Sunday, May 19, 2013

Class no. 2: The truth

Class no. 2 at the YMCA has presented me with a classic blogging conundrum.
  • Because of certain Scriptures--a lot of them--it's important to me to not be disparaging to anyone, even if the chance that the person would find the post is about the same as if they were to grow horns. Personally, I would not want to happen on a blog that portrays me specifically, particularly by name, as stupid, selfish, rude, or other qualities, no matter how colorful and amusing the story (if you perhaps think I possess one or more of these qualities, I am not actually inviting use of the comment section for such purposes). Therefore, I hope not to portray anyone else in such light. Obviously, this eliminates some potential posts on cultural misunderstandings and other bewildering encounters.

  • As always, I feel the tension of verses like Matthew 5:16--letting your light shine before men so they can glorify God--and that whole not-letting-the-right-hand-know-what-the-left-hand-is-doing issue. Knowing my own vast propensity for genuine, homegrown pride, I would rather err on the side of not telling you what's going on over here. Yet many of you pray for us, care for us, support us, and praise God with us. So if perchance you are tempted to think we're just great, we would like to kindly draw your attention to the real Source of Greatness.

  • Blogging by nature is honest. It can also, by nature, be self-absorbed. Not to mention a bypassing of giving grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29), since pretty much anyone can hear. There are times I lack the know-how to both give grace and be honest. In which case, the old adage serves me well: If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything a'tall.
How does this apply to class no. 2?

Well, let me attempt to be true to said guidelines, and still say I found myself both very encouraged and quite discouraged. The students continue to be quite responsive. I'm amazed by what they seem to find novel and exciting. I continue to be impressed by the need for this class, and flabbergasted that I get to teach it. The ladies loved making playdough, and I got the impression that most, if not all, had never seen anything like it. It was a smashing, squashing, rolling, kneading success.

But, as indicated, I continue to be amazed at what has not been part of their normal experience. Just last week as J. completed puzzle after puzzle on the rug, Oliver told me she'd never had a chance to do puzzles. This reminded me of the story of a friend, who reported a woman dropping off a number of puzzles to a school. When she returned some time later, each student was holding a piece. The idea of what to do with the pieces was not apparent to the recipients. Now, I have seen some shape puzzles made by another group of YMCA teachers. But considering class sizes, I don't see these as a plentiful resource. A school principal reminded me this week that Ugandan law a handful of years ago restricted primary school class size to 200 students. As the principal mused, one wonders what conditions might have brought such a law about. (From what I can gather, it seems that U.S. states who do restrict classroom size at this age usually limit it to 18-25 students. Preschools are recommended to have an average ratio of 1:6 to 1:10). I believe usual class sizes at this age in Uganda average 40-80 students. Many classrooms are filled to the brim with desks, leaving little room for getting down on the floor with students, or tasks other than deskwork.

In watching my students present their ideas of creative teaching, I'm reminded that these ladies have likely never had circle/carpet time, calendar time, free reading time, or so many other things that characterize Western early childhood. Puzzles. Popsicle sticks. Goldfish. Cheerios. (Okay, okay, you can obviously have a thriving childhood without those last three.) Playdough. Watercoloring. Children's literature. CD's of bouncing (occasionally grating) children's music.

Though I was discouraged that three of my seven groups did not show up--but 25 or so new ladies did, who'd missed the foundations of the first class--I was soon distracted by how to respond when the assignment completed was not technically the one given. Or how to grade these assignments...from 90 women, 20 of them max who completed the assignment...and if not grade, communicate its importance. (Roll call would take 20 minutes at this point.) How can I show enthusiastic, patient encouragment, but communicate clearly about what I expect?

I went with sheer encouragement, considering that a) so many groups didn't actually do the assignment, and b) some of the terms I'd given them as descriptors, like "artistic" or "interactive", weren't words they understood. In the end, I suppose I just felt a bit lame. I wondered what else was whizzing over eagerly nodding heads that didn't ask questions.

This was confirmed by the five-question, "Are you getting me?" quiz I distributed. Briefly, the answer seems to be an energetic "Not really!"

The icing on my tilting cake was complicated by logistics, like the inane, lay-yer-little-head-on-the-steering-wheel-cause-it-will-be-awhile traffic that eliminated my prep time. Or by arriving with my 15 kilos of stuff at the top of the six flights of stairs to find the classroom door locked. I needed to go downstairs and back up the other side, because this set of doors was to be "locked forever."

Oh, well. At least I would glow with a sheen of fervor, i.e. perspiration when I launched myself through the doors, since I was now tardy to my own class. Again. The girls got a good laugh as I rubbed my hands together and thanked them for their promptness.

I knew that head-shaking, inconvenient frustrations would present themselves. And those are really not a big deal; consider them character development, or at least good blog fodder. I knew, too, that the need was great. It's greater than I comprehended. Or still do comprehend. With each class, I'm getting the idea that I need to simplify, streamlining my goals and aiming only for the most pressing, the most pertinent. I'm hoping things are not just taught, but caught.

Next Wednesday, my strategy is once again altering. I'm "taking" them to preschool: We're having a massive learning-center time, with bins of rice and games with clothespins and sorting beans and the obligatory playdough. (Did I mention that when I tore open the brand-new five-kilo bag of flour last week in the middle of class, it was infested? I had to laugh. After I muttered something like, "Are you kidding me?" So our playdough actually has narrow little bug, uh, "confetti." ...Yeah. Confetti.) I may even bring along my daughter (?), and see if I can "teach" her a little, to show them how they could teach a class. She'd play the centers with them and sing the songs with us. We'll see.

Then, we'll make a file folder game. And again, I will pray for God to do great things--the most important things. In devotions, we're covering the concept of grace this week. If they get that, God is reminding me, it's far more important than techniques for fine motor skills.

As I sat on my porch early Thursday morning, shoulders tipped downward over my tea, God brought to mind a startling verse for missions from our eMi training:

And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. (Ezekiel 22:30)

God reminded me that Jesus was the man, a man among us, who perfectly built up the wall and stood in the gap. He built up the wall, and reconciled humanity to Himself, to other people, to creation. That's the work of missions, whether we're in Kampala or Poughkeepsie. And that's why I can trust Him to buoy me up six flights of stairs--or twelve--and trust that He'll complete this good work.

See you next week.


Maups said...

Praying for you. Your post reminds me of the sage advice from the Eagle Squadron Leader in Star Wars: "Stay on target, stay on target!" You are doing a great work but God is doing a work far greater in you and through you. It is a joy to serve Him with you. Thanks for your stick-to-it-ness and may the Lord provide for your perseverance as you look to Him for your grace and strength. I appreciate you!
Be of good cheer,

Ruthie H. said...

Let me say in the Ugandan way, "Well done!" I can relate to some of your joys and frustrations, such as trying to teach "foreign" concepts, dealing with unplanned for "frustrations," having students who have a difficult time participating to the level that I would want them to, etc. Yet, it is always good to remember that God promises to continue and complete what He has begun in you and in those dear women. He is always at work to accomplish His purposes! Blessings to you!

John and Janel Breitenstein said...

Thanks so much for the encouragement, you two, and certainly for the prayers. May God do great things beyond what we can ask, imagine, or think!

mhutsell said...

Thanks for crossing over your hurdles as to why blogging can be so hard. I sure do get that. I am so in awe of the courage and humility it takes to go before that group of women offering your humble "widow's mite." SO much that God is doing with your offering. Keep going friend. Keep going!