As I’m sure you have all figured out by now, I am in love with American Samoa. Especially Manu’a. This little spec of land in the middle of the South Pacific has become my home away from home and the people I have met have become my extended family. I love the views, adventures, and food. The village kids never fail to make me smile and on most days my students leave me wondering why I ever doubted if I should accept a placement as a high school teacher. I mostly post about these moments. But it’s not all laughs and gorgeous sunsets. Some days I seriously question why I am here. The students act out, refuse to do what I ask, come to school unprepared, complain endlessly, and blow off meetings/practices. Beyond the students, the education system leaves me scratching my head and wondering how anything ever gets done. I have an entire closet full of textbooks that my students can’t read because the government refuses to acknowledge the severe need for ESL classes, which means my students can’t read the grade-level textbooks we are supplied with. I have no class sets of novels so students have to read 3 students to a book. Tape is a coveted resource and my stapler has to be un-jammed after every staple. There are enough iPads for every student sitting virtually unused in the office and Macs and SmartBoards getting ruined from humidity in un air-conditioned classrooms, but the travel budget for school events, like Science Fair and Speech Fest, are being cut which means fewer, and sometimes no students from Manu’a are able to participate in the territory-wide competitions. But those are all country wide problems and are not something a palagi girl from Chicago can change in one year.
Yes, these things all suck but there is no reason to dwell on things I can’t change. TIS. I try to focus my energy on my students, who I hope I can impact. But some days there doesn’t seem to be much hope there either. When my freshmen leave my classroom I almost always feel like maybe my presence here is making a difference. When the juniors leave my room I often wonder why I even bother trying to teach through the chaos and disdain for learning. I’ve tried the stern approach and raised my voice. I’ve tried the softer ‘I care about you and your future’ approach. I’ve tried sitting at my desk and waiting for them to get it under control themselves. Nothing seems to work. My juniors just don’t care. They tell me English is boring. They tell me class is no fun even when I plan activities or games. They yell, hit each other, refuse to do work, don’t turn anything in, and then get mad when their grades suffer. I send students to the office, behavior improves for a day or two, and then it’s back to the same problems again. It’s this class that often makes me wonder if I have really made a difference for any of my students. Last week was one of my most challenging. With mid-terms coming up I’m worried about the multiple students failing the class for dumb reasons like cheating, missing school for weeks at a time, and losing all their work. If someone had offered to take over that class last week I would have accepted in a heartbeat. Some days (they are rare, but do happen) I can’t imagine why I would ever give the little twerps up.
Every afternoon I run from Faleasao, over the mountain, and halfway through Ta’u. I stop at the village hall, sit on the pier to take in sunset, and then turn around and run back. As I got to the hall today I came across one of my junior students and a friend. I have had a particularly hard time with this student. She is one of the loudest complainers in the bunch, requests to just relax more than anyone else, and gets mad every time I make her use her brain for more than flirting and Facebook. I can’t come close to counting the number of times she has murmured things under her breath or thrown her work on the floor in protest. To be honest, I didn’t peg her as a student who really wanted anything to do with me outside of school. But deep down I have always known there was more than a dislike for school. She has been passed around between families since her parents shipped her off to Manu’a and seems to crave structure and consistency. Lately every time I see her in the village I get a big smile and a wave. Today she stopped me to talk as I ran by, gave me her bottle of water on a hot Samoan afternoon, and offered to head back towards Faleasao (the opposite direction of her house) if I didn’t want to go alone (you know, because of the ghosts…). She has even taken to asking me more than any other student if I can be her teacher again next year. For the first time this semester I really felt like she was trying in class this week and she even yelled at the other students to behave when I stopped teaching because they were not ready and listening. When they didn’t respond and I continued to sit and wait out the bad behavior she begged me to teach just her the lesson. Something in this girl has switched. Somehow, I have finally started to get through to her. And that is why I am in Samoa. When everything seems like a waste of time, it only takes one student to make me fall in love with my job all over again and never want to leave paradise. I can’t change the system, and I can’t make all my students love to learn, but if I can take one student and help her realize that she has the potential to do great things I’ll call my year here a success. And the whole ‘I live on a remote tropical island with 365 beach days a year’ thing is a nice perk too…
And I leave you with some pictures from the last few weeks. Manuia le Aso Sa!