How do you respond to the question, “How are you?”
For my English students the programmed response is always a mechanically gleeful “I’m fine thanks!” But for me I find it difficult sometimes to say whether I’m fine or not. Especially on a day like last Wednesday.
The day started out like any other Wednesday.
4:45. Wake up. Spend five minutes persuading myself to get up.
4:47. Find ways to get blood pumping to avoid returning to my resting state.
4:55. One on one with God and personal study.
6:35 Put on staff uniform. Pack up whatever materials are needed for the day.
6:45 Snag a vitamin (and yes they are the chewy multivitamins for kids and no I’m not ashamed).
6:50 Fire up the moto, and head out the gate for school.
7:00 Worship with the staff.
8:00. Eat breakfast.
8:30. Help kids learn.
Wednesdays are normally one of the busiest days for both Anthony and I because Wednesday…Is…Music day! (And by that I mean we actually have a designated class time to teach just music rather than the other days where music is…well…not scheduled into our class time). But this Wednesday was special, in a few different ways for many different people.
Before student time, I made my way to the office to use the printer. Upon entering I saw the third-grade teacher, Leakena, busily organizing documents with a quiet expression on her face. Upon asking how she was doing, she replied saying she was feeling sick and a little overwhelmed.
Now, she is not typically met with these conditions, but seeing as our administrator/secretary/accountant was out of town to take care of some government affairs, Leakena needed to step in to take the administrations role of talking with and taking payments from students and parents all-the-while havening to teach her classes.
So, inspired by her honest response, I offered to be of any assistance, at which she smiled and said she would let me know if she needed anything. Little did I know what I had just offered to do.
About half way through trying to manage a crowd of rambunctious first graders a voice came from down the hall and immediately the first grade Khmer teacher sped out of the room.
Just when I had quelled my anxious students, one of the fourth graders came down the hall yelling in Khmer, “Teacher Chen Faint! Teacher Chen Faint!” And my students were up out of their seats again making a break for the door.
At this point I figured all the staff were probably attending to the Kindergarten teacher, Srey Chen (who, by the way, is about five months pregnant, making this situation all the more dire), so I began to round up all the stray first graders and kept them occupied until the first grade teacher returned in time for Khmer class. But as I did, the principle came in with the first-grade teacher’s son, Petra, and asked me to keep an eye on him while she attended to Srey Chen.
So, I did, until… I didn’t anymore.
I had just been attending to another of my first graders when I looked up to see…well…not Petra… Switching immediately into Lifeguard search and rescue mode I ran around the school looking for the young child picking up some of my stray first graders on the way. Not outside. Not in the bathroom. Not under the staircase. Not in the kitchen. Where could he be!? I was not about to lose someone’s child amidst all this chaos!
I began to consider both the worst and the best when I had not yet found him, but fortunately the best proved true when I entered back into the first-grade classroom and saw the first-grade teacher sitting calmly and Petra playing causally.
Just then, Leakena (whose class I would normally be preparing to teach at that time) asked me if I could come early to watch her kids as she needed to help some parents. So, despite the apparent chaos and unknown happenings, I agreed and made my way out the door of the first-grade classroom and into the third-grade classroom.
After a highly improvised (and somewhat unruly) third grade English class Leakena returned and I was free to go prepare for my fourth-grade class which would begin in exactly enough time for me to run up the stairs, manifest some optimism, and welcome them in.
After fourth grade class I felt I needed to take a few minutes to breathe. They went a little easier on me knowing more about the situation at hand, but after a morning of swift and frenzied events (more appropriately attributing the word frenzied to my anarchic bunch of first graders and unusually seditious third graders), I needed a moment to process it all.
So, I wandered into my office, set my materials down, and was just about to take a seat when Leakena came in and told me she needed someone to watch the Kindergarten class now.
The second-grade teacher needed to take his wife, Srey Chen (the Kindergarten teacher who had fainted), to the hospital, which meant that Anthony was left watching one of the most unmanageable and overpopulated classes in the whole school while every other teacher had their classes to teach and then some.
Eh, it’s only the cutest most innocent group of kids on the whole planet, I thought to myself,
I can handle that!
I only had to watch them for play time and then lunch. After that I would switch with the other teachers to teach music to their classes while they watched the Kindergarteners. Occasionally they would also have to peek into second grade and help Anthony communicate to the second graders why jumping on the backs of other students in order to steer them around like cows is not the best idea, and that he is actually trying to teach them how to spell book, which has nothing at all to do with cows!
Unfortunately for me I didn’t really have any way of communicating social etiquette to the Kindergarteners besides simply saying “Som ot tay!” (“Please no”, in Khmer) when they would crush the carefully constructed block towers of their classmates or “share” when they would snatch a puzzle from another students hands.
When I could see that their brutality was only increasing I gave the signal for clean-up time and then asked them all to sit down so we could pray to go eat. Unfortunately, the kindergarteners have an insatiable desire for hugs, so rather than sitting down after washing their hands they all flocked to me in one monstrous mass of giggling giddiness. All I could to do free myself was to disarm what developing motor control they had in a tickle-fight! Soon all of them were stunned in hysterical disarray and were wiggling powerlessly on the ground until their final defenses were exhausted.
After helping them find their bearings, we prayed and then went to the kitchen to get our food. And that was the last I would see of the kindergarteners for that day because after lunch I was to teach music for the rest of the afternoon.
I can’t say I was too disappointed not being able to watch them for longer though. They may be adorable, but who’s to say how long it would take for me to resist becoming enchanted by their chubby little cheeks and irresistible hugs and giggles before losing complete control! (Speaking of losing-control, if you want to know what happens when one Kindergartener disregards all order, check out Anthony’s blog at http://tomydearfriend.com/archive/)
Now third-grade music class went well as it usually does. But when first-grade music rolled around it must have been as though my first graders had been storing up mayhem all day until their final and most glorious hour. For when that hour came it seemed as all hell broke loose.
I tried everything from capturing their attention with fun games and songs (which apparently was an opportunity to work on one’s volume and range, as well as to make sure there were no ants in their pants as they wiggled and jiggled without bounds) to playing the quiet game and even establishing a quick nap-time (which turned into a mindless dogpile).
I tried waiting in silence for five edifying minutes, but as soon as a new activity began, so would the madness. Finally, my head was ringing so loud that I began to notice so I just sat down, put my hands over my ears, and closed my eyes and until all was silent.
When I opened my eyes the Khmer teacher and the principle were standing there staring at my class. I could tell they both understood what I was doing, but I couldn’t help but feel awkward about my new approach. I had tried it before in a rowdy class and the kids caught on after a while. But I think at this point I may not have felt like opening my eyes and ears for a loooong time. Fortunately, it was the end of the school day so all the students were going home anyways.
After all the students had left and I was sitting in my office with Anthony who also had had a similarly enervating day, the principle walked in and asked us how we were doing. At this point I couldn’t pretend to be okay. I was flat out exhausted and drained of any confidence I may have had in my classroom management skills. So I simply told her exactly how I was doing and that I would really need some time to recover. So after some time of sharing some silly moments of the day we took five minutes to re-coup and then reconvened for our much needed SM Bible study and prayer.
During the prayer time I was reminded that I need to be honest with myself and with others about how I am doing, and also to not settle for a standard answer from someone else, but to be genuinely interested. God already knows how I’m feeling so it’s no use trying to hide it from Him, and it’s helpful for others to see that other people struggle too so they know they’re not alone in this. But at the same time no-one wants to be bombarded with glumness all the time either as that may extinguish hope in both parties. It may be a hard balance to find, but for me, I know it’s best to be considerately honest.
So if you asked me today how I was doing, yeah, I think I’d say I’m doing pretty great!