Miss Teacha

Growing up, my sister and I were like most children; we played pretend. Among our favorite scenarios were house, treasure island, and The Three Musketeers (inspired by our love for Leonardo DiCaprio after seeing Man In The Iron Mask and Titanic). The only game we wouldn’t agree on, however, was school. I’d make Devon be the student, using stuffed animals for classmates, and have her ask questions and complete assignments. Of course, my only living student did not share my enthusiasm, and the game always ended abruptly.

Years would pass, and as I began collecting a variety of experience working with kids, my mom made an unwavering prediction. “April,” she’d persistently prophesize, “you’re going to be a teacher when you grow up.” Every time I heard this, I would reply with the same answer; “No, I won’t.”

But what’s that old saying, again? How does it go?

Oh yes: Mother is always right.

1441496_10152117749827150_750708971_n

While the Peace Corps has provided me with a large number of firsts, this is not the first time I’m playing the role of teacher, and if I’m to be perfectly honest, I had my “ah ha” moment a long time ago. I’ve worked as a camp counselor, a horseback riding instructor, a gymnastics coach, a religious school youth group leader, and a substitute teacher.

But even in all my prior experience, there’s still so much about this role that is new to me. For example, instead of following lessons left behind by another teacher, I am writing the lessons. I am no longer a faceless substitute, swooping in for a day or two at a time and having to relearn all the student’s names. Nay, I am the full-time teacher, and I get to spend an entire year with them.

Now that I’m a teacher, I catch myself repeating lines I heard from my own school days. Things like, “I’ll wait until it’s quiet,” or, “Sound it out.” I feel a sense of divine power when I give out stars for good behavior at the end of class time. And certain mysteries, like, how did she know which student wrote the test answers on the desk?, have suddenly become clear. (Just match up the handwriting; it’s so obvious I don’t know why I never thought of it before!)

As rewarding as being a teacher is, it’s also a lot of hard work. I write all my own lessons, make up activity pages, and have to grade homework and spelling tests. Consider the amount of prep work I put in for one class, and multiply it by the five different levels I’m working with. Some weeks I don’t sleep.

Classroom management is also a challenge, particularly in a culture where corporal punishment is still widely practiced. Though I’ve implemented a behavior system with rewards and consequences, it’s sometimes still difficult to maintain control without at least brandishing a ruler at them. This is one part of my job that will not miss when I leave Jamaica. I would never hit a student.

Christa-McAuliffe-Teacher-Quoteteacher_quotesTeacher+Printable+5

But the pros far outweigh the cons, and for someone who was reluctant about being a classroom teacher up until the very moment she became one, I’m having a pretty good time. I’ve laughed at my student’s jokes, and cried with them during times of hardships. I cheered for them when they ran the Jamaica Day Marathon and shared in their pride when they passed the Grade Four Literacy Exam after three tries.

I’ve gotten to know my students, both academically and personally. I know what they are capable of, and know where they are challenged. I can tell you that the troublemakers are the sweetest ones at heart, and I always know when someone gets some extra help on their homework.

I think the most beautiful thing about being a teacher is watching your students grow. Overnight, they’ve become taller. I look at my sixth grade boys and I suddenly see young men. My third grade girls now move with the grace of young ladies, rather than the clumsiness that comes with being a child. I’ve witnessed improvement in their self-esteem, and of course, their reading ability.

We only have a few weeks left of school. As I begin wrapping up the year and thinking about the next one, I also find that I keep asking myself one question: is this the career for me?

Mom predicted I’d be a teacher, and she wasn’t exactly wrong. Whether I’m in the classroom, in the middle of a riding arena, or on the gymnastics floor, I’ve been teaching. Every job I’ve had has included the transfer of skills from instructor to pupil. Now that I think about it, I can’t imagine having a job in which I am not working with kids.

Children are so impressionable! They see the world through a different light, and if we listen carefully, there is so much that they can teach us. Children are creative; they believe in miracles and magic, and they don’t know the meaning of hate or prejudice. Most importantly, there is nothing more incredible than witnessing that moment when a child finally learns something new. Their face lights up. Their eyes grow wide. The smile overcomes their face and you can literally see the joy and excitement pour out of them.

And there is nothing more rewarding than that.

IMG_1399

Advertisements

Murphy’s Law

Murphy's Law

“The school’s projector doesn’t work very well, but you can use mine. I have good speakers too.”
“Great, thanks! Can I lock them in my classroom so I’ll have them when I get to school tomorrow?”
“I have to teach an early class tomorrow, so I’ll be here.”

Of course, he wasn’t.

I got to school at a quarter after eight, figuring how-to-train-your-dragon-poster-1that forty-five minutes was more than enough time to set up for the movie. My students had spent the last two weeks reading a story about dragons, so I wanted to treat them by showing the Dreamworks film, How To Train Your Dragon. I was excited; this was the first time I was showing them a movie, and I knew they’d really enjoy this one. I wanted to make sure I got to school early enough to set up, and iron out all the kinks before 9am. At an hour and a half in length, that would give us enough time to watch and be finished by Break.

Without Sir’s projector, I was forced to see if I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the other one. I pulled it out, plugged it in, and turned it on. It seemed to work just fine, so I brought it to the library and began my set up. Projector in place and functional, next I needed a computer. Thanks to Apple’s brilliant product scheme, the projector would not properly connect with my laptop, so I needed to track down one of the school’s PC’s.

Okay, PC laptop: check.
Projector: check.
Extension cord? Yeah, I definitely need that. Let’s go get it.

Time: 8:30

As luck would have it, the extension cord was not where it was supposed to be, so I needed to track that down as well. I asked several teachers, and ten minutes later, finally had it in my possession.

“What about speakers?” I asked. “I am showing this to twenty-four students.”
“They should be in the office. You didn’t see them?”
“No.”
“Hm. Who had them last? Go ask Miss and see if she knows where they are.”

This Miss didn’t know, but maybe that one would. Nope, she didn’t know either; go ask her. “I haven’t seen them, but I think they are in So And So’s classroom.”

Time: 8:58

meme-face-thinkingBy five after nine, I had the speakers in my hands and returned to the library. Thrilled that I was only five minutes behind schedule, I pulled them from their box… and discovered a power plug.

Of course they need to be plugged in, I thought grimly, looking at the wall with only two outlets, and both of them occupied. Can I unplug the computer and let it run on battery? The computer quickly powered down. Guess not.

I need a power strip.

So once more I return to the Principal in search of a power strip, hoping this won’t take me another ten minutes, or that the school even has one. Fortune was with me, but not with the school’s bursar, who had to give up all use of her computer by handing over her electrical unit. Thanking her, and apologizing profusely, I hurried back to the library.

Time: 9:15

As quickly as I could, I unplugged and replugged everything, then rebooted the computer and the projector. As I ran through one more mental checklist and performed a final test for functionality, I heard the distinct grumble of Sir’s car as it entered school property.

PC laptop: check
Projector: check
Speakers: check

Time: 9:23

All systems are go.

In a hustle now, I swiftly collected my students and ushered them into the library. Once they were settled in their seats, I stood before them and smiled. “I am so excited to show you this movie,” I prefaced. “I know how much you liked our dragon story, and I think you’ll really like this movie too. In class, I asked everyone a question; I asked what you would do if you saw a dragon. Some people said they would run from it, and some people said they would fight the dragon. But one brave person,” I winked at that student, “said he would pet the dragon. That said, this movie is called How To Train Your Dragon. I hope you enjoy it!”

I moved aside and pressed play.

Thirty seconds in, when the film’s narration begins, there were sound effects, but no voices. Panic raced through me, but I was tech savvy, so I was confident I could fix this. I quickly paused the movie, apologized, and began pouring over the VLC Media Player settings. After five minutes, and watching my students grow rowdy, I conceded that this might be beyond me. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong! I sent a student running to get Sir. He took his time sauntering across campus, clicked two buttons, and smiled at me before heading out. Back in business, I breathed a sigh of relief, and restarted the film.

A very short time later, someone knocked softly on the library door. Stepping outside, I greeted the Principal.

“Is everything working now?”
“Yes, finally.”
“Good. I am glad you are getting through. I wanted to remind you about the special presentation today. I’m sure you got the notice that went around yesterday?”
“No… I never got a notice.”
“Oh, my apologies. Anyway, there is a special presentation today at Eleven. And you remember that today is an early dismissal day?
“Yes, that I remembered.”

“Miss! Miss!” I heard from inside. We both stepped into the library, to find the screen dark. The projector had finally given up.

Time: 9:50

e84453ed_Are-You-Fucking-Kidding-Me-Rage-Face-Meme-Template-Blank-300x295

The master of delegation, I sent the same student back to Sir’s room to get his projector.

At 10:30, the students heard the bell for break, and lost interest in the film.

By 10:50, I began my slow descent into madness. My students finally returned from break and were settled in their seats to resume the film, when the library door opened again. Without acknowledging me, six older boys poured into the room, demanding that my students stand up so they could take the chairs. Livid, I put my foot down. “Excuse me! You knock when you see a closed door, and if you need something, you ask me, the teacher. You don’t just barge in and do whatever you please!”

brunette_rage getting pissedTaking things one step further, I sent the boys away and instructed my students to take the chair they are sitting on and bring it to the pavilion, and to make sure that they each bring one chair back afterward, so that we could finish the movie.

But the presentation went longer than expected, and I knew finishing the movie that day would be impossible. My students, however, eager and excited, did not want to take no for an answer. They did as they were asked, brought back the chairs quickly, and promised they wouldn’t make a mess eating lunch.

Meanwhile, the extension cord had disappeared – turns out they needed that for the presentation too – and the Bursar needed her power strip back so she could get her work done. Other students were trying to sneak in so they could watch the movie too, my students wanted to go to the bathroom, all of them wanted their lunch, and two boys were suddenly wrestling violently on the floor. If that wasn’t chaotic enough, a parent showed up to talk to me about her son, and Sir’s car rolled into view with a honk. “Are you ready to go?” he shouted.

When the hell did it get to be 1:30!?

I don’t know how I did it (PTSD clouds my memory) but I managed to survive the tornado and make it off school grounds in a timely manner. I can’t say much for my sanity, though, and as soon as I reached home, I collapsed on my bed. Tears spilled from my eyes – either from stress, or relief that the day was done – and my final thought before I drifted off for a well-deserved nap was that I needed to change Bowser’s litter.

I woke up to find a fresh, rancid turd in the middle of my bedroom floor.

1375728723_picard-facepalm

What I Came Here To Do

Screen shot 2013-10-09 at 6.06.57 PM
Finally, I can begin!

After seven months in Jamaica, and five of them as a volunteer, it is only now that I am able to begin what I came here to do. And because I spent the first three weeks planning, I was able to jump straight into my lessons after ESC.

Regardless of my preparations, I was still swamped under a ridiculous workload. My week consists of meeting with each group twice, taking into account planning between sessions, school-wide schedule changes (like an unexpected early dismissal), and reminding teachers of which students to send and at what times. To top it off, even though I’d made a decent set of activity sheets for each lesson, I didn’t remember to label them properly, and returned to school with a mess of my own making to sort out.

Screen shot 2013-10-09 at 5.59.00 PMMy first week was exhausting. And because every class did the same thing for the first lesson, I felt like a broken record by Thursday. Luckily, my schedule allowed for a Friday without students, so I was able to get some more planning work done, and then spend the weekend on hiatus.

Meanwhile, week two (the week we are currently in) picked up at a great start. Most of my students behave well enough, and lessons, for the most part, are going as planned.

But adjustments always need to be made, so flexibility is a major part of the job. I’ve already scouted out some potential changes to my groups and have had to make some alterations in lesson plans. Additionally, I’ve been able to iron out a couple of small details to help make my life easier, like giving each child a post-it with their days and class times on them, and asking them to help remind their teachers that they need to come see me. This, at least, eliminates my need to constantly remind or come fetch my students, and it provides them with a feeling of responsibility.

kids

This week also marks the beginning of my Reading Club, which is held after school on Thursdays. Due to limited resources, and because asking children to read additional pages might pose as a challenge, the Reading Club consists primarily of games to help reinforce the fundamentals. Some of the materials I’ve made for my students turned out to be perfect for this. Things like Sounding-Out Dominoes or Rhyming Bingo, Matching (or Memory) with uppercase and lowercase letters, and even introducing Hangman was a great success. I’ll continue with this club for a few weeks, and then try something new. I have an idea for a Writing Club, and another idea for a Study Hall, which, if all goes well, has potential to evolve into something bigger and more permanent.

DSCN1272One of the teachers at school has also noticed some of the materials I’ve made, and has requested help with some materials of her own to help her struggling students. She understands the importance of reinforcement through repetition, and hopes that these students (I have six from her class) can continue to improve on their reading even outside my classroom. This teacher and I have partnered together for our Reading Club, and she will lend a tremendous hand with my Library Improvement Project.

Speaking of projects, the school has voiced its desire for a computer lab, and since ESC was partially about secondary projects, I will begin the plans for that as well. I’ll be working with the teachers, ancillary staff, and other members of the community to help establish a functioning computer lab with Internet, as well as incorporating a computer class into the curriculum. Of course, all these things take time, so when there is an update on my projects, I’ll be sure to include it.

All in all, despite how much I am already accomplishing, there still seems to be an endless to-do list, both at school and in my personal life. My bedroom floor is in desperate need of a good sweeping, I’m overdue for a load of laundry, and busy tracking down missing care packages or arranging for those that have arrived to be picked up or delivered. I’m keeping up with friends back at home through Skype, email, Facebook and my blog, and making Halloween plans with PCV friends around the island. Let’s not forget my dedication to lose the weight I put on during the summer. That includes a regular workout routine, and the necessity to stop being lazy and actually cook myself a decent dinner. Which, if we’re being honest, hasn’t happened yet this week.

The Sixth Grade girls drew this for me
The Sixth Grade girls drew this for me
(left) Letter Tiles, (right) Sounding Out Dominoes
(left) Letter Tiles, (right) Sounding Out Dominoes