Saturday, November 29, 2014

Peanuts at the Salad Bar

This is my view from the front of the room. Minus the children.
Finally, I have a moment to talk about what daily life is like at my job. Of course, I can’t go into very specific detail about some things, but I can tell you a few of the more interesting tidbits.

Despite its English branding, my school is not like most schools in the UK.  For example, the students are very physical with me—some of them give me hugs on a daily basis, and they often take my hand or touch my hair or try to play with my scarf (these last two I am trying to curtail).  I know this may seem pretty normal for primary school, but what is unusual is that we are encouraged to hug the children back; it is part of Colombian culture, and personal space is not often regarded as an issue.  I really like it, actually, because I don’t feel like I have to look over my shoulder any time I give a child an encouraging push toward his chair, or when I hug one of them who is crying, or (more recently) when I have to pin one of their arms down and lift them physically off the floor because they are trying to scratch and kick another student… That was an anomaly, and a particularly bad day for the girls involved.  Otherwise, it’s mostly hugging and holding hands.  I have one student who is still learning English, but one of the things she has learned to say is “I love you, Miss!” and she says multiple times every day, and she always wants a hug in response.

He only fell off the chair twice.
This buzzword is tossed around UK schools pretty much constantly.  "Can’t do that, Health and Safety won’t allow it.”  "That’s a Health and Safety issue right there.”  "No way, Health and Safety would be all over me!"  Here, while we are, of course, concerned for the health and the safety of our students, we don’t feel quite so strangled by the red tape.  My classroom is literally covered in paper, from the reminder charts to the pictures and posters made by students to the bookworms strung across the ceiling.  On Halloween there were ghosts and pumpkins and witches dangling from almost every structural feature—put there by students standing on chairs or on each other’s shoulders.  In the US, the fire marshall would have cordoned off the room as a huge hazard.  Here, we have earthquake drills instead of fire drills.  I am not required to wear a face mask and rubber gloves when helping a child put her earring back in her ear, or even when putting a band-aid on a paper cut.  My students regularly come back from PE class or Break-time with bumps and bruises and cuts; at least three of them have been in casts or slings since the start of the year; the other day one of them broke her chin when swinging upside-down on the playground.  Parents don’t sue.  They just accept that kids are kids, and sometimes they hurt themselves.

Food of the gods.
Another unusual occurrence, and the happy title of this post, is the presence of peanuts at the salad bar.  Whereas most UK (and US!) schools are frantically trying to prevent their students from ever encountering anything that might possibly trigger an allergic reaction—resulting in a frightening number of mandates about what can and can not be brought in lunch boxes or on field trips or for class celebrations—here we see on regular offer things like nuts, strawberries, fresh melon, fish, and lots of milk products.  In fact, allergies are quite rare here, and I am sure there are a number of opinion-polarizing reasons for that.  Of course, with peanuts being one of my favourite foods in the entire universe, I love this relaxed attitude, and I definitely add them to my tray every day.  I even had the pleasure of introducing them to one of my students, who had never tried them before and asked what they were when she saw them on my plate.  I gave her a few to try, and her eyes got really big, and she said, “these are awesome!” and I said, “I KNOW!”  We are now peanut buddies, and often have long conversations on the merits of the little legume.  However, on the flip side of all this joy, there is the fact that these South Americans are heavy-handed with the cilantro, and there is nary a day when I don’t have to avoid several of the selections so that I don’t accidentally consume some of the evil weed.  I consider it a fair trade-off.

Our school is out in the countryside, and so we have to get used to creatures like moths, beetles, spiders, and the occasional worm roaming freely about the classroom (not to mention the cow crossings outside the front gate of the school).  However, one of the fun side-effects of being located near a farm is the regular scent of onions in the air.  We are too far away for any effect on the eyes (thank goodness! My eyes are really sensitive to onion), so it is just the smell that travels.  I rather enjoy this, but it offends the nostrils of many students and teachers, especially on a warm day when the wind is blowing in our direction.  I think it is much better than those once-a-week days when (I guess) the farm burns its waste or its onion skins or maybe its chicken feathers (who knows), and we get an acrid burning smell all day long.

Yes, it is really like this.
Because the school is so far from the city centre (see reference to the countryside above), we are provided with transportation to and from the school each day.  There is a van or a bus that runs along specific routes, and the teachers are expected to be at their bus stops on time, because the bus will only wait exactly 60 seconds.  This differs starkly from the bus rules for the kids, who are picked up at their doors and who might take as long as six minutes to finally come out, as long as a parent has signalled that they are indeed coming.  My bus stop is at the intersection of 45th and 7th, while I live at 30th and 1st, so I have a bit of a hike to accomplish in order to be there at 5:55 a.m.  Fortunately, my devoted boy gets up with me at 5 each morning and drives me to the bus stop, because he is wonderful.  The bus ride can take anywhere from an hour to two hours, depending on traffic.  One day earlier this week we arrived at school at 7:45, and none of the students were there yet.  On other days, we arrive at 6:50 and they are waiting outside the classroom door—or worse, inside the classroom, having been let in by the maintenance man.  All of this madness means that, though school is meant to begin at 7:15 and I am meant to greet the students as they enter the classroom, it is almost impossible to accomplish.  It also means that I cannot stay late if I want to get some copying done, or some organising, or even some marking.  The bus leaves at 3:30 (4:30 on Wednesdays), and I had better be on it if I want to go home that day.  I find this both good for me (I have always been one of those teachers who stays at school till 7 or 8 pm to get everything done, which is not entirely healthy), and extremely frustrating (for the same reason). 

I am still amused by the many mispronunciations and misspellings my students attempt.  Some of them are really quite good English speakers, and because they are forced to use it to communicate with me, they are improving.  Still, I get a giggle when I read charming sentences like “There was a pan a time one mostro tat drink blod tof the children for the night and old of the days he gom to the cueva.”  Translation: "Once upon a time there was a monster that drank the blood of children at night, and every day he came home to his cave."

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