It has not been an easy last few months of school. I found myself, on short notice, job hunting for next year. Enthusiasm is winding down among colleagues. I returned home to Canada for a week for a family situation. And, of course, the end of the year is approaching and the students are getting restless. It can be hard to find the motivation to plan, grade, attend meetings…
But, in the infinite wisdom of Dory, we need to keep swimming.
I remember in teachers’ college, a panel of international educators explaining some contractual obligations that teachers faces abroad, including being required to run a club. But in the same breathe, explaining that, for early career teachers, running a club can be a welcome reprieve from classroom responsibilities and offers different ways of interacting with your students.
Now, being required to run a club for one hour a week did not always feel like a joyful addition to a long day of teaching. Keeping the attention of sixth grade students after they have had a long day of learning, so I can teach them debating skills, did not consistently add sparkle to my week. Chasing down money and parental permission forms did not remind me of the reasons I entered the profession.
So, how is this a post about joy, and not stress and frustration? What brought me joy?
This last weekend, I brought 17 sixth grade students south of Yangon for World Scholar’s Cup (WSC). This is an academic competition that include, debating, essay writing, a quiz bowl, and a multiple choice test. The mascot is an alpaca, and each student will walk away with their own stuffed toy alpaca and at least one medal or trophy. Chaperones can get an alpaca too; I got one last year and named him Lester (photo at the top of the post, because I could not figure out how to put it here).
If you are interested in learning more about the event, I suggest you look at their website. I highly recommend your school gets involved, if you have not already and if there is a regional round close to your school. It is a competition that places learning and knowledge at the centre, but also makes it fun and, well, joyful; your students will gain so much from the experience.
Back to my narrative already in progress. I brought 17 sixth graders to Yangon. The day commenced with twelve suitcases in my classroom, which you may notice, is more than I’d really want in my classroom but less that I should really have. Early release from their last class, onto to a bus to the airport. Keeping them contained while my wonderful local teacher gets our boarding passes. At this point, my primary role as chaperone could really be described as herding and doing headcounts: “One, two, three…wait, stop moving! Okay, one, two…yes, you can go to the toilet.” Through security, while they waved enthusiastically to the teachers who were taking a weekend trip to Bangkok instead of herding middle schoolers to Yangon. The flight was delayed by 40 minutes, which had a lovely ripple effect though the whole evening, pushing dinner from a-bit-late to rather-late, and bedtime from reasonable to later-than-I’d-like-but-still-earlier-than-the time-they-probably-actually-went-to-bed. We ate dinner at the rooftop restaurant, where I would periodically go to their tables to remind them to control their volume, please stop running, and apologize to the other diners on the way back to my own meal. I don’t know how they had so much energy; I was exhausted.
But, once we were at the host school, I remembered why I volunteered to do this again. The teachers in Yangon were, as always, welcoming and helpful. The WSC staff bring along of energy and enthusiasm to the events: joking on the stage, mispronouncing Burmese words, and getting the kids pumped up. And my students, this year, were really into it. They were all reviewing the material while we waited for the start of the opening ceremony. One volunteered for an alpaca balancing challenge; they were certainly not shy, which I was worried they might be. They did not let losses (or, lollipops, in the WSC lingo) get them down.
The schools in Yangon are good, really good, but I think we did well, considering the age of the students I brought, and their level of experience with things like debating and independent research and studying. One team won two trophies, and every student got at least one medal. Best of all, most of them met the goal they set for themselves; five of the six teams qualified for the global rounds. That was the best part; not them winning, though I do have a competitive edge, but how happy they were to win. The squeals. The tears. Leaping into each other’s arms. Their joy.
I’ve tried to maintain the buzz from the weekend, but it quickly fizzled on the return to Mandalay, with lesson planning, grading and the eventual packing looming over me. I try to look forward to the next steps: the next lesson, the next week, the end-of-the-year activities, my next school, the next WSC regional round. But, in looking ahead, I don’t want to lose sight of what I have right in front of me. My kids did well. Really well. And I’m proud. So proud. And, in looking ahead, I want to remember where we’ve been, and find inspiration in those big, and small, moments of joy.