Next week marks the start of the last leg of the school year. The slog through the final three weeks will begin, and if this past week is any indicator of what’s to come, life shouldn’t be too rough.
By Saudi standards, our school is a bit of an oddity, which having lived here doesn’t come as a surprise, but from an outsider’s perspective it makes Saudis look ridiculous. Which, I guess, is ok, because they are. Our school started earlier in the year, had longer and more frequent holidays, and runs much farther into summer than any government school. Most of my students stopped attending school earlier this week because their friends stopped going to the government school down the street. I called parents to find out what was going on and to see if they cared. The fact that I have to call parents to find out what students are doing is weird enough in itself, but I’ve gotten used to students deciding things like this for themselves, so I usually let them leave whenever their driver shows up at my door (which is much more often than one would think). Most of the parents weren’t aware that school was continuing through the end of June, and although I made it painstakingly clear that their kids should be in school, the majority agreed with their students’ decision to quit early. It also doesn’t help that my administration (the painfully oblivious South African) isn’t really aware of what’s going on.
I would guess that a normal teacher in a normal school would probably be a little concerned about 10 of their 15 students not showing up for the last four weeks of school, and that it would cause a slew of problems that would be difficult to deal with. That's just a guess. I am not a normal teacher. Phone calls were made, excuses were given, and I wished them the best of luck with their summer vacations. This is one of the few times when not having an administrator, rules, standards, or any sort of reasonable expectations has its perks.
Not having much to do over the past few days, I’ve gotten bored at work. I do still teach the five or so students who show up each day, but I only end up using half the allotted time for most subjects. I played football (the soccer variety) with my class a few times, but running around in a shirt and tie in the middle of the desert in the building heat of late spring gets a bit sweaty, and I’m not particularly keen on wearing a wet shirt inside a building with an unnecessarily amount of ultra-efficient industrial capacity air conditioners. It also fucks up my hair, and that I can not stand.
For a while I hung out with the Brit in his new office trying to pass the time lying on his couch taking naps, playing ping pong in the ‘Conference Room’, and trying to figure out where all the little Palestinian restaurants in the surrounding neighborhoods are (they have the best hummus and falafel). It’s been hard.
The Vice President has visited more frequently during the past few months, and for lack of anything better to do when he’s around, I’ve taken the time to get to know him a little better. There really isn’t much to report aside from the already established stereotypical Saudi mindset and pervy demeanor he assumes around the female teachers. I have, however, gotten on much better speaking terms with him. The VP likes to be told what’s going on and how to run things in as few words as possible, and much to his dismay, the Girls School Principle, the South African, and most (all) of the female teachers love to talk at length about pretty much anything. The VP usually sits in meetings with them bored out of his mind, playing with whatever little distracting things he can hold in his lap, letting out a few hmms and umms whenever it seems appropriate, then retreats to my classroom or the Brit’s office for some peace and quiet. Before he leaves he meets with us and gets a summary of what’s going on and what needs to be fixed.
He asks for our opinions. We give them to him. He asks how things can be fixed. That's it. Having learned my lesson earlier this year, I usually try to pass any extra work onto other people, but as the days have gotten more and more boring I decided to take a few important things into my own hands in preparation for next year. I accepted the tasks of organizing the schedule for next year (I have the maximum amount of preps every day; my roommate has almost none), assigning and preparing classrooms (I set myself and my grade level team in the best rooms with the best equipment; my roommate is as far away as possible in a room next to the bathrooms with squat toilets, with no smartboard, no internet, and one small window that doesn’t seal properly), and taking curriculum training courses designed to help new male teachers integrate teaching styles that are culturally acceptable into their repertoire (this I actually did out of genuine desire to help improve the school, but in trying to set up meeting times next year I managed to schedule every training session at a time when it would be impossible for my roommate to attend). Things are working out nicely, and next year will hopefully start will slightly fewer problems.
Despite the ups and downs of this past year, things have generally turned out much better than they could have. I spent a few nights reading through my journals, reflecting on everything I’ve gone through, ruminating over things that could have gone better, reliving the things that went well, and thinking about things to come. Over the past couple days, many of the teachers I know back home have also been wrapping up their school years. Most of them are first year teachers like myself. Some have witty stories to share, others show genuine happiness from experiencing everything they wished from their chosen career, and, whether good, bad, or indifferent, a few others wound up realizing teaching just might not be all it’s cracked up to be.
I remember receiving my teaching license in the mail last June. I sat at the foot of my bed looking at it for a while in my parents’ basement, my university diploma hanging on the wall in front of me, stacks of teaching books and coursework piled underneath. I was a little lost. I never really knew what to expect from my chosen career. In the short term, I knew I would at least be a teacher. I knew I would soon be flying half way around the world for a job I knew nothing about. I knew things would be different. I knew I would be having an experience. That’s about it.
It’s interesting how things work out.