It’s a profound moment when you move somewhere and subconsciously start calling that place “home.” During the five weeks I was in the States, my home base was my parents’ house in the Bay Area. I hung up some clothes in the closet out of a vague respect for wrinkles, but I traveled every week and lived out of suitcases that entire time, feeling both a familiar and a stranger. Relaxed and unsettled. At home and yet still just temporary.
I was asked so many questions about my life here in Rio, and I felt like I started 90% of my sentences with “well, in Brazil…” but it’s an odd sensation to realize that I now think of this place as home. My bed, my walk to work, my beach. I’ve unpacked, I’ve put down roots, I feel comfortable. I sleep best here and when I get within 100 feet of the building, I get the urge to pee. I get asked for directions and know enough Portuguese to help. Some of the times. All the times I am flattered to be thought of as Brazilian.
Not a day goes by when I don’t learn something about living here, about the culture or language or some new form of government identification I’m supposed to have. But I feel like I get it a little more each day. I have a place in a community, I’m at home in my own skin again, I’m comfortable and know my way. My world is smaller now – concentrated to an area within whatever is walking distance, but it feels good at the moment.
It was a joy to go back into my classroom, broken air-con cave that it is, and smell my Mr. Sketch markers, and start making lists on post-its and using a clipboard to feign organization and professionalism when really I’m just doodling.
We had a week of inservice for teachers and got awesome training about third culture kids from a speaker named Libby Stevens – an amazing story teller above all. I’m not a TCK (no one in teacher school ever tells you how many freaking acronyms there are in this profession) but learning about classic behaviors of highly mobile kids was easy to relate to. For example, I can be really intense right off the bat, I WANT WORLD PEACE, I want to talk to you, I can make snap judgments, I feel so comfortable in airports, I’m always looking forward to something ahead but missing something behind, all my stories are about bathrooms or weird food I’ve eaten or bugs I’ve encountered. It made me realize how perfect this job is for me, since I work with TCKs.
Today I got a little emotional, not for the first time, assessing a new student. We have an incredible school. For example, one of my students was born in China with a cleft palate, given up for adoption. He was adopted when he was 5 years old by an Italian family with two children. They were living in Brazil, sending their students to an international school with American curriculum where we speak English but have about 40 nationalities represented. He knew four letters of the alphabet when we started last year, and by the end he was reading, writing, and his behavior issues were all under control. If you asked, he’d tell you he was Italian. He speaks English, Italian, and Portuguese, but is obviously Chinese by birth. I love him like family. I spoil him probably, and we have a million inside jokes and we snuggle and giggle and are really competitive with each other. He makes me laugh and cry in equal amounts.
This year I have some equally complex kids on my plate. Columbians adopted by Mexican mom/Swedish dad learning English and Portuguese in an American international school in Brazil. I have kids from Angola and Ecuador and Norway and India and of course, Brazil. But the girl who made me cry today was a sweet 1st grader from Greece, who has also gone to school in Germany. And she was so shy in the beginning in my room. I try to warm the kids up – it’s the first week of school, I don’t want to throw a huge standardized test at them – so I show them pics of me and my family, me and llamas, we look at colors and draw on the white board, which is still every kids’ favorite thing to do (teachers, too!). She laboriously wrote out her name, all ten letters, all in different colors for me. She drew me a cupcake. “Und cupcake!” she said. And what made me cry was the incredible concentration and effort and time it took for her to tell me that it was her brother’s birthday and that she and her mother had made a Star Wars cake for him. She knew “Star Wars” in English, but answered “yes” to most questions, including “who is your teacher?” just because she just wanted to make this teacher happy with an answer.
Once she was comfortable with me, she giggled and we joked and hugged and tickled. It was so fun. But to see this baby scrunch up her forehead and think so hard about how she could say what she wanted to in one of the at least four languages she’s been exposed to…just made me reach out and say “oh, darling,” and pull her into my lap for a good ten minutes to read a book about baby animals and pick out Barbie stickers.
There are a lot of reasons to not be a teacher. It is, as most important things are, thankless on this planet. You will deal with the bodily fluids and rude manners and emotional vomit of others. You will be demonized by the media and politicians for no reason, blamed by parents, pressured by administration, mocked and or pitied in turn by society. You will be exhausted from August to June. Your brain will never stop thinking of ways you could improve things or do better. You will spend more of your own money than is good for anyone because you want the best for your kids. Your heart will break harder than any break-up you’ve ever had over certain students in your classes. You will be a parent, a friend, a confidante, a counselor. You’ll never feel creative or organized or good enough. Also, the pay is beans.
I can think of one good reason to be a teacher, and this week reminded me that it’s enough – I get to love kids exactly where they are, for exactly what they are, as much as I can, to get them to where they need to be.
My great grandma would have been 100 today, had she not passed a month ago. Whenever I reminded her I taught junior high, she used to say “well, they think they know everything. I hope you get paid extra for that.”
I was with her when she died, and was glad she was able to finally let go of the stubborn hold she’d had on this world and move on to something better. As old as she was, it’s surreal to know she’s truly gone. In the past few years, I’ve lost several important people. Not lost, but “goodbye for now.” I feel like if I can still close my eyes and hear their voice in my head, saying something to me that I know they would have said, they’re still with me. It can make me sad, it always makes me think, and I want to do better.
So. If you need to hear it today, and even if you don’t – I see you, you are important, and I love you.
here’s a joke before you go:
What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t work?
tchau for now, brown cow!