Saturday, January 27, 2007

This week has been truly exciting! You would think that after 5 months on a small island with only 3.75 square miles of land area and 25,000 residents, life would get boring really fast. But that’s absolutely not true. This week I’ve been busy teaching my new classes (all four have between 27-31 students each!), hiding a runaway friend and helping her escape the country, and making sure all’s well with the ladies at church. I thought after my first semester I’d have less new things to tell you all about, but in fact, there are so many more that I almost don’t have time to write about all of them.

This first week of the new semester has felt more like the first month of the new semester. I can’t believe that it’s just been a week! I have 108 new students (some returning from my classes last semester, but many of them new to me) so I have a lot of new names and faces to memorize. I have some students with very, very cool names. Here are some of my favorites: Thumbling Batin, Augustine Augustine, Balos Balos, and Rive River. Then there are classes that have multiple names that all sound the same. For example one class has Joycelynn, Janelynn, and Cathlynn. Another has Marylynn, Maryann, Mashaishi, Miashie, and Mistenia. Another class has both Peterson Kaiko and Forrest Peterson, and Helentha, Henton, and Heniko. Wow, just calling out attendance is like a tongue twister! I really like all my students. They’re wonderful we’re going to have a really great semester together.

This semester I’m teaching 2 developmental Algebra classes and 2 Credit-Level Math Survey classes. I learned a lot about the developmental needs of our students last semester. I came to CMI last semester thinking that “developmental math” was the same as “remedial math” but that’s not the case at all. Although the level of difficulty is the same for both kinds of math, developmental means helping the students develop good study habits, time management habits, and confidence in themselves. Many of our students come to us having never been taught how to study. Many of them don’t know what it means when I say, “Show all your work, please, or I won’t give you credit for your homework.” It takes some extra explaining to really clearly define the meticulous kind of work I’m looking for and how to get organized, but they are really stepping up the challenge. A colleague of mine who teaches in the education department here at CMI gave me a great idea. Max suggested that on the first day of class I could give students an empty table with rows representing each hour of the day and columns representing each hour of the week. The first homework assignment I gave my math 70 students was to fill in their class schedule, and then choose a 1-hour block of time for each day and write in “Math 70 Homework” as well as a place where they would study. Many of them don’t have a home that’s conducive to studying, but they have an hour free between classes during which they could go to the library or tutoring center, and this helped them to see that. Scheduling their week was a novel idea to many of them (carrying a day-planner or a to-do list is a very Un-Marshallese concept, but then again, so is college!), but it has worked out fantastically. When they showed me their schedules I pointed out other students in the class that had chosen to study at the same time and suggested that maybe they could meet to work on homework and give each other moral support. This week 90% of the students turned in their first 3 assignments on time and well-organized. It was amazing!! It really proves to me that despite the fact that the majority of our students come to CMI under-prepared, the majority of them are very capable, bright, and excited to learn how to be better students. It is so fun to watch their confidence increase as they get more organized and disciplined!

My goals for my credit-level students are very different. These students are those who have passed the developmental classes and have a good idea about what they want from their education. They have been at CMI for 1 or 1 ½ years, and they know the CMI system. But at the same time, they have had a lot of hand-holding (in the developmental program) and now it’s time for them to stretch their wings and fly on their own. Many of them are extremely bright, while others are modestly smart but hard workers. These are the students in whom I need to foster an independent spirit (because many of them will transfer to a University or go to work in the RMI in a year or so) so they can stand on their own two feet and take the initiative to get the resources they need to be successful. This is a really exciting group to teach because my students represent the future leaders of this country, and the advice, life-skills, and respect that I teach them now will make them effective, powerful forces for good in the future. In class we are currently studying set theory (Venn Diagrams, Set Operations, Using Sets for Problem Solving). They’ve never seen Math without numbers before!! There are many new symbols and vocabulary terms to learn. It’s exciting to see them discover how vast and versatile math is. This whole semester will be like a math-buffet, where they can take a little taste of about 8 different kinds of math (set theory, college algebra, combinatorics, probability, statistics, geometry, trigonometry, and personal finance) and see what they like. Up until this point, all they’ve ever seen is algebra, and this class is going to open their eyes to all kinds of wonderful new things. (If nothing else, hopefully at least they’ll have tools to make smarter personal finance decisions after this class!)

On Monday night I checked my messages and found two from my friend Andrea. She is a friend from church who moved here from Taiwan 3 months ago to work as the head baker for a Taiwanese-owned grocery store. She had told me on Sunday that things were not good at her work, but her messages on Monday sounded really desperate. I called her back and she explained that she needed to hide herself from her boss until she could leave the country. She needed to go to the Taiwanese Embassy to get a new passport first because he was refusing to give hers back to her. The tricky thing is that you have to fly through Guam (a US territory) to get to Taipei, so all travelers require an American visa, which was in her old passport, but would take months to replace if she applied for a new one. She had no contract with her boss, but he wanted her to stay until he could hire a new baker from Taiwan whom she could train. Evidently he had promised a lot of nice things in their telephone interview that he failed to deliver once she arrived. The accommodations he had provided were hardly homey. Her room was an unpainted cement-walled cell without a kitchen or a refrigerator. She had been sleeping with the lights on to prevent being attacked by cockroaches and rats at night. When she first came to Majuro, he told her that it was unsafe, and she should give him her passport and return ticket to keep in the safe at the store. This is untrue, and he had done the same thing to the previous baker who left abruptly, too. His demands for her work hours and production were very high, and he would not allow her to teach her assistants anything because he didn’t want the local people to learn how she made bread and cakes. He asked her to use flour that was infested (she threw it away) and then complained behind her back that her pastries were not good. So she came to my house under cover of darkness Monday night, and went to the embassy on Tuesday. They called her boss and demanded that he give back the passport, which he denied withholding from her, but this plan required returning to the store to face him. I went with her that night and luckily she only had to talk to his wife (he didn’t come out) and got both the passport and return ticket. By Thursday morning she was on her way back home. It was tricky though, because during all these negotiations we were fearful that if my landlord knew she was with me (I live in a Taiwanese building) they might tell her boss (who is related to the boss somehow). But my landlord is really wonderful and kind, as are all his family members that live in my building, so they really encouraged Andrea and helped her out. I’m so glad she’s on her way home now! She’ll touch down in Taipei on Sunday morning after spending a couple days in Guam. What a relief!

Last night I went with my girlfriends from CMI to a concert at the shoreline. Three bands and 4 dancing groups from Ebeye (Kwajelein Atoll) were in town, and it was a fantastic event. I haven’t seen that many people in one place for a long, long, time. I really liked the Sunrise band a lot. Their songs were catchy and the topics were clever and edgy like, “Hello from Ebeye where the lights are out because the electric company ran out of oil” and “last payday I saw you walking home with a case of beer and now you’re sitting alone eating rice only” (addressing the alcoholism problems so common in RMI). Then there were dancers….oh, my goodness…the “Chicky Gurlz” were cross-dressing guys who can shake their hips like women. It was totally outrageous and funny. Imagine guys dressed in ornate Pacific Islander costumes shaking their hips like Tahitian or Fijian women do. The crowd went wild! Between acts I was talking to my friend Susan (a new English instructor) about ideas we had found useful in our developmental classes and the drunk Marshallese guys behind us kept trying to hit on one or both of us. I told them, “Kommol, ak ej jab” (thanks, but she doesn’t want), but they weren’t getting then hint. Then Rosana, our cheeky Marshallese friend developed an interesting way to get rid of these guys. She told them, “Rej jab kanaan eman ro, Rej kanaan wot kora ro.” (basically that we are not interested in men, but only women, and that we were dating each other) Five minutes later, there were no drunk men left behind us! It was a brilliant and highly effective plan, but I just hope they were too drunk to remember the next morning. Otherwise by next week everyone on island is going to be saying, “Hey, you know that tall blonde ri-belle? She doesn’t like men!” which could be a problem if anyone from church or work hears about it, because I DO like men, just not drunk Marshallese men.

Well, there’s tons more to tell, but I’ll save it for later! I have a pile of grading to do, and then Rosana and I are going to go snorkeling in the lagoon this afternoon. Weekend Monono Aolep! (Happy weekend, everyone!)

1 comment:

Honor said...

I'm so glad you keep your blog. It makes you feel not so far away. I'm trying to picture what the RMI is like but I can't keep from picturing you having to hold up your pant legs at high tide. I'm so glad we have the internet. Love you (but not like THAT)!