Category Archives: Miss Teacher

Books books books

(Photo of my desk)

I am an English teacher and a reader. These two facts do not always go hand in hand. Often I am forced to sit and read the very thing I have no desire to delve into, and learn about people and places of which I have little interest. So in my “free reading “time, when I can read whatever I choose I am very picky. Last year I think I only read 5 books outside of my teaching.

At the moment for my work reading I have been lucky as I am reading texts that are either quite wonderful, or books I have always wanted to read but never got round to picking up.

For example: Brave New World by Aldous Huxely. How I managed to do both A level English and a Literature degree and never read this seminal work, I have no idea. I even owned my own copy but had never felt the urge to read it, fearing it might be dull. In fact it is a truly amazing and gripping work and very interesting to teach. I urge you book club people to give it a go and I promise you will be arguing about whether we can actually be happy if we never know misery, and the virtues of a peaceful and bland world that can only exist without truth, knowledge or human connection.

I am also teaching the deeply touching and strong story of Janie Crawford in Their Eyes Were Watching God. Again, this is a book I actually owned but had never read. This is a great read and all of my students embraced both the book and the characters.

And for another class: The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. I read this one years ago and I must confess, as much as I liked it, it happens to be one of the only books I know of, where the movie is even better. Normally it is the reverse when it comes to books and their film adaptations. With a second reading I am enjoying it but the students are finding it a tough read. The plot jumps all over the place and for students more accustomed to video games than books, it is proving a challenge.

Next up is The Colour Purple and I must confess that I had never read it. How is this possible, I ask?  Obviously it is a wonderful, though harrowing read and I am wondering how to approach all the sexuality and abusive subject matter with my students.

Earlier this year I taught A Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriella Garcia Marquez, Metamorphosis by Kafka and The Stranger by Camus.

And for fun? I have read and enjoyed the following:

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

A Visit from the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

The Stranger’s Child by Allen Hollinghurst

So many books… so little time.

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What I am learning

Having taught in International schools with their diverse populations for some time, and before that in Montreal with its gentle mix of cultures I have never, until now taught in a school with single ideology. Now my class is full of students of one faith, one culture, one nationality and one common background.  At times it unnerves me, sometimes I am surprised but most often I am quietly jealous of their sense of belonging.

There are things that are certain. Every Friday they will gather with their whole family at the grandparents’ house for a lunch time meal.  Every summer they will leave Bahrain and visit London or the States. Every weekend they will see the same friends and family that they have been seeing for all the weekends of their lives. Each school day they will come and sit beside a friend they have known since kindergarten. They will probably leave for university but then almost definitely return to live close to family. They will marry someone they know, or who is at least known through association.  Each day, at some point, maybe for some during school in the prayer room, maybe for others later in the privacy of their home, they will pray. But for all religion is not only a quiet focus in their lives but a central source of purpose.  During one of my outside duties I observe a number of students, certainly not the majority, but a handful, walk over to the prayer room, remove their shoes and enter for about 5 minutes. And I am always surprised. That they take time away from their already short lunch break, that they find comfort and solace in the simple act of homage and that religion shapes the structure of their days.

My own prejudice led me to believe that living amongst a singular ideology would cause single
mindedness, therefore closed mindedness. But in the majority of cases that is not true. Of course there are some who live with a naïveté that borders on precious. In the words of one student:  “for the high class women bringing up children and cooking are not their tasks, they are the jobs of housemaids”. They are all comfortable; struggle is not in their vocabulary. They have sense of us vs. them, they are deeply proud and protective of their Arab culture and hate the way the Western media portrays them and ‘gets it wrong.’

But there are many who struggle with the daily injustice they see before them, who are thinking and critical young adults, more aware than many I taught back in Montreal. They have an awareness of their culture that rests within the certainty off all it offers them.

Often I feel I am the student. But isn’t that the way real teaching should be?

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Things I learnt this week

It is entirely likely that I am learning more than my students. Just this week I have picked up some unknown tidbits that serve me well when we sit down en famille to dinner each now. I am greeted with raised eyebrows, nods, hmmms and even a few “wows”.

Observant Muslim men cannot wear gold. None. So there goes the big fat gold rolex stereotype you may have had a hunch about. No one could really tell me why this it, there were a few murmurs about blood, an anecdote or two about the prophet, but no exact reason was given. Women on the other hand can wear as much gold as they want. As such, it is considered highly feminine if an Arab man wears gold and you will never see a man here wearing a gold wedding ring.

Observant Muslim men can also not wear silk! I must confess that in this subject my students also did not have any concrete reasons, however I was assured that some forego this rule in order to slip on a nice Hermes tie.

Perfume is highly important here, not simply as a way to smell good, or if we are to believe the highly raunchy ads displayed in western magazines, to attract a mate; but as a means of personal definition. There is skill involved in the combining of perfumes to create one definite and individual smell that will be admired by other women. It is an art and one that takes much practice. When I asked my girl students if my daughter should be wearing perfume. they were aghast that at the age of 14 Trooper had yet to be shown the art and delights of personal perfumery. According to one delightful 17 year old student, her mother had been spraying her since she was in the 2nd grade!

In other news I would like to mention that today is Friday and it is my weekend. So when you crawl from your bed to your sofa and pop in a DVD on Sunday morning as I am already teaching my second class, remember that my Friday was your Sunday. No, I am not yet used to this.

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September 11th 2001

It’s been on my mind all day.

I was driving Trooper to school, a little four year old, eager and happy for her new school, bouncing in the back of the car.

And I was listening to the news.

At 9.02. And since I was in Montreal, and on the same time as NYC, I listened as it happened.

And the journalists were trying to figure it out at the same time as we were listening. No one knew, no one understood.

And then I took Princess to the first day of her play group, and all the other mothers, on their cell phones, worried, pale faced.

Were we at war?

Why? Who? What?

And I met one of my most special friends in the world. And she had no idea why I was acting so strange. And she thought I was unfriendly. But I was scared.  And I couldn’t believe anyone would do such a thing. And it shook me to my core, along with everyone else. We walked in a daze. But I always remember meeting her and starting out wonderful friendship on that date, in the midst of the world falling down.

And today, 10 years later, I sat in a classroom with a group of Arab students and listened to their stories of that day, and all their days since. And we talked, deeply and with profound hope about what had happened and what should never happen again.

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Last days

Tearful, celebratory, funny and warmhearted, these last few days. And through it all I feel a huge sense of accomplishment, relief and bittersweet feelings about moving. Leaving is hard and in the past few days I have, again, said more goodbyes than most would in a life time.

When Handsome left some 3 1/5 months ago I looked at the mountain of tasks before me and thought it would never be possible. And now I have climbed that mountain and am free wheeling down the other side, I am aware that I am stronger than I thought I was.

I have done it all.

Marked the exams, written the reports, packed up the house, wiped the tears, clapped my hands, cheered for my girls, hugged my students, tried not to cry, failed and cried, sold the car, paid the bills, dined with good friends, said goodbye to the Nile, went to Jinja, filed the paperwork, danced, said some very hard goodbyes.

And I watched as the entire Year Ten stood on their chairs and clapped in my farewell assembly.

I was royally roasted and made fun of at the leaving teacher’s function. Created by this clever lady, all my quirky anti camping, cockroach freak out, pedicure loving, car crashing princess tendencies were caricatured and made hilarious in the skit prepared and acted out by a few talented staff members. Of course the show was stolen by my impersonator, the lovely leggy, hard as steel, Aussie MALE PE teacher who donned a short dress, heels and feather boa, all in the name of Theatre. He took it, went with it and made us all laugh, rather than cry.

The next morning, despite a night of dancing and tequila I was up and in the car driving to Jinja. A last little jaunt out of town where the girls could swim with best friends, play mini golf, wash off the worries of moving and feel free and glee.

And now two more days….then Bahrain.

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Minutia

Shhh. The entire school is sitting in a big hall writing end of year exams. Trooper says it will be like Harry Potter, only our hall is open to the elements and has not a gothic balustrade in sight. When you turn to the right you see thick green foliage, to the left, a sullen yellow walk with fans.

In a few short hours I will have a thick wad of exam papers to mark, so beginning this week of hell. So this is a quick and short post to tide you over until I come out the other side, weary, perhaps shaken, calloused, but done. The countdown is ticking in earnest; reports and packing still to do but the shippers are booked as are two last minute nights away to gulp the Nile air one last time.

Even if I walk backwards on this conveyer belt, I will still end up in Bahrain on June 23rd, no matter what I do. No matter the tummy flutters and the last minute concerns or lists to tick, I will be there, suitcases in hand, probably with the expression of one who has passed through a rather sudden yet expected tornado.

Trooper celebrated her birthday in lovely adolescent Pizza style with friends from school. She glowed with happiness and shoved all thoughts of upcoming goodbyes to the nether regions of her glossy head. I left them all alone in a restaurant, thirteen 14 year olds, to behave as adults do and despite my concern over the other paying restaurant clients, it all went off with nary a hitch or broken glass. They know how to behave.  Imagine.

Princess was dropped off at a glorious estate, a 20 minute drive from downtown Kampala that felt worlds away to celebrate a birthday in the wild acres and heart shaped pool of a friend. I saw her bikini clad and prancing at 4 pm and didn’t see her again until lunchtime the next day.  My birds are flying the coop, but they still come home for hugs, sustenance and exam revision.

I have no funny stories to tell, no witty observations. Perhaps I should just hang up dear 3limes until this craziness is over and I can once again walk, write, breath and sleep without a ticker tape of things to do running widely through my head. The truth is, I am obsessed, as well I should be, considering the leap that I am about to make. But sadly this introspection is of no use to you, readers, and for that I apologize. Still, it is comforting to know that one or two of you are out there following this odd little story.

So what do I do to stay sane in these days of limbo? I watch movies (Hangover 2 was a welcome and hilarious distraction), I eat a lot of pineapple, and I drink coffee in the overtly green and lush garden of my good friend A. I look at a lot of green trees and burn their emerald stain into my mind for safe keeping. I work. I work some more. I sort out those little bottles in my bathroom that gather dust instead of being used.  I read short stories, disappearing into other worlds, briefly.

I will be back when reports and exams and other academic nonsense is attended to.  Until then, busy bees, I send you lovely Ugandan golden sunshine, flecked with red dusty kisses.

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Occupational Hazard

We pass this sign everyday on the way to school and it drives Princess and Trooper crazy. It’s the apostrophes; they cannot comprehend how Alfredo can have a dine out or even be dining out with all those apostrophes in the wrong place.

That would be the problem of having an English Teacher as a mother.

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You Rule

Good morning and welcome to the Birthday Post. Every year I write on my birthday. I started this blog when I was 39 and went through all the agonies, fear and ultimate satisfaction of turning 40 on these pages. Today I am 42 and that looks a lot older when you see it up there on the screen than it really feels.

Despite Handsome Husband being so far away I am still being made to feel special on this birthday by the lovely Trooper and Princess who laid a trail of mini happy birthday cards leading from my bed room to a balloon adorned dining room this morning. There I was presented with a gorgeous present that I had picked out myself and presented to them for wrapping; it is a butter soft brown leather clutch bag with African beading design, and handmade cards. I was also shown the Chocolate Cheese cake that we are going to eat later. It was made by them while I was out last night and they are thrilled to bits with their inventiveness and prowess about the kitchen.

So I am a lucky girl, and birthdays are meant to be celebrated no matter the number. I am the Fairy Godmother of Birthdays, according to my friends, they cannot go by unnoticed.

In other news we celebrated Athletics this week at school and it was a most excellent display of school spirit and athletic ability. Lots of running, leaping, throwing and jumping. I managed to get out of the Teacher’s Race, not having enjoyed the mirth that followed my slow sprint around the track last year. I found some PE dept volunteers who were more than happy to give us a fair chance of winning. This photo sums up the day. I like both the message and the medium.

Yes: You Rule and it is so much better said with a Sharpie on a bare leg.

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My International Weekend where I met a Waterboy in Kampala

It started Friday with International Day at school, one of my favourite days. The entire school marched, Olympic Ceremony Style, country by country. We had our first bearers of the South Sudan Flag, a small but significant Albania Team and even a tiny tot from Nepal. It is a reminder of one of the best things about being involved with an international school, we have over 50 different nationalities here and they all play, work, learn, laugh and eat side by side every day. When do you ever get a chance to see the Israeli and Lebanese flags waving proudly side by side. In these fractious times, such a march gives hope.

Then Friday night I became just a little bit Irish as I headed down to a popular watering hole to listen to some Irish tunes. A live band flown all the way in from Ireland played for our delights and inspired some high leg kicks on the dance floor. The entire event took place under the pink glow of the super-moon, not the only moon I was thinking of, however. It turns out the fiddler in the band is a member of both the Waterboys and World Party. Since I am a huge fan I became star struck and did indeed see the whole of the moon. We should have been at the always lively Journee Francophonie, thereby adding a little French to my weekend, but other events transpired and the French day never happened for us.

However Sunday saw coffee with the Spanish and lunch with the Americans.

And all the while I was missing a piece of me in Bahrain.

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Whose world I am living in anyway?

Handsome Husband has left. He left his three sad girls in a Kampala house on a rainy day and flew off into the skies over to a country that is up in arms, cross, angry and full of hatred, fear and the expectation of change. I have no opinion on the troubles in Bahrain, I am not equipped to judge. I do know one thing though, a visit to Uganda would throw some perspective into the mix. They might realize that their lives aren’t that bad, that protesting and halting an economy might damage the good they don’t know they have. Just a thought.

So since I am here and he is there I am going to focus on what I am here to do. Teach. After all I am only staying here, husbandless for the next three months, honing my survivior skills, selling a car, lovely handmade and personally designed furniture ( I thought I was staying longer so I invested….) so that my self and my two girls may finish up the school year.

So time for a Miss Teacher post.

Look what delightful reading matter I am teaching, all at the same time. It is a wonder I don’t get very confused or at least have some very odd dreams.

Madame Bovary

Midsummer’s Night Dream

Much Ado About Nothing

Romeo and Juliet

Medea

I know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Quite the mixed bag, I say. And when I am not swimming in the seas of Alabama, Rouen, Athens or Verona I have my head stuck in the sand and the sand is all full of Mad Men. I am actually living many worlds, my days are spent with the above, I particularly like having conversations in my head with Emma, ( come on pull yourself together! ) or Hero ( don’t take him back! He called you a “stale!”) or Medea ( you go girl! He ripped you off! He ripped out your heart!) or Romeo ( Don’t do it! Don’t kill Tybalt it won’t end well!) or young Maya ( sit up straight and be quiet. It will all be fine in the end.)

My nights are spent with Don Draper.

I live in many a world.

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