This morning at school the electricity went out.
There was a time when that wouldn’t have been a big deal. Back when I was a fifth grader, it might have meant simply the inconvenience of having a slightly dimmer classroom (which perhaps wouldn’t have been a very noticeable difference – I can’t recall how big our windows were or how much natural light they let in). If it happened on the day when we were scheduled for our weekly trip to the computer lab, the teacher would have had to plan something else for forty minutes or so, but otherwise, our day would have continued exactly the way it always did. And considering that power outages are fairly common in Kenya, where I grew up, I’m assuming that probably did happen at school fairly often. The fact that I don’t specifically remember any such instances just goes to show that they were no big deal.
But here and now, in Morrison Academy in Taiwan in September of 2013, it is a big deal.
I was sitting at my desk in my classroom getting ready for the day, and at about 7:20 a.m., the power suddenly went out. This is a rare enough occurrence here that I had no way even to guess how long it would be out, though of course I hoped it would only be for a few minutes.
I remember years ago, when I was working as a substitute teacher in California, there was a time when we had a lot of rolling blackouts because the whole area was short on power. One of the schools I subbed at had a list of instructions for teachers to follow in the event of a blackout. Things like, “Whenever possible, continue teaching normally,” and “If any parents show up in the middle of the day to pick up their children, remind them to sign them out in the office first.” I remember laughing about it at the time, thinking how silly American schools were to treat a simple blackout like a natural disaster.
But it wasn’t so funny today, and I must confess that the question of whether there was a chance school might even be cancelled did cross my mind. I immediately started thinking about my lesson plans and all the little daily tasks that involve electricity, and how I would have to change things if it didn’t come back on.
First of all, my parent helpers were scheduled to come in right before school started to make my photocopies for the week. Some of those were papers I’d been planning to use that morning. What would I do if the copy machine wasn’t working in time? In addition, I had promised to print something that my husband Floyd needed for a high school activity he would be helping with in less than an hour, but obviously my own classroom printer wasn’t functioning either. As soon as I thought of that, I picked up the phone to call Floyd and let him know, but I had forgotten that without electricity, the classroom phones wouldn’t work.
When my fifth graders first arrive in the morning, they’re supposed to do several things to get ready for the day. One of those is sharpen their pencils, which most of them do on our electric pencil sharpener (those who don’t have mechanical pencils, that is). They’re also supposed to pull their homework out and get it ready to hand in. Today that would have meant printing a document they had typed at home on their Alphasmarts, which is accomplished by taking the Alphasmart over to our classroom printer and holding it up to a sensor on the front, then pressing “print”. When they’re done with that, they’re supposed to read the week’s Bible memory verse from the screen in the front of the room where I project it from my computer and then copy it down onto their Bible verse sheet. None of those activities would be possible without electricity.
While the students are doing those things and generally getting ready for the day, I have a few things I normally do too. I always check the school website to check what the two choices for hot lunch entree are, ask the students how many of them want each kind, and then submit the totals to the cafeteria on a Google form. Then I record any absences or tardies on the online attendance form.
Every Monday morning, the student of the week gets to pick a people group that doesn’t have the Bible in its language, from Wycliffe’s book From Akebu to Zapotec, for the class to pray for. After I read the blurb in the book about that group and its culture, I normally use Google Maps on the SmartBoard to show the students that part of the world. They always enjoy zooming in, often close enough to see individual roads and buildings as well as larger features like mountains and rivers. In addition, as part of the day’s Bible lesson, I had been planning to use the projector to show the students a slideshow about the life of Joseph that I had put together with pictures I’d found online.
At least the reading lesson would be easy enough to do without electricity, but after recess our class was scheduled to visit the computer lab for our spelling pretest. That’s right, we take all our spelling tests at www.spellingcity.com, where I type in the words ahead of time and the students can take tests, play games, and practice in various ways with the words from our weekly list. Through their headphones, they hear the words read aloud and used in sentences, and after they’ve typed them all in, the computer grades it instantly. When they print their tests, it displays their total score both as a percentage and with the exact numbers they got right and wrong, as well as showing each word the way they typed it (marked with an X or a check mark). (Quick plug: it’s a great teacher time saver, and the basic subscription is free!)
After spelling, our writing lesson would have been fine without electricity for the most part. But I knew the students would miss the instrumental music I usually play from my computer in the background to inspire them while they write. In the afternoon, things would get a little more challenging. When I teach math, I always go to the textbook website and project the particular page we’re working on onto the SmartBoard. It’s easier to read through the instructions together and work on the practice problems when the students can come up front and show their work right by the problem itself.
In science, we’ve been learning about the different body systems. In addition to reading a couple of pages from our textbook and filling out a worksheet, I had two short movies from a science website that I had been planning to have the students watch and take notes on: one about the skeletal system and the other about the muscular system.
In short, my lesson plans for every subject except reading would have to change in some way. My head spun as I realized how much I count on technology (electricity-requiring technology!) in almost everything I teach now!
But though it would be inconvenient, there were ways around my planned technology use. However, there was one BIG problem that I could see no way around – one that would make a September day in Taichung very difficult to deal with. That was the one that made me wonder if there was any possibility school might be cancelled or at least dismissed early if the power failure lasted all day.
We would have no air conditioning.
Already, at 7:30 a.m., with the a/c and fans only having been off for ten minutes and no one but me in the room, I was sweating. What would it be like in there with twenty-six pre-adolescents as the day wore on? I opened the windows and door for airflow (at that point it was still a little cooler outside than in) and braced myself to find out.
Before the students even arrived, though, I discovered something else. The water on campus wasn’t working. Fortunately I had a full water bottle in my purse, but the students wouldn’t be able to use the drinking fountains or sinks, and the toilets wouldn’t flush. (I’m guessing this was because, though Morrison has its own water supply, the pumps in our water tower are electric.)
When my kids lined up outside the classroom, already uncomfortably warm and all discussing the electricity problem and how we were to survive the day without any, one of them was already worried about the water issue. “Mrs. Lima, I just used the bathroom, but it wouldn’t flush, and I can’t wash my hands!” I directed him to the container of hand sanitizer we keep in the classroom. First electricity-related problem of the day, solved. If only the rest would be that simple.
When the students were all at their seats, I passed around the little hand-held pencil sharpener I keep at my desk to those whose pencils needed sharpening, and encouraged students who had their own to share with each other as well. I wrote the memory verse on the whiteboard for them to copy. I told them just to put away their Alphasmarts and not to worry about printing their social studies review until tomorrow. And I offered rubber bands to anyone with long hair who wanted to tie it back and keep it off their neck. (Sweat was starting to drip by this time, and about half the girls took me up on that.) Four more problems dealt with. So far, so good.
We started our Bible lesson in prayer today (usually we pray at the end). There were plenty of volunteers eager to ask God to please bring back our air conditioning, and when I reminded them, to thank Him for the blessing of electricity that we get to enjoy most of the time, which many in the world don’t have. Afterward, I had them bring their Bibles, workbooks, and pencils, and we lined up and went to go sit outside. I knew that in a couple of hours it would be way too hot for that to be an option, so we might as well take advantage of the not-yet-scorching temperatures while we could.
The Bible lesson outside went okay, though there was so much background noise out there that I had to half yell the whole time just so the students would hear me. Many of them were almost completely inaudible when I asked them to read a verse aloud or share an answer. I was afraid my voice would wear out completely if I taught out there for very long, so it was a relief when we lined up to go back inside after the lesson was over.
But the classroom was starting to bear an uncanny resemblance to a sauna, so I was all set to let the students head back outside again for their silent reading time. Then, to everyone’s surprise, all of a sudden back came the electricity! The moment the lights went on, the room filled with delighted gasps and exclamations of relief, quickly followed by cheers when I turned on the air conditioning and all the ceiling fans. Twenty-six sweaty, sticky students and one very thankful teacher prayed together and thanked God for restoring our power.
Altogether, the electricity was only off for about an hour and a half, and when I think back about it, I have to chuckle. In retrospect, it really doesn’t seem like a very big deal. Growing up in Kenya, power failures that lasted for hours – sometimes even a day or more – were a common occurrence. The greatest inconveniences then were usually having to remember not to open the fridge more than absolutely necessary and needing to use flashlights or drippy candles at night.
But the technology that adds so many conveniences to our lives and makes certain aspects of teaching both easier and more challenging can be very hard to live without when it’s gone! I felt quite powerless, pun intended, at the thought of possibly going a whole day without electricity here and now. I think it’s good to occasionally be reminded, though, that life – even life in as technologically advanced and blessed a school as Morrison – is still possible without electricity. If nothing else, the inconveniences and the sweat can remind us to count our blessings and pray for those who live in much more challenging circumstances.
And I’m glad school wasn’t cancelled after all!
Monday was one of those days.
I knew it might be a little hectic because it was the start of the second semester and I was getting two new students (and it’s the week before Chinese New Year break, so the kids would be antsy anyway). I was also told I’d have a high school student aide, which I was really looking forward to; I knew she would make my life a lot easier. I wasn’t sure what I’d have her do that first day, though, since a parent helper had made my whole week’s copies the Wednesday before and there would be no homework to grade (I don’t usually assign any over the weekend). But in any case, it would be great to have her.
I got to my classroom early that morning to make sure everything was ready. I was planning on teaching a lesson from a section of our new language arts curriculum that I’d never used before, and it involved a vocabulary chart that the teacher instructions assured me could be found on the CD-ROM that came with the new material. So before school started I put in the disk to make sure I’d have the chart ready to project onto the Smartboard later. Lo and behold, it didn’t work. I tried again and again, but got nothing but confusing menus and error messages. Finally I ran out of time, but I decided not to let it frustrate me. The chart was a simple one; I could easily draw it on the board, and the students would have the same thing in front of them in worksheet form anyway. Just a minor setback.
Well, 7:50 rolled around and I let my 5th graders into the classroom. The new ones both seemed happy to be there, and the class was welcoming (I had let them know about them beforehand.). But because everyone was so excited at the change, they were noisier than usual. Add to that the fact that I had to explain every step of every classroom procedure to the new ones while those who already knew how to do things got bored and restless, and you’ll see why my normally sweet class was a little unruly.
In retrospect, Monday was probably not the best day to try out a lesson from an unfamiliar part of the curriculum. But I’d looked over it long in advance and planned it all out, and I was sure I was ready, malfunctioning CD-ROM and all. I looked in the “Monday” folder by my desk where I keep all worksheets and supplies I’ll need for the day, and was surprised to see that the student copies of the article we’d be studying (to practice infering the meaning of unfamiliar words) were not there. Neither were the charts. And when I hastily searched my shelf, I couldn’t find the teacher’s edition that had the blackline masters and lesson plans, either.
Yikes! I knew I had had all those materials last week. Where could I have left them? Normally I’m pretty organized. I don’t usually leave piles of books or papers sitting around haphazardly in my classroom, and when I use something, I put it away in the exact spot where it goes. But the papers weren’t in the folder, and the book wasn’t on the shelf where I keep my teacher editions. And of course the students were getting restless once again while I looked.
I realized that the last time I had seen the book was when my parent helper took it to make copies from last Wednesday. Aha! She must have left it (along with the copies) down in the workroom. I would have to go get it at recess.
So, I hastily decided on a change of plans and announced that we would be doing math next. The math lesson went well, but as recess approached, I could tell we weren’t going to finish. I normally don’t like carrying over a lesson until after recess, but sometimes there’s no help for it. The situation was further complicated by the fact that one of my students is in ELL and gets pulled out for one-on-one help in between recess and lunch. Normally she just misses language arts (which she can make up with her ELL teacher), but today she would have to miss part of math. Oops. (Not that she minded!)
About that time my new aide appeared in the doorway, and I realized that amid the chaos, I had not come up with anything for her to do. So I introduced her to the students and then had to ask her to please just have a seat on the sofa at the back and wait.
It was rainy and cold, so I gave the students the option of playing inside instead of going out to the covered play area for recess. Little did I know that every single one of them would choose to stay in (that was a first)! Ever tried to figure out what to have an aide do in a room full of noisy kids excitedly playing Twister and Jenga and Uno? Well, I ended up giving her something to photocopy for me for a few weeks later, and I asked her to bring up the papers and books my parent helper had left down in the copy room. Sure enough, she found them there and brought them all back up to me a few minutes after recess was over. (Yay!)
So I taught the language lesson after we finished math, and it went fine, in spite of not having a chart for the Smartboard. But it’s always tiring teaching something brand new, especially something that involving. And it didn’t help that part way through (when I was taking a quick breather at my desk while the students searched their Titanic article for unfamiliar vocabulary) I suddenly realized we were supposed to do a science activity about physical properties and changes that afternoon. There it was in my lesson plan book, necessary materials listed and highlighted in blue the way I always do it so I won’t forget to look ahead and make sure I have what I need. But somehow I had completely forgotten the Friday before, and now I didn’t have anything ready. The measuring cup, spoon, balance scale, zipper seal bag, beaker, plug-in burner and thermometer wouldn’t have been a problem; I knew I had all those in my classroom cupboards. It would just have taken some time during my lunch time to dig them all out, and it didn’t help that I had lunch recess duty that day. But the ice cubes and cold water would have been a little trickier. I would have had to run home at lunch time when I otherwise could have been eating, and I wasn’t even positive we had any ice in the freezer at the moment anyway. I debated it mentally for the rest of the language lesson and finally decided to postpone the experiment until the next day and do Tuesday’s science lesson (much simpler with no unusual materials needed) that afternoon.
The day was made a little more chaotic by the fact that one of the new students kept asking questions about things in the classroom (like the behavior and homework boards and the “Star Helpers” job chart). I’m pretty strict about requiring students to raise their hands before speaking out, and I could soon see that this one is going to need a lot of practice in that area, and also to learn not to blurt out answers to questions I’ve asked other students, or to “help” classmates by telling them what the hard words say when they’re reading aloud.
What with all that had happened, we had been a little behind in pretty much everything all day. The students were still busily writing in their science notebooks when I realized that although we hadn’t covered everything we were supposed to, it was time for them to go to music. After that they would go straight to P.E. and Chinese, and there wasn’t even enough time for them to write down their homework assignments or pack up their backpacks before they left. So I had to tell them to come back to do those things right after school. The poor new kids were a little confused about where to go, especially for Chinese, since the class isn’t all in the same group. The two of them hadn’t taken their placement tests yet, but this week they’re all having special activities in honor of Chinese New Year, so I figured the exact group didn’t matter all that much. I just told them which other students to follow, and bundled them all out the door.
By the time I finally had the room to myself, my brain felt as fried and my voice as worn out as they usually do on the first day of school after summer. Then I had to grade the assignments my students had done that day… then someone came in with a stack of report cards for me to proofread before they get sent home in a few days… then I had to work on my Professional Learning assignment due this week… then school was over and the students came swarming back in to write their homework and pack up, and I realized I’d never explained the procedure for those tasks to the new ones… then both of their parents came in wanting to talk to me about how their first day had gone.
I had to stay longer than usual in my classroom getting caught up on lots of little miscellaneous things. By the time I finally headed home to make dinner, I really didn’t feel like staying up late to have my Chinese lesson that evening. It had been a long day! But I decided that the good thing about Mondays is that there’s a whole week still ahead of them. (Okay, so I know that’s the bad thing about them too!) But I reminded myself that there were still four more days for the week to get better. Four more days to recover from Monday. And just four more days until vacation. I can make it!
From what we hear from the States, it seems that swine flu is a big thing in the news there right now. It’s certainly a big thing here in Taiwan, and although it’s widespread, the Taiwanese are taking great precautions to try to keep it under control.
For a couple of months now, Morrison has been requiring everyone (students, parents, teachers, janitors – everyone!) to get their temperature taken before entering campus in the morning (see picture below). Anyone with a fever is immediately sent home, and everyone without one is given a little colored sticker to wear on their shirt all day (a different color each day). If we see anyone at school without a sticker, we’re supposed to remind them to go to the nurse and get their temperature checked right away. Many public places (churches, the zoo, etc.) have been doing temperature checks as well, and requiring everyone to take a squirt of hand sanitizer before coming in.
You’d think that with those precautions H1N1 would have been kept at bay, but a couple weeks ago we got word that three high schoolers on our campus had come down with it. They (and their families or roommates) were quarantined their homes or dorm rooms for five days, while the rest of the school prayed and hoped no one else would come down with it. All the elementary teachers breathed a sigh of relief that it hadn’t been elementary students who got sick, because the government regulations are stricter for elementary. If two or more students in the same class get swine flu, the whole class has to be closed and every student in it (and the teacher) must go through the five-day quarantine. Morrison has a system in place (and we’ve all been trained in it) whereby we would teach our lessons over the internet if that ever happened.
Everyone keeps saying that it’s not a matter of if, it’s when, and yet somehow we’ve all managed to assume such a thing would only happen to other teachers’ classes. But – not any more.
When I came to school this last Friday, I received the bad news that one of my students had been diagnosed with H1N1. Not a serious case, thankfully, but the first in the elementary school, and of course it was worrying. I had a total of three students absent that day, and I couldn’t help wondering what the chances were that either of the others had it and just didn’t know it yet.
Well, the principal came by my classroom in the middle of the day, and sure enough, he had more bad news. The office had just received a call from the parent of one of my other absentees, and it was confirmed that she had H1N1 too. Now the office was about to call all my students’ parents to come and pick them up, and I had about forty minutes to prepare the kids to continue school from their homes for the next several days. Yikes!
To make a long story short, I told my students the news, gave them a quick refresher course in how online education is supposed to work, explained the afternoon’s work which they’d have to complete at home, handed out several worksheets for the next few days and a hastily-written letter from the office explaining the situation, got them to pack up most of their textbooks, workbooks, and notebooks; made sure each student had an adequate supply of lined paper (not easily available in Taiwan except through the school), and answered about fifty frantic questions (everything from “Am I still allowed to fly to China next week with my family if I’m quarantined?” to “Will my hamster get H1N1 too?”) and finally let in the parents who were congregating outside the classroom door waiting to take their kids home.
For most of the students, the worst part (once they heard that their sick classmates were doing all right) was that they would have to miss that evening’s concert. The Elementary Thanksgiving Concert had been in the works for months, and though it featured mainly the kindergarteners through second graders singing, all of my students are in either the band, orchestra, or choir, which were scheduled to perform afterwards. Several students went home in tears that their hard work and all those hours of practice would be for nothing; they were not even allowed to come back to watch. I couldn’t watch, either, being quarantined myself; but I heard that the concert was only half as long as usual. The band director was quarantined too, since his daughter (in my class) was one of the swine flu cases; and apparently the orchestra and choir directors decided they couldn’t perform with so many students missing. What a disappointment for the whole elementary school.
So now my students and I are all stuck in our respective homes, though I’m supposed to go back to work tomorrow (shut in my classroom, staying away from everyone else) to teach from my computer there. I will be communicating with my kids and their parents through email and “Moodle” (Morrison’s online education system), which I’m sure will be an interesting challenge. I’ll have to post lessons and assignments, answer their questions, grade completed work, give students feedback, and even take attendance, all online.
The good thing is, we’ll only really have to do that for two days. Monday and Tuesday are regular school days, but Wednesday is a half day with a special program in the morning, so I wouldn’t really have had to teach in any case. And we have Thursday and Friday off for American Thanksgiving, though the quarantine would have ended after Wednesday anyway. So, all things considered, if this had to happen, it’s about the best possible timing (except for the concert).
Of course, I have to remind myself that just because this is happening to my class now doesn’t mean it will never happen again. An individual may be immune to swine flu after having had it once, but my class isn’t immune to being closed again just because we’ve done it once! I can only hope and pray that it won’t happen again (or to any other classes), but that if it does, we’ll all be prepared.
Hello from Taiwan! We’ve been back about a week and a half, and a full week and a half it’s been! We didn’t expect to be greeted by a typhoon and a kidney stone, but I’m getting ahead of myself….
Floyd and I arrived last week on Wednesday morning, and spent most of the day cleaning our new apartment and getting ready to move in. Apart from a large number of tiny millipedes (or some such invertebrate) (which even now continue to appear out of nowhere in every room as often as we squish them), it was in good condition.
We spent Wednesday night in our old apartment as guests of our friend and coworker Rhoni, who has moved in (and was no doubt eager for us to move all our furniture and boxes out of her extra bedrooms, though she was very gracious about it). Early Thursday morning, just a couple of hours before the moving company was due to arrive, Floyd woke up with severe abdominal pain. It soon became obvious that not only would he not be able to help with the move, but he was in fact in urgent need of medical assistance. Remember, we have no car in Taiwan (and no drivers’ licenses there anyway), and in spite of his pain Floyd refused to cancel the move. Rhoni was still asleep (and she needed to be home to communicate with the moving company anyway), so I hurried down to the third floor where some of our other coworkers from the school live. I knocked and woke them up to ask for help, and John kindly agreed to drive Floyd to the hospital.
So the two of them left, and I stayed behind to help coordinate the move. The moving company was half an hour late, but they finally got everything into their two little trucks by the end of the morning. They had so many questions that I knew I could never have managed without Rhoni to translate, so I was really thankful she was able to be there. (The only English they understood was “no” and “okay”.) I went along to show them where to put things in the new apartment, and on the way I met Floyd, who had just returned from the hospital with the news that he had an impacted kidney stone. (Some of you may remember that he had a similar experience two years ago, when we were new in Taiwan. We were so grateful for the many friends back then who stepped up to help with transportation, translation, meals, etc. But we never thought it would happen a second time!) Because Floyd had eaten breakfast that morning, they were unable to operate, so they gave him some basic painkillers and told him to come back on Saturday. As you could imagine, he wasn’t very happy about the prospect of living with it for another two days, but what else could he do? At least the painkillers had kicked in and he was no longer in excruciating pain.
We spent Thursday afternoon and most of Friday unpacking and arranging our new apartment. We love how spacious it is! Though it’s only got two bedrooms, it’s still bigger than anywhere else we’ve ever lived. This is partly because of the huge kitchen (at least three times the size of our last one, with quintuple the cupboard and drawer space – no exaggeration); and also because of the the “breakfast nook” that we’re using as a dining room, big dining room that we’ve set up as a living room, and extra living room that we haven’t quite decided what to do with yet. (We’re open to ideas – the best one we’ve heard so far is to use it as a dance floor!) Plus, we have our own laundry room, coat closet, linen closet, storage closet off the balcony, and a walk-in closet in each bedroom. Chinese apartments are not known for their storage space (you usually have to buy wardrobes and portable cupboards because they don’t come with any built-in closets at all), so we’re exulting in all the unaccustomed storage in this custom-designed-by-and-for-foreigners apartment.
Last year we were hoping that this year we could have a high schooler living with us. A lot of staff members do that; there are often more Morrison students who want to board than there is space in the school’s dorms, and we wanted to be one of the ones to open our home to some teenager whose parents live in another part of the island or even another country. Toward the end of last year, we were contacted by a family whose son would be attending Morrison and needed a place to stay, and we thought we had all the details worked out, but then he changed his mind and backed out unexpectedly. A little later another family contacted us, and this time we really thought it would work (to the point where we went and got a desk for the boy and everything), but they too changed their minds. So now we have a furnished guest room and no one to live in it. We were disappointed that our boarder arrangements fell through, but we know God knew what he was doing. We are just praying that this room will be a blessing to somebody, somehow this year.
We were glad to find out last weekend that our new apartment is almost entirely typhoon-proof. That’s right, on Friday Typhoon Morakot welcomed us back home by hitting the island with a vengeance, but the worst damage we suffered was a few drops of water that made it through one window as far as the sill (not even to the floor). Outside our window we could see a shed whose roof had blown off, and there were some broken tree branches around, but that’s about as hard as it hit our neighborhood. The biggest inconvenience was that even if it had been safe to go out in the wind and rain, nothing would have been open. Our church was cancelled on Sunday, and we soon felt as though we were going stir-crazy. Being stuck at home for several days isn’t such a big deal unless you consider that we were newly-arrived in the country and had not yet had a chance to do much grocery shopping. Fortunately we did have a few things in our fridge, but we were definitely ready for a change in diet by the time the storm let up enough for us to go shopping again.
Unfortunately, not everyone in Taiwan made it through Morakot’s wrath as well as we did. From our perspective, it was no worse than any other typhoon we’ve experienced in the last two years (actually a lot better, now that we were out of our leaky old apartment). However, other parts of the island – especially the southern regions – experienced the worst flooding in fifty years. We watched news clips on the internet and were horrified to see images of bridges collapsing, houses being torn from their foundations and spinning down raging torrents, and an entire hotel toppling into an ugly swollen river. Whole villages were buried in mudslides, millions of dollars’ worth of crops were destroyed, and though the official death toll stands at a few dozen, hundreds more are still missing and presumed dead. Taiwan doesn’t experience such catastrophes very often and so was not very prepared to deal with the situation. The government’s rescue and relief efforts have been criticized as too little and too slow, and though other relief organizations are starting to step in, many of the hardest-hit areas are practically inaccessible except by helicopter. It has been a tragic time for Taiwan. (If anyone is interested in helping out, World Vision is working in Taiwan and is providing shelter, food, and clean water for the needy. You can contribute online to their Morakot disaster relief at http://www.worldvision.org/.)
On Saturday Floyd braved the storm and was able to take a taxi to the hospital for his kidney stone appointment. The doctor located the stone and did something ultrasonically to break it up and make it easier to pass. He sent Floyd home with instructions to drink lots of water and return in a week for a checkup. Floyd was in a lot of pain that evening, but for the next several days he only hurt a little here and there. He drank as instructed, but nothing much seemed to happen. Yesterday he went back for the checkup, and was not very pleased when the doctor did an X-ray and announced that the stone had moved no more than two centimeters since the week before. Now he has an appointment to go back next weekend for more invasive surgery to remove it for real this time… unless it removes itself before then.
This past week has been a busy one for me, as I’ve been getting my classroom ready for school to start. I had been told at the end of last year that I would have 29 students this year, and because that’s four more than the usual limit, I would get a paid aide four hours a day. I had been looking forward to that all summer, but on Monday morning another teacher told me she had heard there were now only 28 registered for 5th grade. I went to the school secretary to find out for sure, and she told me that actually there were only 27, and apparently there never had been more! One student on the list I had previously been given had left unexpectedly at the end of 4th grade, and another had apparently never existed in the first place.
I was confused and disappointed, but I went to work preparing my classroom, including writing students’ names and numbers on various items. Then the next day I was told that one of the 27 (an incoming new student) was probably not coming to Morrison after all, so I would be down to 26. The next morning I was informed that actually she WOULD be here. On Thursday morning I got an email that another family was withdrawing their two sons (one of whom was supposed to be in my class) from the school for financial reasons, so I was down to 26 again. Later the same day I got another email saying that a new student had just enrolled in 5th grade – and surprise surprise, he was the same one I had originally been told had never existed. So, as things stand now, I’m at 27 students, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that changes again before school starts tomorrow!
In a little while Floyd and I are planning to leave for the night market, where we can buy all kinds of strange and interesting delicacies for dinner (most of which come grilled on a stick). It’s so good to be back in Taiwan, millipedes, typhoons, kidney stones, and all! I’m looking forward to meeting my new class and beginning a brand-new school year tomorrow. Floyd is looking forward to starting his Chinese studies in earnest tomorrow (he will be joining the high school Beginning Chinese class this year) and to starting up his Bible study again in a few weeks. We thank the Lord for bringing us back here, and trust that this year of serving Him at Morrison Academy will be even better than the last two.
P.S. Sure enough, I was down to 25 students by the time school started. So, no aide! 🙁
The day really isn’t celebrated here in Taiwan, so we haven’t seen any chocolate eggs or bunnies or other decorations around – which is actually kind of nice. I think it helps us focus on the real meaning of the day when all the extra stuff isn’t there (much as I’d enjoy a Cadbury creme egg right now – the one in the picture is making my mouth water!). But our church had a special Easter service this morning with several people giving their testimonies, and at least two people committed their lives to the Lord! Now that’s worth celebrating!
Then this evening Floyd and I splurged and took a taxi out for Easter dinner at our favorite Thai food restaurant downtown. Not that anything they served would have been seen on the table today in the average American household (unless you normally eat deep-fried sea bass or stir-fried morning glory or satay pork in peanut sauce or mystery-fruit ice cream for Easter dinner), but we enjoyed it very much all the same. Of course, it might have been nice to have a table with a view of something other than the backside of the idol outside the window, but I guess you can’t have everything.
We’re nearing the end of our week-long break from school, and I don’t think any of the teachers really feel ready to go back to work yet. But the fun part is, the new classrooms that have been under construction all year are finally finished. We all got a couple of extra “moving days” before Easter break started, to transfer everything from our old classrooms in the temporary block to the new ones on the other end of campus. I must say, the new buildings look great, both inside and out! The middle school students all spent a morning helping to carry desks and things as a service activity, and there were a number of parent volunteers as well as a professional moving company to handle the really heavy things, so we had lots of help. I love the way my new classroom looks now! (The picture above shows an area at the side of the room where I have the students’ “cubbies” set up, and the one below is our classroom library.) So as much as I’m enjoying my time off, I must admit I’m looking forward to finishing the school year in the new room.
The other best part of our Easter break was our vacation in Kenting, in southern Taiwan. Click here to read my blog post about that.
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!