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Down the Rabbit Hole

May 22, 2012

chair dump

It’s been a quiet week and I’ve accomplished a lot.  My spirit is slowly starting to feel settled again.  I’ve read a lot and just been still and quiet a lot.  I’m slowly escaping the need for constant motion, constant distraction.  The dance parties are smaller, quieter, less frantic, less like I’m trying to pull happiness out of the air, chase it down and make it my own.  Gradually I’m remembering how to sit and find it here and now.

After all, it is a decision and a state of mind much more than a destination.  Happiness is a choice, I’ve remembered.  Happiness is the little voice we all have who we often try not to hear.  Many people are convinced I came to Africa to escape something, to run away.  Quite the contrary.  The six months before I left America were some of the best I’d ever had.  I remember crying in the days before I left and wondering if I was a fool to throw it away, “What if I’m never this happy again?”  But to which I’d always shake my head and say, “But what if I can?  What if this is just the beginning?”  Ask and you will receive.  Knock and the door will open.  One year later I sit in African and honor how far I’ve come.  Is this really the life of the girl who desperately wanted to fade into the shadows and disappear?

I can’t imagine where I’m going from here because, honestly, I’m like Alice and the rabbit hole.  I simply don’t know how I got here—and everything is so damn fantastic!  But perhaps it’s more like Dorothy.  The ruby slippers could carry her home anytime… she just had to look down and ask.  Build your home in your heart and there you are.  Always.  Anywhere.  Anytime.  Be who you are where you are.  I know that seems like a load of touchy-feely BS but I mean it sincerely.

School has been really good this week.  I can’t tell if it’s me or them or both.  I’ve been reading a book I found in Krista’s stuff called First Days of School and it forced me to step back and think about my classes.  There is so much that simply doesn’t apply (like emailing parents and arranging desks—ha!) but it’s slipped a switch somewhere deep in my brain and, combined with a few weeks of rest, I feel like a different teacher.

Yesterday I wanted to do group work to review since it was the first day for most of them in at least ten days.  The school is making a valiant, if late, effort to check lesson plans and I’m making a valiant, if late, effort to comply.  (I also don’t want to repeat the incident from last semester when the VPI burst into my classroom and demanded to see my lessons.  “Fine, but can I finish using them??” I said with a stern frown.  No one ever asked again.)  That meant I didn’t have the usual two hours free to handwrite worksheets so I broke down and decided to photocopy them.  That was $100LD well spent.

We’ve done a fair amount of group work but no matter what I do there’s a fair amount of chaos.  I’ve always thought it was dumb to assign jobs in a group but the book said something, who knows what, that made me want to try.  (Really? We need to assign someone to watch the clock and someone else to write?  We don’t even have a clock.)  They were different kids!  It took a few minutes to describe the made-up jobs but once they got it I put them in groups, breaking up friends and trying to mix the girls and the boys.  They were actually working together and accomplished something.  I think they were almost as shocked as I was.  In 11A they hardly even needed me there so, surprising even myself, I felt comfortable leaving and going around the fence to see why Loveth wasn’t in class.  I had a chat with her, brought her back inside, and no one noticed I was gone.  It was amazing.

Then today, today I had our usual notes so I expected it to be shenanigans as usual.  Nothing bad… just the usual yelling at each other, etc.  I would stop and wait.  I’d tell them to respect each other.  They were on their best behavior again!  And it was a full house!  I explained that they already knew everything they needed to know.  I would just show them how to use it.  “We have been working towards this day all year, my friends,” I said, “I hope you’re ready!”  All eyes were on me as I wrote the notes and, after a few nights of good sleep, my name recognition was excellent, quickly silencing the talkers.  We were factoring trinomials and I’m sure they’d seen it before but as I explained the steps and made them stop to watch me work an example they literally gasped.  “Aha!” moments bust across faces throughout the room like popcorn in hot oil.  “She really makes us understand!” I heard them whisper to each other.

I put up our practice problems and started making my rounds.  This is everyone’s favorite part of class, mine included.  They try to work problems on their own and I come around to check and help.  Oh I love the smiles when I give the smiling nod, thumbs up, or “perfect!”  The boys in the back are good about quietly waving me over to re-explain the steps; Aaron and Anders are both making startling progress simply because now they try.

After a few minutes I always call for volunteers to solve on the board.  They strain their arms in the air trying to get my attention, begging for the chalk even though whoever is chosen is given a very hard time, something I unintentionally taught them to do.  Some days I’d sit in down in the back and raise my hand to ask the exact questions they always ask me, “Mr. Glay, would I still be correct if I wrote 2x instead of x2?”  My victim would then smile and feel very smart for rattling off the rule.  “Aahhhaa,” I’d nod, “I see.”  If time runs short and I try to skip their explanations holla holla breaks out.  “The man hasn’t explained his work!  He isn’t finished!”  They are happy when I give assignments, a complete switch from first period when they’d groan and heckle me, “Missss, this is Liberia!”

I tell them they are becoming fine mathematicians and they clap.

Last week, our first day back, one of the quiet kids stopped me unexpectedly at the beginning of class, “Ms. RB, thank you for the 12th graders.  Thank you for all you did.”  I was a little shocked.  “It was all them,” I said, “They worked very hard and I just pointed the way.  You will follow their footsteps and go even farther.”  They clapped and someone yelled, “We will deuce the WAEC, Ms. RB.  We will deuce it for you!”  I turned from the board and smiled, “Of course you will.  I expect nothing less.”

Never ever underestimate the power of positive thinking.

After school I’d promised to go to the Resource Center to see how I could help.  On the road I ran into Fredrick, one of my 12th grade quizzers, and he asked if he could come with.  “I want to send some emails,” he smiled shyly, “but I don’t know how!”  I’d helped him create an account just a few weeks earlier for his EARTH application.

I met with Flomo and Augustine while he waited in the library.  Flomo had plenty of interesting information about an adult education program and I arranged to meet with Augustine next week to see if we can apply it at the prison.  It sounds like a wonderful fit so I will fight for it.  They also want me to help recruit girls for a computer class and possibly teach it.  Fabulous.

Poor Fredrick was sitting nervously in front of a computer when I finally finished.  “Who do you want to email?” I asked.  “New people,” he said after some thought, “I don’t know anyone outside Liberia.”  I laughed.  “Well we need their email address first!  How about you send me an email so you’ll have my address and you can see how to do it?”  He liked this.  I promised to reply and told him I expected him to come back in a few days to check.  I showed him the website for EARTH University and while we waited for the page to load he sighed, “I really hope they have sport there.  I love football too much!”  I couldn’t help laughing, “I’m certain they will.”

As we left I turned to him, “Fredrick, if this doesn’t happen I hope you will consider ZRTTI.  It’s free and teachers have decent salaries now.  I’ve always thought you’d be a fine teacher.”  He flashed his big smile, “Surely!”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. stacie permalink
    June 16, 2012 11:34 pm

    you are amazing. I miss your face.

    • June 17, 2012 9:35 pm

      I miss yours too, beautiful! I miss creeping on you from the front window at Wilson’s but I’m so glad you’re reading my blog 🙂

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