May 29, 2013

CW performances 001I was just asked a question that provoked an immediate response from me: a response that has been running through my mind with some regularity over the past few months.
The question was “What is the best thing that has happened to you lately?”
My response was “Teaching Grade 4.”
I had no idea I would fall in love with these 23 kids like I have. My days, for several months now, have been flurries of activity. My responsibilities have been, oftentimes, overwhelming. My students have been, oftentimes, demanding. I have been, oftentimes, short at best, impatient at worst. My life has been full . . . And I have been fulfilled.
Who knew I could ever be a classroom teacher? Certainly not I.
Yesterday I was giving one of my “Our time together is almost over” references, and one of the students asked if I was sad. I didn’t even try to mask it–figured there was little point. Instead I pointed out to her, and to the whole class, my tear-brimming eyes. Yeah, I’m pretty sad.
We reminded each other that I would see them again next year. But we knew it would be different. Not that it won’t be good next year. I know it will. But change is hard for us mortals, no matter how beneficial it may be.
Today one of my student’s plants bloomed, a little flower-like bud appearing on his science project. I guess it’s fitting that the first of these would appear on our last full day of school. And I guess it’s also fitting that this plant belongs to one of the kids who especially tugs at my heartstrings, with his tough-exterior-sensitive-interior . . . I think I’ve always had a soft spot for those not-so-tough tough guys :-)
The other day I had one of my moments of impatiently responding to lack-of-attention. One unfortunate by-product of the end of the year is that, as much as I’d like to just be loving in everything, in actuality I find my temper shorter than usual. At any rate, several students were being rowdy and I noticed the group, calling out one culprit by name. He was not one of the usual rowdy ones, so I can’t remember ever calling him out like that. A few moments later I was shocked to notice that he was blinking back tears, hiding it by peering intensely at his schoolwork. I just about lost it myself, horrified that I could have hurt him so with a simple rebuke. I was especially careful after that, quick to praise him, and others, and slow [I hope] to correct. But it was a good, necessary reminder for me of how crucial my role is as a teacher . . . and of how deeply I love these kiddos.


May 23, 2013


What happens when you hit those moments of disillusionment . . . when you find out that things are not the way they seem, and that conflict has been simmering under the surface of what you thought were smooth, we-all-like-each-other life and work settings? What happens when you are faced with the harsh reality of all the ways you do not live up to who you’d like to be?
An unpleasant announcement at work this week left me remembering the last similar situation I was faced with. This afternoon I relayed a bit of it to my friend and, as I did so, was surprised to feel the hurt welling up once again. I realized that my inner stress level has risen significantly over the past few days.
I do not do well with disappointment in people. I like to keep my illusions of, like I said, we-all-like-each-other. But the truth, of course, is that this is indeed an illusion. The reality of life is that people disappoint each other. And, most distressingly, the reality is that I disappoint others.
I had an odd moment in the classroom, in which I ended up on the verge of tears as I spoke about the admirable aspects of various countries’ First Ladies. We were talking about government in Social Studies and, as that is one of the subjects in which I have a fair bit of lesson-planning freedom, it was nice to run with my inspiration in that regard. Thankfully, the students seemed as excited about the lesson as I was. As I answered one of the questions that came up, though, I found that the sheer passion it evoked made me choke up as I spoke. I hid the emotion pretty well, I think, but it left me musing on the reasons behind that reaction.
Basically, I think it is a deep-seated yearning for a hero. I want a person—a true flesh-and-blood soul—who inspires me to live up to a legacy of faith and steadfast integrity. I think we all do. The error I run into oftentimes involves placing those in authority over me on such pedestals that there is no room for human failure. Lord grant me the serenity to accept . . . the people I cannot change. Grant me the ability to rest in Your sovereignty. To abide in Your goodness.
On a lighter note, we did a science experiment today that involved trying various tools [chopsticks, a spoon, forceps, pliers, a clothespin] to transport various foods [birdseed, peanuts, raisins, cooked spaghetti noodles, rice] from one plate to another. Each group had to move all the items on their plate and document which tool was best for each food item. The idea was to demonstrate why birds are equipped with the types of beaks they have [different shapes for different food-capturing needs]. I expected them to want to snack on their foods, so had extra of the peanuts and raisins ready for a post-lab treat. I did not expect them to be tempted by day-old cold noodles. So when I caught one group with birdseed-speckled noodles hanging out of their mouths, I had to force composure, fighting laughter as I explained to them that these noodles were not for eating!

a piece of the pie

May 14, 2013

We had a rough day yesterday. With the end of the year rapidly nearing, deadlines pile up, for students and teachers alike. There are tests to take, grades to give, meetings to attend, summers to plan and, in short, too much to get done in any given day. So this is the time of year when fuses and short and patience levels low. After a day of battling with my class more than usual, bothered by the behaviour difficulties I’ve been blessed to not struggle with up to this point, I came to the end of the day wondering what good had come of it. And what bothered me most was that I felt I had failed my students, reacting poorly and responding impatiently in ways that only worsened matters.
In the closing moments of the day, I began my usual winding down activity, in which I write my catch phrase on the board and have the students think about it, then come up and add their own reactions. Instead of my usually cheery alliteration, however, I wrote that it was “Making-Up Monday.” I explained that we all had work to do, and that I wanted them to think about people they may need to “make up” with. I, in turn, wanted to make up with them. I apologized for being impatient with them. And I added that I would like to promise that I would never again lose my temper . . . but that I knew I couldn’t truthfully promise such a thing. Instead, I wanted them to know that I would try to do a better job in the future or reacting well.
Then along came a Tuesday. It was a better day, in many ways, but still a bit of a rough road. I still was not as patient as I had hoped to be. But at least today we had some of our usual bright, goofy moments in the midst of it. So at the end of the day I announced that it was a “Tuesday Tries” day. I then asked them what, knowing their proper grammar, was wrong with what I had written. One of them noticed that “tries” should have been a plural “trys” and not the verb. I said that he was right, but that I had actually intended to write it in that “incorrect” way. See, instead of meaning that it was the noun form of the word “try,” I had in my mind that, as a whole, Tuesday was trying. Trying to be a better day. The students had been trying to listen better. I had been trying to be more patient. We had work to do yet, but we were trying. As they came up to add their thoughts to the whiteboard, I announced that we had one more activity to go in the day.
During math that morning, the hands on activity for our fractions lesson had been a set of puzzle-like pizza pieces, each labeled with the fraction represented, and each with a different realistic pizza variety design. They had been clearly enamored with the set, excited about the types of pizza and eagerly talking about which was their favorite. We had not had time for each of them to play with the pieces that morning, though—only enough for me to use them as demonstrations in front of the whole class.
Now, as our closing activity, I told them they could each come to the back table and make their own pizza: whatever they felt like, in the mood they were in. As I watched them create, and I gave each one a name: “Ah, Celine, I see that you are ‘pepper-shroom-oliv-eroni’ today” and similar affirmations, I realized that I had just stumbled into an oddly meaningful activity. Somehow, in letting their creative juices run free, in such a mundane way, the students were able to wind down from the day in a redeeming, and affirming way. And no less than these youngsters, I was uplifted and encouraged by the moment.

man man

May 5, 2013


A few days ago I read a pastor’s reflection that recommended an effort to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry” from one’s life. These words struck me, resonating with the longing I have to live in a way that does not require me to rush . . . for the most part, that is: there is a certain amount of rushing that cannot be avoided, from external sources. But at least so far as I can manage to arrange things, it is possible to eliminate much of it.
Almost immediately, however, a strange reaction counteracted this first response. I felt guilty about the prospect of being able to slow down. Strange, I mused. Why does it feel wrong to be unhurried? But I pretty quickly figured it out: there is enough American in me to have absorbed the Western mindset of performance-oriented shows of rushing through one’s days. We take pride—and, I suspect, a certain level of comfort as well—in being harried . . . in having too much to do, too much one is responsible for.
Around this same time frame, I heard another snippet, this time spoken by a celebrity, on a national public radio podcast. He said something along the lines of a theory that much of human life is spent trying to pass the time [i.e. wasting time].
Wow! Now that’s interesting! I thought. What if we are indeed all just rushing about, trying to beat each other in the busy game, in an effort to pass the time? If that is even remotely true, then it becomes infinitely more vital, so far as I can see, to “ruthlessly” eliminate this. Because only in so doing will we have space in our lives to be able to see what is significant.
Yesterday I went to yoga class—the same one that resulted in a busted nose the last time I went. But I braved the 2-hour session once more, with the sense that it was important to accept the invitation from my local friend, to go with her. It is also worthwhile, I think, to spend that time—uncomfortable though it may be—in a situation where no one else speaks my language. Trying to concentrate on the words I was hearing, and the actions that corresponded to them, I realized that one phrase I had heard over and over was “man man.” Later in the afternoon, I asked one of my coworkers about the words. “Slowly, slowly” is what she said it meant.
Now that is really interesting! is what I thought.
Out loud, I responded that “I think I’m going to make that my mantra for a while . . . my ‘man man’ mantra.” ;-)
So this afternoon, returning from church, I did not even attempt to settle down to lesson plans immediately. First I took my camera and my sunglasses and headed out the door to see what was going on in the neighborhood on this sunshiny day. First thing I saw was a group of little ones using, I suspect, a grandparent’s cane, to knock down fruit from the trees. A decent way to “man man” one’s way through the day, I think ☺

project poncho

May 2, 2013


The rains have come. And I’m getting wet. Yes, I know, “Thank you very much, Captain Obvious,” but I’m serious. No rain gear here. So far, I just get wet. Being in an area of water shortages and dust, it’s not at all unpleasant, really. As long as it’s not too cold, which it hasn’t been yet. Instead of being bothered, then, I have just been enjoying the benefits of water conservation [less clothing, body, and hair washing required], and easier workdays [easier for children, and teacher, to stay focused on indoor lessons due to the lessened temptation to be outside]. That said, I haven’t exactly been intentionally without raingear.
Last night I went to a coworker’s for dinner. As we started the bike ride, the sun disappeared and a steady rain began. One of our biking trio had a snazzy poncho-thingy [that’s what I called it, at least, with it’s large scooter/bike ready expanse and a clear space for the bike light to shine through when you were out at night. Anticipating the 30-minute ride ahead of us, I suggested we stop on the way to see if I could find something similar. We stopped at the first roadside bike shop and I went in to ask. The shopkeeper shook her head yes and went to the back She emerged with a package that I started to accept. Then I noticed the picture on the front, with two heads. I pointed to it questioningly and she said yes, it was for “liangge.” Was there anything else, I asked. “Meiyou,” she shook her head. I considered the fact that I would be using this poncho for quite some time and figured I should wait until I found a one-headed option. As I thanked her and walked out, she pointed me towards another shop. I tried the same query there. He nodded, yes, and presented me with a package. I looked at the photo. Two heads again. Anything else?, I queried. “Meiyou.”
Returning to my companions, I relayed the message to them, joking that I thought better of getting a two-headed one, with two of us making our way on one bike so as to make the purchase worthwhile. By that point, though, the rain had almost stopped, so we gave up the search and carried on our way.
Later in the evening, as we said our goodbyes and headed back out to our bikes, a loud crack of thunder sounded and a true downpour began. Uncomfortable with the idea of safely trekking in the deluge at night, I went back in to try to wait it out and, sure enough, it lessened up in a half hour. It was getting rather late by that point, so we headed on out in the slightly-lighter rainfall. And project poncho resumed. There was one shop to try on the way back, since we were going a different route back. I did the same charade routine to ask. Incidentally, I’ve gotten pretty good at miming my way through various vocab shortages. Successfully asked for a mosquito zapper last week, for instance, thoroughly impressing the friend I was with ☺. But back to project poncho . . .
This shopkeeper, as the others had, assured me he had what I was looking for and returned with a package. I looked at the photo and pulled out my money, pleased with the single head I saw. As I did so, though, J noticed something. “Um, you might want to try that one on first,” she suggested. I looked closer and realized the size was “XXXL” Hmmm. Yes, I might just do that. As we suspected, it was rather unwieldy, boding poorly for biking ease. Project Poncho ended.
But as we continued the ride, we talked of how pleasant the rain actually was. A nice respite from the usually dusty air. And I commented on how it was actually nice to know that, since I didn’t plan on showering before the next school day began, I really was going to be more than sufficiently washed by the time we made it home. Yes, once could do worse than be a biker in rainy season.
This afternoon, though, I must admit to eyeing my coworker’s snazzy pink poncho as we walked out of the schoolhouse in the rain. Project Poncho might just have to resume in the very near future . . .