24 May 2011

Fuck this Week. I'm Buying Boots

All right, you all out there know that I am not normally a Debbie Downer. I am trying to capture the experience here as it truly is, and convey some part of it to you. This is, of course, yet another impossible task I have given myself. Whatever. 

I returned to school to find give a small test (with no grade) to my students in seventh grade. After six weeks on this unit of pure struggle, of writing on the board and insisting that they take notes, of repeating myself over and over and over...nothing. Even the best students in the class couldn't do the test. Every last one would have failed. 

So the English absorption level of my students is at about 20%. At best. At worst, they know absolutely nothing from the unit. Apparently my expectations need to slip another ten notches lower. 

But wait! There's more!

A student of mine, who I know is smart and understands English more than he lets on, has been causing problems in my class for a few weeks now (since the seventh and eighth graders collectively lost their hormonal minds over crushes). I asked him six times today to take his seat. He openly refused to even put his name on my test. He distracted other students. 

And then, the seventh time I told him to sit down...he reached out and hit one of the other students, one who has special needs and developmental problems. It made a huge noise and it was obvious that he had hit him hard. 

"All right, that's it. Get out! A fuera!" I told him. "Go to the office and tell them what you've done. I do not accept that kind of behavior in my class." The other students clapped.

They suspended him. 

The whole class turned on me in an instant. They called me evil. They told me that it was my fault that he got suspended. They swore at me and stole from me. They didn't do their work. 

Let's take a moment to remember that I actually paid to be here. I receive a small stipend from the United Nations Development Program (the check I cashed today actually had the UN logo on it!), but it is equivalent to about $8 a day. Minimum wage in Chile is 34,000 pesos a day (about $7.50 an hour, same as Colorado). Damn, my stipend sucks. I pay the difference in blood, sweat, and tears. 

The money isn't the issue, really. I wanted to help people, and teach, and make a difference. Change things. Be part of something bigger than myself. But what I am realizing is that one cannot help people who don't want the help...and no one wants to admit that they need help, and one cannot teach people to recieve help graciously. No one wants to admit that they could do better. 

The change has to come from within. Because my students and hosts and the town and Chile are not ready to change from within, everything that I do is moot. I cannot change the tide alone, and I apparently cannot convince even my best students that studying is important. And I wonder if it is only here in this school or this community, or if my life's mission to help people in whatever way I can in many places around the world is pointless. Impossible. 

In some cases like that of José who got suspended today, maybe things would have been better if I had never come here. In any case it seems on the whole that there would have been no difference if I had not, and I could have saved a bunch of people the inconvenience of having to fulfill a contract or host a foreigner or learn a simple phrase in English. My students can't even answer "How are you?" after nearly three months. I don't know what more I can do. 

So, what do you do when there is nothing more to do? When you have nothing more to give? When what you thought was the point of your life has been erroded by three months of floundering and you wonder what the point of trying is?

You tell the existential crisis bearing down on you to go fuck itself, and you spend the UN's money on some new boots and a coffee. Because sometimes you have to stop thinking for awhile and take care of yourself before you lose it completely. Tomorrow is a new day, and you have to face the crisis first thing in the morning. A little break never hurt anyone.

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