Wednesday, August 13, 2003
I had a really funny but not especially family-audience-appropriate joke to start this post, but I'll skip it.
As you may know, I spent the past six weeks in Chester, Pennsylvania with World Impact as a missionary/intern/teacher. I had twenty-some kids from first grade through fourth, and it was my job to help them retain their knowledge from the previous year and not kill each other. Though it was really a summer school, we called it a camp so the kids would think they were having fun (suckers!!!). Basically, I'd arrive at eight in the morning, sit outside with the kids as they arrived until eight-thirty, and then take them down and supervise them during breakfast. At nine-fifteen, they'd go up for Praise and Worship for half an hour while I collected myself for the day (prayed, made photocopies, sharpened pencils, etc.). After that, they sort-of did classwork until noon and then had lunch. The afternoon was essentially three hours of recess, interrupted by occasional educational programs and trips to the pool. I'd then sit with the kids until they were all picked up (around four-ish).
It was very hard, very stressful work. Realistically, I shouldn't have had more than fifteen kids, and no more than two grades. However, there was only the director, another volunteer, and myself, so we worked with what we had. I worked very hard to get the kids to pretend to remember the discipline they learned during the school year. I was like the Grand Old Duke of York, marching the kids up and down the stairs until they had a line that was straight, silent, and lacked people hitting each other. I tried taking away recess, sending people to the hall or director's office, and refusing to let them go swimming with everyone else. I had no experience or training in classroom management, and I'm amazed that I lasted until the end without a rebellion. Still, whenever the kids saw me outside of class they'd say hi, so I figure I wasn't being any harsher than the kids expected from their teacher.
I stayed with Andrew and Barry, who were in and out during my time there. I also ended up spending a fair amount of time with Pam and Vicki, though Erin, Renee, Theresa, and Anna were hardly ever around. Besides, the mission director's kids were around, and were about my age (16, 19, and 20), so we had fun there as well. The Andrew, Barry, and I stuffed ourselves at an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant, culminating in us staggering out the door, full to the brim (I was so full I was limping). I teased Pam (29) mercilessly about her age and Vicki about her ability to turn bright pink at the first sign of sunlight. Barry, of course, was absolutely no match for me in Mario Kart 64 or Super Smash Brothers, while I had one game of Madden 64 against Andrew where every time I ran the ball on first down, I'd score a touchdown. Of course, he shut me out during the next game, but one can't win them all.
Ah yes, anecdotes. On the first night, my roommates were still in Los Angeles for staff training, so I was alone. Suddenly, around 2AM, I hear loud music playing. Groggily, I thought "man, some dude has a loud stereo out there." A few seconds later: "weird...it sounds like he's playing Shout to the North...I didn't expect to hear praise songs in the ghetto. Oh, right." It turned out that Barry had left his stereo on, so I fumbled around to turn it off (it took me several nights of this before I simply unplugged it). I also had nightmares. I would dream that some of the kids in my class were in my room in the middle of the night, and that I really wanted to go back to sleep but felt I shouldn't since I was now responsible for them. I'd go back to sleep in my dream anyway, and when I woke up I'd freak out because I couldn't find the kids at all. One night, I dreamed that they'd suddenly ran out of my room and down the stairs. In my dream, I got up and looked down the stairs, seeing the last of them turn the corner at the bottom of the stairs. At this point, I actually woke up, but, being groggy, decided I'd better check downstairs just to make positively sure no one was there. When I got to the bottom, Andrew, who for some reason never sleeps in his room, was still up and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was looking for the kids, to which he replied "what kids?" I insisted on looking around, and, not finding them, muttered something about taking away their recess for the next day before heading back up. Later that week I had a dream where the kids were in my room, but I decided that since this had to be a dream I was okay to go back to sleep, only to wake up in my dream to not find the kids and panic at the thought that maybe it hadn't been a dream in the first place. Of course, Vicki once dreamed that she'd beheaded two students for misbehaving, so things could've been worse.
One week, I'd left the girls in my class with a speaker from the Girl Scouts while I watched over the boys. Suddenly, the secretary asks me to come downstairs, where I find out that the girls had been ignoring the speaker, causing her to leave. The director came down and told them they'd lost recess and that they had to write letters of apology to the speaker, which they were to do the next day. So, at recess, I let the boys go and had the girls sit down at a picnic table by the playground to write their letters. Suddenly, the entire thing collapsed on them, causing eight girls to scream bloody murder. A regular teacher who happened to be in the building came out, and she escorted the six who seemed to be in pain to the nurse's office. They were wailing and leaning on each other for support like crippled soldiers who'd survived an ambush. I checked up on them a few minutes later to find that only one of them even had a scratch, and that scratch had only broken the top layer of skin. After that, we went inside for recess and the girls worked on their letters there. K******a asked me for a good Bible verse on respecting authority to use in her letter, and I suggested one for her. She pulled out an NRSV and looked puzzled. "Mr. Rob, it says to honor all men, but the Girl Scouts are women." I was blindsided by this question, and had to try very, very hard not to laugh. I let her borrow my NIV, which was more gender-neutral in that case, and everything turned out okay.
Perhaps the weirdest thing was on the very last day, after camp was over as the kids were waiting to be picked up. I was pretending to be a monster and chasing the kids around the gym, and at one point they surrounded me in order to capture me. Suddenly, I felt something sharp on my rear end. I turned around to see a four-year-old boy who would be going into pre-kindergarten in the coming year. "D****n, did you just bite me?" He nodded. I was dumbfounded. "Um, D****n, we don't bite people here." He nodded very seriously. "Do you understand?" He nodded again, very gravely. I didn't know what to do at that point, so I just let him run off, hoping he wouldn't bite anyone else in the rear.