Teacher on Duty
On Saturday it was my turn to be the ToD (Teacher on Duty). The ToD basically takes charge of the school for the day... here's what happens...
The day begins at 5 30am. After a quick check of the hostel for layabouts, I go down to the classrooms. The kids are already there doing their morning study. Some are sleepy, but most of them are doing something useful with their time, even if it's only reading (in through the eyes out through the back of the head most of the time). I go to each classroom and sign the morning study register, which will have been taken by the class captain. I note down any absentees, sick or otherwise and solve the occasional physics problem. Having recently put out the call for contributions to the school magazine, I also get to read through a few poems and essays as I wander, adjusting grammar and making suggestions for improvements.
When study time ends the kids disperse and the boys go for breakfast before the girls. This is my opportunity to check that all is well in the school, so I walk through the empty classrooms, do a tour of the rubbish dumps (holes in the ground – it's only a matter of time before they get filled and then what? Dig another hole?). Touring the toilets is fun. The school aims for the lofty ideal of the 'welcoming toilet' – a place you'd like to go and do your business, but it's not easy to manage with the water difficulties we so often face. They're a bit smelly today, but that's to be expected. Finding a poo unflushed is a bit disappointing so I make a note of it for the assembly.
In the last 15 minutes before we gather, the SUPW takes place – Social Uniformly (?) Productive Work. I have to monitor this too. The students each have an allotted area of the school that they must maintain and keep clean. If they're lucky its a garden. If they're not it, it's some bins or a drain or something. It's a good thing because it works; the school remains clean and tidy and the kids have the responsibility to keep it that way. As with any cohort, some kids do it without a second thought and throw themselves wholeheartedly into the sweep or weeding, other's find corners to skulk in. My job is really to patrol the skulky corners and draw kids back to the light. On this day I encounter 3 children standing around a little clump of grass that needs plucking from the concrete, arguing about who should be doing the plucking. We spend 5 minutes debating roles and responsibilities before somebody beds down and plucks it in 2 seconds. I make another note for the assembly.
Then, it's assembly time. The children all take up their places according to their houses in lines of two. The assembly begins with morning prayer, but these prayers are nothing like the mumbling monodrones of Christian worship – they're tuneful and joyful and when the whole school sings them it's a remarkable experience, commented on by pretty much every teacher who comes here. I tried to learn them, but the vocal melodies in this part of the world are something altogether more intricate than anything we're used to, with sudden dips and dives in tone and gymnastic trills that take practice. After the prayer, the national anthem is sung. I have the lyrics for this written down, but once again, following the melody is something altogether more demanding. The breath-control alone is a challenge. Next comes the student speakers. On the day in question, the topics were 'The Crown and Glory of Life is Character', and 'Economic Development Causes Environmental Damage'. The students choose their own titles and prepare their own speeches, and every student will do one during a year, practising their public speaking skills. Once again, I made notes.
Then comes my turn. The Teacher on Duty has to take the assembly, which involves speaking for up to 20 mins, depending on what needs to be said. My first ones weren't that great because I was a bit self-conscious and uncertain as to how many people were understanding my silly accent, but I've grown in confidence. It's good that the children have to do this from an early age. Public speaking is valued highly here and it's something I think should taken on board back in the UK.
First I comment on the speeches, complimenting the students on what they did well and offering some constructive criticism. Then I extend their content and discuss the link between thinking globally and acting locally and how this ties in with the development of good character – both being dependent on small choices one makes day-to-day (a perfect opportunity to bring in the debacle of the lowly tuft of grass). Then I talk about toilets, avoiding the word poo, which is difficult for me. Then I make announcements that teachers have given me, scold the boys at the back for not paying attention to the student speakers, and finally I pass on to the Principal, who tends to speak at all assemblies, even if just for a short time. He reiterates my scolding and makes a change – from now on the big boys will be at the front and the small ones at the back until the big ones learn to respect the speakers. Brilliant move.
Assembly ends and I head to the staffroom to organise cover work. If a member of staff is absent and they teach Year 10 (the exam class) it's easy, because everybody wants extra classes, but if it isn't year 10, it's a far more difficult proposition. Luckily on this occasion (it being Saturday) there were only two lessons to cover and they were both year 10, so job done easily. The rest of the day proceeds well. If it wasn't a Saturday, I'd be supervising the lunch and dinners as well as the evening study which runs from 6 to 7pm, but I don't have to do this. So I have a nap. And then play basketball in the searing heat for about 3 hours (Much to my disappointment I've earned a place in the category of those who foul by accident through underdevelopment of technique, a category that doesn't exactly command respect). Then I nap again.
On the Sunday, the school sponsored a day of prayers at a local Lakhang, the whole staff attending to prepare breakfast, dinner and lunch for the villagers and the monks that would be intoning the prayers, as well as cleaning the grounds, making waste bins, and painting signs. It would meant another 5am start, but I managed to renegotiate the terms of my attendance and took the 8:30 transport. Woo Hoo.