Sunday, September 28, 2014

Never Too Cool for School

I’ve held off on writing about my school because it’s pretty difficult to write about. What can I say? I would like to provide an honest view of the school, but I can’t be too critical—I’m Facebook friends with my coworkers (hi if you’re reading!). Not everything is peaches & cream, obviously, or else they wouldn’t need me here. 

*Also, for the sake of privacy and safety, I will not be saying the name of my school or my village until the end of my time in Nepal.

Who I am teaching: I am currently teaching classes 1, 2, and 3 by myself. I have also become the “English Encyclopedia” to classes 9 and 10, which is lots of fun.

What classes are like: All of my primary classes start out with a chant (“Clap, clap, clap your hands; click, click, click your fingers; etc.). If I forget to start it, they remind me. Then we move into some sort of lesson. All of the classes are working on slightly different things, but there is still occasional overlap. Class 1 has a lot of phonics and penmanship. Class 2 has a lot of basic opposites, prepositions, and actions. Class 3 is a mixed bag, but we’ve spent a fair amount of time learning weather and directions. After the lesson, there may be a time of writing practice, followed by “fun time.” For class 1, fun time consists of songs and dances. Class 2 loves a game called “Run to the Board”—it’s exactly what it sounds like. Class 3 really enjoys drawing exercises. And all of the classes love doing the “Hokey-okey” (as they call it), or the “Hockey-Cockey” (as the British call it), or the “Hokey-Pokey” (as Americans call it). 

Available resources: Well, I have a whiteboard. And a floor. Can’t teach without that. The students sometimes have their own pencils and copies (notebooks). My principal gave me a box of pencils to distribute and collect, which helps a lot. But everything else—dry-erase markers, erasers, sharpeners, books, any teaching aids—come from me and my imagination. 

Problems: I’ll try to get this section with over quickly. Most of my problems stem from a larger one: I do not have any co-teachers in my primary classes. This in itself is okay, because it grants me the power to teach however I please. But it leads to some pretty hefty discipline issues. The kids run across the tops of the desks. They hit and punch and kick each other. On my first day, one boy tried to spit water on my back. I told him I’d stick his head in the rubbish bin if he tried it, which he then went and did voluntarily. Those problems are slowly dissipating as I gain their respect, but it will take a while. There are many communication snafus as well, because I’m struggling to learn Nepali. But worse, to me, is the beating stick. Or, should I say sticks: both because there are many, and because I break them in two whenever they come my way. I can’t stop the other teachers from using them, but I refuse to use them myself. 

*There was also a small incident involving a permanent marker and the white board, but  it’s amazing what rubbing alcohol can fix.

Students: How can I not love them? They’re kids. They crave attention and affirmation and love. They are so neat and seemingly pristine in their uniforms, until you look closely—holes, rags, dirt, caked-on snot, eye infections, rotting teeth, lice—but they’re beautiful, and full of vibrancy and potential. And they all have great hair. I’ve seen a few outside of school, and they wear filthy, ragged clothes as they play. I realized that their school uniforms are symbolic. They trade individuality and fun for sameness and the chance to escape from lives of poverty.
Teaching is difficult. It’s exhilarating and exhausting, and the only thing better than a perfect lesson is one where they don’t want me to leave, and they’re all smiling. 

One Last Thing: If I accomplish nothing else, at least I have taught all students between Nursery level and class 3 the fine arts of high-fiving, pinky-swearing, and fist-bumping.
*I use a lot of hand sanitizer.

We were missing kids, so I gave class 1 some dry erase markers.

They did pretty well, considering the fact they're all too short to really reach the board.

The principal is the man wearing the topi (hat) on the right.

They wanted high-fives, not photos.

On the left, one of my Kindergarten followers; on the right, one of my class 2 students.

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