The First Day of School

Trip Start Jan 10, 2007
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Monday, February 12, 2007

I walk down the hill and along the river, past cows and guys working on some sort of construction thing who pppsssssttt at me, and over the bridge to school.  It´s almost 7 and I wanted to be earlier, but my family insisted that if I left more than 10 minutes before school was supposed to begin that I´d be way too early.  Nicole, my host sister and 6th grade student, skips along beside me totally unaware of my heightening nerves.  Can this be happening?  Am I really going to be a teacher within a matter of minutes?  Will 70 children be depending on me to teach them how to speak English?  How did this happen?  Just three months ago my days were spent watching netflix and wishing the time would pass more quickly.  Just months before that I was sitting on a beach with nothing that I had to do besides check my email and write a travelogue.  How can I possibly be about to start a year teaching English to kids in a town of 500 people in the middle of nowhere Costa Rica?!!!  Not to mention that I have no idea what my schedule is or how many kids will be in my classes, or even where my classes will be.  I know, just by looking at it, that my classroom is still missing a floor, windows, and a door so I´m sort of ruling out using that space for about three months...at least.  But I have my lesson plans.  40 minutes with each grade, 1st through 6th, as the state (or is it country?) mandates.  At least that´s one thing that I can count on. 

As I walk through the gate and up to the school, Mario, my director, welcomes me eagerly in Spanish.  The children stare at the tall gringo (not especially tall in the United States, but almost towering in La Estrella, land of the short people) and giggle.  Ok, I can do this.  Sandra, Mario´s wife and my fellow maestra, comes up full of energy and ease.  Damnit, I wish I had that ease!  She greets the kids, kissing and hugging all of them, commenting on missing baby teeth (Some of which have been replaced by silver teeth.  I´m guessing so they can eat?).  And then Mario goes to ring the bell.  We, or rather they, say what I guess is the national anthem as two fifth grade boys bring out the flag.  They pray for about 5 minutes, Mario says a few words to the students lined up in the ¨hall¨ and parents loitering on the steps, and then he looks at me.  I know he´s been talking about me, that much I got, so I smile and wave.  But everyone´s still looking at me and I realize.  I´m expected to make a speech of some sort...in Spanish.  Now, I must say that my spanish has progressed, but not enough to make a speech to half the school (1st, 5th, & 6th grades are in the morning; 2nd, 3rd, and 4th are in the afternoon) and their parents without looking like a bumbling idiot.  I make it short and sweet and they clap, giggling at Teacher´s bad Spanish...or so I imagine.  Mario speaks for a bit more and then Sandra chimes in with some encouraging words to babies of the group.  I must admit that the kinder and 1st grade kids are just adorable.  And then everyone is walking with purpose to their classes.  Everyone except me.  I´m holding my blow up globe ball, wearing my backpack, and feeling utterly incompetent.  I ask Mario what to do and he tells me that I´ll be teaching kinder for a half hour, then go to 1st and then we´ll have a break.  5th & 6th after that.  Kinder?!  That wasn´t in the game plan!  I´m not prepared for that!  But I go, cheerfully leading the three little kindergarteners to their seperate little building, desperately trying to figure out what to do with these eager little kids in blue for a whole half hour.  When in doubt, ¨Head, Shoulder, Knees, and Toes¨.  But then I wasn´t exactly sure when I was supposed to go to 1st grade as I wasn´t wearing a watch.  I didn´t hear a bell and no one came to get me, so after what I thought must be about half an hour and floating on the headrush resulting from a half hour of head shoulders knees and toes, I made my way to the 1st grade class.  But I didn´t get much farther than Hello and a name game before Sandra came in to tell me that it was time for break.  Okkkk.  So I lined the little tikes up, had them wash their hands, and then run into the cafeteria for their cake and coffee (yes, coffee...it´s like milk or apple juice in the states).  After gulping down the contents of their mugs and stuffing their little faces with cake, high on sugar and caffine, they run screaming out onto the playground or to the field across the street.  No supervision necessary.  In a town of 500 people, not much gets by unnoticed.  I end up with the 5th & 6th grade combined in one class for an hour.  Yeah, so much for my perfectly organized 40 minute lesson plans, and hello to that special brand of Costa Rican chaos.  I basically just winged it.  I have an hour and half for lunch, during which I desperately try to plan for the two hour-long class in the afternoon.  The 2nd & 3rd grade are combined and are absolutely gigantor compared to the other 15 person classes of the morning.  They move a lot quicker than I expected, so again, just had to wing it.  The 4th grade, on the other hand, only had 7 students in it and moved a lot slower than expected.  And again, there was no bell, or one bell, or a sporadic bell.  Number one purchase for teacher - a watch.  I have no idea how long my classes actually are on that first day, but I do know one thing, none of them were 40 minutes!  As I stumble back up the hill, past the cows and catcalling men, I wonder to myself what I´ve gotten myself into.  And then one of my 1st graders from the morning, now changed into his grubby playclothes, comes up and delightedly yells ¨Hello, Teacher!¨, takes his lollipop out of his mouth and reaches up to kiss me, leaving a little sticky spot on my cheek.  He then runs off to join the soccer game in the plaza, leaving me stunned and with a sticky cheek.  He remembered how to say hello!  He remembered that I am Teacher and he is Student, and not the other way around!  He remembered!  I taught something to someone, something he remembered and was excited about.  And he likes me!  He really likes me!  Score One for Teacher!  I run up the rest of the hill, my thoughts suddenly turned to happier thoughts, and immediately fall into bed for a two hour nap...hey it was a long day!         
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Comments

jkohlmoos
jkohlmoos on

Pasir Mas 1973
Hi Lacey-
Quite an adventure . . . you're brave! I think your dad went through something similar to this almost 35 years ago.

Que bueno!

-tio pocco

dadofdivaboots
dadofdivaboots on

classic!
Lacey,
Your description of your first day of teaching is classic! History in the making to be sure. You are indeed courageous. My first day in Malyasia 35 years ago was a lot tamer and you survived a lot better than i did! Bravo to you!!!!
love
dad

bootsmom
bootsmom on

La Maestra es bueno!
I loved this funny, heartwarming account of your first day as a maestra. Remember 'The Wheels on the Bus' for your kinder...You will be a superb teacher.
Love you!

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