arrival journal: days five through seven

It’s hard to believe today marks one week we’ve been living in Brazil! The past few days have been a whirlwind of continued professional introductions to the school’s systems as well as more delicious wining and dining.

Wednesday’s orientation provided time for a Portuguese 101 class with one of the school’s most charismatic Brazilian teachers. Her wide smile lights up a room and her warmth makes anyone feel at ease. She taught us through lively action made even sweeter by a table of delicious local candies. I also had my “appointment” with the school’s doctor to make sure I was fit to enter the country; good thing there was no mental exam because I might have failed (“gringa louca”). The PD session focused on feedback which is definitely something that has been on my teacher mind a lot: what will the students’ writing be like here? will I adequately know how to move them? how do I train them to give each other meaningful feedback? That night we ate at a delicious Brazilian restaurant which catered to my vegetarian preferences. For appetizers, more fried cheese on a toothpick (who are they kidding, can I just get a shovel please?!). Then, I had some kind of delicious rice dish with the palm hearts in it, yum! Oh yeah, and tons of wine and conversation with new colleagues.

The most hilarious part about Wednesday is that I came home to a, wait for it, made bed. For all of our friends and family, you also will be laughing at that. While I was at work, Dave actually made our bed (and nobody was coming to see the house and no guests were arriving)! What IS this world we live in?


Thursday’s schedule was built with more autonomous time. The sessions we were together for introduced us to the school’s Google ecosystem and supports for students with special needs [less than 10% of the school’s population (!)]; finally, two things in my wheelhouse. The best part of that latter session was hearing this:

We have to stop loving kids to death.

YES! I have a post unpublished because I can’t figure out how to say it all in the right way, but in essence that is my biggest complaint as of the last year or two. In the US urban school system, we seem to be so afraid of what kids can’t do that we just run right over them with well-intentioned-overcompensation. It infuriates me how little we believe in them.

Anyhoot (sorry to my non-teacher readers about that rant), back to the schedule. Thursday afternoon, we had a personal guide, Jo, show us the ins and outs of apartment living in Brazil, specifically ours. It was crazy helpful. We learned where the garbage goes (we had been piling it in the corner) and that we don’t take the guest elevator with groceries (we take the service elevator) and we saw our parking spot and personal storage space (I guess we don’t have to stock our bins in the fourth bathroom (!) we don’t use anyway) and that you never flush toilet paper in Brazil (!) (well we learned that earlier but I just had to throw it in–no pun intended). Thursday night Dave and I cooked for the first time in our own apartment. We’ve been loving sitting on our porches: the air is crisp and the birds are singing and the sun in shining and the city lights are twinkling.

Friday we spent the morning at the Federal Police Department taking more mug shots (seriously though, I look like a criminal in every one of these legal pictures–every single one. In fact, the one I actually was OK with that the school took, the Brazilian government was not OK with and I had to go take another mug shot, ugh).  We have heard some horror stories about how long this process could take, but we were back in time for the customary Friday lunch of feijoada–a Brazilian dish of stewed beans and meats, though of course they have a vegetarian option at the school. Soon, I’ll do a post about the #outofbounds food down here. We closed the orientation for newbies week in a staff circle of reflections and praise and laughter. Friday night was a more fancy party at the superintendent’s stunning home, complete with catered food, and open bar (by the end of the night, the bartender knew me by my winking smile and empty wine glass; he’d pick up the bottle as soon as he saw me coming) and a live Samba band (is there such thing as a dead Samba band?!). You can bet I was on that dance floor soon enough.

I’ll finish this (long, sorry) post (filled with parenthetical commentary [!]) with some reflections.

  1. One of the hardest parts of a transition to a new school (anywhere) is not knowing the curriculum and thus not being able to plan adequately. This current transition’s woes have been compounded because our entire English department is new, except for the head of the department, who unfortunately has not been able to be here to get us up and running. I like to be planned, a lot. It helps me be a better teacher. So as you can imagine, this component is stressing me out.
  2. The teacher culture here is different. There is a lot of assertive expression of “this is how I’ve done it” or “this is what has worked before.” Everyone seems so confident, so at ease. It is the same experience as going to an AP institute or an IB training. I, of course, feel out of my league. Maybe it’s because I’m not used to working with this abundant level of experienced teachers (years and countries of experience, oh my). But the more and more I’ve been reflecting, the more and more I wonder if it’s actually about my experience in urban education. I am a good teacher. I know that. However, no matter how good I have been in the last decade, it cannot and does not overcome students’ gaps of six or seven or ten years; it cannot and does not overcome the crippling effects of abuse and poverty and racism and systemic oppression; it cannot and does not overcome a pervasive sense of underachievement and hopelessness. When so many needs are in one school, it is nearly impossible to meet them all–no matter how good you are. And so, success is always relative (but no less beautiful). And so, my self-efficacy has never risen to the level of my current colleagues. (I welcome any comments on this, as I am still chewing on it…)
  3. Dave and I feel absolutely ruined by Graded. How can we go to another international school when we’ve been so completely cared for by our first one?! We prayed so much for the best, and we feel it’s been answered, thank you God. The transition has been so delicately planned out with so many of our needs thought through with the help of companies who have just the right expertise with all kinds of staff who have been working tirelessly on our behalf, it is overwhelming in a glorious way. We are grateful.