August–Weighing in on Iran & Ethiopia

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As predicted, August was a whirlwind month chock full of blood, sweat, and tears and rather lacking in books, blogs, and reflection.

August 1st marked the first day of school, a magical day where I busted out my rusty teaching tools and met my new 8th graders. As if that wasn’t an antsy, nerve-racking enough occasion, I spent the weekend prior with my boyfriend’s family in San Diego (yes, reading One Thousand and One Nights, as well) and my Sunday evening flight was delayed repeatedly, which meant I didn’t arrive to Phoenix until around midnight–a dire detail when a 5am wake-up awaits you. And while there are a million words to describe how teachers hope their first days of school will go, sleep-deprived is generally not one of those ideal adjectives (though it is inevitably one that will describe most of the school year).

Despite the hectic start, it’s been a happy school year so far, one that has really made me feel confident in my unexpected decision to return to the classroom. Of course, even though it’s been a joyful and welcome month, it hasn’t been without hurdles, as I imagine much of my time at a small charter school serving predominately low-income children will be. Adapting to a new school’s procedures and expectations, on top of learning about my students and, of course, teaching English, has been a 10-hour-a-day task that has completely sapped my energy. Additionally, low enrollment at our campus has meant laying off two staff members and the complete upheaval of everyone’s teaching schedules as administration shuffles to redistribute responsibilities. Also, unrelated to my professional trials, my family also said goodbye to our dog Buttercup this month, a personal obstacle that certainly made all aspects of life a little more difficult.

Therefore, while my classroom is nowhere near the chaotic hellscape it was my first year of teaching when I had no clue how to manage children or communicate expectations,the workload is very reminiscent of those days when I was frantically creating worksheets and rehashing lesson plans at all hours of the day. Finding a balance between building a curriculum, grading papers, calling parents, and trying to be a normal human adult is a tricky thing, and it’s particularly challenging these first weeks of school.

Consequently, though One Thousand and One Nights was started on vacation at the end of July, it was read very slowly throughout the first half of August–mostly during Drop Everything and Read (DEAR–the 20 minutes of independent reading my students do every day), in between checking homework and correcting students who weren’t reading. Basically, it was read about 5 pages at a time, with minimal brain space left to absorb the spectacularly strange myths of ancient Persia. However, the fantastic lore that Hanan al-Shakyh spins throughout this book was just as unexpected and peculiar as life in a middle school classroom–where my days include obstacles like tears over detention, spontaneous bloody noses, and the frequent interception of pens thrown across the room. While I probably didn’t have enough mental capacity this month to truly appreciate these myths at their cultural level, stories of princesses and genies are a welcome break from hormones and homework.

About halfway through August, I finally cracked the cover on Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, started as a reward during Sunday lesson planning and torn through during a weekend in Flagstaff with my boyfriend escaping the heat. He and I celebrated our year and a half anniversary on August 14th–and by celebrated I mean, barely even acknowledged it. Anniversaries are a little confusing for us to calculate due to the on-again off-again, ambiguous nature of the first two years of our knowing each other, so while 18 months is a significant achievement, it also feels like a lot more to us in a way that’s difficult to quantify. Additionally, we’ve been so run-down and worn out from the heat, that we spent that weekend ordering in and watching movies, in a perfectly pleasant but hardly celebratory way. So I guess the weekend up north could be considered a celebration–but really, we planned it before we even realized what milestone was coming up.

Anyway, Cutting for Stone was brimming with anticipatory love and tender relationships, and was a lovely compliment to a chapter in my life that has been filled with happiness and excitement for future events. I feel content with my work, my relationship, and my self in a way that I don’t know if I’ve ever felt before, and this new level of bliss can’t help but make me look forward to future steps in my life. Doors have opened with my boyfriend to conversations about our future that are full of hope and trust (not to be too terribly mushy), and the forward-thinking introspection of our narrator Marion in Cutting for Stone made it all the more enjoyable to relish this new direction.

While my time allotted for recreational reading definitely took a toll this month, as predicted, these two books were definitely worthwhile means of occupying that limited time.

It is also worth noting that this month included extracurricular reads like the newest installment in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (a play set in England, which was already covered with The Cuckoo’s Calling) and Elie Wiesel’s Night (Romania, a new stop admittedly, but my third time through this particular text so I didn’t count it on this literary exploration), which my class is currently reading. Overall, lots of major achievements for August even if minimal progress was made towards this specific challenge. I’m looking forward to hopefully striking a better balance in the months to come, and continuing to grow as a teacher, reader, girlfriend, and person.

Holy cow, this has been a cheesy post.

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