Monday, February 13, 2012

School begins..... "Not with a bang but a whimper"

Sitting in the back row of benches nestled among several female staff with whom I am quite friendly and with the advantage of having a wall to lean against, was where I found myself in the principal's office for the first meeting of the school year. For most of the day my thoughts kept flashing back to the same time last year. At that time I was directed to one of the few western style armchairs in this same office and before very long I realized that I was in the exalted  company of the privileged few. The staff secretary, the vice principal and the senior most staff sat in these comfy chairs and I felt like something of an imposter. None the less the protocol of remaining in the same seats was upheld and there I sat for the 3 days of meetings, blissfully unaware that these meetings would decide so much of what would happen at school in the rest of the year.  This time around I was aware enough to avoid those seats of privilege and to head for the back row where the comfort of a wall to lean on would be a blessing when the meeting continued for over 3 hours. I also knew to volunteer for what I wanted to take responsibility for and to speak up if I wanted to escape from onerous (to me at least) duties.

This year we began by standing on the road in front of the school to honour the coffin bearing the body of the Garab Rimopche's beloved father, as it drove by.  The day began casually with all the staff standing around in the sun chatting despite the solemnity of the occasion. This time when the meeting commenced, our principal was in place behind his desk and not still making his way to Rangjung as a newly appointed leader and this gave a air of organized formality to the proceedings as well as providing us with an agenda for the next few days. I was also much more familiar with the consensus style decision-making and secret ballot voting that would determine who took what responsibilities in the school. Even those not particularly keen to take on burdensome roles were nominated and graciously accepted when they were voted in.

When we broke for lunch the entire staff seemed to disappear into the woodwork in seconds and I was yet again the only one with a packed lunch prepared and the expectation that I would consume it at school. Last year this made me feel lost and confused being left alone in very unfamiliar surroundings but this time I realized the extended lunch break gave me time to walk home and share the break and the breaking news of the morning with Ian who was already done for the day. I also fondly recalled the many lunchtimes during term time that I have spent at school marking, assisting students with "doubts" and catching up on the paperwork I needed to, in the solitude of the empty office. I look forward to adopting the same approach again this year as it affords me the opportunity to mix with students with whom I don't have classroom contact and to expand my knowledge of the student cohort and influence.

By the late afternoon I was happily reminiscing about the new level of understanding I had, despite thinking that I had learned very little about the system in my first year when I left in December. Sitting at the back I was unconcerned about the lapses into Dzongkha that inevitable occur when the discussion gets heated. Actually I was grateful for the opportunity to allow my thoughts to wander and to reflect on the way the school has evolved and my knowledge of procedure grown. Last year these lapses had me stressing about what vital information I was now missing and how I could possibly know what to do for the first few weeks of school. There were some important decisions made, but the priority for me was the allocation of teaching classes and by the end of the day that had still not been decided. I had however happily avoided being Literary-In-Charge opting instead to continue my responsibilities with photography club and table tennis club. Perhaps I will come to regret that decision since I am once again the only staff member with responsibility for 2 clubs and photography club consumed a great deal of my scant free time last year. This year at least I will have an assistant and I intend to become better at delegating to both him and the students.

By the time we were dismissed for day one it was clear that there is an expectation that we will document more of what we do both academically and in terms of extra curricular commitments this year. I cannot say that this surprises me as I was somewhat surprised at the lack of record keeping in 2011, after the very strict requirements of Australian schools. Without a teaching load allocated I felt free to enjoy the evening with the magazines which arrived from Australia that day, and not have to immediately launch into the teaching preparation which will come soon enough.

Day two, which was a saturday by the way, also began in a very businesslike manner and much to my relief allocating teaching duties was the first agenda item. Faculty groups were left to split their loads and report their decisions to the newly appointed Timetable-In-Charge and the English teachers easily came to a consensus about who would get what. I argued for spreading my influence and affording students who had not had a native English teacher (namely me) last year that chance, which allowed me to continue to teach class XI but ultimately meant meant that I would change my home class. On the up side class XI curriculum is familiar to me and I like it for the most part. On the down side I will have 4 new sections of names to learn and I was disappointed about the loss of my original home class with whom I have developed a very close relationship. Since the board exams are the real bugbear of the system and teachers' lives, I figured with one year of experience under my belt it was best to volunteer for at least one such class and face my demons over the coming year. I therefore requested one section of class X English and am relived that there will be 3 of us teaching that course, so we can hopefully share resources and support each other. Inevitably to balance the loads and responsibilities not everyone got exactly what they wanted but I believe that the compromises were fair and a balance was achieved. By far the most pressing business of the day was the meeting of the Admissions Committee and they were locked in discussion and hard at the decision making process long after we mere teachers had resolved our class allocation issues. While staff were milling about and chatting I was able to distribute the chocolates from Bangkok and hard cheese from Bumthang that I had purchased as souvenirs. That process had me marveling about how I could now address all of the staff with at least one name and felt confident about which titles applied to whom. At tea breaks last year I was battling with trying to put names to all the faces.

As a saying goes, "Well begun is half finished" so it now looks like we are well on the way to a successful 2012 academic session!

 Breaking news: At the end of the Monday morning session I had my original home class back. I will once again be their English teacher and home class teacher. Yay!! Yay!! I remind myself that things are still very fluid and more changes and more revisions and even revoking decisions already made are likely to occur. But for the moment at least I am very happy.


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