"HOW DO YOU DO IT?"
This is an echoing question that I've heard time and time again since my preparations and move to Haiti this year to teach the 9 missionary kids at the Mission of Hope.
This past weekend I got to be a part of a missionary women's retreat south of Port-au-Prince. Over 60 women gathered together from all parts of Haiti, and it was a wonderful chance to re-charge and connect with other ladies serving on the island. I got to meet some girls my age who teach in the city and other missionary children, and when I told them what I did, I heard that resounding question all over again.
So I think it's about time that I try to explain 'how I do it'....
Step 1 - PLANNING.
I know teachers may get a lot of slack for their summers and weekends off, but it is completely essential to any student progress from Monday-Friday... I am sure that any of you other teachers out there will back me up! :) During my Friday afternoons and Saturdays I spend the majority of my time going through each of the grade levels and materials, planning the activities for the coming week.
For the primary students, we are currently making our way through the basics - letters sounds and combinations, numbers patterns and operations, the colour wheel, seasons, and shapes. They are making their own books about various topics, thanks for the idea Kristine! Every other Thursday we also have a spelling quiz on the word families we have been studying over the past school weeks.
Based on the dependent needs of the younger students, especially my Loulous, I plan my week with the intention of guiding them through each and every activity.
So far, so good, but you are probably wondering what I do with my grade 5's and 8's during this time...
Let me introduce you to the guidebook. (Thank you Marybeth!)
The guidebook is the ticket to the juniors work week. Every Saturday I go through the textbooks for all of their different subjects and select a portion to be read and corresponding questions I expect them to answer. It's self-paced and directed - including homework. It's all broken down in subject categories with page numbers and so far the kids have been really good about completing it all before the week is over.
Step 2 - IMPLEMENTATION.My weekday morning begins at 7am.
I usually wake shortly before my alarm goes off, and I arise to get myself ready for the day. By 7:45 I make my way down the balcony steps, through the van der Marks porch, and into our brand-spanking new classroom. Check out the pics (and pumpkins)!
I open up the two side doors so the wind can blow through and arrange my lessons for my 4 primary students (Ana, Mina, Bridgely and Riley).
At 7:55 I ring the school bell for the 5-minute warning. Shortly after this I begin to hear the little footsteps nearing closer outside the door and desperately hide under my desk in surrender. Haha. Just kidding.
The kids enter in spits and sputters until we've all arrived by 8am. They find their seats, with an occasional story about a tarantula in someone's bed the night before, or a wound from yesterday evenings ATV ride. The day officially begins with morning devotions. Usually we begin with some bible trivia, followed by a devotional story, reviewing our memorized verses, and a prayer time. I especially love the days we do popcorn prayers and the kids take turns to pray. Ana and Mina pray in Creole. It's so precious.
After devotions I give the juniors the go-ahead to get down to business. I'm thankful they each have a partner to work with. It makes the discussion questions and science experiments much more interactive and enjoyable. Sometimes I have to wean the grade 8 girls off of their socializing about a book they are currently reading back to their math chapter, but overall they work very well. :)
Once the juniors' pencils are moving, that's my cue to begin the calendar routine with the primary's, which then branches into writing activities and math questions.
At 10am we stop to read a chapter of Narnia - we are continuing through the series from last year and are currently on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The kids and I have recently been on the edge of our seat following Eustace journey through the jungle alone.
Following our reading time, we take a 30-minute recess break and re-unite again for a similar work period during the last hour and a half before our morning is over for lunch at noon.
Afternoons begin at 1pm and go until 3:30. Each weekday from Monday to Thursday I work specifically with one of the grade levels. Monday I begin with Bridgely and Riley, Tuesday I work with the grade 5's (Grayden and Sammy), Wednesday I work with the Loulous (while the remaining 6 kids are led by Michelle, our Grade 11 student, in a music program), and Thursday I spend with the grade 8 girls. It is during this time that I specialize my teaching toward the levels and ages of my kids. Science experiments, math concepts, reviewing previous work and questions from the week, etc. is all done during this afternoon block I have with the different grades. It's a much more relaxed time compared to the morning, and it gives me peace of mind, especially with the junior students, to know that they are understanding everything.
And that brings me to Friday.
Friday's are fun days. The best day of the week!
These are the days that we do large group games, art activities, go on field trips and celebrate special occasions. Tomorrow I expect to have no students in my class... Just crazy characters, in honour of Halloween on Saturday. They are all pretty excited to dress up. I am too. :)
So there's a little run down... Hm. After reviewing the past few paragraphs I understand that I may be giving you a pretty mellow picture of what my week events are actually like.
The reality check is this: From the time the kids come into the classroom in the morning, my mind hits overdrive and doesn't stop. I switch from explaining a fraction problem, to solving the dilemma of someone needing more paper in their duotangs, to reinforcing the sound that the 'h' makes, to correcting the printing of a backwards 4, to mixing colours to demonstrate how red and yellow make orange, to translating a word in Creole, to clarifying what I meant by defining terms when reading pages 18-25, to checking in on the grade 5's who are doing a taste testing experiment in the van der Mark kitchen.... can I stop now? I usually walk out of school with my brain spinning 100 miles an hour. I often walk disillusioned back to my apartment and just sit. Adrenaline needs a few minutes to cool down.
And then that age-old question finds a little nook in my brain... How do I do it?
Or better yet, AM I doing it?
And I drown in weakness...
What am I doing here!?!
I think the question here is not that. Nor, how do I do it? Nor, am I doing it? But WHO is doing it?
Please don't let it be me. I'm way in over my head.
And yet the One who has pulled me through every single time is here with me again. He can be trusted. He gives me everything I need for the task. The Lord is clearly at work in our schoolhouse, keeping me patient and sane, and guiding the kids along in their respective work, helping them understand new concepts and giving them grace for one another.
A few weeks ago Cheryl approached me and asked what I thought about bringing in an assistant to help me. Someone to share the load with. Up until this point, I have decided to stay on my own. This is partly because of my own perfectionism and pride. To bring in a new person could potentially be a just what we need, or it could lead me into having to oversee and manage even more people, making my task bigger than it already is. You see, I like things a certain way. I would rather just do it my way, by myself, then have to manage another person beside me. And yet the more I think about the dynamics of all of this, the more I realize that this decision can't be about what is best for me, it has to be about what is best for the kids.
I have 7 wonderful Canadian kids. I love to teach them. I love to watch what they are learning at different stages. I love to challenge them. I love to see them strategize and solve problems. I love to laugh with them. I love that I get to be their teacher.
I have 2 adorable Haitian girls. It's been a dream of mine for years to teach little orphans, and here I am in a position to give them the foundation where they will build their education. I love to watch them absorb what I teach like a sponge. I love to see them eager to start the day as they dash to their desks. I love to be their teacher.
But the dilemma that I am quickly realizing is that I can't do both.
Especially due to the lack of English the girls know, I find the repetition in instructions I have to give them, the constant attention in their independent work activities, and the continuous reinforcement of simple tasks is too great for me to do alone while juggling 7 other students. And the bottom line is that I have never had any ESL training in my life. Everything I am doing with them is simply a desperate attempt to turn them into Canadian kids. There has got to be strategies, techniques, tools to help kids catch on... I've just never been taught in that department.
The Lord has been very gracious to me in managing all of my students, but I feel that it's time to ask for help.
I want each of my kids to get the best education they have ever had. They are amazing and they deserve the best. It's a privilege for me to play a part in their learning, in who they are and who they will become, and it's also my prayer that the Lord will be preparing someone very special to join this team, this mission that I'm on in educating these dear Haitian twins.
Over the coming weeks, Laurens and Cheryl and I will be looking for a qualified English as a Second Language teacher to work with Ana and Mina daily, catching them up to the English language and the grade one curriculum. It will likely be a 3-4 month commitment.
Thank you for your prayers at this time as we discern who will come, and that the Lord would provide a perfect fit. I know that the Lord has someone very special in mind, and I am trusting Him that all of the dynamics will be smooth for all of us. Please feel free to contact me if you know of someone who fits the description to work with Ana and Mina. I will be sure to keep you updated on this journey!