Friday, October 22, 2010

Fits and Starts

So I can't believe my last post was October 8th. There's no way that much time has passed so quickly!

One thing that is making the weeks go by fast is the new school schedule. For the first few weeks of school, the boys went home at 12:30 and we were allowed to leave by 1:30. Imagine changing the start and end times for school after the school year has begun! That's exactly what happened. Now the boys go home at 1:15 and teachers can leave at 2:45. Then add on my 45 minute drive home from Mussafa to the Tourist Club district of Abu Dhabi. I'm definitely feeling the extra hours. Not that I'm complaining! All of my western co-workers remember staying at school until 5:00 PM regularly.

It's been years since I taught kids younger than fourth grade. I really didn't have any resources for second graders, especially ELL second graders. So I'm not missing the stuff I left behind, like some of my colleagues are. I've been spending lots of time on the internet finding resources. We bought a printer finally, so I've been able to print the things I need. Since there is no set curriculum and few resources at school, I also spend time planning out what to teach next. I'm very thankful to have a co-teacher in second grade who has experience with younger kids. She constantly has great ideas, and we're learning to work together as a team.

This past week was rough at school. There were quite a few teachers out sick, and there are no substitutes. My students spent about 2 hours each day this week sitting in classrooms watched over by monitors with no planned activities. They came to me in a state of complete chaos. It was up to me to impose some sort of order for the two hours and fifteen minutes of English, math, and science. Needless to say, I wasn't very successful. By Thursday morning, I was really beginning to doubt my ability as an ESL teacher. Then, I got to school and found out the teacher who had been out was back. The kids had a structured day and came to me like different children. I almost cried with relief to realize that it wasn't my teaching that was lacking.

On the home front, we've been exploring options for private school for Abby. She's been a bit isolated from other kids. Mark has yet to make contact with anyone from the homeschoolers group here, and Abby has some friends here at our apartments that attend private school. She thinks she'd like to try it out. The thing is, she needs a report card and records from her last school year in order to apply. One school we talked to said very plainly that they just don't take homeschooled children. So we're a bit stumped. It's a problem that we'll have to overcome, but it might have to wait untilwe get our passport visas sorted. One bureaucratic snafu at a time, thanks.

Last weekend we rented videos from the store across the street. They have a huge selection of American videos in the back, but their main stock is Bollywood. It's great to be able to walk to the video store. Last Thursday night we walked to the video store, then to the Lebanese restaurant for shawarma. On the way to the retaurant we passed a giant traffic jam near the Indian cinema. I don't know how that mess ever got untangled. This past week, my co-worker who lives here in the Abu Dhabi Plaza showed me the nearest teacher supply store. There actually is one in walking distance. I could have spent tons of money, but I restrained myself.

Today we visited the Emirates Palace, a hotel that cost USD$3 billion to build. It was sumptuous, with gold leaf on the domes and marble everywhere. There's a shop that sells antiquities, and their wares were displayed throughout the public parts of the hotel. We saw statues from Anatolia circa 4000 BC, Greek pottery, Roman helmets and coins, and Babylonian bas reliefs. We also saw a buffet that was 650 AED per person (divide by 3.67 to get dollars). Not really our kind of place, but neat to visit.

Tomorrow we plan to take the public bus from Abu Dhabi to the oasis town of Al Ain to see the camel market and the zoo. We promise not to come home with a camel!

Home for now!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Settling In

In just a few days we will have been here in Abu Dhabi for a month, and finally I have a feeling of being somewhat settled. What a relief!

We are thrilled with the apartment. It's in the middle of a busy part of town, within walking distance of Abu Dhabi Mall. There are tons of restaurants in the surrounding blocks, as well as every other type of store you could need (except a teacher supply). We feel like we could be in downtown Dallas or New York City, except for the call to prayer that sounds from the mosque a block away several times a day. We found a wonderful Lebanese restaurant just around the corner where all three of us ate for less than $20, and there was a bakery next door to it! It will take us a while to try out all the unfamiliar sweets.

The apartment itself is spacious and in good shape, although not new. We've enjoyed Mark's cooking. He made some baked chicken and potatoes with lemon garlic seasoning the other day. It was just like home. The kitchen is so small that really only one person can work in it at a time. What a shame. I now have a coffee maker, so no more instant coffee, and we found that lactose-free milk is easy to come by. It's imported from Saudi Arabia. The best part of the apartment is the cleaning service. Three times a week, our floors are swept and mopped, the bathrooms are cleaned, the towels are changed, and the beds are remade. Luxury.

I'm settling in at school, as well. I spoke with my principal last week, and she asked me how I liked teaching there. I told her that the boys were challenging, but it's okay, because I like them. She said she had heard they like me, too. It's hard to keep that in mind sometimes when they are refusing to line and up and would prefer that I chase them around the courtyard or classroom (which I refuse to do), but I do feel like we are slowly establishing a relationship and an atmosphere of trust in the classroom. I taught the letters E, F, and G this week. I also reviewed addition to ten and counting by tens and fives. In science, which seems to be my students' favorite subject, we sorted living and non-living things, and decided that all living things had some characteristics in common. I know it's not what I'd be teaching second-graders in the US, but for students who are learning in a foreign language, it's a triumph.

Today is my first day that I've just stayed at home to do nothing. It feels wonderful. Mark and Abby left at 10:00 am to go with a friend to Oman. They have to exit the UAE and re-enter to get a new visitor's visa good for thirty days. I'm still waiting on my residency visa, but I have had my medical check, and that was the last step in the process. Soon, hopefully, and then I can start the bureaucratic process of sponsoring Mark and Abby for their residency visas. However, for today, I'm planning to make an example of place value for my lesson on Sunday, to finish the book I'm reading bout Genghis Khan (historical fiction by Conn Iggulden), and have dinner with a friend I met on facebook and at the Aloft hotel. Maybe Mark and Abby will be back in time to go to dinner with Tiffany and her son, too.

Sounds pretty normal!