Here’s a second story I didn’t share this year directly after it happened. This occurred this past spring.
Coming Clean: I Once Found One of My Co-Workers Crying Behind a Chalkboard
Working at Bosco Academy was never easy. It was fulfilling. It was fun. It was pure joy, ecstasy even. But it was never easy. Easy was never a word that crossed my mind in reference to the school or its attendance. Now that the year is complete, I have reached the conclusion that I thoroughly enjoyed the work. It may even be the best job I’ve ever had. But while I was in the midst of the school year, I definitely felt the weight of all that the job entailed.
I wasn’t the only one who felt the pressure of trying to give these boys stability, love, and an education all at the same time. Whenever I heard teachers yelling or hitting their students with a rod, I knew they were just feeling the day, temporarily cracking under the pressure. There were some days when I just wanted to bang my head against my desk. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many consecutive days where my brain felt tired. I never cried though. I wish I had, I think that would have been a great way to relieve some tension at the end of the day. I did; however, find one of my co-workers having a good cry one day.
The grade six teacher happened to be absent one day and one of the local volunteers was around and opted to fill in for the teacher. This turned out to be a mistake; at least I think it was. I was appreciative that she decided to fill in. Had the five boys gone unsupervised for the day, they would have spent the majority of the day wandering in and out of my classroom, effectively ruining the learning of a second class for the day too. Instead, she was being tortured, but she kept the crowd occupied.
Throughout the day, I periodically stuck my head into the classroom to see if things were under control with the grade six boys, but I never stayed long enough to get a good sense of what was actually going on. I had my own class to teach. Not to mention, if she needed help, there were four other well-seasoned, Guyanese teachers in the building who would be more qualified to assist her. Anyway, by the time lunch rolled around, one of my boys came back into my classroom and reported that she was crying. I thought he was fibbing, but just to be sure, once all of the boys had headed to the orphanage to get their lunch, I stepped in the classroom. She indeed was crying, hiding behind the chalkboard in the back of the room. Three hours with the boys had brought her to tears.
I didn’t hold it against her for a second. The grade six boys are tough, especially when they’re all together. They can be sweet, but they can also be a little brigade of torment. I think the pressure of this year, their final year at the Academy, and having to prepare for the big grade six exam that determined whether or not they would move on to high school, pushed them to act out more than they otherwise would have. With their teacher out for the day, they took full advantage of their substitute. Through her tears, she explained that she had become overwhelmed by how ungrateful they had been all day (and consistently throughout the year)—I had felt this too, on many occasions. She had also, essentially, been threatened by one of the boys, which apparently was a little traumatizing as well. He had egged on one of his classmates to slam the classroom door on the volunteers’ fingers. All of this stuff added together led her to a minor breakdown in the corner of the classroom as the lunch bell called the boys away from the building.
This is a typical case of cultures clashing with one another. This volunteer, being from North America, shares many of the same viewpoints as I do. We think the school could be run a bit more smoothly. But, because we’re not in charge (and we signed on to help the school, not to fix it) we go along with the way things are and do our best to keep our heads above water.
The moral of the story is that, indeed, it is difficult to work with boys who seem so ungrateful at times. Perhaps they even seem ungrateful the majority of the time. But the thing is, it’s still worth it. They’re getting something out of the experience of going to school. They’re getting something out of the experience of knowing people care enough about them to show up everyday. It’s not all done for nothing. It’s really okay. Sometimes you just need to curl up in a ball behind the chalkboard and use the hour designated for lunch to reset your soul…even if that means having a quick sob.
Reason this blog didn’t see the light of day until now: Now that the school year has concluded, I don’t fear having a breakdown myself.