A teacher’s day in Peru

7.00am: I spent my first night in my new place in the northern Peruvian city of Trujillo. I do not know where my new place is in the city, so my landlord walks me to my school. It takes only 10 minutes. What complicates matters is I know limited Spanish, while he doesn’t know English.

I arrive at school just in time to hear loud clangs of cowbells. “Happy teacher’s day!” the school’s psychologists shout as I walk through the gates. I really need a coffee.

New Spanish word acquired: Cruzar 

7.30-8am: I have made myself a coffee (with instant which I’ve stashed in my locker for such emergencies. The school has a ‘House’ system named after American presidents. I am in Kennedy House.

Team Kennedy has organised greeting students at the gates with a banner, gifts for our primary school mates, and our mascot ‘Sully’ from Monsters Inc. It takes me ages to realise who is in the mascot suit and I don’t really want to know.

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New Spanish word acquired: Mascota

8am-10.55am: Today is an unusual day, in that it is the first day of exams. This means regular classes are cancelled while the exams are on. Teachers are scheduled to supervise the exams. I do not have to teach or supervise during the math exam. I ensure my paperwork is complete, and I also mark students’ notebooks.

10.55am-12.15pm: The siesta is over. I now have to supervise grade 10 in their business exam. Students either arrive late to class, ignore my instructions to sit down and put their books away, or ask to use the bathroom.

“Why didn’t you do it in the break?” I ask.  I order students to sit before returning to my strike-candy score system. If students have five strikes we practice dictation exercises, and if they have five candy points at the end of class then I give them candy from my candy jar.

Students quickly get to their seats after one girl rolls her eyes and puts a finger to her head. “Bang”, she whispers.

Students finally settle down but they need help from the business teacher, who undoubtedly is working her way through all the classes. Finally she arrives and I bribe her with candy so she can see our class first.

It turns out I am mentioned in the exam. “Mr. Burns wants to stay in Peru forever! But he is a little confused because the banking system is different in Australia. Where should he put his money? A bank or a caja?”

Students find this funny.

When one student hands me her completed exam, I ask, “did you give me good advice?”

“Yes.”

“Am I going to be broke? Or am I going to be rich?”

“Probably broke.”

Another student asks, “are you really going to stay in Peru?”

“…..sure.”

“Will you be teaching here again next year?”

I use the time to receive some important feedback. “That depends,” I say seriously. “Would you like me to return next year.”

“Yes,” she said looking at the candy jar next to me. “If that comes back.”

New Spanish word acquired: Caja

12.15pm-2pm: I have a break for a while because Thursday is normally my quietest days. I use this time to plan what my lessons are going to be like during exam week. Teaching will prove tricky. I won’t teach all classes, and it’s not appropriate to teach heavy or new content between exams. I consider roleplaying exercises for some classes.

It’s teacher’s day the next day but we will have that time off. Instead, we will be celebrating with designated classes from 2pm. One of my students finds me and she gives me a box of chocolates as a gift.

2pm: I arrive to my designated class where cakes and biscuits are being prepared by students and some of their mothers. I take a seat and as food is being passed around, students give us some speeches. Many students that give a speech don’t address me because they prefer to speak in Spanish, but those that I do understand are lovely and encouraging.

“When you first arrived we thought, ‘oh no, another native speaker, we aren’t going to understand a thing’,” one student said. “But instead, we have learned so much, even when you think we are really bored. And you try to make the classes dynamic and interesting.”

Spanish words acquired: The difference between torta and keke

3pm: Teachers gather for their own assembly once the students leave. We collect awards and certificates  and have a glass of wine while we wait. My friends and colleagues stand one at a time to receive their awards.

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5pm: Everyone has left for the day. I mark the notebooks from students and return the books to the classrooms so students can find them first thing on Monday. I am extremely happy with one student’s response to ‘was dropping the atomic bomb on Japan justified? Why or why not?” Most students didn’t bother completing that question for homework. This student receives a gold star from my sticker collection. I rarely give those ones out. I tidy my locker and then I walk home with my laptop and my passport. At some point I am lost but I don’t stop for my phone. I feel rather vulnerable in these new streets during this time of the day. But eventually I find my door. My landlords give me a coffee and some bread and cheese, and we talk in Spanish (as best as I can). I go to my room and fall asleep before 7.30pm.

Spanish word acquired:  Caminar

 

 

The lows and the highs of this life

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The graffiti in Huanchaco at night. 

I remember at a rodeo telling a PR associate that I was going to be moving to Peru to teach. And I remember how he branded it. He described how many women I would likely ‘meet’ (especially if I continued my gym and diet regime). And there was something else he said.

“The best part will be when you wake up in the morning,” he said as he held his bourbon and coke. The noises of the bronco ride, the clangs of bells and exclamations of the MC, echoed behind us down the hill on one side, while on the other the TV glared by the bar. The important Rugby League game with the Cowboys was playing. More people focused their attention on this.

“That will be the best part,” my associate said. “When it all becomes your normal life.”

And lately I wonder at that. Because I have long since been in that stage.

I am in no rush to return to Australia but there’s no denying some sort of magic from the novelty has faded. I wake at 5.30am to prepare for work, and then teach students who are mostly bored of my classes. Between classes I always have to prepare for something (whether it’s exams, or the next bimester’s structure, or some sort of paperwork).

I have fought the flu for a fortnight, my visa runs out this week, and there’s one more thing…I’m broke.

It’s funny the mood you’re in when you count the soles that you have left. The stress builds when you wonder if you have enough money to catch the bus at the end of the week, when you cut short the money you spend on food, when there’s no water in the house because its your turn to pay for it but cannot afford the phone call to ring the water delivery guy.

While I am being negative right now I feel it’s important to share these lows, as much as it is to share the heights. I have done much here that I am glad I experience. I am glad to teach, overall, and I am mostly glad to be living in a house in the one place in Peru. I am learning a lot. There’s just a strain in doing so.

I guess I am living a true life now that the novelty has faded.

My students and some of the teachers refer to me as Shakespeare. On World Literature Day I had to quote Hamlet’s Soliloquy (The ‘To Be or Not To Be’ section). I dressed in black and held a skull. But the more I think about it… the more I think I was given an actual real skull. The teeth were at risk of falling out and they had roots. Everything inside it was rather lifelike.

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My students are bored but many of them do like me…or at the least, can tell that I like them. “Mr Burnzy!” I heard in the basement corridor one morning, and I looked around and saw nothing. I recognised the voice of a young student. I thought he must have walked up one of the two staircases but when I returned to the elevator I heard him call “Mr Burnzy!” again.

I surprised him by jogging around a corner to see where he was hiding. We laughed and went our different ways. But I glowed. We both had a lot of difficulty with each other six weeks before (language barrier).

I looked after a Grade 7 class while they did an exam. The youngest I normally teach is Grade 8 and for a while I have been warned about their behaviour. It took them about 15 minutes to realise I knew no Spanish and that was it, their discipline was gone. I had to write on the board that I did not understand Spanish, and I may have wrote a few things to caution them they could not muck around with me.

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One of the louder boys who would not be quiet gasped. “Mr!” he said, putting up his hand.  And he looked terrified. “In Australia, do they eat MEN?” (He knew little Spanish but enough to think that ‘mean’ was ‘men’ and that I was a cannibal).

“Si,” I replied, licking my lips and looking down at him. “Personas deliciosa.” And he gasped. I quickly said I was joking but he was a model student the rest of the time.

Kisses and frustration

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Beer O’Clock completes a frustrating week.  As casa-amigo Nicola might say, ‘this is how I became an alcoholic.’

When men and women greet here in Peru they hug and the man kisses her on the cheek. I find that weird and slightly uncomfortable. A colleague held her cheek out for me a few days ago for me to kiss, and I hesitated, but to refuse to do so would be rude.

But then again, I shouldn’t be complaining.

I find myself making a kissing sound and leaning forward as if to kiss when women hug me, but not actually making the contact with the cheek. I think some are surprised by this.

Women here also touch a lot more, and honestly, back home if I was touched on the arm and the leg and the shoulder that often I would assume they were interested in me. And so it does make me a little uncomfortable.

Once again, I shouldn’t be complaining. But there were years at one point I lived without anyone touching me aside for the occasional formal handshake. For that reason it can be unhealthy living away from family so long.

I’m treating this as a blessing, to learn to be more comfortable with physical touch, since everyone here clearly doesn’t read too much into it.

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I could learn a lot from Adriaan and Amy, who are faking a relationship for Valentines.

…..

I have found myself in a room this week restructuring curriculum requirements for history, geography and economy for four grade levels. This might be easy enough if you were a long-term educator but I was a journalist a year ago, and I find myself having to translate everything from Spanish. While my colleagues, including a translator, support me in this, it takes a long time to complete anything.

I am used to knowing what I am doing and charging forward to complete the task immediately. But I can’t do that when everyone else must discuss what is going on in a language I cannot understand, and then constantly having to explain what we must be doing every time we do something new.

The translator must have heard my tone when we spent an entire day adjusting words and restructuring sentences that had been translated from Spanish by a computer program. “Do you get frustrated easily Mr Burnzy?” she asked.

Yes. When I have no idea what it is I’m supposed to be doing.

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Some nights you need to go home and eat ice-cream.

…..

A few colleagues and my housemates have made a deal that we would complete lessons to learn English and Spanish. It’s a fair arrangement. In my first lesson I was taught directions to get to places. I was focusing on pronounciation so much that I couldn’t absorb the new words. I’m terrible at memory. At one point I was really discouraged and was doing my best not to express irritability, because I recognised the mood for what it was. Later when someone asked me how the lesson was I was honest. I was frustrated.

One of my weaknesses is getting frustrated quickly. It has caused much damage in my life especially in the childhood and teenage years when I could not control myself.  I was the bad tempered freak in the school yard. You know what I mean. Every school has one. I am more controlled now, but it takes a lot of energy not to storm off sometimes. It would be much easier simply to find a way not to be so hard with myself. But so far the only alternative I have is not caring about what I’m doing at all.

And as a journalist frustration only empowered me, but at a cost of making it hard to be around me in my personal life. I suppose that’s why I left it. I guess that’s why I’m here.

…..

I think the turning point for me, the moment I calmed down, was when I took a 10 minute smoko and walked to the community life office to find out who my work secret valentine was going to be. And there was a little girl, the daughter of one of my colleagues, and she waved, and I waved, and she told her mother in Spanish, “he is really tall.”

I lifted my hand to my height, and then to her height, and I smiled, and I said, “and you are really….”

“Short!”

And I laughed and congratulated her for knowing that word in English, and I left, much happier. With all these syllabus examinations and preparation for lesson plan theory, it was easy to forget that I would be working with children and teenagers, and that was the whole point really.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introducing the Croc Hunter to Peru

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Looking at my facial hair…what was I thinking? This has to go as soon as I get back home.

I’m starting to figure out that Australia has an unfounded reputation for dangerous animals that want to kill everybody. Whether I’m talking to a Peruvian or a South African I learn that people are afraid of our snakes and spiders.

Personally I think someone in our defence ministry realised that we could avoid being invaded if we exaggerate our dangers, but it makes us sound bad-ass when we downplay the dangers too, right? Whoever first exaggerated our animals was a crafty bugger, and undoubtedly one that used it to try and get laid. Because it’s so full of tripe. I’ve never once been bitten by a snake and the spiders are actually rather pleasant (how’s my downplay game? 😉 .

Today I had to do a presentation on Australia as a demonstration to students at a school I want to teach at. I was lucky compared to my friends. I had Year 9 students and they had an advanced ability in English. All I really needed to do was keep them interested and engage them in conversation.

But here’s what I learned about my own country from my students, judging from the questions they asked.

They wanted to know about our music, but they especially wanted to know about our dancing.

Well I don’t understand what national dances we actually have, but the students didn’t understand that. So I showed them the heel and toe. I panicked, okay! It’s the bush dance I remember in Primary School. “heel and toe, heel and toe, slide slide slide slide…..left hand clap, right hand clap, both hand clap, on your knees” and then you link arms with your partner and twirl around. (In Year 4 the girls had cooties so it was a horrible exercise, and in Year 6 I asked a girl out to graduation, and she said no (she ran away actually), but we danced during the heel and toe and as we clapped our knees she said ‘see, we got to dance anyway,’ Then I never thought I’d actually be dancing this miserable bush dance at Year 12 graduation, but I did, so there you go. There’s many memories).

I showed the students’ Tash Sultana’s Jungle and they loved that. They wanted to know if we had a traditional dress and the best I could do was show them Indigenous traditional dress, and by then I felt a little sad. I wasn’t sure what culture a whitie like me had that was actually special. Does that make sense?

I showed them a video of the Crocodile Hunter (Mr Steve Irwin himself) and the teacher knew he died in an accident so I had to tell them how (sting ray barb). And I felt a little sad when I told them the story and they could see that.

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An Australian legend. Photo: Australia Zoo. 

I taught them that Canberra was our capital city (they thought it was Sydney) and I even taught them how to pronounce it (they thought it was Can – Berra). Then as an extra favour to my nation I taught them to pronounce Melbourne (Mel-ben, not Mel – born).

We spoke about unusual animals they might not have heard about, including the bilby and the Quokka. I showed them the Quokka selfies online and they loved that.

“What about your snakes and spiders?” they asked.

“What about them? They aren’t dangerous. Everywhere has snakes and spiders.”

“But you have giant ones.”

That’s a bit rich, coming from students that live in the same country as the Amazon.

I feel they learned a bit but then they wanted to show me Peruvian music, and I almost fell for it but the teacher said my time was up (I was supposed to only have half an hour tops and I went double that time).

I’m not sure if I really taught that much, but they remembered basic geography. And I feel there was a connection with the students. They liked me but they were beginning to test my discipline by the end.

I’m writing this from a Starbucks. I had to order a flat white (I am an Aussie after all) and they spelled my name ‘Criss’ and that’s kind of cool because I was bored of my spelling anyway.