Things just keep getting stranger. The school is already strange enough with its layout. The teachers are characters (both in a good and bad way). Also the school is half broken all the time: the internet usually doesn’t work, the toilets don’t have seats or toilet paper, half the computers are running Microsoft 2006, and once the water completely stopped running.
So we descended into more madness with a complete 360 with another teacher, a failure of technology, a complaint, and finally the ultimate bullshit. We’ll just break these into fun micro stories. (This is a long post but it’s the last I’m going to write about my school for a while so read it at your leisure).
A Complete 360
You maybe remember cool teacher. He was too cool to help with the first graders who understood nothing but was also this really good teacher. I left his class feeling like crap that the students hadn’t understood anything and upset he hadn’t helped. I was really dreading going to the next 1st grade class with him. But he ended up helping a lot, he translated things and asked questions to get them interested and actively learning. It was, as the title suggests, a complete 360. Turns out he had never worked with an assistant before. So last week he had probably been too nervous to help/didn’t know how we could work together. Now he had made coloring sheets so we could actually talk about how to work together.
We talked about what the upcoming holiday is: Columbus Day. No way. He handed out a coloring worksheet that showed pilgrims meeting the Spanish (we have the exact same coloring pages back at home). He talked about how Columbus landed in Puerto Rico 525 years ago on October 12th. Spain celebrates it every year because it changed everything for Spain (and everyone). Spain didn’t used to have tomatoes or potatoes, or wealth. “They didn’t have ketchup” he said.
“Mmm ketchup” a few kids said in the background, still coloring. They were learning through absorption.
We kept chatting and he kept apologizing for his fluent English. For a full time teacher who learned English as a hobby one year ago he was conversationally fluent. Unbelievable. All hail this teacher.
A Failure of Technology
On the first day teaching real lessons I brought home 5 serious viruses on my USB. So the 3 (three!) computers I plugged my USB into at school gave me 5 viruses. If my computer wasn’t brand new it wouldn’t have caught them. I’m still not sure if there is more we missed.
In the past I’ve mentioned I spend 5-10 hours on a powerpoint. I’m not exaggerating. In Korea I really did spend 20 hours a week making 3 powerpoints for the 3 grades. Now I have 6 grades and 12 different classes to prepare for and I’m spending about 2 hours per powerpoint. This is a powerpoint that will only be used 1 time but I get obsessive over it. Can the kids understand this? Better find a clear picture to demonstrate what I’m saying. I make fun elaborate games that are great but just so time consuming.
So this cannot continue. Overworking a powerpoint is a bad habit that I need to break. Not to mention the viruses are inevitable if I keep doing this. So I’m done. No more powerpoint, no more technology. I sat down to lesson plan and it took me 1 hour to think of activities for 8 classes. Boom. Easy.
Except everyone is already spoiled with the powerpoint games. So when I mentioned I’m not doing powerpoints anymore they told me “I have to” and “5 viruses really isn’t that much. Don’t worry about it.”
Someone commented on this blog that the teachers didn’t really show compassion towards students who got injured on the playground. They don’t show anyone compassion. The kids who fall or trip or sprain ankles are ignored. Kids who make mistakes in class are given a forceful “No!” with no explanation as to why it’s wrong. If a student makes a point or a comment they respond with a short “claro” (Clearly. Or that’s clear/obvious). So there’s no way I’m going to get any sympathy if a school virus completely destroys my home computer or stops me from working. They’ve said it loud and clear: having a virus or preventing a virus is no excuse for not doing your job the way I’m telling you to do your job.
The good news is I did a lesson without powerpoint and it went great. 3 different classes played Taboo (where you can’t say 1 word but can use other words to describe the word). We played it with science terms and they begged to play a second round. So it was more student centered than a powerpoint would’ve been and they used more English than just answering questions or playing games from my powerpoints. It’s a clear choice, just one they’re not happy with.
During a quiet moment my head-teacher asked me if I was settling in. “Not really.”
“Why not?” He said, surprised.
- I hadn’t seen all of my classes yet (with the holiday interrupting things).
- None of the teachers had even introduced themselves, and by now it is too late to ask “by the way who are you?” They all knew my name from the papers but never introduced themselves. They just said “start your lesson, now” and went to the back of the room. When I would try to catch them after class they would just disappear.
- No one knows what to do with me.The couple times they have spared a second to talk to me I’ve asked what I need to do to prepare for their class. “I don’t know just make a game.”
Oh. Okay. About what? Exactly? There’s a 70 page book with about 15 pages per chapter… what chapter? What page? What game? How long should the lesson take?
So to answer his question I said that I hadn’t really had a chance to talk to the other teachers and hadn’t even seen a few classes. Not to mention half my classes were substitute art/math teachers who just killed time.
“Also, one class doesn’t even have a teacher” I mentioned. I’ve gone 3 times. There isn’t a teacher. I’ve stuck around long enough to see no one ever comes. There is an empty class of 24 eight year olds alone for 45 minutes.
“Well that shouldn’t happen.” He said. Clearly.
“Anyway, I was talking with the other teachers and they had a complaint about you.”
“They say you never say goodbye to them after class and they think it’s rude.”
I laughed. “I do say goodbye. I’ve walked out of classes with them talking to them. We say goodbye.”
“Well they probably don’t hear you so you need to say it louder.”
Oh dear. How pitiful. Full grown adults who should be worrying about classes who have no teachers didn’t get told “goodbye.”
Half these teachers have literally walked away from me when I’m asking them questions. These teachers never even introduced themselves. These teachers don’t help in class or don’t really care about the kids. They’re upset I won’t be doing powerpoints anymore. And yet, their feewings are hurt I didn’t say “bye bye.”
I really have to laugh at this one. Of all the things that matter in this broken, broken school and it’s me not saying goodbye loudly enough.
The Ultimate Bullcrap
I want to recap things I say in every post but that I feel are necessary to repeat:
- It’s basically illegal for me to be in the room alone.
- Even if it isn’t illegal I cannot teach alone. So yes I can sit passively in a room, I guess. But I shouldn’t be teaching without a licensed teacher present.
- I don’t remember anything about science. I guess I haven’t said that in other posts but I’m teaching stuff I do not remember learning. Photosynthesis – phloem and xylem. Prokaryotic vs eukaryotic cells…. ?
- I also barely speak Spanish.
Combine all of those things at once and try to force me to do it. No. I draw a heavy line.
I walked into the same exact class I had been in the night before. This was the one with the teacher just killing time asking “what pets do you have” “what pets do you have?” I expected her or someone else to show up. But no, no substitute teachers were there. No one was there. I sat down in the back and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. Kids were throwing things and acting crazy.
25 minutes after the class was supposed to begin the principal and head of teachers (think vice principal) came rushing in.
“Oh thank god a teacher was here” one said in Spanish.
“What are you doing alkajdlfkajdlfkajdlkfj” the principal asked me pointing wildly.
“lakjdflakjdflakjfdlakdjf” he asked again. He looked angry that I didn’t know.
“What…. class?” the head teacher asked in English.
I showed him my schedule.
“It’s social science!” he shouted to the principal. Then to me, “do your lesson”
“I don’t have one. I’m supposed to just watch this week.” I mimed all this to help.
“She’s not prepared.” he told the principal.
“You’re not prepared?!” he said angrily. He opened a science book. He asked some kids what they were doing in it and flipped to the right page.
He brought it to me. “Teach this chapter!” He demanded. The book was all in Spanish.
“No uh yo…” I tried to think of how I could explain how that wasn’t going to work.
“Teach it” he said again forcing the book into my chest. I didn’t take it.
“No” I said forcefully this time. I’m drawing the line. I can’t and won’t teach this. I can’t speak Spanish on this level if you hadn’t noticed.
“She doesn’t understand me!” he told the head teacher.
I understand you fine. I wanted to say. You’re asking the impossible and being a real jerk about it.
“Just go back to the sala de profesores?” the head teacher said in Spanglish. Just go to the teacher’s room.
Gladly. I stood up to leave. The principal tried to stop me. He grabbed my notebook out of my hand and started trying to read it. I snatched it back from him. What was his problem?
“Just go” the head teacher ushered me out.
I’m a pretty prepared person. I prepare for all kinds of things that can happen in class. But wow. I didn’t think anyone would’ve ever expected me to teach a lesson in Spanish alone.
The next week I asked another teacher about it. I had to go to that class again and wanted to make sure a teacher would be there this time.
“So last week…” I explained everything. “Oh yeah I heard about that. (oh great) But don’t worry about it.” she said.
“Well the principal seemed pretty mad… (she said nothing to confirm or deny) Also I’m really not supposed to be alone in the room.”
“Yes they are quite naughty” she said, “but don’t worry, I can come to that class with you and you can do a summary of the whole chapter.”
Oh great, more work. So I worked all that afternoon to make a summary for the whole chapter. I hadn’t made the decision to go cold turkey on powerpoint yet so I wasted 2 hours making a powerpoint. The next morning I headed to that class, she wasn’t there. No one was there. So I went to her office, she, of course, wasn’t there. She wasn’t anywhere. I shoved the USB in, did a quick lesson and then left. Left them all alone in their room. Everyone else kept doing this. I’m not such a criminal for doing it too (even though it really freaks me out). I’m just so confused. What is even going on? How can you just leave a class of 8 year-olds alone for 45 minutes? They’re losing so much educational time. What the heck is wrong with everyone that they think it’s okay to not hire a substitute? They knew she was pregnant, they knew she would leave this month. How is this a surprise to them?
My school is unbelievable every day. It’s an adventure every day. Something new breaks or disaster strikes every day. I’m a little tired of the adventures but keep holding out that someday, maybe it will start feeling normal. Some days I go in with an attitude of excitement- what crazy shit is going to happen today? And then crazy stuff does happen and it’s entertaining. Sometimes, though, it’s exhausting and I’m starting to dread going (we’ll get that sub maybe next week??? That should help.) It’s also difficult to write about without sounding like I’m whining. I’m not I’m just struggling to deal with some of the curve balls. So we’re not going to write about school for a while.