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The Pages of My Life in Third World USA Part 6
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Part 6 – Location, Housing, Classroom, and Curriculum Issues
At first, it seemed most logical to write this account in sequential order. I found myself, however, wondering where to begin. I didn’t write down exact times and dates for every different circumstance. The complications of location, housing, classroom matters, curriculum, students, staff, and administration happened simultaneously at some points. I have decided, therefore, that until I’m caught up to present day, I will take these matters by topic.
I love the land. I love being able to look out my window and see mesas shining golden in the sunlight. I love driving hours through the reservation and seeing endless land, herds of wild horses, llamas and sheep dogs herding sheep and goats. I love being able to look out my window and not see a concrete jungle.
I don’t love the fact that I still need to exist in the normal world with its bills and various obligations.
The first matter of business seemed to be that of obtaining a mailbox. Unfortunately, only Fed-Ex delivers this far off the main roads and the nearest Post Office is at least twenty minutes away, the window closes at 5:00, and the Post Office itself at 5:30. Since we were required to maintain normal working hours that first week and since there was so much to do, it took some serious planning to make it to the Post Office in time to set up post office box.
After finally managing to do this, I was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief and victory, until…
I discovered that some mail my parents had sent had been returned to them, so I found some time to stand outside and call the Post Office. The man working wasn’t the same one I had opened my account with. That person, for some reason or other, had failed to finalize the opening of my box and so it was still designated as empty. Seriously! So much for paying those bills on time…
The man was very apologetic and straightened out the mess. Now, I finally, really had a mailing address, but…
With my current schedule of after-school tutoring and coaching, the only time I have to check my mail and to send mail is on Fridays – if I leave right after the staff meeting, and on Saturdays if I can drag myself there before noon.
True, there are other means of communication with the outside world, like, cell phones.
I’ve discovered an interesting truth about cell phone transmitting signals – they don’t rise and dip very well with the land. They don’t drop down between a couple of mesas for my convenience. My first cell phone rarely got service inside the house. If I wandered around very slowly and carefully, and stood perfectly motionless, I could sometimes get service for as much as a minute. Most of my phone calls were made outside and I discovered that if I sat on top of the monkey bars at the playground, I was able to get great service.
Well, people also communicate via internet these days. This is how I was able to get most of my business matters taken care of while overseas, but…
Internet service at our house was non-existent those first weeks. The wireless service was through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and since it is a government server, it is very particular about the computers that can access it. It didn’t like the computer I had brought back with me from China.
“Hello, I need to come in to transfer a 30-day Kansas tag to a New Mexico tag.”
“You need your proof of insurance…”
The transference of insurance hasn’t been completed yet because I haven’t been able to get back in to see the New Mexico State Farm agent since their office closes at five, and I don’t get finished with school responsibilities until 5:30.
“We close at four…”
Again, the time and distance factors.
Medical problems – allowed one day a month if you schedule them during the professional development half-day.
So, impossible to live here and still fulfill financial responsibilities from the outside world? No, just highly inconvenient and stressful – if you don’t learn to find some way to look at each new complication in a “What else is new?” slightly sardonic manner.
The problem with the flooding did eventually get taken care of. Everyone we asked seemed to have a different idea about whose responsibility it had been to make sure that the houses didn’t flood. The men did show up the next day to fully mop up the mess and move the stove back into place.
My roommate’s mom had accompanied her down and was a huge help to us those first weeks. While Katrina and I were at the school all day for orientation, meetings, and working in our classrooms, her mom tackled as many of the problems at the house as she could.
She dug a ditch to keep the water from flooding in as quickly.
She put pieces of wood in front of the door to keep it out as well. (Eventually the maintenance men did put sand bags in front place of the wood, and built a ditch further up the hill to prevent flooding.)
She sprayed for ants that were all over the kitchen.
She emptied the vacuum clean at least three times, just from the living room carpet.
The house was dirty and dusty and big, black beetles were frequently seen and disposed of. Katrina soon arrived at the point to where she could calmly grab a Kleenex and smash the bugs with her hands without another thought. I still grimace, shudder, and fight gag reflexes.
There were, unfortunately, other problems that Katrina’s mom couldn’t do on her own.
Our water smelled terrible. The smell did slowly diminish, but getting out the shower feeling like you stink because of the shower isn’t exactly a pleasant experience. At least the hot water heater worked.
We were told that a pipe had broken somewhere down the line and that they had turned off the water purifier until it was fixed. Don’t drink the water, they told us. Katrina and I were fine with that. Having lived overseas, we were accustomed to drinking only bottled water anyway. A couple of weeks later, the water in the water tower was tested and found to have e-coli in it. School was cancelled for three days, and we decided to abstain from using the water at all. Hello, Teen Mission bucket baths.
By the grace of God, neither myself nor Katrina got sick from it. Our neighbor, the 6th grade teacher, did though and ended up being admitted to the hospital because of it. The school docked her a full day’s pay for being absent on the day they brought all the students in to school to tell them school would be cancelled.
Our shower drained at a hibernating snail’s pace. Several bottles of drain-o and a wire snake helped, but it wasn’t fixed until a few weeks later when the maintenance men were able to dig down further into the drain and pull out globs of long, black hair – definitely not ours.
Oh, one other novelty about our situation. I had arrived back from China less than three months ago. Katrina had returned from Taiwan only about a year ago and had been living with her parents in the interim. Neither of us had any furniture. For the first few days, the only pieces of furniture in our house were my bed, and a camping chair.
During that first week of in-service, the veteran teachers warned us about a couple of things to be on the lookout for.
“You have to watch out. There is a mountain lion living up in the mesas behind the housing.”
“Oh, but she only came down a couple of times last year.”
“And you have to be on the look-out for drunks. Keep your doors locked at night. There were a couple of times last year when some drunks came and slept outside of the women’s houses.”
“Oh, but don’t worry. The guard and one of the male teachers keep a close eye out and know everything that happens here.” (Umm… am not sure how good of a deal that last one is…)
Excellent. Help, Lord!
I’m thinking that it might not be a bad idea to start looking into the possibility of owning a firearm (sense of protection and a recreational diversion all in one – to be understood that the recreational part does not come as a result of the protection part), except… I’m living within 200 yards of a school (about ten feet actually) and it’s illegal for me to own one this close to the school.
We were also informed, however, that the Law, for all practical purposes, doesn’t really exist out here. By the time the nearest police officers made it this far out, anything that someone was attempting to do would have already been done – another encouraging tidbit of information.
My classroom is located in a two-classroom module outside of the main building. A new module had been built but was waiting on final inspections and occupancy. They thought it would be ready by the time school started. The plan was to move the 7th and 8th grade classes to the new module, and move the 5th and 6th grade classes from the main building into the old modules. I began to mentally calculate the amount of time it would take to move all the curriculum and furniture of four classrooms. It didn’t make sense. Why move four classrooms when you could accomplish a similar result by only moving two? I began to talk to the different teachers about what seemed to me to be a more practical and efficient idea – why not leave the 7th and 8th grade classrooms where they were and just move the 5th and 6th grades classes once the module was ready.
I soon discovered the source of the original decision. The eighth grade teacher had been ready for a new classroom and new building since the one we were currently in had no air conditioning, questionable heating, and the 7th grade classroom smelled like sulfur from the old, out-of-use science lab sink.
My suggestion, however, won out. I did feel kind of bad that I had ruined the eighth grade teacher’s chance for a new classroom, but it did turn out for the best. The new module wasn’t ready until about a month after school had been in session. If we had continued with the original plan, the 7th and 8th grade classes would have been in limbo for that first month.
Back to my classroom: It consisted of one shelf, a closet, a cabinet, some desks, a few tables, about four computers, a smart board, and a whiteboard that had been taken down to make way for the smart board and never hung back up.
There were some social studies and science textbooks, but that was the extent of the reading material in the classroom.
I had never seen such a huge lack of books. The International school in China had more books than this school in America. The 6th grade teacher (one of the Teach For American people whom I will call Angie) and I spent as much time and money as we could those first weeks scouring the school, used book stores, and dollar stores for books and shelves.
It blew my mind. The reading scores of this school were low, and they didn’t have many books. At least that correlation made sense.
In addition to finding and buying books, we also discovered that we were also expected to provide all the school supplies for the students. We were told to keep all of the receipts so we could get reimbursed for it later. That never happened. When Angie pressed the matter and asked the relevant people about it, she was yelled at and belittled.
The positive thing about this classroom – the smart board was pretty amazing – highly convenient, useful, and lots of fun to use. At least this school wasn’t suffering for technology.
A couple of other more unique aspects to having a classroom with two doors of direct access to the outdoors: stinkbugs and dogs. For some reason, stinkbugs were a frequent sight. I had never seen a stinkbug until I came to this school. For someone who is just a step or two above bug-paranoia, seeing the big, black ugly thing sticking its butt up in the air isn’t a great addition to the day. It did, however, become a normal part of the days. I finally did ask someone how to take care of the darned things and before long, I was carefully coaxing the bugs onto a paper to take outside. Usually, if I saw them, I tried to take care of them when the students weren’t in the classroom. One observed stinkbug in the classroom caused immediate chaos. As I was carefully taking the beetle outside during one of these times, one of the more tomboyish girls in the class thought it would be hilarious to hit it off the paper. Yep, and the careful process started again, amidst cries, screams, and laughter.
There are a good number of dogs – close to ten just around the school grounds (my discomfort around strange dogs has greatly decreased in being here). A couple of times, math class was disrupted by one of the dogs casually prancing into the classroom to have a look around.
The sessions we had attended in Oregon were intended to prepare us for the curriculum we would be working with that was supposed to have been ordered last May.
We were consistently told that the order was in and that the hold-up was with the BIE or with the company because there was so much paper work to be done or because there were so many orders.
The truth came out towards the end of September after an outside team of people began putting pressure on the woman in charge of the ordering. She hadn’t even submitted the orders until the middle of September.
Repercussions for such an obvious disregard of duties and dishonesty in the real world: some kind of probation or being fired?
Repercussions here where family and connections reign: nothing.
We finally received the new curriculum at the end of October, just in time for … well, that’s another part of this story.
In the meantime, we found ourselves looking through any storage corner we could for any kind of textbooks. We actually found a large amount of curriculum – some of which had scarcely been touched, but had nonetheless been discarded.
The math and reading coaches helped us out as much as they could, but that still left us with large chunks of material-less time. I ended up buying much of my own resources to use for supplemental math, science, and writing/grammar time.
In all honestly, I have to admit that I did enjoy the certain amound of freedom and creativity that came with the choosing my own material and curriculum.
Looking back and writing about all of these issues that weren’t occurring in isolation, but often at the same time and in conflict with other aspects of my life, I’m somewhat surprised that I haven’t gone insane or at the very least, needed intense counseling sessions. The fact that I’ve come this far is definitely more evidence of God’s care and control over all my needs – including my mental and psychological needs.
All of these issues, and I haven’t even begun to write about the actual teaching and students aspect…
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