• On vulnerability and self-awareness as an American expat school counselor

    It was a typical Friday afternoon - I'd just come home from work and it was time to decompress from a long week. I find a stream of Grey's Anatomy and as the show progresses, I realize that one of the themes they were tackling in this episode is the history of racial violence against Black people at the hands of the police. I absolutely lost it during the scene above and I lose it every time I see similar scenes like it  (ie, Procter & Gamble's Ad). My husband asked me why I was crying and all I could muster at that time was, "we have friends who need to have this conversation with their kids - ALL THE TIME." 

    But that wasn't all of it.

    As I continue to reflect on my emotional response to this scene that is rooted in the realities of Black families across the United States - I am flooded by my own feelings of anger, sadness, and guilt. I have the freedom to be away. I have a physical break from the madness that the country of my birth is  experiencing. This madness precedes the current Oval Office. I left a job where I was working with mostly Black and Brown children who often experienced humanity's absolute worst face before they turned 5. And sometimes I was the person having "The Talk" with our students.

    Guilt, guilt, guilt.

    My calmer, reflective self knows that my past and present experiences don't exist in a vacuum. Intersectionality indicates that ALL of an individual's experience with race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. overlap.

    So how do I bridge that gap between two vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds? Reflection and self-awareness.

    Best practice approaches to counseling states that we are at our objective best, when we recognize how our own experiences impact our responses to our clientele and vice-versa. We call it transference and counter-transference. My time working with Black and Brown children who have faced life's worst curveballs, in addition to my own identity, informs my counseling/teaching practice even now. Just a few things I often remind myself are always in my subconscious in my counseling role now:

    • I am a Filipino American daughter (and oldest child) of immigrants and first in my immediate family to hold a college/master's degree
    • Due to my experience as a social worker, I can listen to my students/colleagues tell me some really stressful things without blinking. Sometimes I have to remind myself that not everybody is adept at separating their own feelings from difficult situations on the fly
    • I sometimes have little patience for what I see as #firstworldproblems in the classroom and I constantly remind myself of context and setting. 1) I am no longer in a Brooklyn public school 2) It's not only poor kids who have a hard time in school 3) teachers in urban settings are not the only ones who grapple with "real stuff" that happen in the classroom
    • That being said, and depending on the situation, it's sometimes necessary to point #firstworldproblems out so colleagues can learn, grow, and reflect on how they handle difficult situations in their classrooms differently
    • Modeling patience and tolerance as mentioned above helps my students/colleagues feel safe in coming to talk to me and that is one of the most important aspects of my role

    The scene where Doctors Bailey and Warren have "The Talk" with their son triggered a lot of feelings within me. Moving away from the United States does not equate to completely freeing oneself from the past, whatever that may be. These feelings will always be "there" for me. It is part of what helps keep my counseling practice real - and authentic.

  • Reflecting on a Hip Hop 101 Lesson Plan: 16 Barz - the Art of Rhyme

    When I look back at my planning for this unit - I honestly did not think it would take 4-5 weeks to really cover ‘The Art of Rhyme’. There were several factors that came into play:

    • Students’ prior knowledge when it comes to poetic constructs and reading/hearing them in songs
    • How much can be accomplished in 40 minute blocks - some days flow quickly as they got some concepts faster, while some days we had to slow things down and really dig in
    • Comfort-level with being vulnerable to the process: writer’s block, not worrying about ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ approaches, etc.

    Once I was able to meet my students where they were at - they really took the reigns and ran with it.  By the time we reached the end, they were asking…BEGGING…to present to each other.

    Starting off slow: Build-up to writing their rhymes

    The decision to start off slow and not jump into writing rhymes right away was intentional. I wanted them to truly explore the importance of the element and its use of known literary conventions. Inspired by Chase March's Lesson Plan on the Structure of Rap Songs and Paul Carl's Rap Poetry Lesson, I created a Kahoot! fun quiz on “Shakespeare” vs. “Hip Hop” which helped the students see that when you strip the beat away, rap lyrics can often be indistinguishable from a Shakespearean sonnet. We also watched a bit of the Ted Talk where Akala eloquently modeled this. This led to exploring the literary conventions emcees use in their rhymes. 


    We looked at several sets of lyrics and annotated them; spotting the different conventions in the verses. We discussed and broke down what they meant. They backed up their choices.  They struggled with spotting the conventions.  After jumping through a few annotations of classic and modern hip hop songs - I hit them with Hamilton.

    Again, saving Hamilton for last was intentional. Their challenge was to find as many literary conventions as possible. Of the 10 conventions on their lists, “Alexander Hamilton” - the introductory song to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s libretto - has about EIGHT.  Feedback from the students was fruitful. They shared their awe with rapping over a live orchestra pit, observations of the different rhyme styles presented by the characters, etc.

    Following our annotations, we looked at the construct of most Hip Hop songs. Hence the title of our lesson, 16 Barz. They learned that most Hip Hop songs are 16 bars in a verse (8 couplets) and a hook. We looked at Run DMC’s “My Adidas” to examine phrasing, aesthetics, as well as the beat.  Through this exercise they learned how to “find the one” and how rap song generally follow a four beat count-off - “1, 2, 3, 4, 2-2, 3, 4…”


    Then they were off and attempting to fly on their own. 

    Unlocking the inquiry

    Each section (101 A & 101 B) split into two groups.  Each group was assigned a school-related topic: Books, Notes, Pens, and Class. The requirements were simple: come up with 16 bars (8 couplets) using the “end rhyme” convention aka the most common literary convention in a rap song. To spark their ideas - I had them write the topic in the middle of the poster paper and they were to come up with as many words that could possible rhyme with it. I provided them with 10 classic Hip Hop beats (selected from Complex Magazine's list) to choose from and they worked on matching their rhymes over the beat of their choosing. 


    Pushing, but nurturing students to challenge themselves

    Teaching a Hip Hop sociocultural history elective is challenging enough with younger, middle school students, but there is an added layer of challenge when the population is as diverse as an international school. Students aren’t always going to be comfortable with lyrics, much less writing their own - particularly when English is not their first language.  Some days, I felt I was maybe pushing too hard or that maybe I was not mindful of the time they needed to process the information flying at them. Thus, it was helpful to have the list of conventions w/ definitions that they could always reference. Moreover, I required them to only use words that they actually knew the meaning and use in the correct context. Lastly, when they were really stuck - we took time to talk about that frustration and having them unpack it.  Those side conversations were quite informative because I discovered that most of them were anxious about doing it “wrong.” It was a reminder for me - a native English speaker who listens to Hip Hop songs regularly - that my students want to do things well and that they need to be reminded and encouraged that that it was okay for them to make mistakes and that the real lesson is in the process of creating.

    The end result is MAGIC:



  • Cebu: Thoughts on the Road...

    Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines

    The weeks leading up to Spring Break 2017 were a total whirlwind both at work and at home: student activities, Student Safety Week, trip to Prague (!!! - more on that later), etc. So it seemed absolutely appopriate that I booked a trip to the Philippines for a few days in Manila and a getaway to Cebu. Cebu is the place where Ferdinand Magellan laid claim to the Philippines for Spain - charting the course for 400 years of Spanish colonization.  In addition to its importance in Philippine history, it is well known for its food, beaches, and underwater beauty.  Needless to say, Cebu is on my "Philippines Must-sees" list and a definite "must return".  

    Here's why:

    1. The scenery.

    My fiance and I booked an awesome resort in Moalboal approximately 3 hours from Cebu City. We stayed at a magical locally-owned property called Hale Mana - Hawaiian for "good vibes."

    Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines

    The resort sits right on the reef wall and has a breathtaking dramatic landscape, especially when it's lowtide:

    Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines

    Peaceful comes to mind when I think of Hale Manna. It's not a large mega resort and at times it felt like we were the only ones there. When it rained all day on Thursday (fortunately AFTER our daytrip), we were unbothered. We took advantage of the massage on site and I spent the afternoon writing in the Balinese-style open air lobby; the sound of the rainfall helping to clear my mind as I typed away.

    2. Nature.

    Snorkeling, diving, waterfalls, whale sharks, etc. are all around this great place. We spent a day trekking to Oslob to see the whale sharks, Mainit Hot Springs, and Kawasan Falls.

    4. Lastly, upon returning to Cebu City on our last night, we found a vibrant city full of creativity.

    From our accommodations at the The Henry Hotel:


    To fashion with a heart at Anthill Fabric Gallery:

    A great holiday, with the best company! I can't wait to go back and explore more!

    Cost breakdown

    * 1 USD = 50 PhP at time of publishing

    Flights - ~3000 PhP per person roundtrip MNL-CEB on AirAsia.

    Private transportation to/from Hale Mana Resort in Moalboal - 2500 PhP each way for 3 hours drive from Cebu/Mactan Airport (Cebu City) to Moalboal

    Hale Mana Resort - 3850 PhP per night including breakfast

    Southern Cebu day trip (Oslob, Mainit Hotsprings, and Kawasan Falls):

    • Transportation - 3500 PhP for the day
    • Whale watching - 1000 PhP per person (foreigner rate) OR 500 PhP per local to snorkel
    • Mainit Hot Springs entrance fee - 20 PhP
    • Kawasan Falls entrance fee - 20 PhP

    The Henry Hotel - $70 per night

    Incidental expenses - food, tips for driver, Uber/GrabTaxi around Cebu City, and souvenirs