Poetry with Professora Elizabeth: Mar Português

With the end of Portuguese school in sight and a class full of students with a decent grasp on how to work with regular verbs in the present tense, I decided to take a break from this spring’s conjugation gauntlet and instead expose them to Portuguese as it’s seen in the wild. No more textbooks; it’s time for real Portuguese words written by real Portuguese people for real Portuguese people.

Today’s the last day of Portuguese school for the year. Check out my class’s first foray in Portuguese poetry, A Cozinha da Avô. In honor of Fernando Pessoa’s birthday, today I’m sharing our class’s journey to understanding “Mar Português.”

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Poetry with Professora Elizabeth: A Cozinha da Avo

Portuguese school is coming to an end for the year. After driving my children through the gauntlet of conjugating -ar, -er, and -ir verbs (along with the lonely pôr, the only -or verb) in the present tense, I wanted to take it easy for the remaining weeks.

Then I got a text message from the preschool teacher.

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The Darkest Timeline: Day 7

At this time a week ago, I still thought Hillary Clinton was going to be president. I told my students as much, because while everyone else was watching the trainwreck was last week’s election results, I was trying to teach my students Portuguese adjectives have to be pluralized alongside their verb.

I say trying, because this is what really happened:

Unholy Terrors.jpg

As much as my kids needed to be doing more writing, that’s not the way I wanted it to do it. It was a punishment. Learning should never be a punishment. I put work into making my lessons interesting. I loved Portuguese school and I want my students to, too. (Or if they don’t love it, at least they don’t hate it and can say a few words to their grandparents.)

The one good thing about throwing out my lesson plan last week is that I can use it today. That’s not to say that I’m not doing any planning for today. If anything, this has been the hardest time I’ve ever had preparing for a class. Breaking down grammar is easy; breaking down what happened last week is harder.

Luckily for me, I’ve been watching, listening to, and reading about how other teachers, parents, and Responsible Adults™ have tried to explain what happened last week to the children they’re responsible for. (Reza Aslan and Jessica Jackley’s op-ed is the best of the bunch.) Another thing I lucked out on is that these kids have teachers, parents, and Responsible Adults™ they see more than just once a week that have already helped them cope with this world we didn’t realize we were living in.

They’re going to ask about it, though. These are kids that talked about moving to Portugal if Trump won, not realizing what that meant. (I’m going to make an appointment to get my Portuguese passport, so I can’t say that I blame them.) They didn’t understand how he had gotten this far. He was mean. He said nasty things. Depending on who you ask, the things he said about Hispanics and Latinos were pointed at us as Portuguese people. It was scary that it was close but they all wanted Hillary to win.

I hate to say it, but I think my job today is to address that a bad thing happened, that it’s up to all of us to be better that the man who won the Electoral College, and then to move on to pluralizing adjectives.

I only have an hour a week with them. There’s only so much I can do.

Everything’s Coming Up Barcelos!

I’m coming home from an unexpectedly amazing night at Portuguese school and I am finally finishing this blog post so it can get posted tomorrow. A lot of changes have been in the works and I am so stoked to say that I can now go public with them!

New job!

As I mentioned before, This Is My Life in Silicon Valley went beyond my usual audience of friends, friends of friends, and random quidditch people. It found some of the eyeballs I was looking for. They pointed me in the direction of a few writing jobs. I made it through the interview phase of a couple of them and this week I accepted an offer for an editorial internship with a better pay rate than my contract at Google. I start October 3rd and I am psyched to finally be taking what feels like my first steps toward a career, not just a job.

New (volunteer) job!

Speaking of editorial, The Quidditch Post was looking for a new CEO as I was applying for other jobs. I knew I would have to leave my position with USQ if I got it, and as much as I love my region, I couldn’t pass up the chance to have my quidditch life reflect my real one. I may not be West RC for that much longer, but I don’t need a title to tell me what my heart knows: I’ll be #WestTeamMom/Fangirl-in-Chief no matter what. I’ll still be doing NCQC since that is my quidditch labor of love.

New students!

Last year, I peaked at seven or eight students enrolled in my Portuguese class. However, I only really averaged about six kids in my class each week. It was demoralizing sometimes.

It made me remember when I was a kid in Portuguese school. We had four classes of about fifteen to twenty kids each, depending on skill level. I started in the second highest class and worked hard to get int the top class as fast as I could. I went two nights a week for two hours at a time. We used real classrooms at Five Wounds School.

Last year, I started the school year in an exercise room for seniors and ended it in an office since the adult Portuguese class needed the space more. I had to figure out how to teach with fewer resources and less time than I was used to, but I do think I made it work. I loved doing it. I loved the kids. I hated that I had to give it up because I started working at a startup.

It’s a new school year and that startup job is old news. (As much as I’d love to write about that experience, I signed an NDA so that is just not a possibility.) I was so grateful that POSSO wanted me back after my departure. Last week I had five students, one of them absent because they were at their Back to School Night. I planned my lesson for this week thinking that this year would be the same as the last.

Instead, I ended the day with twelve. (My class actually more than doubled, Twitter-self!) Two of them, brothers, are the sons of my catechism teachers that got married some time after I left their Confirmation class. Seeing them and realizing that I was being charged with the cultural education of the children of people my parents entrusted with my spiritual education confirmed (ha, see what I did there?) that no matter what else I do with my life, I should be teaching others and I should be working with the Portuguese community in San Jose. Those are two things that define me and I can never turn my back on that.

(Shameless plug: We’re still accepting new students.)

New domain!

Check it out, I finally ditched my initialslastname.wordpress.com domain name! I spent a good part of last week thinking about what the hell my personal #brand is before putting my money where my online mouth is. It turned into a mini-identity crisis that you’ll get to read about in a blog post later. After working on some projects that’ll need an online home soon, I decided to invest in myself and take the plunge.

After a summer of uncertainty, it feels good to have direction in my life again. Thanks for reading, and I’ll hope you keep reading as I continue heading towards to wherever it is that I’m going.

 

A New Chase

Why am I resurrecting a blog I only made because it was assigned to me in my Career Writing class last semester? Well, a lot has happened between then and now. Being graduated a semester early (why yes, I am the using the passive voice; I was the object of that action and most certainly not the subject) kicked off a rough liminal period that left me with a lot of uncomfortable free time to think about who I’d become now that college was finished with me.

So, the big question: Liz, why aren’t you teaching?! Didn’t you go to school to learn how to do that? Yes, I absolutely did. However, I learned how to do a lot of other things along the way. I (re)founded one magazine and worked on another with a far more prestigious pedigree. I got into research and translation theory, fell back in love with the Portuguese language, and flirted hard (we’re talking third base at the very least) with the idea with the idea of going to Portugal to become Dr. Barcelos. I found quidditch and got deep into the organizational aspects of it. That’s not even taking into account the things I did for my major. I wrote. A lot. Research papers and blog posts and poems and literary analysis and creative nonfiction and short stories and articles. I didn’t just possess a piece of paper with the ink still drying on it; I had options.

I got myself back into school as a credential candidate, but it was more out of sheer stubbornness than anything else. I wasn’t going to let San Jose State dump me; I wanted to set the terms of our parting. I started learning about what it took to be a high school English teacher while I was teaching Portuguese classes of my own at POSSO. I started seeing the toll the profession takes on young teachers like my brother, Steve. His passion for teaching and his calling to work with high school kids is unquestionable; however, so is the toll his job takes on him. He’s tired, he’s stressed, it’s expected that he go above and beyond every day even if his compensation doesn’t reflect that.

I respect the profession as much as I ever did. I think that’s why I took a step back. I’d be in my Methods of Teaching English class wishing I was anywhere else. I was more worried about planning tournaments (my underemployment this spring has a lot to do with the uptick in NorCal quidditch tournaments) and growing the sport than I was about writing lesson plans. I wanted to keep writing, not necessarily teach others how to do it. Teaching is a vocation and I realized that I might not have the calling. Considering that I’d spent the past few years pursuing that vocation, it was a terrifying thought.

So, to escape my fear, I started a new chase. I applied for editorial jobs, anything that needed a Portuguese speaker, event planning positions, and above all else, anything that would let me make a career out of writing. I sent out countless applications/resumes/cover letters, interviewed at a few places that you may have heard of (including “the world’s biggest search engine”), and eventually I even got to choose between offers.

This time last year I was secretly resentful of all my friends that were graduating. I would have never predicted the year that was coming up for me: that I’d meet someone, that I’d graduate sooner than expected, that I’d organize a quidditch conference and work for the league, and that I’d be doing content writing for a startup that I never knew existed until I started this new chase. Atlantis might be impossible to find, but I don’t think happiness and success should be. This is something I can be happy doing. Maybe next fall I’ll find the time to go back to teaching Portuguese. Teaching will always be something I love, even if I don’t make a career out of it.

I used to think that Liz Barcelos was not a quitter. I’m not sure if that’s the case anymore, but if it means that I’ve gotten better at deciding what I want, then I’m okay with a little quitting.

A Charter to COLLEGE

In East San Jose, passing the Tropicana Shopping Center on Story Road, bumping over the potholes on Alum Rock Avenue, or following VTA Route 22 on King Road, there’s no mistaking the charter schools if you know where to look. Typical examples include: a collection of bright yellow portables set up outside a preexisting elementary school, a closed post office repurposed and repainted green and purple, a former public school covered in murals of college mascots.

I’m bombarded by college as I walk into the garishly purple and green building. Pennants from schools across the country are plastered on the walls of the narrow hallway to my classroom. Purple banners printed with a Comic Sans-esque font hang from the ceiling, bearing imperative slogans like “Rocketeers are RESPECTFUL,” “Rocketeers are LEADERS,” and, of course “Rocketeers are going to COLLEGE!”

I’m here to work in an after school program that focuses on linguistics and literacy, and my thoughts go from being concerned that the subject matter is too much for the kids to an unwelcome sense of inadequacy. I’m a thirty-year-old college undergrad. I went to college… eventually.

I soon discover that all the classrooms have a college theme. Mine is the Notre Dame. There’s a Fighting Irish banner next to the teacher’s desk, her rocking chair is covered in a Notre Dame flannel blanket, and there are shamrocks stamped with ND scattered across the walls. A peek next door reveals cardinal red and redwood trees: Stanford. I think I might have seen an SJSU pennant amongst the clashing colors pinned on the walls, but maybe a state school isn’t a lofty enough goal to get a classroom dedicated to it.

My unease slides away when I meet my students. I went to school not too far from here, so these kids feel like the ones I grew up with. If anything, I soon begin to feel sorry for them. Their day is far more regimented than mine was, down the street in a public school that’s since become a charter. I hear low enrollment was a problem, but there are just as many kids now as they were then. More and more parents, parents like mine who are new to this country and want opportunities that they never had, are drawn in by the siren song of COLLEGE.

Oh, I forgot to mention: my kids are in the third grade.

 

The Chase Is On

I like the idea of chasing something that (supposedly) doesn’t exist because even if you don’t catch it, the chase is going to take you to some interesting places. That being said, Atlantis does exist. I know, because that’s where I come from. Geologists will tell you that the Azores Islands were born from volcanic activity caused by the North American, Eurasian, and African plates bumping and grinding against one another, but Azoreans know better. Those nine islands are what’s left of a lost kingdom, discovered and populated by another kingdom that fell only to rise again as a shadow of itself: Portugal.

As a thirty-year-old former college dropout turned overachieving undergrad, I also know a little something about falling and rising again. Maybe that’s why I romanticize my origins so much. It is one of the biggest factors in what I choose to write about. “Chasing Atlantis” was the name of a sestina I wrote for a creative writing class about being Azorean.  I was unspeakably proud of it at the time, but now I realize needs some polishing.

As an English major, writing for class is the major motivation for writing. In addition to the creative writing (mostly poetry) I did in community college, many trees have sacrificed their lives for me to write essays about literature. Whenever I can get away with it, I write about both literatures I’ve studied: Lusophone and Anglophone. My writing, like myself, is a native of two worlds. For example, last semester my Medieval Portuguese final was a comparison and contrast between Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and Bernardim Ribeiro’s Menina e Moça. Meanwhile, for my American Novel class, I wrote about why it took so long for Portuguese-American literature to develop. Neither class required me to cross languages; it was something that came naturally to me. I even spent a long time considering going to grad school to study comparative literature to further explore how the two languages of my heart interacted with one another. I even started scouting Portuguese graduate schools.

However, I think I chose the more practical (if less romantic) route of studying to become a high teacher instead of escaping to the ivory tower of academia. It’s not settling; I love teaching and sharing the things I care about with other people almost as much as learning about them. Continuing in that practical vein, I decided to take some technical writing classes this year. Teaching, reading, and writing are things that I do anyway. Why not figure out how to apply the latter in new ways?