Honoring Soldaderas* for Mother’s Day.

* The women who took up arms in the Mexican Revolution

Very little historical attention has been paid to women in combat. Yet in footnotes you’ll find the women who have served alongside men in various conflicts across the globe and time. Perhaps you’ve seen the images that have been etched in the mind of Mexicans and Chicanas: women soldiers, or soldaderas, dressed in long peasant skirts with bullet belts crossed over the chests. They carried weapons to defend their ideals and revealed the courage and determination of women.


I’ve always felt that these revolutionary women called Adelitas sought to remind us all that the patriarchy exists at our pleasure. But of course, most took up arms and followed men into conflicts because they didn’t want to wait at home. Like the husbands and brothers they followed, they were searching for the opportunities to better their lives. While some were forced into service, these women cooked, smuggled supplies, served as nurses and, still others, participated in the fighting becoming coronelas, or colonels, who led soldiers into battle.

History includes the few known women who donned male clothing (as if women never wore pants in the countryside!) Two notable soldiers who passed as men were Angela Jimenez, who fought under the name of Angel Jimenez, and Petra Herrera, who became known as Pedro. Both earned recognition for intelligence and valor. The latter was also known for the skill of destroying bridges and led 200 men during her service. Another remarkable voice who wasn’t involved in battles, Dolores Jiménez y Muro, became a writer and advocate of human rights and government change. She served under Emiliano Zapata who made her a colonel when he heard of her work for the poor.

One other name pops up in the search, Amelio Robles (Amelia), who is considered the first transgender figure in Latin American history. Robles adopted the mannerisms common among men and stood out for skills of drinking, fighting, horse-riding and shooting. The Ministry of War recognized Robles as a veteran of the Mexican Revolution. In honoring the Adelitas, we must not overlook Robles contribution as a Zapatista who continued to identify as male when the war ended. Read more about Robles.

The many photos of the Adelitas have inspired generations to look toward the archetype of a woman warrior and the symbol of fierce action and dynamic inspiration to women. The name is used to refer to a woman who struggles and fights for the rights of women.

Of course, Mexicans love an excuse to sing, so it’s no surprise that the popularity of Adelita led to a ballad, un corrido, that honored her as beauty and bravery, though perhaps not her sacrifice.

Popular entre la tropa era Adelita
la mujer que el sargento idolatraba
y además de ser valiente era bonita
que hasta el mismo Coronel la respetaba.

“Popular among the troop was Adelita/ the woman that the sergeant idolized/ and besides of being pretty she was brave/ that even the Colonel respected her.”

This week of Mother’s Day, I want to honor the fierce women who taught me that I not only could but should stand up for human rights. ¡Vive Adelita!

Who has inspired your determination and courage? Leave names in the comments!

Why say great when you mean. . .

When my daughter was in 4th grade, or maybe 3rd, we were on the way to school when she exclaimed, “What a spectacular day it is!” Through my daughter’s eyes, the white puffy clouds set against a sapphire sky and her joyful mood needed something more than good or beautiful. I’ve never forgotten this moment.

Was it all the reading we did or was it watching BBC documentaries with her dad that awarded her this gift of vocabulary? Maybe her emotions demanded powerful words or her need to express her view of the magical world around her led to a larger vocabulary. On the other hand, her artistic inclinations and a desire to discern the visual world with truth, along with all other possibilities, likely gave rise to her crafting the most authentic expression to capture the image before her.

  • Astounding
  • Bedazzling
  • Brilliant
  • Breathtaking
  • Classy
  • Formidable
  • Groundbreaking
  • Gut-wrenching
  • Headline-worthy
  • Legendary
  • Luminous
  • Masterful
  • Monumental
  • NO awesome
  • NO cool
  • NO great
  • Remarkable
  • Rich
  • Riveting
  • Sensational
  • Sublime
  • Transcendent
  • Unforgettable
  • Vibrant

What image, person, place or experience would you label gut-wrenching? Breathtaking? Unforgettable?

When a student this week used “cool” about ten times when talking about a heart-thumping movie, I felt sad. Was it possible that a vocabulary could limit him from having a full experience of the world? I longed to send to my students all the wonderful words that inspire us. Contrast this experience with a student who eagerly gobbled up Wordsworth’s “I walked as Lonely as a Cloud.” Jocund, pensive, bliss. Have you ever had such a mood altering experience?

Do you struggle with imaginative, powerful words? Or do you have more to add to the list?

How might you describe a character in a book? a scene in a movie? the message of a story? How might you describe a nebula, a full golden moon or a thunderstorm that shook you awake at 2 am?

Even the ordinary can be revealed as spectacular, so unless you are talking about something that happens every day, GO BEYOND THE ORDINARY, avoid the overused, and skip past the clichés. If your problem is a boring subject, more imaginative words exist to help you demonstrate how tedious, monotonous, mind-numbing something can be.

Choose strong words. Help each other find the extraordinary in our experience with stronger words. Just for fun, check out this rapping squirrel taking a turn at Wordsworth’s poem!

Share your own favorite spectacular moments and powerful words below in comments!

Confessions of a Learning Junkie

You’re a learning junkie if . . .

  • you have an email devoted solely to curriculum, teachers, and education
  • you have a designated email for learning about writing and one for learning about new trends in education (in addition to the one for curriculum ideas
  • your inbox of your other non-teaching sites are crowded with opportunities to learn
  • the impulse to open said emails of teaching ideas is a powerful temptation difficult to overcome
  • you have difficulty passing by any of these temptations

So . . . My name is Susan and I’m a learning junkie. Emails from Google Education, Khan Academy, EdX, Bright & Quirky, Stanford Continuing Ed, YouthTruth, Education Trust and many more pop up daily in my inbox.

Fortunately my partner in life has his own addiction to learning. He claims his goal is to learn five new things every day which means he’s listening to podcasts, watching documentaries, and bursting with things to tell me. Since we both feel alive when we’re learning or sharing (for me that’s teaching or writing), I’m fairly certain we married the right person.

Truth is opportunities to learn surround us. While we may feel enthusiastic or overwhelmed, our desire to learn in inherent in human existence. We want to how to fund a kids’ college or our retirement, when to plant chard, how to maintain our lifestyle, how to cook with an instant pot, where to find the best prices for crafting supplies, how to synthesize x, y, and z. In this past year, many of us have learned that school isn’t the only place to learn, and hopefully, we’ve learned that sharing what we’re all learning, especially with our kids, helps us see that beyond a classroom, beyond high school and college, we all continue learning. What would it mean to your children if they knew you were still learning, struggling and overcoming the obstacles of learning something new?

If your children, who are hitting the books, can see you learning new things, what might they think?

Subjected to books littering the floor and two parents whose learning spilled everywhere (really, dad, do you have to stop the movie to teach me all you know about Lincoln’s life, WWII bombing missions, Australia’s relationship with Asia?), my poor kids didn’t have a chance. One year I spent a summer struggling with Spanish lessons. Not only did I not hide the challenge, but the class helped me relate to my kids’ learning stress. Plus they saw how I push past my own learning walls. We’re all still learning. My son receives a call from me at least once a week about tech! But at least I know how to set the clock on the VCR, just not my car. Just kidding. Sort of.

One inbox temptation this past week happened to be science ideas from Google Education. Being an ELA mentor and writer, I sometimes skip sciencey things. A year ago, I did some teaching and office work for a STEAM based company, Rubber Duck Lab, moving from teaching, to maintaining their science blog and ending with translation work for them. But after that position, I comfortably settled back into English Language Arts. Recently, though, a student expressed his life’s calling: “My purpose is to study science and history and get people interested in it.” Combined with my fall offering of a research class, how could I possibly resist opening up the email about science?

“Scientific Inquiry” tempted me further. Here were a few of the lessons that piqued my interest:

  • Analyze Data from Images in Google Earth Engine
  • Make a Flowchart
  • Plan a Science Investigation
  • Wage a Sea Battle with Google Sheets
  • Though not exactly science (STEAM?), I had to throw that last one in since it sounded like a game my son and his dad enjoyed playing. All of Google Education’s lessons are free, involve a n array of tech apps, and might just make doing and writing about science or anything else more fun. The lessons above are the proverbial tip of the mountain of info Google Education provides for teachers (including the parent variety).

    Already, the wheels are spinning for the research class and a nature studies class I’ve signed on to co-teach in the fall with Phoenix of Phoenix’s Curiosity Cabinet. After all, the fun isn’t just in the learning, it’s in the sharing with others!

    Even if you’re not actively “taking” a subject with a Master Class, chances are the movies you watch, the youtubes you search for, and even the interactions with the bank is all about learning. Consider how you teach others with the way you meet, embrace and trounce your doubts. Your children are watching.

    I’d love to hear from you if you have ideas about teaching you’re willing to share, want to know more about how to access Google Education lessons, or have a need for a mentor who never stops learning.

    Latina Voices

    In one of those moments of that-might-be-interesting, I registered for a conference for Latinas. As usual, the day of the event came and went without my giving the email more than a passing thought. More to do than time to do it.

    My lack of attendance rarely means I’m not interested. Things to learn grab at my attention like a “Blue Light Special!” (translation: a hot tweet from an on-fire influencer). If interest could be measured by the books that pile up on my bed table, my desk, my kindle, my car’s CD player and my google keeper “Book List,” I’d be considered dangerously obsessive.

    While I’m sad that I don’t always make my way to all the titles on my list, especially the Latina ones, eventually, I choose something off the list after it has shaken its finger at me long enough. Today, I watched the recorded opening of the HOPE (Hispanas Organized for Political Equity) and their keynote speaker was Latina spoken poet, Denice Frohman. ¿Porque no la miraste ya? Andale. Forehead smack.

    Frohman read from her poem titled “A Woman’s Place”

    "i heard a woman becomes herself
    the first time she speaks
    without permission
    then, every word out of her mouth
    a riot
    say, beautiful
    & point to the map of your body
    say, brave
    & wear your skin like a gown or a suit
    say, hero
    & cast yourself in the lead role"
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    Is Change in the Wind?

    I live in the present, so I won’t dare claim any glimpse of the future. Yet, I will hazard a guess that many of us will remember exactly where we were when we heard the news. I certainly will. Today is that kind of day.

    My moment came from my daughter, Rose, who has been consumed by injustices since she first saw on TV skinny Romanian orphans in cribs. Tirelessly, she has spent nearly a year supporting the efforts of those who have cried out for justice. Last time I visited, she pointed out the very spot where she stood in the middle of a massive march for George Floyd and the many voices silenced. I know it was only one of the many days, she did more than many of us. The fact that she shared the one word “guilty” on a text spoke volumes about fears, anxieties, trials, and pain. I’ve never known to not work hard, especially for the rights of others, and I’m so happy I can link this moment in a direct line to her.

    Once I saw the news, I had to speak to my papa. At nearly 90, he has suffered plenty of injustice, from his childhood days of being locked in school closets for speaking Spanish to the hardships of working as a teen to help put food on the table to being out with his U.S. Air Force buddies and told his kind had to order food from the back door. He’s a kind, gentle man who has waited long enough for the tide to shift.

    Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.com

    After family, then came friends. Stephanie called to share the news. This year, we’ve shared so much, leaning on each other along the way through moments of happiness and plenty of sadness and malaise. This call was definitely one of the lighter ones. Later, I reached out to my friend, Olga. Comadres, having met through a shared spiritual home, we are connected by thick cultural threads and bound by a love of words. She has taught me so much with her storytelling and brave living. At 81, she inspires me with her energy, her laughter and her stories. While they haven’t been the focus of our visits, she has her own stories of injustices with ethnic and gender disrespect.

    Finally, I called my fairy goddess daughter, Evie. Since we met years ago, we’ve had long conversations about life, humanity and the inhumanity of man. Her longing to understand the world and her place in it is rejuvenating to an . . . ahem . . . older person like me. While her life has been sheltered in more ways than one, she has burst out in so many other ways, and her self reflection while having its edges means she working out how to be live a more compassionate life.

    Why do I mention this handful of people with whom I’ve shared this moment? This year has been a year without gathering. Despite being an introvert, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of friends. Each one of these people and so many more have been woven into the web of my life. With those who made my Nurturing-Top-Ten this year, I’m glad to share a moment of such relief and joy. Amongst the heaps of concern over those who have suffered injustice and those who still do, we recognize the work ahead for justice and equity, and we celebrate this one day, this one verdict, this one act of justice.

    Student Writing: Floating Time

    By Evie Dimov

    I thought I could immortalize time. I genuinely believed it. Who endowed such self-importance in the ~somewhat~ colloquial life of a gender-fluid young woman? Me, myself, and I.

    In this paradigm of a paradox of a pandemic, I began to develop a new tactic, unlike the one I practiced in my adolescence – for I voraciously devoured books, enveloped their realms, reveled in the threads of the fabrics of their universes, only to carry them around in my head and imagination at the time. An undeniable part of my growth as a human being.

    Lately, though, my subconscious took it upon itself to cling to one book for months on end, whipping my teachers and my family into a frenzy. They didn’t necessarily know about the one book-every-four-months fiasco, but they knew I was out of emotional alignment.

    And instead of berating me like they usually would, they grew weary and their hands fell slack, as they, too, were soon swallowed by the nuanced existence of a hellish limbo that inevitably proved it was more powerful than a mere citizen’s will. We succumbed to the lull that is late mornings, late evenings, but they were no longer enjoyable. These days and nights were no longer forbidden pleasure; alas, the charm and intrigue they once supposedly possessed left these ideas of living empty.

    Devoid of meaning is the worst way of existing, and we all, every morning, collectively struggle to clamber out of that barrel of fish oil. (Wizards of Waverly Place reference) But all this gibberish is to say that it’s not as if there aren’t and weren’t highs, elucidations, epiphanies…

    Pondering meaning?

    It’s just that nothing is grounded whatsoever, and floating makes putting puzzle pieces of logic together all the more difficult. And what I’ve come to understand is living for the future, although hopeful, is another type of meaningless. Our present creates our future, so why not gather fruits of knowledge to maximize the elasticity of the present?

    Why not lose collective control and work with our hearts and bodies? What’s it to lose if time of present, past, and future meshes into one blob? What’s it to lose when control is merely an illusion?

    And what if this was how time worked all along, but we forsaken humans ignored the clock hands, for fear of relinquishing illustrious power?

    Readers: I’d certainly like to hear your comments. I’m sure this writer would, too. How has time felt to you recently? Is the present all we really have, and if so, how do we make meaning, or do we? Have you succumbed to the restlessness, “swallowed by . . . a hellish limbo”? If something is no longer forbidden pleasure, does the pleasure fade? Finally, what are your highs, elucidations, epiphanies, etc. . . .

    To poetry, vaccinations, and life

    A tiny love letter in a tender world full of fragile hope

    Scrolling through my saved poems, I found this “Life While You Wait” which spoke to me. I had just finished skimming a Stanford Magazine article about re-entry anxiety called “Of Two Minds” in which Charity Ferreira offers the tiptoes back into society. Meanwhile, this poem popped up, and I felt Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska, polish poet and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature, giving me an answer to the question of how to re-enter the world.

    No rehearsals, no script. Guesses on the spot. A premiere not a quiz.

    Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

    On the first day in over a year, I sat maskless with a young student on my front porch, I felt giddy. Some days I’ll be bold. Others I’ll be shy, phobic, and overcome by a desire to withdraw. But at this moment, my expression of gratitude for the privilege of living (and grief of having lost my brother to this horrible virus), will be this poem and a joyful step into the sunlit porch and the vivid garden and the world that stretches beyond.

    Life While-You-Wait.
    Performance without rehearsal.
    Body without alterations.
    Head without premeditation.
    I know nothing of the role I play.
    I only know it’s mine. I can’t exchange it.
    I have to guess on the spot
    just what this play’s all about.
    Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,
    I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
    I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.
    I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
    I can’t conceal my hayseed manners.
    My instincts are for happy histrionics.
    Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more.
    Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.
    Words and impulses you can’t take back,
    stars you’ll never get counted,
    your character like a raincoat you button on the run —
    the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.
    If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
    or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
    But here comes Friday with a script I haven’t seen.
    Is it fair, I ask
    (my voice a little hoarse,
    since I couldn’t even clear my throat offstage).
    You’d be wrong to think that it’s just a slapdash quiz
    taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
    I’m standing on the set and I see how strong it is.
    The props are surprisingly precise.
    The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
    The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
    Oh no, there’s no question, this must be the premiere.
    And whatever I do
    will become forever what I’ve done.

    Thank you to the poets and artists for painting the questions and providing some answers. Thank you Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska.

    What does that even mean?

    A glimpse at writing prompts to understand what to write

    Academic writing prompts seem overly full of baloney. I confess that I haven’t paid much attention to writing prompts over the years. I despise the fussy language of “discuss,” “enumerate,” and “illustrate”. Each of those words, along with “explain,” “evaluate,” and “examine” seem to lead to the same place:

    1. Write a solid main point on the topic that we can debate. 
    2. Use whatever evidence you can find (in real life, in a book, in a newspaper) to support your claim.
    3. Come to a clear conclusion (opinion not end of the paper) that leads us to why we might care about the topic.

    In other words: Write an essay like the ones I taught you, following the typical structure we’ve covered that is in most school-based essays.

    Since education loves complexity along with hoop jumping, and the first step to writing well is understanding the why and how of writing, students may need support on decoding writing prompt language.

    Writing prompts sit in the “Directions” or “Instructions” section of an assignment page. The most important step is to fully read the directions. While most demand simplicity and directness, prompts often require a bit of close reading and a few important questions.

    However, there’s no need to recreate the wheel, so I encourage you take a look at Reading Practice for Writing Assignments from Purdue’s Online Writing Lab. Purdue’s OWL is a resource that often stands out and deserves a bookmark. This particular page offers a list of words used in writing prompts and their corresponding definitions. If this link doesn’t suffice, here’s another, or search for your own understanding writing prompts to find a suitable one.

    If this page doesn’t answer your questions and you insist on more from my head, we shall examine the genre requested in the writing prompt.

    A requested genre in the prompt can give clues. For example, write a narrative on taking care of an animal is different from write a how to of animal care. If an assignment asks for narrative, the assignment demands a story, along with dialogue and descriptive details. Creative use of facts is encouraged. In contrast, a how to essay requires outlining the steps to complete a given process.

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    In my nutshell: the path to learning

    Following in my father’s footsteps (sort of) despite his vociferous efforts to dissuade me, I embarked on a career as a public teacher. The value of diversity, community, and democracy that public schools represented called to me. I wish I had seen what I really wanted– places devoted to learning, communities working for and with each other–in public schools. After working hard to implement a collegial shared vision of learning, the effort to change the status quo seemed rather like rebuilding a ship– a hole in its hull, with its motor set on auto, its speed set on get it done yesterday, while out at sea, fighting against a storm.

    Luckily the year I entered teaching, I stepped up to a buffet of books and a plethora of possibilities. Money, through hard-earned grants and filled out forms, sent rookie teachers to conventions. I loved the mass gathering of educators that exhausted us with information; like a hungry person at a loving potluck table, ideas filled every space, and I stuffed myself. New ideas inspired me, yet little by little I found the job wore me down– the opposite of making a diamond from a rough, I felt like the system was bent on turning me into dust.

    Not really surprisingly, but still vexing, “School” wanted me to change so I could fit its concept, and worse, I saw plenty of evidence that youth were either being squished into little square and circular holes or pushed to the side altogether. When I’m really depressed about education, I think of the ones, like my siblings, falling through conformity and indifference cracks.

    Enter my children. Armed with the experience from public school, I worked part time. I intended to give more to their growth, and most of my family supported my decision. Little did I know my volunteering efforts at school still wouldn’t be enough to hit the mark.

    Once my son came along and my daughter stepped into the public school, pretending that my divided focus no longer worked. Within a year, parenting tasks became harder than I expected. Despite our daily readings, our field trips in the community, and efforts to ensure my children had a wealth of information at their disposal, my daughter struggled to read, spell and calculate. One year, we were told we had to change schools to receive special education support for reading difficulties. The change was difficult enough, but the kicker was when we learned the special ed teacher, who was supposed to help our child, would be out for five weeks or more for her surgery and recovery.

    In this and many other ways, I saw the limits of the institution both from the teacher and parent perspective. Yet I wasn’t ready to deter from my goal to have my children receive a quality public education. Volunteering in numerous capacities, setting up labs as a classroom volunteer , and even serving as a PTA Vice President in a predominantly Spanish speaking community (not to mention all the volunteer ops I accepted), I tried to bridge the gaps. It pains me to say, I regret the time it took to accept that my own daughter wasn’t receiving from school what she needed and deserved, nor would my son four years later.

    After much gnashing of teeth, three campuses later, we left the public schools. Ironically, when I stepped off of what some called “the conveyor belt method” of school and listened to my children is when I finally earned my degree in Education.

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    Does HOME mean the same to you?

    Ah, we are so sick and tired of being stuck at home, bemoaning the unfortunate circumstances we find ourselves in this year. Cannot our homes create a lasting place of happiness? Is it possible our homes can cause a sort of blindness to privilege? What is home? Is home the same if disconnected living has replaced belonging?

    In the verse novel, Inside Out and Back Again, Thanha Lai recounts the war and her family’s flight from Vietnam, the difficult voyage across an ocean, and the even more difficult journey to become an American in the land of Alabama.

    In a previous post, I wrote about Gary D. Schmidt’s novel. One of his characters, Mai, comes from Vietnam and she inspired me to choose this novel, along with the author who showcases a different genre of storytelling.

    Told through verse, Thanha Lai delights her readers with snippets of poetry, reminiscent of a young girl’s treasured diary — giving us a child’s perspective that feels precious and light with innocence, yet weighted with meaning. When the narrator tells us of her beloved papaya tree grown from the seed “like a fish eye,/ slippery, / shiny, / black” she speaks as if one seed could sum up not only an entire tree but a glimpse of a life surrounded by all that means home. We witness the growth of the papaya in one “poem” from seed to white blossom, from fist sized papaya to the fruit that will always taste like home and family.

    Like such seeds, each of us may grow beyond what we can imagine.

    Growth is rarely an easy, straight line for most of us, and leaving a country during a time of war is hardly the stroll we wish life to be.

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