There are ten empty pizza boxes stacked up in the kitchen. Every cup is dirty and in the kitchen sink, and the living room is littered with crumbs and pizza crust. There is no more water, soda, or even mango juice left in the fridge. It’s obvious: teenagers have been here.
For months, my 11th grade female students have wanted to have a movie night and sleepover at my apartment. Somehow the boys also got invited (for the movie part), and last night I ended up with a living room full of 11th graders, spending their Friday night at their English teacher’s apartment.
It’s something that never in a million years would happen at a public school in America. But this isn’t a public school. And it’s not in America. I teach at an international school in Uganda. The differences in atmosphere and relationships are astronomical.
In December, a co-worker of mine posted this on Facebook: “I went to a birthday dinner this evening. The birthday girl was turning fifteen, and seemed completely unfazed that most of her guests were her teachers. International schools have a different dynamic, that’s for sure!”
It’s so true- the dynamics of an international school are unique beyond compare.
The high school I teach at is small. There are 17 freshmen, 14 sophomores, 8 juniors and 10 seniors. Our relationships with these kids are anything but ordinary. Teachers don’t just see students Monday through Friday between the hours of 8 and 3. We hang out together after school, we go to the zoo over Christmas break, we plan trips to Jinja over Easter weekend, we have kids over for dinner, they get ready for school banquets at our homes. That’s just how it is here.
One of my girls said last night at the sleepover, “I would never hang out with my teachers in my home country, but it’s different here. We’re like a family.”
Most of my students are international, so their parents here are very busy doing mission work or working for NGOs. It’s why our roles as teachers are that much more important in their lives. We’re the ones at their ball games, school performances, and spending time with them outside of school. It’s where we fit in to God’s plan.
I think a lot of my elementary-teacher friends think I’m crazy. They see the amount of time secondary teachers spend with their students and just don’t get it. But the things our kids go through in this stage of life are so intense. It’s impossible not to get close to kids when classes are so small and especially at a Christian school, where your discussions often involve matters of faith and spirituality.
I don’t mind if people look at me funny because I’d rather spend time with my students than some adults. God didn’t send me here to spend all my time with people my own age. He sent me here to be a light for Him for my students. He sent me here to give advice to my girls who are crying over boys or problems at home. He sent me here to talk to the boys about their future plans and how to properly treat a girl. God sent my secondary-teacher co-workers to do the same things. It’s really a beautiful thing we have going here!
In less than two months I’ll leave this beautiful country and head back to America, but I’ll never forget what I’ve experienced here. I’m leaving this place with what I feel like are now dozens of little brothers and sisters from all over the world. They’ve certainly changed my life. I pray that by the time I leave, I’ll have done the same for at least one of them.