Tag Archives: teaching

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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Filed under Lying in bed with books, Miss Teacher

A funny sort of week

It’s been a funny week on the whole. Trooper suddenly came down with something rather nasty and had a day off school. Then once she was up and running Princess fell with a fever that kept her home for two days. It is to be expected. We have hit the 6 week mark and that means major assessments at school, added pressure and lots of weariness. We have one week left and then a whole week off. I am calling it half term, here it is called Eid.

With Princess home. I had to stay home too, at least for the first day and that had me spinning webs of order around my house. I had not had time, the most precious commodity of all, to organize drawers, clean shoes, do some sorting and catch up with the minutia of home life.  Playing house made me feel domesticated, a feeling rather rare and strange as I normally feel anything but.

Hitting the 6 week mark at school also led to the Day of Angst that must hit teachers everywhere. The questions fly like curve balls: ” Am I actually teaching them anything? Do they understand? Am I going to make it on time? Will they be ready? Have I done it properly?” We close the door and teach in a self enclosed bubble and sometimes we have our moments of self doubt. Often it is all cleared up with a simple prescription: assign an essay and see if they can do it. If the majority wins, you win. But there is always a taste of doubt left sitting on the tongue.

But now it is the weekend and I can put Camus down, brush off the bikini, suck in the stomach ( ask whether I really should be wearing a bikini) and head to the beach. Trooper is swimming in an open sea competition. She is determined to come last and swim lazy strokes beside her new good friend. Best of all my mother has flown in for a sweeping 4 day visit. So there will be restaurants and visits to places and a chance to see Bahrain with visitor’s eyes. She is our very first visitor so we have plumped pillows, laid out fresh towels, arranged roses and planned a fun weekend.

So I must push away the lurking feeling that I, too,may be getting sick, banish those worries and self doubt, stop thinking and go out and Have Fun. It is just what the doctor ordered.

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creative people full body walking

Doesn’t this sound fun?

Someone actually typed this into their preferred search engine and found 3limes. I think it is fabulous, a) that someone actually had the poetic inclination to type such a concept at all and b) that it found 3limes, quite obviously the temple of creative full body walking.

And it got me thinking.

Because I am doing a whole lot of thinking at the moment; what with living on an Arab Desert Isle and teaching TOK ( Theory of Knowledge) ( google it, it is the most awesome part of the IB course and the reason I love IB), and teaching Media to a bunch of kids whose eyes visibly open with empowered recognition in class. And because I am teaching Camus and Kafka to 17 year olds who are actually getting it.

We need to open our eyes. And we need to walk with our full bodies, not just the little feet that take small steps. We need to be creative people, not just painters and singers, no, but creative with everything we do, whether it be brushing our teeth, choosing our outfit in the morning, making toast, or having a heart to heart with the teenager who finally put down the phone to listen. Creativity is about having eyes open and being awake.

So if life is a conveyor belt that you are just riding on, get off and take some full body steps.

As part of my intent to stop, listen, watch and take notice I have created a Tumblr account ( yes bandwagon, a bit) to drop off lots of juicy morsels that I see and want to share. This is not a place where I will ever put something I create. Rather, it is a glorious depository of things I find. Think of it as a magic chest of treasures. There are words and small films, poems and photos, quotes and links.

I have huntered and gathered for ages but finally now I have a place to put the things I find. And I realize how it could be a full time job, this finding and storing, and how I don’t have enough minutes in this life to read and watch all the things I want.

But I can try. Small steps towards full body walking.

http://extraplums.tumblr.com/

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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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A soup made of old and new: African and Arabian skies.

Trooper is drowning already. Homework is piling around her, her bed is covered with papers, her desk has no surface, her face has that “what the hell” look about it.

Princess cooks, between bouts of less homework, she has perfected the art of perfect banana bread.

Both are surviving the change. There are well weathered in this “move around and start all over again” malarky, even though they hate it.  They have fit their shoulders around the feel of their new uniform and are learning the ropes of new hallways, the strange jungle of making new friends and the touch of a different morning routine.

Sometimes I wonder how our heads don’t spin out of control with all this change.  We are nomads who have to jump in and adjust, no matter that the smell of the old mingles with the new. Some days I am living a parallel life, I am in my old house listening to African birds and lying under a burnished African sky and I am simultaneously looking out of my window at a desert and an Arabian sunset.

When I enter the cafeteria here at school and hear the musical Arabic voices I am simultaneously back in the Kampala lunch room, with the Ugandan breeze touching the heads of those I know so well.  As I sit in my classroom and tell the students to please stop talking in class and if they must then please only speak English, I am immediatly back in my old classroom telling the girls to stop their chitter chatter, feeling the heat of the windows press on my back and brushing the red dirt off my black skirt.  When I drive past a cleaner-than-thou mosque, resplendant in marble, I am walking through Bukoto market worrying over the Boda driver who nearly knocked me into a ditch.

I am the old me and the new me. the past and the present mingled with memory and tears, hope and fear all at once.

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Filed under Being brave, How old am I?

Change of Plan, change of heart.

This past week I have seen many of my firmly held assumptions come tumbling down.  There have been some rather shaky stereotypes that have been knocked and my ideas renewed.

When we travel, as tourists, our impressions may add to rather than remove any pre conceived ideas we may have had. On the other hand we may add colour and shade to hunches we have about people, places, culture.

When you live in a place, sometimes we are in a bubble and what we learn is seen through a prism of other expats; conversations and combined observations mesh together to become a thick layer of learning. Our eyes are opened but do we really know? What do we know? How much do we know? Always more than those who never came, but is it enough?

Example: I tell people I lived in Africa for two years and their response varies from “ Was it dangerous?”, “ Were you scared?”, “ Did you get sick” to “ Did your school have walls?”. There is a preconceived idea that Africa is not much more than poverty and filth combined with elephants and lions. Africa as a notion is a collective lump of images made from Oxfam video appeals to National Geographic Specials. Africa as a continent with countries and cities, glass, steel, Japanese restaurants, fashion designers and literature professors is not the package most of us are sold.

Likewise the Middle East is often a collective and rather messy group of ideas centered around checkered tea cloth on the head men, deserts, camels, suppressed women, dogmatic ideas, fanatics, materialistic shrines of steel, ferraris, felafel, heat and black draped groups of women resembling a murder of crows.

And taking a little side trip to Dubai sandwiched between London and Bangkok will do little to dispel those ideas. 

There are countries and cultures that I am drawn to. North American, Latin, Japanese, Italian, Moroccan to name some. But I have never been intrigued by the Middle East and in fact had been negative about it whenever Handsome brought up the idea of living here. We met in Egypt over 19 years ago and at that time he told me that he longed to live in the Middle East and was drawn to it for some inexplicable reason. He loved Arabic music and would play it and even fashion some dance to it in our Montreal living room on many occasions. Sometimes I joked that perhaps he was Arab in his past life.  Five years ago he applied for a job in Qatar and journeyed there for an interview. I was most relieved when he did not get the job. I had the opposite reaction to him,  shuddering when he mentioned wanting to live in the Middle East and hoping that the idea would pass. I wanted to visit beautiful Morocco and Petra in Jordan and see the stunning landscape of Lebanon but I had no desire to go further or explore the culture or, heaven no…live here!

And here we are.

I worried that I would have nothing to write about and that 3limes would dry up and sadly shrivel. But instead I find myself alert, wide awake to the rich and surprising culture before me. I was nervous that I would not like teaching in a Bahraini school, with no expats and their familiar Western culture to buffer me. I fretted over what the kids would be like and would I relate? Could I teach and penetrate such an unknown and “difficult” culture?

Was I ever wrong and am I ever happy to admit it.

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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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