You, Wisconsin, with your lime green leaf buds, with your sun heating my hair and your wind chapping my cheeks, with your crowds of Badger red that break up the dull palette of wintery grays, with your lakes that glitter and freeze, with your rains that never stop and snow that always falls and summers that always bake.
You, Wisconsin, with your ice quakes and thunderstorms, with your beer fests and freak fests, with your hippies and hunters and hipsters, with your bipolar politics and bipolar weather, with your locally cured bacon and organically ground bratwurst and sustainably caught bluegill, with your moody North Woods music and marching polka bands and banjos thundering the Capitol, with your blaze and your black and your cardinal.
I know schools. I spend my life in schools. I study schools, I work in schools, I pretty much live in schools. And school here in Mexico…Well, it’s different.
My head swims with a constant stream of, “Wow. In the States, it’s like X, but in Mexico, it’s like X.” Some are improvements, some are infuriating, and some are just baffling cultural differences. But different nonetheless. Never mind that I am teaching at an “American” school. This place is definitely not American. Plus, I get the added benefit of Anna being in a local Montessori program, a non-Americanized (but still private, so relatively affluent) school. And man! These schools are just…different.
Here are just a few of the things that just don’t match up between American and this little sample of Mexican schools (with the full acknowledgement that my n=2 sample is skewed heavily toward upper-class Mexico).
Dear Future Chicago Teachers,
Congratulations on your acceptance to Teach For America’s Chicago corps! Now that the application and waiting process is over, you are about to make a life-changing decision. Being a teacher is simultaneously exhausting and awe-inspiring, and teaching in Chicago—the country’s third largest school district and once deemed “the worst in the nation”—is rife with its own particular struggles and successes. But I am writing to tell you: the decision to join our movement is absolutely worth it. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
It’s Takeima and Larry that worry me. Larry worries me because of his exhaustion. When it’s my turn to teach, Larry puts his head on his desk and declares that it’s naptime. Takeima also shuts down…she sits there, stony-faced, unwilling to speak to me or her classmates. They worry me, but mostly because they are the two students who make me visibly frustrated. I try all that I can with Takeima and Larry—I use positive reinforcement, I encourage them, I give them choices. I am also stern and dole out consequences and stop their behaviors in their incipient moments. I try everything I can think of, but nothing seems to work with Takeima or Larry. I am worried because they do not respond to me, and by the end of every period I am flush with frustration and helplessness.
There is truly power in numbers, I’ve learned this past week.
So I have safely–if sweatily–been in India for four days now, and I am overwhelmed.
Of course, there is the heat. Or rather the humidity. Our arrival brought the monsoons, which are refreshing once they fall, but for the day-long build-up, it is sweltering. I try not to think about it too much (or the multiple ice cold showers I crave, but alas, Delhi is in a severe water crisis), but it definitely defines our experience. What’s remarkable is that Delhites don’t sweat. Ever. Well, that’s not true. Today was record humidity, and a Kashmiri woman who runs a school we visited was whining about the heat. But I’m not sure she counts…after all, she’s from the Himalayas. This is all brutal to her.
Our last day in Cape Town and I’m left noticing all the things I will miss about this city,this country, this experience: the smells of African spices; the musical welcomes everywhere we go; all of the South African children who are eager to talk to and hug us; finding an excuse to say “yebo” as much as possible each day; the animals who pop up in unexpected places (cows wandering the townships, geckos falling on me in the shower, wildebeest roaming a field in the middle of Cape Town); Table Mountain magnificently orienting us to infinite bays and neighborhoods; our own students finding song mid-way through the trip and then peppering each day with selections from The Lion King and The Prince of BelAir. Just about the only thing Iwon’t miss is pap, a cornmeal mush that’s been served to us a few too many times.
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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