"My soul is elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there." -- Rumi

Friday, February 15, 2013

Teaching, First Impressions

How do I say this diplomatically?

I've just completed my first week teaching in Istanbul.  I was assigned 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders.  No, they don't speak English.  No, I don't have an aide.  And yes, it is extremely difficult.

It has not been an easy week.  My school itself is great.  The teachers have been all that is kind and friendly and supportive.  In particular, the school's existing native-speaking English teacher has been an utter lifesaver more than I could ever say.  My commute from the Dumpy Apartment sucks rocks -- just under an hour door-to-door.  (Hoping to move closer by at least half, as soon as possible!)  But the school gave me an incredibly awesome perk -- I have Mondays off!  Hello three-day weekends!!!

But when I am at school -- a very full schedule as five days worth of classes has been compacted into four -- it is a nonstop, busy, hectic, confusing whirlwind.  And the same little students that I see sitting like angels for their Turkish teachers erupt into a Ritalin commercial the second I walk into a room.  Seriously, not being able to shout in Turkish has been a massive, gigantic handicap.  Without exaggeration, I have shouted "Sit Down!", "Be Quiet!" and "STOP!"  more times this week than in the rest of my life put together.  I am exhausted.  And was very, very ready for that last bell of the week today.

When you are locked in a battle of wills with a 1st grader, over the matter of him handing over his drawing of an explosion (when he was supposed to be drawing his family), it's difficult to keep perspective, to not take things personally.  It's difficult not to doubt yourself.  I was feeling exceptionally low on Thursday afternoon, after two very draining classes in a row.  But then the school's other female English teacher -- who's been there for years -- came and found me because she was also having a hard day.  Just sitting there and hearing her voice the same exact frustrations I was feeling did wonders for me.  Because you can't take it personally.  These kids don't know you from Adam.  They're just kids, and no teacher is going to be able to undo a young lifetime of behavioral programming over the course of two or three hours a week.

Here's something I learned about myself while in Georgia.  I like teaching.  I'm even good at it, when I'm given the chance.  My MOJ adults and I had a wonderful time together, and I really do think I was able to teach them stuff.  I reminisce about those classes often as a matter of fact, and it's one of the things I genuinely regret not being able to go back to after Georgia pulled out the rug from under me.

But I am not going to force-feed you.  Whether you are six or forty-six, all I can do is present material, as attractively packaged as I can craft it.  If you take all that and throw it back in my face, if you're rude, belligerent, or hinder other students with your selfish immature antics... well, I'm not going to lose any sleep over the fact that you didn't learn any English today.

No matter how good a teacher is, he or she can only meet you almost all of the way.  The student has to make that final toe-shuffle and agree to actually be taught.  And sure, especially if you still have your baby teeth, I'll give you every chance in the world.  I will laugh, I will cajole, I will invent games, and even if I want to throttle you I will heap 47 worlds' worth of praise on your head should you happen to answer a question even halfway correctly.  But even the most talented and dedicated teacher does not know how to physically open up the brain of an unwilling student and shovel the knowledge in.

The fact is, at the end of the day -- there is only so much that I can do.

This job is going to test me.  I knew that going in, but this week has driven it home.

But hey -- some perspective to close:  That Thursday I mentioned when I was hating life?  On the bus ride home a friend texted me to say that her day had started with her breaking up a fight.  And then later, a kid shit himself in her class.

My day... seemed kind of a lot better after that.

No comments:

Post a Comment