A friend in Tonga used to counsel me to remain flexible, because things could change at a moment’s notice. “Things aren’t carved in stone here,” he’d say, “they’re written in Jell-O!” Considering the average temperatures in the South Pacific Islands, I loved the mental image of messages written in Jell-O and then being eaten! It was so fitting; meetings scheduled a week or more in advance were cancelled, others were scheduled with just an hour’s notice. Everyone was used to it, no one got upset (except the Pa’alangis, until we accepted the fact that we weren’t going to change THAT habit of Tongans).
Well, Jell-O has found its way to Kazakhstan. Given that we live in a global village, I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising, but I really thought that given the history of this country, the administrative style of a school would be highly structured and authoritative.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The principal here, who speaks very little English, greets me with a smile every day. She took about 5 pages of notes when I gave a 15-minute collegial training after school this past Wednesday. (It was mostly about letting kids draw pictures to go with their vocabulary words, to help them remember the word better.) My co-teachers are marvelous – all proficient teachers in their own right, but willing to listen to new ideas and try new approaches. And because of their openness, schedules are heavy, obligations are strong, and meetings are frequent – and can turn on a dime. So here, too, everything is written in Jell-O.
For example, this week we should have taught about 24 hours of classes. I think I taught 12, because students were obligated for baseline assessments (a test that can show what they already know). But I didn’t know about the students being tested until I was physically in the room. Oh well, it’s time to be flexible!
I am also supposed to plan with 7 other teachers, so that we are all teaching the same skill and lesson objective during the same week. Well, we met today and figured out a project that would start next Monday and last for two weeks, and then at the very end of our meeting, one teacher said she had to wait two weeks – more Jell-O! The rest of us will go ahead without her.
Other things which seem capricious have taken me by surprise, but in a good way. I did jump out of my chair here at my desk at home the other night, when someone set off about 30 firecrackers in the parking lot just outside my window. Some really nice screamers and spinners – and then we laughed because all the car alarms started up. I had never been that close to fireworks before – LOUD. The empty box of rocket casings was still on the ground the next morning – I guess the box was too hot to handle right after the rockets went off! We’ve had fireworks about four times in the four weeks we’ve been here – weekend, weeknight, doesn’t matter – just when someone feels good. Jell-O.
Walt Disney’s “Mickey and the Beanstalk” has a scene in which Goofy dives into a plate of Jell-O and just enjoys himself. I have decided that’s a good lesson for me. Just hold my breath, dive in, and enjoy the flavors! Save some Jell-O for me!