Thursday, February 24, 2011

Classroom Kung Fu

The week I spent in America seems like a dream. Incongruous in every way, and me sick the entire time, I couldn’t wait to get back. It took a full month in Moz to get healthy again.
My first month has gone well. I am better at planning and giving lessons, and have a much better idea of what I need to do on a global level to be a good teacher. Unfortunately that involves being a little harder at the beginning of the year in terms of discipline. My third grade teacher Mrs. Davis would keep a steady rule on the class by never raising her voice, forcing us to control the noise level in the classroom to hear her. Even her scoldings were delivered in a calm and level tone. Her style was subtle and measured. This is not my style.
When a student talks I tell them to be quiet. If they talk again I TELL THEM TO BE QUIET, in something of a stage voice (full stare, let the silence hang in the air afterwards). If their misbehavior is insolent or openly disrespectful my response is immediate, my punishment public, and final. If a student complains about being there I tell them to leave. If a student cheats I give them a zero. When a student arrives late I ask why, and if I don’t like the answer (example: “I was errr….sick and errr...there were goats and ummm…) they don’t get to come in.
I respect Mrs. Davis’ style. It is perhaps more mature and maybe even more effective than mine. But it isn’t me. I’m not calm and subtle. I have found, however, no problems with behavior of any kind this year. My style isn’t all swords and shouting, but when the time comes for that I don’t hesitate. Good lesson planning is key, engaging the students is absolutely important, respecting them and their requests is necessary for a relationship. But when a student tests the boundaries I show him or her exactly where they are.
Honestly—and don’t tell anyone this—but I kind of enjoy it. No, I don’t enjoy the look of dismay in the cheater that knows they’re caught (maybe a tiny bit), or the look of shame on the good student that just can’t shut up. What I enjoy is the order. Instead of feeling insecure in front of the students I feel like I belong in this role with all of its responsibilities, and yes, its powers. I enjoy being good at it.
Who threw the paper? We are going to stay here until someone comes forward (I seem to grow taller as I walk down the aisle. I stop abruptly). Was it YOU Francisco? (the lights dim) I think it WAS you Francisco (he panics, shakes his head furiously, he looks to the exit. There is no escape). Tell me Francisco (I hold the wad of paper in front of him, my eyes fixed on his), just what should I do with you? (fade to black, blood-curdling scream)

Friday, February 18, 2011

I'm still updating about family vaca. So sue me.

My family vacation took a turn in Johannesburg.

I was in the bathroom of my hotel room looking at my stubble in the mirror. I knew that it wasn’t enough for a beard…but just maybe. Various angles and five straight minutes of staring were starting to convince me that a beard was becoming a possibility, or was maybe just a few years away.

My mom came into the room. She was buzzing around the room picking things up, but we were leaving that day for Kruger Park so no surprise. She did seem a little stressed, or pale, or something like that.
“Hey mom, do you think this is enough for a beard?” I said, pointing at my sparse neck hair.
“Huh?” She replied, breathless.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, probably with the we’re-just-going-to-another-hotel-don’t-freak-out tone in my voice.
“My dad died.”

We made plans to go home. I didn’t expect to go home in my two years, and I wasn’t happy about it. I wanted two years of retreat, to grow or change or develop some enlightened perspective and then come back and give it another shot with my newfound amazingness. Not to be. Mom was initially open to discussion of the topic, but her relief when I suggested I may indeed jump the pond cemented my decision.

In the meantime we did go to Kruger for a couple of days. At first Kruger is amazing, we saw animals as we entered the park, including a giraffe (an impressively monstrous animal), right from our car!

Then Kruger seems a little touristy, like a zoo. I mean you don’t even have to leave your car to see animals? How fat and lazy have we become that we design nature’s greatest beasts to be seen from the comfort of our air conditioned asses? And the accommodations—the “camping”—was considerably nicer than my home. The hotels are expensive and all inclusive. The “Tent cabins” that we stayed in featured spacious, well lit rooms with great warm showers and tiny hotel shampoos. We saw a bull elephant, herds of zebras, wildebeest and impala from the porch. On the first afternoon. The words of caution about the dangerous animals from our guide started to feel like the words of caution from the tourguide at the beginning of disney’s jungle cruise.

Then you realize how outrageous it is that you can see elephants from your porch. We saw elephants, rhinos, hippos, huge herds of various game, enormous lizards, tarantulas (the guide found it, far from the tent cabins), and my bro’s personal favorite, the baboons. Baboons hang out in huge groups (packs? Herds? Gangs? Gaggles?), and unlike the impalas that do the same they are constantly interacting. The impalas just stand next to each other, and besides for the occasional overhyper baby impala leaping around for no reason (which is funny) they mostly just breathe on each other. The baboons play and poke and preen, they seem to laugh and they look back at you quizzically as they scoop up their babies with their humanoid hands. It was once in a lifetime: we even got to see two lions mate (which was cacophonous and lasted maybe five seconds).

Then Kruger gets boring. Another bull elephant? Another super rare something now mostly extinct found only here? Big deal I’ve already seen four of those. Kruger’s wildlife is so plentiful and accessible that you burn out on it. Absolutely worth a visit, but only for a few days.

And before I knew it I was on a plane to Heathrow, where we did get our luggage back despite British Airway’s best efforts to employ the most sparsely witted and aggressive idiots I’ve ever had the pleasure to hate. And in a blink I was on a plane to LAX.

We got off the plane like zombies, screwed up beyond jet lag and limped through customs with the bags we never got to open. Uncle John met us at the door. The airport was more crowded and noisy than I remembered it to be, and smaller too. But nothing smells like Los Angeles.