I walked into the room and looked around to survey my surroundings. Taking it all in, I walked toward the first person who made eye contact with me. I hesitantly introduced myself as I watched the other people in the room in order to learn what to do. Where should I place my coat and my purse? Whom should I talk with? Where and how should I be seated? I am directed toward a young boy. He will not look me in the eye. Perhaps he is as nervous of me as I am of him. I am hesitant to speak, unsure of what I can and cannot do. What if the other women laugh at me? They will surely recognize that I do not know what I am doing, that I don’t belong here. The little boy makes some noises, I cannot understand him. He gets a little louder and makes hand gestures. At first I mimic them back to him, unsure of what he means. Then my eyes dart to the other women, they plead, “Help me! What does this mean?!” The woman next to me rolls her eyes, “He just wants juice.” She says it as if it should be obvious. I do not speak the boy’s language. I do not know the rules. I do not know the boundaries. I learn through observation and the patience of those around me.
Where am I? No, I’m not in another country. I am two miles away from my house at the town elementary school. Today, I am working with preschoolers.
Every day as a substitute teacher is a different cultural experience. There are rules, expectations, and boundaries which exist and I don’t know what they are until I mess one of them up. And I feel “culture stress” for the first couple hours of every day. I walk into a classroom feeling timid, unsure, and wanting to simply observe. Give me some time to learn the ropes and I function a lot better. I’m learning to be flexible and I’m being forced to jump in. Perhaps there’s some cultural training that’s going on here…
Today I also had lunch duty which involves walking around the cafeteria to help second graders with their lunch, solving arguments, answering questions (“Miss Lindemann, is there a Tigers baseball team?!), and giving permission to use the bathroom. Today, however, added something a little different. The children are (apparently) given a “dance time,” when they are finished eating. Today’s first song: The Macarena. All of the eight-year-olds knew this dance! The second song was The Electric Slide. The students were more hesitant, knowing there was a dance but not knowing how to do it. The other teacher on duty looked to me: “I don’t know this one!” I knew what to do. “I’ve got this.” And I proceeded to teach a cafeteria full of second graders how to do The Electric Slide.
Whether it be in the mountains of Poland at an English camp or in a cafeteria of my hometown elementary school, there are some things that transcend all culture.