I’m not feeling this blog entry today. I’d much rather be escaping into The Princess Bride, which I splurged on during a NOOK $2.99 sale yesterday, but I’m afraid of losing my routine. I promised myself that I would try writing again during this adventure, after years of fear squelching the urge. I suppose I’ll have to make peace with the imperfection, reluctance, and negativity that will be this post.
Today was the monthly teacher meeting between the Honduran and volunteer staff. It began at 8 a.m. It was in Spanish, which is great practice for my listening skills, but that didn’t override the earliness of the meeting or its devolution into circular, seemingly pointless digressions or that it lasted over three hours. I just wanted to put my head on the desk and cry, especially when “Thanksgiving” was mentioned, a day where each volunteer brings a specialty dish of his/her country (It coincides with the U.S. Thanksgiving, which doesn’t make sense considering half of the volunteers are not from the U.S., but let that go.), or when the school Olympics were mentioned, a yearlong event that includes, as I see it, additional opportunities to do school work outside of school hours, or when I learned that our winter break would be two days shorter than first reported. When I’m unhappy and lonely, I get ugly inside.
I want to quit, I really do. I want to be on that rooftop in Copán, reading a book and drinking coffee. In one of my early posts I mentioned that as tough as the previous school week had been, I wasn’t dreading Monday; now, I am, because when I think about preparing my science classes, I get nauseous. I should be planning right now, except I deserve this one day a week to myself. Exams are over and we’re in our second term (or parcíal). During the first, all three grades were learning the same science topic, albeit at different speeds. It was tough enough then to design the curriculum, from scratch, based upon the at times obscure learning goals set by the government. (I consulted /r/scienceteachers for terminology translation assistance.) Now, the curricula have diverged and I have two different topics. On the plus, I have four biology texts to choose from; on the negative, none of them have all the information I need and I must, again, rely too heavily on Google (animal nutrition, anyone?). I must somehow find interesting projects that are cheap (my pocketbook), need no science equipment, and require materials that are locatable in town in a day, because forget about planning weeks ahead, or days, I’m usually planning everything that night, with “look for interesting projects” on my continual to do list. And no matter how interesting I try to make my lessons, the behavior and complaints derail me. Whenever I think of the teaching advice “Be the most interesting thing in the room,” I want to kick someone.
Previous years’ science teachers didn’t do this. They just taught from whatever books they had and taught all three grades the same science lessons. Last year’s teacher gave a lot of worksheets and free periods. He had time for several tutoring gigs outside of school. I suppose I could do the same, but I was told that our graduates were barred from entering some bilingual high schools because their science knowledge was sorely lacking. Am I asked to do the impossible? Am I asking myself to do the impossible? As in, give these kids an excellent science education when I have absolutely no training in science and three weeks training in teaching English, and the school has minimal resources for me to give that excellent education and the classrooms are so loud, even when my students aren’t speaking, that I have to shout to hear myself? Probably, but I want guide my students to the marvel and wonder that is our universe, from the stars to the cow’s four stomachs. These kids deserve excellence, especially the ones that love science, that ask me the most weird and wonderful questions, the geeky boy on scholarship who wants to join NASA.
You, dear reader, may be thinking that I’m a perfectionist, and you can join the queue of disbelievers when I say I’m not. Perfection is impossible. I do, however, strive for excellence. I have a strong sense of obligation. I have been charged with a task and must do my best to carry it out; I just know that my best isn’t good enough. There are gaping holes in the knowledge I’m passing on, simply because I don’t have the time to re-understand what I learned at my students’ age. The work I put in does pay off. I am some of my students’ favorite teacher or science is their favorite class. I explain things clearly and well. I’m patient and “gentle.” These are comments written on my students’ parcíal exams (Bonus point – What do you like or dislike about this class? There is no wrong answer!), and I’d like to think they were honest. I allowed a few hours to glow. And, yes, a student did write that my class is boring, and I thanked him with a genuine smile and gave him the bonus point. But right now, after a few weeks of depression and sadness and frustration, I am asking myself what my effort is costing me. None of the other volunteers plan as much as I do. My roommate often does hers at the last minute. And while I have the reputation of creating amazing lesson plans, at least for English, I am sure they all think I’m a little crazy for spending four or five hours a night planning. But if they had to teach advanced science, maybe they’d put in the hours as well. Or not. Because the previous teachers didn’t.
Anyway, I am thinking about how long I can sustain this, about the cost of being here. Yes, there’s the monetary, but I mean the psychological. I don’t deal with stress well. I eat, I cry, I…. I’m lonely, isolated, and alienated. I share a room with someone (soon to be someones) who doesn’t see reading as a reason for leaving me alone. My only outlets of relaxation are reading, Netflix, and this blog. I’ve started running as often as my joints will allow, physical therapist be damned!, and that helps, kinda, except because I find running boring, I run with Vee, who complains a quite a bit. I have to wait until my stolen debit card arrives before I can buy a guitar (I wanted a banjo but those aren’t sold here.), something I think will help on Saturdays, my free day. I’m not learning Spanish. While don’t regret my choice and all I miss of Portland is one person, I often wonder if I should have just wandered Central and South America instead, focused, for once, on pleasure, but I thought I needed structure of some kind and purpose.
I don’t deny that there are fantastic moments, some of which I’ve shared here. This week the aunt of a sixth grader gave me a wonderful haircut for free. She is not professionally trained and usually does dying, styling, and trims. She was hesitant. In a town of waist length hair, it was probably the first short female cut she’s ever done. During the haircut, the sixth grader gave my face a makeover. The experience was undeniably sweet, and I will return. I gave an English lesson to the sister of one of my seventh graders. It was fun, we laughed a lot, and I was paid with a chocolate-cornflake licuado. Many of my 8th and 9th graders loved the video clip I used from Little Shop of Horrors in my carnivorous plant mini-lesson. I see evidence of improvement in the English of a few of my 7th graders, who are very behind. I love all of this.
Why are such moments not enough? I bask in their warmth, but the hole inside my chest gapes wider and resentment chills and fills it, and sadness. Why should I feel resentment when I made the choice to be here? Because I’m already giving so much, yet more is asked of me? Why isn’t it enough for me that I know I’m giving it my best, even when I fall short simply because I’m human and am being asked to do, well, something extremely difficult? Why do I still feel like a loser? Because it seems easier for the other teachers? because I’m not filled with the humanitarian-aid joie de vivre glow that pervades other volunteer blogs? because I’m still the awkward, reclusive, shy, insecure, impatient person I always am? because for once I just want people to see me and smile?
So why am I not quitting? Because I’ve made a commitment, because maybe this will get better, because I have nothing else.
And there you have it,
Dearest Teresita. Hang in there. Your are giving your best which is a lot. Come home for the holiday. We can send you a round ticket. Rome was not conquered in one day. Your strength, devotion, and kindness not to mention the beautiful person you are, will prevail.. nothing is perfect, just try your best. You need to recharge your batteries. Come home for a few days. It is ok to feel the way you feel. You are entitled. Try some movies and have them and relax when you feel the lack of motivation from all. It is ok to take a break. Take it from an experienced professor. Love always. Maricopa. (Big Maria)
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Autocorrect was not your friend, Mariposa! Thank you for your words of wisdom. I don’t really want to come home, actually. I do want to travel around – I love it! It’s the coming back that’s hard.
Maricopa is Maricopa
theresa, I’ve had to wait days to respond until I had my computer again, and in the meantime, you have been ever in my thoughts. I feel you. When I was in VISTA in 1973 (dinosaurs and I walked the earth) I felt so much of what you are feeling. I was the outsider of my group: I was older, I was the only one who hadn’t gone to college (yet), I had a daughter. I was also the only one sent on a solo mission. At the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the Havasupai Reservation I didn’t know what I was doing, didn’t speak the Havasupai language (and most of the residents chose to speak to me only when they wanted me to do something) and the other white people didn’t include me in their exclusive (already accepted) group. No phone, no tv, no radio. Mail by mule two or three times a week. I didn’t stay long enough to ever make the transition I was promised would happen. (An incident caused me to remove my daughter and myself abruptly.) They say a person becomes acculturated after a few months. What I wish for you is whatever you want for yourself. If you hang in there, great. If you decide to leave, also great. You have already learned a lot about yourself, your strentghs, your limitations. I send love.
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Eres una maestra spectacular! It sounds like your hard work is really making an impact. I hope Belize gives you a nice rest and escape. We miss you!
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Theresa, Marie and I just had breakfast and send you our love and admiration. Culture shock is one name for what you’re experiencing and you will absolutely make it through. One minute/second at a time is all that’s required. You are a strong and admirable person and teacher. Always looking forward to your next post. Have a chocolate licuado for me!
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Any excuse to drink a licuado!
Thank you, Nancy (and Marie). That one second is all I can handle at the moment. I suppose I’m still in the frustration phase. I look forward to its conclusion, especially since I think I skipped the honeymoon phase.
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