Have you ever had a day that wasn’t just busy or stressful, it was absolutely insane? One of those days where nothing works as it’s supposed to, and you barely make it over one unexpected issue that wasn’t in your schedule before another one looms up before you? Today was definitely one of those days. In fact, it not only makes it to my top ten list of craziest teaching days ever, it may actually top the list.

First you have to understand that the whole last couple of weeks (basically ever since we got back to Taiwan) have been crazy. All of us elementary teachers have had a lot to deal with, what with moving into new classrooms in a far corner of campus because of the construction, and all kinds of scheduling and logistical issues that have arisen because of the construction and new location. And this was only the third day of school, so we’re all still trying to figure out how everything we discussed and planned is actually going to work now that there are real live students involved. One of the toughest parts is getting the students to and from their “specials” (P.E., Chinese, art, music, etc.). Now that our classrooms aren’t within visual range of the specials rooms, we have to actually walk our students to and from everything, including recess and lunch, and the walk is even longer than it would be since we have to go around all the construction areas. That means that our breaks and prep periods are practically nonexistent, since almost as soon as we get back from taking our class somewhere, or so it seems, we have to go back across campus to pick them up. Add to that the fact that we’re still trying to nail down our own classroom routines and teach them to the students, and figure out new (safe) routes to take them across campus because of the construction and new parking lot/road locations, and none of us even know all our kids’ names yet, plus we’re still expected to get through the same curriculum even though school gets out 25 minutes earlier this year on Wednesdays and Thursdays due to after-school meetings – well, you can imagine what life at Morrison Academy must be like right now already.

So today’s extra craziness started small. Thankfully, it was before school actually started, when I was in my classroom looking at my schedule for the day, that I realized that there was a problem. I had it written down that the fifth graders’ band/orchestra classes, which they have along with middle school students as the last period of the day, started before Chinese/P.E. (the second-last period of the day) ended. So I looked back at the master schedule of specials, figured out that Chinese/P.E. both started and ended 15 minutes earlier than I had written down, and realized that that cut into our math time (the third-last period) by 15 minutes. Great. Yesterday we didn’t even have enough time to finish the math lesson, and now it was going to be 15 minutes shorter?! And this came right after hearing the day before that I would have to change my schedule anyway, because my students couldn’t do art at the time originally planned, because two classes with two different teachers had accidentally been scheduled to meet in the same room at the same time. That took away half my language arts time on Thursday, and now a big chunk of math was being taken away too (though this was my own fault for not realizing it sooner).

Well, even in spite of that discouraging realization, the next few hours went by fairly smoothly. The only snag was that we got behind in social studies because the kids took longer than I had anticipated making their geography posters, so we’ll have to finish them tomorrow, even though I already have the next week and a half’s lessons fully planned out. Oh well. By the time we stopped for lunch I was pretty exhausted, not having had any real breaks and having been on my feet all morning. But after the kids were in the cafeteria, I still couldn’t really rest until I had set up the supplies for the science experiment they were going to do right after lunch. As I was trying to take care of that in between grabbing bites of my own lunch, some poor high-school age student aide came to my door looking worried and confused and timidly asking for help with a photocopying problem. I like having my classroom right by the elementary workroom, but now I’m starting to realize that that will make me a lot of people’s first call for help if something goes wrong in there. So, I went to go help the boy clear up his paper jam, and still somehow managed to get back and get things ready before it was time for my class to return.

Well, the science activity went well, but it was designed for a normal science period, not a quick little time block squished in between lunch and an already-abbreviated math period in a way-too-short teaching day. We really could not go any quicker than we did, but by the time the experiment was over, we had long since used up our allotted science time and had completely taken over the next period to the point where there were only two or three minutes left of math. (There’s just no way this schedule is going to work!) So, I made a quick executive decision to forget math just this once, and I told the students to get ready for Chinese/P.E. Those who were to take Chinese today (they alternate every other day) were to stay in our classroom now that there isn’t any Chinese classroom (due to the construction). Those who were to go to P.E. I instructed to take their instruments with them, so they could go directly to band or orchestra. I wouldn’t be able to walk them there as I was supposed to, though, since I would have to walk the Chinese group there, though come to think of it, I don’t know how I could walk them to both band and orchestra (in different locations) at the same time anyway. But, I figured I’d cross that bridge when I came to it. It didn’t help that a couple of students still weren’t sure if they were supposed to go to band, orchestra, or neither, and most of them weren’t sure where either class was supposed to meet. I realized that I had never been told, so when a few students said they knew, I told the others to just follow them when the time came. At the last minute, I told them all to leave their backpacks in the classroom and come get them after school, because they would have to write down their homework then as well, which they hadn’t had time to do yet because science had taken so long. (Having specials at the end of the day, especially two periods in a row, really makes things challenging for us homeroom teachers!)

After the P.E. group left, and while we were waiting for the Chinese teacher to show up, I figured I should at least have those who were there start writing down their homework and packing their backpacks, so they wouldn’t have to do it after school. That was when I realized I had pretty much nothing to give them for homework, since the math worksheets I’d planned wouldn’t make sense without the math lesson we’d skipped. I know, I know, they would have been quite happy with no homework, but this first week we’re really working on routines, like where and when to hand homework in, how and when to record assignments, etc. So I didn’t want to just not do it. So I told them to write that there would be a math worksheet, and meanwhile I hastily went through my books looking for something I could photocopy that would go with what we had studied yesterday.

 Well, the Chinese teacher came in and started his lesson, and I finally found a worksheet I could copy for homework. It was hard to concentrate on looking for one, though, because the kids were being so loud and disrespectful. I don’t like to scold them when another teacher is in charge, but they were yelling, walking around the room, playing, passing toys around, and generally creating chaos. I was glad to get out of there as I slipped toward the door.

But the chaos didn’t end then. I was still in the doorway when a middle school student messenger hurried up to me and said, “The band teacher told me to come ask if the fifth graders are almost ready to come to band and orchestra, because they’re about to start.” Before I could even wrap my mind around this, two or three fourth graders were standing there saying, “We’re supposed to come into your class for Chinese,” and another teacher had come up to ask me to proofread something she had just written, while all the time the chaos in the classroom behind me was growing louder.

I dealt with the fourth graders first, as the easiest issue to solve, and found out that they were new, had just been given Chinese placement tests, and had been assigned to the 5th grade advanced group after the last revised Chinese class lists had been emailed to me. So I let them in and introduced them to the teacher. In the meantime, the middle schooler was still waiting for an answer, and I couldn’t figure out why she (and apparently the band and orchestra teachers) thought my kids were supposed to be with them now. I mean, I know I accidentally sent my students off to Chinese and P.E. yesterday when they were supposed to go to music, but this time I really had looked at my schedule carefully, and I KNEW I was right about this. Besides, the Chinese teacher was there, and we couldn’t both be wrong, could we? (I found out later that the P.E. teacher was having his own set of schedule conflicts at that moment, as he was trying to teach a 3rd-5th grade P.E. class when all of a sudden the 6th-8th graders marched into the gym to do their P.E. with him as well… but that’s another story.) Well, I sent the student back with the message that 5th grade wasn’t scheduled to have band or orchestra until next period, hoping hard that the confusion was someone else’s fault this time and that it would all get sorted out somehow. Then I proofread the teacher’s article (she had been patiently waiting this whole time) and finally went to the workroom to photocopy my extra math worksheets. I did some grading, too, while I was there, since I knew I wouldn’t be able to concentrate in my classroom.

I headed back into my classroom before the end of Chinese, but I think the teacher didn’t know the schedule, because he kept teaching even after the period was supposed to end. Finally he came over to my desk and asked me about the schedule, and realized he was supposed to have stopped ten minutes ago. So he left for his next class, and before I let me kids out for band and orchestra, I felt the need to talk to them about their behavior and rudeness to him. While I was in the middle of explaining why that had better not EVER happen again, the door burst open and the kids who had been in P.E. came pouring in, all trying to talk to me at once about how they had gone to the band room and the band teacher had sent them back saying they weren’t supposed to come today after all. I made them quiet down until I had finished my closing remarks to the others, then tried (with only partial success) to get one person at a time to tell me what they were talking about. It didn’t help that none of them really seemed to know what they were talking about, except to say that they weren’t supposed to go to band or orchestra, even though none of them had apparently been to orchestra, and I couldn’t get anyone to properly explain how they knew there wouldn’t be any orchestra if they hadn’t actually tried to go there or talked to the orchestra teacher.

Finally I just told them all to sit down and put their instruments away, and resigned myself to the fact that there had obviously been (another) scheduling problem and there apparently would be no band or orchestra until next week. So here I was with twenty-five kids for a 45-minute time block in which I didn’t have any lessons planned.

Oh, wait! Math!

To put it mildly, the students weren’t nearly as enthusiastic as I was at the idea of having math (which most of them had been thrilled earlier to hear we were skipping) instead of band and orchestra, which they were very disappointed to miss. Someone came up with the idea that they deserved a free period instead, and that was much better received, but of course I nipped that one in the bud.

It was nice to have more time to teach math than I would have at the normal math time slot, but it was still hard to get the kids to actually focus enough to learn. The Chinese group was still wired from their earlier rowdiness, and all of them were off balance from the sudden schedule change and disappointed about band and orchestra. Half way through math, the secretary came in with an announcement that band and and orchestra had been cancelled due to scheduling issues, and that a new schedule would be emailed to everyone for next week. Then a few minutes later a student aide came in with a stack of school newsletters to be sent home. Somehow I managed to finish the lesson in spite of these distractions (though with less student participation than I would have liked), and I was able to give out the worksheets I’d originally planned for homework after all. I guess I’ll save the others for the next emergency.

I was supposed to make sure all the kids left promptly at 2:50 because we had our elementary teachers’ meeting scheduled for 2:55. But by the time we got the worksheets handed out, their homework written, backpacks packed up, instruments ready to go, most kids in line by the door, stragglers still digging through their desks, and finally everyone dismissed, it was almost 3:00. Of course, it wasn’t until then that I realized I had completely forgotten to give out the newsletters, except to a small handful of kids who came running back in at the last minute for various reasons.

The funny thing was, I was still the first one to the meeting. The other teachers staggered in one by one, all looking exhausted, frazzled, stressed and overwhelmed. The main purpose of this meeting was to discuss any issues (related to the schedule, new classrooms, etc.) that needed to be “fixed”, and boy did we have a lot to discuss. Every single teacher, it turned out, had had a day much like mine. We came up with a long list of issues to present to the principal later.

After finishing up a bunch of things in my classroom after the meeting and helping one of my students who came in again with his math homework, I finally escaped from campus. I was thankful to leave everything behind me, especially my schedule, which I had been trying to adjust on the computer with the new information I had. Things just weren’t working out well, and I couldn’t figure out any way to work in as much teaching time as I needed in pretty much any subject. So I finally just closed the document, closed my brain against it, and left, determined not to think about it any more before the next day. Floyd and I went out to dinner at the Prawn Palace with a couple of co-workers, and most of us spent the whole time venting about the day we had. It felt good to get it all out, and I have Josephine to thank for convincing me to write it all down like I just have.

As I was in the middle of typing this at 8:30 or so at night, the phone rang. Guess what, it was the orchestra teacher. Speaking of scheduling issues, now he was dealing with a new one. “Hey Annie, I need to know your schedule, because we’re in the middle of planning what times we’ll be pulling out the students who take private music lessons during the day….”


I can’t even express how wonderful it is to be back in Taiwan. As much as we enjoyed our summer in the States, Floyd and I both are just thrilled to be home again!

Our flight went smoothly, with no hassles about our luggage in either LAX or Taipei.
We landed on Thursday early morning, and took the “Freego” bus from the Taipei airport to Taichung, the city where we live, which was about a two hour drive. Then from the bus stop we took a taxi (actually two taxis, because of our four big boxes) to our apartment. The gate guard and cleaning lady were out front, and both seemed very happy to see us again, though we couldn’t understand what they were saying except for the words for “you return”.

I’m glad to report that our apartment suffered no water or mold damage in our absence. Yay! And there was only one live cockroach to be found, which Floyd was glad to dispatch for me. We did see three gigantic, hideously ugly unidentified insects on our living room balcony, but thankfully they were all deceased. (You would have heard me scream otherwise.) We still need to dispose of their corpses.

We did pretty much all of our unpacking Thursday morning, and ate at one of our favorite local restaurants for lunch. I wasn’t going to go on campus until the next day, but because we’d gotten so much done at home, we decided to go check out my classroom.

You may remember me talking about the construction on campus. We had seen pictures, but the real thing was still quite startling. The high school area looks just the same, but across the courtyard, everything is different. My classroom and everything in the whole elementary/middle school area is gone, and the new buildings (or at least their skeletons) are starting to rise in their place. The temporary elementary classrooms that we’ll use most or all of this year are on the other end of campus, in smaller “portable” buildings.

A few weeks ago there was a whopper of a tropical storm that hit Taiwan with some pretty bad flooding. Well, we found out that our particular neighborhood in Taichung received the most rain of anywhere on the entire island, and that this was the worst flooding seen in over 120 years. Apparently the storm drains were so full that they were actually spewing water back into the rivers – er, I mean streets – in the form of small geysers.

Well, guess what. The temporary classrooms are located in a low part of campus. So, you can probably guess what happened. Yep, the flood came in under the doors, filling rooms with ankle-deep muddy water. Now this would be bad enough under ordinary circumstances, but bear in mind that we had just moved out of our old classrooms when school got out in June, and most teachers were gone for the summer so we hadn’t unpacked in the new classrooms yet. We had just boxed up all our books, posters, computers, and other classroom supplies, and left them for the moving company to take care of. And the moving people had brought the boxes, along with furniture and everything else, into the new rooms… and set everything on the floor.

That’s right, the floor. Cardboard boxes.

Well, some rooms were harder-hit than others. Before I even got to my classroom, I talked to the second-grade teacher, who lamented that she had had to throw out six entire boxes of books and supplies. You can see the markings on the inside walls of her room, showing how high the water level reached. My good friend, the first-grade teacher, had it worst of all. Almost half of her classroom supplies were a total loss, including all of her posters, many textbooks and classroom library books, and some computer parts. If anyone had been able to go in right after the flood and open all the boxes to air things out, some of it might have been salvageable. But everything has been sitting in damp soggy boxes for the last few weeks, and what the wet hadn’t ruined, the mold had.  The entire first grade classroom smelled like mold. Imagine how discouraging it would be for a teacher to come and find all that just over a week before school begins! Morrison is scrambling to order new books and supplies for all the classes who lost them, but they won’t be here before the start of school, so we may have to make copies from some of the other campuses in the meantime.

Well, I’m sure you’re wondering how bad the damage was in my classroom. That’s the strange thing. There isn’t any! I can’t believe it, and I don’t know why God would single me out for this blessing when (as far as I know) every other elementary room got at least some flooding. But there are no water marks on my walls, and not a single item is wet or moldy. Praise the Lord! I spent Thursday afternoon, plus all day Friday and Saturday, in my classroom, unpacking boxes and arranging furniture. There are no built-in cabinets or other storage here, so it’s all movable cupboards and shelves.

I don’t know how I would have managed on my own, but Floyd was there helping me much of that time. When he wasn’t helping me, he was assisting other teachers with the same things, along with setting up computers and other electronics. What a blessing to have a husband so willing to serve! We’re both a little stiff and sore now from all the moving and lifting, but the heavy work is all done. Now there’s just bulletin boards to put up, plus all the other usual back-to-school jobs. I should have time for that next week in between meetings and in-services and things, and then school starts the week after that (August 18th).

Today (Sunday) we attended our church, House of Blessing, which we have missed for the last two months. It was wonderful to worship in both English and Chinese alongside Taiwanese and American friends.  Church was emptier than usual because most of the students who attend haven’t come back for the school year yet. But at the same time there were extra people there who usually attend a church that meets on campus, which is still out for the summer.

This evening, Floyd and I walked a few blocks over to the night market for dinner. It was great! We kept thinking it was about to rain on us, so we had our umbrellas handy, but we never felt more than a few drops. The night market was full of the usual entertainment (picture most of the games you’d be likely to see at a carnival), tables full of clothes and jewelry and toys for sale, and a food section full of all kinds of tantalizing culinary options. Floyd says emphatically that not all of them are tantalizing, and I have to admit that the smell from the stinky tofu booth is enough to knock you out cold at twenty yards, but I’m still determined to try it sometime. I wasn’t quite brave enough tonight, though. Floyd ordered his food from a Mongolian Barbecue booth, where you pile raw vegetables and meat into a bowl in whatever proportions you want, and then they grill it for you. After walking back and forth down the row a couple of times (I always have a hard time choosing), I stopped in front of a place where the man was cooking little pieces of tender-looking meat in broth on a sort of hot plate. There was also a basin of little doughy finger-shaped things that looked interesting, though I have no idea what they were. I wanted to ask for a few of them along with some of the meat, but I wasn’t sure how to, especially since the things you order at these booths often come with other side dishes, and I didn’t want to end up with two full meals. Well, I won’t go into detail about the awkward non-communication that followed as I tried to express what I wanted and the man tried to ask me clarifying questions in Chinese that I couldn’t understand. Suffice to say that by the end I had a bowl of rice, meat, and three or four kinds of veggie-like things, and he had the right amount of money, and we both parted a little embarrassed but more or less satisfied with the transaction. And Floyd and I both quite enjoyed our respective dinners, even though I’m still not sure exactly what mine was.

Well, tomorrow is the beginning of “Teacher Prep Week” at Morrison. In addition to the required meetings and events, Floyd and I are hoping to join the new staff members in the “Survival Chinese” classes first thing every morning. We really need the review! Besides, returning staff can sit in on the classes for free, so we figured, why not? It will be a good way to meet the new teachers, too. Then we’ll have to figure out exactly what kind of approach we want to take to language-learning this year. Preferably more than the one hour a week we had last year, but we’ll see what works out and what our schedules allow.

That’s all for now.  More later as we continue to get re-settled in!