Tag Archives: Teaching

AES Graduation 2016 – Tony wows ’em

For 20 years, I’ve watched Tony grade essays around the world – in his cramped study at our old house in Kansas, at the ruins of Troy and cafés in Istanbul, by the Great Wall of China and Starbucks in Shanghai, on the deck of a rainforest lodge in Borneo, along the banks of the Mekong River in Laos, among the terraced rice paddies of Bali, and at the beach in Phuket, Thailand. “Everywhere, every city we’ve ever been in,” Tony says. “I’ve graded papers everywhere.” It’s true. Even on vacation, we’re never alone. For as long as I can remember, I’ve shared my husband with William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Toni Morrison. In part, that’s the life of a high school English teacher. (“Why don’t you just give multiple choice tests?” I whine, staring out the window and wishing I had brought a friend on this trip, every trip. “Because I’m supposed to be teaching them how to write,” he responds, exasperated.)

For 20 years, I’ve watched Tony get to school at the crack of dawn and stay well after the final bell. His classroom door is always open for students who want extra help with an assignment (even assignments from other teachers) or who need a letter of recommendation for their university applications. In his free time, he reads the novels, plays, and poems he plans to teach, even when he’s read them a million times before. He highlights, color codes, writes notes in the margins, fills the pages with sticky notes, and always finds something new.

Tony jokes with his students, “Most people will tell you they became teachers because they love kids. They get energized by you. Well, I don’t. You suck my energy away. I became a teacher because I love books. I love literature. I love the academic life.” But everyone knows that he really does love kids and worry about them and care about them. The students know it best of all.

That’s why I felt especially proud of Tony when the high school seniors chose him to be the faculty speaker at their graduation this year. “The odds were in my favor,” he said when the announcement was made. “I have taught almost all the seniors.” True. Still, it feels good to be appreciated, he admitted.

Tony’s speech perfectly captured his quirky sense of humor, reflective teaching style, and connections with the graduates. He spoke to them, weaving together themes from his classes with life lessons. He referenced inside jokes that only the students would get, and – best of all – in my opinion, he reminded them to carry on the values that AES instilled in them: compassion, service to others, and a growth mindset.

Here’s the American Embassy School of New Delhi graduation video. Skip ahead to 44:50 to see Tony’s speech.

A few people have asked for the script. Here you go. Feel free to share. Tony later realized he misattributed the phrase, “Pavements gray,” so he fixed it in this version.

I am truly honored to be speaking to you today. But, before I begin my speech, I would like to say something that is actually important.

Simply put, I care about you – many of you. I’m fond of you. I’m proud of you. You’ve earned my utmost respect. And when you are gone, I’ll think about you; I’ll remember you; and I’ll miss you, starting Monday, when you definitely should be gone.

OK, the speech.

Earlier this year a traveling salesman came to our school. OK, he wasn’t actually a traveling salesman. He was what Paul Johnson would call a teacher trainer.

But, I like stories about traveling salesmen, so here we go . . .

Anyway, this salesman made us all think about what AES teachers do, and he tried to make us worry and wonder if we were, in fact, preparing you for “the real world.” And by “the real world,” he meant – I guess – life beyond AES, where you will all go and exist, starting in about 40 minutes.

Now, I was a little traumatized by his premise that AES is “not the real world.” We aren’t real. Ironically, in the place where we teach you “to be or not to be,” we are … NOT.

Let’s think about what this means.

You can’t BE a student at AES. Apparently, you can only NOT BE a student at AES. When you move those tassels, of course, you won’t be students at AES anymore, but for a few more minutes you are students at AES … NOT.

This happens in every class, I’ve lost a few of you. Don’t worry about it.

The idea that AES isn’t the real world is sort of a great contradiction to Descartes and the fundamental keystone of all western philosophy: Here, at AES, “we think, therefore we are” . . . NOT. In Latin it would be: Cogitamus, ergo NON sumus.

Now, I did wonder if, in fact, I had prepared you for “the real world.”

But, I’ve been an academic all my life. So, I guess I never have actually really been in or seen the real world.

Oh, I’ve heard of it. It comes up occasionally in class. It’s what the poet William Butler Yeats called “pavements gray.”

And Wordsworth said,
“Where getting and spending we lay waste our powers
For the little we see in nature that is ours.”

That’s from Mr. Glennon’s favorite poem by the way.

Indeed, the real world, as I understand it, is what the Romantic poets, and Walt Whitman and Thoreau and even Huckleberry Finn on his raft were forever trying to escape.

So, maybe I didn’t teach you how to live in “the real world,” but I know I taught you how to escape it – you can pick up a book. You can pick up a book, too.

Here, in “NOT the real world,” we spend way too much time trying to teach you something totally irrelevant out there: how to be self aware.

What we teach at this school is how to look at the world critically, logically, creatively, theoretically, artistically, mathematically, communally, politically and compassionately

And I have always tried to do that without taking away the sense of wonder that 5-year-old you initially brought with you to kindergarten.

Now, some of your parents don’t know what I mean by wonder. But it is the most important thing I teach!

Socrates taught us that “wonder is the beginning of knowledge.” So I’ll teach you the way I taught your children: Do you remember when you were a kid, probably 3 or 4 years old, and you were riding in the back seat of the car. It was night and your parents were driving. For some reason it was quiet and you looked up and you noticed that the moon was following you?

Amazing that you still remember the emotion! You remember because you wondered.

That emotional joy of discovery is why I teach literature, a topic which has always been an exploration of what it means to be a human being. When you examine everyone from Macbeth to Gatsby, Frankenstein to Elizabeth Bennet, Job to Hermione Granger, you learn something.

I mean that here, in the “NOT the real world,” we think about the infinite possibilities that is man all the time. “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties!” as Hamlet says.

Twenty-five hundred years ago, Socrates (who, by the way, they poisoned right out of the real world) said, “The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.” I do verily believe it.

And so let me give you my one bit of advice for people about to go into the real world. Don’t go! Don’t go! Some of you girls couldn’t walk very far in those shoes you’re wearing anyway. So, don’t go!

Don’t go into the world that Willy Loman describes by screaming: “The competition is maddening!”

I don’t know if we prepared you for the real world. And I’m not sure I’m ready for tomorrow either. I do know that AES is special though.

Here, in “NOT the real world,” we constantly strive to better ourselves.

Here, in “NOT the real world,” we value community, and the noblest trait is caring about others more than ourselves.

Here, in “NOT the real world,” we think about learning as a lifelong goal, something we continue to do until our very last breath.

Here in “NOT the real world,” we know that what you spend a lifetime building can be torn down in an instant, and yet you should spend your life building anyway.

Here, in “NOT the real world,” we actually mostly try to teach you how to continue living in a world like this one, by being awake to the infinite possibilities that is humanity and your own unlimited potential.

So, did we prepare you for “the real world”?

I don’t know. I worry about it. Most of you can’t drive or make an omelet or write a check or iron a shirt. I had to tie four ties before we could get these kids out here.

No, don’t worry. None of that matters.

Truthfully, I kind of assumed you were ready for “the real world” the first day I met you. You were probably ready for “the real world” when you graduated kindergarten.

Bob Fulghum sums up the kindergarten curriculum this way. This is what you were supposed to learn:
Share everything. 
Play fair. 
Don’t hit people. 
Put things back where you found them. 
Clean up your own mess. 
Don’t take things that aren’t yours. 
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. 
Wash your hands before you eat. 
Live a balanced life. 
Learn, think, draw, paint, sing, dance, play and work some every day.
And take a nap every afternoon. 
That’s why your teachers have couches in their rooms.

Kindergarten … I swear to God, that’s really all you needed to know to live and be happy in the real world.

Not ready for the real world? You knew everything the day I first met you! I’m not worried about you! I’m jealous of you, and I’m hopeful about the world because I think you’re going to change it. I think you’re going to make it better. I think every one of you is going to make it more like AES. And that’s what I was preparing you for!

Change the world and make it better. That’s your homework! That’s your homework, too. When is it due? Well, life takes a lifetime. How many days do you have left?

Eventually, when you’re done, they can dig a hole and bury you right in the actual real world. Nothing in the real world really lasts, anyway.

But in the meantime, don’t get sucked, pulled, drawn or contracted into the real world. Don’t ever surrender any part of your soul. That moral truth, by the way, is what you were supposed to learn from every tragedy I’ve ever taught you.

Now, if you’ve ever looked at “Cliffs Notes,” and I think some of you have, and I think some of you have, and I know some of you have … you will learn that the theme of almost every book not written by Jane Austen is “man’s inhumanity to man.”

Man’s inhumanity to man!

Well, from what I’ve heard, that happens out there in the real world. So, don’t go! Don’t contribute to it. Stay here – at least in your hearts.

Thank you.

Winter break is here! Halleluiah!

It’s the last day of the semester, and only a half day at that. You know what that means! Lots of squirrely, excited teachers students. Kids shared their travels plans – from Alaska to Australia and everywhere in between, said their good-byes to children moving on permanently, made play dates with friends who were spending the holiday in Delhi, watched movies and discussed their holiday traditions.

For many international students and teachers, winter break is especially anticipated. Some of us chose this lifestyle for the opportunity to see the world, and this is our longest vacation of the school year – three weeks of travel time. Some of us struggle with living so far away from our loved ones, and this holiday season is a time for reunions. Some of us just need a break from all things unfamiliar and frustrating.

That sappy stuff doesn’t stop kids from being kids, though.

First thing this morning, I went to my usual third-grade classroom where I chatted with the teacher while students arrived. A burst of giggling got our attention, so we both turned to see what was so funny. Two boys had curled into balls, stretched their hoodies over their entire bodies, pulled the drawstrings closed and were now rolling around the floor, bumping into desk legs and eliciting howls of laughter from onlookers. The teacher and I couldn’t help but crack up. Yep, it’s time for vacation!

Later I headed next door to see my other morning group of third graders. Remember those three little boys who had the deep discussion about U.S. presidents a few months ago? During “free choice” writing time this morning, they decided to write comic books. I sat down with them to admire the creative collaboration. Brilliant stuff.

Boy 1: Look! We’re starting every comic book like this, “I was walking down the street when suddenly…” And then something exciting is gonna happen!
Boy 2: We’re all different superheroes, but we’re like a superhero team.
Me: What are your super powers?
Boy 1: I can shoot ice out of my hands.
Boy 2: I can jump really far.
Boy 3: I can teleport.
Boy 1 to Boy 2: Oh! You can be rainbow colored, so when you jump really far, you make a big rainbow and the bad guys will be all “ooooh, look at the rainbow!” and then I’ll shoot ice at them and freeze them.
Boy 2 to Boy 3: And then you can grab the bad guys and teleport them to another dimension. Like they could be trapped in Captain America’s shield!
Boy 3: Yeah!

In 11 hours, Tony and I will be heading to the airport for our long journey back to the States. This is our first family Christmas in America since we moved overseas 12 years ago! Man, I sure wish I could teleport.

Bye-bye, kiddos! See ya in 2013!

Lutorpa the purple-nosed tiger

I just released my LAST ESL class of the semester. Do I sound excited? Because I AM! Students come to school for a half-day tomorrow, and then we’re OUTTA HERE. Woah. That was a lot of capital letters.

Anyway, my third-grade English learners sang “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which required a bit of vocabulary building: reindeer, shiny, glow, “call someone a name,” foggy, Christmas Eve, sleigh, glee, “go down in history.” Thanks god for YouTube because my iPod chose this exact moment to die, but I quickly found the song online.

We sang it several times before flipping over the lyrics page to do one of the silliest activities of the year: The Rudolph Mad Lib. I had retyped the song, leaving cleverly placed blanks. Previously, before they knew why they were doing it, they had chosen words in different categories and made a list. Today, they copied the words from their list into the song. Hilarity ensued and chaos reigned for awhile. Everyone had the opportunity to sing their song to the class.

My favorite was “Rudolph the red-nosed hippopotamus.” That had them rolling on the floor.

Another enlightening moment from this class was the discovery that most kids know the song in their home language. The Korean kids stood up and sang it exuberantly in Korean.

Best of all, I learned how to say “Rudolph” in Korean: Lutorpa. Isn’t that fantastic?

Korean math warriors

As an EAL teacher, I spend a lot of time in the elementary classrooms helping kids who speak English as an Additional Language. Recently, I visited third grade, where students were writing narratives. The teacher had provided a framework, which students copied into their writing books: introduction, beginning event, resolution, conclusion. Next, children sketched an illustration next to each step in their stories in preparation for writing.

I sat down with a Korean boy (I’ll call him Ji-Hun here), who started at our school mid-year with no English. He had scribbled a bunch of Korean notes, which of course I couldn’t check, to clarify what each section of his story should include. My usual M.O. is to have the kid describe the pictures to me, and I dictate the story back to him in accurate English. Then he tries to recreate the story in his own words with some help from me, first verbally and then in writing.

Ji-Hun had drawn this picture first. After a lot of gestures and random nouns, I realized it was a Korean mountain range, and those two guys were having a sword fight. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out “mountain” because he kept insisting “berry cold, berry cold,” which made me think he was describing a glacier or Antarctica or something. So, OK, we had a setting.

His next drawings show the fight sequence. The first warrior asks, “What is 1 X 100?” The other clearly less intelligent warrior answers, “One?”

Hmmm… well. Not sure what to make of that.

The smart warrior simply wasn’t going to tolerate such poor math skills, so he plunges his sword into the dumb warrior’s belly.

Ji-Hun described it to me basically just as I have written it. Was the second fighter trying to solve a riddle to cross the mountain pass? I acted this out, but he denied that was the purpose of the math battle. I couldn’t think of any other reason for a sword fight to ensue over multiplication. He tried to explain in Korean, while tugging on his hair with exasperation.

I just couldn’t let it go. Finally, we went next door to a different third grade class, where I asked another Korean student (with stronger English skills) to discuss the story with Ji-Hun. After a couple minutes of chatting, the student erupted in laughter. “He understands that every narrative has to have a problem and a resolution,” he said. “But he thinks the ‘problem’ has to be a MATH problem.”

Mystery solved! We all had a good chuckle.

Then I sat down with Ji-Hun and made up short stories off the top of my head for him to identify the problem. “The little cat is so hungry. She looks everywhere for food, but she can’t find any. Then Miss Sharon gives it some milk. The end.” What’s the problem? Yes, the cat is hungry. What’s the resolution? Yes, Miss Sharon gives it some milk. And so on.

Eventually, the light bulb went off and Ji-Hun revamped his story. In the new version, he and his family are hiking in the aforementioned mountains. He gets distracted and falls behind. Soon he loses them completely and can’t find his way home. He walks and walks, crying out for help. Finally, a friend finds him and points out that his house is only a few meters away. It won’t win any prizes, but at least he gets the idea.

Today’s English lesson: When you write a narrative, math is optional.


Another weekend, another workshop.

This time, I’m in Mumbai, India, for training in the Primary Years Program, which is the elementary school component of the International Baccalaureate. So far, it’s mostly stuff I had already learned when a trainer visited our school earlier this year, but I think tomorrow’s sessions will get a little more in-depth.

I met teachers who are working in India, Syria, the Philippines, Hong Kong, China, Sri Lanka and Poland (where he said it’s presently -20°C!), and I really enjoyed hearing about their experiences. I even saw a familiar face: Gavin – a Kiwi we met on vacation in Turkey when we were gearing up for the 2005 job fair. Turns out he was working at Shanghai American School, and he encouraged us to pursue jobs there. Of course, the rest is history. He and his wife work in Hong Kong now. I know I say it all the time, but I just love when paths cross unexpectedly in this international teaching world.

Gettin’ Tech-y with my BFFs

When I was in high school, our technology lessons involved writing binary code to create an animation of a launching rocket. Not very practical stuff. Today’s youth are digital natives who could probably launch a real rocket if they had the tools. They surf, tweet, post, click, e-mail, IM, SMS, download, upload, google, install, search, blog, vlog, glog, bookmark, comment, moderate, network, tag, RSS, link, and create. And then they go to school.

In the classroom, teachers often face systemic and psychological barriers to using technology. Maybe the internet connection is weak. Maybe the school or country has banned useful web-based applications. Maybe the computers are old and slow. Maybe there ARE no computers. And maybe we just feel intimidated. After all, we are the digital immigrants in this scenario.

In Shanghai, I was fortunate to work with many tech-savvy teachers. I saw first-hand how seamless integration of technology in the classroom translated to motivated, enthusiastic, inquisitive students. Once you’ve seen the power of 21st-century education, you just can’t go back to the ol’ chalk-and-talk approach.

My excitement was piqued again this weekend at Tech Train 2010, an EARCOS weekend workshop at the International School of Bangkok. We focused on blogs, wikis, digital storytelling, Creative Commons, global collaboration, and personal learning networks. The two-day workshop culminated with a “speed geeking” session, where we showcased our final projects. My head is buzzing with ideas as I head back to Vientiane. My biggest challenge will be NOT to try everything at once.

As if all that weren’t fantastic enough, one of the workshop leaders was Tara Ethridge, an inspirational techmeister librarian and former Shanghai American School-Pudong colleague, AND three of my favorite people were among the attendees: Amy and Kathy, who still work at SAS, and Colleen, another former Pudonger who is now elementary librarian at Saigon South International School. Amy, Col and I participated in the “next steps cohort” to build our tech repertoire, and Kath bravely attended the “beginners cohort,” where she launched a blog. Way more exciting than launching a 2-D rocket!

Here, Col, Amy and I collaborate on a digital storytelling project.
Digital storytelling

Tara’s husband, Dale, and daughter, Sojo, were hanging out at school. Sojo told us all about her upcoming show, which she is creating, producing and starring in. She sang “Good-bye, Friends” and demonstrated her robot moves.
sojo and dale

Arriving at ISB for our second day aboard the Tech Train.
isb sign

We had such a great time catching up! Saturday night, Tara met us at our hotel to go out to dinner, but we never ventured past the hotel’s 27th-floor club lounge, where we took advantage of free appetizers and cocktails for almost three hours. We were even treated to a colorful display of fireworks, reminiscent of our days in China.
The gang’s all here: Tara, Kathy, me, Colleen, and Amy.
at the lounge

One Night in Bangkok

In the weeks leading up to the long winter break, children at school start getting excited. Their eyes glaze over during lessons, and when you toss a board marker at their heads to snap them back to reality, they often comment, “I was just thinking about our Christmas vacation!” Some will make the long journey back to their home countries for traditional family holidays; others will jet off to a tourist destination like a beach in Thailand or Hong Kong Disneyland.

It’s no different for the teachers. Shortly after school resumes in August, we begin the countdown to Christmas break. By October, most of us have already booked tickets and planned our get-aways. We share experiences from Christmases past, often following in the footsteps of our fellow travelers.

For many international teachers, long holidays kick off with a visit to Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok for a preventive care visit. Our insurance covers a comprehensive check-up, and Bumrungrad offers one-stop shopping for world-class healthcare.

Coincidentally, Tony and I are among a slew of teachers in Bangkok for our health checks this week. We were thrilled to meet up with friends from Shanghai American School – Jiff and Fay (whom you may recall from my posts about Lijiang, China – another serendipitous reunion!) and the Voges (Elaine, Dean, Callum and Owen). We rode the Skytrain to Ban Chiang Restaurant, a restored wooden house with quirky décor and tasty Thai food. Poor Owen left early with a bad headache (chaperoned by his dad), but the rest of us had a wonderful time catching up.

Here we are in front of the restaurant with Jiff and Fay.

Bangkok Reunion

We leave Thursday for some beach time in Krabi, where we’ll see the Voges again! Some other great friends – the Munnerlyns (who now teach in Abu Dhabi) and the Powers (SAS) – are vacationing in nearby Phuket, and they’ve promised to pop over to our neck of the woods on the 28th.

We would have loved to visit with friends who live here in Bangkok, but doctors and dentists ate up most of our free time, and the traffic here is so insane that we could actually fly back to Laos faster than we could catch a taxi across town. So, we’ll see you guys next time!

I suppose international teachers never really say “good-bye”; they just meet up again and again in Thailand.

There’s a Light at the End of the Semester

As a teacher of English to kids who don’t speak English, I spend much of my time waving around flashcards, overenunciating vocabulary words, leading youngsters through silly songs with repetitive lyrics and actions, and contorting my face and body in ways that help communicate the mysterious language.

I can’t say the word “book” without automatically putting my hands together as in prayer and then opening them up to read the story. I can’t talk about an abstract concept without automatically reaching for a marker to sketch a clarifying illustration on the board.

On a good day, a student will poke me, point out the window, and say, “Sun!”
“Yes, it’s a beautiful sunny day!” I’ll exclaim. “Is it raining today? Nooooo! Is it snowing? Nooooo! It’s sunny! Good job! Did everyone hear Jenny tell us about the weather? She said it’s sunny! Super!”
On a bad day, I’ll ask, “How’s the weather today?” Some poor kid will answer, “Sun!” and then I might possibly have a total meltdown.
“No! We don’t say the weather is SUN! We say ‘It’s sunny!’ I have told you that a million freakin’ times! ‘Sun’ is a noun. ‘Sunny’ is an adjective. Geez, have I taught you NOTHING?!”

Of course, I don’t really say that stuff out loud. But I do think it. A lot. Especially in that first semester of the school year when progress … seems … so … slow.

I just get impatient. I want them to hurry up and learn English so they can change their social outcast status, participate in class discussions and milk every drop of discovery that school has to offer them. Language researchers have repeatedly found that fluency might elude a student for up to seven years, and it’s totally normal for a child to experience a lengthy “silent period,” during which he or she won’t utter a single English syllable. Every so often in those first few months of the school year, I temporarily reject research and its accompanying logic, and I feel compelled to throw a little mental temper tantrum at the mind-numbing pace of language acquisition.

Right about now, however, as the first semester is winding down, there’s a sudden dearth of those cerebral hissy fits. Instead, I can’t help but notice how terribly brilliant all my students are! My eyes, more often than not, widen in admiration rather than roll in frustration when a child answers a question or shares an idea. Sometimes I even find myself asking a question with my back turned to the group, and students actually ANSWER – even though they can’t see my facial expressions, read my lips or take cues from a gesture. It’s like the English Fairy waved her magic wand, sprinkling comprehension dust over all their little heads.

Today, I was teaching some words for food and drinks to a group of English beginners. When I held up the flashcard for coffee, I said, “I like drinking coffee!” Then I grasped the flashcard in a passionate embrace and said, “I LOVE drinking coffee!” Fidgety giggles ensued.
“Do YOU like drinking coffee?” I asked.
Correct answers included (a) I like drinking coffee, (b) I don’t like drinking coffee, or (c) a simple thumbs up or thumbs down to show understanding. To my surprise, one excruciatingly shy second grader popped out of her seat and said, “I don’t like drinking coffee, but my mother and father like drinking coffee.” She didn’t pronounce any ending sounds, but it didn’t matter. She spoke!
At that moment, I heard angels singing and I couldn’t stop myself from giving her a big weepy hug. (Yes, I know I could get arrested for that in America, but such things are still OK in the holistic international teaching world.)

Another end-of-semester triumph occurred in a first-grade classroom earlier this week. I was providing “in-class support” during Miss Jill’s writing lesson, so I sat with a little Vietnamese boy who didn’t speak a lick of English four months ago. First, he drew a picture filled with aggression, complete with ninja warriors and weapons of mass destruction. Next, he told me what was in the picture: good boy, bad boy, fighting, shooting. He didn’t know the words for “tank” or “bullets” or “strong,” so I explained them and helped to label his picture.

Labeled Picture

Then he told me the story, and I dictated it back, showing him how to link together the “sight words” he already knew with the labeled picture so he could write his exciting action story.
And he did. Here it is.

Grade 1 Student Writing

While we worked, I felt a pang of guilt for teaching this child the vocabulary of violence. On the other hand, who am I to deprive a little boy from writing about what interests him most? Last year, visiting author Ralph Fletcher told our Shanghai American School staff that boys WILL write violent stories, and teachers must give them some artistic freedom and validation of their ideas. I agree.

Even more than Ralph Fletcher’s approval, though, I found reassurance in the big smile that stretched across my student’s face as he read his own writing out loud over and over again.

In that smile, I also found a little reminder of why I love teaching English as a Second Language: Sure, the school year – especially the first semester – is filled with moments of agonizing self-doubt and sleepless nights as I stress about children spending their days bombarded by meaningless sounds and texts. Lucky for me, I get to collaborate with talented classroom teachers, who create a safe, supportive, language-rich environment for those English learners. And best of all, I get to witness the proud grins when those sounds suddenly make sense, those texts reveal facts and fairy tales, and that alphabet offers the power – real POWER – to share thoughts, experiences and make-believe with other people who also understand this crazy language!

International Day

At a school where …
• one second-grade class comprises 12 nationalities,
• many kids speak a different language with Dad than they do with Mom,
• the elementary teaching staff represents 5 continents,
• even the native English speakers get confused by each other’s accents, and
• an impromptu lesson about an insect in the room turns into a discussion of how to cook it …
EVERY day is International Day.

However, one day each year is set aside to celebrate the myriad cultures represented by our student body. At VIS, that day was Friday. Dressed in their traditional costumes, children puffed up with pride for their home countries and paraded around the school grounds. The younger group spent the morning in sessions that explored dance as a form of cultural expression, and then they joined the secondary students for an assembly at the covered basketball court. Student performances included a spectacular Bollywood-ish dance by two sisters from India, a poignant interpretive dance by a Nepalese girl, a silly crowd pleaser by the 8th grade class (“Did You Ever See a Penguin Come to Tea?”) that got the crowd up out of their seats, and a rap version of Frere Jacque by the middle school French class. A local Lao hip-hop dance troupe had everyone clapping and cheering.

The highlight of the day was lunch! Nearly every family contributed a dish from their home country, so the tables overflowed with delectable treats. I’m not sure exactly what I ate, but everything was scrumptious. Just when things were wrapping up, a German dad passed around some apfelkuchen. Mmmm … schmekt gut!

As an American, it’s always a little tricky to come up with a costume on International Day. One of my students said, “You could dress like the Green Lady.” I thought he meant a superhero like the Green Lantern or the Green Hornet, but eventually he struck a pose and I realized he meant the Statue of Liberty. Another student told me to dress like Uncle Sam. Instead I opted for a red, white and blue ensemble with some silver stars on my face. Those savvy little kids know their flags. “You could be from Australia! Or Burma! Or Chile!” Smart aleck TCKs.