A reflection on my first teaching job
My point is after we cover Maslow’s hierarchy of food, water, shelter, safety, and security- after our basic needs are met, we need to belong. We need to connect. We need to belong to a family, community, a race of people, a tribe, and a great school.
We need to connect when we don’t connect – life is just functional.
Many global nomads travel around the world but only half heartily work at connections. They are always saying “when I get home” or “I can’t wait to go back home this summer.” Yes, I can relate, but I also know how important it is to make a strong connection to your host country. You need to be connected to your experiences so live each day for a connection and be glad that you were able to find one in this hectic world we live in now.
Notes on presentation – Focus on Reconnection from Keynote at Bangkok Teacher’s Network –
Let me take you back to “my world.” I spent 20 years in North West Kansas in the USA – traveling about 300 miles from my home to exotic family vacation in places such as Cawker City to see the world’s largest ball of twine. A ball of string that weighs about nine tons and has a circumference of 40 feet.
Or when we went to Coffeyville to see a replica of a two-pound hailstone that fell in Kansas on Sept. 3rd. 1970. I grew up in a very “exciting” place in the Midwest; my hometown was the Cow Chip Capital of Kansas. Every year people from around the world would come to my town to throw cow chips like a frisbee to see how far they would go. We had a population of about 120 people in our city, and during the Cow Chip Capital festival, the place would grow to over 500 people. That was my life.
History – going from there to here
You’ll never believe what happened!
I got a scholarship to study “education” in Hawaii so having never been on a plane, I left Russell Springs, Kansas to study on the island of Oahu in a small Catholic university. Graduation came too quickly – Hawaii is lovely. I decided to continue the island lifestyle and took a job on the Island of American Samoa. Now, this is why it is amazing that I am standing here talking to a room full of educators. I almost quit my first week of school.
I liked the small thatched garbanzos of shelters that served as our classroom that overlooked the ocean. I loved the breeze and the cement floors and as I settled into my classroom without any walls, I had visions of teaching reading and writing to my kindergarten classroom of 16 students. I was excited and nervous. Eager.
I reconnected with my principal who had hired me in Honolulu and thought I was all set. On my way out of school, I stopped by the school office to see if anyone else was around and got to meet my new vice principal. Here stood one of those Amazon type men, famous football player like and actually “huge” Samoan man in a beach sarong or as they are called in Samoa lava-lavas. I tell you this was the largest, shiniest – shirtless man I had ever seen. I should have seen the bear hug coming, but I did not. After I slipped out of this massive bear hug first-day, I collected myself and decided to ask some fundamental first day questions any new teacher might ask.
“Is it possible to get a blackboard for my classroom?” and “What exactly should I wear to school – or what teacher’s dress code do you have?”
This 350-pound man, leaned back on backed heels, glanced at me from the head to my toes and backed up, cleared his throat and replied, “I like all of my teachers to wear a top- when they are teaching.”
I knew I was not in Kansas anymore.
Imagine me – coming from north-west Kansas by way of a Catholic university planning to show up topless on my first day of school.
I had to write home and tell my family about this island encounter. (way before email and skype). We all must find humor in our lives and share those jokes.
As expats, it is vital that our family back home knows what we are doing, so they get this connection to our real life.
My blackboard did show up the next day. Well, it wasn’t what I thought a blackboard should be like. My blackboard was really a piece of plywood and a bucket of black paint. But I was determined to have something to write on in the classroom besides the sand outside the room. So I painted my board – black and then attempted to get it dry in the tropics during the rainy season.
Which brings me to another huge concern for a new teacher – if the paint won’t dry. Image with the moisture and humidity does to a box of chalk. This was the first time I cried due to my job. I was starting to think Kansas might look pretty good about right now.
BUT my real teaching problem had not even started!
My first day of actual class with students – again, almost had me in tears. What new kindergarten teacher needs three sets of identical twins in their first classroom experience! Six of my students – were just a clump in my head that I could not separate.
Of course, I could get the two American blond boys from the two Samoan black haired males and the two Samoan black haired ponytailed girls but I couldn’t get Term and Tin straight, I couldn’t get Tasi and Tessi figured out and I could not get Sasha and Sara figured out.
But I did connect to those kids. I did connect to the other teachers and I did connect to the school.
Connection is the core of all good educators.
The connection is one thing we all have the power to do.