My blogging silence was in no way a diminished interest in my desire to regale you with every minute detail of my life. While you may be delighted that dinners, parties, drives to work, lunch, etc. are no longer monopolized by my voice, I like to think you can log onto the blog to get a fix when the odd twinge of longing hits. However, I failed to provide much news the past couple of weeks. I apologize for not balancing my life in a way that allowed this.
Though my blog makes it look like I rarely work, I am in fact a first year teacher for the first time in eight years. If you’ve ever thought I struggled to gracefully juggle my responsibilities at home, you would be appalled at how quickly my stack of grading piles up here. Part of my problem is that most work is submitted online at my new school. Since we are a one to one laptop school concerned with our environmental footprint, this makes sense. But, for this dinosaur, grading online poses new sets of problems. First, the oppressive stack of work seems more theoretical than tangible which means that the work is omnipresent but sort of nebulous. Second, while I used to carry essays with me always so that I could knock out one during hall duty or three in a waiting room, now I am not equipped to minimize the stack unless it’s my primary focus. Third, my eyes dislike screens by the end of the day. I might need glasses.
So, what I am discovering is that I may have misjudged my situation. I assumed that some successful years at Bowie meant that I could tackle any challenge. Add smaller class sizes and a variety of resource to that false confidence, and you get a teacher grossly unprepared to feel as inept as I have. My last 5 years at Bowie were a dream. My collaborative planning partners were valuable advisors, dedicated professionals, and dear friends. My students were, for the most part, eager to learn (or at least work for good grades). My knowledge of how to use our resources was adequate. My bosses liked me and praised me regularly. None of this is necessarily untrue at my new school, but I am an unproven teacher in collaborative planning partnerships with 3 other educators who are not Kelly, Teri, or Shena. I ride to work on a bus with other teachers who are not Dani. I teach kids who are great, but different from our socially confident, outspoken Bowie kids. I am just now, after 40 days of school, starting to feel like I understand the needs of my students, and they are needs that I have little practice in meeting. Sure, there are similarities, but on top of those, I have rooms full of kids who are still more comfortable operating outside of English than in it. I am asking kids to analyze satirical texts when they would never dream of being sarcastic or critical. My examples are too American, my knowledge of EAL teaching strategies is too shallow, my ability to juggle the planning and grading of 3 different courses is too limited, etc. So, for now, I feel like a first year teacher even though I expected to feel like a ninth year teacher. It isn’t terrible, it is just taxing.
Rachel asked recently if my students love me and if I love them. Honestly, I don’t really know yet. For the most part my students are not effusive. I think they may find my brand of teaching and love a bit too effusive. I was wildly exhausted on the last day of school before break, and I had a class of sophomores during last block. I had planned a couple of activities around a review of Things Fall Apart and some writing strategies we are working on. I was a bit incapable of smoothly carrying out the activities. At one point, I explained what I wanted students to do, which involved talking to each other. Since they didn’t immediately start talking (they rarely do), I just started filling the silence with silliness. Then, after a couple of minutes, one intrepid student asked when the class should start talking. This is life now. Nobody talks while the teacher is talking, even if the talk is madness. I appreciate the politeness, but I have always thought learning was a little loud and messy, and my students aren’t loud and messy. I do love them the way that teachers love kids before they even know them. I love their potential and their desire to improve their skills. I love that they show up prepared and open to learning what they know they don’t know. My kids here are not arrogant; they aren’t entitled; they aren’t confrontational; they aren’t cruel. They are lovable kids, and I think we are on the way to understanding one another. I know it takes time every year. Even in the States, I would spend the first few months longing for my former students while I went through all the struggles of forming relationships with new ones. This is made a little harder here because I only see my students every other day instead of every day. It is also harder because I don’t know their families, I don’t have a reputation at this school, and I don’t know much about their cultures or histories. I believe that in time, I will have rich relationships with my students. It is already happening in my AP class, and I expect that it will happen on my Week Without Walls trip with all the freshman. Eventually, it will happen with my juniors too. Maybe when we start poetry? Maybe I can cry at a particularly sad Wilfred Owen poem? That worked as a bonding agent for my English 263 class at PSU.
So, do I miss Bowie? YES! Am I glad I moved? YES! Is life different and a little harder than I expected? YES! Do I miss the support of my friends and family? OH, YES! Does this place feel like home yet? Sometimes.
I really do have to remind myself often that I chose this life, and I want to live it fully. It can be hard thinking about what I am missing out on at home, so I don’t want to give any of that up for a half life here. Of course, sometimes my new normal is lonely and frustrating, but so was my old normal. I didn’t think that moving around the world was going to be easy, and in some ways, it has been easier than I thought, while in other ways it has been harder. Mostly, I still feel incredibly lucky that my school chose me, that I get to teach great students, that my co-workers are becoming my friends, that Vietnamese culture is warm and welcoming, that food here is fresh and delicious, that my neighborhood is safe and comfortable, and that I am happy most of every day. My life is still full of laughter, and I am happy to discover that I am adapting to a new environment with as much grace as can be expected. I am going to continue to push myself to be comfortable navigating unknown lands, eating alone, trying new things, and traveling solo. I am proud that I have grown through my first 2.5 months worth of experiences, and I am excited to see what else life here has in store for me.