Monday, March 30, 2009

Finally, a Boring Day

Whenever I speak to a fellow teacher, one of the old adages they often tell me is, "Well, at least there's never a dull moment when teaching." Whoever said that is a liar. Today we had to sit and proctor tests for the standard six students (the equivalent to our grade eight) that determine whether the students are allowed to go to high school next year or stay in standard six. Some of us were excited to get a little break from teaching, since our experience thus far has been non-stop. However, I think we all would have preferred to teach today. We had to be at school at 7:15 am and we sat and watched students take a test until 1:45 pm, with a measly 45 minute break in the middle of the day. It was honestly like watching paint dry all day. My sole responsibility was to remind the students how much time they had to finish each section and escort the boys to the bathroom to make sure they weren't cheating. What a boring experience.

Before students could take their tests they had to bubble in their names. I was stunned at how many students struggled with this portion of the test. Now, I don't think that bubbling in one's name is necessarily a pre-requisite skill for entering high school, however there is a certain amount of basic logic attached to writing letters in a box and then filling in the correct bubble that corresponds with that letter. I literally helped one student fill in his name for two minutes because he would just fill in random bubbles. I fear for those children who struggled with their name. They might be in standard six one more year. 

The one nice part about today is that I had plenty of time to just sit and think, which is something I tend to take for granted. As I sat in the room with 25 students, I looked around and saw something strange: a student with a similar complexion as me. Of course, when he asked me a question, I realized he had a creole accent, but seeing him made me think about the situation in which I'm in. I found out that of the roughly 420 students at San Pedro High School, about one of them is Caucasian. It is a completely different situation for me to be a member of the minority; I can't honestly count the number of times I have experienced this on one hand. 

When I teach here, I am staring at a sea of faces that look completely different from me. Often we tend to gravitate toward those people who are most like us, but I don't have that option when I'm in the classroom. As a result, I really need to to get to know my students in order to find those similarities that aren't so easily apparent based on appearance. 

To give you a little background on me, I had decided that I wanted to be a teacher after my senior of high school. I had a wonderful senior year of high school and I knew I wanted to affect students the same way my teachers had affected me that year. In short, I got into teaching to teach students like me. One of the stunning changes I realized during my internship at Laney is that I really got to enjoy those students who were very different from me. This feeling has only been strengthened during my short stay in Belize. While the differences between myself and my students are physically evident, the students have made me feel so welcome that it wasn't until today that I realized how different I was from them.

I can recall the application process I had to go through to earn a spot as a teacher in Belize. During my interview, Dr. K asked me why this trip was so important to me. After reflecting for a second, I recalled an important lesson I had learned in my critical theory class one semester. Jacques Derrida, a literary critic known for his work dealing with structuralism, had a concept he referred to as "binary oppositions." The idea behind this theory is that our world is organized in greater or lesser relationships, i.e. black is black because is not white, man is man because he is not a woman. Power is then distributed amongst those different groups. One thing I hoped to learn during this experience is what American education was by seeing exactly what it wasn't. While I'm learning this, I'm also learning a lot about what and who I am, by seeing what I'm not. Teaching in a school built on a different culture than myself has provided me with the time to reflect and think introspectively on the person I am. I have thought about the advantages I have had as a white, middle class male in a society that gives me every advantage possible. Being in a developing country and seeing the struggles people are forced to experience on a daily basis makes me appreciate where I have come from as well as makes me appreciate those students who I teach. I think this will be an invaluable lesson for me as a teacher.

Alright, that was my little moment on my teaching soapbox. I apologize for how sugary some of that might have been. If you get a cavity from reading that, I'll pay for your dental bill. I just thought it would be useful to share my candid thoughts as I had the time to think about it. I promise I'll have more stories of teaching and misbehaving students tomorrow as we enter back into the classroom.


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