Monday, August 22 8:50 pm
Today was the teachers’ back-to-school day at Barrie School (the school where I taught French for the past seven years and was World Language department chair for the past six). A year ago, I would never have imagined that on this back-to-school day I would be leading InterPlay for a group of sixteen Cameroonian girls in Bankondji rather than attending and leading meetings in Silver Spring, Maryland. As much as I had already sensed that 2015-2016 would be my last year at Barrie, I would never, in my wildest dreams, have imagined that this is what I’d be doing today. Which shows that our imagination is no match for the reality of what can be created with faith and trust and a willingness to act.
There really aren’t words that can convey what we are experiencing here: the collaboration, the inspiration, the joy, the simplicity, the grandeur, the rightness.
The girls today were just wonderful. At the beginning of our time together, they sat quietly and formally on chairs, sitting up straight, and not saying a word.
At the end, when I asked them each to shake my hand at the door and to tell me something that they had liked in what we did together today, they almost all said: “At the beginning, I was shy, but by the end I felt so much better” or “When I got here, I was so tired, but now I feel full of energy.” As I regularly say when I use the heart-centered and highly effective methodologies I have come to trust — whether InterPlay or TPRS— “this shit works!” And with the team we have, this tutoring program is going to work. Each of the teachers expressed optimism, enthusiasm, gratitude, and very specific noticings regarding the different students in the group. I was struck by the deep care each of them has for the students, and I too feel a deep sense of optimism about the success of this program this year.
I loved being with the girls today. Once we got started, I could see all the same personalities I always see in a middle school or early high school group: some were very out there, others very reserved; some were careful to support others, others didn’t want to be paired up with anyone who wasn’t in their friend group; some spoke so softly you could hardly hear them, others laughed so loudly you had to ask them to stop. I could have been at Barrie. And, once we starting moving and “babbling” and doing hand dances and telling stories, we were all in it together.
Our curriculum this whole week mirrors what we did last week in the teacher training: today was “Le cercle de communauté;” tomorrow and Wednesday will be “Le cercle d’apprentissage,” where we’ll use the All Kinds of Minds constructs as conveyed in the Learning Soup document (an easier-to-understand version of the learning framework) to guide the students to analyze their own learning strengths and weaknesses; and Thursday and Friday we will do the “Cercles de tutorat,” where we’ll introduce literature circles (both French and English) and then math circles. Each day, starting tomorrow, just as we did in the training last week, the students will journal for ten minutes—we gave them the notebooks today. They’ll be allowed to journal in images or in words—it will be their choice. A new element that we will introduce this week is free voluntary reading with the books I brought with me—in French and English.
Tonight we went out to find a copy machine so that we could photocopy the Learning Soup. It took some doing! The first cyber-spot we went to had no ink left. Finally, we managed to print out a new copy of the Learning Soup on A4 paper and then make the copies. Luckily, we were able to put the document onto a flash drive; several people came in to the second place we went to print things out from the internet and were told that the internet was down in the whole town, and had been down for five hours already. Hearing that, we were grateful, too, to have our plug-in USB internet sticks, which work as long as the cell phone network is working.
As far as my own life is concerned, I have a clear understanding that I have been called to this work, and even that what I’m doing now may be the Call of my life, the work I have been given to do. Everything I have experienced up until now has led me to this point. The seven years at Barrie were training for this…and this is the very beginning of what is going to now be my life. I have long wanted to find a way to bring together my love of teaching with my interest in living abroad in a French-speaking country. I’ve thought of applying to be a teacher in one of the international schools once both of our children have finished high school, but I’ve always had the concern that I’d be living in a wealthy bubble, separated from the people. Aumazo (my spell check keeps trying to change “Aumazo” to “Amaze”…) offers a true integration, an opportunity to offer the best of what I have to offer professionally, and also to offer the best of what I have to offer personally.
Yesterday, when we were at the school site, I had the clear sense that we were in the hand of God. The air there is extraordinary, the beauty exceptional. It’s a thin place. Today I specifically noticed—when we returned to the site with our whole team after our morning’s work—that as we came to the crest of the hill, there was a different energy, an opening, a peace, a joy. The breeze picks up as you arrive there—because it’s the crest of the hill (or really, the mountain). Seeing our team walk around the school site today, it was clear to me that we are the founding members of this very real institution which is being founded in deep love —and community— and compassion —and creativity —and integration. Thanks be to God.