Friday, October 8, 2010

Adventures in Teaching

Without a job, the days become long and all blur together into an insipid pile of days, weeks, and even months.  After several months of working as the Girl Scout coordinator, I was ready for something with a little more of the 9-5 routine. I had heard that the high school was interested in hiring me as a classroom teacher. They are always looking for teachers and are eager to hire anyone willing to put up with Yap’s teenagers.  I attended the graduation ceremony in June and met the principal.  A few weeks later I went to the high school and met with him, for what can only be described as the world's easiest and shortest job interview.

“You have a bachelor’s degree?”

“Yes, in psychology.”

“We would love to have you work here! You are a Godsend. Fill out this application and we will get a contract written.”

Yes, he used the word Godsend! A few weeks later a contract was dropped off at the house. On August 2nd,  I began lesson planning and prepping for school to start on August 23rd. Luckily, a fellow expat that we know had been teaching the class I was assigned, tenth grade English, and gave me many of his materials from last year to get me started. 

Classes began on August 30th, after a week postponement due to a teacher shortage, with the first week being half days. At the beginning of the year we were down eight teachers. They have since filled a few of the vacancies, and have several volunteers filling the remaining positions. The half days provided just enough time to do some orientation (for both me and the students) activities.  Being a novice teacher, I needed as much orientation time as possible!

I had one day during the first week where a lesson plan I had written about study habits, test and note taking tips, and a self procrastination quiz filled the time perfectly. The lesson flowed, and while I wrote things on the board I smiled to myself.  So far, this has been the pinnacle of my teaching experience and it gave me the ardor I needed to feel confident enough to teach. I kept wondering if I had just accidentally added another possible career choice/grad school area of study to the growing list. 

Just as with my previous job, there is no typical day. Yes there is a bell schedule, I see the same 145 students each day, and I do teach English in some form or another. But each day the class order is different. I am not sure for the purpose of this, but I do have a few observations. Each day begins with home room, period 1.  On Mondays the classes go in numerical order 1-6. On Tuesday I have my homeroom class, but then I have class #3, 4, 5, 6, and then 2. Each day the second class gets dropped to the end of the next day.  Besides sometimes causing confusion on my part, it changes things up a bit.  The kids get to see me at different times of the day, when I, and they, are more alert, or more relaxed and just ready for the day to be over.  It also helps because the same poor kids don’t get stuck in my classroom in the mid-day heat each day.  I have conceded that I will never get this down, and will always have to refer to the schedule to know who is coming through the door next!

My classroom gets extremely hot starting around 10am. It sits low at the bottom of a small hill, and up against a greenbelt.  The building that my classroom is in is a row of four classrooms, ala strip mall style.  DSCN1043 It is a cinder block structure with slatted windows similar to the ones in our house, a cement floor, and has a tin roof. My room in this picture, is the one with the open door (room #7). There is no breeze in the room. Ever. At the beginning of the year I had four (and a half) functioning fans in the room. I claimed one for myself.  My argument is I’m stuck in there all day, they get to leave after 45 minutes! I positioned the other fans around the room as diplomatically as I could.  One fan was only considered a half, becauseDSCN1041 even on full power it barely kept itself turning.  My classroom is rather pallid, but I have discovered that the kids will write on or destroy anything they can get their hands on! I did put up a quote board on the back wall that contains some of my favorite and somewhat inspirational quotes.

One day I didn’t feel like giving them the reading assignment I had planned (read: didn’t feel like grading yet another round of papers that week), so instead I decided to give them a study period for the following day’s quiz.  They all were very grateful to hear that they could “rest” and study, or hang out as long as they behaved. I have discovered that these hang out days are crucial to their and my sanity alike. I chatted with the kids, graded papers, and just kept an eye on the kids. Many wondered outside to spit out their betel nut, and occasionally strayed to another classroom where other kids were doing the same. I would go outside to herd them all back towards my class, and when I returned, a fan would be taken apart.

It started with the outer shells of the fans being removed, as many of the kids claimed they were too dirty to keep the fans working properly. This action in itself made the fans stop working correctly, which gave the kids the opportunity to play with them. I do have some very handy kids, who at one point had fixed one of the fans. This time they just dismantled them.  I then had to spend the rest of the class collecting fan parts from kids. Cut electrical cord, fan blades, the metal pole that is the stand for the fan…. You name the fan part, I hid it in the corner by my desk. By the end of the day the only fan standing was mine. And they complained it was hot in there before! I might see if one of the maintenance men can reconstruct one or two from the scattered parts one day, but for now, the kids suffer!

I have been given a basic curriculum, and a few old text books to use as reference, but the day-to-day lesson planning is up to me. I recently ran out of my pre-done plans that I created during August, and now rush everyday to create a relevant lesson plan with the meager resources I have. Most days I enjoy the challenge and freedom this allows, but some days I wish I had pre-established lesson plans to use, or even a textbook for the kids!  I do have a “class set” (62 books) of a reader full of short stories, poetry, and a play. I find that the kids have a hard time fathoming how these stories relate to their lives, and sometimes are angered by how they are American textbooks, written for American kids.

Everyday the limits of my patience, kindness, and sanity are tested. I both dread and look forward to each day. I know I am growing as a person with each day I teach teenagers, but I think it will take me a long time to get used to the daily incessant clamor they create that is now my life.

Signed one exhausted teacher,


P.S. The red words are a selection of the vocabulary words I am using in my class, created from a book filled with words used on the SAT. Each week I assign them ten words to learn. I have tried to incorporate these words into my daily conversation as much as possible. Consider these YOUR vocab words for the week! Look the words up and use them to impress your friends! Do as your Sensei says! Thanks to the Japanese, the Yapese word for teacher is sensei.

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