I’ve now started my second year of teaching with new classes. It’s been much different than starting my first year, mostly in good ways. One big difference is that this year has been off to a much slower start. I think that’s mostly due to the fact that school started during Ramadan this year, whereas last year we had a couple weeks of normal classes before fasting began. The slow start meant schedules weren’t complete until a few days after classes were supposed to start, new students didn’t (and still don’t) have their high school uniforms, and the academic calendar was only released two weeks ago (a month and a half after school began). I was nervous about my schedule this year. I remember at this time last year I was talking with other volunteers, and we were comparing our schedules with the highs and lows – who had weekends off, who taught with good counterparts, who had unruly classes, etc. I remember making comments like, “Next year, I’ll make sure they give me what I want” or “I’ll figure out what’s best for me this year and make sure I set up an awesome schedule for next year.” When it was time for me to travel back to the States, I wondered if I should leave a detailed list of my preferences for the next year’s schedule – in case my vice principal set it up while I was gone. But as I scrambled to get everything ready, I had no time and I forgot about it.
When I got back the schedule (surprise) wasn’t finished but it was in the works. My vice principal told me that my counterpart who I taught the most classes with previously had requested to teach only one class with me, while a new counterpart was ready to teach multiple classes with me in grade ten. I started freaking out a little. It was exactly what I didn’t want. I wanted to teach grade eleven, I preferred teaching more classes with counterparts I’d worked with before so we could build on our first year, and I was confused on why my counterpart had requested to teach only one class with me without telling me. Was the first year that bad? I thought it had been pretty successful. As it turns out, my counterpart (actually, two of my counterparts) is pregnant and was concerned that we taught several classes together it would be difficult when she goes on maternity leave. Once I got that sorted out, the schedule was just about finished. My completed schedule had me teaching three classes of Grade 10, and only one of Grade 11 – which was not a class of science students, as I had requested, but social students.* I was teaching three of my classes with veteran counterparts and one with a new counterpart. I was teaching every day of the week except Wednesday (a day reserved for lesson planning and English teachers’ meetings), with a full schedule on Friday – my only free day last year. Faced with the prospect of no free days and no classes I was excited about, I didn’t know what to do. What happened to my plan of ensuring I had the perfect schedule to glide through my second year?
I called my dad to ask for advice. Should I fight the schedule? Should I tell my vice principal it needed to change because I couldn’t teach every day and it would really be better if I had different classes? My dad wisely pointed out that I had no leverage in this situation. And anyway, wasn’t I there to help? I’m a co-teacher, so my schedule is dependent on the schedule of three other teachers and it would cause a real fiasco to try to change it.
“But, Dad,” I said, “It’s going to be a really challenging year.”
“Isn’t that what you signed up for? Didn’t you join Peace Corps because you wanted to be challenged?” he replied.
That conversation made me realize I badly needed an attitude adjustment. My self-centered focus on solely on setting up the best situation for me. I wasn’t thinking about what would work best for my school, or how I could help them. On a larger scale, this attitude extends far beyond a school schedule. What am I doing to help my community? Am I open to new opportunities and challenges? Or is my focus on being comfortable? What’s my attitude when I unexpectedly have a stranger visit me in the evening when I want to relax? Or when people want to take my picture or ask me for the millionth time if I’m kerasan (comfortable) in Indonesia? To be honest, these things annoy me, and I am only human – some things are bound to get under my skin. But my dad is right – I joined Peace Corps because I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to experience new things. I’ve done that in my first year – why not also in my second?
My second-year resolution is this:
– to keep an open mind and an open heart
– to resist slipping into monotony or volunteer-centric isolation from my community
– to continue to put energy and effort into developing relationships with my family, neighbors, coworkers, students, and community members
– to remember I’m here but to help my community – so I need to evaluate my attitude and actions to ensure they are focused outwardly so I can be most available and supportive – not inwardly, focusing on my own comfort
With that resolution in mind, I realized my attitude shouldn’t be to figure out how to make other people change according to what best serves my comfort. I should, instead, be doing what I can to be helpful to my school. My school has about 70 teachers and one overworked vice principal who was trying to juggle everyone’s different schedule demands (which, for many teachers, includes teaching at two schools, working multiple jobs, or living away from their families during the week and requiring more than a single day off so they can go home once a week). Surely, one volunteer who lives one kilometer away from school and has no other teaching demands besides those I’ve accepted voluntarily (teaching elementary students on Fridays, for instance, helping with English club) can manage to come to school 6 days a week if that’s what’s best.
As these things usually turn out, my schedule has ended up being perfectly fine. I actually have really enjoyed teaching my tenth grade classes, while my eleventh grade class is looking rather challenging at this point – but that’s what I signed up for. 🙂 I’ve enjoyed the rhythm of teaching only a class or two every day and finishing up at 8:30 on Saturday with the rest of Saturday and Sunday free. I’m so glad I didn’t try to fight the schedule – I most likely would have made a fool of myself and everything worked out just fine anyway. And as obstacles arise – like several weeks of canceled classes or teachers who don’t show up or sudden illnesses that land me in the hospital – I’ve been remembering my resolution and it’s helped mitigate a lot of frustration as I realize, it’s better not to sweat the small stuff but just keep doing what I can to help.
*In my school, the eleventh and twelfth grade classes are split into two tracks: social and science. Stereotypes abound about the two tracks (mostly, that science students are smart and diligent and social students are lazy, dumb, and undisciplined), and that can be pretty frustrating to me because teachers tend to teach to the stereotypes and students internalize the stereotypes and the cycle continues.