Sunday, September 27, 2009

What a day . . .

Today was my first day with students. I only had 8 to 10 of them at a time (they kind of roved in and out) but 8 was way more than I could manage. Let's just say that hands down, it was the craziest day of my teaching career. Wild, wild, wild. So many things went wrong that there's really too much to write. Chatting on the phone about the events, blow by blow, would just be so much easier. I'd consider it a 8.4 day in terms of phone-call worthiness. However, since that most likely won't happen, consider this a brief vignette in our phone conversation that never was:

Why yes, now that you mention it, I do see that there is a faucet missing in the bathroom. And no, you don't say!! A poor little baby kindergartner pulled it out of the wall while she was just trying to wash her hands!?!? You mean she was really really drenched to the point where she looked like she'd been hit be the type of super soaker that would be so strong it would be illegal? What happened next? Wait--then the water just kept gushing from that pipe in the wall? Like for a really long time? What did you do? So, you're telling me that you went to another teacher for help, but after she took off to notify the office, no one from the office actually came to help? What were they all doing? You don't know?! Then the bathroom flooded because there was so much water? Wow. Well, yes, I can imagine that it did make quite a mess. What about the poor girl? Oh -- no -- way. You finally had to take her to the office once things calmed down? How did you get the water off? A parent heard screaming? Well, at least someone took pity on you! But yes--I see what you mean--that probably didn't help you make a very good impression. What happened when you finally took the horrified little girl to the office? Seriously. They made her stand outside in the hot sun because they couldn't find her mother's mobile number? I see. Did she actually dry off? Did she ever get a change of clothes? Huh. Must have been a hot one. And it wasn't even 10:30 yet? Goodness. Yes, you're right. It guess it does sound like it was a decently interesting start to the school year . . .

No joke.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

First Day of School!

Well, Wednesday was my first day of school!!
. . . And not a single student came!

Considering that everything was [still is!] a bit uncertain right down to the last minute, I think this was actually a good thing. Not to mention the fact that it would have been hard to teach kids in my room as it was still kind of a mess:

Isn't it beautiful? I love the green and all of the natural light!

If I didn't get any kids, at least the first day of school was a day for getting some answers. Here's what I know about the upcoming year:
  • Teacher: Miss Molly (Students address teachers by their first names, not last names.)
  • Grade: 1
  • Sections: 3 & 4; Section 3 in the morning and Section 4 in the afternoon
  • Start of school day: 7:45 am We will be meeting in the auditorium at the beginning of each day for a patriotic-themed assembly.
  • End of the school day: 1:20 pm
  • Number of students: 20 in the morning, 20 in the afternoon
  • Subjects: English, Math, Science
  • School: We have a new school that is being reopened this year. It's just 5 minutes or so from the old school we were at last week.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I don't want to forget . . .

I don't want to forget the breeze today. It made me feel like this:


{picture taken by Bloom, Grow, Love.}

Monday, September 21, 2009

Little Discoveries: Yogi Tea

during one of my hottest, sweatiest, i-hate-transportation-in-this-town afternoons, i ducked into the marks & spencer building to cool off for a moment. when a moment wasn't enough, i ended up wandering around in the air conditioned space to prolong the inevitable return to the street heat. then, lucky me(!), my procrastination brought me to a little organic store and cafe!

i easily spent a good twenty minutes, walking up and down the aisles multiple times. as stupid as it sounds, it is honestly reassuring to see a few familiar brand names and labels. if you had been watching me, you would have most definitely seen my face light up when i spotted this on the shelf:

i first tasted egyptian licorice yogi tea in the sky bridge at wwu. it was love at first sip. pretty much each night after that, i'd tote a giant nalgene of this stuff with me to the library. it was supposed to help me power through evening study sessions, but i really should have picked something with caffeine . . .

'Spring Jamboree' (2007) // 'Mediterranean Madness' (2009)

a chilled cup of this goodness is also my beverage of choice for muggy AND modest birthday saunas. i know rosie might disagree, but it's sweet yet still deliciously light and refreshing--perfect for our party purposes.

anyway, it was an exciting little discovery. a piece of home. a role in an old routine. a toast to good times. mmmm . . . it makes me happy. next time you come over, i'd love to make you a cup.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

WORK (Week 4)

Week 4--Training from the staff room.
Enter employer #3. (Well, actually I don't know my principal yet . . . I hopefully will soon, though!) Last Sunday, all local teachers and LTs (licensed teachers from the 'West') were supposed to report for duty. It was finally time to visit our school!

Now, as you probably know, the beginning of the school year back in the States is a whirlwind of activity. Teachers are cleaning, rearranging, moving, decorating, planning, and doing all that they can to make sure everything is ready for when the students come. The work room is always busy -- from the perspective of the copy machine, it must feel like boot camp after a lazy summer. The school seems to pulse with this anxious, stressed-out type of energy that drives everyone to work in hyper mode. The week before school starts in the USA could be titled 'school scurry'. The week before school starts in the UAE could be titled 'school social'. The approach is COMPLETELY different.

In the UAE, the teachers show up at 9 o'clock and usually leave around 12 o'clock. Then, the time they do spend at school is solely for catching up on all that's happened over the summer. As a shy observer in the corner, I was trained in the new way of gearing up for the school year: hugging, bising (faire la bise), listening, talking, laughing. "Getting ready," as I know it, is not on the agenda. The whole idea of having everything perfectly set up for the students is not part of what happens here.

For example . . .

Classrooms are still sandy and dirty.
Desks are still in huge piles in the center of the rooms.
Walls are bare.
Class lists are blank.
Schedules (class periods, the daily start and end times, specialists, daily assembly agenda, etc.) have yet to be created.
Plans are unmade; the scope and sequence for the year are undetermined. This is partly due to the fact that . . .
Grades and teachers are not assigned yet.

The academic calendar is still being finalized.

I'm sure you get the picture. Please, I'm not trying to pass judgement--I'm just trying to make sense of it all. Exploring the contrast between what I'm accustomed to and what I'm try to adapt to helps me process. From what I've heard from all of the other LTs (licensed teachers from the 'West'), their schools are just like this too.

However, unlike some of the other educators, I think I have a few more puzzle pieces missing: We just found out a few days ago that the school we've been going to for most of the week really isn't "our" school; it's splitting from a grade 1-9 school into 2 schools. There will be a 1-3 school and a 4-9 school. The older kids will be staying in the current building and the younger kids will be going to a new building.

So, let me start with what we know: We know that it's going to be a 1-3 school. We know that it's in another building at a different location. We know that the official start date is Sept. 23rd. Moving on to what we don't know: We still don't know where the school is or if it's even been built. We don't know the staff. This includes the principal, the secretary, the social worker, and most of the other teachers. We don't know the number of students attending. As a result, we don't know classroom assignments, the number of teachers needed for each grade level, etc. Basically we don't know too much!

Trying to plan for who knows what!

Back to training from the staff room: I'm definitely being schooled by these teachers! They are so calm and positive and happy to be back with each other. They truly seem to care about one another and are sincere in their affections. They also don't seem flustered at all by the lack of information.

Their unspoken teaching point is that you either roll with all of the unknowns or you let the unknowns drive you crazy. Some of the other North American teachers I'm working with are
really having a hard time. Not knowing any of the basic details (academic calendar, grade level, classroom, student list, etc.) is pushing them to the verge of mental instability. I should probably do some online research about panic attacks so I can play "medic" if things don't get figured out soon . . . I'm serious.

To be honest, a part of me is freaked out; however, another part of me actually likes it. It is almost amusing. Picture this: Right now it's the weekend. Then the next 3 days are a national holiday. Then we start next week, the day right after the holiday! There's not much time left before I'm going to be staring into the little faces of my kiddos! From what I can piece together, the most likely scenario is that I'll be trying to cope with a couple of other teachers in a gym with all of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders. This might last for the first week or so (or longer?!) until everything is sorted out and settled. It's just so wild to start the school year with so many of the building blocks a bit out of place!!! It's so unreal -- so absolutely different from all of the calculated, policy-governed, pre-planned procedures orchestrated by my school district. The procrastinator in me feels right at home. The perfectionist in me feels like the disorganization on my main employer's part takes the pressure off a bit.

I guess I can sum up my training from the staff room in 2 words: shwayer, shwayer or slowly, slowly. If they're not stressed about the start of the school year, why should I be? It will all get done, it will all fall into place, it will all come together, it will all work out. But above all, it will happen shwayer shwayer!

Happy teacher working on going with the flow.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

WORK (Week 3)

Week 3--Training from my PPP.
Enter employer #2. In addition to my main pay-check-writing, hiring-firing employer, I am also responsible to my PPP. Since most of you have not even taken Abu Dhabi Educational Acronyms 101, I'll go easy on you and give you this one: Public Private Partnership. Basically, the government hires an outside educational company to come in and implement all of the changes my main employer is trying to put in place. The public school partners with a private organization to make progress in all academic aspects. The 8 different PPPs working/competing with each other in Abu Dhabi are supposed to improve the standards in 147 different schools throughout the emirate. They have several KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to meet. These KPIs range from higher academic scores to more efficient health and safety procedures to increased attendance.

My role last week was to collaborate with my PPP and assist in producing APs (Action Plans) to help all of the schools meet these already mentioned KPIs. The work wasn't super relevant, but I was getting paid for it, so I am not complaining.

Thanks to a ride from a coworker, I was able to get to the PPP office from the city fairly easily. However, transportation to my school is still a worry. (Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out.) Doing a long term lease on a car or hiring a taxi to pick me up and take me to school each day are my two most feasible options. They both have pros and cons. With a little help from Picnik, here's our route to my PPP office:

Rolling, rolling, rolling,

Friday, September 18, 2009

Another Reason . . . WORK! (Week 1 & 2)

Well, another reason I've been a little slow on the updates: work. I've realized that in the past 3 weeks, I haven't said a peep about it -- even though it's the reason I'm here, right? Here's a week-by-week run-down on what I've been doing.

Week 1 & 2--Training from my main employer.
We listened to lectures about the business of life: housing, visas, health insurance, car rental, banking, etc. We were also privy to learn about Gulf customs & culture from local celebrity, Ali Alsaloom; see slide shows about the new hi-tech, eco-friendly Abu Dhabi suburb, Masdar city; and enjoy countless hours on riveting subjects such as educational history in the UAE(aka school reform in the past), school reform in the present (which is literally being changed each day!), and school initiatives to come (aka school reform in the more distant future, meaning 5 years instead of 5 days).

By now, I've probably passed Abu Dhabi Educational Acronyms 511 (which is really a conglomerate of educational mumbo-jumbo from all around the world) and should get some credits for it. Get ready for the update from week 3--it's a little more acronym heavy.

Additionally, I have been a bit frightened into conservatively towing the line for my employer and am rather paranoid about making cultural and academic mistakes.
My sessions in the "break out groups" and straightforward words of warning from my employers have convinced me to keep my nose uber clean. From what I've been gathering, it's a bit of a high stakes teaching environment. [Hint: There are no acronyms for job security -- this is due to the fact that job security doesn't really exist. If it did, I'm sure they would come up with an acronym for it!]

I'm sure you know this acronym: TGIF! (Here, the weekend starts on Thursday--I guess I should say TGIT instead.)


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

She's Here!!

I know I've been a bit neglectful of the little blog lately . . . but I do have a good reason: JILL!

Ms. Jill arrived on the evening of Sept. 6th. She's staying at the swanky Intercontinental Hotel until her permanent accommodations are available. At 4,000 dirhams a night (that's $1,089.028!!!!!) she seems to be enjoying it. I know that I've sure enjoyed being a guest at the pool a few times so far this week. It's something I could easily get used to doing. Much too easily . . .

Our first (and only?!) picture together in the UAE was taken in the Heritage Village museum during an Iftar celebration. (More to come on the Iftar; it was also my week 3 anniversary!)

To see some excellent photography and to hear another perspective on our teaching stint in the UAE, check out Jill's new blog. Even with limited internet access, she's already doing a brilliant job of chronicling this adventure. I am sure more great things will be coming from her site . . . Insh'allah.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

2 Week Anniversary

I would like to announce that today is my 2 Week Anniversary!

We all celebrated a bit early with a party at Patricia & Elvideo's flat. There was an impressive spread, a buzz of conversation, and so many people I would consider to be new friends. As I sat and looked around the room, it became very obvious that I have so much to be thankful for. There are still things that are frustrating, no doubt, but when you have a good crew around you, it just makes everything better. Thanks Plaza Posse! Here's to another week!