Saturday, August 30, 2008

Physics, fish, soccer

This evening finds me tired, though rested, gratefully looking forward at the latter two thirds of a three day weekend.

Today Jon and I went out driving with a Paraguayan friend who teaches here. We are planning a fish fry/cookout tomorrow night and so Elder (the friend) drove us ~30 minutes to the place he usually buys his raw fish. We went to a small fish market in the town where he grew up. When we pulled out, a handfull of middle-aged ladies walked up to the car compelling us to buy fish from them. Elder talked with the salesladies, while Jon and I were free to poke around the market. There were fish of all types there... from meter long lunkers to oddly shaped catfish like none I'd ever seen. One in particular was fascinating. It was definitely a catfish of some kind, but had broad, black and white stripes, and an exxageratedly long and flat head. Elder says he's going to take us fishing on the river sometime. I would love to hook something like that. The tone of the place was pitch-perfect. The posture and shuffle of the fish-ladies rung of the integrity of the experience. They weren't actors in some movie, type cast to be believable... they were home. This was their place, and they fit it. Their husbands' worn wooden boats moored just behind the stand weren't there for effect. They were there from bringing the morning fish in for sale... yet they had effect... a free gift of the real. Beside the fish market was a small restaurant with outdoor dining, where a live band was playing Paraguayan music. I watched them from a distance, and would have loved to sit in a chair there for a few hours, but I thought our freshly bought "El Dorado" would've complained from the back of the car... I thought it best to get it home and into the fridge, so I didn't say anything to Elder.

We drove then around his town a bit, as he waved and honked to cousins and friends who animatedly gestured towards him as we passed. We met his dad and mom. He said his entire family lived there in that town. He is dating an American girl. I asked him if he would ever come back to live. He said no. It made me a bit sad inside. I thought the place was beautiful.
From there we went to a park nearby where another friend of ours from the school named Victor (also Paraguayan) was playing soccer with a group of friends. They were crazy good. I watched them play with fascination beyond the game. This place felt so different than the soccer fields I've seen in the states. The guys playing it wore mismatched jerseys. Victor's was from ACA. I think he coached our team last year. He fit there. He was good too. But it wasn't the players, or their garb, or the field, or the ball, or the surroundings that held me back so fascinated... it was everything at once. It was like the negative of a moment of fascination... rather than the game being in focus, the peripheral jumped out, and the presence of the action seemed taken for granted. I tried to explain the moment to Jon and Elder... but didn't quite find the words... The game felt like... an old hat that you've been wearing for years... when you put it on. It's been on your head so much that you don't think of it as being a hat... it just goes on your head, and it feels like it has a thousand times, but only feels that way because of the other 999 times that you've worn it, and you wonder if it might feel the same way about sliding onto your head as you do about putting it there. I watched that ball kick up little clouds of dust from bare spots in the field worn through by cleats and feets of semi-pros and tweens alike, and then puff again off the shin of some agile footballer. And this soccer ball was different to. It didn't have lines. They'd been worn of months ago, at least, maybe years. I'm pretty sure they had worn the seams off of it too (but it never slowed enough for me to know for sure) leaving just a dusty white orb spinning through space, tying together everything it touched, in some mystical romance of right-ness. And I think these guys are happy playing soccer. Matter of fact... I'm fairly certain of it. I wonder what we have in the states like that... I'm sure we have things. But... it does me good to get third-person perspective on the beauty of it. It's hard to see a picture when you're in it.

The photo above and right: I'm not in this one. These are some of my students working on a physics lab. I'm discovering labs to be much much better than lecturing... but I think there's a balance in there somewhere. This lab was really effective after a solid week of seemingly worthless lecturing. I really don't know how to teach physics, no matter how much I love the subject. It'll take some time, I think. Church tomorrow. Gotta sleep.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Into the flow

Wow. I can't believe I've been here nearly 4 weeks already. Amazing.
Teaching is going well, but I must say I am learning by leaps and bounds. Not that my lessons are improving by leaps and bounds... but they are improving as I am frequently making new mistakes it seems. Nothing catastrophic... just things like... feeling out the difference in relationships between different classes, and learning how to approach the ones that I am afraid of with more courage, and learning what it means to "stand in my honest condition" in each one... something I was challenged to by Parker Palmer. I keep wanting to be a "good teacher" but the harder I try, the more I realize that playing the role of a "good teacher" only drives my students farther from quality learning experiences. This isn't a new realization for me, but I am struggling with it intimately right now... learning my opponent, if you will. Rolling fears and insecurities around in my mouth, until I really understand their taste, and trying to find practical disciplines that will deal with them effectively.

My access to resources here is good, but my confidence in accessing them is somewhat less, as my Spanish is limited. The stuff is there, all around me in the cities, and the net, but my lessons have been slightly more traditional than the ones I worked on for student teaching. Pray that I would not limit my horizons in creating these learning experiences for the kids. My goal was to have labs frequently, but I've only managed a few so far, as the planning and setup aspect of lab work is considerably more than a regular class. Also, classes are only 40 min. long, so a full-blown lab is difficult to manage.
The kids are absolutely fantastic though. I am THOROUGHLY enjoying getting to know them.

I sat this evening with the new student teacher who just got in from Indiana sipping Yerba Mate and munching on Chipas (a crispy Paraguayan cheese-bread snack) and it really hit me how incredible this place is. I lifted up two paths to God before coming here, one for a job at JFH Middle in Broadway that I thought was a perfect fit, and this one which I wanted, but seemed like such an ethereal possibility in a faraway place... Both were good options... The VA job I applied for in good time, and e-mailed the principal, but heard not so much as a peep from. This one worked out despite a number of footfalls and uncertainty. So... the gravitation that brought me here rather than Home... I believe to be the hand of God... and here... I am seeing how incredibly these experiences seem to be tailored to fit my desires, scab over my weaknesses, utilize my gifts... stretch my good muscles while allowing the bruised ones some space to rest. My gratitude to God for this.... this whole picture... is hard to articulate... but I feel it pushing up in my chest... sliding my adams apple farther up the neck... that choked up feeling you get when you see something so beautiful that you can't even breathe... because you know that the next sound over your tongue should by all right express something that you know there are no words for.

Thanks for your love... keep me updated!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

First week of school...

Cell phone number: (But I'm out of minutes, so don't call right now. )


Well, as of Monday morning, I am officially a payed professional educator! hahahaha. Wow. Who saw that coming? Methinks... things have begun well. I was, of course, terrified beyond description the first day, though. The classes are nicely sized, but the sizes range from 4 (Senior Physics) to 18 (Freshman Biology & Bible). I've had my share of expected new-teacher foibles, including one class in which I completely forgot to take roll (day 1) until halfway through class. It was awkward. I got partway through and realized I didn't know the name of a single student I was talking to. I was like... uh... wow... sorry. Today was better with them though, and the rest of the classes have been fine. I am particularly excited about the group of seniors, because the dialogue in the class is very different... much more relaxed. I think because there are only a few of them, it is less threatening to me, showing me a different teaching demeanor that I much prefer, and hope to apply as much as possible to the larger classes. I am enjoying very much the freedom to teach from my whole perspective, rather than having to censor myself. The wonder I feel towards the natural world is a God-centered endeavor for me... not because I study science to prove anything to myself or to anyone else, but rather because studying science to me is like staring into a piece of his intimate work... and coming to know the natural world is a means of coming to know a piece of the mind of God. I can express that awe freely here... and it makes my teaching feel much more complete and genuine. But please continue to pray for me, there is much work left to do...