Out of all of the surprises and “wait, no one told you?” moments I’ve had since I’ve been here, today definitely wins the award for catching me off guard. The only reason the surprise even surfaced was because I was chatting with Jenrika during lunch about the things that classes 9 and 10 need to work on in English and how the curriculum for the younger kids might need to change based on what we’re seeing in the older kids.
Totally typical conversation for us… until she said, “Well now that we have an extra week with them during the holiday, we can work on some of those things.” Wait. Pause. WHAT? I must have given her an extremely confused look because she said, “Wait, no one told you?” I shook my head (please, of course no one told me. That’s how this works). APPARENTLY, there’s a proposal in the works to have a week of classes during the upcoming month-long holiday, just for the class 9 and 10 kids. This news was released at a teacher’s meeting and my name was listed as one of the teachers who would be participating. Oh, okay.
I know I should be happy about having more time to work with the kids… but like I’ve said before, I don’t know that this teaching thing is really for me. I have been counting down the days to the holiday like my life depends on it. I was excited to have some time during the break to help out with projects that don’t include me trying to entertain 20 teenagers. You know, maybe even a project where I don’t have to interact with any people at all.
Okay, I’ll admit that’s an extreme. This teaching has really been wiping me out though. I’m an introvert, and by the time class is over each day, I just want to sit alone in my room and release my feelings. That probably doesn’t make any sense, but when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I have a super strong urge to create things. That’s the only way I can clear my head and calm myself down (if I don’t, my brain starts feeling twitchy). Sometimes that’s me journaling, sometimes it’s drawing… and currently those are really my only two options because I don’t have paint or glue or scissors bigger that children’s safety scissors with me here.
Sorry, MAJOR sidetrack. But yeah, so that’s the surprise of the day. An extra week of school! We have school Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday next week (there’s a Buddhist holiday on Wednesday), and then the break starts on Saturday. We’ll have a week off before the bonus week, so at least that’s something. I pitched the idea to Jenrika about working together to plan and teach the classes that week, and she seemed like she might be into it. I have my fingers crossed! It would be so much better to have a partner… better for getting the kids interested and involved, and better for my mental health. Plus, I think we would work really well together.
Random fun fact of the day: There are potted plants all over the school as part of the gardening classes the kids have on Saturdays. Today, each kid was supposed to bring two potted plants to contribute to the school’s collection. Obviously, everyone didn’t bring them, but I was very interested in what the plan was if everyone DID. There are almost 400 kids in the school… what on earth would they do with 800 POTTED PLANTS? Am I the only one who thinks that sounds completely insane? And potted plants take effort. Maybe I’m just baffled by this because of my complete lack of plant-growing skills (and abundance of plant-killing skills), but I think it sounds ridiculous no matter what. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s awesome. Just also insane.
Today’s adventure in teaching included me, a smartboard, and the story of Cinderella which I partly stole from the internet and then mostly rewrote myself. I didn’t really like any of the options that I found, and I tried to change the wording so that the kids would actually understand the story. I was hoping that some of them would know it already because we’re working on practicing visualization. It is so hard to teach people how to do something that you now just automatically do in your brain! For those of you unfamiliar with the official English teacher terminology, visualization is when you read something and make mental pictures to go along with what you’re reading.
We’ve been working on this for a few days now. I tried to explain it to the kids as “making a movie in your brain”, and I got the “you’re insane” blank stare/eye blinks from most of them. They had homework last night to draw pictures to go along with some sentences I gave them, so that’s the artwork you’re enjoying in this post. Some of them were awesomely well done, and some of them were just awesome for other reasons… hehehe. I was laugh-crying in the staff room as I graded a few of them. I know that’s not very nice, and I shouldn’t be laughing at the artistic skills of my kids, but please, just give me this. I need something to get me through the day.
Anyway, today was Cinderella, our first attempt at visualizing something longer than a sentence. To help you visualize class, just imagine me solo-acting the entire story of Cinderella. I was Cinderella. I was the fairy godmother, explaining to the class what a “wand” is. I was ugly stepsister #1 AND ugly stepsister #2. I was the prince. In my opinion, I gave a very compelling performance. The kids even laughed at me at some points which I see as a positive because it means that they were paying attention (also, this is a total sidetrack BUT… I was thinking today about how much I don’t care if they think I’m ridiculous because I’m twice their age. And then I realized that I literally am TWICE the age of some of them. You know what though? I think that’s kind of awesome).
I don’t want to be too optimistic, but I felt okay about how things went. When something happened in the story, I asked how they thought certain characters felt about that thing. That’s an area where they were really struggling a couple weeks ago. To be able to understand how a character feels, you need to have a decent understanding of what’s happening in the story and who the characters are. That means that you need to see it as more than just words. It needs to be a story that feels somewhat real, and the characters need to be people/creatures with thoughts and hopes and feelings.
Anyway, who really knows? All I can do is try my best and hope that something sticks.
Also, I was thinking about it and I realized that with as much as I complain to you about the kids and their English skills, I need to make something clear. Yes, some of them stink at English, but they, in general, are still way more linguistically accomplished than I’ll ever be. Most of the people here are amazing, in my opinion, when it comes to languages. My favorite question to ask people is how many languages they speak. In India, there are SO MANY, and the people I’ve met generally know at least three pretty well. The states all have different languages (and more… there are over 100 languages spoken in India and over 1500 dialects), the two national languages are Hindi and English, and in Jaigaon, there are so many countries close by that it helps to know some of their languages too.
So for example, here, it would be normal for someone to speak Bengali (the state language), Hindi, and English at the very least. Then, many people also know at least some Nepali because that’s very prominent here. After that, they might know a few more. Most people I ask know somewhere from 3-6. They usually say that they know three or four well and the other 1-3 aren’t great but they can get by.
Want to guess how many Pastor Daniel can speak? Ten. That’s including Korean though, and he said that he’s not fluent. Ha. He’s in the process of learning #11, one of the major languages of Bhutan (Dzongkha). Ready for what I think is one of the craziest things? The church service here is advertised as “Hindi and Nepali”. After weeks of wondering and since I can’t tell the difference, I asked Ruth how it can be both. She said that the songs are a mix, usually the scripture and prayers are in Hindi (but maybe Nepali if that’s what the person is more comfortable with), and when Pastor Daniel preaches, HE USES BOTH. For the entire sermon, he’s translating for himself! Am I the only one who thinks that’s insane?? Ruth said that he’s so used to it now that he doesn’t even need to think about it. That’s crazy!!!
Oh! Another thing… Ruth and Pastor Daniel grew up in different states which means that their families and the languages they grew up speaking are different. Okay, that’s not SO crazy, BUT… then they moved here and had kids, and their kids don’t know the languages that either of them grew up with because no one speaks them here. Let me try to create an incredibly simplified semi-equivalent for you. I speak English and some Spanish. Imagine that I marry someone who speaks French as his first language and also some Spanish. Then, he and I only speak in Spanish to each other because that’s the only way we can communicate. When we have kids, they learn Spanish, and they also learn German and Italian because a bunch of people who live near us speak those languages. We don’t bother teaching them English or French because no one around speaks either of those except for us. One difference between my attempted equivalent situation and the actual one is that many of the languages have different alphabets too, whereas all the ones I listed use the same one. So there’s another level of complexity to add on.
Anyway, everyone here is so nonchalant about languages. “Well, I know three fluently and can read and write too. I am okay with three more, but I’m not completely fluent yet. Oh, and there are two others that I can understand but can’t speak. What about you?”
That’s when I lie, and imaginary Lara is completely fluent in English and Spanish and at least 50% fluent in Armenian. Actual Lara is fluent in English, a generous 50% in Spanish, and an extra generous 2% in Armenian (but I can read it, so we’ll bump me up to 3%). And everyone THINKS that I can speak Nepali, so that must count for something, right?
My project over the last few days has been trying to force creativity out of the class 10 kids. For the most part, they aren’t very good at making things up and using their imaginations (there are a few exceptions though). I personally think those are some very important skills, so I tried to come up with an activity where they couldn’t help but be creative. I had them make their own monsters.
It’s so hard to come up with things that they don’t think are stupid. I knew that I had to make it as easy and guided as possible so that even the boys who hate everything would be interested enough to turn something in. Then, I gave them class time to work on it because as soon as you say “homework”, you lose at least half the class. Finally, most importantly, I hovered. A lot. Here’s my strategy:
I walk around the room and start peeking at people’s papers. They’re all panicked for some reason as if I’m grading them on the spot. I go up to a kid who clearly is not working and say, “how’s your monster coming? Do you need any help?” He looks at me like I might be brainless because he obviously has done nothing. “Can I see what you have so far? Where’s your notebook?” He gets out his notebook and shows me a blank page. “Oh, it looks like you have some work to do still. Do you have any questions? Were the instructions unclear?”
“No, ma’am,” he says, trying to get me to leave ASAP.
“Okay, I’ll come back in a few minutes to check on you.” And then I just keep standing there until he starts working.
I can’t say it completely worked because I still had some people turn in practically nothing, but I think there’s only so much you can do about that. The important thing is that the people who DID turn it in actually did a decent job! After imagining and drawing their monsters, I told them to write a story about them too. I knew that was a stretch.
“I want you to write a story about your monster. I don’t care what it’s about, as long as your monster is in it?”
A girl comes up. “I don’t know what to write about.”
“You can write about anything… like the first time your monster meets a human, the best day of your monster’s life, your monster’s first day of school…”
“Monsters don’t go to school.” *Mental facepalm*
“But maybe they do. Maybe they go to monster school.” Blank stare. “Orrrr maybe not. Just write a story with your monster in it.”
Really?? MONSTERS DON’T GO TO SCHOOL?? As if that would be the most unbelievable thing in a story about an IMAGINARY CREATURE.
Anyway, all I can say is, I’m happy it’s the weekend. Despite having school on Saturday, at least we don’t have English class. Oh yeah! And guess what today’s surprise was! I assigned some homework to class 9 and said, “this is due on Monday.” And then they said, “we don’t have school on Monday!” Surprise! To be fair, this actually was on the school schedule. Either way, it was a surprise to me! Happy Weekend!
There is a lizard in my room (or maybe it’s a gecko… does anyone know what the difference is? We’ll just go with lizard). Now, I’m not afraid of lizards or anything, but that doesn’t mean I want one in the room where I sleep. I have some lizard-related nightmares that I’d rather not have come true.
Nightmare #1: There’s this scene in The Parent Trap (the newer one with MK and Ashley) where the step-girlfriend ends up with a lizard half in, half out of her mouth. I keep having these horrible visions of me waking up in the middle of the night with a LIZARD IN MY MOUTH. Ew ew ew ew ew ew.
Nightmare #2: I don’t know if you recall the lizard-meets-A/C incident of 2016, but apparently, I’m scarred from it. Today, my new roommate was hanging out on my wall, my air conditioner was running (which is rare, but it was HOT), and all of a sudden, it decided to move TOWARDS the A/C unit rather than away from it. COME ON, LIZARD! Be smart! It disappeared from view, and I was sure that at any second, a dead lizard was going to be dispensed onto my bed. I’m currently sitting on bed #2, far away from the drop zone.
My A/C is now off, and my lizard friend was last spotted heading away from my bed, so I think we’re safe at the moment. Nothing is for certain though. On the bright side, these lizards make this weird sound… I don’t even know how to describe it. My best attempt would be that it’s like when I try to imitate a dolphin. I know, that’s very unhelpful, but it’s the best I can do right now. I’ll start trying to catch it on video. Anyway, that’s a positive in my mind because then you can always tell where they are. I would rather know if my room has been infiltrated, even if it’s going to freak me out a bit.
If I’m being honest, the lizard was probably the most eventful part of my day. I’m still sick, so I went to school for 1st period and then came back to sleep. I need to take advantage of all the rest time I can get because tomorrow I have three classes to teach. Jenrika has been with the class 9 English class doing grammar the last couple of days, but I have them back tomorrow, plus the class 8 Science period. Wish me luck!
Oh! The other mildly exciting thing that happened today was that it was a kid’s birthday at school, and that means candy! I love how birthdays are celebrated here. This is another “I don’t know if this is an Indian thing or just how things are done at this school” thing. Every day during assembly, they ask if it’s anyone’s birthday. If it is, they come up to the front, and everyone sings “happy birthday” to them (and it’s a much better version than the one we use. I’ve decided that our “happy birthday” song is horrible and kind of sounds like a funeral march. We should work on that). The kid doesn’t have to wear his/her uniform that day, and they walk around the school giving out candy. Tell me that doesn’t sound like the best thing ever! With almost 400 kids in the school, we have A LOT of candy days. This should be a thing everywhere.
Finally! Test day! And it’s also Pastor Daniel’s birthday! Today was another one of those days that just reaffirmed the fact that I know what’s going on approximately 10% of the time. More likely, that number is 0%, but 10% of the time, I just don’t find out that whatever I thought I knew was actually wrong.
I got to school around the usual time, and it was chaos. Kids were getting sent over here and over there, teachers were running left and right, and it looked like there had been a balloon explosion. So, what did I do? I asked once if there was something I could do to help, got a half-answer that I decided to take as a no, and stayed as far out of the way as possible. Everyone was getting ready for a small birthday ceremony for Pastor Daniel.
Here’s the 20-second summary: Pastor Daniel showed up, and everyone clapped. A prayer was said, a Bible verse read, and then he was serenaded by a happy birthday remix (including a rap), courtesy of the class 9 and 10 boys. All of the teachers were called to the stage for something that we were apparently supposed to be aware of, and I was happy to see that the couple of teachers I was standing with also got the panicked “ummm whattt???” eyes. We tried to refuse, got forced onto the stage to perform some songs that I didn’t know, and quickly returned to our hiding spots in the back. Paper letters were pinned to the backs of some kids’ shirts to read “WE WISH YOU A HAPPY BIRTHDAY”. That was kind of awesome. The cake was cut and some pieces were stuffed into the mouths of random, nearby kids. The gifts were presented, a “thank you” speech was given by Pastor Daniel, and that was that.
Speaking of the cake thing, that’s something else that I don’t understand. Anytime there’s a cake cutting here (which, in the two weeks I’ve been here, there have been more cake cutting ceremonies than the rest of my life combined), there are like 10 people with their hands on the knife, and after the cut is made, everyone feeds each other cake. It’s like what people do at weddings except it’s not a wedding. Today, Pastor Daniel cut the cake and then fed pieces to like 5 random people who were standing close-by. I need to do some asking around about this because I really don’t get if there’s some method to the whole thing or what, and with my luck, I’ll end up doing a cake-cutting at some point and will offend everyone with my lack of cake-feeding knowledge.
That about wrapped up the birthday ceremony, but SURPRISE! Half day of school to celebrate! Of course. I totally knew about that… not. The one thing that DID go according to plan was that the English test actually happened. Spoiler alert: I was in physical pain after grading the class 9 tests. Teachers of the world – is that something that happens to other people, or is it just me? Class 10 did pretty well. I personally think that everyone should have gotten a 10/10 because it was insanely easy, but they at least had a large majority who got 8/10 or higher. Class 9 though. My gosh. There were so many questions that people didn’t even answer. What is wrong with these kids? When you don’t know the answer, you GUESS! You write ANYTHING and hope that you’ll get partial credit. Anything is better than nothing! If you write nothing, you’re going to get zero points, guaranteed. We’re going to have to talk about that. These are essential school skills!
Part of the reason I’m bummed about the scores is because I know that when kids do poorly on tests, it’s partly a reflection of how the teacher did preparing them. That means I have work to do. I’m not going to take all the blame though because part of the problem is the way they’ve been educated up to now. The way I see it, the kids in classes 9 and 10 have been speaking and learning in English for at least 10 years at this point. How long does it take to get a good grasp on a language when you’re speaking it every day? And when you start from a young age? They should be able to write complete, coherent sentences by now. They should be able to read and comprehend a basic story. They should know how to study for a test where they don’t know the questions ahead of time. Am I being unreasonable? You remember how I mentioned the big board exams they have to take at the end of year 10? They’re in English! There’s no escaping the fact that they need to be able to read and write proficiently.
Sorry, I’m ranting. It’s frustrating though! Now I’m all invested in these kids, and I want them to do well! I want to help them do well, but I think I probably care more than they do. Teacher life is exhausting. I don’t think I’m emotionally cut out for this.
Anyway, after school, I headed home to finish grading the tests and was interrupted by a knock on my door. It was my sister (#2), Prisha, asking if I was ready. Ready for what? I never know. I figured it was something to do with Pastor Daniel’s birthday, and she was wearing a dress which meant I should probably change out of my pajamas. I said, “of course!” like I totally know what was going on and then rushed to get changed into something presentable before running downstairs. I caught the car just as it was pulling out of the driveway. Phew.
It turns out that Pastor Daniel puts on a lunch for the teachers every year on his birthday. We were headed to the Bible school where we enjoyed a few more birthday serenades, another cake cutting/cake feeding, and a lunch. I was directed towards the “non-spicy” foods which means “tolerably spicy for a non-Indian and non-spicy for an Indian”. One dish was pointed out as being spicy, and I steered VERY clear of that. Trust me, if you’re a normal human and an Indian tells you that something is spicy, run the other direction.
All in all, it was an exhausting day. It was really cool though to see how much the teachers respect Pastor Daniel. I’ve talked to more than one who mentioned how he’s been a mentor/a friend/like a father to them. He’s one of those people who makes everyone feel special and appreciated. I really admire him as a leader, and more and more I’m realizing how lucky I am to get to spend so much time with him. I have so many opportunities to talk to him and ask questions and learn from his experience. To put it simply, he’s kind of a big deal, and I get to be part of his family. How awesome is that?!?
*This post is from Monday, but thanks to a power cut, I was wifi-less yesterday.*
Today was definitely a T.I.I. kind of day. I’m still not feeling great, so I decided to go to school just for the morning because the kids were supposed to be taking the English test. I figured I should be there since it is, after all, my test. The test procedure at this school (not sure how they do it at other schools here, so I can’t only speak for this one) is not what I’m used to. For the entire week, the kids have a test or two per day (depending on the grade they’re in and the number of subjects they have). The test takes place in a “0 period” that happens right after assembly, and after that, the normal class schedule follows with 35-minute periods instead of 40-minute.
Okay perfect. I had my plan to go for assembly and 0 period, and before I left, I was going to give the class 10 kids a writing assignment to do in-class during period 1. Since nothing gets printed out or photocopied here, everything is handwritten. For the test, I hand-wrote the questions on sheets of paper and handed them in to the woman who is in charge of keeping the test papers. Then, when it’s time for the test, she takes the appropriate test paper and gives it to the class teacher (basically the homeroom teacher) who goes to the classroom to write the questions on the board and administer the test. The kids all copy the questions from the board and then answer them. If that whole thing sounds complicated, then you have the right idea. I can’t even explain to you how much easier life would be with a photocopier!
So this morning, the English test papers had been handed out to the class teachers, and they were about to leave the staff room when… oh, wait. Monday is MATH, not English. Of course it is. It’s not like people have been telling me for almost 2 weeks that the English test was on Monday. “Oh, yes. It says it right there. English is Tuesday.” Great.
I stuck around until the end of 0 period, and the class 10 kids were still working on their math tests. It didn’t look like they were going to finish anytime soon, so I left. A productive day, right? I actually have managed to be pretty productive considering the circumstances. My big goal for the day was to get a loose framework for my lesson plans for the next three weeks, and I kind of have one. Halfway through my planning, the power went out which means that the wifi went out, so “loose” is really the key word here.
Now I’m writing this blog post that will probably have to be posted tomorrow considering the power situation. It’s been out for over an hour now… usually they aren’t that long. It’s a good thing that I’m a power cut pro at this point. The lights go off, and I roll my eyes and grab my flashlight, completely unfazed. What a spoiled life I live in the States! There, the power goes out from a storm and I think it’s incredibly inconvenient. Here, the power goes out for at least a few minutes every day (a few minutes to a few hours) and I think it’s no big deal. Sometimes it’s good to get a reality check to help me realize just how lucky I am! I’ve been getting a lot of those over the last few months. I’ll share that ever-growing list another time.
Sorry I’ve been MIA the last couple of days. I’ve been crazy busy! I’m having trouble putting together a good schedule that allows me to get everything done each day and also get enough sleep. This week was so good though! I can’t believe that only one week of teaching has gone by (one day last week does not count). I feel like I’ve been in the classroom with these kids for like 3 months. You know what else is crazy? I’m giving a test next week. Me! A test!
I don’t know how often they do test weeks… every month maybe? Anyway, they have a test in every subject next week, and since I’m currently the English Lit teacher, I’m giving the English Lit test. HA! I have NO idea how this is going to go. It’s only for 10 points, but they have 40 minutes to do it. I’m not really sure what that means for how I was supposed to write the questions. I personally think that the tests I wrote are incredibly easy and that if everyone doesn’t get a 10 out of 10, it means that they somehow managed to put in less than zero effort. I’m sure that I’ll be unpleasantly surprised when I get the papers back though.
In other news, I think my campaign to be a normal person is slowly working. I’ve been going to the pre-school assembly every day, and the kids have stopped staring at me like I’m an alien. I even have some teacher friends!! All of the teachers have been so nice, and I’ve especially hit it off with a few of them. It’s so much more fun going to school each day when I know that I get to see my new friends. I mean, if we’re going to spend six days a week together (school on Saturdays though… like why?), we’d better like each other.
Besides people starting to treat me more normally, I’m realizing that there are some things that I thought were special but were actually just normal. For example, bringing me hot milk every day at school. Okay, so I might be the only one with a special order for milk instead of tea (though honestly, they might as well just give me tea… it’s all the same to me now), but ALL of the teachers get tea delivered to them during school. How was I supposed to know? You don’t see teachers in the US getting teacup deliveries in the middle of the day. That’s a thing here though, and after I realized the truth, it made me start looking more closely at everything.
There are a lot of things that just come down to manners and the way that people are taught to be polite here. People are always offering things to others, especially food. If someone is eating lunch, they offer it to everyone else around. It’s not just an “asking to be polite but you should say no to be polite”. It’s a “please, have some. Seriously, I want you to”.
The kids are taught to have respect for all adults. When a teacher enters the room, everyone stands up and greets her/him with a simultaneous “good morning, ma’am” or “good morning, sir” and remains standing until you give them permission to sit. They ask for permission before entering or leaving the room. At the end of class, they stand up as you’re leaving and give a “thank you, ma’am” or “thank you, sir”. Here, like in Ghana, the kids are always expected to do things to help out. They’re responsible for keeping their classrooms clean, they offer to fetch and carry things for you, and you can ask them to help you with practically any task, no matter how random, and they’ll do it. Don’t get me wrong; they’re not perfect. They’re definitely still kids and don’t always do what they should, but there’s a respect and willingness to help that are just trained into them. It’s very interesting.
Remember when I said that my lack of sleep was going to catch up with me? Well… it didn’t take as long as I was expecting. I completely crashed today. When I got back to the house after school, I took a quick 20-minute nap that turned into a not so quick 3-hour nap. Ha. Oops.
Normally, I would try to just hold out for the weekend, but brace yourself to hear the worst thing ever… They have school on Saturdays. SCHOOL ON SATURDAYS. I also somehow JUST found this out because they’ve had school holidays on the two Saturdays since I’ve been here (one because they get off on the second Saturday of each month and one for Easter). At first, I thought that they just had chapel in the morning, but no, after that, they have two classes! CLASSES ON SATURDAYS. They get off at 11:30, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s SCHOOL… ON SATURDAYS.
The school coordinator literally laughed at me when she told me this and my jaw dropped. I just… that’s horrible! I know that I’m supposed to say that just because things are different here doesn’t mean they’re wrong, but this… this is so wrong. I am a big supporter of vacation time and weekends and not working on the weekends. How am I supposed to survive the week if I have literally ZERO days to sleep in? Six days a week I have to wake up for school, and on Sundays, I have church. I know, I know. I’m complaining. But did I mention that they have school on Saturdays??
Speaking of the school, I realized that I haven’t explained much about it and how I ended up there. The missionary couple who is hosting me (I’ll have to tell their story sometime too… it’s awesome!) started the school. To give you the short history, they moved here without a plan. They didn’t already have the idea to start a school; they just came and observed and decided that it was something that the community needed.
Ruth said that she and Pastor Daniel used to take walks around the city, and they saw so many kids who weren’t in school for one reason or another, often money problems or because they were girls. At the time when they first came (around the year 2000), many people here still didn’t see education as important for girls. Girls are already expensive because they need money to get married, so why send them to school and spend even more money on them? (Women/their families often have to pay a dowry/bride price as part of marriage agreements. Apparently there are laws against this now, but as far as I can tell, they’re not very effective.)
They started out by setting up free classes that were open to all kids. They taught them songs and Bible stories and gave them something to do besides roam the streets, and the number of kids grew and grew until they had 300-400 kids showing up. Can you imagine? 400 kids! Eventually, this transformed into a small school that started with just kindergarten and then grew with the kids. Now, they have Pre-K through 10th standard. Here, after 10th standard, the kids take board exams that determine where they can go to school for “+2”, or the equivalent of 11th and 12th grade. It’s normal for kids to go to a different school for +2, and many schools are just Pre-K to 10th. After that, they take another round of board exams and can go to college to get a bachelor’s degree in 3 years.
The families pay what they can towards tuition, and the rest is covered by scholarship. Some kids are on full scholarship and even get their books, uniforms, and other materials provided. The classes (besides language classes) are all taught in English. People speak a lot of different languages here (Hindi, Nepali, Bengali, and more), so English is the language spoken in a good number of schools in the area. It’s a Christian school, but students and teachers of all faiths are welcome. The kids have morning assembly where they sing Christian songs and such and have chapel on Saturday, and the teachers have a prayer time after school each day. Everyone is required to participate but obviously not forced to believe.
Pastor Daniel said that they’ve had parents who transferred their kids out because of the participation requirement, and within the year they were begging for their kids to be readmitted because they realized the quality of the education they’re getting. Beyond just classwork, there’s a strong moral education, and the kids are taught to behave appropriately, take care of themselves, and be respectful and kind to others.
From what I’ve seen so far, it’s a cool place. The teachers all seem to get along well, and they actually care about the students. The kids act like kids, but they definitely are polite and respectful. I’m learning a lot from working there, both from the students and the other teachers. It’s an interesting dynamic with the coming together of so many different types of people, but it works!
Yesterday was a fall-asleep-while-writing kind of day, so I decided to call it quits and go to sleep rather than post a pile of nonsense. The last two days, Ruth and I have been doing morning walks, so that means a 5AM departure to avoid the heat and the dust. She wanted to do 4AM, but like… how? If we’re eating dinner at 8PM, that already means 8 hours of sleep is impossible. All those nights of little sleep add up to me eventually crashing and going comatose for a whole day. No exaggeration.
Myra managed to wake up to join us yesterday (and by “managed to wake up” I mean “was forced out of bed by her father and not given the option of not coming”), but today it was just me and Ruth (apparently Myra got smart and locked everyone out of her room). We mostly just powerwalked, but it still made me feel good all day. I missed that feeling… you know, of not being a total bum.
We walked to a field about 10 minutes from the house and then did some laps around there. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone else exercising, but the field was actually a pretty happening place for 5AM! There were a few packs of ladies walking back and forth and some solo guys running/walking/potentially doing yoga but maybe just lying on the ground (corpse pose?). When we got back, I did some stretching and tried to summon back the flexibility and strength that I had 3 weeks ago when I last worked out. Too bad it doesn’t work that way, right?
My first real classes were yesterday, and in both class 9 and class 10, I planned to have the kids read stories from the textbooks. There were only a few issues with that plan: 1) I only have one copy of each book and 2) the reading and comprehension level that the textbook assumes is not even close to right. The vocab and the structure of the included pieces is way more advanced than the kids can handle. I guess I just need to do whatever I can to simplify and over-explain things.
The class 10 period was not great. I wanted to have the kids each read a couple sentences and then pass the book, but everyone whispers when they’re reading and they’re horrible at staying focused and it’s hard to follow along just by listening in a language that’s not your own. I don’t think anyone had any clue what the story was about by the end. I knew that I had to do something different for class 9, so in my one period break, I typed up the class 9 short story and pulled it up on the smartboard so that they could read from there.
That worked so much better!! After each person read, we went through and talked about all of the words that I thought they might not know… which ended up being practically every other word. That was a little discouraging. I don’t have time in the next 4 weeks to catch them up on years of material and language skills, but I am going to see if there are any reading strategies I can teach them so that they at least have some tools to help them in the future. This is a learning process for both of us.
In class 10 today, I typed up their story too, and we completely re-read it. I’m hopeful that maybe it worked? We’ll find out soon enough. Next step is teaching some vocabulary. I picked out words in both stories that I think are good to know, and they will learn them. I’m determined (and determined is one of our vocab words).
The other current struggle is homework. Everyone just copies each other, and with writing assignments, it’s incredibly easy to tell. They all use the exact same words, same order, same errors. I mean, if you’re going to copy, at least put in some effort. I gave them all 3/5 for their copied homework (which I thought was VERY generous… should have been a zero for all of them), wrote “Don’t copy!” on their papers, and outrage ensued.
One person says, “but they copied off of me!” I say, “how am I supposed to know who copied who? All I see is that your answers are the same. And did you let them copy you?” She looks at me with a why-does-that-matter face, “yes.” The next person says, “why did I get a 3/5?!” I say, “did you copy from someone?” “Yes. But why did I get a 3/5??” Oookaaayyy… tomorrow we’re going to have a fun talk about expectations, what “cheating” means, and the importance of homework. Woo! Jenrika, my English teacher friend at school, agrees with me, so at least I have some backup.
Talk about the shortest work week ever! After one day of teaching, I was off the hook until Monday. The kids did have school on Thursday, but the entire morning was consumed by the “Investiture Ceremony”. I always find it interesting to see what words people use in other English-speaking countries. Honestly, I don’t know that I’ve ever used or seen the word “investiture” before (if you’re in the same boat, it’s the same thing as an inauguration or swearing-in ceremony), but these kids are going to grow up knowing it.
The next question: who is getting sworn into what? As far as I know, no one does this stuff in the States, but it seems like it’s a thing in a lot of other countries (this is solely based on my observations here, in Ghana, and in Harry Potter). Each class has a Prefect, and then the whole school is split into four teams: green, yellow, red, and blue. Each team has a Captain and Vice-Captain, and then there’s a School Captain and School Vice-Captain. I couldn’t tell you what any of this means or what the responsibilities that go along with any of these positions are, but there you have it. The four teams compete throughout the year in all sorts of events, from poetry writing to football. At the end of the year, the winning team gets a trophy and, I assume, a lifetime of glory. Like I said, I really have no idea how it all works, but it sounds like fun!
So back to the investiture. Today was the day where all of the lucky (or maybe unlucky?) students took their oaths and promised to lead their classmates with integrity. I went early to help set up and start my campaign to be treated like everyone else. When I first got there, they tried to get me to sit down and watch them work. Had I done that, probably 5 minutes later someone would have come with a tray containing a mug of hot milk for me (hot milk is now apparently my thing since I don’t drink tea or coffee, and there needs to be some hot beverage for people to bring me) and nothing for anyone else, confirming my suspicions that they are not treating me like I’m one of the other teachers. I forced my way in and started helping with the decorations, and one of my co-teachers told me that I could sit with her team during the ceremony. “Perfect!” I thought. Commence blending in.
You want to know how long that lasted? Approximately 5 minutes. First thing on the agenda was the honoring of guests, and after Pastor Daniel and Ruth, I was called up and forced into sitting in the “honored guest” seating area. Seriously? No one could have given me a heads up when we were setting up those chairs that one of them was for me?
I thought that was the end of it, but that shows how little I know! I then was included with Pastor Daniel and Ruth in the honor of lighting the candles that the kids were carrying in the procession… and leading the procession! I was mortified. Here I am, trying to blend in, and I’m being given all of these tasks of honor, as if I’ve done anything to deserve them. Pastor Daniel and Ruth… they are deserving of all of that. They are amazing. Me? All I did was get on an airplane and fly here from another country. I felt like an imposter.
Okay, so I was off the hook after the candle-lighting, right? No no, I still had work to do (keep in mind that no one told me about any of this, so each time they announced my name it was like oh hey, surprise!). After everyone was sworn in, who better to offer words of encouragement than me? Cue impromptu speech #3 since being here, though for the others I at least had some clue that they were coming. I spit out something about the responsibility of leadership and leading by example and how just because you’re not given the label of being a leader doesn’t mean people aren’t looking up to you. I actually think it was okay, but I could have come up with something way better if I had more than 10 seconds’ notice.
When I sat down, I was sure that had to be the end. Again, I was mistaken. I then had the honor of handing out the gifts to the newly-installed student leaders and had to do the whole cheesy-picture-while-handing-the-gift-over thing.
By the time the ceremony was over, I was at a total loss. What. Just. Happened. I feel like I’m a princess who is trying to live a normal life, but no one will let her. The difference is, I’m not a princess. I am just a normal person trying to learn about what it’s like to be a normal person in another part of the world.
I promise I’m not ungrateful, just overwhelmed. I understand that this is the culture, and I do appreciate how kind everyone has been to me, but this ceremony caught me way off guard. I thought that once I was teaching and doing things that everyone else does, we would all be on the same level. When I ended up being SO wrong in that assumption, it was like something out of a comedy bit. Ah the joys of travel. Here’s to another day of cultural discovery!