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Published: February 17th 2008
Friday, I taught the worst class of my life. I hope. No, I’m pretty sure that nothing could top those 90 minutes. First, my arrival, 5 minutes late, followed by explaining to the guffawing faces that for the next 10 minutes, while I finished making photocopies, they should finish their homework, or talk to their neighbor, or erg. I ran out, sacar-ed my photocopias, then came back an explosion. “Shush!” I yelled, commanding as much authority as a disabled flea, then begged them to take their seats. A couple of them did. The rest yelled out “RUINAS!! RUINAS!!”
Going down to the Mayan ruins, which also serves as a soccer field and not so secret make out spot, is what every class wants to do. I usually give in, because lets face it, I also would rather read Garcia-Marquez in a lush field than a mildewed classroom.
But last night I had stayed up making a “Lets learn about Europe!!!” worksheet and PowerPoint. At 2 am it had seemed like a masterpiece—capital matching games, detailed maps, the empty spaces decorated with snazzy photos of the Eiffel tower and men in lederhosen.
“No, dears, you can’t learn about Belgium from the Ruinas!” I shouted, then realized that wasn’t true. I corrected myself—“I mean, you can’t see my slideshow from the Ruinas!”
“RUINAS!” Ugh. All I could do was give them my “shut up now” stare—the one where I pass from face to chattery face until five minutes later the room is less riotious.
“So.” I said. Nice and slowly so even the ones sending each other text messages could understand. “So. Today we’re going to learn about Europe. But first, turn in your notebooks with your homework to me.” They all ran up to the front and shoved their 34 notebooks into my face. I stuffed them into my colossal teacher-sack, and then realized they needed the notebooks in order to complete the worksheet. So I handed them back, one by one (I still only knew about 10 of their names).
“And Seño!” they yelled, once they all had received their notebooks, “what about the maps we drew and the Brazil project.” Right. In the rush, I had forgotten to hand back their assignments, that ‘first task’ of the classroom rhythm I was supposed to develop according to my So You’re A New Teacher? book. I had three assignments to hand back, and of course, I hadn’t taken the time to organize by student. By the time I had finished that, 45 minutes of class had elapsed.
I wish I could say that half the pain had been experienced. Now it was time to hand out the worksheets I had written so skillfully. Unfortunately, I hadn’t had time to arrange them either. They were all there, but I had four piles of page 1 and 2, page 3 and 4, ecetera. So I went up to each child in the room of 34, and handed him page 1, then page 3, then page 5, then page 7. This took a devastating 15 minutes, in which my darlings took advantage of to shout of “RUINAS RUINAS” until I cursed God for creating sound, and when I frowned, they screamed, “SENO--ERES MALA ONDA” a euphemism for ‘teacher-you’re an incompetent human being.’
I couldn’t disagree with them. By then, we had 30 minutes left to watch my slideshow and complete the 10 page worksheet. Only the front 10 children could see anything but blur from my slideshow, and even they seemed uninterested in the export products of Portugal. The only amusement came when I turned to slide number 7 and announced in my exclamation point voice, “Now, for another small country—Luxembourg!!” Explosion of laughter. Luxembourg in Spanish, is Luxemburgo. Luxemburgo. They screamed the word over and over again, so loud they heard it down by the ruinas. I couldn’t hear myself think until I clicked to slide number 12 about Helsinki.
What saved me was page 2 on the worksheet, the capitals word search game. Apparently, Guatemalan children love their word searches; during the last 15 minutes of the class, they were silent and smiling. And they each found the 7 capitals by the time the bell rang… except that boy who got held back a year, who hadn’t found a single one.
One of my roommates, at dinner that evening, recounted the phone conversation she had had with her sister that afternoon. “I know exactly how you’re feeling!” the sister had said. “ I was a new teacher two. There are three phases. Phase I, you’re excited. Phase II you’re disillusioned--”
“I’m in that one!” I blurted. I hadn’t realized this until that moment. But after a week of teaching 25 hours while suffering from the flu—that’s exactly what I was. The children hated me, I was convinced. And I couldn’t blame them for it. I had been cranky, vapid and somber.
“So,” I mumbled, “what’s the third phase?”
“Apparently it gets better after that,” my roommate assured me. I didn’t have the courage to ask when that would be.
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