Archives for posts with tag: Teaching

Sooooo this is my first post of 2017  and yet its been a (mostly) good year. There has been so much to <3, I am just out of the blogging habit ( hint, hint Sarah.) So I am going to cheat a little and make this post a list of ALL the things that I <3ed so far in 2017.

  1. My attempt to make read more a habit seems to have stuck. Reading more has also meant that I am reading more widely,  including genres like Fantasy and Self-Help and even classics ( like “Wuthering Heights) that I had spent a life-time ignoring.  I feel like reading not only brings me great pleasure but it also continues to help me slow down, think more deeply and empathetically and of course , it’s a cliche but yes it makes me continue to learn and stay curious about the world.
reading

My Goodread reader challenge as of today! ( I am like 6 books ahead of schedule!)

2.  I started the year with a new year party (at my sister’s house) where I did tarot readings for everyone present ( including an assortment of my sister’s friends.) My mother once told  us as children that the way you start the year ( your mood, your behavior, your attitude) tells you what the rest of the year will be like. I think it was a pretty transparent attempt to get us to behave well but it’s kind of stuck with me as a superstition and I do make an extra effort to do something good or brave or special on days like new year and my birthday.  In this case it’s been a good year for me with Tarot, I get a lot of requests from people to read and I even “came out” at work and read from everyone from my boss to the lady who runs the canteen to I think every single member of the IT team! I love that I don’t have to advertise and offer readings as much  as I used to and that I no longer tell people I am ” just practicing.”  I also love being able to help people think through issues and dilemmas,  a friend (Katie Alexander) once called tarot “cheap therapy” ( she meant it in a good way)   and I think she was on to something there.

tarot

The spread ( both tarot and other treats) at my sister’s new year party.

3. Since I moved back to Bhutan I have hardly traveled and only left the country once ( to go to a commercial town in India just across the border). Part of its has been  a money issue and part of it has been about feeling stuck and feeling unworthy and unready to not be stuck. When my sister decided to have her baby in Sri Lanka I told her almost immediately ( without thinking about how the heck I could afford it) that I would go down and be with her until my semester started. My parents, who for the last few years have been begging me to let them buy me a ticket somewhere for a holiday , jumped immediately and bought our tickets before I could change my mind.

 

Before going to Sri Lanka in February, I also landed up agreeing to go on a work workshop to Samtse, a part of Bhutan that I have never been to. It scared me a little to think about going and I barely knew the other guy from my college who had been nominated to go, but I had already decided that 2017 would be about getting out of my comfort zone and this was a HUGE leap out of my comfort zone. And as these things do, it paid off. I learnt a lot. I meet a lot of new and interesting people. I got to know someone from my college who I had not had much opportunity to interact with before. And I explored a part of my country that was less familiar to me.

 

samtse.jpg

Samtse.

I think the success of Samtse made me ready to expect the best in Sri Lanka. It was a perfect baby-steps holiday for someone who hasn’t traveled in a long time. We were staying with my sister’s parents-in-law in their huge and comfortable house.  They had a car and driver to take us around and sometimes even insisted that a Bhutanese medical student ( many of whom study in Sir Lanka) go along with us to act as a guide/chaperone . Sri Lanka itself felt wonderfully unhurried after the frantic energy of Kolkata. We shopped and visited temples ( lots of holy places for Buddhists) and ate yummy seafood and relaxed and relaxed and relaxed.  The trip reminded me both that I CAN travel and that it can be pleasurable. Also my sister and I traveled so much together ( as boarding school girls  we once knew Bangkok airport like the back of our hands) and I realized that this was our last trip together before everything changes for my sister. So that was bittersweet.  But I think you can ❤ things even if there are not 100% happy.

SirLanka

At the beach on my very last day in Colombo. ( I also started wearing dresses and skirts a lot more after this trip- I had forgotten how much I loved wearing them)

4. Sarah and I used to throw epic Oscars parties, first together and then when Sarah moved to DC separately. An important part of the these parties was the Oscar’s pool where everyone uses a ballot to record who they thought they would win in which categories. Last year I persuaded my siblings that we should do a pool too and being competitive and movie buffs it was a lot of fun. There was a LOT of trash talking! This year we were in three different counties but I managed to convince them to do it over google docs. Everyone put in their votes and then we watched and chatted over messenger throughout the ceremony. It made me so happy to still be ” together” for the Oscars despite the geographical distant. ( And there was again a LOT of trash talking)

5.  For the last few years I have been teaching sociology and occasionally political science classes. I have been okay with what I teach  but I do miss anthropology so I was so super excited when my college asked us ( there are two other anthropologists working at my college) to start the paperwork necessary to propose to the University  to start a BA in Anthropology! Bhutan’s first! We are not 100% through (yet!) , Bhutan has a very complex. extended approval process but we got through first 2 of 3 steps so it starting to look very likely (Fingers crossed) So ❤ that I could be getting ready to teach the first batch of Bhutanese anthropology students this time next year and I am super super proud of the hard work that has gone into getting us this far.

6. And the thing I ❤ ❤ ❤ the most in 2017 is the arrival of my niece CZ on April 24th.  I can’t even really explain in words how much I ❤ having CZ in our lives. I worry a little bit that with all of us rearranging our lives around her needs she is going to be super spoilt but for right now none of us can stop telling her how beautiful she is or stop taking photos of her. Our phone memories are overwhelmed!

CZ.png

I was covering classes for a colleague this week and so I had to walk into class rooms that are not on my usual orbit. I walked into on classroom set my things down on the teacher’s desk and then noticed something stuck on the wall behind me :

 

14408354_10106772691344151_1281357205_o

 

It took me a second or two but I quickly realized that the plot mapped out in the tree came from my mother’s novel. That the students in this class were studying her book.

 

Chills!

 

I have been having such mixed feelings about being back at my teaching job. As we are back on campus planning for the semester, the vivid memories of the how awful it was are coming back to me more fully. But then almost every interaction I have had with a student reminds me of why I should be excited to be back.

Today one of them who made his first trip outside Bhutan over the break came to me with a small gift. I was embarrassed and also unsure if I should take it. He kept insisting so I did and then I went to check if it was okay for me to keep it. Everyone assured me that I should.

Later he sent this text:

Hi madam I couldn’t bring anything valuable for a person like you. It is not a matter of amount and neither a bribe but simply a gift from the core of my heart. Thank you very much for your kind acceptance.

 

My heart melted. Damn petty office politics and even more petty colleagues  I am excited to be back in classroom with these kids.

 

 

 

 

So Teachers Day is a thing in Bhutan.

Seriously celebrated with songs and dances and speeches. Far too many speeches for my taste usually. In other words its  another very formal and ceremonial ritual. And usually it feel  perfunctory  and insincere to me. Like enforced gratitude.

 

I always appreciate the sweet texts and messages from former students because with a  little  distance these off stage messages manage to feel unprompted and genuine. So I got some of those and they made me smile and I thought well okay so that’s that.

 

But I was wrong, that was not that.  This year was different, this year teachers day was actually happy. There were just so many wonderfully unscripted and heartfelt moments.

 

To start with one of my more scattered students showed up over an hour late for class without his assignment but as I sent him out to go work on his missing assignment, he shyly reaches into his large Gho pocket and pulls out this small bouquet of yellow and purple flowers and hands them to me saying, ” Happy Teachers Day , Madam” before running away.  It was so cute.

 

The after class my second year students who I have taught for three semester tell me they are throwing all their teachers a surprise party and asked me to come back to the classroom in half an hour. When we returned the classroom has been transformed with tables arranged like a long banquet table and decorated with pink  balloons.

TeachersDay2

 

Once we were seated they served us tea and the class president made a very earnest speech about how much they feel they have learnt from us not just about the subjects we teach but also about life.

And then out comes the cake.

 

 

TeachersDay1

I don’t know why I was so touched because after all there is something very ritualized about the event, the cake the speeches but just for a moment their gratitude felt so real.

 

And I love that. I really love that.

sorry madam i couldn’t thank madam for the day earlier
it was a fun trip i really enjoyed
the day will go in one of ma favorite days
thank you once again

The end of the semester. Or that point at which teachers start complaining about piles of grading and how much they need a break. I get that feeling. I have my own stack of ungraded work right next to me  and I am very much looking forward to the summer break BUT I am also feeling incredible sentimental as we count down the days to the end. Specially when I think of  my final years students who I wouldn’t teach next year.

Part of it is that I am a big softie, I have been known to cry during Hallmark card adverts.

The other part of it is that my final years students, who I had earlier feared where too infected with senioritis to be teachable, have been regularly making my heart explode with pride and affection these last few weeks. Here are just three of the most obvious examples.

Firstly  I watch how they looked after each other. One girl has a serious, potentially life threatening heart condition and the level of compassion and support her classmates have shown her throughout the semester has been extraordinary. Another girl had a baby before the end of the semester and the way the others looked after her and shared her excitement when she delivered a healthy baby boy made this feel like a joyful occasion instead of the tongue-clicking mistake that some of the more judgmental faculty seem to see it as.

Second during a recent conference on cultural diversity in Bhutan, a group of final year student were assigned to be guides and helpers to a group of guests from remote villages in Bhutan who had come to display cultural practices like dance, song, food and craft production. The genuine engagement and respectful curiosity of the student hosts was just heartwarming.  On the final day they helped the visitors cook  up local delicacies, set up tables to display the food and then all of them took turns explaining to the other conference attendee what the food was and how it was made. They were so excited to be able to share what they had learnt and I swear that feeling was infectious. Below is one of my shyer students explaining about a kind of wild potato that has to be cooked overnight to drain it of its natural poisons.

mishmash 279

Finally, for our very last class of the year we had some guest lecturers from a local government entity who came to  talk about GNH and sustainable development  Afterwards they asked the students if they had any comments or questions and when the students were predictable tongue-tied, the guests turned to me for help. I decided to do something I usually never do and called on a student who I knew was working on a research project on animal rights, a topic that I knew she is deeply deeply passionate about. She is  a shyer student so I worried about putting her on the spot but I also knew that she really wanted to see policy changes that took into account the suffering of domestic animals in Bhutan. She stood up flustered and blushing but she pushed through her discomfort and for about 5 or 10 minutes gave a  thoughtful, well-informed and very passionate impromptu  talk on what she saw as the relationship between GNH and animal rights. Everyone was so impressed and she looked so pleased to be taken so seriously. It was just the most wonderful way to end the semester .

The end of semester  is really the point at which you realize that you have really gotten to know your students and how invested you  really are in their success.

And I ❤ that so much.

 

Sometimes in the daily bustle of teaching and attendance and grading and paper work , I forget why I love teaching.

And then a former student will send an email like this one:

“When I taught my students the characteristics of society which included “norms”, I used many examples from your writing. I also used many examples that you gave us during our first year Introduction to Sociology module. 🙂 

Do you remember you used to lend us books to read? I am also doing the same thing here (although there are very few who likes to read). also,the school has no library.” 

 

And then I remember : this is why I teach.

 

So I just started teaching again and my first full week of classes is finally behind me.

Some of the week was hard, some of it was confusing, and some of it was good.

But  some of it was just great.

For example,  this I really, really,  really <3:

On the first day I set up a contest-y type in class activity, divided the class into groups and had chocolate for the winning group. BUT the winners broke up the chocolate bars they won and shared them with the whole class including me. They totally subverted the sense of competition but also completely convinced me that I am teaching in the right country again.