Friday, September 10, 2010

"Toto, I have a feeling we're not in America anymore."

There are, of course, the obvious signs.

Like the fact that when I go to the grocery store I have to order in grams and kilos. Or the fact that there is a real, live rooster who crows outside my window every morning starting at 4:30 am (incidentally, the rooster's crow is followed shortly thereafter by the call to prayer from the local mosque, so it's a real cacophony of noises to contend with out there). Or the fact that the gas truck drives around playing a cheery whistling tune of Fur Elise every day, while the ice cream man abrasively shouts at the top of his lungs: "Booza! BOOOOZA!!"

But what I have been most amused with is not the every-day cultural and situational differences; but rather, how different it is to teach here. For starters, we are addressed by our first names, since the first name is the identifier in this culture (so I am "Miss Jessica" or "Miss Jess" or, sometimes, just "Miss"). And this is a good indicator of the comparative informality of it all. My students have my cell number and call when they need help with their homework assignments. They joke and converse freely with us in the halls and after school. We have them over to our apartments from time to time, and every week we all play ultimate frisbee together (though it's quite embarrassing when we play "teachers vs. students" and can't win). And often when I sign into my Facebook account, I will have a frantic student messaging me with something like "miss jess thank god ur online!" My favorite example so far has been this:

Kyle**: miss jess I can't figure out the online hw
Me: ok, why is that?
Kyle: im not sure which activity we have to do
Me: you were assigned Student Web Activity Chapter 1, Lesson 2. so go to the main website and follow the instructions I gave you for how to do those kinds of assignments.
Kyle: oh ok, I get it now. thanks a billion! ur awesome!!

and then later...

Me: Kyle.
Kyle: jessica.
Kyle: I mean, miss jessica.
Me: Good catch.
Me: I received your online quiz, but you didn't get 100. remember I told you, don't send it to me until it's all correct? you can take it as many times as you need to. I would suggest sending it to me again before I grade it.
Kyle: ok I will! thanks!!

The other comical part about it all is how I've so naturally stepped into the teacher role. Every time phrases slip out of my mouth like "Harley isn't the teacher; I'm the teacher" or "You can do that on your own time; not mine" I have to check myself to make sure I'm not looking as taken-aback as I feel. I even find myself falling into common teacher mistakes, such as my unfortunate affinity for the charming imp who, as much as his sarcastic comments should be a thorn in my side, always manages to soften me with his constant grin. (In some ways I suppose teaching is the same everywhere.)

The challenge, of course, where the teacher-student relationship is so strikingly different than in America (would YOU have played knock-out basketball with your high school teachers after school?) is how to effectively quell potential discipline issues in class. My first real victory in this area happened in class on Wednesday. While one of the high school classes was working on their study guides, Anthony, a bright, frustratingly-charismatic troublemaker, came up to my desk, took one of my whiteboard markers, and started writing on the board. Well, you have to pick your battles, and frankly, I was curious. So I feigned disinterest at my desk and waited to see what would happen. When I looked up, he had written 2 columns: "Lame" (where he had listed his classmates) and "Cool" (where he had written his own name several times). Slowly the class started looking up and uttering humorous exclamations of dissent. When the clamor had finally died down and the students were again working diligently, I walked up to the board, calmly erased Anthony's writing, and wrote, "Anthony is not as cool as he thinks he is." This elicited pleased laughter from the rest of the class and Anthony himself grinned and nodded in a concession. "Yeah, ok." Would this get me fired in the States? Potentially. Is it effective here? You'd better believe it.

Despite it all, I'm still enjoying teaching (yes, the Chin-Up Challenge is well under-way), and I have a sneaking suspicion that these students might just worm their ways into my heart. I can't wait to get to know them better. Keep praying that I would not only be a competent teacher, but perhaps more importantly, an effective mentor.

In other news, I've traded a class with Barrett. Starting on Monday, he will teach 7th grade Bible, and I'll teach 9th grade English. For a number of reasons, we thought the switch would play better into our strengths, and given my secret love affair with literature and poetry, I'm actually pretty excited about it. But it does mean I have to read "Lord of the Flies" this weekend to get ready to jump into class discussion on Monday. Hey, you gotta roll with the punches, right?

Many blessings,

**All student names in my posts will be changed to protect the innocent, or in some cases, the devious. As much as it kills me to change their names and Americanize them (thus losing some of their essence), at least this way I get to tell the stories.

A picture of some of my 11th graders practicing flossing in class:

My opinion is that Health class should be as interactive as possible. Props to Mac Photobooth for capturing this special moment.

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