Jun 26, 2009

Retrospectives: The First Year


The Maycock Family, 1998

Looking back You know You had to bring me through
All that I was so afraid of
Though I questioned the sky, now I see why
Had to walk the rocks to see the mountain view
Looking back I see the lead of love
--"Lead of Love" Caedmon's Call

The Maycock Family 2009

This is the first in a series of blogs reflecting back on our years in Saipan.

The 1998-1999 Saipan team in Hawaii, August 1998. From L to R, standing: Principal Steve Namkung, Susanne Namkung (holding daughter Katie), preschool teacher Emily Finch, officer manager Melissa Sell, Me, Babs, kindergarten teacher Shelly Willauer, then-GMM education director Wlibur Claus. Kneeling, L to R: preschool teachers Lisa Kapiniak and Cherie Dale.

We were young. 25 and 28 years old. Fresh out of college. Married just over a year. Not quite ready to settle down to conventional, suburban American life and not quite ready to marooned miles and an ocean from civilization.

And so, eleven years ago this coming August the gentle hand of God led us to Saipan--a gem of white sand beaches,aqua blue water, and verdant tropical greenery that hid a McDonalds, a KFC, and even a Wendy's behind it's small island front. It had the conveniences of home, without the soul-numbing excesses and hyperspeed pace.

From the moment we arrived, we felt blessed to be here.

Back then we lived in the little apartment with the low-ceilinged loft bedroom and hot pink carpet (back then that carpet was brand-new, much to Bab's dismay so we couldn't justify getting rid of it). These days it's the main teacher apartment and has a large second bedroom and bath built on where the sidewalk, laundry room, and plumeria tree used to be. We drove the little white Toyota pick-up truck, the twin to the blue pick-up (now known as Rusty) driven by 3/4 teacher Jeanie Drake, who lived next door to us. Barbara taught 1st and 2nd grade in the same classroom it's taught in now. I taught 7th and 8th grade upstairs.

The first year was all about learning. Despite our prior experiences in the classroom (Barbara had been a second grade teacher in Palau in 1992-1993 and I had been a 5/6 and high school English teacher in Chuuk in 1994-1995) and our training in the field, we were essentially new to our jobs. There was so much we didn't know. But we learned, and we not only survived but we thrived in that first year.

Here are three big lessons I learned during that first year of finding my footing and making my way:

1. Ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask, ask, and ask some more. I did. During that first year I was constantly at principal Steve Namkung's door, picking the brain of longtime teacher Will DeWitt, and getting pointers from Jeanie, who only had a few years seniority on me. I'm sure there were those who tired of my many questions about classroom management, lesson planning, teaching, the grading program, 8th grade class, etc etc, but I refused to feel bad about it. It was hard enough being unsure-I wasn't going to waste a moment being embarrassed to find the answers I needed. Just as the best students always ask for help when they need it, the best teachers are never shy to seek resources, assistance, and advice from those around them. Veteran teachers and the principal are great sources of wisdom. You may actually not need as much as help as you think you do--but don't worry about it, go ahead and ask, just to be on the safe side.

2. You're doing better than you think you are. So don't beat yourself up. That first year, my missteps and mishaps seemed so horrible, so huge. I was certain I was making mistakes that would screw these kids up for life. There was the time Jessica threw cake in Jamal's face at lunch time, and he chased her out of the lunchroom, out the back gate and down the street. And then the time Abbey just disappeared for an hour or two--how does a teacher lose a seventh grader--only to finally discover her hiding under my desk, where she'd apparently been all along. There was the parent who referred to me as a "penny teacher" (I guess I was two persnickety about little things, a penny counter, in his estimation). On the 8th grade class trip to Bali, I lost $76 of the class's money to shady money-changers. When these and other minor catastrophes occured I felt like the biggest failure in the teaching profession. But I wasn't. I was growing.

And the kids? They turned out fine. They managed to graduate 8th grade and high school. Many have already graduated from college, some are working on the Masters degrees. The parent became one my favorite aquaintances, always great for a chat when our paths cross (turns out he's a teacher too). And the money was long replaced and the 8th grade finances remain solvent.

Yes, you're making a lasting impact on your students, but don't worry, you can afford a few little mistakes (and even some big ones), a few less-than perfect moments without it ruining their lives. The good you're doing invaribly far outweighs the bad.

Our first 8th grade class trip, to Bali, in March, 1999. From L to R, back row: Babs, Jennifer Angello, Levayna Ngirablosch, Nick Tollett, Daniel Nevitt, co-sponsor Melissa Sell, Jane Moore, Clarence Manglona, Jamal Palican. Kneeling, Josh Hardt, Myoung Hun Kim, and Me.
3. Work hard, but not too hard. Babs and I worked so hard that first year. We came early and stayed late (going home at seven or eight in the evening was not unheard of). And Sunday? It was all work, all day. There was a never-ending mountain of work to do--lesson plans to create, classrooms to decorate, a continuous stream of grading--and we were determined to get it all done. Of course we couldn't, but we didn't know that. We were young, idealistic (some would say perfectionistic), energetic, and determined to do it all. I remember Steve sitting us down in his office one day, and asking us if we ever planned to have children. We said yes, eventually. He said, "Well, you're going to have stop working and go home if you're ever going to have a chance to make that happen." He was kidding of course, but he was serious in telling us we needed to slow down, and pace ourselves.

Babs and I in our teacher's uniforms and ready for work.

Over the years, hard work has been our hallmark. We eventually got the systems in place so that we didn't need to spend so much prep time in the classroom, but then we added other responsibilities like coaching volleyball or basketball, REAL Christian Theater, serving as church elders, and, in Barbara's case, becoming the school principal. As a result, I don't think there's ever been a year in Saipan where we haven't been busy. We believe in putting in the full effort, taking joy in the work, and looking back I don't regret the hours and labor we put into the school. But we have also learned to relax more. I stopped going in on Sundays years ago, and we usually get home while it's still light outside now. We've made time for the many leisure activites available to us here on Saipan--going to the Mandi, the gym, scuba diving, running on the beach pathway. We found a good pace and eleven years later, we haven't burned out yet!

Taking some time out for some fun. Check out those jumpers the women on our staff had to wear. "Tent dresses" was one of the nicer names we had for those frocks. Babs hated them!

So we made it through the first year, and we couldn't have done it without the support of our friends and colleagues: Our principal Steve Namkung, his warm and welcoming wife Susanne, and their adorable daughter Katie; Jeanie Drake, who lived next door to us and worked next door to Barbara; the Hartshorns--George, Denise, Lauren, and Leah--who always invited us to P.I.C. (and we hardly ever went because we were "too busy." Babs and I were talking about this just last week, and we looked at eachother and said "What were we thinking?!?) and who let us housesit in their gorgeous Mt. Tapochau home that summer after the first year; Jana Gatchet, our preschool director, who always gave me my monthly haircuts, Ricardo and Gina Rankin, the Taitigues, the Hardts. And of course there were the first of the many student missionaries we'd come to know and love over the years--Tenera, Cherie and Lisa, and our "daughter", Melissa Sell.

Babs and I with Steve, Susanne, and Katie Namkung. Imagine how crushed we were when they told us that they'd be moving to Chuuk the next year. We only had them for a year, but they are a truly lovely family and they continue to hold a special place in our hearts.

Two of our SM's, Cherie Dale and Lisa Kapaniak, at the airport about to take their Long Walk, June 1999. I remember being kind of blue for a week or so after they left--they were such good friends.

"The Janos". Babs and I with our "daughter", Melissa Sell, in Guam, January 1999. Melissa was a student missionary and the school's office manager, and over the course of the year, we "adopted" her as our "daughter." We went to Guam at Christmas time, and she was co-sponor with us on the 8th grade class trip.

And the kids. . .who can forget the kids--Josh, Nick, Daniel, Jennifer, Levayna, Jane, Jamal, Myoung Hun, Clarence, Franklin, and Justin--all of them adults now. Barbara's second graders, among them little Fredo Paez--have just graduated from high school. It was the kids, more than anyone else, that made that first year one of learning, loving and truly living. Eleven years later, that much remains the same.

The "Myla Hardtigues" at Josh Hardt's 8th grade graduation. This group of kids--Myla Caplitan (second from right), Josh and Austin Hardt (right), and the daughters of our pastor, (L to R) Fressie, Bernelle, and Ciana Taitigue were always together, thus earning the moniker, "The Myla Hardtigues."

Bab's first class.

Our church family in 98-99. See how many familiar faces you can find!


Mai said...

I think I learned those same 3 lessons my first year in Saipan. You are Barbara were so great in answering my questions and helping me become a better teacher! Thanks!! (I know I'll be calling you up asking more questions now that I'll be teaching older kids, especially the 10th graders!)

Anonymous said...

I love your blog. You were always so good with philosophical words and deep thoughts. In your next reflection, think about the creation of REAL, the reading incentive videos, the tidal wave scare, the mother of typhoons and of course the wonderful staff we had that year (99-00)- you and babs, the knows, tin tin, dori, evan and me. miss you guys! kathy