Sunday, August 28, 2011

Friday Morning Rainbows, Friday Night Lights

I saw this rainbow on the walk to work Friday. It was just the thing I need after a crappy week.

I just thought I'd follow up my last post with a more positive one, since I kind of left things with me wanting to move back to the States.

The school administration finally got things all figured out, and all my bio kids have changed their schedules (which they were NOT happy about) so they can be in Abby's 2nd and 6th period Bio classes (instead of my 3rd and 5th). After that happened, it was a little easier to handle the whole "they took all my good kids" situation. My new 3rd period Earth and Space kids are mostly kids I didn't have before, which kind of sucks, because it's like the first two weeks of school all over again. On Thursday they seemed totally bored, and it was killing me. All my other classes were really into my lecture (or at least pretended to be and actually participated), but my 3rd period just sat and stared at me, and hardly said a word. It was excruciating to get through that class. It reminded me of when I'd have a real dud of an audience for one of my Park Service talks. Only I am going to have these kids every day for the next 9 months. So that was rough. Plus, instead of giving me another Earth and Space, they gave me some of Wayne's (another teacher here) Marine Science kids for 5th period. Wayne is an awesome Marine Science teacher; it's kind of his thing. So he didn't want to give up these kids, these kids didn't want to come to me, and I didn't want them. So it made for a pretty awful transition.

HOWEVER! Friday was much, much better. I still miss my bio kids a lot. But my third period class was actually sort of into what they were doing, and my 5th period seemed to be okay with me after all. So things are looking up.

A couple of seniors have asked me to help them with their college applications and also with their ASVAB tests (A LOT of Samoans go into the military). I was pretty excited that they asked me for help. So I've spent a lot of today looking up how you can get SAT fee waivers and what scholarships are out there for Samoans and Pacific Islanders. I've only known these kids for three weeks and I'm already super invested in their future, lol.

On Friday night, Quinn and I went to the football game, Leone Lions vs the Tafuna Warriors. (Or as my students call them, the Kafuga Warriors. In Samoan, the t and k are interchangeable and the n and g are too, so Tafuna is the same as Kafuga, but one is less respectful and it's this whole confusing thing, don't ask.)

The football game was really fun...much better than last week.

(This pic is from last week. I have 45 and several of the players on the field. I love the hand holding!)

My students are always really excited when I show up for their events, which is one of the reasons I make a point to. As soon as I got into the gate, one of my fave students on the Varsity team started jumping up and down and shouting my name, just in case I didn't see him waving at me. I'm thinking, "Dude. You are 18 feet tall. I see you." lol. It makes me feel happy that they are so excited to see me.

Anyway, the Varsity game was really good, especially the first half. Tafuna scored first, but then we came back and at the half things were still looking pretty good. It went downhill in the middle and the final score was 36-16. Which sounds bad, but the game was actually much better than the score leads one to believe. There were a couple of awesome drives on our side that were THISCLOSE to touchdowns, so it was all pretty exciting. Me being me, I was way into it, jumping up and down like a maniac. Just like I do for Steelers games. And Astros games. And the Olympics. And family volleyball games. Whatever. Lol.

So, yeah, we lost, but it was a good game. Our offense actually showed up this week, which is a marked improvement over last week against Samoana. Our turnoevers are killing us, though there was this one amusing incident where we threw an interception and Tafuna got the ball, and then on the very next play they fumbled and we got the ball back in much better field position that we had before we threw the interception. Which is not really a strategy I think we should pursue. We definitely need to work on our passing game, but I am hopeful for the season.

I think my favorite part of the games is when the random dogs just trot across the football field right in the middle of the game. It amuses me to no end. Football and stray dogs. That is American Samoa.

I will say, it is a whole new experience to be up in the stands and have your boys out there playing. If one of my guys got hurt, I'd be freaking out and tearing up. And if one of my guys did something good, I'd turn to Quinn and be like, "I have him in such and such class." Lol. Such a mom.

Also, at the game, we got to see Kasey, Lauren and Peter, who bravely came over to the Leone side for a bit, while wearing their "There is only one Warrior" Tafuna shirts. (Which, WHATEVER.) So, even though they were the enemy, it was great to see them and catch up. I feel like we never see each other since we are all at different schools. We didn't get to see them after the game, because Quinn and I have taken to riding the school bus home with the football team, which is a whole other experience. We just sit there in the front seat as all these sweaty Samoan football players file on, and it's all, "Hi, Miss Amber. Hi, Miss Quinn" from everyone that gets on the bus. Seriously, they are sometimes so freaking adorable, these students of mine. Of course, sometimes I want to throw my eraser at their head, so you know. It all evens out. Lol.

Anywho. Not much happened today. I just kind of chilled at home and had a me day. Got some cleaning done, finally say Die Hard for the first time ever. It rained like crazy today, and it was this insane sideways rain, probably a little bit like what the poor ol' East Coast is getting hit with right now from that hurricane.

I'm a little out of the loop here in the middle of the ocean, but I did hear about that hurricane, and also the earthquake. So then I got curious, and I looked it up, and it turns out that while it's all very shocking that Virginia had an earthquake, its really not unheard of. After all, the Appalacians are mountains. And mountains don't form in the most geologically stable of places.

And as it turns out, just last week, there were 16 earthquakes in the Tongan Trench, which is the part of the ocean right in between here and Tonga. So that's comforting, if not entirely unexpected. I mean, I do live right in the Ring of Fire now. And Tutuila IS a volcanic island. It's all very unstable. And I find all this stuff fascinating and could go on for hours, but I shall not, because you did not come to this blog to get a geology lesson.

I'll save that for my Earth and Space kids.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mama told me there'd be days like this...

Today has not been the best day ever.

I am going to warn you ahead of time that this post may not be entirely coherent, because I have had a rough day and I just needed to get the words out.

I've been in this country for almost two months, and this is my third week teaching, and apparently this was the day when all the little stuff, combined with a couple of bigger things, just got to me and I found myself trying not to cry in front of a room full of high school seniors.

I've actually be really loving it here in Leone, and I mostly enjoy teaching. It's funny, because I went back and read my last post, and it was all, "Oh, today was awesome, I only have ten kids, and they are just so great."


The kids kept on coming, and soon I had almost 40 in three of my classes (Marine Science and two Earth and Space.) As if the number were not enough (it's hard to control that many kids), I got saddled with some real characters. In fact, whenever I would tell other teachers the names of some of my kids, I could see them trying not to flinch with every name I listed. It seems I got a good chunk of the "bad kids." And look, I know that even the bad kids have a good side, and that there's a psychological reason they act like little punks. But it's sometimes hard to remind yourself of that when you literally have to refrain yourself from just kicking half your class out and telling them you never want to see them again.

So, anyway, but the end of week one, I had more kids in two of my classes than my roommate Abby had in all of their classes combined. Also, American Samoa divides their kids up into "Mainstream" and "proficient", with the proficient kids taking the higher level classes and speaking better English, and the mainstream kids taking the other classes and also their English is not always very good. Well, the last two weeks I've been teaching two Proficient Sophomore Biology courses, two Mainstream junior Earth and Space classes, and one Mainstream senior Marine Science class.

I had heard rumors that Proficient kids were a lot better behaved, but I figured it might have been an exageration. But I have to say, every day I look foward to the two periods of relative peace that my Bio kids bring me amidst the chaos of my three Mainstream classes.

To be fair, there are only 8 kids in each of my bio classes, and almost 40 in the other three. And of those 40, there are way more than 8 kids that are terrific and well behaved. But kids feed off of each other, and the more you add, the rowdier things get. Throw in a couple of punks, and it's insanity.

That all sounds kind of negative, and I really should stress that I really do like teaching, and I feel like I have a pretty good handle on controlling my kids. And I keep thinking, "this is the hardest thing I have ever done, but my experience is going to be so much rewarding than someone who never had a challenge."

Also, I love my bio kids to pieces, but as the weeks go by, I find myself growing extremely fond of a lot of my "problem children" as well. Some of my mainstream kids are super smart, they just don't speak English very well, and it impedes their learning in an environment where English is the language of instruction. And they have never been forced to learn, because half the teachers teach in Samoan even though they aren't supposed to. So maybe, just maybe, having me will help them with their English, even if right now they can't understand everything I say.

Like I said, I pretty much love every single one of my bio kids. They are so amazing. But there are also some kids in my mainstream classes that just make my heart happy. One of my kids in Earth and Space thanked me for treating them with respect, and not acting like I was better than them. His English isn't the best, but he managed to find the words to ask if I was coming to see him play in the football game last Friday.

Last Thurday, I mentioned I wished I had a green Leone shirt instead of a yellow to wear to the game, but I couldn't find one anywhere. Friday morning before school started, a different Earth and Space kid came to my class to give a me a green shirt he had brought for me. The shirt was gigantic, hung down to my knees, had stains on the side, holes worn through it, and obviously had been taken right out of a drawer somewhere, but it was the sweetest thing ever that he brought it.

One of my kids confided in me that he wants to be like his dad when he has kids, because his mom hits him. I could barely keep from crying when he told me that.

The point is, even though my mainstream classes often make me want to rip my hair out, there are some kids in there that are the best ever. Last weekend, I was feeling really positive about my whole situation.

And then this week happened.

Yesterday I was informed that due to the small sizes of the bio classes, they were taking my bios kids and combining them into another bio class. While I'm okay with no longer teaching Biology (not my fave), I am heartbroken to lose those Biology kids. And if that weren't enough, I was told that I would now be teaching 4 Earth and Space classes and 1 Marine Science. That's mainstream, all the time.

Then they told me they would be taking some of mY earth and Space kids and moving them so that my classes would be smaller. And while I was really excited to not have 40 kids in a class (I only have 27 desks), I have actually grown quite attached to a lot of my Earth and Space kids, and I didn't want to lose them either.

So, today I got to school, and all was chaos. Basically, I wasn't teaching Bio anymore, and they had added Earth and Space classes to those periods where I used to have Bio. Unfortunetly, they didn't have anywhere to put the bio kids yet, so the whole day I had half bio kids and half earth and space kids in class together, which basically means I could get absolutely no teaching done, since they are totally different subjects.

And then I had to inform my Bio kids that I wasn't going to be their teacher anymore, and they were really upset, which both made my feel good (that they liked me that much), and made me sad to see them go.

I did lose some of my good Earth and Space kids, but I also lost some of my awful ones, so I'm calling it a win. Plus, my two above mentioned sweethearts are still in my class.

And then, my 4th period Earth and Space kids decided they were going to act like little shitheads. Like, the worst they have ever been. I almost sent every single one of them to the office. I have NO idea what was up with them.

And then, the kicker. Marine Science. Seniors. My worst class. Last period of the day.

I know many teachers have a few kids that just cause trouble. My Marine Science class has about 28 of those kids. I cannot stand that class. Forty kids, over half of them troblemakers. My roommates hear my complain about them, all the time. I dread this class. Somedays, I want to cry when I am done with them. They are that bad.

I have been trying so hard to make things fun for these kids, and not the usual boring lecture. But with some of them, if you give them an inch, they take a mile. You let them do one unstructured, fun activity, and the next thing you know they are throwing things at each other and acting like little shits. Today I had them make little paper boats and we were going to put them in water to show how currents work. It was a really fun activity, and they seemed to enjoy it. But first, they had to sit through an explanation of how currents work, and they just Would. Not. Shut. Up.

At one point, it seemed like every single one of them was talking when I was. One of the kids that was trying to pay attention was trying to ask me a question, and I couldn't even hear her question because the rest of the class was so rowdy. After about 20 minutes of this (plus the previous two weeks of dreading this class), I just lost it.

I stopped talking right in the middle of a sentence, threw my notebook on my desk, sat down in my chair and said, "Well, I'm done."

They all just stopped and looked at me, surprised.

I say, in a calm voice, even though I am actively trying not to cry, "I. Am. Done. I see no reason for me to be up there wasting my voice when you are obviously not listening to me."

Still they are silent, but they are starting to get guilty looks.

I say, "I'm sick of this. I try to make this class interesting, and you act like idiots. EVERY SINGLE DAY I wish I didn't have to teach this class, because you are awful. You show me no respect. Because of the way you act, I dread this class. If your goal was to make me wish I never came to teach in American Samoa, congratulations. You have succeeded. I am done."

There is just absolute silence for a good ten second after I finish my little speech, and they all look really ashamed of themselves. And then, finally, I hear, "I'm sorry, Miss Amber." And then another, "Sorry, miss." And so on, from the whole class.

It is the main culprits of idiot behavior that apologize first, and I may be grasping at straws, but I really think they were sorry. They looked absolutely ashamed and miserable.

I said, "Okay. Now would you like me to actually teach you this stuff, or do you just want me to put in on the test and watch you fail?"

"Please teach us, Miss."

And so I did, and the rest of class went amazingly. I mean, they are still little punks, but I think today might be the day they became MY little punks.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Living Life in Lovely Leone


Well, we finally moved out of the Nu'uuli Voctech and into our placements. Abby, Quinn and I have been living in the little village of Leone for the last week. Leone is a really cool little village, and seriously, the people here are the best. Everyone knows who we are, and just walking down the street, people stop their cars and talk to us. Leone is on the west side of the island of Tutuila, and boasts such landmarks as the oldest church in American Samoa, and a rather scary monument either to John Williams or Jesus, I haven't actually read the inscription. (John Williams was the missionary that did a lot of work here. Not to be confused with the composer or my road trip friend from Alabama.)Have you ever noticed that a lot of people look like Jesus? Or at least the European vision of Jesus. Anyway. Leone was hit really hard by the tsunami that struck in September 2009, and so a lot of the main village area is still kind of messed up. I guess a lot of the textbooks from my school were lost in the tsunami, which is one reason I don't have enough for every student. On the plus side, American Samoa just installed all these fancy tsunami sirens, and one is right behind our school, so we'll hopefully be more aware of a threat than they were two years ago. I guess the earthquake hit in off the neighboring island of Tonga, and American Samoans had about five minutes to evacuate, which is of course not enough time.

Anyway. On to happier matters. Since the outer islands people (those of us going to the islands of Ofu, Olosega and Ta'u) couldn't go to their islands yet, they all had to stay with us Tutuila folk. Here in Leone, we housed Jessica, who's on Ofu, and Wes and Cat, who are going to Ta'u. We had a blast with them this week. Jessica plays a lovely ukulele, and I freakin' love Wes and Cat. I miss them like whoa. On Wednesday, we had a BBQ at our place, and all the people living in Pava'i'ai came over. It was a lot of fun, but I was seriously sick. For a couple of days this week, I was running a fever of 102 or more. It was awful. On Thursday morning, Cat left for Ta'u, and then on Friday night, Jessica left on the boat for Ofu. And finally, after some delay, Wes left for Ta'u on Sunday. So all our guests have left us now, and Quinn, Abby and I are settling into our lives for the next year.

On the school front, last week was Orientation, and Monday we all went to Tafuna High School (booooo!) for the General Assembly. It was kind of a spectacle, with all this singing and the Governor of American Samoa there, and the whole thing being in Samoan so none of us could understand it. At one point they were praying (AmSam is very religious, which as a Christian, I find it nice that no one makes fun of me for my beliefs like they do in the States), and I didn't even realize it until I heard the words "Jesus" and "the Pharisees." Lol.

Tuesday and Wednesday we went to our schools, and we got our first taste of Leone High School. Oh, man, that place is a trip. Apparently, it's the party school (for the faculty!), and I am greatly looking foward to getting to know my coworkers. They seem like an insanely awesome crew.

Saturday I had to go the Post Office in Pago, and while I was there, Lisa called me to come to Tisa's Barefoot Bar with her and the Samoana group. So they came and got me and we had a blast just hanging on the beach on the east side of the island, where I don't get to spend much time. It was some birthday party or something, and the Samoans were just so welcoming when we crashed their party. They were all, "Come eat some food!" and "Come do Zumba on the beach with us!" Lol. It was great. And it as great to see the Samoana peeps, as they live far away and I don't see them much. And I got to say goodbye to Mitch before he went off to the outer islands for the year.

Today was the first day of school, and it was pretty good. I had this vision of huge, out of control Samoan boys challenging my authority, and it really wasn't so bad. Most of the kids were really nice and sweet. There were, of course, a couple of rowdies, but I can handle them. Of course, half the school doesn't actually show up until the second or third week of school, so I may yet get the punks. Attendence here is really kind of...well, it sucks. Both teachers and students don't come to school whenever they don't feel like it. This doubly sucks for the WorldTeachers, because we signed a contract saying we wouldn't miss school, and we often have to pick up the slack for the teachers that do miss. AmSam doesn't have substitutes, so other teachers have to take care of the kids with the absent teacher. Especially at the beginning of school, there seems to be a "They'll get here when they get here" sort of mentality. It's taking some getting used to.

Anyway. I'll write more as the week progresses, but for now, I think I've written enough. I've including some photos of my house (with a party going on), and of my school.