The bell has rung and after a flurry at the door you’re left with an almost empty classroom. There are a few scragglers (as always) still trying to fill in their planners or stack their chairs so you don’t waste any time; you look around the room and start compiling your mental to-do list that seems to grow and grow but never be ‘to-done.’ Even before you finish making that never-ending list, even the most distracted student finally needs you to sign their planner. You do so, reminding them not to forget their gym strip on Monday– and boom – like a flash they’re out the door.
My advice to you? Go outside.
Walk the playground. Join in on a basketball game. Play hop scotch or jump rope. Ruffle a few tops of heads and talk to the kids out there. They’re the reason you’re here and when you’re in the thick of your practicum – or even just a tough week – it’s easy to forget that.
Even though it was just last year that I was in my long practicum, I can remember how tough it was. You take on an unpaid full time job while working a little paying part time job (for me it was two nights a week and all weekend) to pay for that unpaid, make-it-or-break-it type job. You have assignments for school to write or do while planning/prepping/marking the ones of your students. You try to squeeze it all in between rushed dinners, staff meetings, coaching volleyball, and the four hours of sleep you might get a night – but you always manage to get it all done and still be smiling in the morning when you greet your students.
On top of everything you have to deal with (managing a practicum, a job, daily hygiene, maintaining a social life (Ha! Yeah right!) & fighting off September colds) there’s the added responsibility of thirty kids. It can go one of two ways – either there’s pressure of those thirty sets of eyes expecting something of you or there’s the relief that even if things hit their peak of stress at least you have the solace that the thirty of you are learning and growing together in unique moments between 8 and 3pm. These kids make it all worth it. They will teach you lessons you can’t find in books, they will fill your heart with memories, they will surprise you and make you laugh when you least expect it. They will be your reason to keep going when things are tough.
This past week, or well, month has been a stressful and busy one in Mombasa. Not just with the current turmoil of terrorist attacks and threats but in developing the schools here. My new role has taken me out of the classroom and behind a computer screen. This past month has been focused on developing a writing program. teaching resources for the volunteers here as well as planning/organizing a fundraiser and training volunteers. I have to remind myself that my job will help more kids in the long run than me staying in a classroom teaching for a short period of time. But it’s easy to forget why you’re here when they’re not running up to you at break time or laughing at your terrible jokes. So I put my computer down and went to the schools.
I had a wonderful reminder of why all this stress matters. It started with little Lucy. She’s a child of one of the teachers at Nyota and she’s the sweetest little girl you’ll meet. I felt something poking my bum as I sat outside watching a PE lesson. I turned around and saw her looking up at me, poking me with a book about pirates. I couldn’t resist. Up she was and in my arms. We looked at the pictures together and I read parts of the book until she decided to lala salama (sleep peacefully) while giving me cuddles. I wasn’t going anywhere for a while and I really didn’t mind.
Then the lesson was over and out runs my old standard into the play area. I was surrounded by an overwhelming amount of love! I couldn’t resist and I joined in on their PE lesson. The kids were happy to see me and play – I was too! At one point I was ‘out’ during a game of opposites. I had the chance to sit for awhile in the sun with those who were also ‘out’ chatting with them and they were doing god knows what to my hair. Once PE was finished, much to my protest, I was being carried around the playground trying not to think of how much it would hurt if they dropped me – but it was all in good fun! It was so nice to reconnect with this special little group and was just what I needed to refresh myself and get back to the work I’m doing behind a computer screen.
So don’t read that stack of journals waiting at your desk. Postpone your date with the photocopier. Don’t go through your Math Tests and mark them with your rubric just yet. Even if it’s not your supervision day, go out there and see the kids. Talk to them. Even play. Remind yourself of who all this stress is for and why it’s a very good thing. Your exhaustive list of to-do items can wait, but sometimes your own piece of mind and sense of purpose can’t. Remind yourself of why you’re here – you’ll feel rejuvenated and ready to continue on with an even bigger resolve to do the best you can.
And if that doesn’t work? There’s this: I was once told that learning is a kind of negative experience. It’s always pointing out how little you know of something and right when you think you have it, there’s something that pulls the rug from under you. But that’s learning. And that’s what you should be doing. So, if you’re struggling – all it means is that you’re learning something; something good. It’s hard to distinguish between things not working and things in the process of change. Change is always messy – the key is to be okay with the mess and to keep going until it seems clear. But be warned – once it does seem clear, it’ll get messy again and that will be a good sign. Work through the mess to find another gloriously new mess. You’ll make it.