One morning while we were in our quarantine hotel I got an ominous email from the head of school and the secondary principal saying that they “wanted to talk about the schedule” with me and would 1pm be a convenient time? I had an inkling that I knew what this conversation would entail, but I did try hard not to get “pre-pissy” (Gav’s word for when I get mad about something that has not happened yet).
You see, because we were about to go back to school physically and had our teachers in Yangon, all of a sudden we were getting some new applications from students at other international schools in town. Some of these applications would, I knew, push us over the edge of workable numbers of students in a section. I should have gone ahead and gotten pre-pissy. Because by the end of the conversation I was the brand-new teacher for one of the sections of 6th grade Humanities.
Two things were working in my favor (even though I now had 50% more job with 0% more money): It was 6th grade, which is my favorite age to teach and it was in a subject that I have done lots of planning with in the past. So, one Monday morning a week and half later I met my new class and they had their first day of in-person school since they were in 4th grade!
Getting my classroom ready for these bozos was not without its challenges. Due to Covid precautions, the school was trying to keep grade levels all grouped together around clusters of classrooms rather than having classrooms grouped around subject areas as they have been in the past. 6th grade got assigned the 5th floor of a newish building on campus. I walked into the original room that I was supposed to teach from and was greeted with this sight:
We had to move a lot of stuff out of people’s classrooms to try to make them Covid-compliant 18 months ago when we first attempted going back in-person. At first I just thought stuff got shuffled into this room, but some of the items were really strange. There was a nice looking couch, some chairs from a fancy Italian design place in town, but it wasn’t until I spotted the DART BOARD on that table there that the penny dropped. One of our friends can’t come back to Yangon quite yet due to health concerns and these were the contents of his house! Rent is very expensive here so rather than have a house sit empty for a year, school moved his stuff into….my classroom.
After I took many pictures of me lounging on his furniture and throwing darts I asked for a new room assignment. The next room was marginally better, but had last belonged to an IB Math teacher who had taught at school for about a billion years and obviously had never thrown away a piece of paper, old test or broken calculator in all that time. I did a major clear out, a lot of shoving of old textbooks into closets and made a new 6th grade classroom. Not that the kids appreciate it, all they do is complain about having to hike up 5 flights of stairs every day. I just commiserate because yeah, there is no way I am doing that, I use the teacher-only elevator to save me from that nonsense.
I am actually quite enjoying getting to know these kids and having my own class. 6th grade is a very funny age to deal with-they don’t take themselves too seriously yet and appreciate when you don’t either. We started off only doing 1 day in person and now have worked up to every day, but it is optional so we actually are teaching a hybrid program where some kids are online at home at the same time there are kids in the classroom. It’s not ideal as I am forever forgetting which computer is the Zoom host and which computer I should actually be talking too and also you have to be aware not to accidentally stand in front of the room camera so that all the kids at home see is your butt. On wide-angle camera. But we are dealing with it.
I have a few characters in my class. First of all the whole grade is very boy-heavy which creates a certain kind of energy, especially when they are in the classroom. I have written before about the constant mystery which is Burmese naming conventions. Most of these kids have several different names which of course do not match up on any of the systems and certainly bear no resemblance to their legal names which makes up their email and google classroom names. Sometimes these kids have quirky (to western ears) English names. I have a student in my class whose preferred name is the same name of a famous singer. Let’s just say this student should own some blue suede shoes. It is not spelled the same way though, so I started off pronouncing it the way it is written, kind of thinking “surely it’s not…the other pronunciation?”. After a few days, he accused me of saying his name with a “heavy English accent” and I confirmed that it is, in fact the famous pronunciation!
Of course teaching always lends itself to some interesting moments. One of the first things I had the kids do is to make a little introduction slide or poster about themselves with a range of questions they could answer. One of the students put on theirs that their favorite thing to do was “play with myself, alone.” (I am pretty certain this student’s home language is not English.) When they presented that fact, I sort of panicked and my eyes darted all around checking for the smirks, but nothing! The other kids just said “oh, you are an introvert!” and then I had to realize maybe I was less mature than a 6th grader. Thankfully that theory was disproved when we were talking about the 6 parts of plot and this came up in the Zoom chat.
There are not many dull moments, that’s for sure. One of the days when I was 100% teaching online I was modeling what I wanted the kids to go off and do independently. It involved needing to put an image in to represent something happening in a story and I explained that I am the least artistic person on the planet, so I am just going to use the image search that is integrated in Google Docs, please feel free to do the same if you don’t like to draw. Then, while I was sharing my screen on Zoom, I searched for “birthday cake.” Inside Google Docs, using a Google for education account may I add. And about 6 images from the top was a picture not dissimilar to this one:
I just said “oh dear, well THAT’S not appropriate” and hoped that none of the kids were doing their zoom lesson from the living room with their parents supervising.
So, that is my new life. It certainly is an opportunity to try something new, and they are pretty funny but I am also pretty happy when Friday rolls around. Also I am happy that a local restaurant has started selling canned G&Ts in a variety of exotic flavors. It’s just the thing to take the edge off the fact that you just showed a bunch of 12 year olds marzipan nipples.