Friday, September 27, 2013

Supposedly Teaching, Part X

Same song, different verse...

(All names have been changed, except for any DA kids mentioned, because I've already spilled their details all over this blog and am too lazy to go back and change it.)

Part I
My very first classroom observation at my new school didn't go well. It wasn't the best day to come in and observe me, because I wasn't really teaching (or, I should say, I wasn't lecturing/instructing/leading a discussion). My students were listening to a podcast about the Great Persecution of Christians under Emperor Diocletian.

And of course, that is the day my principal, Mrs. Smith, came to observe me. When she walked in, my heart sank: this is not my best teaching day. Why today - of all days? I wondered.

Well, there was nothing I could do about that, so I plowed ahead with the podcast. The class was taking notes, I was elaborating here and there with the podcast, stopping it to explain something, but for the most part, the dude on the podcast was doing the "teaching." It was a great lecture - informative, insightful, interesting (at least, I thought so).

And then, he swore.

Not a bad swear. Just a little swear.

But still, he swore.

On the podcast.

While my very wonderfully and extremely Christian principal was sitting in on my not-already-good class.



The worst part was that I did preview the lecture, but missed the swear word.

I was mortified. Yes, I cried (after school). I hate to admit that, because it makes it seem less funny, but then I laughed at myself afterwards. I hate presenting a less-than-excellent image of myself to my superiors, I guess, and I just wish that I could have been doing something spectacular for my first observation. But, the truth of the matter is: teaching is filled with about 90% of non-spectacular moments - reviewing, paperwork, catching up with kids and their assignments, nagging, recapping, reminding, reminding, reminding - It's that magical 10% that makes it all worth it.

After The Swear Word Incident, I told my students: When we are talking about irony, I want you to remember this: the time Mrs. Smith came into observe Miss Bowers for the very first time, and the lesson included cussing.

It was all okay - she forgave me, and didn't fire me (phew!). But still...really?

And then, yesterday, she came in, again, at a bad time - my students were reviewing for their history test. After she left, I joked: "Well, at least there wasn't any swearing."

The young man who is shaping up to be my "dry commentator on all things" muttered: "She always comes in at the most inopportune moments."

I didn't know 10th graders used words like "inopportune."

Part II
The story of my life - the only story of my life - is that I speak before thinking. I speak, and then I realize what I've said. It's ridiculous. But also, amusing and it provides humorous anecdotes for all of you, so my verbal diarrhea has a purpose.

I was doing so well. For 4 weeks. So. well. Not that I hadn't said some somewhat-ridiculous things, but for the most part, I hadn't said anything extremely stupid.

I was getting ready to pass out a test, and even though I had told them to clear off their desks and put away their study materials, one of my students was still studying (there is always one...).

"Put away, your papers, Mary," I chided.

"Yeah, Mary!" said another student somewhat derisively.

Mary is a twin, and something about the tone of the student made me think that I had said the wrong name, the name of her twin.

"It's Mary, right? Wait..."

"Yes, it's Mary," the class assured me.

"Thank goodness! I'm usually pretty good at telling twins apart."

I continued: "I have taught many, many sets of twins, both fraternal and identical, in my teaching career so far, and I'm really good at telling them apart - I just make sure I always have assigned seats."

I was about to tell the story about the time that Kent and Joel claim they switched seats early on in English 11 and I didn't notice, and how it was so hard to tell them apart at first, and how for years, I knew that Kent was the one that greeted me, because I had him in study hall, in 9th grade, and Joel was the one who didn't, because he didn't "know" me, and then when I taught them both I was so confused, but now I can't even imagine not being able to tell them apart, because Kent is clearly Kent, and Joel is so clearly Joel.

It's a good story. They would have enjoyed it.

Actually, that is basically the story.

I was about to tell it (please, disregard the fact they were about to take a test...), when suddenly, Little Billy spoke up (out of turn, of course). Now, Little Billy is a delightful kid - he really is. He rarely stops talking, however. He's funny. And, he's one of those "get the last word in" types.

"Oh, Good Story, Miss Bowers," he scoffed.

If this shocks you, Little Billy and I already have developed a (mostly good) sarcastic relationship - do you know the kind I mean?

So I said: "Oh, Shut Up!" and laughed.

Suddenly, the room got really quiet - I am not sure if anyone was really tracking what was going on between us, or if they thought I was trying to get them to be quiet.

I realized that I had just told a student to shut up. Now, of course in context, it was totally...a part of the moment. But, still, I, a teacher, had said "shut up." Really loudly.

Even though it was the kind of "Oh, Shut Up!" you said in jest to your friend who is making fun of you, not the kind of "Oh, Shut Up!" you say to your brother or sister when they are getting on your nerves when you are twelve and they are a lot younger.

After a moment, everyone started to giggle and laugh and point and exclaim.

I was standing there with my hand over my mouth, cackling for a long time. Oh. My. Word.

And then, Little Bobby, my wonderfully dry observer of all things said: "At least Mrs. Smith didn't walk in just then."


Happy Friday, Friends.

**Disclaimer: The classroom anecdotes expressed on this blog are purely personal and are intended for entertainment and amusement of my friends and family. They are not intended to, in any way, show my place of employment in a poor light. All "faux pas" are utterly and completely my own fault. Do not, in anyway, decide not to send your child to this school because occasionally, teachers are silly and not completely serious and occasionally make humorous mistakes. I hope that you can appreciate teachers who are willing to admit their own mistakes, and that the classroom can be a place of laughter in the midst of learning.**

Sunday, September 22, 2013

My New Classroom

We've been in school for 3 weeks now, and I thought I would share a few photos of my classroom. It's not super exciting, but I spend most of my time there.

I could totally relate to this meme I found on Pinterest:

My before and after shots aren't truly before and after because my classroom used to be the school library, but they sort of dismantled it (sniff! for all the book lovers out there!) because they needed it as classroom. So, I didn't get any pictures of the room before they took out the shelves and rearranged it, but I have to admit that when I saw it the first time, I felt quite dismayed (because I didn't know it was going to be dismantled) because there was no wall space at all, the bookshelves obviously took up most of the room, and there was sort of a big "junk" corner of computers and more books and tables. So, when I walked into the room at the start of orientation, I was astonished by the difference--and major, major props need to go to the facilities manager for getting that together for me.

It's a really big room (but not as big as my classroom at DA - that room was huge!). Everyone keeps popping their head in and reveling at the bigness. I feel a little bad that as the new teacher I got the nice big room, but, oh well! I am excited to have space to move around in and to do activities.

I still have eight (8!) large bookshelves from the library, but they'll do because of course I have textbooks and things that need to be stored. Six of them take up one entire wall, which I'm a little frustrated by, decorating-wise, because that takes up prime poster space (I like to display student work, etc.) but I'll just have to make do. Other than that, I'm pretty happy with how the room ended up. It has lots of windows and light.
View from the 1st door.

My desk, and some of the stacks of books and binders that I had to find homes for as things were brought into my room from other classrooms. I was very good, and put them away almost as soon as they were brought in.

"White Board" view, looking from the front of the classroom. There are now 2 bulletin boards hung over those large filing cabinets.

View from right side/second door (and main door). 

From the back right corner.

Something has to be done about THIS mess...ugly and asking for trouble, I think.
My brother asked me if I had decorated my classroom similar to DA. I told him that: "a classroom is a classroom," but admittedly, I did do some similar things, partly because at DA I learned how to decorate with limited resources, and I generally liked what I did. So, I put some of those similar "techniques" into place. With a little scrapbook and colored paper, you can do a lot!

(I feel like the pictures don't really do it justice...there really is quite a difference in the before and after - at least, I like to think so.)

View from the front right corner. Yes, I've kept the rows because I don't have a lot of room for creative arrangements with that sort of desk.

View from the front, left corner. The unfortunately ugly curtains are still there. I need to make some cautious inquiries as to how I can dispose of them, or at least get them put elsewhere. Hopefully they are not beloved by someone. Because I do not belove them.
Bulletin boards (that need information on them, I know) and the huge filing cabinets. The backing of the bulletin boards is cloth. It took forever to get it just right, but I like how it looks. The unintended "color" theme of my room seems to be black and mint/aqua, so I bought 2 minty-aqua colored lamps that match colors in the fabric of the bulletin boards.
The front whiteboard.

Homework signs and a favorite Bible verse.

Classroom Rules. 
Side whiteboard (2 whiteboards! What decadence!)

Word of the Week. :)

My desk - note the minty lamp. :) Also, note how neat it is (for me!)

Plants! Here's hoping I don't kill them off by October...You can't tell by the picture, but I spray painted them with  mint/aqua, as well.

I don't know if you can see it, but there was a beautiful rainbow the other morning.
And, last, my door.

Hope you've enjoyed this little tour!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

In Which Miss Bowers Examines at Length Her Calling in Life And Uses the Word "Overseas" Far Too Much

(And gives this post a very Dickensian title because she rambles on a bit in a rather Dickensian fashion)

I realize that I have only been teaching in an American, Christian school for 2 weeks. I've barely gotten my feet wet, so this post is probably a bit premature; and yet, it's something that I want to really think about before I get too far in.

In just 2 weeks, I've already been struggling with my calling. Not with the calling itself (which, if you do not know, is to work with TCKs in international schools), but the fact that I am not currently "doing" what I believe I have been called to do, and how to balance what I want to do (ultimately) with what I am actually doing. It's not that I don't think I am currently "in the will of God," but that I am puzzled about the logistics of it all.

I guess I need to break it down a little. Excuse me while I externally process at your expense.

First of all, teaching is my calling, wherever I am. There's no doubt about that. Even though it's mind-numbingly hard, it's insane, it's filled with late assignments and kids who don't like Shakespeare...I still feel that this is what I am best at, and that this is what I want to do. So, it's not like I'm not doing part of what I believe I am meant to be doing. But, I still have this overwhelming sense that I am meant to work in international schools, and meant to work with TCKs. It's hard to explain a religious calling if you don't have one. Some people can quote scripture--chapter and verse--but for me, it's just more of an overwhelming sense of "rightness" when I think about it (that is the most fluffy thing I've ever said, I think). I think it has been confirmed by my success at DA, by my love for that place, for that life. I think it is confirmed by the tug I feel to be back overseas, to work with TCKs. Of course I wonder if it's just because that's the only life I've known--but, why would I be given all of these experiences and feel a desire to work overseas if I wasn't, well, meant to do just that?

In addition, I think that there are some other things that sort of confirm the call--a big one being that I am not married. Honestly, I don't want to get married to someone who doesn't share this call, and I have come to believe that either I won't get married, or God will send someone along with the same goals. This is a really clinical dissection of why I am still single, I realize, but I honestly think it is linked to my life goals. I am not one of those girls who is going to give up her dreams for a man. I'm not some raging feminist by any stretch of the imagination (I like wearing dresses to much to be that) but I am quite comfortable with who I am, even if that means being single, and I think that's from God--he's allowed me to be content with my singleness, thus allowing me to work internationally (where there are no single men in possession of a good fortune--oh, wait, wrong paradigm).

Ever since I was in middle school (7th grade, to be exact) I have known two things: that I wanted to be a teacher and that I wanted to teach in MK/International schools. My 7th grade Bible class this week had to do an activity where they filled out this worksheet with questions about their goals for the year, about their spiritual goals, and even about their future goals. As we were talking through this sheet and they were asking questions like: "How could I know what I want to do after college?" It occurred to me that I did know, in 7th grade, at 12 years old, what I wanted to be doing (and I did share this with them). I realize most people don't end up doing what they want to do, but it was always clear to me. It wasn't a lightening bolt moment; I didn't have a vision, a dream, or an epiphany. I just somehow knew. I had a few English teachers that I really liked in middle school, who really helped me socially and academically, and it just made sense: that's what I wanted to do, too.

Fast forward six years: I entered college, declared my majors (English and Secondary Education), again, with no doubt in my mind that I wanted to teach English, and eventually teach it overseas. I loved my majors (admittedly, I loved Education more than my English major, which I thought was a good sign that I wanted to teach), and worked hard to become the best little English teacher that I could be. The plan was, after teaching in the States a few years, to head out of the country. But then, one thing led to another, and I ended up at DA--planning only to stay 2 years. Of course I stayed five and half years as a teacher, and then as a (interim) dorm parent.

And now, here I am: six years after graduating from college, after living and working overseas at a remarkable little missionary/international school on a peninsula on the western most point of Africa, now working at an American, Christian school, in which I am one of the only persons in the whole school to have lived abroad, one of the only persons to be a TCK. None of the students are MKs/TCKs and I find myself in a place I haven't really ever been (except for a semester here and there while attending school in the US): the only person who knows what this TCK thing feels like.

I already like my new students, and I like my new school, but it's hard because I know this isn't where I ultimately belong. My struggle is in finding the appropriate balance between committing wholeheartedly to my school, but also committing wholeheartedly with an asterisk: *I plan to move back overseas again in a few years.

I'm torn in a few ways: I don't want my students to think that they are just a pit stop in my life, if that makes sense. I'm committed to them, committed to being their teacher, committed to throwing myself into my work to make them better readers and thinkers and writers. I'm committed to investing in their lives, going to their games, watching their plays, committed to being bone tired for their sake, committed to agonizing over their papers, committed to helping them become better people.

And yet, at the same time, I don't want to hide that I have a call on my life - that another "people group" has my heart. I want to be open and honest that God has called me to missions, in particular to work with MKs and TCKs. I want to be an example of someone that wants to be a missionary (again) and give up my 'luxurious' American life to live abroad.

So, I'm praying a lot about the balance. I want to make sure that I'm honest about where I've been, and where I'm going, but also to communicate that I am "all in" at this school, too.

For myself, personally, I also want to make sure that I head back at the right time. It's easy to miss where we've come from, forgetting the reasons that we decided we needed to leave. I have to admit, in the past 2 weeks, I have thought more than once (try, once or twice a day...): "Well, I could always email [my DA principal] to get my name on the table for staffing needs for next year."] Which is kind of ridiculous, isn't it? Of course, that's just the escape mechanism of any person, I think, when you are in a new and unfamiliar place, and your lesson on The Tempest really didn't go well. Of course, you forget that there were lessons on Macbeth that really didn't go well, either, and it's not going to be easier over there, than here, in the daily grind of things.

I'm not sure if the Lord will call me back to DA, specifically. It's all I really know, at this point. It's hard to know if God called me away from DA to give me some perspective, and then he'll call me back? It's hard to know if the reason I feel a longing to return is simply because I miss my friends, and I miss 'belonging' and if, in time, the belonging will come here, and I won't feel that pull quite so much.

At the end of the day, though, my commitment to this new school is to be here at least two years, because I don't think you can really get a good sense of a place in just one year. If God calls me back to Senegal, I'm going to really, really need help discerning whether it is just me, or if it is God's call. And maybe (more likely) God will call me to some other school overseas. But, either way, I know that He is putting a tug on my heart, He is pushing me towards an international school. I just have to be patient, wait on His timing, and realize that "the call" is different than "Go!" "Go!" takes a whole lot more work, confirmation, time, and energy and prayer. Lots and lots and lots and lots of prayer.

I haven't heard the "Go!" yet.

And don't worry: you'll know as soon as I know.

Postscript - 9/16/13:
I was frustrated with myself because the response I got to what I wrote above because I felt like I hadn't really communicated what I meant to communicate, and that people were taking what I had written differently, which is always, always the problem with writing personal stuff, and with writing in general: you run the risk of people reading your words differently than intended.

I didn't intend for this to be a whiny post, but I think it was taken that way by many. I actually meant for it be something along the lines of:

"I think God is still calling me to overseas work, and I want to be true to that calling, but I also want to be true to where I am now, and I want to balance both in a healthy spiritual and mental fashion."

I don't think I got that across - instead, somehow, I got across a sense of not wanting to be here, but to be out there, now, now, now. That is not it, at all.

I realize that "the call" isn't immediate. I was extremely blessed to be able to do what I wanted to do as soon as I got out of college. So, it is hard to be back in the US now, sort of feeling like: "Well, Lord, I did it, I what?" But God calls us to be present where he places us, whether it is in the "wilds" (or, try, suburban neighborhoods) of Africa, the bustling metropoli of Asia, or the rolling hills of Baltimore county.

And, after thinking about it, I admit that it was pretty arrogant to state that I wasn't willing to give up my dream for a man. I didn't mean it to sound that way, but after reading it, I realize it sounded ridiculous. I should restate it more diplomatically and realistically: I don't think that God is going to lead me to someone who doesn't share some version of my own call. But, I hope pray that God brings someone into my life, if I am to be married someday, who wants to be in missions. I also know that God sometimes leads people to us that may not share that vision yet, and it is through a work of prayer and a whole lot of Holy Spirit that God brings them, miraculously, to a point in their life where they are open to something as big and scary and wonderful as missions.

Also, a lot of people seem to really only hear the part about my thinking about returning to DA. I thought I was clear that I realized that this was a bit silly of me, and a normal escape mechanism when in a tough spot, but maybe I wasn't as clear as I needed to be. I think this time away from DA has been really good for helping with my perspectives, and to realize that some of the things I was frustrated about with DA were just superfluous matters. I would love to work there again--it was a great place to work. I admit that I am a bit disheartened that I feel like I have to justify liking it so much, and a bit disheartened that I will always feel, if I ever go back there, that people will doubt that I am going back for the right reasons. Honestly? God has been working in a really amazing way at DA in the past ten years or so, and it was exciting to be a part of that, and it would be exciting to continue being a part of that. DA is home, and I don't think it's wrong to want to go home. It's hard because home is in Africa, and that's not normal. In a lot of ways, it's just like someone thinking about moving back to their hometown for a spell, after being out in the world for a while.

I don't think that I am foolish or naive for wanting to return to missions, and for believing that this will happen sooner than later (I'm talking 3-5 years versus 10 years, not next year). I believe that God is tugging me that way through a variety of factors, and I plan to pursue that path, prayerfully, over the next few years. But, I completely believe, also, that God led me to my current school, that God has provided my current living situation, my car, and a whole lot of other stuff so that I can live a good, albeit very frugal, life here in Baltimore for this period, so that I may be slowly be shaping into what I need to be for Stage 2 of my missions career.

I hope this clarifies some things. And if not...oh well. :)