Friday, August 28, 2009

Educational Biography
At the age of 5, my life twisted and turned and completely changed. All of the sudden, I was immersed in a culture and language and people that I didn’t know and didn’t understand. In May of 1986 my family and I entered a plane in Oregon and exited in Fortaleza, Brazil. My parents had dreamed their whole lives of living in and working with the people of Northeast Brazil and that hot, humid day their dreams came true. This was my new home and I had much to learn. I start with this because moving to another country and learning a new language and culture has influenced every other area of my life. It feels like my life started in Brazil as I don’t remember much before that. I believe that my adventures in another culture were very influential in guiding me toward teaching.

I learned Portuguese quickly. I was fortunate to be young enough to grasp a new language without much difficulty. The culture took a bit longer, but eventually I assimilated as much as possible and considered myself to be “mostly” Brazilian. I was homeschooled for many of the years between first grade and high school. My mother had a degree in education and a few years experience teaching elementary school children. During my elementary years, it was mostly just me and my brothers. For a couple school years we did school with a couple other American or international families. One year our little one-room school house (in the basement) had an English family and another year a Swedish family. Our education was all in English, using American curriculum. I believe my education was pretty similar to most American children as far as the content is concerned. My parents tried to create an educational experience that was as stable and “normal” as possible.

My family life was excellent. My parents had high expectations from me and my brothers. They expected us to do well academically and to be obedient and respectful children. Our family was run in such a way that my parents valued input from their children. While they always made the final decisions, my opinion was important and appreciated. I am fortunate to grow up in a family that thought highly of the voices of all its members. This is a trait that I hope to carry over to my classroom. As a teacher, I will reserve the right to make the final decision, but not without considering the opinions of my students.

By the time I reached adolescence, I had come to understand that my identity was complicated. I valued my American heritage and embraced my new Brazilian culture. I felt like I was a part of two worlds. I was never completely American and not completely Brazilian. I would describe it as being ¾ American and ¾ Brazilian. As a future math teacher, I realize this doesn’t add up, but it best describes how I felt. Living in Brazil exposed me to experiences that forever marked me. I watched the self-worth of 170 million people rise and fall on the performances of their national soccer team. I saw extreme poverty, racism, and the effects of a male-dominated society. I also met some of the kindest, most genuine and most loving humans on the planet. I lived and breathed and worshiped with people who looked nothing like me and didn’t speak my native tongue and it was the best experience of my life.

In school, I had some rough times. The limitations of home school were starting to show. My mom had a much harder time teaching the 7th and 8th grades. My dad would lend a hand with science and math but it was evident that we would have to do something else for education during the high school years. I did had plenty of social interaction outside of school. Fortunately that was not an area of my life that was lacking. However, my life was about to change again.

Whenever I think of the term “boarding school” I have mixed emotions. For high school, my parents made the tough decision to send me to an American boarding school that was a 20-hour bus ride from my family. I lived in a boarding house with a few other American students from different parts of Brazil. This was a both a thrilling and terrifying experience. On one hand, I had new freedoms that came with living away from my parents, but I also lived in a very strict and structured environment. I also missed my family. During those high school years I was in a more normal school environment with more students than I had ever been. The high school had roughly 24 students who were mostly American-born. We shared many similarities and bonds from having dual cultures. This was a great time for me to finally be around a group of students with which I had so much in common. Unfortunately this all changed my junior year. My family moved back to the US during my junior year of high school. I went from a small high school of students who were very similar to me to a high school of 2000 students who had been together for a few years. I had the same skin color as most of the students, but inside I was worlds apart. I felt very insecure and had a tough year. I did make some very important friendships and that year stretched me as a person. For my senior year, I was back in Brazil and graduated from high school there.

My junior year did help prepare me for college life in America. I was more confident having seen what life was like in the US and had a much easier time fitting back in to American life. I received my undergraduate degree from Corban College in Salem. While there, I had the opportunity to study youth ministry and work for all four years with the middle school group at the church I attended. This, more than any other experience in my life, helped prepare me for teaching. Although it was a group of students with similar religious backgrounds, they were very different in their races and socioeconomic backgrounds. I learned quickly that all middle schoolers are simultaneously the same and completely different. I loved those students and developed some great relationships with them, many that remain to this day. Those students greatly influenced my desire to teach. I thank them for that.

The experiences of my life have shaped me and prepared me for the teaching profession. I know what it is like to feel different. I know what it’s like to not understand the language spoken around me. I know what it’s like to struggle to learn. I believe I can identify with many of my students and find ways to teach them that pull from the ways that I had to struggle to learn a new culture and language as a child.