Slowly but Surely

Yesterday marked the start of the first full week of school of in the New Year. We’ll hit the halfway point in a few weeks, and it’s interesting to consider how much things have changed (but really stayed exactly the same) since the beginning of September.

A few weeks ago I moved into a new classroom just across the hallway from my old one. The decision to move came in small part from not being able to fit enough desks in my room, but the bigger factor was the overly pungent residue that had accumulated near the door and under desks from students improperly cleaning themselves in the bathroom. The custodian wouldn’t clean the floor if he had to mop around the desks as it required too much work on his part, so there were several instances where I cleaned the bigger stains by hand with sanitary napkins. After a week of teaching in a room literally covered with sewage, I gave up and moved to a new room. I held long bathroom training sessions when we first moved, and I continue to heavily monitor bathroom breaks to ensure my new room stays relatively clean. Since then I’ve been relatively free from having to get down on my hands and knees to wipe my students’ shit off the floor. Incidentally, the water shipments to the school have been relatively infrequent over the past month, meaning that toilets don’t flush, the hoses students use to clean themselves don’t work, and students can’t wash their hands. Some days are much worse than others.

When the sewer system backs up it drains directly into the street just outside 
the main student entrance. This happens several times each week.

Other positive changes include the addition of new Saudi teachers, for Arabic and P.E., both of whom have somewhat related previous experience, show up on time, teach their classes for the designated time period, and generally care about their jobs. We’ve also opened a library and science labs, although they’re only occasionally used as they have very little books or science equipment. We’ve also made progress installing internet within the building, but it’s been slow going given the current state of the building’s infrastructure.

The main internet connection to the Boys' School.

Other new staff additions include a bilingual receptionist and an additional classroom aide. It’s a refreshing change, but it has had the unintended consequence of making everyone considerably more aware of how little experience our staff at the Boys’ School has as a whole. Apart from myself, no other staff member is licensed or trained in any way to teach the students we have in the building, and of the other staff members who’ve spent time teaching it has only been to college students or adults. Most of the staff members have at least some idea about how to teach, but because of the lack of training there is a huge disparity between classrooms and a serious shortage of continuity and communication. Lacking a principle, the oldest person in the building (the South African) was given the title of Head Teacher, and told to take charge of the situation. He’s been making a fairly honest attempt, but between trying to figure out how to translate his 30 years of teaching chemical engineering into teaching fourth grade to English Language Learners and sorting out his current living situation which includes moving to Bahrain underneath a paperwork nightmare, he really hasn’t been as adept at the job as everyone anticipated.

We’ve made considerable progress, but things still have a long way to go. The little things like textbooks and basic classroom furniture are still missing, and the bigger issues, like hiring teachers for next year, establishing curriculum standards, and implementing school rules and procedures, are still waiting to be taken care of. I hope to see more change by the end of the year, but it’s tough to say when or if that will actually happen.

The everyday chaos I first experienced four months ago now seems relatively mundane. When I do happen to experience something I know would be ridiculous anywhere else in the world, I now have the ability to realize that things here could still be much, much worse. The positive note is that things here are considerably more normal now than they were, albeit that's with a much looser definition of normal than one would normally use. Teaching here has taught me that once you learn to accept that you have to take one day at a time, life here is manageable.

At least for the most part.