Monday, February 29, 2016

Not My First Rodeo

So let’s talk about “the second time around.” This year is my second year living in the Dominican Republic and working at the Hogar del Niño. As it draws to a near close, I can’t help but give voice to the sentimentality that continually seeps in when I least expect it as this is also my last year working at my favorite place on Earth.

Last year definitely paved the way for both Larissa and I to be successful in our respective endeavors this year. We both learned Spanish, I learned Sign Language, we learned how to be teachers (a.k.a. I learned how to discipline children with stern love), we learned how the school functioned, we learned the hundreds upon thousands of names of our students and colleagues, and I learned about both the positive and negative personality quirks of my students and how to address them. In addition, I learned the rules of our students’ favorite game volleyball, to always stay alert at recess when the kids are playing kickball so as not to get a line drive to the face or back of the head, how to fix a pair of glasses when they are hit by said line drive, how to make my children giggle until they fall over, how to come up with a fun activity on the spot, the innumerable uses of a plastic water bottle in the classroom and in life, and how to get 25 pre-schoolers to actually march in a straight line without one running off or leaving to chase after a leaf (it’s harder than you think). 

I personally did not plan on staying a second year, but I am elated that I did. The lessons I’ve learned, the experiences I’ve gained, and the connections I’ve forged this year will remain with me throughout my lifetime. I would not trade my two years here for anything in the world.

This year I am lucky enough to have my own English classroom where I teach 25 three, four, and five year olds at a time instead of going into their classrooms and teaching 50 as we did last year. In this way, I have much more control in the atmosphere of my classroom so that I can focus on teaching English instead of prying children off the walls (with love) as I did in their classrooms last year. I am also happy to report that I do not lose my voice as frequently as last year from not only teaching 50 three-year-olds, but from projecting my voice to the far reaches of their classrooms. This year, I alone teach English to all the pre-schoolers which was overwhelmingly difficult at first, since I was used to teaching only one age group. However difficult teaching 500 pre-schoolers instead of 150 was at the start, it has been greatly rewarding as the year went on. 

My schedule this year has been in two words: jam-packed. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have class from the time I get there at 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. with a 45 minute break for lunch. Although my classes make me collapse from exhaustion at the end of the day, it thankfully doesn’t feel like work when you love what you do. I try to remind myself to savor every moment and take every opportunity to ply my students with love.

I refuse to think about my last days at the school, as I have been placing all thoughts of leaving in a cardboard box that I duct tape air tight and place in the far reaches at the back of my mind. I will deal with leaving when the time comes. All I know is that my two years here have been incredible. The children here are extraordinarily special that it is impossible to not fall in love with them and want what’s best for them.  

There have been times when Larissa and I look at each other, and by the bereft look on our faces one of us knows that the other is thinking about the end of the year and what we are possibly going to do with ourselves. Then we mourn in contemplative silence for a good seven minutes or so while we figure out how to (legally) kidnap all of our students and/or transport the entire school to the States.

Lastly, one vital aspect that has undoubtedly made my second year that more fulfilling is the person I have had at my side during every high, low, and in between. Being here with someone who shares the same mindset as I about our students, that they always, always come first has been so reassuring since our work has always been the most important aspect to us. In addition, both working here and Larissa have taught me that it is not the end of the world if my plans go awry or if I did not have a chance to plan or prepare (my favorite “p” words) in advance.

I know that when I leave here in June, I will be leaving behind a piece of my heart in each of my students. I imagine this place as the most joyous place on Earth. If I can have just half of the fulfillment and joy that I get out of each day of working here for the rest of my life, then that will be enough.