Friday, July 21, 2006

The Story of My Week

(Let me start by saying: it's a little hard to begin typing, not knowing if this text will magically disappear; on two occasions this week I have spent at least an hour typing a message only to lose it, but here goes)

When I left you Monday, I went home and my sore throat turned into a very bad fever which lasted all night. In the morning I was dizzy and had no voice and therefore Debbie the nurse told me to stay "home" and that she would take overmy classes (she is doing a different job and could do this). I spent the day sleeping off what seems to be The Day of Fever I Must Endure in all Foreign Countries (except this fever was not met with a needle in my behind administered by a Guatemalan mother!).

The next day I went in feeling about 50% better; although I was completely drained of energy by the fever and the heat by the time I arrived at school - then Pamela our hot, perfectly dressed coordinator showed up wtih about two minutes until class started to give us the workbooks that all the kids had received in the morning. uh, excuse me, workbooks? To go with the crappy "curriculum" we've not been teaching for six days of a four week course? "Just begin with unit three" she told us. I arrived at my first class of 15 third graders and they were all crazy about their books...level one books, and I had been teaching them level two. Sunny ran to ask Pamela about it and she said, oh! we made a mistake, they are level one! So, frantically, I tried to skim over the lesson while dripping sweat because the air conditioning is broken in that room. As the day progressed, the books were a curse; the other teachers were using them to fill time in their own classes so if we planned to use them, too bad! It was chaos. In one class I had kids climbing under tables and flicking cards at each other and you know what? I just didn't care. I wanted to take my fever home and never come back! The others all experienced the same kind of day and we just looked at each other in a kind of China bewilderment.

The rest of that afternoon was horrible. Jeff knows how low my teaching lows are, but Jeff you have never seen this! I have never wanted out of anything so badly, ever!! But that evening, I had a Stuart Smalley talk with myself...for those of you not familiar with this Saturday Night Live skit, Stuart is a pudgy middle aged affirmation counselor who tells his clients to look in the mirror and say "I am smart enough, I am good enough, and gosh darn it, people like me!" So I did my own version of this, telling myself it can only get better and that this is just another one of those skin thickening experiences. The irony hit me that I was self talking about skin thickening in a place where the people are so tough in their everyday lives;they don't complain or slow down, they just do what they have to do in very harsh conditions.

Anyway, the next day I walked into class with a plan and I have to say, good for me. I taught my older ones the old cheerleaders yelling into the stands cheer "(5th grade class), how do you feel? and they answer "We feel awesome, oh we feel so awesome, UGHHHH!" They loved it. After a day of getting used to the workbooks that we didn't know we were getting, they are kind of nice and now our curriculum makes a bit of sense. So the good ending to the school story is that Thursday and Friday were good days and I will make it through, (an American thickening some skin, truly...) It's hard for us to leave the thought behind "just think if we had had the same students and the whole curriculum from day one?"

Somehow I have come up with fun songs or games for every day (with a lot of help from some of you, thank you!) but some highlights have been teaching them to sing my own arrangement of "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" where I split the class in two and had them do the "sock it to me" part toward each other; they also loved "Anything you can do I can do better" when our subject to teach was "can" and "can't"- - they YELL "Yes I can! No I can't" so loudly! (my fourth grade class has 35, my fifth grade 38!) The other magic working in my classes are the stickers that Jaci and I bought at the dollar store before my trip...if only I had bought a million (and a lot more Spider Man!) These kids will do anything for a sticker. Another winner was today; I had my third graders make those "little paper folded things" -- you know, the ones that you choose a number, then a color, then you get a fortune inside. I got the idea from a South Park episode Dennis showed me about two weeks before my trip (the boys wanted to get their hands on the "future telling device"that the girls had. I had them put their words of the day inside because they were "dance" and "jump" etc, so they were thrilled with that and with the stickers they got for "doing it right."

I am not a grade school teacher, though, thank God thank God thank God. Thank God I am not a grade school teacher! Mom, HOW do you do it? By the way, I was not able to save Annie...but we are in touch and she is doing OK and meeting other people in Deching; she is enjoying the high school kids...I will see her in Beijing in two weeks.

I would have to say that one of the most surprising thing to all of us is that in every class, there are five or six boys who are seated in the back and they don't seem to be expected to learn anything. In most classes, the classroom teachers stay in the room while we teach and they don't make the boys get out paper or pens and they just goof off and talk the whole time. I was completely, completely blind sided by this - thinking that these kids were going to be so respectful through and through. I have to say though, the girls are ALL sweet and smart and eager, and the boys who are make up for those who are not. I had better post this before it disappears!


Anonymous said...

Computer problems, chaotic classes, unpredictable changes... in a foreign country. This is how you spend your vacation? The great thing about your teaching lows Marjie is that 1) they don't last long and 2) you always take something from them. Glad you're back on your feet!

Anonymous said...

Now you know one of the reasons I retired! Seriously, though, I would have to say, "Thank you, God, that I never had to teach high schoolers!

Anonymous said...

Somewhere, somehow and at sometime, your kindness, compassion and tenacity towards your students will encourage them to do the same... amazing...

Anonymous said...

Way to go on the Stuart Smalley pep talk-As Carol LeGore has taught us for years, "Fake it until you make it baby!" So glad you are alive. I think it is Kismet I am listening to Saturnday Night Live as I type this. Love you and am so proud of you-God Bless All of you Elementary Teachers in the World! Jaci