Today we printed out 2 lesson plans. Neither of which we taught. I am distraught; my trainee’s eyes glisten with unshed tears. Unspoken words are left hanging in the thick air. We sit and walk in silence. It is not the companionable kind.
I should have spoken up last night. It wasn’t until we arrived at the monastery that I began my negative diatribe of how dreadfully the lesson was going to go on account of not having planned it. Having a compulsive need to plan has stood me in great stead for my career. Trying to pass on that knowledge to someone whose idea of a lesson plan was a single sentence strung together on a scrap of spare paper is a struggle. Daily I battle with the question how much is too much. I have been accused by my student of being a robot; of planning and planning no matter how much emotional upheaval I am facing. Little does he see that I plan because of emotional upheaval. When I get stressed and upset I want to clean, tidy and organize. It gives me a sense of purpose; I am achieving something. I am a worthy human being; I am contributing to the net worth of society. Planning is useful, I want to be useful. I actually want to sleep. My eyelids are heavy and keep involuntarily reaching down to meet my lower lashes.
An hour has passed. I roll over, groggy, and see the face of my other trainee poking around the door. I had heard his voice as I had passed the moments between slumber and consciousness. He brought me snacks. He also brought along another of the volunteer teachers. We begin by sitting in the sweltering upper of the house. What little breeze there is feels like air escaping from the oven door after baking bread; except there is no homely country cottage smell to accompany it. Instead there is the smell of sweat and dust. My forehead threatens to burst forth with sweat viciously pouring over my temples. As we move to the under part of the house; cooler only by a few degrees yet with a breeze that makes breathing a little more bearable the sister of the volunteer teacher arrives. This is the girl who was to seek advice from me on Monday evening. She is still squeaky and I assume unhappy. There is another meeting, make that summons, from the monk this evening. My trainee isn’t making eye contact with me and conveys a more monosyllabic deliverance than I thought possible in a language which deals exclusively in monosyllables.
I don’t know where it went wrong. I do know that the pressure of the monk is getting to our trainee and that a 3.5 hour conversation with other teachers on Monday when we should have been planning context lessons for in/on/at was not a good start to the week. On Tuesday, after a paltry 3 hours sleep we dragged our bodies to the monastery to test grade 9. I deeply didn't want to teach the monk after the exceptionally bad atmosphere of the previous night. I hadn’t understood anything more than the gist, but even that was enough to have me wishing I chain-smoked and that a sudden influx of cockroaches might suddenly present themselves as target practice. On Tuesday, there was a horrible atmosphere in class. As I started the lesson that I knew has great scaffolding and a wonderful plot which was sure to capture the attentions of even the most unruly class, I sounded like a zombie in the process of losing her head. My normally chirpy voice was a monotonous blur tumbling from my parted lips. I had no energy to smile and was wondering at what point I might burst into tears. Fortunately this unfortunate event did not occur, and I was even able to enjoy the lesson a little after an hour or so. Given his highly distracted state, I was not in the least bit surprised when my trainee confessed he hadn’t taken any notes on the class.
My second trainee may not be as good at English, but emotionally he is sensitive and knows something is wrong. Although I would think you would need the emotional sensitivity of a Neanderthal to not feel that something is not right between us. The atmosphere is terse. It’s not even polite at this point, it is horrible stalemate in which I must wait patiently for the trainee to talk. Which he doesn’t want to. In light of this tension, my second trainee quizzes me. He knows something is not right with the lesson plans, and advises me to ‘not give up’ and to ‘try anyway.’ Reassuring me not to worry and that nobody is unhappy. I think to myself how sweet it is that he’s trying to placate me and shield me from the obvious truth, but how absurd his notion is that nobody is unhappy. Try again without the prefix, then we might have something closer to the truth of the matter.
It’s presently 3:15pm. I have not been addressed by my trainee since 9 am. I’ll admit; I’m worried about how this will turn out. But, I’m also curious. I am not exactly certain what it is that I’ve done to upset him. I think the tension has been rising since my return to the village and that this fight is a symptom of the whole situation.
I am always the teacher here. I have to keep going and be strong and push. But not too much, otherwise we’ll cause damage. It’s finding equilibrium. I don’t want to pull rank as ‘the teacher.’ I want equality and rational thoughts in which we hash out the issues and come to a measured conclusion.
I am finding more and more that this is not just a job. This is not a test of my career as much as my very being. It is a relationship with my trainee which must find the razor thin balance between friendly and professional.
Late into the setting fiery red ball of sun we went to wash. We strode into the fields and just missed the sun sinking behind the distant mountains. We spoke. Not about the earlier misgivings; rather about inconsequential, fluffy stuff. We managed a brief laugh over the inbreeding in both of our villages which sometimes produces 6 fingers, or in the case of my village, webbed toes. A truce of kinds has been reached I believe.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
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