Maybe it's because I attended a Californian public school as a child, or it just wasn't mandated in my elementary school curriculum. Either way, I was never taught how to diagram a sentence and the lumbering ghost of grammar is haunting me now.
Even the most basic terms simple present, present progressive/continuous, past perfect progressive magic potion that makes unicorns fly. All of it is completely foreign to me, someone who writes and has been endowed with the ability to simply discern correct grammar usage based on whether it sounds right. Unfortunately, "that sounds wrong" isn't an adequate explanation and neither is "because I said so", which means that I am now forced to study grammar in order to teach it.
Lets cram that, shove it mercilessly, into my 15-hour work days along with lesson planning, teaching, Bangla class, lesson planning, grading assignments, creating assignments, lesson planning, researching lessons, breaking and fixing the copy machine. It's the type of schedule that leaves you out of breath, drowning in ticking minutes.
I'm constantly playing catch up, without enough time to even think of decompressing at the end of each day as I crash onto my overly firm mattress. My everything reaches a point of exhaustion where I can feel the synapses in my brain shut off and recoil.
I'm spent and frustrated with no release. Constantly climbing the steps of the the same six floors in our nine-storied building. Feeling trapped because of the workload and how I don't even have the energy to venture outside of the building to face beggar children who slap and kick me. I'm spent, like a worn single taka bill- limp, deteriorating and torn from age.
Even with the fatigue, anxiety, homesickness- even with the increasing burden of realizing that I am fully-responsible for providing a legitimate post-secondary school education on a volunteer's stipend and base training- even with feeling lost, alone and abandoned. Even when the only solace I have are those mere four to five hours of sleep inside of my droopy mosquito net. Even so, I love teaching.
Every morning I am in class 5A5 at least ten minutes before first period begins. It's 8:00 AM when I present the day's schedule to my first literature class, sipping on coffee sent by loved ones in between the daily announcements. As the caffeine begins to course its way through my body, it feels like the sun is shining brighter into my classroom. The lessons that I pored over, that I researched and compiled on my own, take shape in 5A5.
During their first week, I introduced the following poem:
Speech to the Young : Speech to the Progress-Toward
By Gwendolyn Brooks
Say to them,
say to the down-keepers,
"even if you are not ready for day
it cannot always be night."
You will be right.
For that is the hard home-run.
Live not for battles won.
Live not for the-end-of-the-song.
Live in the along.
When I passed the poem out, they read it once and looked up from the photocopy with the type of dread reserved for dentist office waiting rooms.
"I know this is difficult to understand now," I said. "But we will learn it together. Don't worry, you will understand this poem soon."
From the title to the last word, we studied every line of Brooks's poem. I offered an interpretation and had a few students come up to me after class worried that their answers were different. It was a teachable moment that I used the next day to show them that poetry, and much of literature, can have many meanings and interpretations. They, students of rote education, were stunned to learn something that didn't have one clear answer.
There's some quiet magic in seeing these young women grapple, for the first time, with abstract concepts, creative and critical thinking. Goosebumps dotted my arm when, after almost a week of studying the poem, the classes read it out loud. Each student read a line, fully understanding the text and the theme and the purpose of this poem about determination and staying positive. There's a satisfaction in knowing that they were reading out loud, completely confident and sure of the words that were emerging from them. After the last student read the last line, "Live in the along," all of their eyes lifted from the poem on their desks and small smiles beamed at me. They got it.
This is my paycheck.