25 April 2012

The one where I complain, realize I'm a hypocrite, then feel better about myself...

I am really good at thinking less of myself.  I have used many negative words to describe myself lately, selfish, immature, irrational, CHB, etc.  However, I am also really good at making myself feel better about these words..."if I don't look out for myself, who will?" "If you can't have fun, why live?" "If I make a quick decision, it must be what I really want." And let's be honest, I'm pretty proud of my CHB status...not really, but I can't rationalize it.  So if I can do this about my personality traits, why not about education?

“I don't want my children with THOSE kids...” I answered the phone today at my school that is closing and heard this statement. We are trying to see if we could be housed at another school that is also closing after next year. This parent was not happy about her kids going to school with "those" kids at the other school. Demographically, they are very similar. The other school just has a bad rep-but really it's not that bad. When I told people I was working at this school current school, I got a lot of "I'm sorry" and "why??". It really ticked me off that people would say that-and now these parents are judging another school.  Both of these schools are less than 5% White, majority African American, a few Hispanic.  It really ticks me off to think if you go back 50 years to integration, these same words were uttered-unfairly and unjustly. People should really watch their words, connotations and feelings.

At the magnet forums Durham had before all the closings were announced there was a campaign "don't roll the dice, make all the schools nice." Well it wouldn't matter. It's a nice sentiment, but seriously, people's preconceived notions trump the truth.  Hillside High was a tough school when I was in elementary school in Durham.  It got a new building, tried to change the districting but basically stayed the same.  However, now the school is beautiful, the teachers have been trained in tons of new techniques and they have good administration.  I was talking to a teacher about the school the other day and she mentioned she would never want to work there because it's so bad, with "those" kids.  Even educators keep reputations alive.

 When I tell people that I am going abroad, I hear a lot of “Why?” and “Are you teaching Americans?”  When I tell them I am teaching Arabic students they have a little freak out.  They are letting their preconceived notions about the Arabic communities guide their thoughts.  I spend a lot of time trying to calm fears and questions for people.  But then I start to wonder….am I calming my grandmothers’ (probably all four of them) fears or my own?  Am I worried about teaching THOSE children, in THAT country?  Am I continuing the stereotypes or am trying to defy them?

 When I first got teaching fellows I thought that I wanted to teach remedial math to low performing students.  I then got into teaching for real and realized that I did not have to be at a “bad” school or teach the “low courses” to give help where it is most needed.  While it would be great if all of the schools in a community were on the same playing field, it won’t happen.  What CAN happen is that the community can support the teachers and students attending ANY school.  Everyone needs and deserves an education.  If we are not educating our youth, we are not supporting our future.  One reaction a person had to me moving abroad was, “what about Americans?”  How can we think like this when we live in such a global community?  Education is a worldwide need.  Not just in America, but everywhere.  Yes, there are many perks to going abroad, and yes, they are the reason I am going, but I do believe that “THOSE” kids need education too-and a darn good one. So I realized that I am a little bit of a hypocrite, saying I am doing research to calm others' minds, when I am really calming my own too...and also admitting that this advocate for public education is now teaching privately...but again, I embrace my downfalls.

 So when it comes down to it-should I stay here and fight the good fight?  Am I running away from the problems I see facing America or am I running to new problems?  Both.  I want education to be about the children, not about the teachers.  I want students to deem education as a privilege, and to treat it with respect. I want school to be a students’ safe place or home, not their enemies.  I want administration to support teachers’ new ideas, not to worry about the political reasons not too.  I want the LEA to support all of the schools, and provide equal resources, no matter what the scores, money or community.  These problems are everywhere.   Mrs. Richmond (from NE) put it perfectly-we are trying to solve problems with solutions that cause new problems.  We are solving problems, with problems.  I know that moving will not be a cure all, it will bring about new problems.  However, I am hoping to learn, grow and redefine education, for myself.  I will teach "those" kids.  When I come back I will teach a different group of "those" kids.  But one day, I hope that I can say I teach "our" kids.  No matter where I work....

15 April 2012

It's a small world after all...

When I was 5 my family took me to Disney World. It was the first trip we took as a whole family (that I remember) with my step-dad. I have pictures of the character breakfast and group shots but the only thing I REALLY remember is my grandfather, Pa, holding my shoulders during Space Mountain because he thought I would fly out, and It's a Small World. Seven years later my grandparents took my cousin Jessi and I back. Jessi liked the swimming pool better than the rides. But I still loved It's a Small World. I loved it 6 years later too when I went with my high school boyfriend...eh, we won't mention that time.

The North Carolina Teaching Fellows program has been the best decision of my life....well my guidance counselor and teachers that prompted me to do it, best decision. Gladys Graves and Joanne Norris are two of the most inspiring women I have had the pleasure of knowing and learning from. Two adages any TF knows from summer experiences are "if you hoot with the owls you still have to soar with the eagles" and "networking, networking, networking". (sidebar: notice how there are no important dates under prospective candidates-NC get on that budget change.)

The thing I love about education is the connections you make. Through my fellow teachers at Elon I have had the honor of teaching next door to my best friend, shared lesson ideas and flash drives with them and now will experience the Middle East with one of them!  Through connections I have made with my teaching career I will be moving abroad knowing I can visit someone in Scotland, Ecuador or Angola (but who wants to go to Angola? Just kidding Katy J).  Through Twitter connections I have learned more about educational philosophy, lesson ideas and places to visit-I even had one document our collaboration for my National Boards (thank you Rachel-@seestur).  From my past teachers I have learned so much about teaching, literature to inspire me (I’m being very Dweck-right Dr. Little?) and have been given a lot of support to pursue my dreams (thanks Beth!)  Even my Area Facilitator has worked with my new director-talk about a small world!

Well who would have thunk it, but I think I have made just as many connections through working at Da Vinci’s Table, or The Table as I lovingly call it.  I have been given the name of a world renowned optometrist who lives and works in Bahrain from Dr. Brennan, support and love from all of my family there and now a friend in Bahrain to visit!  This is how it went….

Victor: Carissa, guess where my new business deal is?

Me: Where--Bahrain? ::said with as much sarcasm as possible::

Victor: Yes.

Me: NO WAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Victor: Yep, I go there in 45 days.

Me: That is SO exciting!

So I may know someone who will be traveling there!  I love small worlds, apparently since I was 5. 

13 April 2012

You're moving overseas? I teach in Hillsborough.

This was the response I got from a customer at The Table last night.  I mean Hillsborough does have a mountain....

Now to answer Emmy's question about my calendar.  I've outlined time/days off below but honestly these are all guestimates because the 2012-2013 calendar isn't up yet.  It also will vary because the Muslim holidays vary year to year and they also depend on government announcement. 

  • I will arrive in Bahrain on the 25th of August, after leaving Minneapolis on the 24th.  This is what is supposed to happen, depending on flight information (which I'll get in July) it may change a little. 
  • We (me and the 10 other newbies from US and Canada) will have a week long orientation where they take us to the souks, grocery, US Embassy, Visa stuff, car stuff, etc...
  • My contract officially starts on September 1st.  We will then have professional development and curriculum writing until school starts-which is the second week of September. 
  • Depending on the announcement of the Islamic holiday Eid Al Adha, we may have a day off October 26th. 
  • Student/Parent Conferences are the week of Thanksgiving.  I don't know if this means we will have class too, or not.  There will also be days off for Ashura, the Islamic New Year around November 15th.
  • For National Day and the New Year, we get about 2-3 weeks off.  I'm assuming December 17th-January 2nd (National Day is December 16th.)
  • The Prophet's Birthday will be celebrated Thursday, January 24th-although celebrated in February this past year...
  • We'll get a week off for Winter break in February which will also start the second semester. 
  • Spring Break will be the first week of April.
  • Labor Day is the first week of May. 
  • The student's last day, and the teacher's last day is the last week of June. 
  • I'll be home by July 4th.  I won't have to return until September 1st. 
As for my teaching schedule I will have 4 preps-good gravy!  I will be teaching Maths 9-1, 10-1, 11-1, and IB 11-1 (SL). Classes are 55 minutes each.  We are on a 6 day rotating schedule.  The school day is from 7am (blah!) to 2:20.  I am used to teaching 300 minutes of 420 minute days.  Bahrain has 440 minute days...I'll be teaching...

Day 1: 3 classes, 165 minutes
Day 2: 2 classes, 110 minutes
Day 3: 4 classes, 220 minutes
Day 4: 4 classes, 220 minutes
Day 5: 2 classes, 110 minutes
Day 6: 3 classes, 165 minutes

So while it is four preps...it is more planning time...although I'm sure, like American schools, it won't really turn out to be all planning time. 

So when are you coming to visit me???

12 April 2012

Bahrain-that's near Texas right?

I have an awesome friend, Bailey.  She is so sweet and fun.  Her husband, Will, has the dry sense of humor to balance out her sweetness.  His response, "Bahrain-that's near Texas right?" was perfect. 

Let's continue the fun Q and A because I know that so many people are wondering...(sidenote: it's so fun to know that Ryanne, a fellow TF Elon grad with me, is going to Dubai and is experiencing the same questions!)

How will you get around?
In my great days of spring break I have been doing a lot of research and apparently, Bahrain is just like Texas.,  So while it may not be located near, it is close.  I read two blogs yesterday that say that Bahrain looks like America transplanted.  Including, sadly, it's dependence on cars.  My school provides transportation to school and back, but anything else, I will most likely need a car.  I would love to "go in" with someone on a car, or just rent on the weekends when I want a car-but everything I have read, says I'll need a car.  There are buses that run daily from 6am to midnight, on the hour.  There are also taxis. 

Where will you live?
I will live in apartments provided by the school.  You have to live in them for a year-just like being an Elon TF again!  Anyways, it's paid for by the school, utilities are paid by the school too.

 Hopefully my place won't have the stranger in the back bedroom or the cat in the kitchen, but I'm open to both.  Just kidding.  maybe....

Can you drink the water?
Technically? yes, it is potable.  Taste wise? no.  I will have to get the water cooler thing.  Bob made a good point that I can get American water then :)

Can you decorate?
Duh.  Can I decorate...oh wait, you mean am I allowed to? Oh.  Yes, that too.  They give me $400 (~150BD) to buy stuff for the apartment-plates, linens, pillows, etc.  I may have bought some of those cloth cubes in fun vibrant colors.  They will fold flat in a box and pop up when I get there.  No, I'm not overpacking already.

What is the staff like?
Here is a picture of a PD at the school.  Every Tuesday (which is like their Wednesday) is an early release professional development day.  I really feel like they are invested in learning to be the best educators they can be.  I cannot wait. 

Clubs, do not mean nightclubs, although, it does, but it doesn't....
To get into any establishment that serves alcohol, you have to be a member.  To play sports with any group, you have to be a member.  To show my shoulders, I'll have to be a member.  Basically there are clubs that people can join to hang out with likeminded people.  If I want to play tennis (indoors of course) I can join the British club.  It is a gym, theatre, and library all in one. I can even show my shoulders.  All nightclubs seem to be like smoking establishments in NC.  You have to pay $1 to become a member to smoke.  There are clubs that are traditional Arabic night spots and American ones.  There is even one for the Naval Base when they are on R&R called The Hunter's Lodge.  No, I'm not joking.  Yes, I will go there.  Just to see what they think a lodge looks like of course.  No other reasons. 

Basic info compacted:
Workweek: Sunday-Thursday
Hours: 7-2, for school and government buildings
**Hours are adjusted during the fasting holidays.  No I do not have to fast, but I am not allowed to eat or drink publicly during these times.**

Keep the questions coming!

Meet the Bahrain F1 drivers

Don't mind if I do...

I understand that the people selling, will always think they have the best product.  A person selling a similar product will always think the other is the worst. It's the same with politics and educational institutions.  I really like the quote from the Grand Prix Circuit Chairman regarding people who do not have facts first hand.  I also appreciate when establishments admit their weaknesses-such as saying there are protests and demonstrations, but they are on 5% of the island. So take these articles with a grain of salt.  They are selling their race.  Although I appreciate the honesty.  I also appreciate (used much more loosely) the fact that they came from Fox news. 


To balance out the fairness of the above articles here is a CNN article regarding how a political activist could disrupt the grand prix more. 


Here is my honesty: I am reading articles everyday.  I am scouring the news and ask many (probably annoying) questions to my new teammates in Bahrain.  I am supportive of the Grand Prix, but I am slightly biased.

10 April 2012


If only you know Dr. Spencer, the title would be so much funnier.  She is my regional superintendent who has the best country accent in the world.  I decided the best time to tell her about my new job would be during my evaluation...I am really good with tact. Anyways, here is how it went:
DS: Carissa, I think you are doing great and we will work to make next year even better.
Me: Well, I should probably tell you before you make plans for next year...I want to go back to the classroom.
DS: Really?
Me: Yes, and actually, I got a job, internationally.
DS: Oh wow, that is fabulous, we had a principal go to China and now he is in France, where are you going?
Me: Bahrain.
DS: Oh that will be, wait, Bahwhaaaaatttttt??

I mean, not exactly the first time I had heard a reaction similar to this, but her accent made it perfect.

Well, so let's talk about Bahwhaaaaatttttt.  Let's do a little question and answer...I'll do the scary stuff first...I know you all are wondering.  I'll do many more posts-you all have a lot of questions! 

Where is Bahrain?

Bahrain is an archipelago of 33 islands with a little more than 700 sq. km. (~270 sq. miles) in area, so it's roughly half the size of Phoenix.  It is located in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Bahrain.  Saudi Arabia is it's neighbor to the west and Qatar is to the East.  It is close to the UAE and across the Gulf?  I can see Iran from my window!  Just kidding...about being able to see Iran, although it is across the Gulf.  Basically, it is surrounded by a bunch of countries we have all heard (little) good and (mostly) bad about.  I have talked to Americans in Bahrain and read a few blogs and feel very safe on my little island. 

So on the safety note...What about those protests?
Bahrain is a monarchy (King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa-ruling since 2002) with a Prime Minister (Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa-took office in 1971).  Interesting to note here Khalifa means successor or representative for Mohammad.  So Wiz Khalifa stems from his grandfather saying he was so smart-a successor of his families intelligence, but I digress, a lot. The leaders in Bahrain are Sunni Islams in a majority Shia population.  (While of the 1.2 million people in population, 600,000 are non-nationals with about 300,000 being Westerners-all religions are practiced but it is still very much a Muslim Country).  With the wave of protests fighting for political freedom, the Bahraini Shiites followed the demonstrations of other countries such as Egypt and Yemen.  Seeking to gain more leadership roles for Shiites in the government and rewrite the constitution, peaceful protests were formed.  They turned out not to be so peaceful with martial law taken over for three months last spring.  Since then, it has been an up and down and I am still learning more.  I have read liberal views that I have heard from the Americans at my school are far from the actual truth (New York Times).  I have also been given the "rainbows and peaches" stance from the materials put out by the school and government.  I believe that it is somewhere in between.  The protests are announced, and not where my school is located (Isa Town). I also understand that I have to be safe when I go out somewhere and use the buddy system. 

Carissa, you know oil is a cause of a lot of problems between US and the Middle East?
Why yes, I do.  I am reminded of how much the oil situation sucks every time I fill my car up for almost $4.00 a gallon ($1.05 a litre).  However, in the 1960's when the economy of Bahrain took off with the oil industry, they realized that it may not be a stable source. They have invested greatly in their banking industry and are one of the fastest growing economies of the Arab countries.  In 2004, America and Bahrain signed the US-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement aimed at reducing barriers for trade among the two countries.  The alliance is really important on another note because the Fifth Fleet Naval base is located in Juffair.  They assumed station there in 1971 when Bahrain gained their independence from Britain.  On a sidenote, gas is about $.25 a litre or $.94 a gallon-it's like being in 1998 again!

Where do you buy your head coverings from?
I don't.  I do not have to cover up from head to toe.  Bahrain is a very liberal country recognizing all religions.  I am not Muslim, therefore I do not have to cover up.  My students may or may not.  I have seen pictures with both groups.  However, since it is an Islamic nation, I am expected to be respectful of their culture, so no shoulders or knees will be shown unless I am in an American or British establishment.  Lots of shawls, cardigans and blazers will be worn-which is great since the whole country is air conditioned.  Speaking of air conditioning...

Does it get hot there?
Um, yes.  The temperature is about 55 degrees Fahrenheit in winter and about 120 degrees in summer.  The county gets about 70 mm of rain a year, or about 2.75 inches.  The whole country believes in air conditioning though.  Apparently I go from my air conditioned apartment to my air conditioned bus stop to my air conditioned bus to my air conditioned school.  So I would wear a jacket of some sort anyways!


Again, I love you all-thank you!

facts and history courtesy of the ever factual Wikipedia, Royal Colleges of Bahrain and documents from Al Bayan. 
map courtesy of: http://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/asia/bhas.gif

04 April 2012

Beauty and Bahrain(s)

Conceited title I know...but so clever right???

Well, for most of you it is no secret...I'm moving to Bahrain!  No this is not an April Fool's Joke.  I have been asked that many times!  Yes, I'm serious, yes, it's safe, yes, it's in the Middle East.  I will answer all those questions in another post, this one is about me. 

For those of you that don't know, I taught high school math for 5 years and was always told I would be a good "teacher of teachers" (we'll blame Mr. O'Donnell for that one).  When a job opened up, doing just that in two middle schools, I thought "why not?" What if I don't like it? I can do anything for a year.  What if I love it? I have a new calling!  Well it's been 10 months...and I'm finished with that adventure.  There are many more that I am being called to in Durham (to clarify-it is the job role that I do not care for, but Durham and everyone I have met here, I love) but when it comes down to it, I want to teach.  

I have been blessed with an amazing support system within Durham.  On my first day I saw two previous teachers who have become close colleagues.  Christine and Beth (Ms. Fierro and Ms. Cross for you DSA grads) have both let me vent, offered suggestions, and raised my spirit.  My principals that I work for have done everything in their power to make my tricky situation (being between two schools and new to the job) as smooth as silk.  I really respect both of them and admire how much they have done in their short careers. The teachers I work with are amazing and have struggled through a whole lot this year, and I believe, come out brighter, stronger and more distinguished (how's that for a Teacher Eval word) this year.  Through all of this, I must say, the kids are my favorite though.  Which is why, I knew I had to go back into the classroom.  

I was reading a prior blog of mine that was supposed to be about life...and it centered around teaching.  I tried a new job this year doing more administrative duties (read: holding people accountable) and I ended up wanting to teach.  I do not know why I keep trying to ignore what I really love to do.  People have told me I need to do more than "the job" (read: have a personal life and invest in it), but I really consider myself blessed to love my career as much as I do.  Do I want to have a fulfilled personal life?  Yes.  But this is where, in both professional and personal life, you have to establish what you want.  Perhaps as Patty says, the 5 non negotiables.

I said something about the past year being an adventure for me in trial and error with personal life, professional life and the all around balance, to a friend at lunch the other day...she said "it's only been a year?!"  It pretty much summed up my feelings too...(sidenote: I want to apologize for anyone and everyone who has listened to me gripe, complain, cry or overthink very simple things.  I am trying to do better, to do less, to love more.  I also want to apologize to anyone I have hurt, although, let's be honest, they are probably not reading this blog.)

I need to figure out what I want-professionally and personally.  The only consistent thing I find in my life that I want, is to be challenged.  I loved teaching because the students challenge you everyday with an off the cuff question or I challenge myself with a  lesson plan.  I like it when my friends and family challenge me mentally by introducing me to new topics and situations that I would normally not expose myself too.  I want to embrace people for their differences and guide them to find their voice, not someone else's.  

Other the past couple of years, as they have grown, I have felt like my sisters and I have become incredibly close.  Emily tweeted:
" for 21 years I have looked up to and loved you with my whole heart. I am SO HAPPY for you!  "
This is the kind of support I'm "dealing" with so how can you not feel like you can do anything you set your mind out to accomplish!  

I know that it will be hard.  I know that the culture shock will be overwhelming.  I need that. I have lived in North Carolina my whole memorable life.  I believe that education is a 21st century profession that has no boundaries-with NC having a hispanic population that has grown exponentially since I last lived in Durham I feel like I need to be able to accept new cultures.

I know that a student will speak Arabic in class, I won't know what it means and I will get frustrated.  This happens everyday with Spanish in our schools in North Carolina-I need to grow a pair and learn to handle it.  

I know that I will need food and not know where to go.  I will live.  I know that I will get looked at funny because I am a tall, white girl-I will learn to dress modestly-'bout time, right Dad?

I know that you will all worry about me anytime you hear something about the Middle East.  But don't.  I'm so excited and nervous.  I am anxious to be in the classroom again.  I am looking forward to the challenge and adventure.  I hope to live today, better than yesterday, and strive to be even better tomorrow.  I know that there will highs and valleys, and again, I just hope to celebrate my high moments and do everything I can to rise stronger from the valleys.  

I love you all.