Monday, October 14, 2013

It's always the same old thing

As of this moment, I have four weeks of teaching under my belt, and as does any job, teaching here has its ups and downs. A lesson will be a smash with one class and a total bore to the next, I'll hear students hush one another so they can hear me talk one moment and then I'll have to take cell phones (and tablets, and video games, and more cell phones) away the next. I have a lot of different classes to plan for each evening (whaddup grades 8-12), and I live the evening life of a middle-aged cat lady, sans the cat.

These mediocre, turbulent days are often stabbed through with shining beams of sunshine, though! Moments of sheer jubilation, like where a student about knocks my socks off. For instance, this triumphant moment: I had one of my 11th grade classes read a short story aloud, popcorn style, earlier in the week. Getting them to read was like pulling teeth! Groans and eye rolls and Bulgarian curses that I never want to understand. With one paragraph left of the story, I asked the class somewhat sarcastically if anyone was dying to read the last bit. A student's hand shot up in the back of the class, a student I'd kind of come to assume was uninterested in anything I had to say. I nodded and she eagerly finished the story. I was humbled and overjoyed in the same moment, and also reminded that no one student fits in a schema with the next. The quiet ones never fail to shock me.

Or the moments after class, when the younger students crowd around me to ask about my high school or ask if I like to sing or just simply smile at me and giggle when they can't think of anything to say.

Or the moments when they share an opinion so well formed, so poetic, I am ready to melt.

Or, you know, when they run into a translation error and I have to bite my tongue to keep from grinning. Oh, alright, I laugh out loud and just can't help myself. But I always correct them gently with an understanding smile! There are a lot of beautiful occurrences that keep me working hard for the kiddos.

One of my favorite moments, though, is a recurring moment and is one that truly causes me some heartache. Almost all of the individual conversations I have with the young people winds its way to their futures and goals. And, to their fear of not having a guaranteed successful future if they stay in a smaller town in Bulgaria like Dimitrovgrad.

Some tell me they must leave Bulgaria if they are to have a future at all. BOO. I hate this! Bulgaria is so lovely, and the tiny towns are so neat, that I hate the thought of a not-so-positive economic future for those who stay here. The dudes also tell me that everyone is leaving the villages and must find work in towns in order to make a living. One student even told me that he thinks Dimitrovgrad won't exist in the near future. All the talented youth are leaving their hometowns to seek their fortunes elsewhere, leaving behind nothing but an aging generation and the few who choose to return.

Sound familiar, America?

Brain drain. That's what this is, and that's what keeps me awake at night. I'm seriously living such a paradox right now. My main job here is to teach my students English. Yes, I am also here for the purpose of global communication and international understanding, but these students are much more valuable college applicants if they can speak English and so my main job is to help them learn the language. When I stare the thing in the face, I can't get past the knowledge that what I'm teaching is in part contributing to brain drain.

The same thing happens back home. People in smaller towns leave to receive an education and tend to stay gone in order to make a living. I did it, most of my friends are doing it, and most of us will not take our new knowledge back to the communities that raised us. Or (and I see this here, too) the students don't think they'll be able to make it in a bigger university, a big town, or financial struggles hold them back. These things make me sad.

Of course, I want my students to have every opportunity to live a good life, and of course I understand why they talk about moving to a bigger city like Sofia or Plovdiv. Regardless, my biggest concern always is and always will be our rapid-paced run toward an urban world, and the remains of what is left in the dusty, tiny towns.

So I'm stuck. I want my students to succeed, I want kids everywhere to have great opportunities and to find the resources to help them live fulfilling lives, but I also want the world to slow down a little. This is my wistful, tired post-weekend post, and I promise that I'm a happy, chipper individual most of the time. Right now, though, I'm lost in thought and wonderment at the complex issues facing this ole planet and her people.

1 comment:

  1. This post breaks my heart in many ways, but you're right. We ourselves are part of this shifting dynamic and it brings with it guilt for leaving behind the old. It's a dilemma I think we face on many fronts--how do we preserve what was valuable to us when we are moving onward, upward, to other things? It's bittersweet. I sincerely hope, if you make this your life's work, that you find a way to help at least one community (I think you already have!) reinvent itself and find the proper balance between adaptation and preservation. You already show amazing perspective and wisdom and although it's tiring and overwhelming, you're taking it one day, one student, one step at a time and I truly admire you for that.