Monday, September 29, 2008

Stepping on Teacher´s Toes

I´ve had this "situation" (let´s just call it) for quite some time now, which I have been trying to avoid writing about, but I think it´s time. (Drum roll please ...) The English teachers in my high school -- and there are five -- don´t seem to like me very much. Now before you get all worked up. I know, I know, the most obvious question (that comes to my mind) is HOW is that possible???!!! I am very likeable, if I do say so myself. But I have slowly come to the realization that I rub the teachers in this school the wrong way, that is, the American way. I was chatting with the host father of Drew, the volunteer who lives in Huasco, a couple weeks ago discussing this "situation," and we came to a very disturbing conclusion... It is quite possible that these Chilean teachers may not like me simply because of my American habits, the ones I always thought were universal (stupid, stupid, stupid!). Before anyone starts wondering about what I´m wearing (I´m dressing quite modestly, I can assure you), my drinking habits or how bossy I am being, let me provide you with some examples:

1) I always arrive on time. Well, that´s a lie, I used to arrive 10 minutes early for every class and then forced myself to curb it to five. So, let´s just say on my schedule it says I have a class at 9:45 a.m., I unlock my classroom and start setting it up at 9:35. I don´t know why I don´t just let myself in at 10 a.m. though, because I rarely receive my students anything but 15-20 minutes after the bell rings. I have discovered (or rather, been told by Chileans nice and not-so-nice) that this is an American "thing," this ... showing up on time thing ... and I have a hunch it may drive some Chileans absolutely mad.
2) I will categorize this example separately, even though it overlaps with the first. I arrive. Period. If someone tells me to meet them at 2 p.m., for a meeting ... I go. It never occurs to me that I should a) meander over to the approximate meeting area 45 minutes to an hour later, or b) simply just not go. For this, again, I am the annoying American. You see, the first month and a half, I still tried really hard. I´d tirelessly search the school grounds for the missing attendee, asking around. Or, the next day, when I finally found them, I´d ask (TRULY curious, thinking, "crap, did IIIII mess up the times...?"), "Did we have a meeting yesterday?" etc. etc. Yeah, so, I´m told that´s "North American" too.
3) I tell people when classes are cancelled, and in return, (now this is REALLY annoying) I expect the same courtesy in return. I cannot tell you how many hours I´ve spent sitting in my computer lab classroom waiting for a class that never comes (for instance, without this suddenly-free hour and a half, I couldn´t have written this blog!). At the beginning I let it slide, but then one morning before class I was in the teachers lounge and I happened to overhear another teacher, wishing Rommy -- the English teacher of my next class -- good luck. Good luck? The only reason Rommy would need luck for the next class (which I was supposed to take), would be if she were being observed by the government for the new assessment which all the teachers were painfully enduring. So I began the following conversation:

Rommy, are you being observed today?
(Rommy doesn´t look up at me) Si.
So ... I don´t have your class today ...?
(Rommy looks up at me in disgust, with a look that says, why am I asking her such a stupid and annoying question?) No.
(Rommy is gone in a swish of skirts and papers.)
Oooooooooook. Thanks for the info ... (I am talking to myself, don´t worry)
After encounters like this, my American brain argues silently, "Why am I here then? Do you people even know I´m here? What, so my time´s not important? Why was she just so rude to me ...?"

Such began the slow and steady lifting of my American denial. My efficient nature is irksome in some circles (primarily, I blame my mother) and to survive here, I attempted (for a while), to change it. I have tried to blend. To leave feathers unruffled. Really, I have. But, on my return from Iquique, the bleak realization of my inability to help a high school that seems, at times, to not want my help, became too much. I´m supposed to work WITH the English teacher´s here, not AGAINST them. I´m not meant to be competition, but reinforcement. I don´t ever pretend to be a certified teacher. But, I do however, insist on being professional. Another thing Drew´s host dad mentioned during our very-serious political/Chilean education system discussion, was that perhaps, the Chilean government had another agenda for the English Opens Doors Program. The governement undertook this program, to a) place fresh-faced, "native English speakers" with virtually NO teaching experience in hundreds of schools throughout the country, and b) to set a tone. I feel like a helpless example. AKA, "Look, I´m the silly gringa trying to organize a meeting with all of you because I´m not comfortable wasting time. Now, everybody try!" Government thinks: "maybe after the gringa is gone, the notion will remain and the teacher´s won´t like to waste time either." However, the government didn´t take into account that essentially, many of us are stepping on some teacher´s toes. It´s kinda dampering the whole cultural exchange, because, like in my case, I´ve found my welcome was half-hearted at best. It was pretty at first, but there has been no cooperation/support to back it up since then. I´m thinking, "Look! I came here to help!" They´re thinking, "We know you think you´re better than us, but you´re not." You follow?

I can´t change that I´m efficient. You cannot convince me to arrive at my first job in the States 20 minutes later than expected, without consequences. I just don´t live in that world. In my two years at AMDA (theater school), if you were one minute late, every single teacher shut the door and you were absent. In this case, my American way is better, and without stirring up my Chilean melting pot too much, I´ve now decided it´s best for me to keep working at my job here as I naturally would. I have come home sad many days, wondering what I did wrong, how I could offend my fellow teachers so, but I´m trying to cut myself a break. I am only here for two more months and I´m sick of waiting around in my classroom for change to magically come. Now, I go straight to the source, I have requested a meeting with all the teachers to mark calendars and work out dates and I put schedules for theater practice outside my door (they can´t seem to follow the schedule´s we wrote out the first day). I wanted to work with the cheerleaders so I talked with their coach. I might annoy people, but sometimes I feel like I´m the only person around here getting anything done.

On an opposite note, when I brought this issue up with Marcela, she told me some of the teachers complain I don´t greet them enough, and maybe that´s why our relationship has become strained. "I told them you people (North Americans) are different and not as close and friendly as us," she explained to me. I promise you I have never intentionally ignored anyone (except the monkey clan of whistling 15-year-olds), but maybe I haven´t tried hard enough, maybe feeling ignored or spoken to rudely has taken it´s toll on me and I´ve put up walls, I really don´t know. So, I will try again. My goal this week is to walk up to every single English teacher, grab them by the arms, give them a huge smile and a hug and ask them how they are doing. I will FORCE them to like me, damnit.

(Note: there are a couple Canadians, British, Australians and New Zealanders here too, but I´m generalizing.)


Josephine said...

Atta!Girl!! You got it!! Don't feel bad. No matter where you work there's always someone who judges you by their own standards.
So, don't fret just be your lovely wonderful self!! It's their loss!!
I love you!!
Aunt Jo C

RrrrreBecca said...

They are ridiculous about taking it personally that you happen to be on-time, efficient, and involved. That is truly something they can learn from you. You're probably what the government wishes their teachers were more like. Don't worry - keep being yourself -- and even if they are not friendly or polite, keep doling it out -- what's that saying? you catch more flies with honey than vinegar? (And tell them they need to remove the sticks from their asientos..jaja).

edcayce said...

I am glad to see you are not letting this make you feel frustrate but, rather determined to do what you in your wisdom know to be the right thing. It is all part of the experience, you will remember through the years, how different people behave in different places and situations.
You are the best, Love, Papa.

Susan said...

So, you have to be late and nonchalant in order to be accepted? That's pretty hard to do, I am sure. Keep up your good work!!!! Do it your way, and you will walk away feeling good about showing them examples they can follow---maybe not today, but someday. They will remember their American teacher who showed them what responsiblily really means. Smile often and be yourself. Love, Susan

Gladys T. Olson said...

Dearest niece:
Don't get discourage with this experience, just learn what you can from it. You will find jealousy every where specially at work. People calle it different names but it is the same when you are capable,efficient and hard working.
You are a friendly and likable girl, too bad they don't appreciate your contributions.
Keep the good work. We send you our love,
Aunt Gladys & uncle Andy