2.26.2014

lifelong learner

Many young adults entering college share a similar concern - they have no idea what they want to do with their lives. They figure they have time to figure it out. General education classes fill their schedule for the first few semesters, and so these confused semi-adults search their souls for a job they will love, that will pay them an adequate salary, and that will be available to them upon graduation. That is a tall order, so many find themselves in a quandary when it comes time to declare a major. Do I choose what I love, or what is practical?

I was not one of those people.

From the moment I returned from my first mission trip to Mexico, I was certain I wanted to incorporate the Spanish language into my career. The natural choice seemed to be becoming a high school Spanish teacher. There would always be a need for that position, it was something I enjoyed, and as for adequate pay, well, I never was the high rolling type anyway. I was confident in my career choice and incredibly focused on attaining my goal.

A huge draw for me was that I would always be surrounded by learning, and figured I would be getting paid to study the language and culture about which I was passionate. What I didn't count on was that knowledge of your content area is only about 20% of a high school teacher's job. Add in lesson planning, correcting, searching for authentic resources and comprehensible input that was relevant to the students, emailing parents, discipline, making powerpoint presentations, and coaching responsibilities, and my dreams of thumbing through Neruda in my spare time were shattered.


On the bright side, my grammar has certainly improved. I am much more accurate in my use of direct and indirect object pronouns. I have the rules for por/para, ser/estar, and preterite/imperfect down pat. Irregular present tense verbs? If there were a Jeopardy category for that, I would take the entire row. But expanding vocabulary, diving into rich literature, and discussing profound ideas in a foreign language was a distant memory.

That always made me somewhat wistful, and I would even go so far as to question my profession during those long nights of correcting before quarter or semester grades were due. I was reminded time and again that I was kind of doing what I loved, but I often found myself wishing I could get paid to study and practice Spanish rather than teach it to indifferent teenagers.

When I found out I was pregnant, I spent a long time trying to decide what my work and stay-at-home balance would be. I came so close to attempting to balance teaching part time. When I finally settled on staying at home and resigning my job, I felt completely at peace with my decision. I started to get excited about raising a bilingual baby, and made great plans for what kind of mother I would be.

Most days staying at home are beautiful, exhausting, boring, and thrilling. But as the winter passed, and the number of days cooped up inside increased, the boredom and cabin fever began to overtake my positive outlook. I needed something to pick me up. Something that was not cookies and Netflix, because apparently, that is not a productive or beneficial habit.

I am attempting to return to my passion of studying language. In my spare time, I am starting to listen to interesting podcasts in Spanish, and I have been searching for blogs to read en español. It's time to start rereading my Spanish literature from college, and finding new books at the library. On the days I push myself to learn new vocabulary or listen for conjunctions that take the subjunctive in the podcast I listen to, I feel empowered and positive. I am refreshed, and a better wife and mother when those duties call. It's easier to sit on the floor and play blocks with Pippa when I have taken care of my intellectual needs instead of binging on Scandal episodes. (But how great is that show?)

The podcast I am currently listening to is called Nuevos Pasos, a Mexican podcast about all things motherhood and babies ages 0-3. They even had a recent one about language acquisition! If learning language is your passion, find a podcast in your language of choice about a topic you love, whether that's travel, cooking, or politics. Just scroll to the bottom of iTunes, and click on the picture of the American flag. You can change it to the country of your choice to find podcasts made for and by native speakers. Much more beneficial and challenging than podcasts directed at someone learning the language.

If learning language isn't your thing, find what stimulates your brain, and take the time to study it almost every day. Listen to books on cd or podcasts during your commute, read a book for 20 minutes before bed, or try a hands-on approach like cooking a new meal or learning how to repair your own car. Whatever it is that makes you tick, find it and cultivate your mind. You will feel more confident and refreshed to face your work.

What do you do to be a lifelong learner?

Also, any suggestions for Spanish podcasts or blogs to follow?

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