Mindful Moments

Mindful Moments

In the past couple of years, I’ve tried to embrace mindfulness more frequently in my life. I tend to be on the go a lot, and have multiple to-do lists and things going on at any one time; I do a lot of different things, and when you teach, this is just the way of things. Even without anything else taken into account, on an average day I could go from teaching a background to Latin American independence, to reviewing US history content, to leading a discussion on the Middle East.

You can probably guess where this is going, right?

This school year, I took one particular step to help me move towards a more mindful approach to my school day: closing my classroom door. Let me explain…

Continue reading “Mindful Moments”

Unexpected Journey

Unexpected Journey

If you’d asked me a year ago or five years ago if I’d like to travel to Taiwan, I’d have told you it’s not something I’d thought about. In the past decade, my travel fantasies have increasingly turned toward Asia, but until this autumn, the tiny island of Taiwan was nothing more than that – an island I could identify, thanks to many years of geography bees, and something I mention once each year in my classroom.

Despite all this, I ended 2019 and began 2020 with a journey to Taiwan – an unexpected journey that began several years ago.

The First Leg: Understanding East Asian History

Asian history never interested me until I became a teacher. Suddenly I found my 20th century Cold War history very incomplete, centered as I was on Europe, the U.S., and even African history. As I began teaching 20th Century World History (and now, The World Since 1900), I quickly realized I needed to learn a lot more about East Asia.

I don’t know how I discovered the National Consortium for Teaching About Asia (NCTA), but somehow I found it, and about four years ago, I began taking their free online courses. First there was a course on Mao, then one on Japan after World War II. These courses, and others, led to a chance to write for a special issue of Education about Asia , and since one thing leads to something more, I’ve continued to enroll in NCTA courses periodically, including this past fall (and one that starts next week).

The Second Leg: A Surprise Study Tour Opportunity

I’ve been dreaming of NCTA and other study tours for awhile, to be honest, but hadn’t yet had the opportunity for one. This one came to me out of the blue, with an email in October: for the second year in a row, the Republic of China (Taiwan government) wanted to sponsor American teachers for a study tour of Taiwan. Was I interested in this opportunity?

Was I interested? Was I ever! The next week was a flurry of paperwork, with the proviso that things might not work out. I braced myself against hope at the idea of getting to travel to Asia for the first time, and bemoaned how little I knew about Taiwan. (It was a little embarrassing to write that my teaching about Taiwan literally begins and ends with “And then the Nationalists fled to Taiwan when Mao declared the People’s Republic of China”.)

Despite – or perhaps because of – my glaring ignorance of Taiwanese history, everything came together. By mid-November I had plane tickets that would take me out of my home city on Christmas night, with a return on January 2. My first trip to Asia and my first trans-Pacific flight were really going to happen.

The Trip: Adventures, Discoveries, and Kindred Spirits

The goal of a study tour is only partially to sight-see. In this trip to Taiwan, we traveled up and down the island nation, visiting as many places as we could, but it’s also about experiencing the place and the people and expanding your knowledge in the process. At least, that’s how I experienced this study tour. Everything we did helped me understand Taiwan and its history and people a bit more, and left me eager to go further.

For six days, we traveled up and down Taiwan, beginning in Taipei, spending new year’s eve in Kaohsiung, and returning to Taipei before we went home. In the weeks ahead, I hope to put together a story map that more accurately captures all these great experiences, but for now I’ll share some highlights.

Day 1: Arrival in Taipei, call at Ministry of Foreign Affairs to learn about US-Taiwan relationship, and visit Affiliated High School to speak with students. Dinner: Din Tai Fung dumplings

Day 2 to Day 3: high speed train to Taichung, bus to Sun Moon Lake. We spent the day touring the lake and visiting the Formosa Aboriginal Cultural Village (not pictured). On the morning of Day 3, I walked with several others to the Wen Wu temple (in the dark before dawn, in the rain) and we all went to Hugosum Tea Garden.

Day 3-5: Our time at Sun Moon Lake seemed far too short, but new adventures awaited in Tainan: we spent two nights there exploring the city and its history, which has ties to the Dutch, the Japanese, and the Chinese.

From there, we traveled to Kaohsiung, where we finished 2019 with a visit to the (former) British Consulate, the National Kaohsiung Performing Arts Center (where I got to play the piano), a visit to a night market, and watching fireworks from the hotel window with new friends.

The only bad thing about this trip was that it ended too soon. Just as we adjusted to the jet lag (14-hour time change for me!), and really began feeling like we were getting to know this beautiful country, it was time to fly home.

From start to finish, it was an amazing experience. I’m only starting to mentally unpack all I saw and learned and felt, partly the consequence of coming back and jumping back into my life here.

After trips like this, things are never really quite the same again – they’ve changed because you change, usually for the better, or so I like to think. Moving into 2020, I’m excited to learn more about how this unexpected journey changed me and how I see the world.

Gratitude and Giving Back

Photo by Caleb Wood on Pexels.com

Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.

-A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

My son is in first grade this year, and just last week I realized how much he’s into Santa Claus right now. This is not unexpected: I have always been a Christmas aficionado and used to love reminding people of such classics as Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Even so, in recent years I’ve struggled to embrace the holiday spirit fully: I still don’t have good traditions with my son such as baking holiday cookies, or Christmas movies we have to watch (correction: he will watch various versions of The Grinch on repeat for the next 4 months, but I’m afraid that doesn’t really count). There are moments each holiday season when the thought of getting the tree out, putting it up, and then having to put it away again just feels exhausting. (And that doesn’t include the gift giving part of the season, which is a whole ‘nother element.)

But the holidays have always been important to me, and I want him to love them as much as I do. The tricky part is helping him to understand that we can love the holidays not just because ooh, PRESENTS! but also because it’s a time of year to give to others.

I feel very fortunate to have a child who is kind and caring. Still, that doesn’t mean the thought of giving – or giving back in some way – comes naturally. As he gets older, I find myself thinking more and more about how we can foster that idea. How do you help your child learn to give and give back?

Continue reading “Gratitude and Giving Back”

Resolved: Let’s Move

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I have never been the most athletic person. The only marathons I’ve ever participated in have involved reading books or watching screens for hours on end. Give me a choice, and I’d always choose a story over playing outside (much to my sister’s chagrin). As a kid, I didn’t try sports until middle school; my resume includes a couple of seasons of basketball at the Y, a little bit of soccer, and one brief foray into softball. In high school, I moved to martial arts, which is where I not only earned my black belt, but also got my first teaching experience and participated in a world championship weapons competition.

That was a long time ago.

In graduate school, I flirted with the gym on and off. I don’t think it was until my third year of grad school that I really got consistent, but in the second half of grad school, working out became an almost-daily activity. I completed The New Rules of Lifting for Women, Couch to 5K, and generally spent an hour each day working out to stay in shape.

By the time I finished my PhD in 2011, I was in the best physical shape of my life. And then I started teaching full time.

Continue reading “Resolved: Let’s Move”

To Do it Better: Teaching the History of Slavery

Courtesy Library of Congress

Note: I’m taking a brief break from my recent series on the women’s history course I’m teaching. I’ll provide a final update on the course next time I write here, but today I want to talk about teaching something else: the history of slavery in the United States.

Do you remember when and how you first learned about slavery? I don’t. I wish I could say I remember, but I have no memory of when I first read descriptions of slavery and enslavement, nor how I felt about it. I suspect this is not uncommon for white people like myself who grew up after the Civil Rights Movement seemed to end, and as school bussing began declining in the late 1980s and 1990s. There was also the matter of geography: my parents knew few black people, having grown up in Southern California (dad) and Northern Iowa (mom), and until I was 15, we lived in places that tended to be majority white or Latinx.

I can count on one hand the number of African American people I knew before I started college, including a friend when I was six or seven, and a youth minister when I was 15. Even my reading was pretty whitewashed: I know I read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and its sequels, but I have more vivid memories of Nancy Drew books and my obsession with British books (Secret Garden, A Little Princess…). I didn’t encounter A Raisin in the Sun until college. Probably the only thing I can tell you for sure is that I did somehow learn that slavery caused the Civil War, although I spent more time visiting battlefields than reading about the causes of the war. I know my historical knowledge expanded in undergrad, where I first encountered the concepts of analyzing race, gender, and class, and certainly graduate school deepened my knowledge and understanding much further.

Last year, I returned to teaching US History after several years of teaching only world history. Coming back to my specialty area was exciting, but also thought-provoking, as I worked to develop a new honors-level US history course that would spin off of AP US History (the class prepares students for that exam, while not being specifically an AP class). Over and over again, I found myself disappointed in how poorly I was teaching my students about the history of slavery. I could blame the AP curriculum, on the one hand, because there was so much to go through that it didn’t seem like it could be helped on the one hand, but on the other hand – that’s not the right place to direct the blame. As a result of this, I started a personal effort to better understand and teach the history of slavery to my students. It began with a lot of reading, beyond what I’d studied in grad school, to look more deeply at what I thought I knew, and how I’ve approached that in the classroom.

Continue reading “To Do it Better: Teaching the History of Slavery”

(Re)Designing Women

Part 3 in an ongoing series about Tanya’s fall elective on American women’s history. See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

It’s September, which must mean that my course is ACTUALLY under way. Yippee!

We started the school year two weeks ago, and as expected, it’s been a good – but intense – two weeks of getting to know my students, getting my first lesson plans out the door, and, unexpectedly, getting hit with a massive head cold (on the second day of school, no less).

When I last talked to you, I pulled the veil back on my initial course planning efforts for my one-trimester Intro to American Women’s History. But a month ago, I didn’t know how many students I’d end up with, or who they were, or what they would want to do.

I’ve now solved 2 of those three problems, and reader, it’s about get interesting.

Continue reading “(Re)Designing Women”

Designing Women, Part II

My main image for organizing the course, with image from Library of Congress

Last month, I wrote about my initial work designing my Intro to History of American Women’s Rights this fall. As I think I hinted at, I want to keep checking in on this course to let you know how it’s going, hold myself accountable through this blogging process, and to document my first opportunity to teach women’s history in a high school setting.

After writing last month, I stepped away from most of my teaching work for the month of July. July became, instead, a month of reading (mostly for school), momming, and just trying to be. (Oh, there was also the several intense weeks when I wrote a book chapter related to my academic research, but that’s another story.)

Last week, I got back into the teacher prep groove a little bit. My son had his final summer camp from 9-3 each day, which gave me a break from #momming (as I’ve taken to calling it) and a few precious hours between drop-off and pick-up to pull together whatever I could. I didn’t start with Women’s History, but it’s where I ended up, and I’m feeling excited about where things landed.

Continue reading “Designing Women, Part II”