The great teachers fill you up with hope and shower you with a thousand reasons to embrace all aspects of life… The world of literature has everything in it, and it refuses to leave anything out. I have read like a man on fire my whole life because the genius of English teachers touched me with the dazzling beauty of language. Because of them I rode with Don Quixote and danced with Anna Karenina at a ball in St. Petersburg and lassoed a steer in Lonesome Dove and had nightmares about slavery in Beloved and walked the streets of Dublin in Ulysses and made up a hundred stories in The Arabian Nights…–Pat Conroy, author and former teacher
Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, William Golding…writers who were also teachers. The latter based his classic, Lord of the Flies, on his classroom experience. The Harry Potter creator began her saga as an English teacher in my now-neighboring country, Portugal. (So almost did a legendary songwriter from my home in Nashville, Kris Kristofferson, who after studying literature at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, took an English position at West Point. Though he resigned to move to Music City it’s a fun fact for me to remember that he and Conray have Southern accents, too. I first worried about having the only drawl on staff until some of my new coworkers told me they like it.)
I have to remind myself that despite the demands of teaching, there is no excuse not to keep up with blog posts. As Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat told me in an interview when I asked how she managed to teach and write: “The way anyone finds time to do what they most want to do. The time is there. It’s just a matter of priority.” By the way, she taught at the school of one of two of my brilliant new English department colleagues, who, like the rest of the faculty, work really hard daily and care deeply about our students. One of the many firsts this new school year is being the only female and non-Brit of the department.
I’ve been teaching as long as I’ve been writing. After elementary school each day, I’d run from the bus to play teacher to my sole pupil, Granddaddy Ladd. My grandmother, Mama Lou, had taught in a one-room schoolhouse before she married, at a home for special needs children after my grandfather died, and in an elementary school until she was eighty. She gave me my father’s book, The Arabian Nights, from which I’ll teach a story this year alongside The Alchemist, a book that inspired my move to Marrakesh. Although I’ve been at this teaching-thing more than thirty years, the first day of inservice I felt like a kid again. Like a first grader, I had little idea of what to expect, and not since a ninth grader had I boarded a bus for school. Most of the teachers live in the same complex and ride the bus into work daily. Our stop is just around the corner. Since our school doesn’t have a cafeteria, teachers who don’t pack lunches pop into the hanuts to grab fresh baked bread or snacks for the day on the walk to the bus stop. I either take leftovers or, more often, though I’ve never been much of a bread eater I find myself stuffing a loaf into my backpack and pinching off pieces throughout the day; that, a Fanta, and a 1.5 liter bottle of water are plenty for me in summer heat.
My thirty-minute commute has rendered many firsts–passing a neighborhood mosque, posses of pigeons in parks, donkey-drawn carts of chickens, weary workers gathered around tea in an alley before work (we leave for school at 7:15 AM–an American school schedule that lasts till 4:30–atypical of Morocco where families eat dinner/sleep/open shops later). Terra cotta apartments topped with satellite saucers give way to suburban living– villas and turnoffs into spas and luxury hotels along a boulevard lined with bushes trimmed into poodle tails, palm trees, olive groves, and walls laden with cascading bougainvillea. As we turn off the now -country highway, the guards swing open the huge wooden gates. Our bus driver parks, we gather briefcases and bags and walk through the school’s orchard. After two weeks I still marvel at the beautiful building and massive grounds– the arched doorways, long stone hallways, private alcoves, scrolled iron balconies, and olive trees on the playground tempting children to pelt each other with olives. On Day One new teachers meet off the courtyard for inservice where most of the children eat lunch. Our headmaster reminds us we’re one of only five schools in Morocco recognized by the US State Department. We discuss the Mission Statement which begins, “The American School of Marrakesh is a multicultural community of learners.” True. My colleagues from Morocco, France, England, Scotland, Singapore, the Philippines, Russia, India, Canada, and many US states and assorted countries do work and life together, whether interpreting for the French and Arab teachers at faculty meetings; discussing curriculum on the bus or movies or vacations together at our Friday night rooftop gatherings; cheering on a colleague’s son who rides his bike without training wheels for the first time in our complex courtyard; or taking a coworker’s daughter home so Daddy can play Friday afternoon soccer after school with the faculty and staff. Like many 21st century schools, ASM strives to “foster excellence through critical thinking and creativity; build resilience and character; promote responsible, global citizenship, and encourage lifelong learning.” But unlike most international schools, students are expected to not only master English and their native language but also become fluent in French and classical Arab (different from Darija, the local language). My room, which I now affectionately call “the annex” has its own private entrance. It’s beside the basketball courts and has its own rose garden at its doorstep. Last summer I made posters for “windows to the world” using my travel pictures to entice students to read world literature and embrace global citizenship. They want to know where I’ll take them and when, and I’ve assured them class trips are being discussed. My students are high energy–most movers and shakers (kinesthetic learners and/or highly motivated), social and warm–and they all greet me each period with a “Good Morning/Afternoon/Hello, Miss!” and bid adieu with a, “Thank you and have a nice day, Miss!” I really like them. I have 15 in my 9th Grade Advanced, and a dozen in my 10th Grade Standard, 11th Grade AP, 12th Grade Standard. I also teach an elective, Journalism.
And though my first couple of days the temperature was 108 degrees and I wondered how we’d ever manage without AC, the weather has dropped to the mid-90s and become bearable. In fact, the mornings have been 70 degrees and I love preparing for my day, windows open to nothing-but-green– soccer field in the front, flowers in the back– as my daily visitors, wee birds, fly in, land on the floor, and say hello. It also helps in a new place to be surrounded by not only new friends…but old ones, like Bronte and the crew, as well. The library is full of classics and other interesting reads. Teachers check out books regularly for pleasure. During inservice we were treated to hot mint tea, pancakes, and pastries, and catered lunches of traditonal Berber tagines served on china. Yesterday we celebrated our first week of teaching with a high tea–mint tea, chilled strawberry and avocado drinks, pastries, and assorted almonds and other local nuts.
As students and teachers we get two new starts each year–one in January, the other now. Then again, we all can learn something new everyday for the rest of our lives. From the land of oranges, pomegranates, and figs, here’s to a fruitful year.