Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Surprise Visit!

Today my school was visited by Sam Blyth the chair BCF. He was accompanied by three Canadians and the BCF liaison Karma. I got the call as I was off to my first period. Thank goodness I cleaned my house last night and as always my lessons were well prepared. All the same it threw me into a tizzy. In my free period I frantically fine tuned my lesson plans for all my classes anticipating their arrival and possible observation. They did arrive at 11:15 BST (Bhutan stretchable time) unfortunately they did not see me teach, but did catch the closing of my lesson. It happened to be a great lesson due to the fantastic participation of my 8A students. My students did a graphic organizer chart comparing “desk Scholars” and “boarding students” The chart illustrated both positive and negative aspects of each lifestyle. The class was split into two groups consisting of the desk scholars on one side of the classroom and boarders on the other side. They did a fine job discussing as a group before presenting their findings to two recorders who wrote on the chart. I was merely a facilitator throughout the process. This kind of activity is a huge leap in their critical thinking and huge departure from the typical rote learning that they are accustomed to in Bhutan. I was proud of them.

I retired to the office for tea during the lunch hour discussing my life with Sam, principal, and company. I told them sincerely that in many ways “I’d never been happier” and it was my aim to stay for two years. I cannot guarantee this, but I feel this is (pardon the cliché) a once in a lifetime opportunity. I truly believe in my mission here. It was nice to hear that Canadian education had its roots in East Bhutan with Father Mackey, Nancy Strickland, and Jamie Zeppa along with many others. As an American and “honorary Canadian” I feel a lot of pride in my work here. I am also honored that this distinguished group visited my school. They will also visit Ian and Vicky tomorrow. It was truly an auspicious visit as Sam is a kindred spirit in my crusade against trash and encouraged me to apply for the grant offered by BCF. I also learned that Kendra’s former school was the pilot for a recycling program last year. I am looking forward to speaking to Kendra about this. There hour and a half visit concluded with a tour of the school including my humble abode, the campus, and my 8B classroom with student work proudly displayed on the wall. We also took a group photo on the steps in front of the administrative building. One of Sam’s friends said she had read my poems, presumably in this blog, which made me wince. I forget people read my rants and raves. I do appreciate her interest though. It was great to host them and hope I wasn’t too chatty. I told them truthfully that life can be challenging here, but I feel fortunate to be working with these awesome students.

They left just in time for a raging T-storm. During my last period the room was shaking from thunder and it was so dark my students were silhouettes. We even had a stray dog seek refuge in our classroom. After school the Indian teachers and I met with a member of parliament to voice our concerns. I spoke about the trash issue and the beating of students. He listened politely but also defended the beatings as something engrained in the culture. I am not out to solve this problem and can only manage my own class. A good example of discipline came up for me today. I was already frazzled at the impending arrival of Sam’s group, when during my first period lesson (8A) I was hit in the back by a paper airplane. I stopped the class and inquired who the culprit was. I did not loose my temper and the offenders after thirty seconds came forward, a boy and girl. I took them outside to discuss the situation exclaiming how hurt I was. I usually don’t reveal this type of emotion to my students but decided to go this route. I explained to them that I came across the world to teach and felt disrespected. The girl was weeping and the boy hanging his head. I asked them to write a letter (we had just learned to construct letters) if they felt remorse. If they did not feel they did anything wrong they had the option to not do it.  Both students had written sincere apology letters by the next period. For the next lesson I had the girl act as the class recorder for the boarding students and I am taking the boy shopping for school supplies tomorrow. I don’t think a beating would have helped reestablish trust between me and these two students.    

It was an eventful day in Bhutan and I would like to sincerely thank Sam for taking the time to visit. I hope he was satisfied with my effort here. I also learned something about myself today. I was very nervous prior to their visit. I felt the same feelings as I did student teaching, which at times was not enjoyable. I am a much better teacher when relaxed. It is important to be well prepared and even over prepared. But anxiety is not useful in the classroom.  It’s not about pleasing someone who is judging my own performance. It is about teaching the children new skills and how to be solid human beings. The focus should be on them and anxiety can impede this process. So from now on I will commit to focusing on my teaching. Like Rafe Esquith (Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire) says, “Take the fear out of the classroom.” Only then can both teacher and student think clearly and enjoy the beauty of learning.   

Until we meet again…


  1. Timmers! A great report. You are making headway, not only in the classroom, in your own growth, but in the cultural arena you have power to influence. You dealt with the offending kids perfectly. And your grammar is significantly improved!! Kudos to you.

  2. Tim: I applaud your handling of the visit and the student disruption. An excellent blog with
    an important message!

    Did Sam's group bring your medical package along from the Capital?

    Also where did the students ever even learn about making paoer airplanes? Amazing in itself!

    Keep up the good work and good luck with you trash endevor resolution. Keep us informed!

    On a negative note, your mom has several tears in her rotator cuff after having had an MRI yesterday. One tendon is completely torn! I'm sure she will have to have surgery to repair the tears--it's a 15 month rehab. NOT GOOD!