Today was my last day of my first year teaching in Brazil. This marks my fifth year of teaching, but everything about this year has been different. Here are my top moments and things that I have loved at my new school and job:
10. The Challenges: My first job was teaching Latin to 6-8th graders, to which people universally react: “dear Lord why – why would you do such a thing?” It was just as challenging and heart-breaking as one might think. But this year I have students from Kinder-7th grade, and such a range requires a lot of planning and thinking and switching gears on my part. You can’t talk to a 5 year old the same way you do a 12 year old. You can’t expect the same things. I’ve grown as a teacher in patience and technique.
9. The food: I don’t know if it’s common in Brazil or just our lovely school, but we get breakfast, snack, a full lunch, and a pm snack. There always seems to be a cake for some reason. It’s so much less stressful to go to work and not have to worry about packing a lunch. And the food is AMAZING. Also the less I have to cook for myself and say things like “hey look when the pasta boils, the bugs float to the top and you can scoop them right out,” the better.
8. The English: I love languages – thinking about them, figuring them out, discussing them, trying to make kids passionate about them. English is CRAZY and it has been so fun to dissect my native tongue and try to work out the puzzle pieces with my students.
7. Teaching again. I loved bartending and waiting tables. I’m good at it – food and people are my things. But it’s so nice to be back in a classroom, to feel like you can have an impact on a child’s life, even if the idea of all that responsibility is really overwhelming at times. I get to teach kids how to read, how to communicate.
I get to create a completely safe space for them to ask their questions and not worry about spelling or an accent or vocabulary. I get to see lightbulb moments, and use dry erase markers, and attend a jillion meetings. There are theme days when I can dress up. It’s awesome.
6. Kids are cool. At least once a day I think I seek someone out or someone wanders into my room with that glazed look in their eyes and you’re just like, “Need to speak to an adult, huh?” But most of the time I love being around kids. They’re so weird and obnoxious and loud, they create their own worlds, they want to run, they can be unbelievably kind to each other, they think you are beautiful and funny no matter what, they are incredibly resilient. They make you hope and believe in good things again. Sometimes you want to dropkick them, but…there is also a lot of good. And a LOT of laughs.
5. My coworkers are cool, too. Maybe the only way to make new friends as an adult is to change jobs. I’ve loved getting to know new people…we work together, we live together, we play together, and we have this bonus of being forced into community in a foreign country. It makes things easier if we like each other, but luckily we love each other.
4. Field trip fun. Remember going on field trips as a kid? And what a big freaking deal it was? Riding on a bus, having a buddy, being not in the classroom, and how it somehow made you act crazy? That still applies. Teachers love/hate these things. i organized a high school lock-in, an elementary sleepover, My favorites were definitely taking kids to a farm and also taking a bunch of Brazilians ice-skating. Hilarious.
3. International Vibes. When we took the kids on said field trips, there was a trio of trouble. A Finnish boy, blonde and blue eyed, a Sri Lankan boy with beautiful big brown eyes and dark skin, and a Brazilian boy, in one of the many shades of brigadeiro or Nescal or any beautiful color a Brazilian might come in. And I had to stop and look at them – this group of boys so loving to each other, hugging and holding hands and screaming and running to the next exhibit. What a beautiful experience these kids have here – to grow up best friends with kids of all different colors and cultures and count it all normal and a blessing. I feel the same about my coworkers. As a traveler, I tend to meet people and when I love them, drop a mental “can visit this country” thumb tack on the map of my life for them. But these aren’t just people I’d beg a couch from – these people are my family now. And I’ve learned so much and loved so much with them.
2. Jaysus. I have had my seasons with God. I’ve shaken my fist, I’ve run away, I’ve thrown myself into dark pits and had to dig out. But it feels so much better to walk closer and closer to light and remember what it is to believe in something. To work at a Christian school. To pray every morning with staff and everyday with students. It feels so good to be where I can believe in the essentials of Jesus, and not be forced to argue about crazy details that I think push people further away from all the love that Jesus is trying to give them.
1. Ligers and things that make me laugh. This is my favorite story from this year. We were talking about favorites, and one kid says his fav animal is a “lee-gray.” A what? “a lee-gray.” He types it into the translator as “ligre” and I go “ohhhhhhh a liger! Those aren’t real.” I figure he must have seen “Napoleon Dynamite” and is trying to pull a fast one on me. But he insists they’re real. (Are they? I don’t science.)
I try to reason with him, and being the clever teacher I am, decide to make it a mini geography lesson. “Okay but lions live where?” “AFRICA,” they all say. “And tigers live where?” “ASIA AND INDIA.” “Okay. Go find those on the map.” So the three of them walk dutifully over to the map. They are able to locate Africa (the fact that one is Angolan probably helped). But when asked to find India, they were lost. A Brazilian, Swede, and Angolan could not locate India.
“Guys – India is orange and big and in Asia.”
“This one?” they ask. They were pointing at Canada.
With a heavy sigh, I walk over to the HUGE MAP where every country is clearly labeled in capital letters, and start pointing out the distance between Africa and India and the very zero probability of lions and tigers meeting. Meanwhile, kid takes it upon himself to google images of “liger.”
“Look!” he says. “I find.” I swear to you that I have Safe Search on my computer, but he turns the laptop around to reveal his photo, and this was splashed across my screen:
I screamed and ran over, smashing my computer down so hard I thought I might break it, but he was still narrating “and the lion and the tiger gets married and (makes kissing noises and kissing motions with his hands) and dis is how you make the lee-gray. is so beautiful.”
It was one of those moments where you’re just like…this job is unreal. Kids are unreal. I am so lucky I get to watch this stuff happen. I can’t wait to tell people.
And that’s been my year! There were lowlights…monkeys eating the cucumbers in the garden, some guys with guns running around in our campus neighborhood, days without power or water, cyclone threats, moments of frustration with students or parents or getting used to a new culture.
And of course I have to say goodbye to kids and new friends, including the precious nugget of new life that is baby Elsie, daughter to my dear Aussie friends Nathan and Esther, who are leaving us to move to Hong Kong. Such is the nature of teaching at an international school. But I have to say that overall, the joys have far, far outweighed the tears. That’s the verdade.
Cheers to a great year of teaching – looking forward to more!