Stories of Triumph and Defeat

Triumph: Last night, I “ran” my first 5k in Vietnam! It was crazy fun. The race started at 7pm in an attempt to run when it was “cooler.” It was not cool.  It is stinking hot here. Because it was at night, the run involved lots of glow sticks, strobe lights, and fun music. It was more a huge dance party than a race course, but there were stretches of road between each dance site where you could conceivably run a kilometer or so before stopping to dance again. While I wouldn’t say that I got the workout of a lifetime, I had a ton of fun with some coworkers. The end of the racecourse ended in a gated field where Lil Jon was the headliner for a concert full of excellent DJs. We really enjoyed the opening mixes played by Alex Tran, MC Rhymastic, and another name that cracked us up. Then we got to keep the dancing going when Lil Jon took the stage. I did the race with the same group of co-workers that I am going to DaLat with next weekend, and if last night was any indication of success, I think it is fair to say that I am going to love spending time with them.


My cab crew pre-race, post glow stick shopping. We haven’t run a step, and the sweat is already dripping off of me.


The butterfly club joins us. Stacy made wings out of glowing rainbow paper.


run dancing


Rita and I had a 7 minute dance break because we ran ahead to a station and then waited to reunite with our friends.


dance, dance, dance


many of my pictures of the night look like this – inexplicable


Stacy and Rita


Jason and his former roommate visiting from NYC.


Stacy and Mark


At the celebration village, there was a dance machine, and Rita and Mark owned it.


The concert stage. The race was called Prisma, and it was a decidedly fun word to chant.


Stacy and Mark dancing


put your hands in the air


Lil Jon


After the race and concert, Rita and I took our sweaty, rainbow speckled bodies to a local joint in D2 for late night food. I approved wholeheartedly of the morning glory and mussels.

Defeat: This week of school really kicked my butt, and it seemed interminable. It included many meetings, trips to the police station, and approaching assessments. As the quarter comes to an end, so do our many units of study in various classes which means that I am planning and teaching as normal, but providing an extraordinary amount of feedback. I have countless stories of defeat from work, but I will start with this one.  I had a class of freshmen during first block on Monday. I assigned them to groups of 3, gave each group a different investigative assignment and gave them 30 minutes to prepare up to a 3 minute presentation on their assigned passage. The rules were that they had to discuss the literary features and inferences that could be made about the assigned passage and that each member of the group needed to have approximately equal talk time. This is a pretty routine teaching expectation, but while in the States there may be one or two kids who feel shy and nervous and inhibited when speaking in front of peers, here the number is much higher. There is one girl in my class who talks very little, even if called on. I have never really heard her be loud enough to hear unless you are within 2 feet of her, and she struggles to look up when speaking or being spoken to. Academically, she is a strong student, and despite her lack of participation in class, she has maintained an excellent grade. Apparently, Friday morning’s requirements were too much for her. I am certain that she was able to identify literary features and make inferences. However, when she began to talk, nobody in the room could hear a word she was saying. I asked her to speak up.  She continued to whisper. I interrupted again to say that she must speak louder. She burst into tears. I allowed another member of her group to speak for her. I kept her after class where I of course continued to make her cry as I tried to ask her what scares her about speaking and how I can help her overcome this fear. I am pretty sure that I ruined her day and maybe even her week and life. So, after she left the room, a coworker came to find me for a planning meeting we scheduled. I just saw Lara and burst into tears. Luckily, she is a great coworker with excellent maternal instincts and a non-judgmental personality. She gave me a hug and assured me that I had not ruined said student’s life and that the girl really must learn to speak in an audible voice. We went to our meeting where I did my best to focus on how we would assess student learning, but my eyes may have been leaking throughout. So, two of my coworkers endured an hour long meeting with me sniffling and wiping my tears as I helped clarify the scope and timeline for our next essay assignment. Boo.

Triumph: We only have 3 more weeks of class before exams and then it is Christmas break. This means that my beloved Kate arrives in 29 days, and that Colleen is only 6 days behind her!  Glorious.  I can’t even tell you how warm my heart is as I anticipate the arrival of my beloved friends. I know that their families and friends are loath to sacrifice time with them over the holidays, so I am eternally grateful not to have to spend the time alone. There are times where it is wonderful to be single, but I would not argue that the holidays are one of those times. However, I am so lucky to be surrounded by supportive friends and family, even if they are far away. Before moving here, the travel destination that I most wanted to hit up was Hoi An, Vietnam, and while both college friends are here, I am dragging them along for a trip to a city that I am sure to adore. Bring on New Year’s in Hoi An!

Defeat: I cried in front of my boss this week. We had a meeting to discuss my schedule and chat about some course offerings and ideas for the future of the department. You remember from my excited babble about the job fair and moving here that I adore my boss.  I felt confident taking this job because I respect him and trust that he would not allow anything bad to happen to me. That is all still true, but there are tensions at the school that I didn’t quite understand before arriving. Of course, if I were recruiting people for a job, I wouldn’t air every piece of dirty laundry either, and to be fair, my boss did allude to some of the tensions. A lot of the tension revolves around whether or not the school should offer AP courses. Currently, I am the only teacher in my department teaching AP, but one other teacher is certified to teach AP and has done so for about 17 years in the past. This does not mean that he supports having AP courses here. So, needless to say, sometimes I feel a little unappreciated/despised by colleagues. This has led to me losing a lot of the professional confidence that I had at Bowie. At my first school, some amazing educators treated me like an equal and gave me such frequent praise that I never felt that my voice was suppressed or that I shouldn’t share an idea. To be fair, I am not really being suppressed here either, except by my own weakness. Though I am a staunch defender of social equality regardless of gender, age, race, etc., I am finding it difficult to find my voice among a department that is much more experienced and male than me. This is all in my head, and I am actually pretty mad at myself for losing my voice in a situation where I should be using it. So, in the middle of a meeting with my boss, as I am thinking about all of this, I burst into tears. Not really a strong argument that he should feel good about his decision to hire me, but he is of course gracious and loving and reminds me that he hired me because I could add a different voice and that he believes in me and is thrilled to have me onboard. Hopefully, I will redevelop my confidence and begin to earn some of that belief and joy. Mostly, I spent too many days feeling sorry for myself and pining for the easy days of working with Kelly, Teri, Shena, Nancy, Dani, etc. I really miss the Bowie High sisterhood. I know that I can make my relationships with colleagues here better, but nothing will ever be as effortless and beautiful as my first professional loves. This is something that I must accept since I choose to switch jobs.

Triumph: Thursday was Teacher’s Day in Vietnam, and I was showered with love from administration, students, and the parent community. I got roses from my principal, a student, and my cleaning lady. The PTA made us a glorious multi-cultural lunch and gave us coffee gift cards. Rita, an amazing coworker brought me a latte and a sweet note. It was all kind and appreciated.


my roses at school


my roses at home


my coffee from Rita

Defeat: Even the limited amount of cooking and water boiling that I do was impaired this week when I discovered that my stove wasn’t working. I forgot to tell Trang, my helper, about it when I first realized it wasn’t working. Then I thought that she would magically be able to fix it because it was just an unlit pilot light or something. When she couldn’t, I finally had to tell my realtor to send a maintenance person. I could have told her this in person because I had to go to the police station to register my new visa and have my residence book updated. This is my year long visa, so I don’t have to return to the police station until next November. However, I forgot to mention it to Hang, my realtor when I saw her, so it took over a week to get it fixed. In the meantime, I became a gross overeater who had so many delectable treats delivered. Why is it so easy to be a fat kid in Vietnam? Also, the lack of ability to boil water means that I couldn’t take a warm bath since I still haven’t managed to convince my landlord to replace the hot water heater even after the 6 repairmen that my realtor has sent cannot fix the problem. When I tell stories like this to others who live here, they don’t understand because we really don’t live in a place where resources like hot water and working stovetops are hard to come by. I am just not good at navigating the repair process.  Yet. Hopefully, nothing else will break, and if it does, hopefully, I will negotiate a swift repair. (Don’t worry Christmas guests, I plan to have my housing rep from school get involved in the hot water dispute if it is not settled within the next week so that we can all enjoy warm showers during your visit!)

Triumph: I spent the day with my friend Ricki today in a couple of different cafes in the neighborhood to do some schoolwork. She mentioned that she wished that she had brought her swimsuit so that we could go to my pool for a study break. I told her that she could borrow a suit, but that we couldn’t walk or cab there together because I had ridden my bike to coffee. You should know that the bikes here have adorable baskets on the front and seats on the back so that you can carry lots of stuff and people. I often put my bags of stuff in the basket, but I have not yet attempted to put anything or anyone on the back. Ricki thought this should change. She wasn’t optimistic about the approach working, but she offered to try to bike with me on the back. I felt pretty sure that I would be a terrible back of the bicycle rider as I am still fairly terrified by being on the back of motorbikes, so I decided to try to be the pedaler. It got off to a rocky start and after teetering and putting my feet down a dozen times in 3 yards, I was ready to give up and push the bike as we walked to my house. Ricki encouraged me to try one more time, and this time, I wobbled a bit, but was able to get some momentum and then we were off. We were approaching a bridge, the only hills at all in this flat, flat land, and Ricki thought that we would probably need to get off and walk up the hill, but these strong little legs got us through. At the stoplight, we did have to pause and thank goodness because we were able to put down the footrests for Ricki so that she wasn’t holding her legs out in odd ways that were quite a workout for her. We made it home, and it was awesome. Then, after a bit of pool time, Ricki was ready to head to the grocery store and home. I convinced her to let me pedal her to the store that is almost halfway between our houses, and again, I had success on a bridge hill and felt totally awesome for getting us there alive and well. What an exhilarating workout. I was thinking about trying to borrow a bike from a friend to lend to my Christmas guests, but maybe now, I will just load them up on the back of my bike. Love it!

Other triumphs include – scheduling time successfully to FaceTime with Christyn, working out all 5 weeknights this week despite my emotional responses to stress, volunteering and shopping at the school’s holiday bazaar, finding time to write this blog entry, and learning about the Serial podcast to entertain me while I did some mindless work. The best part of writing this blog post is that it made me realize that I had far more triumph than defeat even though I was initially focusing on the negative.

Tell me stories about your life soon. They don’t even have to be as riveting as my tales of stovetops and bicycles. Seriously, the more mundane the better. Bring it on.



  1. Hi Jodi, I’m not sure that you told us everything and you don’t need to do that but I can’t imagine you crying in front of your Principal. I would say you’re not getting enough sleep and are really feeling stressed. It’s not much different here though so don’t feel like you’ve made a wrong decision. This year I am teaching 179 students and I see all of them every day. One of them will only whisper in my ear or write her answer as she refuses to communicate in any other manner. You can just imagine my defeats with this one as I think ALL students need to become proficient at public speaking. Add this to the labs I am conducting with students, the addition of Language Arts Common Core Standards (much more writing and no more multiple choice) and an average of 24 assessments each marking period. I’m grading over 4,000 papers a marking period. Not to stop yet, I’m in year 2 of a required Professional Project as our Commonwealth doesn’t think a Master’s Degree from Dear Ole’
    State is professional enough. Oh, and just for good measure, I need to put together a Domain 4 Portfolio and measure and a specific Student Learning Outcome while documenting it’s success to prove that I’m adequately teaching my students. I’m not whining about it, there are many other teachers in the same job doing the same thing here, but the life of a teacher is not an easy one. The homework at night never stops. I’m just amazed that you have the energy to run in a 5K, the time to go out to eat,and the ambition to boil water to take a bath. I’ve changed jobs several times in my life and trust me, the first year is always the hardest as it’s like starting all over again. I’d say you’re having a great 1st year so enjoy. I’m also happy that you have friends coming for Christmas so you don’t have to spend the holiday alone. Oh, and PSU football games haven’t been that great this year so you didn’t miss much there either. I think it’s going to take James Franklin a few years to get his feet wet. I would say that you’re having a better first year than he is having so keep smiling. My kids are all coming home this week so school work will stop at home for a few days. Plus, I need to tell you that Jeff shot a bear yesterday. That’s the most important thing going on around here. For the Glory, Cindy


  2. Hang in there lady! I have had several temper tantrums in the faculty lounge this year that have included cursing and beating my fists against the copiers haha. I’m sure all of our collegues think I’m insane. And I might agree with them some days haha. Keep those men in line! I’m sure they need your fresh perspective.


  3. I am sorry that the new copiers are as worthy of tantrums as the old ones. I really believe that they might do better if taken out of the sauna that is the faculty lounge. Just remember moments like the band-aid conversation that happened in the lounge and know you will never be that crazy. We still have to write Little Success someday.


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