Monday, January 28, 2013

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly...of Teaching

Sitting in my staff room today, I felt the urge to sit down during my break to write this blog post because today has been a rather interesting day.  By 12:55pm so much had happened that Melissa, my roomie, asked “what was in the water today?" when I briefed her on my day.

The events that took place, to me, showed how much of an emotional roller coaster you can be on, at times, when it comes to teaching. It is never simply about teaching the content but also being able to perfect your acting skills because there are days where you will play the role of teacher, others where you are counselor/psychologist, mediator, friend, mother,  adversary and everything else in between.  It can be mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting because in most situations, your hands are tied and there is not much you can do so you opt to focus most on the things within your control and simply hope for the best.

My day in a nutshell...

My School
5th Lesson: 11:45am
5th lesson on Mondays is with my Form 1 class.  This class is a teachers dream.  They are all extremely bright and well behaved students who still very much have their innocence in tact, as it should be given that they are only 11.  Since the Half Yearly exams are two weeks away, practice was on the agenda for today.  Today they reviewed Poetry and understanding Personification in Poetry and were amazingly good at it. Some needed explanation while most did not, giving clear examples from the text.  Violet, the teacher I work with, used her laptop in class and had a background picture of Hagar Qim, one of the megalithic temples here in Malta.  She was giving me some history on the temple and the girls noticed our conversation, raised their hands and asked if they could do presentations on places in Malta and cultural aspects so that they could teach me about Malta.  Now, this is a big deal given that I am doing a very similar project with my Form 3's and they are not as pleased with the idea of doing a presentation and yet here are Form 1's who suggested the idea themselves, are excited to share information about their home and to present it to me.  Did I say they are a dream class?  I think even if I didn't it would go without saying.

7th Lesson: 1:30pm
During this lesson, I have what is usually my toughest class.  Well, remember the “what's in the water" comment?  Yeah, believe me I am still trying to figure it out.  I walked into this class to find the girls eager to talk to me, asking me to come up with games where they can practice their speech more, telling the teacher that they wanted me to do the lesson and even though they were loud and talkative, they actually worked.  There are about 3-4 students in that class that make it difficult for any teacher to handle them and they were so focused on what we were doing that part of the loud talking was them telling one of the difficult students to be quiet and stop disrupting...WHO KNEW?!?!?!  More shocking was that one of the other difficult ones actually participated...A LOT! Weird doesn't even begin to describe it.  Now for as difficult as they are, you know the underlying reasons...issues at home, lack of parenting and guidance, learning and social issues that are not being properly addressed so you have to keep this in the forefront of your mind to simply help you get through the lesson most days.  You have to have a strong will to deal with them and know that you are and will always be physically, mentally and emotionally spent after every class with them...and the lesson is only 40 minutes long.  Can't complain today though because they were really good...still exhausted from all of the stimulation but not complaining one bit.

1st Lesson: 8:40am
This lesson was with my better Form 2 class and as they were settling down to prepare for Half Yearly test review I noticed one student who was visibly upset.  She was crying. I made eye contact with her and mouthed "Is everything ok?", she responded by shaking her head no and sobbing uncontrollably.  I motioned for her to follow me outside and she did.  Now to give you some background on this student, this is not one of the stronger students so her English is not the most developed and she also tends to have a bit of an air about her, but in this moment she was what we sometimes forget that these girls are...a child...a 12 year old child who was upset over something and needed some reassurance to calm her down.  When we got into the hallway, I asked her if all was ok and she began to explain that a fight had broken out last week between some friends of hers and now they were turning on her because of her reaction to the situation and therefore made her feel very uncomfortable...oh how this brought me back to Middle School and why it is my least favorite age group, kids at this age are just SO MEAN! I then had to deal with multiple students coming out into the hall to explain what happened and also simply to be nosey so in trying to support her, I had to play hall monitor to get the other girls back to their classes. The crazy thing is that as much as any other teacher would have shrugged it off as she being dramatic, I understood what she was going through and felt her pain because girls here can be pretty rough so any threat should be taken seriously.  Needless to say, I was concerned.  I did what I felt she needed, I offered her a sense of support and protection and waited with her until the Head of the Form 2's appeared so that she could further discuss the situation.  Before she appeared we talked about what happened a little more in detail and why she thought they were treating her badly.  I also asked to see if any direct threats were made that would concern me for her safety but it seemed to be more of a dispute than an actual threat (or at least I was hoping that would be the case).  In the end, she thanked me for staying with her and for being there for her.  What a way to start a Monday morning!

3rd Lesson: 10:55am Lesson 3
This Form 2 class is not as strong as the original class above but there is one student in this class that has really gotten to me.  I feel for her and all she has been through in her short life that for all of her outbursts, acting out, and lack of focus at times, I simply can't ever be mad at her.  She is one who has been dealt a heavy hand of cards at a very young age and is simply doing the best she can with what she has to work with.  Her good days are REALLY good, she is focused, smart, really bright and she actively participates.  However, the strikes against her are great, especially being here in Malta: she is severely ADHD, lives most of her time in an orphanage that does not believe she needs her medication, she only sees her mother on supervised visits and she is half black/half Maltese so she gets teased for that, oh and she's 12 so with all going on in her life, she is also trying to deal with being an adolescent.  When Mondays come around, it is usually a rough day for her because she has not been on her medication all weekend to help keep her calm and focused. This is the only form of “therapy" that is being offered to her at the moment so for that to not be consistent is truly just awful for her.  Today, she bounced around, walked in/out of class and acted out.  She said things to me like "You should go back to New York, why are you here?" and continued to say inappropriate things in Maltese to the teacher and eventually admitted in the end that she was saying these things because "Ms. Rivera is not paying attention to me, she is ignoring me" and looked at me with pained eyes.  Again, just can't bring myself to be mad at her.  We continued through the lesson but you can't help have that affect you because you know where it is coming from and you can't let it go from your mind as you sit and obsess about why she is the way she is and what is really going on.  Apparently, the Head of the Form 2's has said time and again "If I told you everything she has been through and witnessed, it would destroy you".  After a day like today, I believe it and that breaks my heart.  i wish I could fix her and her situation and I know I can't and that feeling of helplessness is like kryptonite to a teacher.

So what is my reason for writing this post...well basically it is to help paint a picture of what teachers face in the classroom everyday alone, this doesn't even include what one deals with when it comes to Administration issues.  Most people have a very tainted idea of what is involved when it comes to being a teacher...usually all they see (or choose to see) is the vacation time and supposed early hours, when do you think unit and lesson planning and grading papers and exams happens?  What most don't care to realize is that we are dealing with the emotional highs/lows that these students face on a daily basis. We are dealing with no less than 24 different personalities, home situations, learning and social levels and are expected to actually teach and educate these students and be able to do so completely composed and unscathed and in the end give them a grade for their progress or lack thereof.  Keep that in mind the next time you think a teacher and students today, have it easy.

Until Next Time,

Thursday, January 24, 2013

4 Times the Charm...The 4 Month Mark!

And so it came and went, in the blink of an eye...the 4 month mark.  How quickly time has decided to speed up on me (sneaky little bugger that time is) for now the constant concerns and questions are simply, is there enough time?  do I have enough time left here?  My how things have changed in just 4 short (yet very long) months.  The things I fret about these days are “normal"...lesson ideas and that of preparing for lessons when a teacher decides to throw you for a loop, preparing for the next wave of Erasmus students for my University class, making lists of the things that I still have to see and experience here, and excitingly...preparing for my sister's visit, which just yesterday felt like it was a ways away but is now down to just two weeks from today...can't.wait!

These norms led me to reflect before sitting down to write this entry because the shocker to me in all of this is the realization that I have truly come to have a genuine life here in Malta, one that is my own, one that I am completely settled in and truly enjoying only to know that in a little over 4 months, it will be over.  As much as things have truly settled, the hard(er) work will soon begin...preparing for life AFTER Fulbright, AFTER Malta...le sigh.  I can honestly tell you I am not completely sure how I feel about that and allow me to explain why.

Not a typical outdoor Maltese lunch unless you are joined by the local cats!
I live on an island in the Mediterranean that is but 17 miles long yet is really beautiful and quaint and simple.  Coming from NYC, this is something I truly craved, more than I originally thought.  I am teaching in a Girls' Secondary State School that is certainly not without its' flaws but has some students I have come to truly care and worry about and will miss terribly when I leave.  I work with teachers that welcome me as one of their own, that value my opinion and respect my views and look out for me and my best interests.  To hear students tell me that they missed me on my days off or to be told that my toughest class asked for me and wondered why I was not in class and if it had to do with me “not liking them anymore" whereas before they couldn't give a darn actually has brought tears to my eyes. To see my students eyes widen during a lesson on New York when I discussed country, state and population size differences and especially when they saw that NYC is a very small part to the rest of the state or that it takes me about 6 hours to fly from NYC to California and share a good laugh with them over it, gives me a sense of connection.  It is an amazing feeling to stand before a class and have them ask a million questions about what it is like to be from the U.S. but to push them to explain to me why they are so enthralled with NYC and why they want to go there and see them begin with simple answers as “because it is big" to then watch them freely express their reasons, in English, when they hesitate to speak the language otherwise, and say things like “because it represents opportunity, opportunity we don't have here" and to know they are only 12-13 years old proves to me that my being here has opened their minds as to just how big the rest of the world is,  it shows me that I am making a difference, albeit a small one, but a difference nonetheless...we have to crawl before we can walk right? To see my University students take their assignments seriously when it is a class that does not count towards their GPA, all because they want to improve their English and are grateful for the help, is great motivation to want to always be better and more for your students.  As you can see there is a lot one can find themselves getting attached to.  How do I just walk away from this and these people come June?  Malta is not exactly around the corner from my house so this is certainly a concern for me.

Q: What does one do when they feel they are getting too attached?  
A: Why they find ways to get even further attached, of course.

A couple of weeks ago I began volunteering with the North Malta Girl Guides.  I am working with the District 14 St. Joseph's School Chapter in Sliema, the largest on the island.  Now, I was never a Girl Scout or Girl Guide at home so of course I thought I would be perfect for this.  Turns out, it is working out great.  Another extension of my community is growing, another perspective to investigate further, another way to experience this island and its' people from a completely different aspect, another group of people that it will be very hard to say goodbye to come June.  All part of the experience right?  No?  Well, actually, yes.  These are the moments that help mold us and our lives, that allow us to live and show us that we are living.  Life is never easy, no matter which way you look at it, as the saying goes “all good things come to an end" but the catch with that saying is making sure you remember to enjoy the moment.  As I stated earlier, when I first started this blog, this experience will be very much a ride for me...there have been ups and downs, highs and lows; there have been good times and bad, happy times and sad times and that will continue to be the case because for every joy here, there is sadness-missing my family, missing my dogs, and soon it will be that for every joy that will come from being back home, there will be an incredible sadness with Malta and those I will leave in June, hence the importance of moments and memories which are all part of the overall experience.  There is that word again:-).  So, the way I look at it is this, I can sit and wallow about the fact that my time here is almost up or I can really enjoy the time I have left with these special people-teachers, students and friends, and not take anything for granted so that when June rolls around it will not be goodbye but see you later, Malta, as it will always be a second home to me.  

So what is my point in all of my rambling...well, basically, being scared is a constant theme throughout this process...I was scared of moving here, of missing my family, friends and dogs, of what to expect, of the unknown and now I'm scared for different reasons and that's helps remind me that I am human.  Sometimes scared is good.  For all of the unknown that awaited me before I got here, a new unknown awaits for my return home but no matter what happens next...Joan of Arc said it best...“I am not afraid, I was born to do this".  And so I am. Bring on the next 4 months.

*Note: No recap list for this entry as I think it is pretty obvious as to why- bad fashion and crazy bus drivers are clearly part of my “norm", oh and we finally bought a coffee maker and Melissa's parents brought of bags of Dunkin Donuts so all is now right in the world:-).  I tell ya, it's the little things, people that can make someone oh so happy!

Until next time


Saturday, January 12, 2013

BONNE ANNÉE...J'adore Paris!

me at some of my fave spots in Paris...Notre Dame, ChampsÉlysées, Louvre and Sacre Coeur 
Well folks the new year is here.  Happy 2013 everyone.  I have to say I got to celebrate the New Years holiday in great fashion.  After spending a quiet Christmas holiday at home here in Malta, Melissa and I jetted off to Paris for the New Year.  I have to say that although this was my third time visiting, it just never gets old.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Paris!  Did I mention I LOVE Paris?!?!?!
I mean really, can this city BE any more beautiful?!?!
Paris is that city that people either love or hate, there really is no in-between.  I am on the love end of the spectrum and I proudly admit it.  Paris is one of the big cities of Europe that manages to still take your breath away because it is, simply put, amazing.  From the architecture to the feeling and vibe you get when there, there really is nothing like it.  Old mixed with new, history, is just a place that you can't help but be in awe of.

Just never gets old!
The weather was mild in Paris for December/January, albeit a bit on the rainy side, but that did not dampen the trip one bit, even in the rain, Paris is beautiful!  We got to check out the key sites...Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre, Sacre Coeur, ChampsÉlysées, and wander about some amazing neighborhoods.  It was a particularly fun trip because it was Melissa's first time visiting so I got to play tour guide, I got to meet up with my friend, Kara, as she was visiting the city with her boyfriend and we haven't seen each other since I left for Malta so it was really nice to see someone from home.  The hotel we stayed in is run by someone who helped plan my previous trip to Paris in 2011 for my sister's bachelorette weekend so it was like visiting a friend in Paris.  She and her staff took great care of us and that is the reason why we chose to stay there in the first place. 

Some street art i came across on the walls while making my way to Sacre Coeur

I am totally promoting here but simply because it is worth the recognition.  If you plan on visiting Paris any time soon, I HIGHLY recommend Hotel Le Six in the Monteparnasse area, 6th District.  Anne, the Hotel Managing Director is the most amazing person.  She was at a previous hotel when I was in Paris for my sister's trip and has since moved on to this luxury boutique hotel and I honestly would not stay anywhere else.  She goes above and beyond her call of duty and has a staff that does the same.  So friendly, so helpful, so pleasant and the hotel is beautiful and in one of the best areas to stay in Paris.  We got to enjoy VIP service, complimentary room service, complimentary Champagne and Hors d’Oeuvres on New Years Eve and they managed to arrange an elaborate and amazing New Years Eve dinner at my now favorite restaurant in Paris...C'est Mon Plaisir (yes I am promoting again). My friend Kara is a vegetarian and not only did the hotel make the reservation literally the day before, but also took care of contacting the restaurant to see what could be done about accommodating her food it was New Years Eve, price fixe menu and she was able to have her own customized menu...who does that...on such a major holiday as well...well C'est Mon Plaisir does.  It was not only my best meal in Paris but one of the best meals I have ever had in my life...period!  I got to ring in the New Year with friends, enjoying a great 7-course meal, good wine and hilarious music (they played It's the Final Countdown AFTER it hit midnight-HA!).  HAPPY NEW YEAR INDEED!!!
5 of the 7 courses of our amazing New Years Eve dinner!
Now for the highlights:
Along with the amazing 7-course New Years Eve Dinner, there were some pretty special moments during the trip as the one thing I love about Paris is that there has always been something new to do and discover with every visit, like...
  • Watching the sunset atop the Eiffel Tower, I have to admit that I really do like the later afternoon/early evening view of the Eiffel Tower as oppose to going up in the evening, you get a greater appreciation for the city and its' beauty.
  • Climbing all the way to the top of the Notre Dame tower...because the little, old French woman standing guard yells for you to keep going up...a workout in itself and a test of ones' ability to keep their vertigo at bay but
  • Visiting Sacre Coeur and enjoying the Monmarte neighborhood with its' beautiful shops, Christmas Market and THE VIEW!  Not to mention that the church itself is pretty fantastic!
  • Waiting on line to go up the Eiffel Tower and telling Melissa stories of when I visited with my sisters and how when we went to the Eiffel Tower, the guys selling the 1 euro mini Eiffel Towers ran in a stampede like the running of the bulls because the military came in to patrol and seeing the concern on my sister's face...only to have it happen minutes after telling the story for Melissa to witness is one of the most bizarre things to witness because they are everywhere so really why run?
  • Being in Paris, one of the fashion capitals of the world, and getting beyond excited to shop at...wait for it...THE GAP!  They were having a great sale and well frankly, that is what happens to you when you live on an island with bad makes you appreciate good, American clothing...I mean really, the irony of being able to say that we shopped in Paris...AT THE GAP...really?!?!  Hey, say what you want but I have not been this excited about clothes since leaving for Malta!
  • Being in said fashion capital only to witness a major fashion faux pas...yes they happen everywhere...but seriously when you see a man trying his best impression of an urban style wearing a Charlotte Hornets baseball hat (yes you read that right, I know the team no longer exists...HELLOOO New Orleans Hornets/Charlotte Bobcats), and a track jacket and pants to match only to keep the trend going down to the underwear...yes the underwear...shame even Paris is plagued by the “hang your pants off your behind to show the world your underwear like we want to see them" trend...ummm...well, basically...that is just all kinds of wrong and should be an actual offense...I had to look at you, you were in front of me as we were exiting the Metro station for crying out loud! But add the fact that he was also carrying a knock-off Prada crossbody PURSE (yes it was a female bag) and well that just makes for one hell of a good fact...still.laughing! 
There never seems to be a dull moment when in Paris and that is just the way I like it!  It is a magical city and a city I will never stop visiting because I am truly in love with it, possibly the one European city I wish I could live in but since I can't, going back every so often will have to do and I am definitely ok with that!

Thought it would be nice to bring some Paris twinkle to your lives...HAPPY NEW YEAR/BONNE ANNÉE!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Blog Spotlight: Meet Melissa! Fellow ETA, Roommate & Sister from other Parents...

In reading my blog, you know that I have spoken a lot about and referenced my fellow ETA and roomie, Melissa.  Although we reference each other quite a bit, we realized that our readers still don't necessarily know that much about the person we speak of so we thought it would be fun if we “swap” blogs for a day so that one person’s friends and family get to know a little bit more about the other.  We also thought this might help future Fulbrighters get a better understanding of what a Malta ETA applicant might look like.

If you would like to read my responses on her blog, click the link below...

Friends meet Melissa :-)...

Name: Melissa
Hometown: Madison, NJ (just outside of NYC)
Undergraduate/Graduate Degrees: B.A. Political Science, Tulane University (ROLL WAVE!), New Orleans, Louisiana. In a year I get to add an M.S.Ed  or M.Ed – Yay!
I’m passionate about: Students and what makes them tick. When you can find the very precise little things that motivate a student, you have the keys to the kingdom.
Why Malta? I lived in/backpacked through Italy for a few months in high school and wanted to return to an area of Europe that would be similar enough to Italy so that I would feel comfortable, but that was unique enough to provide me with a challenging experience. I am almost fluent in Italian and I thought that might help me here but, alas, no such luck.
Who I teach: 5th form boys (ages 15-16) and a few classes of 2nd form boys (ages 11-12) as well as some university students
Favorite spot in Malta: The beach just across the street from our flat. Sometimes I go there on my way home just to stop and think a little bit. I will never take the fresh smell of the sea air for granted.
Favorite Malta memory so far: The day Kelly and I moved into our flat was amazing. We were so miserable and homesick until we heard that we “won” the bid. The second the landlord closed the door and left after giving us our keys, we jumped up and down and cried. That really was the first day of the rest of our lives in Malta. It put everything in perspective. We realized, “Ok, this might actually be fun.”
Favorite weekend trip so far: It’s a close tie between Sweden and France. Sweden was just so different from anything I had ever experienced. And the guys were nice AND good-looking which, let me tell you, gives Sweden serious points since Malta is apparently where chivalry went to die.
Funniest Fulbright memory so far: There are SO many. Kelly and I crack each other up. One time, Kelly and I were at a concert and this man jumped from the highest step on a set of stairs down to the floor where we were standing while waving his arms kind of like he was trying to fly. Kelly and I found this completely hysterical and still imitate his “take off” every now and then. See, it’s the little things.
I am still looking forward to: I really want to visit Gozo, (Malta’s sister island) because I hear it is gorgeous. I am also looking forward to my parents’ visit in a few weeks and me and Kelly’s Scotland excursion wherein I get to meet up with an old high school friend as well. So much coming up!
Favorite Maltese dessert: HONEY RINGS. ENOUGH SAID. And almond cookies – specifically the one Air Malta served us on Thursday. Thanks y’all, those were delicious.
Fulbright Confession: When I first got here I was so unsure of whether or not I could really do this that I used to contemplate quitting. So, I would sit in bed and think of excuses I would tell my friends if I went home. I got pretty creative with ones like, “I was allergic to the water,” (which is oddly kind of true), and the ever honest, “I just couldn’t do it.”
If I were a song, I would be: It honestly depends on the day. A student of mine this summer asked me this question and I said New Strings by Miranda Lambert by sometimes I feel like maybe I’ve evolved since then. Now I’m a little more like “Below My Feet” by Mumford and Sons:

When all I knew was steeped in blackened hopes
Well I was lost
Keep the earth below my feet
From my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn
If my experience thus far were a song, it would be: Lost by Coldplay and Jay-Z  

Just because I’m losing

Doesn’t mean I’m lost
Doesn’t mean I’ll stop

Doesn’t mean I'm across

Just because I’m hurting

Doesn’t mean I’m hurt

Doesn’t mean I don’t get what I deserved

No better and no worse

I just got lost

Every river that I tried to cross

Every door I ever tried was locked

Oh and I’m just waiting ‘til the shine wears off

You might be a big fish
In a little pond

Doesn’t mean you’ve won

‘Cause a long may come

A bigger one

(In case it isn’t blatantly obvious, this experience has been all about finding myself and figuring out my place in the universe).

The thing I miss most about home is: My family and friends. I miss being able to see them and hug them and even be annoyed by them…in person.
The thing I will do first when I am home is: Eat a hamburger and then pack my bags right back up again.
After I leave, I want to: Go to graduate school and start building a more permanent life for myself.
This experience has taught me: I am stronger than I think I am but I have so much to learn. I want to be a student of the world forever.