VP Ma’am is no longer VP Ma’am, but we’ll keep calling her that.

She’s back. She was on a 2-week course in Thailand which she said turned out to not be particularly helpful. I missed her, but I realize now she stresses me out. She helps me and she also stresses me out.

We are conducting a club together and yesterday was the first meeting of the club since she got back. She is the coordinator and I am the assistant. She was back and I assumed she would take the reins. Only she got to the club and had no particular plan. There is a yearly plan already written up and she asked me what was on it. She didn’t know. She hadn’t looked at it. I told her the plan and she also said we need to plan for an event coming up, but the event was not on the plan. I have no idea about it, when it is or whether it is an English or National Language event. The principal had wanted her to have the event and I wasn’t part of that conversation.

Then we sorted it and we had the club and it was completely the opposite of my style, where we have set routines, a set agenda, and everything is very clear and done in an orderly way. Only one person talks at a time. Children raise their hands to speak and wait for permission. It is explicitly stated, this is group discussion time, this is sharing out time. She did things in—not surprisingly—the Country X way, where there is no clear distinction between side conversations and whole-group discussion, speech is overlapping and usually at least 3 people talk at the same time.

It was probably dysregulating to me because it felt so disorganized and out of control. She seemed so anxious and stressed the whole time, she was making the children anxious and stressed—scolding the ones who hadn’t spoken up, but doing nothing to make them feel more at ease—and the lack of clarity (let’s jump to the next topic without summarizing the last topic and checking for understanding, but circle back randomly at some other point in the club period) made me insane.

So yesterday evening was even more difficult, because I hadn’t thought what this would be like. I ought to have known, actually, because I have realized I have to absolutely fight for order and structure in the classroom and as soon as I ease off, order disappears. It is not like teaching in the US, where once the rules have been established and the testing period is over, mostly things go fairly smoothly until the kids start to get restless and bored around holiday times. Here, kids will test the rules every single day until the end of the school year. The testing period absolutely never ends, because there are not clear boundaries in any of the rest of the day. This 40 to 100 minutes is the only part of the day when the rules are clear, enforced, and predictable.

Not that other periods are total disasters, but the rest of the day is governed not by rules, but by fear. If they are afraid of the teacher, they keep quiet. There won’t be total chaos because only a few students have the courage to speak up. It is not like my class, where everyone feels comfortable and safe, and so there needs to be rules about who will speak because nearly everyone wants to speak. The fear isn’t mostly of punishment. It is fear of criticism and humiliation, so basically no one wants to attract attention.

At the same time, there is an enormous amount of quiet, off-task behaviour in most classes I have observed. Sometimes loud off-task behaviour, but usually quiet. I look at the classes and ten students out of 30 are looking out the window, or fiddling with things, or something. There is frequently a lot of that in my class too, but less, because I don’t allow it. Look at me. I’m teaching you right now. When it is work time, my students work for the most part. In other classes, it’s the same thing: 10 students out of 30 are quietly wasting time. But I have to fight very hard to get that, and I have to fight absolutely every time for it, because they are fighting for what they are used to, which is basically a lot easier. Less engaged, but easy.

And most teachers here let kids push the envelope, push the envelope, push the envelope, and then the teacher explodes. So kids think all is fine until right before the explosion. I can’t explode like that all the time, so instead I find myself being very punitive and inflexible. The rules must be air-tight. There must be consequences every time, because they haven’t spent their lives learning about rules and breaking rules and consequences. It’s a new experience for them.

Anyway, it’s a change.

I got to school this morning, having kind of pulled myself together after an intense self-session if you want to put it that way, and I ran into one of the teachers walking into the school grounds. We have this major task to complete for our performance appraisal due tomorrow, and being Country X no one has done this ahead of time. We all wait until the last minute—me because I have this dead body stuff I am hoping to get a handle on, and the rest of them because they are anxious they will do it wrong so they avoid it until the panic of not doing it overcomes the panic of doing it. So I said, “Did you finish your IWP?” Or maybe she said that. And we sort of commiserated. We looked at it and didn’t do anything and “by any means” we will have to do it today. This was a fine conversation, a normal conversation.

Then I got to school and saw VP Ma’am. She looked at the two of us, “Work plan? Done?” This is Country X. Even English teachers speak in fragments. Of course we haven’t finished ours. I am absolutely certain she hasn’t finished hers either. But there is something very different about the way she is asking. I don’t really know what the difference is, except that it sounds as though it ought to be done and we have somehow fallen short of the mark. It’s odd, and it totally overwhelms me with stress. I am stressed, because I have too much to do and too many issues to deal with and right now life is falling on my head. I hate it, because the thing is then I cannot just go and work. I must now go and calm down. This happens all the time with her, and I am not really sure why. When I am absolutely overwhelmed with work, she will say, “Sit and let’s talk,” and I feel trapped. I either sit or I tell her I have work, but the thing is then I can’t work. Then I have to go and calm down for an hour or so or my teaching sucks and I remain triggered for the rest of the day. But it is always like I was at the end of my rope, but I wasn’t going to hang. Then she says something, and I am about to hang. That bit of time that was going to be just enough for the task at homes get swallowed up by the need to calm down yet again. Then I don’t have time for my work. I don’t know why she does this to me, but she does. All the time.

I think maybe she is just insensitive. We were standing at assembly. She was talking to VP Sir next to her, and she turned to me briefly, “How are you? Fine?” Didn’t wait for an answer. Turned back to talk to him. WTF? Why ask?

I think actually we are friends in part because she is overwhelmed by her own emotions a lot of the time. I have to be incredibly calm just to deal with my own internal landscape, and she is wound up and hyper and anxious, and I calm her.

But that was this morning. She drives me crazy. She is my friend but some days she drives me completely insane.