Schedule, Standardized Tests, and Stars

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January 11th 2013
Published: January 11th 2013
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Evidence that potty humor is universal: Some of my fourth grade boys were sweeping the steps of the school (all the students participate in basic chores). As I walked past on my way back to the guesthouse where all of the volunteers stay, they surrounded me whispering that I should tell one of the other boys a word in Tamil. They assured me that it was a sign of respect. Positive that they were up to something I told <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">them the word rather than directing the potentially offensive phrase at the innocent bystander. They immediately broke out laughing. Finally, they told me, the word did not in fact indicate respect, but meant… fart. I could hear their continued giggles the entire way from the steps to the door of the guesthouse.

I am back to my room for a bit before my last class of my first week (although not a whole week). The schedule here is rigorous, but I glad I started teaching right away. I think having a regular schedule, goals and tasks, and regular interactions with the other teachers and my students has helped me feel more at home than I expected to feel in the first week.

The day starts at 6:30. The older students have prep time in which they finish homework and study. The younger students have PT, when they play soccer, basketball, and other games. Today was my first time leading PT. It was a lovely way to wake up. The sunrises here are beautiful. A haze, clinging to the thick trees, settles over the lower land around the school. As the sun rises, color seeps into the gray sky. The air is cool and smells fresh and earthy.

At 7:30, breakfast is served. It usually has consisted of a grain like rice or (today) ground wheat, a curry sauce, and an egg. The fried eggs are especially tasty. Slightly sweet, which is a nice match for the curry. Nothing has been terribly spicy, in fact not as spicy as some of the Indian food I’ve had in the States, but it is certainly spicier than what I usually have for breakfast. There is also tea or coffee, both with lots of milk and <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">lots of sugar. It is like dessert. Like if you melted ice cream and heated it up. I miss my strong coffee with a pinch of sugar, but the sweetness of the drinks is nice since there isn’t dessert.

After breakfast, there are three class periods, followed by a morning tea. The children drink tea and sweet lentil porridge. Morning tea is followed by a daily assembly. The school recites a beautiful, non-sectarian prayer, and, on Fridays, sings the Indian national anthem. Then some of the older students present news stories from around the world. After hearing the stories, the other children are encouraged to ask questions. On morning, when students had few questions, Dr. George, the founder and head of the school scolded them telling them the importance of forming opinions and of thinking critically about what they read and hear. Although he is much sterner with the children than I am, it is clear how much he loves them. He has earned their respect not from fear, but from love and high expectations. After the news, Dr. George speaks. He speaks to them candidly about problems at the school and around the world. All of the students, even the young ones, know about the recent rape in Delhi. The last several days, assembly has been a time at which students could ask questions and process the horrible event. In a meeting, Dr. George told me that it must seem shocking to me, but he believes the children must know about the entirety of the world if they are to live in it. To protect them, we must inform them. I appreciate his devotion to the students and his belief in their ability to understand more than many.

After assembly, the students return to two periods of class before lunch. Both lunches and dinners have been delicious. Almost always, there is rice and curry again, but also tasty side dishes like carrots with finely shredded coconut, fennel, ginger, and red pepper. Also, beat and onion salad, a green bean coconut dish, and a flat bread somewhere between the naan I’ve had in the States and tortillas. After lunch, there are three periods before afternoon snack. In the afternoon, the older students have PT, while the younger students complete their homework and do chores. From 5 to 6, the students bath and relax. Before and after dinner, the older students study and the oldest have more classes. After dinner, the young ones get ready for bed and a volunteer reads them a bedtime story. The older students study until the power goes out around 9 or 10.

When I write it all out, it makes me feel a bit better about being so tired at the end of the day. We have a long weekend as the region is celebrating a harvest festival (in January!!!). I hope that by the beginning of next week I will be better rested and have a better sense of the direction I want to move with my classes.

My 12th graders are preparing for a huge standardized test. Imagine the SATs, except it is more important as that is the only academic component of a college application, and it is more knowledge based. When I arrived, the Vice Principal told me that the 12th grade was struggling with writing. While they might know the information, they weren’t able to communicate it in an organized and effective way. Over the last several days we have practiced how to construct a topic sentence, present evidence, and explain analysis. It was frustrating at first and I felt out of my dept. I have never taken a class about how to teach writing. I have not even taken a writing class, as I tested out of my freshman level writing course. Moreover, because of the test for which they are preparing is so important and so different from American tests, I am worried that I will teach them to write an answer that will not get them the best grade. But as I have gotten over jet leg and as I have gotten to know the students and test better, I feel more capable of the task. It has been good to have a goal and a challenge. I feel excited for class, excited to find ways to help them understand. It is such a great feeling when one of my students repeats a metaphor I used the day before. I am proud (and amazed) that I thought of something they can remembered.

My 11th grade class is not quite as focused, as they do not have a text bearing down. It has taken me longer to find structure for my lessons. A low point of my week was when a student fell asleep. I know from my years of being a sleepy student that this is not necessarily my fault, but I still felt embarrassed and inadequate. Hopefully within the next couple of weeks I will find a way to connect with them and wake them up.

My theatre classes are fun and crazy as expected. There are many students and the room is small. But what could be better than pretending to be a gorilla with a bunch of laughing children, even if it is difficult to quiet them down for instructions. I only wish I had the classes more regularly. I don’t feel like I know them yet, but I suppose that will come in time.

It is night now—a while since I started this entry—and I am back in the school building, so I can post this on the internet. No internet in the guesthouse. I look forward to walking back after closing down my computer. The air will be cool and soft. Insects will buzz, but bite surprisingly little (only three bites so far!). And I will look at the stars. Have I mentioned the stars? They are breath taking. Although not as many as in Montana, they are still bright and clear away from lights of any city or town. The big dipper sits differently in the sky, but is still the big dipper. It makes me happy to think that in less than 12 hours everyone back home will be looking up at the same stars. I look on the giant wall map, which hangs in the main room of the school building, and I can’t believe the distance I have covered. But when I talk to the children, who are so much like the children at home, and when I look at the stars, home feels so close I could blow a kiss and you catch it.

Thankful for…

The SATs (I can’t believe it)

All the good teachers I have had

Noisy children

The stars


12th January 2013

wonderful! So descriptive. What a great adventure. Write more. Great Incite into life where you are.

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