On weekdays, the bell sounds off at 12PM for lunch. After picking up food from the teachers’ cafeteria, there are three options:
- Eat with my students. Most of the time, this is what I do. Like the rest of the school’s students, the 39 kids of 7(4) are scattered in small groups among the basketball court tables. I’ve made it a goal to sit with a different clump every day –it’s too easy to get comfortable only with a select few. I’d even say that the reason I’m now close to all my students is lunchtime. It’s when I learn the most about individual quirks and personalities outside of the typical ‘classroom behavior’. And though the language barrier is still very much evident in our conversations, it’s become less of a hindrance. Just as I teach them English, they teach me Chinese. I now understand the jokes they make on each other’s names and most definitely have a better grasp on the class dynamics.
- Eat with other DukeEngagers. About once a week. Sometimes, it’s a scheduled meetup to talk about/work on a project. Other times, it’s just random. From things like weekend outings together to dorm sharing the whole summer, our group spends a lot of time together. For this reason, most of our on-campus meals throughout the school week tend to be apart.
- Eat with the teachers. Also known as the least commonly chosen option. For the first few weeks, it was because we (DukeEngage volunteers) wanted to get to know the kids in our class better. And now that we have, it’s become status quo to eat with the students. A habit we’ve formed that’s hard to break. Unless it is to join Michelle (site coordinator), we rarely ever sit with the teachers. Think the comparison between kids and adults. Our students are incredibly open, easily excited and readily affable. Any Dandelion volunteer, especially a DukeEngager (we stay longer than most), is someone for the students to befriend. The teachers are more intimidating. Not so much because they aren’t welcoming –no, many teachers are entirely outgoing and friendly –but more so because there is a large jump between just saying greetings in passing and actually carrying out more personal conversations. The bridge is one I’ve yet to cross with many teachers. As a 7th grade instructor, I have also never had an immediate excuse to talk to the 8th/9th grade teachers, who work in a different office. Though lunchtime is one of the few moments to meet teachers, I worry so much about not being able to express my thoughts adequately in Chinese, and finding something to talk about with them, that I often just opt for the safer option of eating with the kids instead.
Conclusion: In the next few weeks, I aim to start picking option 3 more. Not because I don’t want to eat with my students, but because there is a lot of perspective at Dandelion that only the teachers have. Perspectives I haven’t heard yet because I haven’t reached out. So I’ll start now. And while it will be intimidating at first, it will be good for me…nothing good was ever easy to come by, right?