Monday, September 20, 2010

Essay Writing & Mannit Day

Not too much has changed in the past week and a half. School continues to be hectic and the weekends have flown by. Fortunately, my mood has dramatically improved. One of our two buses was working for most of last week, leading to shorter classes and my happiness. I spent last week going over the basics of grammar. The review was a necessity and went relatively well. The material was certainly successful in putting many of my students to sleep. I’m proud to say that I have learned 120 or so of my 140 students’ names. Getting to know them has made my job more fun and has been helpful for classroom management. I have definitely come to see the need for discipline and have been demanding more respect as a teacher. Luckily, I am not hated by all just yet. During the assembly today, one of my students asked me, “Miss, do you have children?”. When I told her that I did not, she whispered to me “Well, then do think I could be your daughter?” I laughed and told her she was too old to be my daughter but we could be sisters. My roommates found it creepy but I think it was sweet. Another student wrote in his journal, “I like you Miss, you are my mother of English”. It was reassuring to me that even though I can be a total bitch in class at times, some students still like me enough to want to be my child.

This week is designated to the Social Science department. This is great news to me because it somehow means that we only have two real days of classes. Last night, the head of the English department paid my roommates and I visit to let us know that there would be an essay-writing contest in our classes today and tomorrow. We couldn’t help but laugh when we read the theme and criteria. The theme is, "Responsible citizens contributing to the prosperity of the Nation". Seeing as many of my students had trouble answering simple questions such as “What is something you are good at?” and groan when asked to write more than a full sentence, I felt that the expectations were slightly unrealistic. The grading rubric described standards that I think might have challenged a number of people from my graduating class at college. After explaining the vocabulary, question and components of an essay, the chaos began. With myself as the only teacher and 35 students in each of my classes, it was nearly impossible to be of assistance and answer questions while maintaining any kind of order in the rest of the classroom. All I can say is- I did my best.

Because we are lucky enough to have such a diverse staff, on Wednesday, the teachers will split up by country and teach students about our respective cultures and history. My three roommates and I will be giving a brief US history and pop culture lesson to students from grades 9-12. To my surprise, Marshallese teenagers seem to know more about pop culture than we do. According to journal entries I have read, my student’s lives are highly influenced by pop-sensations: Justin Beiber, Hannah Montana and the rest of the Disney crew. Perhaps I can convince some of my grade 9 to put on a Justin Beiber concert (as they do sometimes between classes). Although I have been living in the RMI for about 2 months, there is plenty for me to learn about Marshallese culture. Luckily, I will have an opportunity to learn more about Marshallese customs this week. Friday is “Manit” day. This is a day set aside for the celebration of Marshallese culture. I hear there will be delicious food and activities such as coconut husking contests and basket weaving. It should be an interesting week…

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Month In...

As I sit in the wonderful AC of my quiet apartment, I realize that I am already half way through my third real week of classes and wonder how I will be able to experience days such as today for the next 9 months. Last week went relatively smoothly as I became more comfortable in the classroom and got to know my students. The shortened classes (due to a broken bus) probably had a lot to do with my lowered stress level. This week, however, I spent each night and morning wishing that both buses would break. I've come home each day feeling frustrated, tired and overwhelmed. The biggest obstacle for me has been teaching and creating lessons for such a wide range of english speaking and writing abilities. I've also found it strenuous keeping four classes of 35 teenagers occupied for an hour each day in a language that many do not understand. Today was, more or less, a free for all.

My favorite part of the school day is during the first 1o minutes of class when I have everyone write a journal entry on a question I ask. Reading hundreds of these entries over the past weekend was amusing, interesting, tiring and- at times- frightening. It definitely took some heavy interpreting to understand the ideas that were trying to be expressed. My favorite instance of this was trying to understand the paper of a girl who kept saying "pigass" in each sentence. I finally figured out that she was trying to say "because"... not quite sure how the two got confused. I found myself very excited when a student answered the question in a full sentence, using somewhat legible english and unnerved when a question such as, "Who do you admire most?" was answered with "I admire is when I write I admire at school admire because I do admire is my most admire". When some answers closely resemble this, knowing where to begin teaching is not an easy decision.

At the end of the first week of school, I began teaching grade 9 about the idea of culture. I felt that this topic was a good way for my students and I to get to know and learn from each other. I had everyone write about and discuss their favorite food, music, holiday and traditions. We talked about different aspects of culture and I had small groups create a picture to illustrate each aspect. I hung everyone's pictures on the board as a visual display and constant reminder of what the word "culture" encompasses. Luckily, I found a reading with the title "Understanding Cultural Differences" in our class workbook. After introducing the text to the class, I realized that the level was way above most of the student's comprehension so I decided to make the unit into a vocabulary review. I had each student write down 5 words they had either never seen before or were unfamiliar with. That night, I made a list of each word. The list was disheartening.. in a comical way. The words that got to me the most were: culture (the word we had discussed for the past 5 days), respect (our number one class rule) and understand (the question I had been asking each class 10 times a day). This past week and a half I have spent going over the 16 most commonly misunderstood words. I am still unsure of how this information has been received but the quiz I'm giving Friday should give me a better idea.

Aside from school, I haven't had much of a life. My main hobbies have been: swimming, snorkeling, knitting, reading, drawing and watching movies. Some days, the highlight of my day is "getting my groove on" (as my student Rickinson would say) to the "hip-hop dance party" dvd left here by former volunteers. Even after memorizing all the moves, Amanda and I still look ridiculous as we get down and funky with our exercise dvd. Other than hip-hopping it out, I've been going on long swims and walks down to the neighboring island. There is only one house on this island so it is a wonderful place to feel at peace.

My Secret Swimming Spot

On Saturday, we were invited to a dinner party at the neighbor's. The food was scrumptious. I felt very content as I devoured chicken, freshly caught fish, coconut crab (a better tasting lobster) and sipped on coconut milk. I'm hoping the following week will be filled with more of these marvelous things described in this last paragraph and a bit less stress.