Sometimes it’s the little things that make life more enjoyable, and often times we don’t know to appreciate them until they aren’t available.
Fruit smoothies for breakfast, I admit, are a little thing. Yet we made them pretty much every morning in our previous life, and when we arrived on the island sans blender, we all agreed that we missed our smoothies. A lot.
Sometimes, however, it’s also the big things that make life more enjoyable. Or more challenging, depending on which side of that big thing you’re on. This has been a week of solving a few little things, while also tackling some big ones as well.
All Play and No Work Makes Casey…. Unemployed
I have known since August that I would lose my job when we left Minnesota. The good news is that I’m a computer programmer, my skills are portable, and I can literally work from anywhere. So since August I have been looking for a source of income that would allow me to work remotely.
At first I didn’t think it would be that difficult. I used some websites that post programming jobs with companies who are willing to allow remote developers, and the interviews started rolling in. In the past I’ve never found it too difficult to get a new job when I felt like it was time for a change. I’m lucky enough to have a skill that is in demand, and I’m at a point in my career where I have a good track record behind me. It usually only took two or three interviews before I’d get an offer, and sometimes I’d have the luxury of choosing between multiple.
Not this time. For whatever reason, none of the interviews were turning into offers. I suspect some of them were spooked by me being out of the country, but that’s just a guess.
I should add, I wasn’t trying to tackle this alone. As most of you know, I’m a spiritual, religious person and I believe strongly in the power of prayer. I figured with His help, this wouldn’t be a problem. When I took time to focus and to ground myself spiritually, I always felt a profound sense of peace.
Two thoughts seemed to prevail: 1) “Don’t worry about money. You will be fine, and I will provide”. 2) “Right now you need to focus on building a strong relationship with your children, which you will need while your wife is in school.”
And so, we packed up and moved to St. Martin with me having no prospect for employment once I got here. The problem, gratefully, is not imminent. We have some cash reserves and some savings which will last us for a while, but not the entire 20 months.
And, we are taking a leap of faith that He will, indeed, provide.
CIA. (No, not that CIA. The other one.)
Before we left for St. Martin, I had received a sort-of-offer to teach French to grades 1-6 at a private Canadian K-12 school that is right across the street from Cari’s medical school. I say “sort-of-offer” because the email containing the offer was about a paragraph long and was tremendously short of just about every detail imaginable. Basically, all it said was that my kids would each get a 50% discount off their tuition, and that my salary would cover the rest of their tuition with a couple of dollars left over.
Naturally, I replied and asked them to fill in some of the details.
They never wrote back. Ever. So I re-sent the email asking the same questions again. Once again, they never wrote back.
I was able to contact the previous French teacher whose place I would be taking. What she told me made me even more cautious about the school. They do not provide any curriculum; she finds it on her own. Her classes are a mix of kids who are native French, kids who don’t speak any French at all, and everything in between. She would leave behind “a few small notes” of what she has been doing so I wouldn’t be lost.
The whole thing seemed sloppy to me. Their communication was severely lacking, and I could envision me showing up the first day of school not having any idea what I should do or teach, and being shoved into a class room utterly unprepared.
We left for the island still not knowing if the kids would attend the school or if I would teach there, which also meant the school itself had no idea if they had a K-6 French teacher when Christmas break was over. I would think if I were running a school I would be on top of this, but apparently it didn’t bother them too much.
It wasn’t until school was three days from starting that I finally got an email with at least some of the answers to my questions, along with a plea to let them know if I would be taking the position or not. I still had more questions, and they were questions I really wanted answered before I agreed to take the position. The employee with whom I had been communicating gave me the phone number of the school principal and suggested I give him a call.
I called. He was all business and basically said, “Look, it’s Friday. Nothing’s going to get done between now and when school starts on Monday. Just come to school on Monday morning and we’ll talk then.”
What to do?
To be honest, I really didn’t feel like I wanted to teach French to grade school kids. This was not at all what I had in mind when I’d first contacted them about a potential teaching position. I had a hard time seeing myself doing this as a full time job, and the pay was basically a wash. I would be working for the kid’s tuition and nothing else. Yet when I spent quiet time alone, I felt inclined that I should accept the position and send the kids to the school. It didn’t make sense logically, but it seemed to feel right spiritually.
Monday Morning – Kid’s First Day of School & My First Day of Being a Teacher
We arrived an hour before classes started. I was told the principal was busy and that he would meet with me after school. The kids went downstairs to a small bookstore where we found them uniform shirts, and then we all went to my desk where I had about 45 minutes to read over the previous instructor’s notes and prepare for my first day. The nightmare I had envisioned was coming true. I felt incredibly nervous and my stomach was in knots.
As the kids sat next to me waiting for their classes to start I could tell they felt the same way. They had both lived in St. Cloud their entire lives and this was the first time either of them had been the new kid in a totally new school where they knew nobody.
My schedule went like this:
- 1st Grade: 30 minutes
- 2nd Grade: 40 minutes
- 3rd Grade: 40 minutes
- 15 minute recess
- 4th Grade: 40 minutes
- 5th Grade: 40 minutes
- 30 minute lunch
- 6th Grade A: 40 minutes
- 15 minute recess
- 6th Grade B: 40 minutes
I read the notes from the previous teacher. They were mostly helpful but left significant gaps. I scrambled to go through her materials and prepare something meaningful for grades one, two and three. I would focus on four and five during the recess, and then the six A and B during lunch.
This was insanity. I literally could not believe this was happening. It was like I was in a bad dream but couldn’t wake up. I also kept wondering what kind of school would throw a new teacher into the fire like this with absolutely no training or support. For that matter, I’d never even had an interview.
With a few minutes to spare before classes started, I got Andi and Tanner into their correct class rooms (all the while wondering why I was doing this myself and not somebody from the school) and then headed to Grade 1.
The day went by in a blur, and I spent much of it trying to fend off and ignore a growing feeling of nausea. Not from some bug or virus, but from the absolute absurdity of this situation and the unpleasant idea of doing this every day during our time on the island, minus a short summer break.
For the most part, the kids I meet were good kids. Some of them in the younger grades were so sweet and enduring they melted my heart. But there was also the opposite extreme as well. Starting in second grade and increasing in quantity with each class, the number of kids who were serious disciplinary problems rose sharply. Also, for some reason beyond the realms of my comprehension, this school thought it was a good idea to put all kids into the same French class, regardless of their ability. In every class but first grade (where 100% of the kids were native French speakers) I had a mix of kids who were fluent, who spoke no French at all, and everything in between.
The kids who spoke French fluently picked up rather fast that I was not nearly as fluent as they were. A few of them called me out on it, but most were willing to let it slide.
I am NOT a teacher by trade. I am not equipped to deal with serious discipline problems, and I hadn’t had had nearly enough time to put together a dual lesson plan for each class that would keep the fluent kids challenged and happy while still teaching the beginner kids at a level that was not over their heads.
At the end of the day I collapsed into a heap of emotions back at my desk. I just sat staring at the wall for a while trying to collect my thoughts and feelings. Andi and Tanner found me and pleaded to go home. They looked about how I felt. I explained that I had a meeting with the Principal and they agreed to walk themselves home. (It’s about a ¼ mile walk).
Before we parted ways I asked them both, “On a scale of 0 to 10, 10 being I loved it and can’t wait for tomorrow and 0 being today was the worst day of my life, how would you rate today.”
Tanner: 5. He was terribly unimpressed with his classmates. And I had to concur. His class was one of the worst.
Andi: 7. She said there were a couple of girls who she could see herself being friends with, but the main problem was that for the next two weeks they would be preparing for and taking exams, and that the teachers didn’t really know what to do with her.
My meeting with the principal was nothing short of bizarre. Once again he was all business. And what he said struck me as odd. Basically he told me they were already looking to replace me because I wasn’t fluent enough in French. I considered this to be strange, because in my previous communications with the school I had been perfectly frank and upfront about my level of fluency, yet they had said they still wanted me. I was left to conclude that the reason they were looking to replace me was because I had dragged my feet for so long on telling them I would accept. But even that was unusual because the reason I had dragged my feet was because they were not answering some rather simple questions.
We left the meeting having agreed that I would continue teaching until they found someone permanent, and that on its own I found rather strange.
Monday Afternoon and Evening
I was an absolute emotional wreck for the rest of the day. I don’t use the word “hate” lightly. It’s a strong word that carries a powerful undertow, but I have to be honest and say that I had hated my first day as a teacher. And the idea of going back and doing it again, even for a day, was powerfully unpleasant.
But what had me the most distraught was that I had truly felt that engaging in CIA, both myself as a teacher and my kids as students, had been the best thing to do. We’d gone with what we thought had been right and it had been nothing short of a debacle. I was left in a place where I was questioning my own sense of judgment and inspiration.
That evening my family kept pestering me with questions. Are we going back to CIA or should we home school? If you don’t teach at CIA what will you do for work? When are we getting a car? Should we lease a car or buy one? When can Tanner start baseball? What will Andi do for activities where she can meet people?
I didn’t know the answer to any of their questions, and the onslaught of things I didn’t know left me feeling vulnerable and borderline depressed. I could not remember a time in my life when I’d felt so devoid of answers and when I so questioned my own inner sense of direction.
I spent the evening going over the lesson material I had brought home with me, hoping to at least make the second day of classes a little more quality than the first.
In an attempt to not make this blog post any longer than it already is, I‘ll just say that I went back to CIA the next day alone. We saw no point in paying for Andi to attend two weeks of school where she would do nothing but listen to her classmates prep for exams she would not take. And if Andi wasn’t going, Tanner didn’t want to go either and we didn’t feel like making him.
I went through all the motions of being a French teacher, but it felt strange and awkward knowing that my “boss” was looking for my replacement. I will say this: I did catch a glimpse that given time, it would be enjoyable to get to know these kids. And even the behavior problems, I thought, could be a good challenge. Yet despite the students, there were still too many things about this school that felt wrong, and I had I made up my mind that I would give CIA to the end of the week to replace me, but that I would not be back the next week.
I didn’t even have to wait even that long. At the end of the day the Principal told me that the position had been offered to a French man they had used before as a substitute teacher.
“So I don’t need to come back tomorrow?” I asked, with the most profound sense of relief washing over me.
“That’s right” he said. “Thank you for filling in for us, and of course you will be paid for these two days. Also, we’ll keep you on the list of potential substitute teachers and call you when we need someone.”
Rest of the Week
Home school, here we come!
I spent much of the remaining week researching home school options. We’d received advice and input from several sources, including Cheyenne McGlue, David and Jenn Pritt, my sister Rebecca, my mom, and Starr Christie. By Friday evening we’d put together a program we felt good about and placed the order for books and supplies on Amazon.
Not going back to CIA felt like the right thing to do. I hope years from now we don’t regret this decision, but at some point you just have to make up your mind and plow forward. I still don’t know why I felt so strongly that CIA was the right choice. Maybe we’ll never know, or maybe at some point we’ll have an “Ah-Ha” moment and it will become clear.
And in the meantime, we continue to have faith that I will find a source of income before the money runs out. Surprisingly, I don’t feel stressed about it. And while I’m unemployed, I’m doing my best to get us settled into our new home and help figure out how to give my kids an enjoyable and meaningful experience during this adventure.
Now, About that Blender
Since arriving we’d been to a few stores to look at blenders, and each time the sticker shock sent me recoiling in horror. Then early in the week I got a message from Cheyenne saying she’d seen a blender for sale in the AUC section of the medical student classified ads website, valuemd.com. I wrote the seller, and the next day we were the happy owners of a never-been-used, high quality blender for which we paid next to nothing.
As soon as I brought it home, Andi whipped us up some yummy Jugo de Banana and after shopping for some frozen fruits and yogurt, Tanner made us a delicious fruit smoothie.
All’s Well that Ends Well
I’m amazed at the range of emotions I’ve experienced this week. It started out scary, anxious, massively disappointing, and even depressing. But as it progressed, the way forward seemed to brighten and become sunny. I find myself looking forward and feeling excited about home schooling my kids. I’ll get to know them in ways I’ve never been able to before, and I think it will add to this already adventurous twenty months. Our plan is to do school four days a week and then to use Friday’s as our explore-the-island day. The kids seem curious and enthusiastic about it homeschooling as well, and have asked a few times when the materials will arrive.
And so the adventure continues.
Well, I think this has been the longest post on this blog yet. If you actually read it all, I offer both my gratitude and my congratulations. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m craving a fruit smoothie.