Saturday, February 03, 2007

An unfortunate cultural lesson... in poor taste.

I have had a run-in or two with one particularly high-strung teacher at one of my schools, but this one takes the cake and provided an unwanted cultural lesson.

She took over for one of the teachers a few months back, and just before Christmas break her and I had a discussion about me assisting in some classes. Now that things have settled into the new year and I have been re-introduced to the classes, yesterday was to mark my first independent teaching with one of the groups. Last week we talked about where the class was and that I would be taking half of the class for half the time and then switching. She promised to contact me over the weekend (by e-mail because I don't have a phone). Well, she didn't. It really didn't matter - after all I knew what she wanted and I am used to creating lesson plans from nothing. On Thursday I went to the school to talk with her, excited about my lesson plans. The moment I mentioned the lesson, she pulls out these papers and says that I should do these activities. She will be doing the same activities with the other class. Strange, I think. What is the point of doing the same lesson? But it was what she wanted. She makes me a copy of the material and I head home. After reviewing the papers and making a few changes, I felt confident and ready for the class.

An hour before the class started, I am sitting in the salle des professeurs (teacher's lounge) when she comes in. From across the room she asks if I'm ready. "Absolutely," I reply. "Really, do you have the dominoes cut out?" "No, I thought the children could handle that." "Well you have all of the materials, right?" "Everything but the copies." "Then you are not ready." "Yes I am. I just need the copies." "You should have made them by now." "I don't have the code for the copier." "You are sitting in a room of people who have codes, ask them." Now at this point I was getting too mad and had to switch into English. Also, other teachers were streaming in because it was morning break and the teacher's voice was getting louder and louder. "I didn't know how many students I was going to have. You never told me." "You are an assistant. Your job is to make my life easier. All you are doing is making me more stressed." "I'm sorry, but your directions were unclear." Here I became aware that we were attracting the attention of my co-workers. These are intelligent people. Besides the fact they often speak better English than I, they could tell by our voices that there was something wrong. "I have a lot on my plate. I am a full teacher and you are my assistant." Honestly, I stopped listening at this point but I remember something about being overwhelmed... seriously concerned about my effectiveness... doing my job... etc. Anyone who knows me well is probably marveling at my reserve. I know I did. I think it was not from a change in temper, but from the twenty sets of eyes I felt staring at us. Yes all of the teachers were there and the room had quieted. That is why I did not mention how long I worked on my original lesson (which involved strips of paper, a hat, and tongue twisters) and how her anger at me was just displaced stress and that there was no way I could have mad the copies for the reasons she failed to appreciate. Luckily, the bell rang and she headed to class.

Later that morning, during a particularly angry journal entry, I remembered something my high school French teacher mentioned. In France it is considered normal and proper to scold your children in public. More than that, if your child is misbehaving it is your duty to spank or punish them right then and there. The same thing applies to bosses and subordinates. If your boss has a reason (or at least think that they do) to be upset with you, they will find you and deal with the situation then and there. So, this teacher, under the misapprehension that I was a subordinate, was doing something normal and excusable. However, I don't think that she realizes that from my American point of view this public verbal flogging was unacceptable. That is why she was unhindered by the presence of the others and why they really took no notice (I was just assuming they were).

In hindsight, this may have been a valuable cultural lesson. Nevertheless, it is one that I hope never to have repeated.


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