy if we just sat by each other in class!

Sixth grade came around and Katie was still in my class.  By this time, Leo and Travis, along with my teacher, Mrs. O (I can't recall her full last name; growing old isn't fun!), knew that I was attracted to Katie.  My friends encouraged me to ask Katie out in a note.  What did that even mean?!  Ask a girl out?!  Such a foreign concept, perhaps even up to this day.  But, I succumbed to peer pressure and wrote a note.  I can't remember what I said, but I know my note was written in chicken-scratch!  I might have signed it, "Love, Brian" which seemed standard for any note!

I held the note in my possession for a day or two, until my friends told me to just give it to her.  So, during lunch, I had this piece of paper, folded into a square, and had someone give it to Katie. Surely, I couldn't be so bold, as to give the note directly!  The note was in Katie's hands!

She read it and came over to tell me, "I'll write back to you."  Was this a good or bad thing?!  To this day, I have no idea since she never wrote back to me; neither did she bring up my note ever again the rest of the school year.  I believe I gave it to her towards the end of the school year - it took me that long to gain the confidence to actually share my feelings.

I did not go to the feeder school that many of my peers went to.  I attended school in Kailua.  So, the "crush" on Katie was officially "crushed;" social media had not even been thought of at that time, so I couldn't "friend" her or "like" her status updates.

I had great friends in intermediate school.  I met one of my best friends there, Dan.  We're still really good friends to this day!  In intermediate school, I became "popular," though I'm not exactly sure how.  For May Day festivities, we had a global "court," which meant students represented different countries, based on ethnicity.  So, I ran to be Mr. Japan!  I was Mr. Japan for our May Day; largely due to the fact I was the only male to run for that role!  But, it was neat to put on a sash that said "Mr. Japan."  I can't recall who "Ms. Japan" was but I did need to "dress up," which meant wearing long pants to school that day.

My high school years were spent hanging out with my "home boys" - Brent, Dan, and Ed.  We had other friends, but this was the nucleus of my circle.  There were cliques, obviously, and we just minded our own business, seeking refuge behind the girls' locker room.

I believe Brent was liked by a group of girls, as he was part of Junior ROTC.  So, sometimes we would get to sit by them, as we studied or hurried to complete a homework assignment.

Towards the end of my high school journey, I found myself liking a girl, I'll call her "Jane" (in case she reads this blog and doesn't want her name revealed) and, as part of the Gifted and Talented (GT) history class, we were issued one of the first computers with a modem to allow for e-mail and chatting!

So, Jane and I started chatting after finishing homework nightly.  Our chats were FUN and we would converse through words for HOURS!  I would go to bed after 2:00AM on many nights!  And in classes, we'd smile at each other.  And, yes, we'd chat again that same night.  It was fun.

When prom season rolled around, I was absolutely clueless! I couldn't express feelings of attraction to anyone, let alone a girl!  So, I did not attend any proms; looking back, I regret not experiencing a prom, as it is so unique to our high school days.

College days as an undergraduate were some of my most awkwardly social years.  I attended classes and left immediately after my last class.  I didn't really make friends, which I was fine with.

In a Family Resources (FAMR) class, I had a notetaker who took notes for me, and also acted as my "voice," as I was communicating with just pen and paper.  I had no communication device, so she would verbalize what I wrote for class discussions.  I'll refer to her as "Jenny."  Over the course of the semester, we would get to know each other, mainly by default, as we saw each other regularly.  We became friends and communicated outside of school, just like any college students do.

Jenny was an education major, while I was still discovering what I wanted to do in life. Over time, we became closer and we'd call each other at night, just to share how our day went.  It was fun just to share the good, and some of the bad, of what life brought us.

Valentine's day, which either you LOVE or hate with a passion, was approaching and I thought, "maybe Jenny is the one!" In our school paper, the KaLeo, they advertised valentine's day notes; you could post a note for maybe $5.  I am completely clueless when it comes to this sort of stuff, romantic gestures or expressing feelings!  But, I thought, "if I don't try, I'll never know!"  So, I bought an ad, a short one and wrote something witty (or at least I thought it was) and submitted it into the Ka Leo, paid my fee and waited.  Waited for Valentine's Day to roll around!

By this stage in college, Jenny was to begin student teaching on the west side of Oahu, commuting each morning from the dorms at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  So, she would leave around 6:00AM to make it to school by 7:30AM.  I bought flowers or some other mushy item that was valentine's day-like; yes, I sold out to commercialism!  I also knew Jenny probably didn't pick up a KaLeo each morning.....so how was I to ensure that she would read this wonderful ad I created, which would change the course of our lives?!

I was dropped off my by mom early, as she worked in town, so getting to campus before 6:00AM didn't seem like a big deal.  I called Jenny and told her I had a little gift for her in celebration the start of her student teaching; we arranged to meet before she drove out to the west side of Oahu.

I got to campus...luckily they distribute copies of KaLeo into the newspaper stand really early!  I picked up a few copies.  I had a post-it note and wrote, "Check out page 3, I think you'll find it interesting!"  I quickly attached it to the KaLeo, on p age 3, CIRCLED the ad, too, for good measure.  Jenny met be around 5:50AM and was shocked to see me with a flowers, a balloon, and a copy of KaLeo.  She said, "thank you, you really didn't need to do this! I have this card for you, sorry it's nothing big!"  I was happy just to get a card!

So, she left and I went to class, confident that I'd have the best call, ever, later that night.  I got home and worked on homework.  I ate dinner and thought Jenny would call.  But, alas, she didn't.  So, I called her dorm, "Is Jenny there?"

"Oh, Jenny is out for the night, but I'll tell her you called," her roommate said.  Another factor to keep in mind is at this point in life I used the Relay Operating System, so I would type into a keyboard-like device, which was connected to the phone; an operator would verbalize what I said to the other party, and in turn, the operator would type back whatever was said by the other party.  Though not ideal, this worked well.

I didn't really think anything of Jenny being out for the night, she could have been celebrating her first day as a student teacher!

The next night comes around, still no call.  No e-mail, nothing!  Again, at this point cell phones weren't part of our bodies, as they are now.  So, I waited.  After the third night, I called...I was terrible at waiting!  I got to talk with Jenny!  She thanked me for the gifts and said she appreciated the ad.....BUT!  Oh boy, here comes bad news, I could sense it!

"But, I just started seeing someone. Sorry, Brian, if I wasn't, I'd totally go out with you!" Jenny said.

How does one recover from that?  You don't, but you learn to do more background research before diving into something crazy, like expressing feelings for someone!  However, we remained friends for years.  My mom liked Jenny, and would always ask how she was.  I saw her graduate and met her boyfriend, who was really nice.  I ran into them later at some store and Jenny said she was engaged to the same guy.  I was happy for her, really!

I wasn't flat out rejected, but the outcome still wasn't something I was happy with.  I WAS happy for Jenny and I'm sure she's doing really well. I haven't remained in contact, though.....life goes on.

My last expression of strong feelings came after about a year and a half of being interested in someone.  I'll refer to her as "Carla," as I'm pretty sure it would be weird to have her name on this blog entry that might be the longest post, ever!  I met Carla in SPED 480, when I was a teaching assistant with my mentor and friend, Dr. Jim Skouge.  I'd help her with activities and we were close in age, as she was pursuing a degree while teaching.  So, after the semester ended, we'd hang out and do what any college-aged students do - go to movies, go find cheap drinks, attend concerts.  Carla had a  boyfriend, but there was drama that she didn't really want.

So, she broke it off.  We were still friends, and we'd often do things with one of our good mutual friends, Steven.  Steven was awesome and would make me take breaks from studying; I think we all need such a friend in life to maintain balance.

In any case, I arranged to go to dinner with Carla and brought a gift!  It was probably the stupidest gift one could give someone you're interested in.  It was a small cactus!  And I had it in a paper bag...I had Carla reach in the bag to take it out; no idea why!

"Ouch! What is this?!" Carla said, as she put her hand in the bag.

I explained it was a cactus, which was really obvious by then!  But, I explained that cacti required little maintenance, and because she was so busy, I thought she might enjoy this plant!  It was NOT a smooth operation at all.

But over dinner, I learned that someone was flying in to see Carla....someone she was kind of interested in.  Could this really be happening again?!  I waited over a year to ask her to dinner, making sure she was not seeing anyone!

Long story short, things did not work out with that person.  But, things did work out with someone else.

During another dinner at Duke's, in Waikiki, Carla asked what I thought of "Billy," who was a former boyfriend, but they broke up, but were trying to work things out.  I explained I couldn't really answer that question and I'd explain why at another time.

So, one night after being out with friends, Carla drove me home in our family's accessible van.  And I totally dragged the conversation, which was my explanation of why I had no opinion of Billy, out for the entire ride. It was only until we got to my street that I explained that I liked her, a LOT.

I knew she was not expecting this, as she said, "Oh Bri, we'll talk soon!"  And off she went.  A few days later, I get an instant message from Carla.  "We need to talk."

"Okay, what's up?"

"Why did you tell me NOW?!  You could have told me way earlier! I'm not happy with you." she replied.

By this point, my mind was just racing, thinking great I just messed up a perfectly good friendship!  I was NOT happy with myself, too.  But I knew I couldn't lose the friendship, for it was too great to let crumble.  How do you repair a damaged relationship?  You admit fault and apologize, which is what I did.

To this day, Carla remains one of my very good friends.  Things did work out with Billy, but their lives grew apart.  I know I'll be friends with Carla forever; I'm happy with that!

I can't really say I've loved any girl, but I've liked some.  Perhaps with the hope that "I like you" would turn into "I love you" over time.  Call me old school or old fashioned, I view love as a special word.  You can't through that four-letter word around like it's just water.  Love requires something deep, a connection and feeling for and with someone that you'd be willing to go beyond your comfort zone to fall in love, being open to rejection, being open to being loved back, being hurt, being held, and any other things that come with love.

The video at the top of this entry shares a very poignant message of the greatest gifts that we have while living include the ability to give, receive, and even lose love. We have only THIS life, and what we do with it is certainly up to us, but if we don't attempt to love or be loved, we could waste the most precious aspect of living!

So Mary, Katie, Jenny, and Carla - thank you for allowing me to experience "falling in love;" I realize it didn't work as I hoped, but each experience provided a lesson that I'll hopefully bring into a future relationship.

I am thinking I'll end up with someone who is in the field of education, a teacher, perhaps.  I LOVE teaching and with that comes certain sacrifices that only fellow teachers can truly comprehend or "get."  However, I won't be so myopic in my thinking and not be open to appreciating someone who is in a completely different career path! You never know where an opportunity TO love will arise.

Starting a family is something I also look forward to.  Having a kid, or kids, and all responsibilities that come with such a grand commitment would be fun. When you're able to share this with someone you love, life would be that much more complete.  And, yes, Zeus would definitely need to "approve" of whoever I fall in love with!

Because this entry was composed over the span of two days, I found another video on YouTube that really hammers home the idea that ALL beings want to be loved and want to give love.  "Ol Boy" was a dog found abandoned, but rescued.  He was in bad shape, but all he wanted was to be loved.  He also wanted to love others back, despite having unthinkable things happen to him. [You can watch it below]

Ol Boy Has Dying Wish Come True - To be Loved

I don't know how many more years God has planned for me here on this earth, no one really knows, believers or not! But I do know that I must be brave enough TO love and to be more open to the idea of BEING loved. The next relationship, I'm fairly certain, will be my first AND my last.  [Again, this will make sense after you watch the video at the start of this entry.]; at least that is my hope, but I trust that God has a plan for me that is far greater than I can envision, if I remain obedient and faithful to His word.

Love never fails.

Until next time....

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Why Teaching is Such a Great Profession

"In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day's work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years." ~Jacques Barzun

The life of a teacher is filled with many emotions.  On some days, you can feel like the worst educator, when your lesson plan or agenda doesn't go as you planned.  Students could see you as the bumbling fool, watching your lesson spiral more and more into the ground.  Then there are course evaluations, where students provide feedback on the course and on you, as an instructor.  I always aim for a 100% completion rate for my evaluations, as it is important to hear from your "audience," who are my students that pay a good amount of money for tuition.  Inevitably, you will have a few students who share feedback about factors that you have no control over.  These can include the temperature of the classroom being too cold, to disliking the time that the course was held; I have NO control over this!

But, when I see comments about the course being too demanding, feeling like discussions dragged on for too long, or feeling like the instructor wasn't "available enough;" this catches my attention immediately and I become fixated on these comments, forgetting the majority that had really nice things to say!  I reflect upon this feedback and take it to heart, as much as I can.

It will be in these moments that a teacher can grow and develop.

On other days, an educator can feel on top of the world, watching the bright eyes of students staring back at him or her, indicating full engagement and comprehension.  Reading feedback that praises you for having the best course that a student has taken in their entire college experience, or words of appreciation for demonstrating a genuine care for them (students), or thanking you for being really organized. These moments help to boost your self-esteem.

This summer, I'm teaching in the statewide program, which allows students across all islands in Hawaii to pursue an undergraduate degree in education.  I've taught in this program for the past 5 years.  Unfortunately, due to restructuring and pruning the statewide program, the course I teach, SPED 480, "Technology for Children with Disabilities," will no longer be required.

In 2010, my department chair, Dr. Amelia Jenkins, presented me with a grand opportunity.  She asked me if I wanted to teach SPED 480, a course that I served as a teaching assistant in for many years under the mentorship of my friend, Dr. Jim Skouge.  When I was asked, my reply was, "Let me think about it and I'll let you know."  I went into Jim's office, a technology-lover's heaven, and sat there pondering what I just heard.  In a matter of minutes, I realized I provided the most silly answer possible.  Here I was being presented with what I had dreamed of and imagined each time I observed Jim in action; how could I NOT say yes emphatically?!

So, I worked up the courage to go into Dr. Jenkins' office and told her I was more than happy and ready to teach the course.  No one knew how this would work.  Dr. Jenkins had to rely on the suggestions of Jim and another colleague, and friend, Dr. Kavita Rao.  Together, they assured Dr. Jenkins I would be more than capable to take on this challenge.

Another amazing tidbit that adds to the unbelievability of this story is the fact that I had never taught a class by myself, ever!  Sure, I could do presentations and guest lectures, but such engagements don't require a prolonged relationship with students.

I actively sought out advice from my colleagues in the Department of Special Education; they ALL were extremely generous with their advice and support!  The statewide program required the course be delivered in a hybrid form; meaning the majority would be online, but there would be face-to-face weekends when students all gathered at Wist Hall for a weekend of learning.

The one person I consulted first, and probably the most, was my friend, Jim.  He is one of the "fathers" of SPED 480, so surely he would have ideas!  "Jim, how would you teach SPED 480 online," I asked one afternoon.  

"Brian, that's a great question.  I'm not really sure because I haven't done it that way!  But, I'm sure you'll come up with a great plan, friend!" Jim said.

This was extremely comforting to hear, as my mentor wished me luck on this new journey!  But, I continued to seek advice, soaking in every idea shared!  My friend, Kavita, is one of the most organized people I know.  She's also extremely intelligent!

"Surround yourself with people way smarter than you, friend," Jim said.  I've took that to heart, even to this very day.

Well, my summer course was fast approaching and I managed to map out a plan for the course, complete with activities, projects, and content.  What served me the best was Kavita's knack for structuring things extremely clearly!

I found myself printing our calendars for the months and actually writing on them!  Using a calendar for my own life was so very foreign!  But as I broke each week down, I gained confidence in knowing that this monumental task could be accomplished!

The statewide program coordinator, Dr. Jennifer Herring, did not know who I was prior to my teaching her cohort.  She has a genuine care and passion for every one of her students, making sure the students are receiving the best educational experience possible.

Another complexity in this incredible story is the fact that face-to-face sessions run for 4 hours for each course during a face-to-face weekend. Teaching for 4, FOUR, hours?!!!!

I wanted to succeed, but more importantly, I wanted my students to succeed!  I did not want to mess this up, as students deserve the best educational experience possible.  So, my plan for the first session, my first time teaching solo involved many hands-on activities.  

"Welcome to SPED 480!" I programmed into my Dynawrite, an augmentative communication device with speech output.  In order to reduce as much "dead air" possible, I spent hours typing in my "lectures" for each class.

The first group, called cohort in educational jargon, was a mixture of traditional and non-traditional students.  In other words, I had students who were more mature than me.  I had to keep their attention and provide them with new knowledge?!

Dr. Herring sat in on my first class, in the back, observing her "children" like a proud mom.  She wasn't just observing them, she was observing me!  

Things went amazingly smoothly and somehow I made the class run for the whole allotted time.  My only concern came when I asked if anyone had questions after reviewing the course syllabus, one student said, "Yes, but I have too many to ask you now!"

But I had their attention, they listened to a synthesized voice that "boomed," as much as it could.  ALL of this was so new, both for the students and for me as an educator.  I was fortunate that the students listened, and were  genuinely interested!

After class ended, I had a few students come up to shake my hand and said they were glad to have me as their teacher.  Before I left, Dr. Herring came up to me and asked, "How long have you been teaching?" 

"This was my first time!" I replied.

"I wouldn't have guessed, " Dr Herring said.  "You were extremely organized!"

"Thank you, I'm relieved it went okay!"

The rest of the summer went really well; I taught the course asynchronously via the university's online learning system, Laulima.  This was something I had to learn to use, and I didn't have the luxury of time to do so.  Yes, I've used it as a student, but using it in the role of an instructor was much more complex!

It was at that point that I realized educators (professors, instructors, lecturers) at a university have to put in just as much work, or even more, than they expect of students.

I took pride in making the content be as easy to access, along with establishing a framework that allowed students to know exactly what was going on, and when.

In the summer of 2010, I discovered that I LOVED teaching.  Despite investing many hours to prepare for classes, the satisfaction I received in hearing very relevant dialogue between students over the summer during Blackboard Collaborate sessions (an online learning environment, allowing a class to meet in "real-time") made every long night worth it.

By the end of the summer, I earned the respect of my students; they asked to take a class picture with me after our final face-to-face session.  I maintained communication, and still do, with many of the students.  I also earned the respect of Dr. Herring.  This was the tipping point for whether I'd continue having opportunities or not.  Fortunately, my course evaluations were positive in nature.


This is the cohort (506) that started my journey as an educator!  

Dr. Jenkins saw me in the hallway one day after the summer course ended and said, "Good job on your course evaluations, I'm glad you did well because I need someone to teach the course in the fall!"  That was a very EASY response on my part, "YES, I'd love to!"

Here we are some 5 years later and I'm in the midst of teaching another statewide cohort.  I've developed confidence to try new things, such as taking the students to the Honolulu Zoo to do an activity involving technology.  I'm also much more aware of what goes on within a class, such as noticing a student who might be texting, or someone who is tired and not as engaged as usual.  Instead of letting it go, I approach students or reach out to make sure they're okay and we're on the same page.

Planning for a trip to the Honolulu Zoo requires a LOT of preparation, so students feel confident doing the activity.  It also requires my having to trust that the students are capable of creating work in an environment that is unpredictable and not sterile.  Things are bound to falter!  But, as teachers, you can NEVER give up!

After a long and tiring day, just this past Saturday, at the zoo - one of the hottest days I can recall - I thanked students in an e-mail.  I've made it a habit to thank students after every class session, providing reminders about deadlines, too.  I don't expect any student to reply.

But ONE did!  That made my whole day, as the student thanked me for such a wonderful experience at the zoo.

When I came home, I was tired and felt "gross," as I was covered in sweat and sun block!  Not the best combination.  But, I proceeded to review their videos.  Seeing students enjoying learning by creating a product provided a great feeling!  I don't see myself as teaching them anything grand, rather I simply share ideas with students that are very doable in their own classrooms.  

Of course, teaching cannot always be a grand experience. You'll encounter issue with students not submitting work on time, some with very personal issues, and some who aren't as into the content as others.  It's MY responsibility to adjust and improve my teaching so students WILL be excited about what they are learning weekly.

As an instructor, I don't always receive immediate feedback after a class session, leaving me to reflect upon how I could have improved, what worked, and what flopped.  In this respect, I cannot see the fruit of a day's work.

Another example is creating a podcast for students, in an effort to complement their learning.  Last week, I found out, thanks to very honest students, that NO one viewed the podcast I created.  Disappointing?  Yes, but I need to just continue "swimming," as Nemo, of Finding Nemo, said.

This evening, I spent 2 hours creating a second podcast.  Will students view or listen to this one?  I honestly don't know!  But, it's my role to providing as much as I can to make learning as enriching as possible!

Another factor that REALLY helps is having a friend who I can vent to; in turn, my friend can vent to me.  This support system is simply invaluable!  And just making me stop working to go enjoy a movie, as any other adult would do....this is PRICELESS!  But it is the long and late-night conversations that I truly value and appreciate the most!  The funny thing is we worked in the same department for a while, but never really stopped to get to know each other.  But through the craziness called work, we were able to learn more about who we are as PEOPLE!  I don't know how sane I would be without this support; for that, I am EXTREMELY grateful!

Though many efforts don't yield immediate results, maybe in 20 years I'll be able to see the invisible "fruit of a day's labor."  And, hopefully I can have you, my friend, to share the joys of what we're blessed to do in our professional lives - TEACHING!

Until next time...

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