I started new teacher orientation last week. Even though I had been here for a year already, I still considered myself "new" since I wasn't working full-time at the school last year -- a point that, apparently, confused everyone at the school. When I showed up at the school last Monday, even the high-school assistant principal exclaimed, "Oh hi! I wasn't expecting to see you here!" Really? I was excused from the HR meeting with new faculty the next morning, but that was when all the new staff got their I.D. cards, so I ended up having to do that on my own. Then, when we all went to the hospital for a physical exam last Wednesday, my name was left off the list of those requiring an exam and my presence completely confused the school HR and hospital staff.
Most of the activities throughout the week were a waste of time (for me and in general). I got to play "The Amazing Race," which, like the TV show, required the various teams to go to various parts of the campus in search of clues and complete various challenges. One challenge required a lap in the school pool by one team member from each team, so those who could swim (I can't) and who were adventurous enough jumped in fully clothed. My contribution to our team was eating most of my team's share of fish balls. However, even with my knowledge of the campus, my team still came in dead last. It was just too hot for anyone to care.
The hospital visit was interesting too. We were given a blood test, a urinalysis, an EKG, a chest X-ray, and a physical exam. The nurses got close and personal with our bodies. All our names were butchered beyond recognition (yes, even my one-syllable first name) by the hospital nurses and doctors. I was special and received not one, but two, eye exams. I tried to convey to the nurse that I had already had an eye exam earlier during the visit, but she did not understand me at all, so I just submitted to another one. Last year, one female teacher reported that the nurse who examined her asked her if her breasts were real because they were so big ("They are real and they are spectacular!").
One thing I really liked about last week was meeting all the new teachers. I think I'm in a great position right now -- I've already had a year to acclimate and adjust, and now am familiar with the city and culture, but I am still considered part of the new cohort and get to meet the newest members of the school. More new teachers this year than last are coming from another international setting -- Malaysia (a German/Polish man who was born in Argentina, has lived on five different continents, and speaks five languages), Hong Kong/Beijing (an American teaching at local schools there), Cairo, Qatar, and Peru. I loved hearing about their experiences and travels.
This week, all the returning teachers started work too. They have three days to prep for the new school year, then the students start on Thursday for all levels. I felt much more excited than I had anticipated to see the friends we had made last year after a couple of months of not seeing them, probably in part due to the fact that we were here for at least two weeks by ourselves before they began straggling in one by one (those first two weeks back were a bit rough, what with feeling homesick, having to adjust to being here again, and being here with no friends to hang out with). We were all so happy to see each other and catch up on our summers. And they all had such exciting summers -- trekking in Burma, hiking and zip lining in Bali, visiting villages in Nepal after spending several weeks in Australia and New Zealand, jet-setting all over Europe after a visit back home to the U.S., and traveling throughout the U.S. Really brought out the wanderlust in me.
Now we're all back to business with endless meetings, team-building activities (hate those), and preparations for the first semester starting Thursday. It's been overwhelming and exhausting, having to set up everything in the classroom and online, organize all the paperwork and documents (even without legal requirements to meet, special education here still generates a lot of paperwork!), learn about the students I'll have, and meet with all the teachers coming to me about the students. My own schedule is packed, with multiple classes to support each period of the day! I'm supposed to get two free periods every other day, but it looks like I'll have to be flexible about that. The good news is that I'll get to work with my husband in one of his Biology classes!
Meanwhile, my son has been a totally free-range kid this week. Most teachers with children here have a nanny, but we don't, so he's just been coming to school with us and hanging out wherever and with whomever is around. Yesterday, he was at the library on his own most of the day, along with a friend. Today, he hung out with the kids (aged 9 and 12; nicest kids I've ever met) of two teachers at the ES, helping them set up their bulletin boards and unpacking their classrooms for them. Then he ran around with a pack of older kids between the school and their house behind the school, coming back to the school during a downpour only when it was time to go home. I only saw him briefly once in the middle of the day. I doubt any of this would happen in the U.S., where not only is the mentality different, but young kids are more closely supervised and their schedules more controlled by their parents. But it worked out great -- we got the time to get some work done, and he got to feel like one of the big kids and experience freedom and independence. Then, this weekend, after only two days of school with students, we will have four days off. So far, so good!