When You Got Salt in the Shaker…Shake It Up

You had a long week. It started out hearing some heart-wrenching news from a school on the southern part of the island. The news weighs on your mind all day. Appalling.

But school carried on per usual. You and your counterpart teacher are reviewing some material before conducting tests over the course of the week.

You take your regular pull-out students for their weekly sessions. They go well. You found an activity on Pinterest (an educational goldmine) that focuses on blending consonant sounds. The blends you chose challenged them, but they worked through and overcame them. It was encouraging to see. Inadvertently, the blending strips provided an opportunity to reinforce their short vowel sounds that we covered the two weeks prior.

Then came Wednesday. You and your counterpart hand out a reading comprehension assessment for your students to complete. It’s a simple assessment: read a poem and answer the questions.

During the exam, your counterpart steps out of the room to make some work-related phone calls. The class completes the exam and the bell rings, dismissing them for break.

“The next language arts class is your homeroom class,” you think to yourself. “They’ll listen to you, it should be fine.”

Reality check: it’s not always easy working in a differentiated classroom.

You give instructions for the exam. The students are distracted. They don’t seem to be taking this test seriously. They stand up and walk around the room. The talking doesn’t ever seem to stop.

They ask for help understanding the same simple questions, but you know it’s because they weren’t paying attention. So you repeat the instructions for the class, yet still struggling to really capture their attention. They repeat the same questions, as if you were speaking a different language.

You begin to feel frustrated.

“Sir! He copying my work!” One student calls.

“Sir! He just cuss me!” Another one calls.

“Sir! Tell her to behave!”

You feel like a dog running in circles trying catch its tail. You go to one table to address one problem; something goes wrong at the other end of the room. You go to the other end, only to have the same problem re-surface at another table.

All the while, you try to give the struggling students the proper attention so they can complete the exam. You’re making progress with the one that is still learning his letters. You find out he knows his alphabet and can recite the song, it’s just the letter recognition that he lacks. You make a mental note to keep that in mind for your next pull-out session with him.

“Sir! I done!” A students shouts.

“Raise your hand,” you say, still focused on the student at hand. “I’ll be right with you.”

You walk over and collect the student’s completed exam. Answers are left blank and those that are completed don’t even answer the question. He is one of your smarter students too, just goes to show he wasn’t listening.

“No, you’re not,” you tell him. “Go back and finish numbers five and eight; you might want to check number three while you’re at it.”

You begin helping a student who was waiting with his hand raised. A student walks up to you.

“Sir!”

“Sir!”

“Sir!”

“How are you supposed to get my attention?” you sigh gently, finally looking at her. She turns and heads back to her seat, raising her hand. Much better.

Another student walks up, tugging on your sleeve.

“Sir!”

“Sir!”

“Hold on,” you say, holding up your index finger. “Can’t you see I’m working with somebody? Go back to your seat and raise your hand and I’ll be right with you.”

There’s only one of you, but fifteen of them. It seems they all have questions. If they don’t have questions, there’s a petty problem that needs resolved. You’re getting to the point that you’re beyond frustrated; you’re straight overwhelmed.

You go to the front of the class and raising your voice, finally capture their attention. You lecture them on their misbehavior. They still don’t seem to be taking you seriously.

The bell rings.

You go back to your one established leverage that’s worked in the past. You hold them back a couple minutes from lunch. All of a sudden their great listeners, now that their misbehavior would cause them to lose precious time at recess. Since you have their attention now, you review the classroom rules hanging on the wall. You ask them if they did a good job following them, they admit they weren’t. You explain to them your disappointment and that you expected better. You tell them that when they are quiet and seated; they’ll be dismissed to lunch. Two tables follow those instructions promptly and you dismiss them. Two students defiantly remain standing, as if to make a point. You dismiss the rest of those that are seated. Now, it’s just you and the two standing students. You sigh. You can play this game all day, but you don’t want to.

One girl turns her back to you, arms crossed. You’re not surprised; she’s been acting out all day. She already wasn’t happy with you after she was caught looking off another student’s paper. The boy that was standing, realizing he lost his audience and that all his friends were gone at lunch, finally sits down and you dismiss him.

The girl proceeds to pace back and forth across the room, crying. You try to calm her down, but she still won’t listen. She threatens to tell her mother.

“Go ahead,” you answer. “I would love to talk to your mother about your behavior today.”

She continues to cry, upset still as I was not intimidated by the threat of her mother. After all, you are not afraid to speak to any of the parents. You’ve already met a few of them, including hers. You’ve worked with children and their parents in the past, so this isn’t your first rodeo, so to speak. You have no problem explaining the reasons for your actions. Everything you do is done in the best interest of the child.

But by now five to ten minutes have passed; the point was already made and you don’t want her to miss lunch. She’s still a growing child and needs to eat. You ease the conversation into calming her down and when she finally does, you dismiss her to lunch. She saunters out of the door to join her classmates.

You sit back in your chair and sigh. Exhausted and stressed, you head down to the lunch room to meet up with the other teachers. Your counterpart is there.

“How did everything go?”

“Not good.”

You explain to her what happened: the cussing (which here basically means insulting), the copying, the lack of attention, the disrespect.

The bell rings and you return to class to grab your bag before heading down to your own space at the stage downstairs for the afternoon’s pull-out sessions.

What happened next you wish you could forget.

You immediately regret letting them get to you.

They paid the price for it.

You vow to do better.

You return home at the end of the day. Your wifi is still out. It’s been out since Monday. At first it didn’t bother you. But coming on day three and still not having reliable contact with home begins to wear on you. You begin to think about the upcoming weekend. You could go to the same beaches you’ve been to, but you’re craving something different. You call another PCV. You decide to go visit an isolated beach on the northern part of the island that weekend. You’re not exactly sure how to get there, but it’ll work out.

Friday rolls around. You’re looking forward to your Creative Writing Club after school. It’s usually the highlight of your week. You corral a student that’s been skipping. When you step into the classroom, one student, upset and in tears, is packing up and leaving. The other students are laughing at him for crying. You step with him outside and try to calm him down and figure out what has him upset. One of the other students cussed him. You decide you’ll address it between the two of them at the end of the day. You allow him to catch his breath, drink some water, and take his time returning, as long as he returns.

You begin your lesson on haikus. The upset student slips back into the class and takes a seat in the back of the classroom. Usually you don’t allow that, requiring them to sit in the tables you arranged into a U-shape that’s conducive for conversation, but in this case you let it go. You’re just happy he came back inside.

The session went well. The kids bought into the 5-7-5 syllable scheme and by the end of the session, were coming up with haikus off the top of their heads (with the incentive of off-brand Oreo cookies you’ve become known for bringing). The bell rings and you dismiss the students. You hold the two involved students back; it was time to get to the bottom of what had happened before the session started. The offending student apologizes, but only while looking at the floor. You remind her that she didn’t hurt the floor, and that she must apologize to the other student properly by looking at him when she does. After about five minutes of repeating this process, reluctantly and unapologetically, she mumbles the words, “I’m sorry.”

Not quite satisfied but ready to move on, you are about to dismiss them when she claims he said something back to her. So to be fair, you give her a chance to explain. As she’s doing so, he mouths something to her; it was too quick for you to catch. She jumps up aggressively and sizes him up; she’s taller than him. He grabs a chair.

“That’s it! Come with me, now!” you separate the two and walk them to the principal’s office.

The boy follows obediently, the girl gets cold feet. You explain to them it didn’t have to be this way, reminding them of the chances and warnings you gave them.

The principal is not pleased. We all sit down and I explain to him why I brought them in. The students explain their sides of the stories. He lectures them appropriately. You watch and admire how he expertly diffuses the situation. The boy is remorseful but the girl, however, defiantly unapologetic. They’re dismissed. The principal then informs you of the girl’s troubled upbringing and thus the resulting misconduct.

It’s time for the weekend and to decompress from the week. Your wifi finally gets fixed. You stop by the fish fry and listen to the live band performing there. Then you decide to make your way up to the road to shoot some pool. You grab a drink and shoot a game or two, but don’t say much. You recognize the faces, but don’t remember all of their names, so you don’t have much to say.

One of them comes up to you.

“Hey man, you good?” he asks.

You tell him yes.

He tells you to loosen up a bit and relax, be one of the guys.

“You’re looking anti-social over here,” he says. “You can relax here, man. You’re in a good place with some good people.”

“I know,” you tell him. “I’m comfortable. I don’t mean to seem anti-social.”

“I seen you a couple times now,” he says. “You come in, have a drink, shoot a couple games and that’s it. Enjoy yourself, is all.”

You tell him you will.

“I just hope that if I’m ever in your country, your people would do the same for me,” he says. “So that’s why I wanted to tell you that, since you’re in my country.”

“I appreciate that man,” you reply, shaking his hand. “Thank you.”

As he buys you a drink, you wonder if anyone would ever tell him that if he showed up at a random bar in America. You hope someone would, but you don’t know for sure.

You appreciate him for reminding you to relax. It’s that very same warm persona that caused you to fall in love with this place, and its people, in the first place. But that is the first time you’ve ever been called anti-social and it bothers you more than it should. He couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to be in your shoes, a minority, a foreigner. It’s not easy when you’re not like everybody else. On the other hand, maybe he does know what it’s like, and that is why he reached out to you in the first place. Or, maybe the effects and stresses of the week were showing. Regardless, you’re grateful for the reality check.

The next day you prepare a bag for your spontaneous adventure. John Lyness, the PCV living nearby, arrives at your apartment. You trade stories from the week. It’s relieving when you can confide in people that can relate to your experiences. Together you walk to the bus stop up the road. The same man from the night before stops you in the street. You introduce him to John. He tells you to bring him by to shoot some pool. You tell him you will.

You hop on a bus that drives uncharacteristically slow. The driver and conductor don’t seem to be in much of a hurry, taking phone calls and stopping to converse with seemingly every other bus driver on the road. You don’t mind, though, as the ride was absolutely stunning.

Off to your left was the vast, quiet expanse of the blue Caribbean Sea. The bus winds along the coastline highway, running alongside the rock shoreline that juts in and out of the lush, green mountains. Every bend you wind around, palm trees would pop out and disappear along with the small fishing vessels that float on the water below.

You reach Sauters, the northernmost town on island. A couple-mile hike would take you to Levera Beach, our ultimate destination. We begin walking up a steep hill. A taxi aggressively offers his service: halfway for fifteen dollars. Not worth it. You decline and say you’ll walk as he looks at you, befuddled that you would attempt to walk all the way to Levera.

After about five minutes or so of walking you reach a fork in the road. A bus is stopped at the bend, the conductor is looking around for pedestrians to take south to Grenville. You decline his offer but ask him the best way to get to Levera Beach. He points you in the direction, then flagging down an oncoming black pickup truck, offers the driver’s vehicle to give you a ride there.

The driver of the truck, a quiet, pleasant Grenadian woman welcomes you as you climb into the backseat. A friend of hers, a young, white, European woman is in the shotgun seat but doesn’t say much. You pass time with small talk as the road becomes unpaved, increasingly bumpy and pothole-ridden. The Grenadian woman says she rents out an apartment in Sauters. You tell her Peace Corps is looking to place a Volunteer in Sauters in the near future. She drops you as far as she was willing to go, which she admits was farther than she’s ever driven down that road. You graciously thank her as you climb out, leaving her the Peace Corps number for her to potentially arrange housing for a future Volunteer. You hope she follows through so someone does get placed in Sauters, what a town.

You follow a gravel driveway up to a well-kept, but vacant private home. You slip to the backyard where a drained pool and grassy area with a palm tree-perimeter opens up to an absolutely jaw-dropping view. Straight ahead is Levera Beach. A smooth, sandy beachhead crawls around a bend. Shimmering, turquoise water connects the beachhead to the deep blue of the Caribbean Sea. Small, uninhabitable islands span a short distance from the coastline. In the distance, past the haze of the horizon, a faint outline of Carriacou can be seen.

You’re ecstatic. You feel like you’re on an island. The view in front of you is exactly the type of view you would see in a post card or travel advertisement. You continue your hike down to the beachhead. Walking on the beach now, your feet sink with each step in the soft, sun-warmed sand. You find out that you’re at the northernmost point on the island, where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. It makes sense, though, as a strong ocean breeze incessantly blows through. The still water of the Caribbean Sea on your left begins to churn in counter-clockwise waves, signifying the point where the strong currents of the Atlantic spill over into the still Caribbean Sea.

You’re blown away. All around you the beachhead and waters are void of tourists. Other than a security guard and local Rastafarian listening to the radio and reading a paper, you’re the only ones there. The trees and foliage beyond the beach seem as if untouched by man. You could almost envision what it must’ve been like to arrive on these shores in a wooden vessel hundreds of years ago.

You spend some time floating and bathing in the cool, refreshing water. You’ve become accustomed to beautiful beaches like this. You admit you’ve been spoiled by the beaches you’ve bathed in here. Yet, this one seemed special. Maybe it was the long trek to get here, which for us was miraculously shortened by yet another gracious local. Maybe it was the natural, untouched beachhead and small islands just off the coast. Maybe it was the lack of tourists, as if Levera Beach was Grenada’s best-kept secret.

You climb out of the water and dry off. The coastline juts out to the West, and it seems like there could be a trail to hike. You pack up your bag and follow a path where you find a massive bull grazing on the hillside. You double-take, the last thing you would expect to see on an isolated Caribbean coastline is a grazing cow. The path disappears into an overcrowded area of branches, leaves, and trees. After ducking and dodging tree limbs and vines, you climb the hill where it opens into an open, grassy field. An old, stone wall crawls along the top of the hillside. You wonder if it is the last remnants of an old fort from the days of colonization. Once you reach the top of the hill, you survey the expansive horizon before you. In front of you are vibrant blue waters, tree-covered islands, and a clean shot at the island of Carriacou in the distance. A group of palm trees protrude on the far side on one of the small islands. A white sailboat circumnavigates the island. You wonder what beautiful beach could be around that bend and how long of a swim it would take to get there.

And just like that you realize all your stresses from the week have been washed away. All of a sudden all your troubles seem trivial, unimportant. Anyone that works with children will tell you that they come to love them as if they were their own. You realize you certainly have come to feel that way. Consequently, when they misbehave and don’t listen, it wears on you because you so badly want to see them do well and succeed in life. But sometimes you have to take a step back and remember, they’re still children. They’re still figuring out this game called life. You remind yourself to appreciate where you are, where you came from, and where you’re headed. There will always be stressful days and long weeks no matter where you are or what you’re doing. It’s what you do to bounce back from those days that matters. Sometimes a spontaneous adventure is what you need to get you back on your feet.

That’s what I love about this. That’s what I love about international travel. When I woke up on Saturday morning, I had no idea what I was going to see or experience when I caught a bus up to Sauters. John and I went up north, began our long hike in hopes of hitching a ride along the way, which we gratefully but unsurprisingly found. When we finally arrived, I immediately realized I found my favorite spot on the island. It’s funny how things have a way of working themselves out like that. I got caught up in the routine of the workweek and needed to shake things up. What better way to shake things up then by packing up a bag and exploring someplace you haven’t been before.

Granted, not all of us can steal away to an isolated Caribbean beach for a day. But I suppose the lesson I take away from last week was to shake things up every once in awhile. Go someplace and experience something new. You never know what’s around the corner: whether it’s an awe-inspiring view from an abandoned vacation home, a grazing bull, remnants of a deserted fort, or a Rasta taking a beachside stroll.

You think back to what the man said to you in the bar.

“You can relax here, man. You’re in a good place with some good people.”

Yes…yes I am.

Cheers!

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2 thoughts on “When You Got Salt in the Shaker…Shake It Up

  1. Your reality check sounds like it worked! Island locals are so cool to mingle with! They really treat visitors on the island nice! It was neat for him to single you out not only once but the next day! Not sure it would happen in the USA either but we could only hope! Hoping the next week is better! 😁

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