Saturday, April 21, 2018

What Writing Memoir Means

Whenever I hear stories from people, I ask, "Have you started to write about it yet?"  Most people say no.  I can imagine many reasons why they don't write their own stories.  However, I would say, "why not?" 

I remember how insignificant I thought my life was at age 11.  The writing that won in the contest was about the connection between this 11 year old girl, same age as me, and her grandmother. Finding her grandmother's belongings, some kind of jewelry, made her appreciate after her funeral.  I submitted my own writing to the same contest, and my name was not as big as hers in the magazine.  My name was the tiniest among 300 other applicants who participated.    And I lamented, "Well, my writing didn't win, because I don't have any tragedy in my life yet.   The winner's grandmother died, but not my grandmother yet.  My grandmother was yelling at me from downstairs, "Take the laundry in!  It is going to rain soon!"  I couldn't make this episode as a topic for the writing contest.  I pathetically thought no one was interested in my day-to-day frustration about my life.  Reading my daily frustration ,in my diary, would make me angry.  So I didn’t write any irritating events.  But these frustrated incidents didn't get away from me and they haunted me time to time.

Several years later, I learned that talking about my experiences and my thoughts about them would make me feel lighter.  I noticed that I didn't have to drag my burden anywhere after I exposed my past memories to random people, family members, and a therapist. Little by little, in some occasions, I found that telling stories helped me.  That's when I began thinking about writing my experiences.  I wanted to free myself.  I wanted people to know that they were not alone.  I wanted everyone to know that they would get over it, if I could.  I wanted to let people know they could, too, be free when they open up.  You cannot measure or compare your tragic episodes to others'.  When you feel severe pain, physically and emotionally, it is a tragedy.  Everybody has pain even if it doesn't look like it.  Some people manage their pain well and some don't.  I chose to manage my pain by writing.

Soon I realized my painful memories were not just pain, but lessons that made me grow who I am today.  I say and act in certain ways just because I now can notice, accept, and appreciate a present moment. Perhaps I was afraid of being judged if I told my pain to someone, then.  I cannot change the past.  I don't want my past to take over and haunt me.  If you choose to learn how to live with a past that cannot be changed, you can.  Pick up a notebook and start jotting down your memories, good and bad.  I had more than 40 bullet points when I started.

More than a decade, 40 bullet points became a book, Gift of Gratitude: Lessons from the Classroom.  Writing a memoir means facing yourself and choosing to move forward.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Relationship is the Shape of Water

Relationships are everywhere.

When I was in 7th grade, my friend told me that she could live all by herself.  I argued, "Well, that is impossible.  You are technically living in a place by yourself, but you are renting a place from someone.  You buy food from someone.  You can live without talking to someone, but you live by always depend on someone else."  She didn't like my idea, but she didn't disagree with me.

If you think about our life, we depend on each other directly and indirectly.  We, too, impact someone's lives directly and indirectly.  If that is true, why don't we care about each other?  You link to someone.  That is a relationship.  According to the Harvard study in 2017, relationships boost for people's longevity.  It is easy to imagine that feeling of significant connections that make you peaceful, happy, and calm.  When you feel content, good chemical helps your immune system become stronger.  Even if you don't talk about longevity, why do you have to avoid happy feelings on purpose?  Building a relationship is not a difficult task, yet  it might be tricky in some ways.

I thought about three different relationship models as the scientific matters; solid, liquid, and gas.

1. Solid Relationship:  If it is hard, it's unbreakable.  No flexibility, like iron and a solid wood piece. It's not breakable, however, there is no room to tweak it.  If it's made of glass or tofu, once it slips from your hand, it would break into small pieces.  You can not fix it.  The Solid Relationship seems like a strong relationship, but it is a forever-no-change or too fragile.
2. Gas Relationship: Many gas forms are invisible.  Even if you are able to see the particles, they are constantly moving around.  Each particle almost never meets to others.  Perhaps they meet, they most likely won't see each other again. The Gas Relationship is a "don't-care" relationship. It means if you genuinely talk to someone about your passion, this person ignores you or pretends to listen.  How sad is that?
3. Liquid Relationship: Liquid's shape changes based on the shape of the container.  If one shape doesn't work, you can simply change the container to adjust. This relationship can be flexible and fixable, especially if it is important.  Liquid is always together and moves in the same direction.  That is the desirable relationship I would suggest.

To keep the Liquid Relationship, both parties share the common goal.  You are both moving in the same direction.  You have to listen to each other.  You have to agree to disagree.  That's when you have to change the container.  In any relationship, you are going to face some challenges.  To keep the best kind of relationship, you have to admit mistakes and try to find possible solutions together so that you can continue to journey for the common goal.

To keep the Liquid Relationship is possible, if this relationship is important to you.  With a little acceptance, courage, compassion, and willingness of collaboration.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Don't Cry Over Spilled Milk

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When my 10th grade English teacher first introduced this idiom to me, I wondered, "Why milk?"  In my high school life, milk was the least accessible type of drink. I did not have many chances to visualize or see "spilled milk" except some extreme scenes when I was younger.  Who would ever cry over it?

Back in my elementary school, two little students in white smocks carried a sturdy yellow container full of 200cc bottles of milk for lunch.  Their job was to deliver over 30 bottles from the school kitchen to their classroom.  It was very heavy, especially if their classroom was in the fourth floor without an elevator.  Personally, I hated this job because of the heavy weight.  But also because I was aware of the scene of my fellow students slipping, losing their balance, and scattering pieces of glasses and milk all over the hallway floor, all within milliseconds.  It happened about a few minutes before I passed through the area.  It was very messy, but I didn't see anyone crying.  I saw a teacher, a custodian, and students with/without white smocks.  Some were sweeping, some were picking up large glass pieces carefully with a dust pan.  Instead of using a fancy mop, another set of students brought dry rags to wipe the mess.  There was no time for anyone to cry over spilled milk, because if someone decide to cry, they would lose their recess!  So the job was done quickly, just like a ninja. 

My first breakfast with my host family in the U.S was a cold bowl of cereal.  At that moment, my light bulb lit up.  I excitedly mumbled with my unnatural tongue, "Don't cry over spilled milk."  My host family looked at me and said, "You haven't spilled your milk.  What are you talking about?"  I was embarrassed.  I wished I could explain my excitement to my host family.  I wished that I had spilled milk.  In my early years in the U.S., I was always frustrated about my inability to communicate in conversations.  But instead of crying over my lack of ability, I continued to learn how to communicate.  It took me a few more years to understand that spilled milk is a literal expression with a wholesome meaning.

Over a period of some decades, I spilled a lot of milk everywhere in the world, which is one thing I am proud of.  I didn't cry over it.  Not only did I not want to lose recess, but no one took care of my mess.  I didn't want to keep my mess.  In a way, we adults must guide youngsters to have high expectations, explorations, resilience, and responsibility.  Let them pour milk.  Let them spill.  Let them cry.  Let them think about the solution.  Then everything is going to be ok.  I would love to chat with Ms. Queen, my 10th grade English teacher, now. She must be proud of me

Sunday, March 25, 2018


What have I been doing in the absence of writing any entries in my blog since my last post?
Thanks for being curious!  I have been preoccupied by my self-publishing process for the last three months.  The good news is I finally debuted as the published author of Gift of Gratitude: Lessons from the Classroom!  I have been writing pieces here and there for over a decade and wasn't sure what to do.  I attended a local writers' group and a professional writing retreat.  I talked some local editors.  I researched and once planned to attend the annual writers' conference in the area. None of these directly worked on or helped in the publishing process.  This frustration ironically pushed me to my drastic move in December 2017.  I decided to publish my own book.

Gift of Gratitude: Lessons from the Classroom is about my journey of self-discovery.  Through my professional career with children, my attitude and perspective have evolved over time.  I began to accept ups and downs in the past because these events are connected to present moments in many sophisticated ways. Finally, I learned a lesson.  Being able to be grateful is a gift in myself.  

Let's say you receive a mystery gift box. You don't know what’s inside, but you believe it is a treasure. You start decorating this mystery box to make it as pretty as you can.  You use beautiful wrapping paper, ribbons, a bow, and even more extra things.  A simple gift box soon becomes a cheerful one that makes you and your friends smile.  These smiles you share in your life are a gift.  Inside of the box, there is an inner treasure called gratitude.  I was too arrogant to decorate this gift box for a long time.  But once I recognized this is a priceless gift, I started fetching paper, ribbons, and bows to create my own gift box.  Perhaps I can proudly pass it on to somebody important in my life.  Publishing my book was the final bow to my gift box.

You will find out about my agonies and obsessions in my past and how these events are intertwined with my present events.  Gift of Gratitude: Lessons from the Classroom is available on Amazon and waiting for your review there, as well as on Good Reads.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Self-Discovery in Writing

Dancers want to dance, and they dance well.  Even if they don’t, they are still happy because they like to dance and they get to.  As long as dancers can dance, they are content.  What if we replace “dancers” with “singers”?  Singers, too, are happy as long as they can sing.  What about writers?  Are they happy when they get to write?  Do they still feel hopeful when they get stuck?  What if these writers are young 3rd grade students?  Is it true that there are “reluctant writers” in the classroom?  When I opened up this conversation to myself, it really sounded pathetic.  There are no “reluctant” dancers or singers.  As teachers, I thought, we should quit saying that there are “reluctant” writers, no matter what.

You and I know that some students will say, “I don’t have anything to write.”  This type of student normally sits at their desk for the entire 45 minute period doing nothing, if not interrupting others.  How can we help them?  My answer?  I can’t make them write!  What a bad teacher I am!  Really, the truth is that we have to make the student believe they are a writer.  Once they become a writer, they will be happy when they write.  They will be hopeful when they are stuck.  The teacher’s job is to help the student’s self-discovery process.

As soon as students hear their teacher calling them writers at the start of a writing mini lesson, they feel like writers, which is great for younger aged students.  However, what’s sadly true is that some students’ fingers and brains freeze when the actual writing time begins.  Do you remember that dancers dance because they know they are dancers?  Why not writers too?  How and when do students think they are writers?

We all know children’s developmental stages vary.  Some kids respond to the prompt or learn certain skills quickly while others don’t.  One thing that I think helps is having a “discussion” period.  Instead of going straight into independent writing after the mini lesson, let the students talk!  What do you want to write about today?  Why are you choosing this topic?  What strategies do you want to use today?  What do you think about other kids’ ideas?  Who could be the main characters today? Are we ready to write?

Question, question, and question….  Let the students fuel and engage in the conversation.  Maybe, you can record what they are saying.  When they say, “I forgot everything I said,” show the voice recorder and say, “here you go.  You can rewind and listen to this as many times as you want.”  This questioning routine is established with teacher modeling. Students can do it with each other, or even independently with a sheet of paper with their questions. If students engage in talking, that’s when they believe they are writers!  What a great discovery!

Once they become writers, they want to get better, just like dancers and singers do.  Perfect!  When they want to improve, take advantage of it!  Teachers now teach elaboration skills, transitional words, how to develop characters, a rich vocabulary, etc to fancy up the students’ writing!  How exciting is that?

Whatever writing skill level each student is at, discovering themselves as a writer can happen as long as they engage in talking!  You know how much kids love talking!  Why do they talk?  Just like dancers and singers, because they LOVE talking!  So when you see a student who seems to be stuck, let them struggle, let them talk, and let them discover the writer in themselves rather than labeling them as “reluctant”.  We are teachers, just like dancers and singers.  Don’t forget to celebrate with A Banana Dance!  P.S. Please let me know if you don’t know what a banana dance is.  I will be glad to share with you!

Monday, February 27, 2017

What’s Important in Our Lives

How many times I have heard and lectured to others about the importance of relationships?  The most recent Stanford study showed the best reason for people to feel happiness is from the relationship with others.

As a student teacher many decades ago, I tried to apply this as hard as I could so I could impress my evaluator.  I memorized all students’ names.  I visited individual students while being a classroom student teacher.  I hang out with these 3rd graders during recesses.  I listened to students as often as I could.  Still, my evaluator wrote me, “You have to build a good relationship,”  in the final evaluation form.  I was stuck on what the good relationship was.  Did I build a good relationship with her?  

After I was hired in the middle school, I refused to build any relationships.  The reasons I excused at the time were; one, this school was not my choice, two, teenage students were too disrespectful to build good relationships with me.  Needless to say, it was the worse than worst school year you could imagine.  I was exhausted and feeling miserable.  

Those memories brought me back to when I was in Elementary School.  I was outgoing for the most part, but I was afraid of making connections to certain people.  Keiko was in my 2nd grade class, who had special needs.  Just because my teacher assigned me to help her, I  organized her things and put them into her backpack.  A couple of days later, Keiko’s mom appeared in school and thanked me, “Oh, Keiko is so happy because you are always helpful to her.  Thank you very much.”  My stomach churned.  I wanted to say it was my teacher’s idea, not mine, but I couldn’t.  I felt even worse.  

In 5th grade, our teacher gave a lot of “Team Tasks” on us.  When I was done, I had to help my teammates.  It turned out I became a personal tutor for one particular student in my group.  Obviously he couldn’t comprehend or perform what our teacher required.  I was reluctant, but I did because that was what the teacher told us to do.  He was always quiet, and I didn’t expect much from anyone.  30 years later, one of my former classmates mentioned about him in the reunion, “He told me he liked you because you were always helpful for his math.”  I was embarrassed to share how I felt about “helping” him.

What taught me from these experiences are; 1) you cannot build a relationship for someone else who are not involved in the relationship.  When you have closed mind, good relationship wouldn’t happen.  You must be genuine.  2) That leads to the self awareness.  Why do you want to build a good relationship?  Why do you want to keep connecting to certain people?  If you recognize yourself as happy when you feel connected to someone, it is powerful.  It is not too easy to be aware of your emotion, but it’s not too difficult, either. 3) Kindness of any kinds will open a door of a relationship.  A little act of kindness can make someone happy.  If you received the kind acts from someone, you would want to connect to that person.  

If you desire the life changing experiences, plant some seeds, by smiling, giving complement, listening, inviting a game, and having lunch together.  Soon your life will be full-filled from connections you planted.  They grow and bloom in your entire life.

Monday, January 16, 2017


Subtraction came back to my 2nd grade math class.  "Two digit" scares these little people successfully, even though they have been successful of "bundling" in additions.  One says, "I can't subtract."  Another says "I don't subtract."  To start with, I threw a story problem.  "Shelby picked 35 oranges.  6 of them were rotten.  How many oranges could she save?"  Surprisingly, but almost predictably, some said, "35+6=41."  My response, "Hmmm.  Is she adding 6 rotten oranges into the basket?  Really?  Would you do that?  I don't need any more rotten oranges!"  Then they all took a deep breath and laughed, "It's subtraction!"  I felt a bit better.  Their subtraction concept was coming back.

Then, I started explaining how "un-bundle" works in the place value chart, using dimes as 10s, pennies as 1s.  About half of kids looked like statues.  Not significant light bulbs.  I pretended not to freak out, and announced, "Ok, let's meet up in the circle.  I will explain about the shopping game."  Did I had a plan for the shopping game?  Heck, no.  As I walked to the circle, my brain was sparking everywhere trying to find the best way for kids to understand "unbundle" in the engaging activity.  Click!  I sat on my spot and start explaining.  Here is the banker.  The Banker will exchange one dime to 10 pennies.  The shopkeeper takes money from the customers but only the exact amount.  Each pair gets five dimes, choose items labeled in the classroom, and shop together.  I grabbed the sticky notes and started labeling items in the classroom while talking, e.g., the mini white board 7 cents, marker 3 cents, etc.  I chose a student who had most difficult time understanding this unbundle concept and paired up with another student.  The shopkeepers were students who can count money correctly.  To make kids more engaged, I told them that the Fairy Godmother would give them $1 when they run out of their money.  They had to prove they were nice to each other to the Fairy Godmother to get her approval.  Now they had to go to the bank to break one dollar to 10 dimes.  That was an extended activity for the advanced students.  It turned out to be a great activity.  Students were engaging, collaborating, and understanding how unbundling works at the bank when they exchange their dime to pennies!

After that activity, we came back to the place value chart.  90% of students demonstrated their understanding of dime coming to the 1s place, but it needed to be 10 pennies.  Unfortunately, some still had no idea.

Next day, we went back to the worksheet that we started two days ago.  Some pairs started working independently.  I facilitated a particular pair to take turn to be a banker and a shopper, just like yesterday.  They completed all tasks by themselves after I left.  Other groups in the table, I encouraged them to play a banker and a shopper.  I added a little circle in the 10s place and draw an arrow line from it to 1's place.  Then, I made a big circle that they can put 10 pennies.  After they put 10 pennies, they discard a dime from the small circle.  As students repeated this manipulation, one student exclaimed, "I am getting it!  The place value chart really works!"  Another said, "Now I know why I was exchanging a dime to 10 pennies."  

Unexpectedly, the first plan didn't work well, however, unexpectedly, the spontaneous made-up game triggered their concept building.