The beginning of an end
How does one learn when they were young? Recall your adolescence days, growing up, you observe how people interact. Speak. Gesture. Motion. We learn by imitation.
I was back to my younger self once more as I embarked on a two-day job shadowing class observation as the. Laramie high school. Ms Angie Varca, a passionate top class chemistry educator, hosted me in her senior chemistry class and AP Chem class.
That morning, I had under-estimated the time needed to reach the high school. Normally at the University, the start time is quite flexible. Typically we begin at 8:30am or 9am. In the high school, class starts on time at 7:50am. While on the road, I realized that I would be late. My homestay host, Carole Hertz, drove me like how my own mother would back in my home (when I was young). Carole told me that that’s the Laramie peak period, a long, single filed stacked vehicular path. She said that the high schoolers drive to school here in the U.S. I was astonished. In Singapore, it is rare for a working adult to own a car and drive to work, let alone a young adolescent maneuvering a metallic transport behind the wheels. Even though we were running late, Carole gave way to the smaller roads that had cars awaiting anxiously to inch their move towards the Main Street. Carole was kind. The gray-haired lady in the maroon SUV gestured and smiled. Carole had made someone’s day.
As we arrived at the high school (we didn’t even drive towards the drop-off point! Too rushed for time), I quickly alighted and ran towards the school. Of course I remembered to say good bye to Carole. It was back to my childhood again, with Carole/Paul vis-a-vis my mum and me (Paul is her son).
As I charged towards the high school entrance, I slipped on the icy pave. My mind was too focused on getting towards the finishing line (school general office), I had become oblivious to the white glaze in my way. I tumbled. I let out a far cry.
Quickly I picked myself up.
Because it was already 20 minutes past the school starting time, there was almost no young people outside the compound. At a distance away, from the corner of my eyes, a pair of gazes dawn upon my direction. A young chap heard my brief wail. He looked befuddled by my clumsiness.
Embarrassed by my mishap (luckily, I didn’t break any bones), I now watchfully examines every inch that my 10.5-inch feet place their weights on. It was a deliberately careful attempt. I didn’t want to fall down again.
I am now in the general office, the receptionist queried if I had a pass. I responded that I had. And that my appointment with Ms Varca was at room 3125. I frantically rummaged through my school bag. I could not find my badges.
My heart sank.
“GG.” – my mind thought.
A wasted trip?
Fortunately, the receptionist lady told me “you are good!” And that all I needed to do was to write my name on a piece of temporary sticker and paste it on my chest.
I hit my chest so hard to ensure my name tag was punched in. It was done with the amount of force that was equivalent to my days as a training officer cadet in the army, an act to show our patriotism towards our country.
I felt better having a name tag on me.
“Hey! Is that your real name?”
“Yes… I was given this name at birth.” I replied.
“How cool is that!?!” came the response.
As I made my to classroom 3125, my heart pounced even faster. Oh no, will I be scolded?
I walked past the door that’s labelled 3125, I swung the door opened, a lady, presumably Ms Varca, walked up to me and whispered, “Fun Man?”
I nodded sheepishly.
“Angie is at the next door.”
There was no consternation as I had anticipated. Big boy now, I thought.
I mixed up. I was supposed to join Ms Varca in room 3126.
I now stepped into the correct classroom and surreptitiously tiptoed to the back of the class, where they had several empty seats. Ms Varca was in the process of elocution. I didn’t want to interrupt her lesson. Alas, one could not avoid noticing a 6-foot 1 shadow hurrying past their vista.
Lesson goes on and I listened attentively. I took notes, I had a first sight of how dedicated the US educator is like. Angie’s classroom was embellished with inspiring quotes, posters of famous leaders and artists ranging from Martin Luther King, the Beatles on abbey street, Gandhi, and the beloved (some may argue not) JFK.
I liked how the classroom was a microcosm of knowledge and friendship, a spirit that foster the growth of learners. The classes I observed were incredibly focused. None used their cellphone. (I later learned that Ms Varca had a house-rule that no mobile devices are permitted in her class).
I took down more notes on how to teach chemistry…
Suddenly, the bell rang!
In a swift motion, the students folder that books, zipped their bags and zoomed out of the class in split seconds. Most of them quickly waved and said goodbye to Angie before harrowing out the “Salida” exit.
I curiously followed.
In the hallway, we could see a turbulent flow of young human beings traversing left and right. All the Teachers stood outside their own classroom. When they see a student they know, these lines (e.g.) could be heard:
“Benny, come for training today, will you? You will train hard to become a swimming champion one day! Work at it!”
“Esther, how’s the corrections for assignment X going? Come see me any time when ready”
The flow of students in the hallway was very new and refreshing to me. In Singapore, and I could assume to say most Asian countries, the embattled teacher has to enter the student’s turf – their classroom. Just like a Football game between the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos, the atmosphere when visiting an away game can be intimidating.
I liked how the class size is small here at 15-18. I liked how the teachers build their knowledge hub – an information abode that stimulates learning. I liked how the teachers greet their students at the hallway before class. I liked how students had the liberty to take charge of their learning journey.
There were so much more I want to say. My memories did not fail me, but my phone battery may, disappointingly.
Angie, Elena, Jennifer and Tamara (other teachers-thanks to Dr Parker’s linkup) and I discussed about pedagogy.
I had lunch at the student canteen (another time for this story)..
At the end of the day, I called Carole to pick up me. As she drove her Honda CR-V to the front of the school, I greeted her, “I am done with school today!”
It has been ages since she has sent a child to the high school. I feel young and rejuvenated again.
We went home and I cooked for her an Asian dish – mixed vegetables with Iowa black Angus fried dark pepper beef, with rice.
This is one of the most memorable day of my professional fellowship at Laramie.
I hold every experience close to me heart.
I remember every persons I met, all of whom were incredibly kind and generous to me.
I am truly grateful to YSEALI, the U.S. State Department for this opportunity.
Fun Man (pen name)
**See the photos for other activities that I had the privilege to experience. For that, I am thankful.
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