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Monday, August 18, 2014

Skyward, Saco shopping, and Integrating the Arts - Day 5 in Saudi Arabia

I rolled out of bed this morning at 5, swam laps, and then went through the motions of getting ready for school. Yesterday I’d had difficulty finding regular oatmeal at Tamimi, so I’d purchased “gluten-free porridge oats” that come from the UK. I also don’t have a microwave (the apartment didn’t come with one and we hadn’t gone shopping at an appliance store yet) so I couldn’t do my usual cooking method. I’m glad I practiced making the porridge because I learned a few things. 

1) I like porridge, it’s like the UK version of grits. It doesn’t need additions (I usually add cinnamon and brown sugar to oatmeal) and it has a nice stickiness to it. 
2) What seems like a small portion of dry porridge oats goes a long way. I always tend to underestimate the amount of food I’m cooking and today was no exception. I barely covered the bottom of the pot with water and added what seemed like a very small scoop of oats. Well, when it was finished becoming porridge it filled my bowl and as I kept spooning it out I started wondering about what to do if I had leftover cooked porridge. Luckily it all somehow fit in the bowl and I ate it all. Yum.     
3) Porridge is hot. It holds its heat in a similar way to oatmeal, but (it seems) for longer. Usually I have to let a microwaved bowl of oatmeal sit for about 3 minutes before I can dig in. After I burned my tongue slightly, I decided that porridge needs significantly longer (probably 6 minutes). 
Overall breakfast was a success.

In other news, I’ve decided not gonna get microwave or TV. Both are readily available here in Saudi Arabia - good quality and reasonable prices, I just don’t think I really need either. I’m doing this as a challenge to myself and not having a TV will hopefully help me be more focused on other stuff around the house and compound. As nice as it is to just zap something in the microwave, I’ve been able to work around it the last few days and I think if I can make it a month without breaking down and purchasing one, I’ll be fine without it permanently. Plus the school has one so I can heat up lunches.

Today we went to school around 9am and had a workshop about the school system - Skyward. It works similarly to other systems you may be familiar with (i.e. PowerTeacher). Anyway, we learned how to access our gradebooks, take attendance, view the standards, and send messages to parents. Again, our school doesn’t have a lunch program so there is no need to enter how many students are buying lunch that day. The standards are basically Common Core (US) and I need to actually look at them a bit more closely to become more familiar. Common Core isn’t that different from the Virginia SOLs, it just focuses on math and language arts. Science and social studies are less present. I learned that elementary teachers will coordinate with the reading specialist to set up what we’ll be doing during our LLI time (essentially, guided language arts) and we’ll have lots of support getting used to Skyward because it’s not very user-friendly (especially compared to our new best friends, Google and Apple). 

After the workshop we had lunch, which the school had generously provided for us by ordering from a local Indian restaurant. More of the staff is here now (staff work week starts tomorrow) so it was a large group of us that dove into the delicious dishes in the staff room. Everything was saucy and yummy. It’s pretty clear here that when you have the option of local or chain, you go local as long as it’s known to be good. I meet the reading specialist and her husband during lunch, talked to a fellow teacher about the aboriginal and immigrant populations in Australia, and then started to collaborate with the same fellow teacher (she’s the secondary art teacher) about maybe doing some student-created art in my classroom during the first week (more on that later). 

Once we finished lunch our day at school was pretty much over. The choices became go home or go out shopping at 4 (once prayer ended). I opted to go out at 4 so I went to my classroom to muck around a bit. I made a list of all the things I need/want to accomplish during work week and hung a few things on the bulletin board by my desk - specifically notes and pictures from previous students (practicum and student teaching). My classroom is starting to feel like home and after the gradebook talk this morning, it’s definitely hitting me that I’m a real teacher with a real classroom. I’m sure it will be even more real tomorrow when I meet my Grade 1 team.         

The bus actually ended up taking us back to our compound, dropping us off, dropping others off, and returning 30 minutes later to take us out shopping. 4 of us went out shopping at Saco, the major appliance and home goods store around here. It was packed full of stuff. I mostly bought things for my classroom - several bottles of hand sanitizer, some Clorox wipes (for desks and sticky hands), and air freshener containers that will serve as calming items in my *fingers crossed* “Calming Zone” (more on that later too). Our group of 6 (5 houses among us) had decided that it would be silly to all buy vacuums separately, so we split the cost of a Hoover. Came out to $33 USD per person. We plan to share it as needed though it will live at the main purchaser’s apartment for now. 

I noticed an interesting thing as I was wandering through the exercise section of Saco. There were dumbbells, yoga mats, weight belts, and anything else you’d normally find. The unique bit was the models on the packages. There was a man and a woman (it was the same brand for everything so they were actually the same models on all the packages) and the man was usually in a tank top while the woman wore a fitted black long-shelve top and what looked like fitted black yoga pants with a bright blue sports bra and athletic shorts over of the black. So it seems that even while exercising, modesty is very important and covering wrist-to-neck-to-ankle in black is expected. The contrast to the male model was also interesting because he could have been selling a product anywhere in the world since his outfit was not overtly conservative.

Today there was a lot of humidity and also a lot of dust in the air (you can see the change in visibility). I wore my new glasses today because my eyes had been feeling dry with the contacts, but every time I walked from an air-conditioned space out into the moist air, my glasses immediately fogged up. It was as if I was walking into a sauna. They adjusted after a few minutes but I’d never experienced this level of humidity while wearing glasses (I don’t wear them that often) before. The humidity and heat should lessen over the next month and there are rumors that October and November have great weather. 

On the ride home we started asking our driver how to say different things in Arabic. We learned/refined how to say “Hello” and the response to that, ask “How are you?”, and reply “I am good.” I think our group might try to practice more and at least get several basics down over the coming weeks. At home I didn’t do much except go over to visit a that secondary art teacher. We had dinner (hummus, flat bread, and salad) and chatted more about using art in my classroom and collaborating on different ideas throughout the coming year. I’m really excited to know her and be able to incorporate more art. We are on a 6-day rotating specials schedule so my students will work with the elementary art teacher, but I just want to put more art and music into my homeroom - especially in ways that enhance topics we are already studying. (i.e.*not specific to Grade1* geometry in math — geometric designs in architecture and quilting; clay sculpture — animals and habitats; creating drama in writing — musical tension and tone) She gave me the website of an artist she’s worked with - Annie Painter and I might try some of the projects/ideas she has on there. I think creativity is a very important life skill because learning to think creatively is something anyone can do; you don't have to consider yourself talented as an “artist” or “musician”. It is about thinking in new, innovative ways, solving problems you may not anticipate, visualizing the final product, and investing time and energy into your work. Those are all qualities I want my students to develop and I hope I can start them on that path by using the arts in my classroom.

Note to readers/subscribers: Thank you all so much for reading and/or subscribing (see box in top left corner). I just want to let you know that my posts will likely start to get shorter and less frequent as I enter work week and then start the school year. I wanted to be sure to post a lot these first few days to document my first impressions of Saudi Arabia and my acclimation to the school, and I’m proud of myself for keeping up with this blog and posting so much everyday. (As my colleagues say, “You type really fast!” and that helps me write a lot every evening.) I won’t disappear, but my goal will be to post weekly about any major events or interesting things that happened instead of daily. I would appreciate friendly nudges to get back to it if I do let this blog fall by the wayside. I openly admit that I have a terrible track record with actually following through on journals/blogs that I start (i.e. I do great for a few days, then it's crickets). So keep me honest! I want to keep this up, I just might need some readers nicely bugging me to help me remember to make time for it each week. Thank you again, and I hope your Monday is as great as I expect mine will be. :)

Happy teaching and traveling,