Today I taught my first class entirely by myself.
It was a disaster.
Monsieur Kofi had to step out, so he left me entirely in charge of the class. I was teaching class 2B (second grade). The kids were attentive at first, listening to me dictate les mois de l’année (the months of the year) and repeating each month after me, but somewhere along the line, I lost control. When it came time for them to say the months of the year one by one, they wouldn’t keep quiet while their classmates spoke. I told them again and again to keep quiet and sit still, but as soon as I turned my back to listen to whoever was reading, the noise volume went up again. They kept getting out of their seats, some fought over books or pencils, oh, and there was so much teasing going between them. They simply would not listen to me! Every time I managed to get them to sit quietly in their seats, the quiet lasted about ten seconds before they became noisier than before. I spent half the class telling them to be quiet, sit down, stop fighting, pay attention, etc, very nicely at first, but by the end of the class I was yelling at them. I felt horrible for yelling, but that was the quickest way to regain their attention after I had lost it. I came so close to breaking down and crying right there in the middle of class. I was able to keep my composure until the bell rang and their class teacher came in to get them ready for the other class. I was sure that the kids hated me for yelling at them, but much to my surprise, as they lined up to go to their computer class, they all smiled at me, shouting “Auntie Kate!” and touching my hands. I forced a smile and said, “Au revoir.” Monsieur Kofi came back from his errand just as I was picking up their text books in the now silent classroom. I handed him the stack and told him I was going home for lunch.
I didn’t break down until I was walking upstairs to my bedroom. I came in and threw myself on my bed, sobbing hysterically. A thousand questions went through my mind... what the hell am I doing here? What was I thinking? I can’t do this!
I don’t think I would have been so upset if I hadn’t already spent some time crying this morning before breakfast. I don’t belong here. I’m not a nun. I’m not a student. I’m not African. People here are nice to me, but after school, they go home, and I’m stuck at the convent with some nuns who are nice, but nuns nonetheless. All they do in the evenings is pray and watch TV. I want to go out, but I don’t have any friends with whom to go. Worst of all... I’m a horrible teacher!
I couldn’t understand it. Yesterday, I taught the other second grade class, class 2A, and they were so good! They were so attentive and so eager to please! What did I do wrong with this class?
“Ellen’s class, class 2A is very calm,” Monsieur Kofi explained when I told him what happened, “but the class with the old teacher, Theresah, class 2B, is not. They always talk all the time. They’re very difficult. They wouldn’t listen to you? That’s discouraging.”
Oui, Monsieur. It is.
I spent over half of my lunch break crying in my room before putting on my happy face for the rest of the day at school. I survived teaching class 4 and class 1 (with Monsieur Kofi’s help). Ugh, but do you know what I despise? Formalities. For instance... when someone asks “How are you?” you’re supposed to say “I’m fine,” even if you’re not.
“Miss Kate! How was your day?”
“It was fine. (No, it wasn’t fine. It was quite horrible, thanks for asking.) How was yours?”
When I have a good day, and someone asks me about it, I never say it was good. I usually have great days, or wonderful days, or fantastic days, or beautiful days. When I want to say “bad,” I substitute the word for something more positive... “okay,” or “fine.”
Today, I had an okay day. (In Kate-speak, I had a really bad day).
When I returned to my room after school ended, I cried some more. As I lay on my bed with tears streaming down my face, I wanted to give up. I wanted to go home. But I can’t. I can’t just quit in the middle of this. I said I’d come teach for a year, and I’m going to do my very best to follow through. It’s much too early to give up. I am too strong-willed to let a group of second graders bring me down.
But those fourth graders... they might be able to do it.