A Moment

Arm in arm we stand under the universe;
In the snow we are beings enveloped by
The galaxies above and the galaxies within;
Popping river ice compliments silence
As our eyes open to see the expanse.
No auroras, only a lighthouse beyond the trees
And Christmas lights down the street,
We have begun to see each other in the moonlight,
And arm in arm we stand under the universe.

Reflections on Being a First-year Teacher Abroad

I’ve set myself a big task for this post, and no doubt I’ll revisit and revise again and again. “This is just a drill, people!”
OK, first obstacle – a list or an essay? Yes. For now.
*cue tea break and avoidance* No! You must reflect to be a better person!

OK… here we go… Teaching has been an experience, a roller coaster, a series of ups and downs, a wild ride, a #soblessed, a scream, a curse word, making lemonade out of lemons… insert anything, especially a cliche apparently, and that’s teaching. Even more so when you add to the mix that I’ve been a first-year teacher while living abroad.

Microsoft Showcase School Montebello Academy in Valle de Los Chillos, near Ecuador’s capital of Quito, summoned me in the form of a mutual friend who I met by chance at a baby shower. Not super glorious or interesting way to meet, but hey. I talked to the friend who had worked there, and I had an interview the next week and was hired. Three weeks later I was meeting my host family face to face at UIO airport outside of Quito. After the two weeks of in-service before school, I began teaching classes of sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

I floundered at first (“how on earth do I do this?!”), missing home and having no textbook, no guidance, and no experience, especially in the school’s highly specialized methodology and disciplinary system. About halfway through quimestre number one, I had developed a system for lesson planning and an idea of what to plan each week. Around Christmas I had a grading system and began to grade strictly. Unit plans became easier after begging another teacher to share her plans from previous years regarding the same books I was teaching. After Christmas, my students and I all started to relax and have fun with each other, and I began planning lessons with specific groups of students’ learning styles in mind. I was no longer terrified of telling my students to leave class or to stop being idiots, and my “good work” comments became more sincere and harder to come by. In addition, I gained more confidence in my public speaking than I’ve ever had in my life. In short, I began to stand instead of flounder, pedagogically speaking.

All of that improvement sounds great, but I was also spending all day Saturday planning and Sunday after church doing housework and errands. I had no friends except work acquaintances and felt guilty when I did take a night to go to a party or go sight-seeing.Class evaluations were supposed to take place once a month without warning and with high penalties –  three negative comments, and a note went on your permanent record. Sleep, teach, plan, repeat.  I lived near Quito for seven months without ever seeing any tourist sights, and I worked with people my own age for six months without seeing any of them outside of work. Natural introversion meant I stayed in the comfort zone of my apartment, despite knowing I should “get out more.” Even when I did “get out,” I was unsure of how to interact in a culture not my own, and I constantly feared offended or upsetting someone. I developed anxiety from work pressure and depression from adjusting to a new country and culture, although those two highly influenced one another. I would cry at least twice a week at school during the first three months, although I managed to reduce that to only twice a week at home for the next three months. Needless to say, I was miserable.

My only joy was my students. Their creativity, unexpected answers, their desire to discuss and learn (usually), and their curiosity and hope for life permeated my depression and recently developed anxiety. The only time I laughed during any given day would be thanks to my seniors Esteban and Julio, those nutjobs who knew exactly how to provoke me into a gasping, tears-coming-out-my-eyes, I’ve-got-to-control-myself-because-I’m-the-teacher fits of laughter. They frustrated me at times for speaking Spanish in English class – a strict rule that in previous years their class was not accustomed to follow – but more often than not, one minute I’d be almost yelling at them and the next I’d be doubled over in laughter. Every class had someone – at least one student who succeeded in cracking me up on a weekly basis at least. But every good story has another side: I’d have a blast in class, then come home and crash emotionally and mentally.

Depression, stress, homesickness, and anxiety were my constant companions when I was not in class. Fear of not measuring up to Montebello’s high expectations bombarded me, and when I almost had a panic attack before a class that I thought would be observed, I knew it was time to stop.

I wish this post was destined to be an inspirational tale of a young woman coming into her own and triumphing all obstacles in her path to become a professional and personal success, ending in all happiness, but this post is not that. After many tearful conversations with my best friend, my brother, and my parents, I decided to quite literally pack my bags and head west. (Well, north.) I decided that mental health and happiness outweighed everything, and I quit my job. The ideal last half of this paragraph would explain my reasoning in definitive, inarguable logic as well as my complete happiness with my decision, and this essay would have a #noregrets sort of ending that encourages my reader, whoever you are, to go out and live your dream no matter what happens or how it ends. But I’m still conflicted my decision. I miss my students and remember their faces and the words they said as I said I would leave them, half-lying to them that I have a health problem. I miss seeing the incredible, untapped potential in their smiles and their eager, joyful eyes, and I miss seeing them discover and use that potential in every single class period. I could go on, but you get the idea. It’s bittersweet, and now I know what that means.

Now to sum it all up, to do what conclusions are supposed to do: Do I regret moving to Ecuador? A little. Do I regret becoming a teacher? Yes, a bit. Do I regret teaching my wonderful, thoughtful, crazy students? No, not at all.

In the Temples

The veil is thinner than we imagine.
Striding here and there, we carry serpents on our shoulders
And inconclusively think impassive
The time that is a side effect of Being.
The veil is thinner than we hope;
In the temples our sacrifices die, and
Slowly each ripple shows itself to be a choice.

From the Journal of Neville Longbottom

I didn’t mean to be in Gryffindor.
In the brave house.
The confrontational house.
The house that gave us Dumbledore!
Maybe I’ll amount to something,
Since I’m in Gryffindor.
Gran says
I need to be more like my dad.
We went to visit him and mum before I came here
Since we were in London and we can never be sure
They’ve read my letters.
I told them the news –
I’m magic enough to come to Hogwarts!
I wonder if they’ll read the letter
I wrote them today.
“I’m in Gryffindor!” I said.
“The brave house.”