gifted shirt

Final tidbits

Today I finished the science recuperation exams for those who failed the term, hugged goodbyes to the Honduran staff (teared up a bit with Miss H., a beautiful woman inside and out, quién le admiro mucho), and walked my last walk home. On the way I worked on my final list of tidbit observations I’ve wanted to share.

1. Hair gel. Boys are never too young for a stylish quaff, preferably with copious amounts of hair gel. If Costco opened down here, it would sell gel in gallon tubs, because most people of the male persuasion take that shit seriously. A tornado could whip through town and rip out my pigtails, but their hair? wouldn’t budge. One rumor is that the gel is necessary to prevent the hair from getting messed up while playing football. Personally, I prefer a more dressed down hair style, but no one asked.

2. Bellies. On a hot day you will usually find men hanging out with their t-shirts pushed up so their bellies are exposed. No doubt this DIY crop top is cooler, but to my culturally biased eyes, it’s ridiculous. But, then again, if women can wear mini tops and shorts/skirts, men should have their own way of not melting from the heat.

3. Photos. More than once a parent of a child that isn’t my student has wanted a picture with me. I’ve read this happens elsewhere.

4. Selfies. OMG, folks, kids are obsessed with selfies. It’s one thing to read about it, another to experience it. I’ve never been sitting around and thought, “Wow, I really need to record myself in this moment,” but that’s all kids are thinking when they are with photographic device. I have selfied after a new haircut, while wearing a plastic bag on my head, and to upload a photo so I could virtually fit some glasses, but that’s about it. I selfie with purpose. The kids’ selfie-ism, however, is a whole ‘nuther thing and it took up much of the final hours of school and an end of year party I went to on Saturday. I kept telling my kids they were vain. (un?)Fortunately, most of them don’t know that word. That’s it, I’m old.

5. Language. When I first heard students describing another as being “blond”, I was confused. In the States, blond hair ranges from nearly white to yellow. Here, blond means any hair that isn’t black or deep brown, what we would call medium brown.

6. Fresco. “Fresco” is short for “refresco” which is “beverage”, and the only beverage that counts here is soda. It’s sold in 3 liter bottles. A party without fresco wouldn’t be worth attending. You could forget the pizza or cake or chips, but, whoa, You forgot the fresco?! Show your face here nevermore. If I’m offered coffee, I’m surprised to not be offered a side of fresco with my coffee.

7. Adult Children. Outside of school, I rarely see anyone in professional dress, as in non-denim pants, button down shirts, or dresses that don’t say party or picnic; t-shirts or company logoed polos and jeans are the standard work wear. Considering the economy here is agricultural, retail, and production based, I would hardly expect khakis, and I’m a supporter of comfort over conformity to a bizarre dress code. (Why is a tie considered formal? Does it symbolize that we are owned by someone else, like an animal? Do our uncomfortable restrictive outfits prevent us from running away?) Anyway, jeans and t-shirts, I can’t help being reminded of overgrown children.

8. Cavities. More than once the volunteers and I looked at little kid’s teeth and commented, “I’m glad those are his/her baby teeth,” because those black things will fall out and be replaced by new, whole teeth. Blame the ubiquitous fresco, cookies, and super sweet juices, and probably inattention to and inability to afford dental care (a tortillería offers free extractions). By the way, it’s ridiculous that dental care isn’t included in basic insurance or Obamacare.

This is probably my last post from this small town. Sunday I’m off to Útila to learn how to scuba dive, which I didn’t know was a thing you had to get trained for until I came here. At this moment the skies are throwing down rain, which I’m used to from Portland but actually enjoy here. Thunder and lightning (not so very frightening) make any rain so much more exciting, so worth the wet. I will miss it.

Moving on,

theresa

PS. If you are alarmed by the recent plethora of posts, fear not, travel adventures may lead to a temporary drought.

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Before I forget

Friday was the last day. Many of my students signed a t-shirt for me (*sniff*). The administrators gave the volunteers plaques and a speech of thanks, goodbye, and eternal welcome. I dripped tears in front of everyone. I received unexpected hugs from certain students and wrangled others into chokeholds before they could flee my affection.

This was all more than I expected. Even if my inner cynic takes into account the fleeting romanticism and sentimentality that comes over many of us during goodbyes—perhaps the fear of the unknown as we depart the familiar—it cannot ignore the love. There was love, a lot and surprising given the challenges I’ve had. I don’t understand love. I never really have. Or maybe I just don’t understand kids. Being a kid is hard.

I’ve been here ten months. In one week I leave this small town for Útila, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, and Cuba. In a month I’ll be back in Portland, Oregon. I return with browner skin, tighter jeans, and a greater tolerance of spiders near my bed and pitter patter of ants on my skin. While for months my anxiety addiction has been directed at teaching, I’ve too quickly redirected those superheroic powers of worry on my solo travel plans and money making capabilities. (Please, gods of anxiety, turn your faces from me.) Before I get completely caught in that net, I need to do some looking back, some internal analysis. Before it all fades beneath the dust stirred in the relentless push on.

From my first post:

If I take too long of a look, I’m afraid about all of it, so I pick one fear: I want to be a good teacher for these kids! This journey toward selfhood is difficult and I’ve whined a lot. But, despite my fears and doubts and whining, something inside of me believes I’m up to this challenge, that even failure will be a success.

So, was I a good teacher? Yes, for a neophyte. Could I have been better? Obviously, and I was the best teacher I could be. I tried to approach each child with compassion and understanding. I worked hard to create interesting lesson plans. When I could, I let the goof out to make kids laugh. I refused to accept cheating and laziness as okay.

I see my failures and understand them; they’re easier to elucidate. When I failed, I looked for solutions, although sometimes I just gave up for an hour or two. I was never firm enough—damn you, self doubt—which meant that the students who wanted to learn suffered, in particular. I couldn’t cater to all levels of learning, so the brighter kids got impatient. Also, I could have tried harder to get into what the kids were into—a recommended bonding tool—but I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm for One Direction or Frozen or the Fast and Furious series. I wasn’t a typical teenager and am much less one twenty years later. Sometimes compassion fell apart, particularly at the end when exhaustion and frustration led to sarcasm. Every now and then I just waved my hands in the air and wailed incoherently like a crazed muppet. These are failures I can live with, because I and the other volunteers did what no one else wanted to this year. We showed up and worked with these kids.

I am proud of the work I did these past months. Next year my grades, fingers crossed, are getting experienced teachers. Unless they turn out to be scary people, this can be only good news.

And now…

theresa

static

Inútil

I’d wondered if it would happen, if Glisa would come to class with marks clearly human in origin, like a swollen face or belt stripes that couldn’t be hidden by her sleeveless top on Color Day. But I’d doubted it. While the younger kids confide, follow their teachers like ducklings, openly crush with star-pooled eyes, the older ones stay aloof, confiding in each other or no one.

I wasn’t prepared. Can you be prepared for confession? When sitting alone on a bench, lost in space, while your students listen to music or play on tablets during an earned play afternoon? Can you prepare yourself for a tall, lovely girl who is quick to laugh, rather careless, and rarely concerned to suddenly be in tears? And what were we talking about, nothing, I don’t remember, I was in the middle of some joking comment.

“My [step]dad says if I’m not good, he’ll hurt my mom.”

Probably not. I couldn’t prepare for this secret warrior to remove her armor.

The night before, the stepfather came into her room and hit her. She doesn’t know why. He was looking for something in her room; she doesn’t know what. When her stepsister cries or whines or cries—she’s always crying—Glisa gets hit. The stepfather has threatened her with a knife. Glisa is afraid to go home. She stays at her grandmother’s as long as she can during the day. Probably everyone on that street knows what happens in that house, but her mom talks to only her sister. Her mother wants to leave, but doesn’t know to where. Glisa’s aunt is trying to get her and her brother to the States, to Houston. Her mom can’t afford to care for all three kids.

Glisa sat above me on the table, I rubbed her leg, squeezed her foot, maybe took her hand as she talked. I wondered what to say, knowing that listening was the right step, but wanting to hand her a solution, feeling helpless in this pain, trying to not let my own tears show. It’s not my place to cry here. I asked if there was someone who could help. Only the aunt. Thank goodness for the headphones, most students were too absorbed to notice our island at the crowded table, Gilsa’s tears.

“You know you don’t deserve this, right?” Glisa nodded. I murmured words about that asshole, her intelligence and wonderful personness. My hopes of her escape.

Then, she was done and went to play with her iPod. Football was played that last hour. At home, I fell on the bed, drained, teary, and am still somewhat lost.

The days after September 11 were emotional and paranoid below 14th Street, including where I worked in the West Village. Cars weren’t allowed. A stranger sold cleaning fluid in unlabeled bottles and we suspected anthrax. Spontaneous memorials grew on fences and street corners. Pictures of the missing, Have You Seen Me?s, were hung; of course they were never seen again. I knew, and they did too, the hangers of those pictures, they had to have, but they hoped, I guess, that their friend, lover, father, mother, child was out for coffee during the fall and just got…confused. Or lay unidentified in some hospital. I passed them and looked, the candles always burning. The faces gradually familiar, and I looked for them each morning.

My story of that day and the weeks that followed is inconsequential amidst so much loss and real pain. I lost no one and was not even close to being lost. I worked in the Village, a lower part of the island, but still streets and streets away. I was close enough to see the flaming maw in the first building before it collapsed. I was close enough to see the ash-filled sky as I looked south, those days that followed. The ash rained on the cars outside my arts school.

I attempted to join a blood donation queue outside St. Vincent’s Hospital. I arrived just as the crowd was disbursed: there were no bodies. Someone recently pointed out that obviously there wouldn’t be any bodies, but he wasn’t there that day, walking north up 6th Avenue, away from the cloud that obscured the lower island, huddling around someone’s open car door to listen to the report that the Pentagon had also been attacked, and feeling desperate and alone, so alone, and shuffling slowly to some where, to find someone to shake and ask what the hell is happening? I worked in a shop on Greenwich Avenue. The store was dark but I punched the access code, lifted the gate, and waited. The phones weren’t really working. They wouldn’t start working well for awhile. I found out the next day that I missed my coworker Laura by just a few minutes.

I had more luck finding warmth at a nearby church where a friend worked. He and his partner hugged me. The video footage repeated, the buildings kept collapsing. And then I wanted to be alone again, because I felt so alone and it’s better to feel alone away from people. But when I got home—190th Avenue, the trains must have restarted quickly, or did I walk? I know some did—I was alone, and that was the worst place I could be. The phones didn’t work. That night I screamed into my pillow. Why had I come here?

My luxury is that I get to forget most of that day and those that followed. I hold flashes and emotions, one of the strongest being helplessness, uselessness. I wanted to help, but there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t donate blood. I had no skills. All I could do was stand behind the counter and wait for customers. My coworker Laura had a task, something to do with the search and rescue dogs sniffing the rubble. I answered a call from someone connected with our store (a trainer? supplier?) and I found my task. The rubble was hot, the pads on the dogs’ feet were burning, we sold special booties for the winter, our store could donate. But in the end this fell through. People around me rushed around, and I stood static behind a counter, completely useless, without ideas or skills. What a waste.

The Volunteer Coordinator suggested that Glisa’s mother could be killed if she told the police about the abuse. That night she emailed me a list of shelters to give to Glisa, and I did the next morning. That I could do. But not much else. I can’t take Glisa away from here. I can’t stop the abuse. I can’t stop her fear. There were days as a child I didn’t want to go home, because of my own (first) stepfather, of whom I was also afraid, but not physically. I didn’t fear that I might not leave the house alive. I can only guess what she’s feeling. I can only hug her when she asks, listen to her chatter, and laugh, these last few weeks. I can’t rescue her.

So I feel pretty useless.

I suppose that feeling has never gone away.

theresa

Tire seat

Thought motes

1. Whining. Sometimes I (along with all the volunteers) am as whiny as the students. I groan when the Volunteer Coordinator reminds us about our weekly meeting, bemoan the pointlessness of our attendance when told of the monthly staff meeting, and bitch when a day off or free period is cancelled. Like my kids, I often try to shoot the messenger.

2. Plastic? I’ve been meaning to mention the love of plastic bags here. The freshness of the observation is lost after nine months, but I do recall that the eagerness to give me a plastic bag with my purchase, no matter how small and how many other plastic bags I already have, used to surprise me. Any rejection of the proffered bag is met with bewilderment. Fortunately, even the smallest bag can be reused for cut produce, like avocado or melon. Also, juice, water, and frozen juice or milk treats called topogigos are sold in knotted plastic bags. Bite off a corner and suck away.

3. Balls. One dreaded part of my job is litigating arguments between kids over stolen balls and fighting in general. If I can’t punt the role of judge to another, I dither about fairness and trust neither party to tell me the truth. Thus I chastise both and no one is satisfied that justice has been done. Is this a contributing factor to the “zero-tolerance” policy in many US schools? Where the bullied is punished for self-defense, as well as the bully?

4. Happiness. For twelve years, my primary jobs, excluding the theatre-related, and even some of them too, have put me in a position that where no one is happy to see or hear from me. A call from me or the sight of my face means that person has something he doesn’t want to. My first adult job was in bookkeeping at a medical collection agency. I took money from people who most certainly did not want to (and sometimes really couldn’t) pay. My next job was as a paralegal who had to contact clients to request a year’s worth of financial documents. And if those weren’t enough to present a solid picture to the court, the person had to supplement with another pile of paperwork. Then I had to contact these people with personal questions about their spending habits. More than one took my questions as personal attacks, despite my sugar padding efforts, my emotional tap dancing. In the theatre life, as a literary manager, I would have to reject more plays than I accepted. Now, I teach children who most definitely do not want to be taught. Please, can I just have a job making people happy?

5. No fun. Joe has been a real jerk in class lately, telling me I’m mean and bad, and whining about every bit of work he has to do. I’m afraid we’re going to end the year on a bad note.

6. Science. My favorite geeky boy told me I was the best Science teacher they’ve ever had, because I explain things so students understand. Now, how can someone not teach that way?

7. Cliques. I will not end this experience with “friends of a lifetime” à la some summer camp or group vacation brochure. Is the cliquishness among the team indicative of age or is this just how adults naturally act when forced together?

8. Ants. I look forward to living somewhere where I’m not awakened by fireworks or firecrackers exploding at 4am. Also, I will not miss the itch of ants crawling over me.

9. Sex. I’ve ended the year by teaching Sex Ed. Of course the kids (and this teacher) are counting the days until school ends, and this is my best bet at getting their attention. It’s also the only topic I feel qualified to teach (get your mind out of the gutter, because experience would mean I’d feel more qualified to teach English) because I was one of those kids in high school who went to other schools to sing about condom use and act as the good witch Sister Syphilis.

This is also my chance for a little socio-political action, to spread messages that girls will not be harmed by masturbation, despite what doctors tell women; that both parties are responsible for protection and the outcomes of sex, despite the fact single motherhood is high and 25% of pregnancies happen to women under age 16; that if someone tries to pressure you into sex as proof of love, you kick that person to the curb because they are quite obviously an asshole and you can find someone better; and, BTW, folks, Miss theresa doesn’t care who you have sex with, or how, as long as you respect yourself, respect your partner—and respect includes protection—and all parties are willing.

I’ve received such wonderful and frank questions, which I attribute to my attitude of non-judgment, but perhaps questions about threesomes and porn and masturbating with car parts are normal conversation topics at this age. I wonder at times if I’m being too direct and open—the grossed out faces on the 8th grade girls when they saw the banana condom, the distressed look on a 7th grader when I responded to her question that the first time probably will hurt, but if she is relaxed and with someone she trusts, it will be easier—and I know, at times, that what I teach is directly counter to their parents and the Church. But they ask, so I tell. And next week we’ll discuss, briefly, homosexuality, in the context of love, because how does more love in the world hurt anyone? While this was on my not-so-secret agenda, someone did ask me, in an anonymous note, if it was “bad.”

With all the grades I did an exercise to prove the point that you have sex with everyone your partner has had sex with. I choose an innocent (ha!) volunteer and informed the class that this lovely person just had unprotected sex and now has HIV, but s/he doesn’t know. She had a great time last night and decides to have more unprotected sex. So she grabs another student, who now also gets HIV, then both have sex with new partners, the disease spreads, etc., until in about four days, all 10, 14, or 17 of the kids has HIV. This lead to a 9th grade braggart assuring me he will buy condoms after school (yes, I am sooo impressed by your sexual prowess) and a shocked expression on Antonio’s face as the exercise ended. Ultimately, I’m skeptical of my overall usefulness here, but if my teaching gets these kids thinking about who they share their feeling parts with and how, then it was worth it. If it encourages my girls to be strong when they’re pressured, because they will be, and makes them less afraid of learning what they like, then it was worth it.

On a related note, the 9th graders laughed when I told them that some schools in the US don’t allow sex education teaching. All grades also enjoyed practicing safe sock wear.

10. More cats. During the Parents’ Day celebration, a 9th grader gave me an itsy bitsy quite-obviously-still-needing-its-mommy kitten, because “Miss theresa likes cats.” Now, she first tried to pawn off the kitten on the Volunteer Coordinator, so it wasn’t a gift for me specifically. Despite my protestations that I couldn’t care for this kitten, it was left on my lap and my student and her father left. Fortunately, my geeky boy loves animals and together we were able to convince his mother to let him take it home to his bunnies and birds. The kitten is doing very well.

3 weeks to go,

theresa

P.S. Today’s picture is the winning project for 7th grade. These were very popular seats.

heat

Flawed human

I present to you my last two students:

Glisa

I worry about Glisa’s future. Many of the female volunteers do. Her 12th birthday was two weeks ago, but she looks older. One could say Glisa is too pretty for Honduras, because beauty leads to attention, and that leads to to trouble. After her last speaking exam, she and I chatted about her desire to study medicine in Cuba (apparently it’s good there?). I encouraged her with a full heart, because Glisa is such a bright girl, and told her that she’d have to be strong and push aside those that would stand in her way, like guys, because guys would try. She laughed. She knew what I meant, but she’s only 12.

I’ve heard that life at home is horrific, that the busito driver has pulled up to the house and heard her younger brother being whalloped by their stepfather. Last year, if not this year, Glisa came to school with stripes. While the younger kids share these wounds with the volunteers, the older ones don’t. I haven’t seen anything and she is rarely anything but cheerful, but I have pulled her aside to tell her that she doesn’t need to give the mid-parcial grade letter to her parents if she doesn’t want to. Glisa’s grades are not the best. She’s careless. She doesn’t study. She chatters constantly, like its an addiction she can’t kick. I shudder when I see her stepfather. Glisa adores her mother.

If she would steal Isabel or John’s focus, there’s nothing Glisa couldn’t do. She radiates light and joy and curiosity. She’s the only person to pester me with questions when interested in a science topic and her hand is usually the first when I ask for opinions. She’s the only 7th grader who (still) loves Justin Bieber and didn’t vote for Antonio in the school elections (he lost). Glisa is silly, with startling moments of maturity and clarity. She would also fit in easily in the US.

Glisa has a crush on Antonio, which everyone knows and he exploits. She hugs me most mornings. She is so hungry for affection and attention. It could be the homelife, or not. It’s this hunger that makes me afraid for her, because someone will prey on it. I want to protect her in a glass shell.

Lizz

After watching me talk with Lizz during recess one day, a volunteer questioned why I dislike her so much. Ouch. Awkward, egotistical, needy, self-concious, unpopular, and hopelessly obsessed with a boy who doesn’t know of her existence, Lizz has been hit with some of the worst characteristics of adolescence. Were I a better, stronger, more compassionate person, my own recollected wounds of those years would help me be gentle with her, but I’m not that person.

Lizz lies to me, carelessly, obviously, then denies it when caught. She disobeys my request that she not hit her cousin, John, and is disqualified from a game, then asks why she didn’t get candy when her team wins. I give her candy so she’ll just leave me alone. She’ll wave me over to her desk with a hushed “Miss, I have to ask you a question,” in such a way that I assume it’s a sensitive matter, but it’s something purely mundane, such as having her homework ready to turn in and I should praise her for it being early, despite her doing it instead of taking notes. Lizz is convinced she is the smartest, exclaims “Miss!” in a shocked tone over…what, I don’t recall, but nothing shocking…expects exceptions and special attention. I ignore her when she complains of illness, because I’ve heard her wolf cry too often.

At first I was able to meet her needs with sensitivity, but now I’m short, impatient, and snap. She’s just a girl, and no one deserves that, especially from a teacher. I don’t know if she notices, but I notice, and that’s enough to wound what is left of my soul. Tara is another recipient of my exhausted, impatient self. She notices.

My imagined soul is spongy like a liver and now shriveled, with decayed spots, like the heart with atherosclerosis I showed the older kids in science. When I am less than kind, or give deserved punishments, or litigate arguments over whose ball it is or who broke the pencil sharpener, a spot appears or darkens. I suppose it will heal, but I’d rather it never appeared in the first place. Ah, the pitfalls of being a sensitive and deeply flawed human. Maybe the damage is mitigated by hugs from the school’s baby dinosaur.

I remain,

theresa

Visual of a lesson plan

The rabbits hopped all night long

Some people were wondering how I make my magic:

First off, organizing this thing called teaching, would be a heck of a lot more difficult without my wonderful teachers from the Concordia University TESL/TEFL Certificate Program. Those women are idea masters, and while I’m sure they’d look at my lesson plans and find tons of areas for improvement, including my inability to set concrete objectives, I know I’d be doing worse without having basked in their wisdom for three weeks last summer.

I have an English curriculum but my kids are so behind that I’ve barely looked at it. We started the year by reviewing the present simple (Rabbits hop. Do you hop? They do not hop.), present continuous (Those damn rabbits are hopping!), past simple (The rabbits hopped all night long.), and the past continuous (While the rabbits were hopping, the students failed to understand this tense.). That carried us through the first two parcials. Now in the fourth parcial, we’re slogging through comparisons, including similes (She is as ugly as a monkey. My feet are smellier than your feet. They are the smelliest in the world!). Along the way we’ve started and quit Holes by Louis Sachar, a wonderful book but too difficult for my little bilingualites, studied parts of speech, basic sentence structure, the paragraph burger, spent an entire term on pronouns, and are about to explore the future simple and “going to.” We will probably wrap up the year with a review of prepositions. If this were third grade, I’d feel rather accomplished!

I’ve seen others’ lesson plans and can only drool at their simplicity—“Grammar tense,” “Do stuff,” “The End.” My memory is crap, as are my improvisation skills, which years of theatre games only reinforced. My lesson plans are detailed and color coded and written in Excel so I can have everything aligned and indented just right.

I plan my week around a short list of goals, usually a grammar tense, to be practiced in reading, writing, speaking, and listening (RWSL), and a specific writing skill, like paragraphs, and build my lessons from there. Starting with the third parcial, each day of the week has a certain task or skill area we always do. For example, we start every class with a Phrase of the Day to work on pronunciation and do an activity with that week’s vocabulary. Mondays always introduce new vocabulary; Tuesdays and Thursdays include reading a short story; Wednesday, a listening activity and review of troublesome sentences from the vocabulary homework; Thursdays, Bingo; and Friday, vocabulary quiz. Well, those are the goals, anyway. Inevitably, the activities take longer than anticipated and things get shuffled around, but the outline of the ideal week saves me so many hours of wracking my brain for a variety of activities that work on all the skill areas. The first two parcials found me floundering in a sea of how to fill my all of those minutes. Now, I still flounder, but less.

As for the day to day…here’s what it looks like:

Phrase of the Day: I found a TEFL site with silly limericks. We practice a line a day and then put it together at the end of the week. Pronunciation is tricky to practice because the kids feel self-concious about speaking alone, and I can’t correct them too many times or they retreat.

Vocabulary: There are only so many activities I can do. Some activities found online look fun, but I can’t imagine my kids understanding them or cooperating, or having the resources for them. But we have a staple, including the race-to-the-wall-to-find-the-paper-with-the-correct-word-once-Miss-T-has-read-the-definition-but-do-not-attack-your-competitor game.

Grammar: Look on the internet for exciting, limited resource, kid-appropriate activities, that will also accommodate their miniature attention span. Eliminate the numerous websites that promise “exciting worksheets,” an oxymoron if ever there were one. Consider low-tech alternatives to high-tech ideas. Consider prep time. Superlatives lead to a boon of activities the kids liked, including “Best of the Class.” The kids voted that Joe is the most handsome and romantic and that Kim and Jojo are the silliest. Krissy, by a landslide, is the strongest. An ideal activity can be exploited to cover more than one skill. Writing—students had to make a correct superlative sentence for their vote to count; speaking—students had to discuss with a partner if they agreed or disagreed with the results (not that the students ever talk in English unless I’m hovering over them); writing/paragraphs—students had to write about one of the results and why they agreed or disagreed with it. Later I might copy out some of the paragraphs and use this as a How to Improve Your Paragraph study.

If I can’t find useful ideas online or in my Azar grammar book, especially for speaking, I attempt to create my own, with varying success but almost always with slips of paper with drawings or words on them that the students have to pull from a pile to utilize in some way. Some work in reality, others, only in my mental classroom. As for worksheets, the few times I’ve downloaded them from websites, they’ve been for too difficult for the students, or just really bad, so I write my own, an exercise in tedium.

Tap dancing: In general, this is how I feel as a teacher, that I have to entertain my kids every moment. Be the most interesting thing in the room, make learning inspiring and dynamic, blah blah, all the responsibility is on me. I completely agree that a teacher should try to make lessons as interesting as possible, but the kids take this one step further and expect playtime. Sometimes I get that old fart feeling akin to the “When I was a kid we walked up hill both ways to school.” Boring or not, I/we did our work. I don’t remember my classes being activity filled. I don’t remember working for parties or behavior points. Yet, that’s what I’m expected (by the kids) to do, and if I don’t, all I hear are whines of “This is so boring” or “You never let us play football.” They’re kids, I get it. I take this all too far too heart. I’m not meant to teach kids at this level. What would it be like to teach people who wanted to be there? The occasional moment I hit on something they like is such sweet relief, this happiness, that learning or no learning, I want the moment to continue. I make note of the wins and failures and hope for the best.

As the end of the year nears, it’s tempting to just phone in the lessons, give them free periods, try to avoid bumps. But, like I tell the kids, I’m mean. Yes, it’s 100F outside and in, and I still expect them to know the difference between a noun and a verb. I refuse to be sorry. (Okay, I wish I were that firm…but I’m just so tired.)

Back to the whiteboard,

theresa

a horse eating snacks

Snacks and teachers’ meetings

In my previous life as a paralegal, I arrived at work by 730am, but rarely took my lunch before 2pm. This way, once lunch was done, I had less than two hours left in my workday. That half hour lunch was my oasis of relief, and the promise of less than two hours more of work served as my proverbial carrot (cake). Not very healthy.

Today, during our unending teachers’ meeting, a volunteer commented that she’d rather our communal breakfast were skipped or eaten while the meeting carried on, in favor of it ending earlier. This struck me as very U.S. American, with our business lunches and working breakfasts and networking happy hours. Let’s dilute a pleasurable activity by combining it with an unpleasurable one. Let’s squeeze more work in.

During his visit, my partner in crime, a.k.a. Jason, marveled at the Honduran love for snacks. Over the course of a three hour ride from Santa Rosa to Las Ruinas, our rapidito stopped to be boarded by snack vendors about five times. The vendors swarmed aboard or approached the windows and shook baggies of candied popcorn, mango slices, coconut water, sodas, and other unidentifiable-to-gringos juices and fruits, Despite the previous snack stop having been only an hour, half hour, or, in one case, five minutes, earlier, the vendors always found buyers. Meanwhile, Jason and I desired only that the rapidito reach the endpoint as quickly as possible.

Bus rides are boring and often uncomfortable if they’re at the full-to-bursting stage. Perhaps that’s why the vendors are so popular—a spot of pleasure. Teachers’ meetings are boring. But breakfast? A break in the monotony. In both cases, the totality of the event is extended, but there is a little good mixed in. Without the snacks or breakfast? It’s all just a slog.

A few years ago I read an anecdote about a road trip taken from one state to another. The original plan had been to drive straight through but somehow—a more spirited companion?—they’d gone the long way, through landmarks and sights, and the trip was longer but much more enjoyable than planned. The point was that the pleasure of the journey counts just as much, if not more, than how fast you get from here to whatever there you’re seeking. The how matters as much as the why and what. I think about this story often, in a literal sense, when I’m impatient to get to a location and a less than expedient route is taken, and in a figurative sense, as I take my winding route to what ever professional end I decide on. Here, asking a neighbor to borrow a chair begins with discussion of the day and weather and family, and eventually the favor is requested. Pleasure in the process.

My appreciation for the journey doesn’t extend so far as 8am teachers’ meetings, however. Today, the Honduran staff chattered and joked and teased each other for half an hour about the activities they would assemble for Dia del Idioma. A day that only they, and not the volunteers, are involved in. Meanwhile, the rest of us doodled. Nearly all discussions devolve like this, into bromas and chistes and unrelated segues, and the meeting is twice as long as it needs to be. Sure, there are volunteer-only lead events, but we discuss those at our own weekly meeting, which is much more focused but probably a lot less fun. Which is better? If we all enjoyed the diversions, if we were all friends, I’d wholeheartedly support the Honduran approach, but in this reality, my crank-o-meter rises the longer the laughter goes on. After all, the volunteers didn’t take up the meeting discussing what they would each make for International Day, as the Honduran staff did.

As I looked on from my side of the room, and, I swear, from a completely uncomfortable plastic chair and not from some perch of superiority and disgust, which seems to be the tone here, I caught a whiff of my classroom environment. The students understand lecture and note taking (not fun) and playtime (whoa! extreme chaotic fun), but not the grayer points between the poles, like discussion and structured hands-on learning, which often explode into chaotic play. It would be too strong to say that our teachers’ meetings are this way, but the reflection does pass through gently rocking waters. It’s obvious that so many of my challenges are cultural. The division between work and play is blurry. Part of the meeting was spent reminding the (Honduran) teachers not to play on their cell phones during classes. For the past several meetings, a reminder has been issued to the (Honduran) teachers that detention is not a time to chat and gossip with the students, which is why the volunteer teachers give out only lunch detention, which we supervise. Also, BTW, for the third time, detention has been moved out of the library and into a classroom, because the library is too small. And please make sure your kids clean up whatever mess they make during your art class, before the bell rings. And please stop letting the big kids out early for lunch because they trample the little kids. And Miss X, no wonder your son talks through my class because you have just talked through this entire meeting. The administration admits that they don’t separate personal and professional, so constructive criticism is a tripwire.

I can’t deny that during meetings like this, the thoughts cross my mind, No wonder the students act as they do. No wonder the country is so chaotic and behind. Act like grownups and get shit done! Ugh, knee-jerk moments of cultural snobbery. Or is it? Yes, it is, mostly. The Honduran culture seems very warm and social, where as the U.S. American is colder, more robotic. In the U.S., the project is more likely to be done by the deadline, but, in the meantime, I have no idea who I’m working with and didn’t have much fun. Here, the project will, inevitably, be late, but I’ll have made new friends who insist on bringing me treats when I’m sick (Vee recently had chikungunya). Both approaches have their advantages. Being socially awkward, I prefer the former, while feeling its hollowness. I’ve always struggled to balance pleasure with work, my scales tending to lean toward the latter, despite the river of silliness running through me. No doubt this is why I’ve chosen a partner whose scales favor the opposite.

This post is finished on Sunday, 12 April (posted two days later due to internet problems). I have exactly two more months of work here. While we don’t know (still!) the last day of school, the administration has told the extranjeros that 12 June is the latest date we’re expected to stay. My cool science fair idea is not possible due to a lack of rubbing alcohol, but my idea for Parents’ Day—have the seventh graders swarm the parents with handmade flowers—was received excitedly. I still don’t know what to make for International Day, but am leaning toward peanut butter refrigerator cookies. Also, horses are fans of snacks.

Moving along, slowly, steadily, sweatily, but never, ever suavely or smoothly,

theresa