The Myth Factor

22 Sep

I sat in the corner of the classroom, shadowing Elizabeth, a middle school teacher, as she went over the reading exercise in her MS2 (8th grade) class.  She asked a question.  No one volunteered.  She asked again.  Not a hand in the air.  I eyed the class, taking note of the middle schoolers and remembering just how awkward that age is.  Braces.  Gangly limbs that you’re not quite sure what to do with.  Girls towering over boys.  Boys trying to be cool despite their cracking voices.  Even as they sat in silence (or amidst the steady snickering and Greek chitter-chatter), I could get a sense for the array of personalities sitting in those chairs.  The popular girl, the funny guy, the teacher’s pet and the bashful one.  Elizabeth, still trying to get an answer out of one of these kids, searched the room for her victim.  Her gaze closed in on the bashful boy in the second row, nervously avoiding eye contact by blinking down at the desk that seemed too small for his body.  He was going to be chosen, no doubt about it.  I knew it.  He knew it.  It was uncomfortable for all parties.

“Hercules, how about you?”

Hercules?  Really?  The bashful boy who doesn’t feel secure in his own figure has a name like Hercules?  I know this is Greece, and naming your child Hercules could possibly be the equivalent to our naming a kid Adam or Eve or David, but I mean, Hercules??  It’s hard not to snicker when you hear that.  When you’re the teacher, it’s even harder to keep a straight face, especially when nobody else in the room gives it a second thought.

Over the next few days and my fair share of paperwork, I also came across an Odysseus and an Aphrodite.  Talk about laying on the expectations right from the get-go.  A famous politician, social activist, or sports star as a namesake may be hard to live up to, but a renowned war hero who concocted the idea of the Trojan Horse and helped win the Trojan War before taking that epic journey back home?  That’s a whole different ballgame my friends.

I’m waiting for the day I meet a Zeus.  While many kids write their college admissions essays on extra-curricular activities or overcoming obstacles like drug addictions and eating disorders, I think Zeus could have a solid personal statement discussing the hardships of having a father who ate all his siblings.  If anyone should know how lonely the top can be, it would be him, and those Ivy League schools should know it.

In Greece, or at least at Athens College and Psychico College, it’s not just myth and reality that can get blurred.  There are no special education classes formed for those students with learning disabilities, and thus all students are integrated in the same classrooms.  As a result, remedial and more average classes become settings not only for those who simply have a harder time learning a second language and could very well be extremely bright in other subjects, but also for the autistic and dyslexic, among others.  That’s a lie, actually.  In Greece, as I’ve come to learn so far, there is no such thing as Autism, ADHD, or any other disease or disability from which a child might suffer.  Any student with any type of disability is immediately classified as having dyslexia.  This is neither fair to the student nor the teacher, for while they should have the opportunity, especially in a prestigious, wealthy, and resourceful school like Athens/Psychico, to get the best education with attention paid to their special needs, we teachers are not qualified or prepared to teach these children, yet are forced to at the expense of them, us, and the other students in the class.

I’ve just firmed up my teaching schedule, and beginning this Thursday will make my rounds and assist the teachers in my department.  I’ve already co-taught two classes and, just this morning, taught a class completely on my own.  I was more nervous than a new kid on his first day at a new school, but I managed.  I never realized that teachers can be just as nervous as students, filled with expectations and anticipation and the terrifying concept of not knowing what to expect or anticipate.  I now have a new found respect and appreciation for all my teachers, especially those who were just starting out and new at the game when I walked into their classroom.  As we get into the thick of the school year, I’m sure it’ll get easier and easier, and I’m just trying to remember to take it one day at a time.  In a short amount of time I’ll be helping with Drama & the Arts, a class for 11th graders dealing with theater and Shakespeare, as well as many lower level (8th and 9th grades) English classes, teaching units on A Wrinkle in Time and The House on Mango Street.  I can remember sitting in the Elkins Park Middle School cafeteria reading A Wrinkle in Time, and I can still feel the desk wrapped around me in Wilman’s 9th grade English class discussing Cisneros and her poetry and prose.  I could’ve sworn when I graduated high school I was ecstatic to finally be out.  I don’t remember the part about my being ecstatic to go back.  For those who have an anxiety attack at the thought of returning to high school, it’s not that bad, really.  But then again, I’m also not going back as a 14-year-old metal mouth with a handful of honors classes to ace and popular kids to impress, so maybe I shouldn’t be the authority on this subject.

To end this post, I would like to amend an earlier submission.  I previously mentioned 4 things that nobody tells you before you get to Greece.  I forgot one:

5. Rat-tails are apparently still in, and going strong.

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2 Responses to “The Myth Factor”

  1. Risa Neiman September 24, 2009 at 2:40 pm #

    Allyson,

    Your blog is funny, engaging and very witty. I love reading it and am glad your dad forwarded it to me.

  2. Sue Mouck September 24, 2009 at 3:12 pm #

    Allyson,

    I look forward to reading your blog! I can really picture myself in Greece when I’m reading your stories. You have a really unique writing style. Be sure to let us know when you meet your Zeus!

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