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Teach Woes (and a dash of puppies)

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This has certainly been the most exhausting and emotionally taxing week so far on my adventure. This week I started teaching, and I have been in a whirl wind of frustration, fear and trying my best to figure things out. On Monday morning my fellow volunteer and living companion, Joann and I went to the Vice Principles office, like we were told to find out what subjects we would be teaching, what grade levels, get our schedules and generally just figure out everything anyone could possibly need to know about the simple logistics of working at MIHS (Marshall Islands High School). The school day starts at 8:00 so when we got to the office at 7:00 we were disappointed to see that no one was around, the office hadn’t even been opened yet. Needless to say, no one was there to meet us at the door and welcome us, with an orientation packet or even a school mailbox with our name listed under it. About 7:30, as teachers came and went, introducing themselves to us briefly, the Vice Principle finally showed up, looking more clueless than anyone I had met so far that morning. We introduced ourselves and asked him if we could have our schedules. He looked as if we were asking him for some top secret government file that he couldn’t possibly have any access to. At this point, the principle, the Vice Principle of student affairs and about 10 teachers had told us that this was the man who had all of our information. I’m not sure he knew what day of the week it was. Needless to say, we did not receive our schedules. He asked us if who wanted to teach 11th grade and who wanted to teach 10th. Neither of us cared, so I took 10th grade because I was hoping they might be slightly smaller in size. We then had a 90 minute assembly that consisted of all 1000 students lining up by class, a local preacher being called on stage to do a full out sermon, a few Christian hymns being sung by everyone on campus. Coming from my American, public school educational background, this opening was quite bizarre to behold. After I mispronounced at least half (probably all) of my students names, in the process of telling them which homeroom they were in, we were off to start my very uninformed and under qualified teaching experience. The door was locked to my classroom. Great start. We finally got the door unlocked and I started doing “get to know you” games, with a painfully shy group of 15 year olds. I tried to break out some silly improve and orientation games. Eventually I ended up playing the Geneseo classic “WA” and it got them laughing at least. The first day was mostly ice breakers and was pretty painless, except for the fact that no one bothered to tell me the schedule for orientation day. Apparently I was supposed to stay with my homeroom class from 9:00-12:00…but I didn’t know that so I let them go when I thought the period ended at 10:00. So I quickly lost 85% of my class on the first day. The few who came back were sweet and fun to get to know.

They split each grade up into different homerooms based on academic achievement level. For example classroom 10A is composed of the highest achieving 10th graders and 10K is composed of the lowest. I think it’s kind of strange that they openly rank classes like this. I am lucky enough to have 10B for my homeroom class, so all of them are pretty motivated to do well. However, I imagine that being placed in the obviously low letters must weigh down on a person’s self esteem and motivation after a few years. I am teaching English composition and literature to 10B, 10D and 11H and I can see a HUGE difference in motivation and attitude on each level. I only have the 11th graders for a composition class, but it is easily the most exhausting part of my day. I have them for the last period of the day and over half of them don’t come to class to begin with. The ones who do won’t stop talking, unless of course I ask for participation, then they all act as if they have just had their tongues removed.

Anyway, we finally received our schedules on day 2, so I knew the classes I was supposed to be teaching a few minutes before I was expected to start teaching them. The head of the department has been a huge help. She met with Joann and I and gave us textbooks and an outline of the expectations necessary for each grade level. However, she also informed us that we were expected to hand in 3 weeks of lesson plans this week. For those of you who haven’t ever made a lesson plan, they take a LONG time, especially for a silly psych major like me, who has absolutely no training what-so-ever to be a teacher.

This expectation, along with feeling misinformed started to make me feel pretty overwhelmed. As I started to make lesson plans that would be informative and engaging I was faced with the reality that I have bad grammar….really terrible, terrible grammar. In fact, I hate English grammar and I always have. Now I am expected to teach it and make it seem like it’s not the horrible subject that I know it to be. So usually I have to spend time making sure I really know what I’m talking about before I can even plan a lesson. It’s hard to make learning grammar fun for others when I don’t think it’s fun at all. Additionally, I just found out today that the text book they gave me to plan my lessons around is the text book the kids used last year, so they have known everything and have been bored to tears for all of my lessons. Hopefully it will get a little better now that I have the correct text book.

I like teaching literature, but the only problem is they don’t have the resources for the students to read real books in class to discuss, all I have is 15 text books to share amongst 27 students with snip its of writing from unknown authors, with boring, bland subject matters. We are learning about different types of fiction, so I thought it would be fun to read a Greek myth. I printed one out and was excited to try and do it together, but I think it went over their heads and led to general chaos. We read one of the stories from the text today and I think they understood it more, but it was a super lame story. No wonder they don’t like reading, they are only able to read crappy nonsense. I’m trying to find things that are interesting and age/ability appropriate. I’m still getting used to the differences in ability level. It seems like some kids understand my directions immediately, while others will look at my blankly, or just stare at a blank piece of paper for 15 minutes. When I go over to these students and try to help them, they always act as if they don’t need my help and would rather crawl into a cave and die than listen to my suggestions. I feel lost in this moments, I can’t grab their hand and physically force them to write if they don’t want to, but I don’t want to be walked all over either.

I think there may be a conflict of interest in terms of my general “love everyone for who they are, accept them, hold their hand through things, support them and listen” attitude when it comes to the classroom. So far I have been 100% myself around my students, making jokes (a few people seem to get them) and being understanding when things aren’t exactly as they should. I’m worried that I have already set a tone that I am a push over. The problem is, in this situation, I kind of am a push over. I feel like I am going to have to dive into an unnatural part of my personality to discipline the classroom the way it needs to be and I am really not looking forward to it.

Working with High Schooler’s is such a different ball game than working with little kids. I can discipline young children, I understand how to be firm and they respect me as an adult because that’s what I am in their eyes. I can put a sad face next to their name when they are acting out and most of the time they will start trying to impress me again. I can promise them a lollypop at the end of the week and they will suddenly be completely attentive. I have no clue what I’m doing with these High schooler’s, who see me as their age and know I am completely uninformed about everything going on in administration (or at least that’s how it feels). I would say that I could use Bonus points as a motivational tool, but these kids really aren’t motivated by grades for the most part. I have always been the type of student who wants to succeed and tries to do well, which is making it even harder for me to really understand how to work with the kids who are so different from the environment I am used to. I really enjoyed World Teach orientation, but I feel that it focuses almost 100% on elementary school and out island life, leaving the high school teachers (especially those living in Majuro) to fend for themselves. I do not feel any more prepared from our hours of lessons, unless that is if these 10th graders want me to teach them the alphabet again under a coconut tree.

Additionally, almost all of my friends from World Teacher are leaving or have left for their islands, and my Majuro friends are with their host families, being a part of the community and getting showered with affection. Meanwhile, I live in a dirty, smelly, hot dorm, with no real connection to the community and a mountain of school work that I am feeling unbelievably under qualified to achieve. Needless to say, I cried in my locked classroom on day two. Only for a few minutes because I realized how completely pathetic that it, but still, it happened. I think the combination of feeling in over my head, saying goodbye to the people I have become comfortable with here, and feeling extra home sick the past few days has led to a bit of a slump in the Marshall Islands paradise. I know myself enough to know that this is not forever and it will go away, but all I’ve been wanting the past few days is to go home and sleep in my fluffy cloud bed, see my loved ones and not worry about nouns, tenses, or unmotivated teenagers.

Today we had a meeting where the Principle and Vice Principle informed us that they were short teachers and that “more were coming soon,” but for now they needed to find teachers to fill about 30 classes. So apparently I’m teaching a senior “Government” class tomorrow. Which, honestly I’m pretty excited for, but I will be receiving the textbook 20 minutes before class starts.. so we’ll see how day 1 goes.

Also, I have my students start every class by writing in their journals. I usually give them a choice to either use the new prompt that I put on the board each day or they can just “free write” about any topic they want. It’s been nice, because I’ve been able to see where their English skills are struggling the most in a low stress environment. However, one that I read today was entitled “Sexy Lady, a Love Letter” and was a, very flattering, but very uncomfortable profession of love from one student to me. So now I have to do deal with that situation.

I think, at this point it is safe to say that I am not going to be a teacher. Perhaps things would be different if I was teaching little kids, but I am not the type of person who is made to teach high schooler’s. Hopefully I prove myself wrong, but I am not making any plans to apply to any teaching colleges any time soon. I also have a much more developed appreciation for the work that teachers have put into my education, and am truly grateful and impressed by their abilities.

Sorry this post has been such a sad sack of woe, but I will end on a happy note. There are two puppies living underneath the trailer that is next to my apartment and I play with them every day. They are in the soft, puff ball stage and I am in love with them. I haven’t seen any owner, so I’ve taken the liberty of naming them “Ghost” and “Copper.” They are a shining star in my life at the moment. I am excited to keep playing with them over the next 11 months.

Posted by gabbyfo 03:04 Archived in Marshall Islands

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