xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' Don't Forget South Central: 2017

Sunday, November 5, 2017

I'm Moving to Finland

When I tell people that come January, I will be living in Finland for 5 months, the reactions are shock, wonder, and admiration. "I wish I could get away for 5 months like that!" is a common reaction.

The truth is it is not so easy.

Your Job 

Most teachers who apply for a Fulbright tend to be intricately involved in the management of their schools. They are department chairs, coaches, coordinators, and many times all of the above. Aside from that, we have our own rolls of students we are committed to.

I had the opportunity to leave the classroom this year for the first time in 22 years. My Fulbright award definitely swayed me into the direction of taking on a full time Magnet Program Coordinator role. If I wasn't personally in charge of 150 students, it would make my departure easier to bear.

But no matter your role, knowing you will be leaving your school is a tough decision.  As January approaches, the decision is still a tough one to deal with.

Your Pay

Although Fulbright covers your costs while living abroad, you have your own expenses to deal with at home. It turns out there is a wide variety of support that teachers receive from their school districts.

Most Fulbrighters receive some level of salary and benefits. But there are some districts that completely cut teachers off and assign them an unpaid leave. At our orientation, one teacher shared that her school gave away her position during her leave and when she returned, she had to cobble together three minimum wage jobs until she was able to obtain another teaching position.

My school district, in spite of months of questions, has not told me what I can expect for compensation next year. So I have to plan for zero. This means renting out my home, and moving in with loved ones in order to save money for 2018. This was really hard to do, but I am willing to make sacrifices to get to Finland.

It will mean living like a college student again in order to pay my bills while conducting my inquiry project in Finland.

Many leaders in my district have written congratulatory letters to me and are thorough supporters of my endeavor. But the must frustrating part is those who respond with "what is a Fulbright?" when I try to get answers about my leave. Those are the tough days.

Your Family

There is nothing easy about leaving friends and family behind. But I take this as an opportunity to encourage them all to visit you while abroad. My daughter Alana plans to visit and keep me warm.

Your Housing

Many worry warts have asked me if I am stressed about the move or finding housing or the food or the language. No! I am excited! That is all part of the adventure. When will I ever have the opportunity to find a cool new apartment and be cosmopolitan? When will I ever get to challenge myself by being immersed in a completely foreign culture? Your grow or you die.

The apartment I am looking at is in the city center, a short walk from everything. However, a short walk might seem like torture when it is below zero, but I hope my acclimation will be quick.

As the holidays approach, I continue to gather artifacts and ideas that I will share with the Finnish people. Los Angelenos represent the intersection of race, class, gender, and all that makes America already great. I embark on my Fulbright hoping to share with the Finns as much as they may share with me.

Want to learn about the awesome program that is sending me to Finland? Check it out here.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Application; Am I Worthy?

As a classroom teacher, milestones that determine your accomplishments are quite different than in other professions. Managing an unruly department can be an accomplishment. Applying for and earning a school grant is laudable. National Board Certification? Props.

But would these be enough to qualify me for a Fulbright?

The application itself was formidable. You can peruse it here.

The main focus of the application was previous travel experience and qualifications. Moving to a foreign country for 6 months is no joke, and I saw the questions as a way to gauge your sturdiness in adapting to foreign cultures. While  Finland is not dramatically different than the U.S., the climate is. Going from the land of eternal sunshine to 5 hours of daylight upon arrival will take some adjustment.

For my letters of recommendation, all those commissions in which I participated came in handy. I did not hesitate to ask leaders in education for a letter. They not only obliged, but cheered me on.

For my professional accomplishments, I thought about what I had tried to accomplish during my 20+ years as a teacher:

  1. becoming a model for my students
  2. acquiring top-notch training
  3. joining professional networks
  4. stemming the loss of teachers at my high-needs school
  5. elevating the profession
And yet I was intimidated by the Fulbright. Who did I think I was thinking I could represent the United States of America in such a prestigious manner? Although friends and colleagues assured me I was a strong candidate, I always have a crisis when it comes to high profile opportunities. Teacher stage fright.

I reflected over the study tours I had taken around the world on teacher delegations.

I though of the commissions I worked on at the CA Department of Education.

I thought of the awards I had been fortunate to received.

And then I received a message from a long lost student on Facebook (posted with her permission):

Hello Ms. Infante,

You may not remember me but I'm a former student of yours. I graduated from Bethune MS back in 2005 (12 years ago, WOW!). Just wanted to express my gratitude for encouraging me along with many others, to go to college and succeed in life.

I had a few behavioral issues but with no hesitations, and no questions asked, you enrolled me into the Honors program in Bethune. With the guidance of caring individuals like yourself, I had the support needed to succeed. I'm currently a Graduate Student at CSULB School of Social Work.

Aside from education goals, I also owe to you my aspirations to travel. During our history class you would ALWAYS encourage us to consider traveling. You gave us a sneak peak of the world through pictures of trips you had taken. I remember thinking, God... when I grow up, I'd like to do that! At that age I knew nothing but the streets of South LA. And now, I've visited 9 countries, and counting 😉

The work you do, TRULY changes lives! You instill dreams to students, and you give us the support needed to ensure those dreams come true. You've planted so many seeds throughout the years in areas where there was nothing but dirt....and now, thanks to you, there is a garden 🌼Thanks to individuals like you, generations of educated Latinos are rising. We are no longer a statistic, but are becoming constructive members of society. Thank you for looking past behavioral issues, challenges, and other things, and for valuing each student beyond their flaws, and seeing their true potential 🙂

Best Regards,
Ariana Z

Become a role model for your students. How could I look my students in the eye, exhort them to work hard, dream big, and fly if I wasn't willing to do this myself? After wiping the tears and reflecting on how many students are watching what we say and do, I began the Fulbright application process. After an agonizing 5 month wait, I learned that I too, would be a Fulbrighter. And now the work begins.

Monday, September 4, 2017

It Was One Year Ago Today

In the midst of my 21st year of teaching, I get the email about applying for a Fulbright. It gave me pause.

When you have worked a career that involves so many moving pieces, it seems impossible to tear yourself away from your work. Who will take care of my Advanced Studies Program? How can I walk away from a school that faces dire challenges due to the surrounding poverty in the neighborhood? How could I afford this opportunity, if an unpaid leave of absence might be required?

Then I remembered that my students and families watch what teachers do, not what they say.

My whole career has been dedicated to affording the best educational practices to my students, regardless of their background. And when you think of the best, you think of Finland.

Maybe you've seen the Michael Moore video on Finnish education.

Maybe you've read Tim Walker's funny and informative posts on moving to Finland and learning about the schools and culture (my favorite was My Amathophobic Finnish Wife).

Or maybe you just know that your school and your district can be a place that people want to visit and learn from.

So I applied. And waited. And waited. AND waited.

I got it.

This blog will serve as a repository of my Finnish foray as well as the exporting of the vibrant community of South Central L.A. and Boyle Heights to other parts of the world.

Martha Infante
aka AvalonSensei

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

No to Gangs, Yes to STEM!

Swimming with dolphins. Dissecting squid. Learning about conservation. Visiting a turtle rehabilitation center. Conducting water sampling. Visiting a coral reef. These are just some of the experience we have put together for the students who choose school over all the negative influences in the neighborhood. Would you consider donating and sharing? I THANK YOU IN ADVANCE!!!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Letters to the President

Our very own alum, Elizabeth Chimalpopoca had her letter to the President published in this book! Congrats, Elizabeth!