Saturday, September 27, 2008

Future Lonely Planet writer

I recently had 15 minutes to kill in my seventh grade English class, so I asked my students to write me a letter telling me what they thought I should know about Honduras. Here is my favorite.

To: the Miss

All what you need to know about Honduras

In Honduras independence is on 9/15, childrens day Sept. 10, teachers day Sept 17, and our Flag day is on Sept. 2. Here in Honduras our culture is very socialist. Don’t walk on the street with a cell phone. Be always aware. And it’s a very hot place.

From: William

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Typical School Day

Well, first, that title is a lie. There’s no such thing. This Monday we went out for morning assembly, supposed to last ten minutes, and were told that the school needed to have a parade to celebrate Independence Day (Sept. 15) and so would begin practicing, which they did for the next hour and a half. Trying to get adolescents to march in straight lines on the road around the school building in the sun on a 95 degree day is not the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.

Usually, I get to school around 6:30 to work in my room, get the air-conditioning going, and if it is Monday or Thursday (the allowed days to make copies) I stop by to give my things to Claudia in the office. I can usually ask her a question, having prepared it in my head on the walk to the office, but can only sometimes understand her answer. I do a lot of nodding my head and smiling.

The 7:00-7:10 daily assembly starts at 7:10 and ends around 7:25. I start to get uptight about being on time, then notice the Honduran teachers not stressing out and decide to relax. I start the day with English 9 where it takes ten minutes for my eight ninth grade students to get their English notebooks from their lockers and sit down. We do a short lesson and they leave at 7:55. There is a bell system but it seems to ring haphazardly and teachers tend to let students out when they’re finished, whether that is earlier or later.

The rest of the morning I teach one more ninth grade and all three eighth grade classes. With the passing times, I usually get in about 35 minutes of teaching a class. The eighth grade boys narrowly avoid pulling muscles when they raise their hands, holding them as high as they can and starting to stand up, and when I call on one, the others all groan in disappointment. During class, one of the ninth grade boys will come in for the tennis racket he forgot. A seventh grader will stand outside my window making faces at the students I’m teaching. He ignores me when I gesture to move on, but when I go to my door to say something, he takes off running.

The half-hour recess is really a lunch period, (that’s the lunch break!) and I get a meal to-go from the girls’ home which is right next door. The kids run around and eat while the teachers sit together outside. If I don’t have work I need to do, I go sit with them, hoping some Spanish will sink in just having it spoken near me. (I’ll let you know how that works out.) I listen to see if I can understand what they’re saying, and they think I’m following along and will try to include me, which is when I have to admit, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

After recess I teach one more ninth grade class and the three seventh grade classes. The boys, dripping sweat from playing soccer, think it’s funny to try to hug me and get me sweaty. The seventh graders love that I’m reading aloud one chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory each day and I can get them to do just about anything if I say I will read them two. They laugh a lot and talk incessantly, though usually about what we’re doing. In literature, I’ll ask them to write down directions for an assignment in their notebook. One will make a mistake in pen and it takes four people to get him the white-out he needs. The ninth graders, if I give them a clear assignment that they can do, will work quietly and intently all class. Other days they never settle down the whole class and will just speak in Spanish then look at me and laugh. In science, somebody will ask me a question, and I’ll tell her, “That’s an excellent question. We’re going to get to that later in the year,” hoping that we never will.

When the day ends, Juan will hang out for a while, telling me about his favorite raggeaton musicians. I go get my copies from Claudia, which have fold marks in strange places and are usually all stapled together. I grade their work in their notebooks since for a reason I don’t quite understand, they really hate tearing pages out of them. But it has the bonus that I can correct what looks like a big stack of work in a relatively short time and feel a large sense of accomplishment.

On my way out, I stop to talk briefly with Anibar, my favorite security guard. He reminds me of my dad and calls me Karlita, though our conversations are usually limited to him saying something like, “It’s hot today” and me saying, “Yes.” On the five minute walk home, I pass the house with the parrot that sits freely on the gate and the old man who is always there sits up and waves vigorously “Buenas Dias!” The little girl of the house is often outside too, yells “Bye” whether we are coming or going and sometimes adds an extra display of her English, excitedly yelling “onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten.” I'm home by 3:30 and have the evening to study Spanish or tutor a little at the home, and recoup.

I laugh and am learning a lot. Despite, or maybe because of, the differences and difficulties, it makes for a pretty interesting life, and interesting is always good.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Not Like the Ones Mom Used to Make

Fridays are especially busy because by the end of the day, I need to have completed a form with the topic and homework assignment for each class for each day for the following week. If you ask my old boss, you’ll find that doing lesson plans on time is not exactly my strong point.

I tried to get to school a little earlier than my usual 6:30 arrival, and in my rush out the door forgot to bring anything to eat during my morning break. Another volunteer was kind enough to bring me a take-out lunch from the girls’ home, where we get our meals. I finally had a chance to eat towards the end of the day when my 8th grade English class didn’t think it a big deal if I ate while they worked on some grammar exercises. I opened my lunch to find rice and beans and a whole fried fish, head included. A little different from the peanut butter sandwich I had left at home, but actually a lot more delicious.