a tough day at school

I’ve got to say that for the last month or so I’ve been trying to avoid this particular cafe, called Ambient Cafe. It’s an incredibly popular cafe with the Western expat crowd, providing wifi internet, mochas and grilled food, and Western music–especially Bob Dylan. Sitting on the second floor of a building on Bhutan’s main street, this place really is an escape from Bhutanese society. And today I needed it.

Just an hour ago I was standing before 42 sixth grade students, stuffing my papers into my back-pack in sheer disappointment. I felt like simply walking out, screaming and flailing my arms, peeling the gho from my body and running around like a madman. Instead, (but of course envisioning a temper tantrum)… “I had an idea for a lesson today, but for some reason it just didn’t work. I’m disappointed we couldn’t get through this together. You can go home.” For one of the few moments today, the students were silent and watched as I left the classroom.

It didn’t feel good at all. I had a sour taste in my mouth, and for about 5 minutes I just stood and peered out into the courtyard, feeling the aftershocks of what just happened but trying to forget it at the same time. I knew it wasn’t their fault, at least not completely. I have these students for two periods every week, and one of these is for social studies. I was trying to teach Buddha’s eight-fold path for ethical living… Is not how we live (and should live) very much a social study? The eightfold path is difficult, I know. Even students at my college, the Royal Thimphu College, cannot fully explain what the eightfold path is. For some reason I thought I could teach it to sixth grade students. Could they understand that the nature of all things is impermanent, or that the source of suffering is desire? Oops.

As I was reflecting on all this but still feeling disappointed and a little bitter, two students came to me and tried to make me feel better. “It’s the boys and girls, sir. They don’t listen.” It didn’t really matter what they were saying, but merely the fact that they came up to me lightened my mood. A few minutes later the principle greeted me. She told me that all the primary teachers actually “gave up” on their students because they could not focus in class. Wait. What? “The kids are all too excited about the royal wedding.”

That made some sense. The fifth King of Bhutan was marrying his first wife this weekend, and every single Bhutanese will be celebrating. Many of the students at Jigme Losel will be performing a formal dance before the royal couple and a massive crowd. Okay. So I wasn’t the only teacher that felt unsuccessful today.

My lesson at Jigme Losel failed today, but I think I learned a greater lesson. I need to find a way to make my lessons more relevant, engaging and fun.

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