by Susan Kellerman
It’s no joke: teachers look forward to long holidays just as much as the kids do. This year is no different, and in fact, many of us at my school needed our December holidays more than normal. We are all stretched too thin the entire year, in many cases teaching an overload of courses, asked to volunteer to work with boarding students in the evenings and on weekends, and then also have had to pull together documentation and evidence for an upcoming re-accreditation by a leading educational organization.
On top of that, we have been squeezing in material in daily classes, to try to get through in 6 weeks what we normally do in 8 or 9, due to a late change in our school calendar that made Quarter 1 unusually long and Quarter 2, consequently, unusually short. (Neither of which are great, by the way.)
So, when the last parent left our gymnasium, and the parent teacher conferences had concluded around lunch time, it was with a huge sigh of relief that I walked back to my classroom, sat down, and for the first time in weeks was able to let my thoughts come together in their own time, without the urgency of needing to run off to get more work done. I pulled everything together on my desk, wrote my holiday to-do list (yes, many of us still get work done over the breaks!) and sauntered home, looking forward to some coming weeks of much-needed slowing down and ‘me’ time.
Low: Difficult parents
It’s no joke: parent conferences are not normally something teachers look forward to. It’s unfortunate, that, no matter how hard you try, you can never help having that one difficult parent come and seemingly attack you for something that is not normally your fault. While it could have been worse, today was no different. It was a parent whom I had never met before, a mother of a boarding student who was new to us as of the beginning of the year. Her son is 14 years old and fairly self-sufficient, but let’s face it, still a teenage boy. I’m not a coddler; I deal with my students using the ‘tough love’ approach, especially with the boys. I have not held this boy’s hand, but instead set parameters within which he could easily take responsibility for himself and succeed in school. And if they can’t work within those or make some unwise choices, then there are consequences which they suffer.
For the 15 years I have been teaching, this has worked 90% of the time. Apparently, Mom would prefer that I take a more hands-on approach, and no matter how I tried to explain to her that I felt it was not appropriate for him, she wouldn’t budge. As the air in the room became more still and my seat became a little more uncomfortable, I tried every trick in my book to help this mom understand that we’d be doing her son more of a disservice. Didn’t work. Another important skill as a teacher: know when to back down and give in.
Glitter: A moment with my housekeeper
It’s no joke: local help is super cheap and easy here in Tanzania. If you hire one, your dada (the word we use for housecleaner, but that literally translates into ‘sister’) also comes so much more frequently than most people in the West are used to. Mine comes three times a week! She is Frida, this lovely older Tanzanian woman, who walks about 45 minutes one way to come to my house, do all the washing (clothes and dishes), cleans, irons my clothes, and pretty much does anything else I’d ask her to. I’m not sure how I would have survived these last 18 months without her. I have not taken the time to get too close to her – sometimes that can backfire and you are asked for help with everything from a new phone to doctor’s bills to grandchildren’s school fees – however I do enjoy my Friday afternoons when I come home from school and she is still here finishing up things. We often will take time to chat as we are both doing work and I have learned a little more about her, her life and her family. We laugh because, inevitably, I start cooking dinner and messing things up as soon as she’s finished cleaning my kitchen. She is so good-natured about it, though.
This afternoon, with my renewed energy due to it being the first few hours of my long holiday break, I had some Christmas music on in the kitchen as I was making some pasta sauce to prepare for a friend coming for dinner. Frida sings in her church choir, and is something that we have talked about, both because I’m a music teacher and because I was raised Catholic, which is the religion she practices. I heard her start to hum as she was washing my clothes in the small room right off my kitchen. O Little Town of Bethlehem was playing. I listened in more closely and realized that she was humming the song. I asked her if she knew that song and she said, “Yes, nzuri sana!” (Yes, it’s really nice!) We continued for the next two minutes, her humming and washing my clothes and me singing softly and cooking dinner. It was such a lovely moment of bringing two totally different lives, cultures, and age groups together and stripping everything down to the root of it all: two women enjoying time together through a shared love of music and the season. No more, no less. I will never forget those two minutes with Frida.
Born, raised and educated in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Susan Kellerman decided to spend all her life savings during her senior year of high school and take a Spring Break trip to Spain with her Spanish teacher and fellow students. This was a watershed event, as it sparked her life-long interest in travel and a desire to one day live in Madrid. Fourteen years later, Susan was able to combine her career in music education with her desire to improve her Spanish speaking skills by accepting a job at the American School of Madrid. Currently, she is the music teacher and program coordinator at the International School of Moshi, in Tanzania and enjoying having Mt. Kilimanjaro as her backyard buddy.