Teacher Travels and Vows of Silence – An Interview with Alicia Herrera of Spirit House Designs {+ a giveaway}


Don’t you just love them?   

I know I do.   

There are those that inspire me and those that make me laugh. Some help me solve problems in my classroom and others that help me solve problems in my life.   

I’d like to introduce you to some of my favorite teachers here.   

Teachers in studios, classrooms and in the world at large. These are the folks you will see featured in my new series of interviews here at Teacher Goes Back to School.   

I hope you enjoy these teachers as much as I do!   

Alicia Herrera is November’s Featured Teacher. Alicia and I know each other because we are both Thailand-adoption-waiting- mamas-to-be.     


Alicia of Spirit House Designs in her studio


What and where do you teach?

 I teach in a 4th grade classroom in Davis, California by day.  I am a textile artist by night. 

What is your teaching history?

I began my teaching career in the Bay Area while earning a teaching credential and MA through UC Berkeley’s Developmental Teacher Education program.  I focused my energy on urban education while writing my thesis about bridging the cultural and linguistic gap found in the urban classroom.

I spent two years studying and working in Oakland at a school that consisted of 100% students of color, most of which were second language learners from all over the world.  Learning about teaching and the socio-economic concerns that students brought to the classroom each day was humbling.  Through the students and their families, I grew to love the exploration of culture and language more deeply.

I took my show on the road.  I have taught in Costa Rica, Sacramento, Japan, and now Davis.  I was a contributor to a blog in Japan and you can see some of the entries here {don’t forget to click the links!} and here.  My curiosity about culture, art, and the learning process has propelled me to live and teach in a variety of settings.    


Alicia travels.

What brought you to teaching?

The three overreaching themes of my life to date have been art, spirituality, and positive intent. Teaching is helping others learn and grow.

Of course, what I bring to the profession is always influenced by my spiritual well-being and my artistic sensibility.  I have always wanted to nurture.  

And boss people around.  I was a bossy older sister. 

When did you start traveling /practicing sitting meditation?

In 1999, I was working in one particular classroom in Oakland filled with many immigrants from Southeast Asia.  Around Cambodian New Year, my master teacher organized a walking field trip to small neighborhood Buddhist temple a block away from our school.  The monks there gave a tour of their homespun community center and shared with our class about how people celebrate the New Year in Cambodia.  I was captivated.

I had a begun vipassana sitting meditation practice earlier that year and, of course, along with that had been reading many books on Buddhist culture.  Thich Nat Hahn (a Vietnamese monk once nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by MLK Jr.) had recently come to Oakland to lead a “Day of Mindfulness” retreat at Lake Merritt and a friend and I attended.  Combined with my impending graduation and my deep exhaustion from teaching in the public school system, I was ready for a shift.  Meditation was becoming vehicle through which I began noticing my emotional storylines and would have the occasional metacognitive bits of self reflection about how I worked.  I wanted to continue exploring.

I had a radical, scary, exciting urge.  I wanted to clear out entirely when I finished my final term and then attempt to live in a monastic setting somewhere in Southeast Asia and perhaps take vows. I was transitioning from one stage of life to the next and I had the time and space to try this out.   I had the notion that some place might just feel right and I could live wakefully and experience what came next as it happened.  I was open to the possibility of becoming a Buddhist nun for a time. Accepting vows in this tradition is not necessarily a lifelong commitment.   I was also open to just finding a new home for the next stage of my life.

And that is what I did.

So, what happened?

A lot happened!  I did stay in monasteries in Thailand, Burma, and India.  I was there for about a year.  I took the precepts and vows of silence.  The meditation helped me to understand more about interdependence, impermanence, and most unexpectedly, being awake to experience beauty as a process.  Buddhist practice has a clear place for the arts as a vehicle for the process of awakening.

I realized as I traveled from place to place that my backpack was growing heavier and heavier with textile samples.  With each sample there was a story attached and I felt as if the fabric held secrets in the stitches and the spaces in between those stitches. 

Eventually, the scraps and samples that I had gathered were too heavy and I began sending boxes back to California.  I knew that something was starting for me, but it was still unclear.  I kept notebooks and I would fill them with pictures of traditional dress and textile traditions, along with quotes, notes, and stories. 

Every place I visited I saw through the lens of that region’s textile traditions and I began to stay primarily in places where I could learn something new about culture and fiber.  My book selection shifted to selections about art and culture.   In the end, I feel that I had an informal post-graduate year of study in textiles and Buddhist culture in Southeast Asia.  Not exactly what I had initially anticipated but very meaningful all the same.

Recharged, I found I was ready again to teach, as well as live in places where I could balance my love of textiles with work in a way that actually felt sustainable.  Although teaching is emotionally taxing by design, I do get closer to finding a comfortable balance with each passing year.

Tell us about your blog

I started Spirit House Designs  around the time my husband and I decided to become parents through international adoption.  The blog is basically about textiles, adoption, art, and making things rather than buying them new.  We are practicing creative frugality in order to afford adoption. 

Adoption is expensive.  The total cost of bringing a child home from Thailand is around $25,000, which is comparable to a hospital birth, except that with adoption, nothing is covered by health insurance. 

Adoption costs prove to be a real challenge for teachers, as the expenses are often more than their take-home salaries!  The blog shares a slice of a creatively frugal lifestyle.  It is a life that is simple, fun, and sometimes irreverent.

The thing is, as we wait patiently to become parents, we are living fully during the wait. 

We chose this path. 

People have wanted to join us in our waiting and blogging is a great way to do that.  Thailand is weighing on our minds, driving my creativity, and in our daily thoughts as we prepare.

{WANT TO WIN A SPIRIT HOUSE DESIGNS SCARF? – Click the Spirit House Designs links to find out how… open to US Addresses only}





Please leave any questions or comment love below:     

If you want to learn more about Alicia Spirit House Designs

Stay tuned for Part 2 – Alicia the {Textile} Artist


October 2010: Ryan Fong – Teaching Assistant/PhD Candidate in English at UC Davis.

September 2010: Michelle Marlahan– Proprietress/Fairy Queen of It’s All Yoga in Sacramento, California.


41 thoughts on “Teacher Travels and Vows of Silence – An Interview with Alicia Herrera of Spirit House Designs {+ a giveaway}

  1. Alicia, great acticle and blog posting. I enjoyed learning more about your history and your passions. I hope you do well at your show and I will certainly be stopping by as I am curious to see what you have created in your workshop.

    Your Neighbor,


  2. I absolutely loved reading this – what an amazing, talented and incredible woman she continues to be…very inspiring! Thanks for the great read!

  3. Pingback: Teacher by Day, Textile Artist by Night – An Interview – with Alicia Herrera from Spirit House Designs {+ a giveaway!} « Teacher Goes Back to School

  4. All of these wonderful women gunning for a scarf :) I think the winner is randomly generated. Be sure to let me know if you are a “warm” or “cool” color person, just in case. The pool of people who have the patience to figure out how to leave comments isn’t very big. And I think you can enter more than once!

    Big hugs.

  5. You know I think you are terrific in and out of the classroom. What a delight to read more about your history. I love the quote in your blog intro about teaching keeping your heart soft with love. It’s something I have to remind myself of each day. :) Thanks for sharing!

  6. My two sons were fortunate to have Alicia as their teacher for sixth grade. I was also blessed with getting to know her as a person and I can say firsthand she is an incredible teacher… Talented, creative person and will be an amazing mommy to that fortunate child who will find their way to her(and her husbands) life. What a great article!!

  7. I love how each of the three peeps you’ve interviewed so far are so distinct and different–and yet, there are so many threads running between us. Not the least of which is love for the Tams!

  8. I enjoyed reading Alicia’s story, partly because she and I have some things in common– teaching abroad, the interest in linguistics and students from all over the world…I will definitely check out her designs, too! These interviews are so fun! I love your way of connecting teachers. I hope to get my answers to you later this month (some downtime coming!). xo

  9. I always knew what a talented and wonderful teacher you are, Alicia, but I didn’t know the whole background story! Great interview!!

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