Saturday, January 19, 2008

Say what you mean - mean what you say...

The electric kettle sounds like a rocket taking off miles away. Squat and round, a glass sputnik minus the appendages the water tumbles and bubbles inside 212 degrees Fahrenheit or so, outside it is still dark and probably near zero degrees, it is 5:30 am.

I'm up and awake drinking coffee just a couple hours earlier than I would be at home - we're adjusting to the 11 hour time difference between Cleveland and Almaty, Kazakhstan – should be completely acclimated just in time to turn around and head back home to take another spin at jet lag.

The teachers 'conference that we came to speak and teach at was by all accounts a rousing success. Maura, Russ, Dan, Frank and everyone involved did a stellar job. This was the first symposium of this magnitude attempted by this international school association, Quality Schools International, and it ran as true to course as the Siberian Express. Sara and I did our best to show how poetry and performance could be weaved into a curriculum as a learning tool and a jumping off point for comprehension and literacy. I think we succeeded.

The director of the school kicked off the second day by greeting everyone with an original poem he had penned the night before sausage stuffed with intentionally bad rhyme and slightly better humor but the coup de gras came when the model poetry slam we ran to end gathering was won by the physical education teacher performing Mason Williams Moose Goosers poem. The regional head of the district said that was the dollop of sour cream that sealed the deal for him – if we could get the gym teacher excited and involved in poetry there just may be some hope for the form.

Meeting teachers like the ones in attendance here at the Almaty International School this past weekend is what gives Sara and me hope - period. These folks are willing to pull up stakes and venture into the unknown to educate and instruct. International teachers are a very special breed indeed. A little bit crazy, but a good crazy. We heard stories of standing in 3 hour line delays at the Kirgizstan border crossing, attendees pulling all nighters and others camping out on gym mats on the tile floor of a kindergarten room just to be present at this conference. Not only does this illustrate the dedication and afore mentioned mania for teaching that has infected these people but these acts serve as an illustration of the undeniable worth and importance of these professional development events. These gatherings not only instruct, just as importantly they feed the spirit.

Part of the mission statement of the QSI schools is to graduate students who are kind and socially responsible as well as academically proficient. I can't think of a more noble aspiration, or one that has more significance. Better communication skills go a long way to achieving this goal. How many conflicts are the results of miscommunication? I'd venture to guess almost all. This pledge is one of main reasons we travelled here.

With just a little extra effort and more global perspective as exemplified by the curriculum here at the AIS I think we'd all be in a little better world. Somehow I managed to communicate via cell phone with a driver picking me and Sara up from downtown Almaty. The driver only spoke Russian and me only English but we figured it out. On the drive back to the school he showed us a picture of his family and we showed him photos of ours.

That was our conversation, sharing our similarities via images – a little bit like poetry.

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