Sins Unforeseen


An open letter to a campus church. Names have been changed and protected.

I’m lying awake tonight thinking of a particular moment, standing in front of a line of judges, speaking my truth. My poem has been workshopped to death, encouraged by Pastor S. and breathed life into, through chewed up pens and hope welling up like ink…I have worked on it through depressive episodes, wanting to talk about God and life and possibility…all to be laid asunder by M__, a sneer and a scoff at the ready. M__ is not a poetry expert. He has only watched Spoken Word on Youtube. M__ considers himself to be a purveyor of fine words. He is all crossed arms and peering over hipster frames. “Let me stop you right there.” M___ says, “Your poetry has no soul. It has no heart.”

I drove back to my apartment on the outskirts of campus in tears that night, followed by more sleepless nights filtered only by deepening sadness. He attacked the one identity I felt confident as, a writer, one that I was trying to merge with my relationship to God. I was not confident, but I trusted that pastor and those judges with what I valued the most–my heart on my sleeve, an offering of words. M__basically said, your offerings aren’t good enough here.

Sad to say, I never felt worthy in the confines of that place. I knew that the church was not a building, but a people…but how the church crumbled from the Cornerstone. We lied, gossiped, and cheated. One year, I was so fed up with feeling more like a stepping stone than part of the church, I slept my life away. Entire days and hours spent staring at popcorn ceilings, an internal scream bursting in my brain. What type of Christians were we all? I had “friends” who promised to be there all the time, only to blame the collapse of other friendships on me. I had leaders who preached one thing, only to exhibit another in their lives. How weary the heart grows, how inconstant people can be.

“Train your eyes on God. Fixate not on people, because people will always fail.” It’s true. In a church system divvied up by Harry Potter-esque houses, when even leaders exhibited bias and indifference based on house unity, it was difficult to want to be a part of ministry. Even more so when leaders thrust work on you they didn’t have time for, when people don’t even bother to call you…except to ask for a ride. Bitterness, a rancid, seeping stain, soaked through my faith. Nothing mattered.

Train your eyes upon the Lord. “This table is for pimps, prostitutes, sinners, and saints. God came not for the healthy, but for the sick.” I was so sick as an undergraduate. I was so sick, yet I kept ingesting poison. Avoid the other Christians that lead you astray, that gossip and say horrible things about each other. Keep accountable with God.

In church, I was called awkward and ungraceful. In church, I was called uncreative. Clumsy. Stupid. Untalented. I was led to believe I was a failure by freshman year. I was unclean. I didn’t belong. In church.

This is an open letter to super churches, the ones who motivate and inspire but also have a hidden layer of malice through their members. Take care of your flock, the marginalized and maimed. The ones spit on and stoned. The ones others call horrible names. The ones who are talked about. I am working on forgiving. I know God is just. I know He sees all. I believe He knows my pain. I do not need to react, but I do want to share. I have been wounded trying to make my way to prayers. I have been struck down in lock-ins and walking down hallways of prying eyes. I wanted so much to belong, only to feel completely left out. “Weirdo.” “Awkward.” “Sensitive.” “What’s wrong with you?” “Stop stumbling people.” Stop. Just stop. Stop treating people you are supposed to love like crap.

There is too much world in this bitter cup. I still carry the dregs of memory with me, M__. I have held onto them for so long. You were awful. You did not speak the truth in love, nor were you acting on behalf of a Christian organization. What you wanted to do was to protect a popular image at the expense of a young voice. You wanted me to be silent, to keep quiet, to just shut up already. But let me tell you. I have found my voice again. As God is my witness, I am not done speaking my heart.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned;struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. -2 Corinthians 4:8-10 ESV


Life in the Ivory Tower


Life at a top private university in the South isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Sure, some aspects remain the same to my undergraduate public university experience–the endless papers, the engaging yet demanding professors, an over-representation of beige and grey interior decor..Other issues, I could do without.

As much as my undergraduate had a reputation as a party school, I never felt left out as a minority. With a large AAPI population, Asian American Cultural Center, and more student-led cultural clubs than you can count, my undergraduate life felt full of new experiences and a sense of safety. Here, not so much. Every criticism and condescension feels personal, a thousand pricks which increase incrementally in pain. Aside comments like, “Ugh, the people in this class” when I tweeted about being one of the only minority kids in the room in a #educolor chat. Belittling remarks about where to attend class when the location shifts every few weeks. Harsh, withering comments from a superior that felt quite personal, despite peers who performed equally on a task. It feels so alienating, even if faculty don’t “mean it.” Even if it’s “just part of their generation.” Even if “oh, you know, they’re just a little racist.” Enough is enough. The unsettling amount of microagressions plaguing both the student body and acting faculty disgusts me. How can anyone live with so much hate, so much disdain in upturned noses?

Grading here is fair, as are many of the faculty in terms of performance rating. However, the running commentary surrounding topics, from diversity education to representation, leaves me feeling exhausted. It’s exhausting being here as a minority graduate students. I feel like I have to act as an ambassador for not just my country, but an entire section of the globe….because THAT’S how white this campus is. Not to say I don’t have amazing conversations with my peers or that they’re ignorant. The students who are admitted here are articulate and culturally savvy. However, it pains me when I notice I’m one of the only ones who has lived experiences with personally directed racism. I’ve spent nights crying, wondering if I was targeted because of my race at work. Though I feel comfortable in my skin, I sometimes wonder what it would be like if I had gone to Columbia instead.

I’m sad here. One cannot survive on academics alone. I miss the AACC, Lunch On Us programs when controversial topics were discussed openly, I miss taking classes from faculty who knew exactly where I was coming from and who sometimes even came from a place like me. I miss a sense of lived cultural competency I’m not getting here. I miss not hearing behind-the-scenes talk of, “Oh, she’s a traditional Chinese applicant” and blatant ignorant comments like, “What do our Asian friends think?” as if we all thought the same thing. My anger has petered out into exhaustion.

I wish it was different. I wish my voice wasn’t seen as bizarre or “unique” or as just another “student of color.” I want to be heard, as a person. Please pass on the privilege and listen, really listen. I can’t be silent anymore.

Pressing Pause

Hello, blogosphere! Long time no talk.
Where in the world is Dulcet Denouement, eh?

After a bittersweet departure from Taiwan, I curled into the natural shape an introverted recluse reclaims after an intense, public year of service — onto the luxury of my old full-size bed and the decrepit couch in our living room. Yes, so much so that the confines of each took a gentle mold to my huddled form…(I might be exaggerating, just a little.)

Anyway, after recuperating with vast hoards of chocolate, ice cream, and massive quantities of hummus, I felt ready to tackle the world. After a year of subsisting on plain oatmeal and leftover refreshments from the counseling center in Luodong, it was nice to actually eat like a real-life human. Most of my days, I spent at home either shuttling my brother to soccer camp, manic-studying for my U.S. History test, or devoting myself to my kindred spirit, Netflix.

To be honest, I felt quite lonely those few months back home in the confines of my parent’s attic room. Forgotten, if I’m quite truthful with myself. My friends had all, of course, moved on with life since I left a year ago, and they didn’t really contact me during the week. Partially, I did get a new phone number, but very few back home made an effort to seek out my company or they were pursuing their own travels. Luckily, I left Chicago making at least one brief appearance at Fizz and eating with a few friends at various places. When you do something amazing like teach abroad for a year and come back to your ordinary life, it makes you feel a little overwhelmed. I was supremely difficult with my family, mostly because I felt so isolated from the world which was once so familiar to me.

Of course, my parents being the genuine and amazing people they are, decided to send us all off to Michigan in the middle of my ridiculous angst session. The dazzling sun and coastal winds managed to remind me just enough of Taiwan’s coast that I could let things go for a while. It helped that there was chocolate fudge gelato and cute puppies everywhere. The intuitive people that they are, my parents figured a short stay would help us all get out of our heads a bit.

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Between the murky waves, rusting lighthouses and perpetually starving seagulls, I remembered a little bit of what it was like to be independent again, wrestling my stubbornness between sunburns and sunsets. The holiday was far too short, but it reminded me how stir-crazy I can get in between places.

After Michigan, I was lucky enough to spend a short weekend in San Antonio with the boy. I took very few if any pictures, but despite the hours waiting at airports, it was nice to see such a lovely face after a month of solitude. It’s so nice doing even absolutely nothing with someone you love.

Visited the bae in San Antonio. #Riverwalk #SanAntonio #Texas #view #riverside

A post shared by Yue (@mintmiss) on

Upon my trip back to Chicago, I met a few friends in our backyard–one a baby bunny and the other a stray kitten. The bunny I set free in our backyard, and the cat I nursed back to health with a few saucers of water and some Fancy Feast before she ran off one afternoon. Between those few encounters and some great hangouts with close friends, I moved away.


I’ve relocated to Nashville to further my studies as a soon-to-be English teacher. Besides posting excessively on Instagram about food and Yelp events, I have been trying out the local swing dance scene and adjusting slowly to life on another campus. It’s been a long road to post-Taiwan recovery, but I’m beginning to feel like I can be somebody again.

Here’s to rich lives, in spirit but not necessarily in pocket.


Taiwan Fulbright Blues

I finished off Fulbright Taiwan with my hilarious fifth graders dumping frigid cold water on me during our last field trip together. While I will cherish this particular memory and the many more I shared with my students, the grant turned out not all that I expected it to be. Big surprise? Initial culture shock aside, not really. What happened on this journey that promised glory, honor, and honest-to-God cultural exchange?

image via Emily’s Quotes.

Most days, I spent in an empty classroom whiling away the minutes in humidity that a tropical fish could swim in. Even with the time spent lesson planning and coordinating classroom management, many hours I mostly felt dazed, having done all I could for the few classes in the grade I taught. Of course, I also battled the seeming un-achievable standards set before me. Not only did I have to be better than every single ETA before me, any creative idea automatically warranted someone else’s credit.

To the bitter end, my co-workers continued to ask me if I actually spoke Chinese. That was, usually, their only question to me. I spent an entire 6th grade graduation luncheon in the middle of teachers laughing and talking, but clearly in their own clique. I’m not saying this is country-specific or even school-specific, but I am saying that I have never felt so isolated amongst so many. Lunches were a sad affair, whether sitting alone in the lounge or in the classroom. It was everything I could do not to weep at my desk during Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Fulbright isn’t for everybody, especially not for a college student used to being well-respected and liked in a classroom setting. I never realized how much I took my professor’s good faith in me for granted. Here I was with a competitive scholarship and my coworkers treated me like I was one of their students. As an Asian-American, many of the students and most of the teachers just saw me as an incompetent version of a local teacher…or a pseudo-American. I’m still not quite sure which version is worse, but when people do not even acknowledge you in the hallway or sit at a different table even after making eye contact with you…there’s something wrong with that. I thought I was a professional, but instead I ended up back in the hallowed halls of a suburban high school.

I am thankful to be among the lucky few to receive such a prestigious award, but I am certainly not going to sacrifice frankness for a politically correct generalization. Yes, I got to travel to amazing places, and I met students I continue to miss. An average day was hours of loneliness followed by the consoling arms of Netflix. Reality hurt like slamming your head into a wall repeatedly, which I felt like doing…repeatedly.

Of course, I learned quite a bit about myself and cultural exchange. I think that part of the deal was an honest promise. I was far too comfortable with certain “Americanisms,” and it was refreshing being pushed into the deep end for once. I realized I was a lot more ignorant than I thought, and my students had to work way harder than I did in elementary school. For once, nothing came naturally. Teaching kicked me into gear. Even with all the pain and the endless printing, it was amazing to see how excited kids got after a fun lesson. Was it worth the loneliness and the neglect? I don’t know.

I guess I’m just saying, if you’re preparing to go on Fulbright, know that many times, it’s going to be an unnerving, solo uphill battle. Many experiences will be offensive only to you as the minority. You might not know what to do or say at times. Maybe we need that in our lives though…the feeling of not being completely comfortable.

Maybe that’s the difference that changed me. For the better? I’m not sure, but I will tell you I will never make the mistake of not welcoming someone with a smile or a simple conversation. If it takes going halfway across the world to learn that, who am I to say it wasn’t worth it.

Big Kid in the Workplace

I have the tendency to act ridiculous when I am under pressure. Perhaps you find yourself in a likewise situation as a semi-spoiled twenty-something in the workplace. To save you from untold embarrassment and the onset of pre-mature burnout, I give your very own survival guide. Big kids need love too.

1. Conflict is necessary, but it doesn’t have to be hard. 

When I began working, I thought every crisis meant I had the right to make a fuss. Instead, this made me look all the more incompetent. Cursing, sulking, and throwing a tantrum just indicates someone who needs to mature as an individual. If I could talk to my intern self, I would encourage taking a break or  deep breath. Will the world end if your supervisor gives you another task on top of your already daunting list? Probably? While that may be true, it is also true that you can ask for more time. You can even ask for help. Yelling at you superior causes everyone to only be that much more grumpy.

2. Don’t lose your sense of humor.

Many problems begin in life when you forget to laugh at yourself and your situation once in a while. Remember, one day this seemingly dreary job will be a great story. Having purpose and drive requires an underbelly of lightheartedness. We have, at most, a hundred years to leave an imprint. Don’t let other people’s negativity or commitment to stagnant teaching stifle your creative spirit. Why not smile along the way? There are some days when we are in a funk. The creative find ways to make funk into funky. Sure, “funky” isn’t pleasant, but it does sound fun.

3. You’re not alone.

This one is important. In this cyber age where media convinces us someone else is doing our job better, it is so easy to feel worthless. Perhaps your boss has told you you are incompetent, lackluster, plain. This is simply not true. Don’t hide under your desk or a pile of empty junk food wrappers (however tempting that may be). While there are moments when people commit worthless acts, a person is full of soul. Yes, you are a soul in a big world full of so many others. You have something to contribute, no matter what other people think. Loneliness plagues us when someone else denies us the right to live out loud, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. Someone out there is supporting you, whether it be a parent, pastor, friend or sibling. Even if you feel like the whole world is against you, I believe God is for you. Know that wherever you go, doors open for those with open hearts.

4. Mistakes don’t mean you’re dumb.

Working in a prestigious organization in an Asian country, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the pressure to perform. When I make a mistake, I try to remind myself that I recognize it as a misstep. Hey, I learned something new and different. That’s something to celebrate, not something to condemn. Some of the best lessons come from happy errors. It’s all how you interpret a challenge. Try to look past grading scales on your own life. Instead, aim for inspiration. How can I learn from this? What has this taught me?

5. Speak the truth in love.

When I was young, I thought Miss Bossypants was the way to go. That bled a bit into my tottering first steps as a teacher. “Don’t do that, don’t do this, don’t, no, no, no.” The more I restricted, the more my students saw me as a negative person. With some great but hard to hear advice, I realized I had to let in the sunshine and let go. Some of the best teaching is trusting that your students are capable of the best. Like the story of the sun and the wind competing to get a man to take off his coat, warmth always wins against harsh elements. When I began encouraging my students and praising their different learning styles, life felt a bit brighter for us all. Being a drill sergeant is not teaching. Teaching means humbling yourself, stepping down from the lectern, and letting students speak up.

I went into this year thinking I could jump into teaching with no qualms. I thought I would be extraordinary. That, of course, is not true. I believe great teachers persevere through years and years, committing to innovation each day. Great teaching also means humility, to forget about any sense of entitlement. It makes students feel important and helps them know they are somebody.

I hope you never stop being the big kid at the workplace. Regardless of your position or what others think of you, I hope you exemplify big character. As souls who strive, we need to be more courageous and less obedient to our fear.

Best and Blessings,


Contact or Colonization?

When I took American Literature 255 in college, the professor focused on the power struggle between those with it and without. By naming someone else’s homeland and even re-naming people, colonizers prevented the colonized from speaking up for themselves. All familiar places and things suddenly fall into strange syllables on the lips of strangers. Today, I suppose we refer to this phenomenon as “Columbusing.” One with power or privilege steals more from those without, a sort of inverted, perverse Robin Hood. He steals from the poor to give to the rich.

Typography via

If we’re not careful, this is what ESL becomes sometimes. We sub in thoughtful names with meaning and heritage, parceling out lame, paper-thin “American” adaptations. Cheng-Yu becomes Alan, Wan-Ting becomes Sarah. Did we think about this a long time? Is there purpose to our decisions? Not really. What it is is appropriation. Alan and Sara are probably easier for native English teachers to say, but I’m not sure the change does that much for a student.

As my parents also gave me an assimilated English name, I don’t advise it. Growing up, I dreaded hearing roll call. Teachers could never pronounce my name correctly, heaving a sigh of relief when I provided the substitute “Sherry.” Maybe a chuckle followed. Once, a high school teacher even said, “Well, that makes a lot of sense,” while arching her eyebrow. I hated it. I remember crying about my given name, wondering how I could permanently erase it. Really, it was a way to hate myself and my ethnicity.

I hate that we’re doing this to kids. Despise it. Re-naming them, molding them into an ideal standard of our own making. “You don’t have an English name? Oh, let me give you one now before the world explodes.” Language learning caters to the speaker. Language is not static, but the way we prescribe it causes most to think language festers. Instead, words should grow, morph and turn into new things depending on where they’re planted.

Words can fuel a revolution or make us feel like gutter water depending on how we use them. Naming. Naming is an offshoot of that. Perhaps instead of naming children hastily, we can research what their names mean and give them a few options. A student needs to have the freedom to grow and understand language, especially their names.

I don’t understand the rigidity. I don’t understand the strict rules or the need to maintain order.

Perhaps I really am better suited to literature rather than language learning. Perhaps they really are different fields.

The Prison Inside

Image via the Telegraph, UK.

Hi. I’m moving to Tennessee for a few years.

I don’t really know what you think about that, and frankly, at this point, I have already made my decision. Frankly, what matters is that I am jumping into my own fear.

I am moving South of my own accord.

Why? The answer is a bit complicated.

When I was young, I lived in Arkansas. In those formative years, I grew up thinking I didn’t matter. When I did matter, it was for my test scores, or to boost someone else’s grade, or to win or to get better. I was depressed and lonely. I saved face by pickling my own Asian face and hoping that, one day, I would be accepted in someone else’s eyes. When I left, I thought I had escaped.

It’s a bit of a stereotype to think that bullying is the worst base on numbers or statehood. Bullying is the worst based on quality or lack of quality of life for every student impacted by it. Sadly, I didn’t just face bullying in Arkansas, but also as the new kid in school in Illinois. For years, people called me ugly names and I believed them.

I am lucky. I have amazing parents and friends sent by God. However, that is not to belittle how awful and hostile a school can be. Not only did I have students (straight A ones too) make fun of me, but coaches, teachers, security guards and even counselors. The very people who were supposed to protect me in school, they tried to teach me that I was a disease, a mistake or a joke.

Who was the worst bully though? The worst bully, the one who said the most vicious things. She always stayed close, harboring ill thoughts and words that cut like razors. That bully was me. I said the meanest, crudest things to myself, to the point where several times I thought, “I don’t deserve to live.” So, the first thing you need to do, as Sean Stephenson says, is to escape “The Prison of Your Mind.”

Those days of bullying are long gone. Sometimes, my mind’s prison comes back. She revisits my story and tells me all the ways I can’t. Then, I let the bully go, because my mind can also be a garden. I now know that everyone is capable of cruelty, but also capable of profound love. I know I have voice all my own and I will fight with every fiber of my being to make sure that the underdog will always, always, always be heard. I want those kids with the worst bullies, the ones who live inside them, are going to be not just okay, but absolutely great. Stunning, unbelievable, accomplished, astute, role models. Phenoms. Geniuses. I believe God made every soul on this earth precious and perfect in His sight. For that, because of that, I want just one more student to know that someone out there cares. Not just me, but the Creator and a whole world of loving people we haven’t met…yet.
Yes, I am going to somewhere where this was reported. But you know what? I’m also going somewhere where this was reported.
It doesn’t matter that I’m going somewhere new, only that I’m going.
It doesn’t matter if other people don’t believe, only that God believes in me.
It doesn’t matter that I don’t know, because I have faith that great change will happen.
It is inevitable.
Great things are going to happen. We just have to stop bullying ourselves, let go of assumptions or stereotypes or prejudices, and step into the light of honest, real thinking.
You’re going to change the world. Is it for better or for worse?
“He was despised and rejected[a] by men;
    a man of sorrows,[b] and acquainted with[c] grief;[d]
and as one from whom men hide their faces[e]
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
-Isaiah 53:3 ESV
Christ was bullied by all of mankind, and He was the Son of God. If that’s the case, then humanity truly needs work.
“Work hard. Be nice.”


I had this friend back in university. I suppose that’s a generous term. This person spent time making sure my self worth and the things I enjoyed were riddled with holes. When I came to them about quitting a certain team, they said, “Yeah, it was never really your thing. Better stick with what your actually good at.” When I wanted to move in with my close friends, lo and behold who decided to take my roommates? When I suggested reconciliation with another friend, this person completely turned the situation against me. I spent a whole lot of time thinking of ugly names and descriptors for who this person was. I spent ages counting the way they hurt me, the friends they had “stolen,” and the things they had said.

Look past it.

Look past it.

You know what though? As my dad likes to say, anger and stubborn hate only serve to imprison yourself. I let this person get so far under my skin, I treated potential friendships like poison with the labels ripped off — complete wariness and suspicion. What they did, what they said, how they treated me…I couldn’t let any of it go. My resentment and fear of getting hurt ate me up inside. My senior year in second semester, I mostly curled into bed, unwilling to even go to church if I had to see person A, B, C, etc.

It wasn’t fair. None of these people were nice. Christian people aren’t better people or good people, by any means. Real Christians are forgiven, but many of us have forgotten what that means. I knew I have and probably will again. However, I would like to make a commitment. Christianity is based on the idea of sacrificial love which embodies forgiveness. On the Cross, Christ is not recorded saying, “Father, smoke these idiots. They deserve it. Let them burn.” Rather (far more profoundly), Jesus said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. (Luke 23:34 ESV). As those fools gambled away the last of Jesus’ earthly possessions, Christ pleaded with the Almighty for forgiveness on behalf of them. They were completely undeserving of mercy. With a jury of their peers present day, many of us would cry for justice against those who sell off possessions as a murder happens.

Forgiveness and love is what motivated Christ to not seek vengeance on this earth. Forgiveness means letting go of anger to choose to love. It’s not an easy choice, but I believe it can be so rewarding. Forgive. Forgive. You give away your anger and take back the ability to live life to the full. You give away guilt and resentment to receive a new life from God. As John Piper says in “As We Forgive Our Debtors,” “The greatest risk is that we may lose heaven. Because one way to lose heaven is to hold fast to an unforgiving spirit and so prove that we have never been indwelt by the Spirit of Christ.” I am not God, but God lives in me. I know I must let go of the idea that anyone owes me anything. Love, forgiveness, and all ideas worth having are freely given. Sure, this person was cruel to me. They lied, they gossiped, and hey, maybe slandered my name. Haven’t I done the same and much worse to so many other people? We all need forgiveness to move on to a new day, a new morning in our lives.

I have been thinking lately about how easily we take care of our bodies, but how we lack true understanding about mind and soul hygiene. From our childhood, we understand how to floss or exercise daily, but even today we might forget to check our soul and mental welfare. Is what you’re doing today right? In whose eyes? These last few days, I dragged myself places. I crawled to work, I limped to the market, and I sifted ideas through the mud. Everything felt…soiled and selfish. You see, I set my own needs before others. Through my unsubstantiated opinions and self-entitlement, I deemed my own voice more worth hearing than others. How depraved is that?

This is my commitment. I will listen. I will not judge. I will let go of my past hurts and anger. People are going to talk, they always will. So, I will choose my friends more wisely. I will give feedback only when asked, in the most gentle of ways. I promise to embrace my perfect imperfections in my pursuit of God. I will not fear the intrepid waves of doubt from myself, the unkindness of others, or the undulating happenstance of life.

Nothing is known to us today, at least not all of it. What we can give, we should before the day is done and the lights go out. In forgiveness, maybe I can bring a little light to not just others, not just myself, but to God too. A blessing all around.

A little sadder, a little wiser, a little more hopeful.



Take It Slow

You know I will always be real. No lies or silkscreens here. At least, as few as I can manage, I promise you that.

Image via Pacifiqa.

Sometimes, I have trouble accepting how students who may be less motivated are treated in the classroom here. Rather than take the extra time to help students figure out questions in their own way, I feel like the classroom culture instead pushes people who are even a little bit different against a wall. Students who don’t finish corrections in time are instead asked to copy a classmate’s. At least, that’s what a substitute decided to do in her classroom today. Instead of engaging with a problem, the teacher told me since this is what students did in junior high, she figured it would be completely acceptable in an elementary school setting.

Maybe when I first started teaching, I would write this off as collectivism. Students all have the same amount of time to complete something, so the ones who don’t need to “catch up” to the rest. After thinking seriously about the issue, I am not sure that is the case. I still believe human kindness is valued across cultures, and refusing to teach someone falls under negligent cruelty. I gave up teaching a dance class today to make sure two students received feedback and corrections before their midterms. (The teacher didn’t actually pick up the phone, so I assume they were out of the class anyways. Even if not, I would choose to help out kids who might not understand a concept).

Don’t get me wrong. These two individuals were far from happy that they had to give up their break alongside me. If they could decide, they would have just copied the problem and run out of the classroom. I received glares and huffs of frustration. Nonetheless, there we were working together to understand those strange combinations that make up English words. It was difficult to see students struggle, but at the same time I believe it’s needed. After all, sometimes what someone wants and what they need are completely different, often contradictory things.

Am I saying that all teachers need to give up their lunch breaks to help out students? No, but I’m saying that a little bit of selflessness never hurt anyone. (You can also eat and teach/learn at the same time…but that’s a different story.) Growing up in a consumerist society, I believed that everything was about me. Even if I was in pain, the whole world had to know my suffering. However, that’s simply not the case. As a teaching assistant, you might be needed when you least expect it. The students are worth it. They deserve your attention. It certainly doesn’t mean you get to give up.

Image via Edutopia.

It is my firm belief that every student has the right to a quality education. As a teaching assistant, I want to help them study and become the best version of themselves. Maybe these two students won’t remember me in a year. Maybe they could care less about my attention to their English competency. However, I know that if I hadn’t stopped them from copying and gave them at least the chance to learn, then I was robbing someone else’s future.

I hope that even decades down the road, I value learning more so than I do now. If it were about the destination, I would have let those students copy their classmates’ workbooks word for word. Yet true learning, and life (I would venture to say), takes place in the in-between places, the getting-there’s, the journey itself.

Sappy though it is, it’s true still.

Happy Children’s Day.


The Fallacy of Binaries

There has been an age-old fascination with binaries. Certain people can become prone to believe in simple heuristics and generalizations. Not just literary symbols, but ones which can alter the way you see people and the outside world. What do you think of when I say black v. white? The matter no longer follows symbolism, but how we portray people and how we perceive them.


Yang Liu, East Meets West.

This divider has been bothering me for quite some time–circular versus linear thinking. Educators and researchers alike seem content on focusing the theory that linear and circular thinking can, generally, encapsulate entire cultures. While I acknowledge these theories, I believe they look over certain aspects of our continually globalized universe. Why do we consistently enjoy putting up dividers onto lives that, in this contemporary time, begin to fuse together?

At a recent event, a speaker talked about teaching his or her students, a more “western” way of writing which allowed them to properly write essays. I questioned what exactly this person meant by his or her statement. In response, they wanted to acknowledge circular v. linear thought patterns. However, this did not end up answering my immediate question at all. I wanted to know how, as an English teacher, he/she expressed wanting a more Western-style of writing. Was it narratively more straightforward with less examples? In the expository piece, did he/she expect more explanation rather than detail? How, exactly, was it more Western and, implicitly, correct?

The answer, in my opinion, was a cop-out and ill-thought about. “Yes, linear thinking.” What is even meant by linear thinking? Yes, THE West, I get that bit. Did we, as English teachers, students and speakers, ever consider that a Western style of expository writing might just be one way to convey an argument? I remember an elementary school teacher telling me how to properly write an essay. “Build it like a hamburger. The introduction and conclusion are the buns, the meat are the reasons, and the details are like the lettuce, cheese, all that.” (This is quite a limited metaphor, first of all. Many meals in many cultures, American included, do not incorporate the ever-famous hamburger.) Cultures, neo-cultures, sub-cultures and non-mainstream alike, all have their own way of conveying narrative. It’s not fair to condemn a student who does not adhere to the general or traditional standards. Yet…we do so much in the literazzi. From IOWA tests to SATs and ACTs to the ever fabulous GRE, people continue to refurbish the idea that standardization amounts to something beyond access to test books and capable teachers. That all you are is a score. That a university can deny you on the basis of a few letters and numbers. What are we as educators accepting and we as students learning? Standardization has its place, but it cannot be the benchmark of status quos or hierarchies.

There are those of us on the fringes and borders. There are Chinese-Americans, South-African Ethiopians, Cambodian-Laoese, Siberian, Nigerian, and many others. Many of us are naturalized New Americans or non-native speakers of English. Perhaps I tell a story differently. In one of my most memorable panel interviews, I was told I have a “very non-linear, kinda spiral-y” speaking style. My advisor told me something I will never forget. I asked if I should change it. “Oh, no don’t do that. That’s your charm. That’s so you.” In the midst of teaching rules, regulations and boundaries, you know what we should be teaching? Voice. How to find your voice. How to grapple with it but let it ring free at the same time.

There is no such thing as the traditional linear narrative. It is as defunct as saying the world is flat. Perhaps, one might argue, it is even more ridiculous. A line covers the distance between two points. It doesn’t have to be straight. A circle offers limitless possibilities, but some might see it (punny as it seems) as “pointless.” However, there is more geometry to language and storytelling than this fallacious binary will allow. There are pentagons, tri-decahedrons, hexagons and some non-shapes as well. Spirals, anomalies and parabolas. The exciting thing is, as a person, you can learn to speak each shape, symbol, line, or dot. You are not limited by where you come from, what your skin color is, or who your parents were. You are not limited by what other people think of you (no matter their PhD or MBA or WHATEVER), you are not limited by the cruelties of childhood or the ghastly things they call standardized exams. You are not any of those, but you are going somewhere. You are. You are somebody, and you don’t have to be or be like anyone else. Oh, and before anyone goes and points out this is a somewhat “individualistic” argument, we are all capable of opening our minds up and encouraging others to do the same.

To be honest, I hesitated to write this because of wanting to respect the academic voices represented in this piece. It was also due to fear. However, that silly fear is not bigger than my fear of old ideas. Gone are the days of binaries. It’s time to realize the overwhelming possibility of telling more than one story.

Yours in spirals and curves and zig-zags,