The end of the third semester

I wasn’t far into my swimming career, which began at 9, when I decided I liked distance races. I started with the 400-meter swim and was a regular miler by the time I graduated high school and stopped competing.

When preparing for one 400-meter race, a coach advised me to divide the swim into 100s. Endorphins are high in the first leg and you can carry that on into the second. The last leg is when you push with all your might and give it everything you got. The third 100, though, is the hardest. The mental negativity strikes and the body weakens. What felt good in the first half feels like torture now. This is when you have to pull it together and keep kicking as hard as you can.

Running the mile in track is similar. The first two laps have enthusiasm for the competition and the last the heart, but the third requires guts and persistence.

Teaching in Lesotho is not much different.

My first two semesters came with difficulties, but I still had that fresh hope of a new teacher. I took the punches with a grin and continually reminded myself why I came here.

The third semester, though, a large brick wall sprouted and I ran right into it. Although present during my first year, the issues at my school, which I will not discuss online at this time, worsened, and nearly once a week I left school grounds in tears. Emotions boiled for so long that even the smallest situations became all-school affairs. I’m not the only teacher experiencing physical stress from the past six months and the students’ third-term marks reflect the turmoil.

To escape, I thought of home. The pain of not seeing my family or closest friends for two years haunted me and I couldn’t stop the daydreams of life beyond December 2013.

Today the third term ended. I finished delivering and grading exams yesterday and then spent today entering grades and signing reports. I now have about a two-month break from regular classes, although I plan to help with summer classes for students writing the national exam in October.

The toughest semester is over, leaving just one in my Lesotho teaching career. Yes, the last few months were very difficult but I am thankful for them. My students and I saw each other in some very bad moments, and some of my relationships with them are forever strained but it brought us closer. We are not the photographic American teaching African students, with clean classrooms and tidy uniforms, and my students aren’t suddenly getting things they didn’t before I came. Instead, we are messy and chaotic. We don’t understand each other and that hurts, but we are learning to work around the incomprehension. We are finding each other in the reality that this situation – me teaching foreign students and them learning from a foreign teacher – is excruciatingly difficult. We may be coming out of this term with some bumps and bruises but we haven’t lost the belief this is worth it, for both of us.

In August, we will begin the fourth and final term. The issues of this school are too deep to disappear during the winter, but that is OK. The new semester will still come with hope and we will still keep working together so they can pass. The third semester may have been the one with pain, but the fourth will bring out the heart.

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