Friday, January 15, 2016

The Work

Boys sharing books in my Library
One of my cousins recently asked me the following question (on Facebook), which I've paraphrased a bit: 

  • Do you feel like you are just traveling abroad, living the experiences? Or are you actually feeling like you are HOME? Nothing to do with the new husband, just a self realization question on your living situation.

I appreciate questions like this because they make me pause and reflect. While I am a world away, it's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day life and not reflect. I have noticed recently that I've become terribly remiss in journaling ("making report" as Z calls it). I miss it, but I'm also busy living--last night I went to a movie with Zorig at 8 PM, then out to his father's warehouse to pick up some packages and visit the brand new puppies that were born just a few days before, then home and to bed--getting just 5+ hours of sleep. Thankfully today was Friday. :)

Anyway, enough rambling and back to the question. I had to stop and think--because my cousin forced me to take Z out of the equation (well done!). My initial response would have been, "Yes, I feel at home because I am with my Love." But my cousin pushed me to dig deeper. I answered by saying that YES, I feel HOME when I am in our apartment or at my school; while I yet feel like a foreigner-living-abroad when I am out on the streets amongst people. I chalk this up to the language barrier. Not knowing what people are saying, and being unable to communicate with most anyone/everyone makes you feel alienated. Sometimes there is a beauty in that ignorance--I can check out. But more often than not, it's frustrating. I AM currently doing six hours a week of Mongolian language lessons--a 3-hour conversational, small group class once a week, and two 1.5 hour classes/week with a tutor to work on grammar, verb conjugation, etc. I AM beginning to hear words here and there, and feel more confident getting into (unmarked) taxis. This is a long road and I will continue to chip away at it over time.

Before Winter Break, everyone made bookmarks.
I haven't spent much blog space on my job, my work place. It it one of the two places I do feel at HOME (thus far--as I know that will change as time passes), and therefore I want to share with you about it now. The American School of Ulaanbaatar is a lovely place to work; it's good to get up and go to work each day where I am surrounded by fellow North Americans (faculty is predominately American and Canadian, with some from other places such as the UK, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, etc). That said, I equally enjoy the fact that I work with a host of Mongolian citizens. My part-time library assistant is Mongolian and has been at ASU since it opened it's doors in 2006. She and I work well together--seeing the world in a similar way and being direct with one another and others. We find it strange--and lovely--to be from two different worlds/cultures, yet so much alike in our character and thinking way. 

This year I am the Teacher Librarian in the Elementary building at ASU. We have Pre-K through 5th grade with a total of about 330 students--80% of them are Mongolian (which I love!). My experience is in middle (7 years) and high school (3 years), making this a year of growth and challenge. The job is the same--but the way one goes about it changes in relationship to the skills and abilities of the students with which one works. And in response to the structure of the school day and rotation of classes. I am a "Specials" teacher which means I see every class, one time per week. 

There was a steep learning curve at the start of the school year. I had to adapt my classroom management style to the younger students AND to students (in First Grade) that have very little English language. I learned about reading aloud to classes--what stories work and for which grades. I became acquainted with the books I DO have, and began building a list of the books we SHOULD have (which I hope we can acquire for next year). I learned how to support my teaching faculty and how to work with my part-time assistant. Yes, it was a bit stressful back in August and September. But by mid-October I had a rhythm and didn't find myself stressing out about things. 

Here are some things I love about my job:

  • It's all about books and a LOVE of reading! The small children GET THIS. There are a host of children that visit me multiple times per week--before school, during recesses, or at lunch--to get a different book or to read in the space.
  • Small children want love, attention, and approval. They don't have the filters that age provide. They eagerly raise their hands, OR just blurt out their knowledge.
  • Small children love to hear stories!! Most human beings do....BUT I can see these kids lean in, in anticipation of what happens next....  Oh, and they want to tell you their own stories too!
  • The staff I work with is knowledgeable and kind! It's a joy to support them and hear about what goes on in their classrooms. 
  • Small children spontaneously hug you, say "I love you," and "I missed you," and put their hand in yours to get your attention. They are endearing.

First graders making their bookmarks.
While the students at ASU are predominately Mongolian, the curriculum is North American (we use the Ontario Curriculum--I know....we are the American School of UB, but are using a Canadian Curriculum. Don't ask me why). We use the MAP test on our students, we talk about academic growth and how to be sure students are progressing, and we have a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) system in place. The conversations are similar to any I've ever participated in while working at schools in the U.S. We do less testing than public schools, thank goodness, but it FEELS like working in the U.S. This is why I am able to say I feel at HOME when at my work place.

I have signed my next employment contract (this initial contract was for only this school year). I will be moving up to the Secondary School next year and now have a two-year contract as the Secondary Teacher Librarian. The Secondary Building has approximately 220 students in grades 6-12. The library--known as the Learning Commons--has three rooms, all connected. A room for the collection with tables in the center for students to work at, a smaller more office-like room, and a room with a handful of computers, and tables where students can study. 

I am looking forward to being back in the land of adolescents and teenagers; but I am also getting all I can out of this year with the small children. I know I will not get presents, drawings, and love letters from the older kids as I do from the Smalls. But I do look forward to teaching research skills and information literacy in partnership with the secondary teaching faculty. 

Now that I have experience at ALL levels--Elementary, Middle, and High--I can say that my "sweet spot" is Middle School. It is my favorite age to work with. They are in that in-between stage where they are beginning to be independent individuals that assert themselves, while they also crave and desire a teacher's interest and positive feedback and reinforcement. 

I'll wrap this up by saying that I am grateful for my employment--both the intellectual engagement and the salary that it provides. Though I moved here for Love and Family, it's nearly as important to have work which is meaningful and purposeful--I'm blessed to have it all. That said....having just completed our first week back post-Winter Break (three weeks off), I will say that I do not like waking up to an alarm, especially since it takes a full two hours for daylight to grace us. The good news is that our days are slowly getting longer. We will have a week off in February for Tsagaan Sar (means "White Month" and marks the beginning of Spring), a week off in April for Spring Break, and then we are done for the year in mid-June. As any Mongolian will tell you, Summertime in Mongolia is the Best! And it's just 150 days away.....

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