In these past few weeks I have come to conclude that I have two different people living within me. The first is named Am-Erica, and she is the part of myself that responds to African circumstances with an American attitude. She is easily frustrated and has a hard time being flexible. The second I call Af-rica, and she is the ever-growing part of myself that responds to cultural differences with a new attitude. She is coming to understand the fullness of grace and tries to live out of that place with herself and others. She is learning how to open her fists full of stress; she takes a lot of deep breaths and lets go of control on each out-breath. She may be small now, but she is growing stronger every day.
My first week of teaching was rough. Not because of the kids or the teachers, but because of scheduling. No one told me the kids would be on break when I got here, so since I’ve been here I haven’t done any teaching (Pros: more time to settle in, Cons: Bored out of my mind, some rising anxiety). The school calendar I found online, and confirmed with one of the teachers, said the first day of school was April 18th, a Tuesday. By that time I still hadn’t been able to see my new classroom, set anything up, or figure out who would actually be in my class. I was going in blind, but I was ready to get cracking!
I ended up getting sick over the weekend and decided to go into school in the afternoon on Tuesday so I could at least see my room, bring some of the supplies I brought (Thanks to all of you!), maybe set up some things, and see the kids! I called the school in advance so they knew when I was coming. I was excited to set up my classroom, organize desks, and make my room as fun and welcoming as I could. Plus, I’d finally be able to see all the students!
However, when I got there I was informed that the start day had changed to Wednesday (after waiting for half an hour for one of the teachers to show up), and that my room still had some furniture in it that needed to be moved out. There were no kids, no teachers, and I couldn’t check anything off my list. One more day of waiting. Am-Erica was dissapointed and extremely annoyed.
Wednesday finally came and I was at the school by 7:30am, ready to go, again. When I got there, all the kids came running out to give me hugs! Students who had been there last year still remembered my name and were so excited that I was back! It was a beautiful reunion and a great way to start my day. I needed that warm welcome.
Communication, I have learned, is not always a source of strength here. After seeing the kids, I spoke to the head teacher at the nursery and was informed of a few things:
- The first week back there was no teaching. It was more like daycare so the teachers could get organized.
- Most kids would’t show up until the end of the first week so we couldn’t figure out who would be in my class until next week.
- My room turned out to be big enough for maybe 6 desks to fit, if we squeezed.
- The furniture still in there would be moved out by the end of the week, hopefully.
Af-rica had the initial reaction this time. She took a deep breath and said this is what is happening, how will you respond. I exhaled and unclenched my fists. I adjusted my expectations for that week and decided to take that time to finish organizing my unit plans for the rest of the year, among other organizational tasks. I gave myself grace and realized it was okay to be frustrated–this isn’t the US. I had a very productive week and I managed to help one of the new kids stop crying (he cried the whole first day). I also taught the kids how to make crowns by tying long stems of grass together (as seen in the picture).
By the end of the week I was less stressed, more excited to be back, and things were getting done:
- The furniture was moved out!
- I got to know more of the new students
- I set up my classroom calendar, and a healthy habits magnetic board
- Created fun signs that say Teacher Erica’s Class to tape on my door
I still didn’t know who was going to be in my class and one of the main teachers didn’t show up that week so we were down a person, but it all worked out. I utilized Google Drive Offline because the nursery has no wifi, and I feel relaxed and exciting going into this week. Even better, I’m not anxious at all.
My favourite thing about this week was the realization that the only person who expected me to have it all together, or to have the perfect response to everything, was me. That knowledge has allowed me to let go of the crazy expectations I set for myself and to live more fully in grace.
It feels really good.