On finding your place in the world

I went to Walmart the other day to buy toilet paper and popsicles. It was the first time that I had been in our local Walmart in…a very long time. I grabbed the goods and joined the shortest checkout line. Two customers in front of me, my former principal was checking out. I hadn’t seen Ms. Williams since I left full-time teaching in May of 2013. I abandoned my toilet paper and popsicles and walked over to put my hand on her arm. “Ms. Williams?”, I started to say, “MARTINA!” she exclaimed. “How are you?!” She glanced down and noticed my belly. “Pregnant!”, I responded. The last time she had seen me was two days before the birth of my second son. This time, I was three days past my due date with baby 5. We chatted for a minute or two and then hugged goodbye. As I checked out and drove home, I was hit with a huge wave of nostalgia, and I hope that you’ll bear with me as I share some of the things that have been churning in my mind since then.

It is impossible to know what the future holds for us. We all have bucket lists and we all have dreams that vary in likelihood of realization. And we have dreams that we don’t even know are dreams yet. After my first son was born, my dream was to leave the classroom and be a stay at home mom, period. I was a full-time teacher mom for awhile until a string of unexpected opportunities presented themselves. Now, I am working from home, doing something that I didn’t even know was a thing back when Ellis was born! I never wanted the ‘best of both worlds’, but that is what I ended up with.

Four weeks ago, my dream was to live in Alaska for a long time to come, in my dream house with my dream neighbors and my dream friends. My husband’s dream was to keep building his business here in Alaska and eventually expand to the East Coast so that we could be closer to family.

“Poof!” went that dream! At the end of this month, I will be saying goodbye to Alaska. Matt and I will once again be making the cross-country trek; this time, our road trip will end in Burlington, VT. The move is very unexpected, and we have been so busy trying to figure out how to make it happen that I hadn’t had a chance to feel anything about the move…until Walmart and Ms. Williams.

There was nothing special about my job at Clark. It was a middle school Spanish teaching position in a large, diverse school district. I taught five sections; two levels at first and three levels in the last two years. I wasn’t using the job strategically to do or to be anything, just like my husband wasn’t conducting his business in such a way as to attract attention from the mega agent that he will be partnering with in VT. And yet somehow our very ordinary jobs had an extraordinary impact on our lives.

Maybe you have already found your dream job. Or maybe you are exhausted, frustrated, and unfulfilled at the end of another lackluster school year. No matter what situation you find yourself in, you can live your work life in such a way as to discover your perfect place in the world:

Work really hard.

When you love what you’re doing, it’s often easy to work hard because you enjoy the work. But most of the time, working hard feels like hard work. We all look for ways to make our jobs easier and to be more efficient—and that’s smart—but at the end of the day, your circumstances will not improve without some good old fashioned elbow grease.

Be authentically you. 

The world needs you. You can model many of the things that you do after successful colleagues, but don’t lose yourself in the process. As you learn and grow as a teacher, try out anything that seems promising but only keep those things that suit you and your situation. Passion is contagious, and your students will feed off your enthusiasm for what you are doing in class.

Be generous.

Generosity might mean giving up a planning period to help a colleague. It might mean sharing something that you’ve done in class in an online group for other teachers to use. It might mean purchasing a conference registration for your bully goat department chair or purchasing an additional license for that TpT resource that you love so that same bully goat can try it out, too. It might mean signing up as a mentor through ACTFL or in your local school district. It might mean organizing and leading a PLC for teachers in your area. It might mean hosting an observer even though the thought of it makes you want to faint. It might mean buying a coffee or a McDonalds milkshake on your lunch break for your teacher friend that is having a rough day.

Do the right thing.

Fulfill your contractual obligations, even though they are asinine. Be available for your students, even though you’re exhausted. Help your colleague, even though s/he’s a jerk. Be a shoulder to cry on. Advocate for your program and for your students. Do the right thing when no one is looking; even when no one will ever know that you did it. I am convinced that this is why my husband has received the opportunity that he has! He has consistently done the right thing by his clients since he first began his career in real estate, even when it has cost him a paycheck or meant taking the fall for something that wasn’t his fault. Doing the right thing will NEVER come back void.

Fake it ‘til you make it.

Be brave! Do not allow fear to keep you from trying something new or for advocating for change in your program. If you wait until you are ‘ready’ to [ask a TPRS® story, do a MovieTalk, present at a local conference, share a resource online], you’ll be waiting forever. You won’t do it perfectly, but you will do it! You will increase in confidence and ability as you keep stepping out, and you will identify specific areas for growth so that you can take action and improve. To get where you want to go, start walking! If you want something different than what you have now, you need to do something different, even if it’s scary. “Do what you’ve always done, and you’ll get what you’ve always gotten”

Learn from everything and everyone. 

A few days ago, I sifted through a box of papers from trainings that I have attended over the years. I found the handout from the mandatory QAR training with Susan VanZant that my principle organized. I found the CHAMPS flyer that my Vice Principle distributed multiple times per year. (Actually, I found three copies of it.) I found notes from my first AFLA conference, where I learned from greats like Susie Gross and Laurie Clarcq. I found the syllabus from the PD course that Michele Whaley ran back in 2010. I found notes from observing Betsy Paskvan and Victoria Gellert at Dimond High School. If you have the opportunity to attend a training—whether or not it is related to language teaching—take it! Attending trainings with an open mind is the very best way to find yourself and your perfect place in the world. As the saying goes, “We don’t know what we don’t know”! I didn’t know that TPRS® was a thing until I observed Michele Whaley through a local teacher mentor program. Had I not signed up for that mentorship, I might still be in the classroom thinking that my students would learn language by speaking the language! Oh, the horrors!

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Good things come to those who wait”, but I would encourage you to NOT wait. Don’t wait for your dream job to be a dream candidate. Be the best you that you can be now, even when your circumstances have given you every possible justification for just biding your time until you are able to move on.

My prayer for you is that you find your perfect place in the world!

Much love,

Martina

76 comments

  1. Beautiful, Martina! These are words that I needed to read. Thank you! Best of luck on your new adventure I’m sure it’ll be great!

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  2. You are such a blessing! Not only because you are an amazing teacher, developer of curriculum, presenter etc–but an amazing person with such a loving heart. I can’t wait to see what God has for you in VT!

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  3. Vermont! Bernie Sanders Country! Heady Topper…and
    Ben and Jerry’s, baby! Sometimes you can find their seconds, which didn’t make the cut because they have too many or too few mix-ins. Find the former and you’re loving life; the latter and you just set your sights on the next time.

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  4. Very eloquently said! I wish you and your family much success in your new home. I would like you to know that I truly appreciate you! Because of you and your blog, you were my inspiration for trying CI and changing my entire outlook on teaching. I will see you in Syracuse this summer 🙂

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  5. Thanks for the awesome post Martina. I couldn’t have read it and connected to it at a more perfect time! Good luck to you as your life circumstances change! I’m on that same road and so excited!

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  6. Wow! Best of luck in your new adventure. We will miss you here in the Great Land, but know that our igloo doors are always open if you want to drop by and say ‘Hi”.

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    • Thanks Angie, it’s not an easy place to leave 😥 Alaska gets ahold of you! Thankfully Matt’s team will still be operating here in AK so we will have an excuse to come back for visits!!

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  7. Very excited to welcome you to VT. I teach at Essex High School which is just east of Burlington and am a pretty good customer on TPT. Please let me know your plans. Would love to meet you

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      • I highly recommend Essex 🙂 but there are other great places as well. Let me know if I can answer any questions or get you information.

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  8. You are such an inspiration and blessing! Mil gracias Martina. I am planning my 32 year of teaching…and WILL retire after this one…really, I mean it! I DO love my job!

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  9. Thank you so much for all your wonderful ideas, plans and reflections. TPRS / CI has made such a difference in my career but also your positive attitude and professionalism have been so inspiring. As usual as I open up your page I find another amazing message. I am retiring and this is my last week. I have no idea what my place in the world will be as I move on to new adventures and so I thank you for your comforting outlook on what is important in life. I wish you the best in your move. I have not been to Alaska yet but I love Vermont! I know you will too. I hope you will continue to influence others to be the best teachers and colleagues they can be. Best wishes to you and your family.

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  10. I love this post so much. You are one of my inspirations for my new endeavor starting next year: Comprehensible Input. Your resources are on my “to buy” list and I refer to your stuff all the time! Good luck on the move cross-country! I have a college friend that lived in Alaska for a while and she loved it. Now she lives in Hawaii (lucky!). Thank you for everything you do. I say this as I start my last week of teaching for this year.

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  11. Welcome to New England, Martina. in the fall, if you can, come to the Massachusetts Association of Foreign Language teachers which will be in Springfield MA. We are a great group of educators. I hope to be able to go this year but it is much further from me than a day trip so I am not sure yet.

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  12. This post is beautiful! I am super nervous but I am attending my first CI conference in Portland! I 😍. Thanks so much

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  13. Thanks for your wise and inspirational words. I am new at CI, even though the transition has been rough I will persevere. I live near Burlington. Nice and vibrant town. I hope we could meet someday. Wishing you all the best!

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  14. Martina, best of luck to you. The Alaska TPRS community & AFLA and everyone that’s been touched by you is going to miss you. I loved the times I was able to work with you (though you’re so fast, I could barely keep up.) You leave a big hole that will need lots of contributions of enthusiasm, creativity, kindness, and helpfulness to full up. Take care!!

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    • Thanks Victoria, I am so glad to have worked with you! When I think about you teaching I can’t help but smile, you build a sense of intrigue when you are teaching like no one else I know!

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  15. Thank you for all of the resources and motivational encouragement you have always shared. My students and I benefit from everything you have done and shared. Reading your messages and learning from you has been a huge blessing in my personal and professional life. Thank you and blessings on your move to Vermont.

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  16. I LOVE this post. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my almost-29-years of life, it’s that you might think you have a plan for your future…but there are so many factors you can never predict. You never know what opportunities or connections might exist two months from now that didn’t exist when you were originally “planning.”

    Best of luck to you and your family!

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  17. I love your outlook–work hard and look for ways to bless others. Your hard work has helped me make the jump from traditional to textbook-less teaching. God bless the Bex family!

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  18. Querida Martina, Gracias porque en medio de toda la locura de una mudanza inesperada, todavía tomas el tiempo para compartir con nosotros. Aunque no lo sepas, te considero mi mentora y le pido a Dios los proteja y los cuide. Cada vez que decidimos actuar, algo sucede. Y cuando somos hijos de Dios, siempre es para bien. Por mi parte, estoy muy agradecida contigo por tu generosidad y perspicacia. Tienes toda la razón. Debemos aprender de otros pero ser nosotros mismos.
    !Vivo en la Florida y ahora te tendré un poquito más cerquita! Si Dios lo permite, en algún momento nos conoceremos. Estaré orando por el parto de tu nuevo bebé.

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  19. Well said, Martina. Good advice. God convicted me, too, this year of not serving my students well enough. A new year beckons. Also, good reminder, though it startled me, that kids don’t acquire a language by speaking. I have to keep hearing these thoughts about input…still hasn’t sunk in.

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  20. Muchas gracias por todos tus consejos, Martina. Me encanta leer tu blog. Espero que vuestro viaje sea una gran aventura y que lleguéis a vuestro destino muy felices.

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  21. Wow…this came at a perfevct time…a crappy day dealing with a difficult family. Thank you…I started crying! Best of luck in your move! I am sort of excited you will be much closer to where I live and work! Vermont is awesome! Enjoy the adventure!!

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  22. Martina,

    Thank you for your insights and reflections. I am a 25 year teacher, new to TPRS / CI this year! Your words of encouragement are just what I needed to hear!! Best of luck to you and your family in the move to your new home.

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  23. Your posts are my absolute favorite to read. Thank you for sharing all that you do with us! This is just the dose of inspiration I need as I embark on a new journey from high school to middle school Spanish this year.

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  24. Dear Martina,

    I am not sure if you answer personal e-mails, but I am going o try 😊

    I just got done reading this post and I love it!

    I am an older mother (53) of 4 children my youngest is 13!!

    I taught for 2 years, 15 years ago at a private school where my children were attending- preschool to 8th grade. After teaching there, we started homeschooling our 4 children and also I have been teaching Spanish to homeschool children for free for the last 5 years. This year I have decided to start my little business.

    For this whole time I have never felt my teaching is good enough to charge –

    and I have been told I would never make $$ doing this- by all my family in Colombia – they are all doctors, dentists etc. so they do think I am crazy!!

    I have always used songs, stories, tons of movement etc..what now we call TPR, maybe TPRS and CI – fancier names.

    I love teaching!! and I love your stile!! bottom line –

    The resources I find are more for older children – and I would like to know if you have any suggestions for me-

    I purchased you Somos material – I am planning my curriculum for the next year.

    I will be teaching homeschool children K-6th grade.

    They are homeschooled so I see them once a week for 1.5 hours.

    Thank you 😊

    I totally understand if you are too busy to reply –

    I am grateful I had the chance to read your post!!

    ________________________________

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    • I would check out the Hola Niños curriculum by Fluency Matters and Amy Roe’s materials! Her store is The Storyteller’s Corner on TpT. She has great stuff! Also, have you seen the guest post by Jill Wiley on my blog? Search for her name and it should pop right up! I think you will be encouraged by reading her tips and her experience. Best of luck to you on this new adventure; I hope you will share how it goes!

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  25. Hey! I met you at iFLT. Thank you for the inspiring blog and for being so positive.
    Also, I am starting the Spanish Masters at Middlebury College in Middlebury, VT this July. It has an immersion program that I hope will help me with CI teaching. The program is for 6 weeks each summer and there are many languages represented at the college.
    Just food for thought that there will be an awesome Spanish program near your new place. Hopefully you can connect one day or I can help connect you if needed. For now, enjoy your baby and summer!

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    • One of my husband’s new team members worked in the Middleburg language program prior to joining the real estate team he is leading! I am planning to have her connect me with the program! Would love to meet up if you have time! And if I am in VT (we might be in NY for awhile if we can’t find a house right away…)

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      • Sounds good! I am glad you have multiple Middlebury connections and I wish you luck on house hunting!

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  26. Good Luck Martina! I’m glad to know you’ll be on the East Coast, and hopefully I can meet you someday at a conference. I’m in Massachusetts. The two places my hubby and I have almost moved are Alaska and Burlington VT! We still continuously look for jobs in both places, and visit VT often, it’s so beautiful there!

    Thanks for all of your musings. They are always so useful! Best of luck to you and your family.

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  27. These words are so true, and definitely great to hear as we are wrapping up our school year in Southern Vermont. How exciting that you will be moving to the East Coast, and VT no less! I hope you have a safe journey, and that life in VT suits you and your family. It is beautiful here (in my opinion), and I’ve enjoyed living here for 41 years. Best of luck to you and your family. I cannot wait to attend one of your conferences and/or workshops! I love your materials, and I buy things from your TpT materials all the time. Love all of your activities/ideas. etc.

    Best of luck!

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