Wow. It has been a while. I can’t even describe the relief I am experiencing the very moment I opened an empty file to start writing out what has been going on these past months. Writing has always, without exaggeration, been a source of relief for me, whether it was writing in my tiny plastic horse diary or in the chic leather ones I got in high school.
Ever since I posted the What now? post on my blog, I entered a stage in my life that I could mostly describe as grinding.
I finished college exams, got my results and spent two months pretty much chilling (if you can consider staying at home with a toddler that) and trying to figure out what was my next step. By July, I found most of my college peers having applied for jobs or enrolled for their master’s degrees, while I was still staring at the walls, in utter confusion.
I had some ideas on what I wanted to do, but the picture was still terribly incomplete.
Facebook ads on schools searching co-teachers and teachers kept popping up on my feed and they looked so tempting but I was afraid to apply. I felt like it could be a good opportunity to learn more about the field of education while I was still figuring out what to do.
I’ll just write out a CV and send it. What will I lose?
Encouraged by that thought, I sent out my CV to no less than 50 different schools in Cairo. The very next day, I got a phone call from an HR inviting me to an interview… And two days later I was on my way to my first Egyptian interview at an international school. That visit was followed by several others and to be honest, most of them were utterly disappointing. Jobs included full schedules, extra duties and ridiculous pays. More than once, I sent an email and apologized for my incapability of taking the position.
Job offerings would have multiple demands, including “native-like English necessary” and at interviews my interviewer might not even understand a basic joke in English. It was frustrating.
I thought about putting interviews aside for a while until I got a phone call from a school not very far from where I live. I decided to give myself one last chance and scheduled an interview.
The interview consisted of a written exam and naturally an oral one. I was impressed by the very first part of the exam: Bloom’s taxonomy, educational philosophies and differentiated learning? Nice.
I was interviewed by an amazing teacher and I immediately felt relaxed and comfortable. I even started hoping they’d accept me in contrast to my other interviews.
Long story short, I got the position and was asked to start a few weeks later as a homeroom teacher for 3rd grade. I was in, even though I had applied for a different position. But oh boy, I had no idea what kind of a responsibility I had taken on my shoulders.
The challenges began from the very beginning. I hadn’t found a nursery for Yunus and decided to give the childcare provided by the school a chance.
He absolutely hated it.
Most of the other children were just babies and he’d have no one to play with, leading to bottled up energy that he’d take out on me in the form of frustration and tantrums on our way back home and at home.
The first weeks at work we spent planning and setting up our classrooms. I assumed the role of a sponge, squeezing in all possible information offered so that I’d be more on track of what was happening. It was tiring, but exciting at the same time.
Students started the 15th of September. It was a nerve-wrecking day. My first day as a teacher.
And so started the hamster wheel of learning how to do lesson plans, build curriculum maps, harness the right material from web sources all the way to each of the 21 lessons I was teaching and naturally the most difficult part of all; managing 18 3rd graders both inside and outside of class, taking care of their physical and mental well-being, solving fights, keeping classroom noise in the healthy decibel levels, comforting whenever needed, and actually trying to teach something in the midst of all that.
During the first two months, an incredibly big chunk of all that had to be finished at home. The few hours I had between classes or after having finished mine, were spent in utter and complete overwhelm on what had happened in class. I would swallow and hide tears on many days, sometimes completely break down in the toilet, and on the worst days, I’d consider quitting.
But somehow, I kept showing up every morning, singing “Biladi, biladi” (Egypt’s national anthem) in the morning line and finding a smile to those sweet little humans.
Part of the confusion and exhaustion was caused by the administrative changes the school was going through. Once I thought that I’d finally learned something, they’d come up with something new to implement, a new format for already finished paper work or a drastic change in curriculum.
One night in November at 11 pm, after finally putting Yunus to sleep and realizing that some of my 15 weekly lesson plans hadn’t been finished yet, I completely crumbled up. I cried hysterically and kept telling Ammar that I was done and that I wouldn’t make it till winter break (plot twist: I did).
“Is it too much to ask to have enough energy to change clothes or enough time to eat in the morning?!” I yelled.
Ammar, calmly, as always, would say that I wasn’t tied to anything and could quit if I felt so, but encouraged me to give myself a trial time till the end of 2019.
Thank God, the administrative tsunami passed at the end of November and things calmed down a little at the school. Extra weekend deadlines and surprise meetings wound down. There was room for a breath or two.
At that time, I finally started feeling connected with my class as well. I’d had enough time to learn more of each and I grew terribly fond of them all. That connection itself was enough to peace things out in both the classroom and out of it.
In addition, by October, we’d found a lovely nursery to Yunus and he was much happier at home.
Now, things have started taking a more routine-like form. I’d be lying if I said that I no longer face challenges on daily basis, but I guess the only difference is my attitude and, let’s say, tolerance towards those challenges.
If there is one thing I have learnt from the past 6-7 months, it’s that I don’t have to have all the answers. Part of the reasons why I applied to work immediately in the first place was an inner voice that kept pushing me towards a well-planned future. How come I don’t know what I’ll do? I NEED to.
Instead of being able to say that “okay, this is my thing” or “hell no, I’m out”, all I can say, in true honesty, is that I have no idea, and that it’s okay. I neither feel chained nor confused.
My only focus right now is keeping that “sponge-attitude”, internalizing anything new and making use of all learning opportunities. No matter where I end up in life, I am sure I’ll look back and be thankful for every skill I learned and acquired when I was 23 years old.
Wishing for the best for the future God willing,