I never believed in Santa Clause. The story was illogical. Even if reindeer did fly, how could one man single-handedly land on the rooftop of every child’s house across the world in one night, squeeze down their chimneys, and leave presents for the good ones? Even with the time lag from China to the United States, it was impossible. I was a pretty smart kid and learning was something I enjoyed since I could understand anything with consciousness. I do not remember exactly what it was I studied in those first years but I know I did not think much of my teachers.
They were just sort of there.
The Fat Man with Christmas presents wasn’t real, but Ms. Marin Was!
When I entered first grade, I could read a lot and write a bit by then. My teacher Ms. Marin helped me tell my first story by writing it in a book. She would doodle little clever cats and stars on my homework and give me A-pluses and tell me how talented I was. She was always so fun and interesting to listen to. She would draw us weird animals that lived in the desert or under the sea. She would tell us these animals could live without water for weeks or that some would go into a frenzy if they smelled even a drop of blood. A fat man with Christmas presents may not have been real, but Ms. Marin sure as heck was. Her words. Her enthusiasm. Her inner-fire. Her curiosity for the world around her. Weird interesting stuff that she loved and I loved because her. Her love of learning became my love of learning. From the many teachers I would have all the way throughout graduate school, Ms. Marin’s gift was the greatest of all.
Mediocre teachers to follow but a new second-hand piano
The years went by and all of my teachers were just like my other teachers. Just. There. Nothing good. Nothing bad. Mediocre at best. I cannot even remember their names now as I try to remember them. The years went on and my love of learning continued. By the time I was 10-years-old I had convinced my mother to let me take up the piano. I fell in love with the rainbows I heard on my dad's classical vinyl collection. I played them again and again, like a bad habit. Each time, I felt things. Things I can only describe as fireworks exploding in my chest. My mom and dad even saved their money to buy me a second-hand piano from the Salvation Army. They said it was my birthday present for the next few years. I agreed.
Smashing my little dreams of learning
My mother took me to Mrs. Hansen’s house. She was the town’s only piano teacher. Anyone who was learning to play the piano went to Mrs. Hansen. Her home had marble floors and glass chandlers hanging high off her low ceilings. In the middle of her living room sat the most gorgeous piano. I was so excited to play. To learn everything I could. Scales. Octaves. Half and full notes. Sharps and flats. To practice until I was perfect. I walked into Mrs. Hansen’s house wanting to dazzle the world with my fingers and then the most horrible thing happened, I hated it. Mrs. Hansen would yell at me for making constant mistakes. She told me I was lazy and that I was not working hard enough. For playing the wrong key by accident. Her eyes would glare at me and all the hopes I had on the inside shriveled up. She had no idea she was breaking the bones of all of my dreams. She would smash my little fingers as hard as she could to make me understand what it was she wanted me to do.
I gave up wanting to learn
I remember dreading going to her house. Even at home while I practiced pressing those 88 keys every day, I would feel her behind me yelling at me making me feel small. Her anger, disappointment, and cruelty overpowered the passion Beethoven and Chopin’s piano sonatas once stirred in my blood. I started to skip my lessons with Mrs. Hansen on purpose. Eventually, I gave up on ever learning to play completely. To this day, I still look at the black or brown varnish on these lavish instruments and the 10-year-old inside of me still feels the sting of heartache, of failure, of defeat.
I am the teacher. And I know exactly what that means. I teach English as a second language. And I get to be Ms. Partida. I have learned there is a spectrum of students with different aptitudes and retention abilities. The process of learning a second language to me is like the process of learning music. It is complex. There is no true way to know exactly HOW to teach. Certifications and college degrees do not cover the dynamic things that happen moment to moment in any classroom on any given day. We do not learn how to inspire or even how we might accidentally blow a child's fire out. Becoming a great teacher is a learning process. I learn from my mistakes. And above all I have learned the most from one dynamic woman that burned like the sun as well as from a poor emotionally equipped piano teacher. I have learned the utmost importance of patience, of a smile, of a kind word of support. Mrs. Hansen taught me what to never be and Ms. Marin taught me the beauty of living outside the classroom box. From her I have learned to be creative in class as much as possible.
Inspiration is the greatest gift teachers can give
I believe that inspiration is the greatest gift any educator can give to any of their students. So they know anything worth attaining does not come overnight. Mastery of any subject takes great practice. Discipline. Attention. When one loves the process of learning, we give those things gladly. The hours go by and we have not even noticed, because learning anything from deep-sea exploration to speaking another language can be so much fun!
Teaching English with Drive and Passion
I choose to be a teacher every day. My mind is present in the class. I never forget that my students are aware of my actions towards them; just how clearly I saw Ms. Marin and Mrs. Hansen or even Santa Clause at the early age of five. Students feel the carelessness or the genuineness. We teach; not only our designated subjects, but also how to be in the world. If you are driven with passion and sincerity, they will feel it. You will move the mountains of their imaginations and stir their potential like a chef in a fancy French kitchen.
Teaching life-long learning
The greatest trait for all exceptional teachers, in my opinion, is the practice of life-long learning. I slip and fall out of difficult yoga poses until I can hold them. I myself grapple with Mandarin and Russian. I write stories I have to edit again and again. I read books on subjects I know nothing about in order to keep the mental cobwebs away. These academic strifes in my adult years keep me understanding of those in their youthful school years.
They learn from me, and I learn to be a better teacher from them. It is a mutually beneficial relationship for everybody. I hope someday each and every student of mine remembers me the way I remember Ms. Marin instead of how I feel every time I look at a piano.