When your principal invites the school to an end of the marking period party at his apartment, you go. Primarily, you are curious about his apartment and his grilling skills. Secondarily, you do not turn down a good meal. And finally, it is a perfect excuse to kick back and celebrate the fact that you have been teaching in Uruguay for nine whole weeks. Where has the time gone?! Report card grades are in, comments are complete, and the school is starting to settle back down. The sigh of relief is noticeable and comforting. We made that same sigh in the states after grades were due. Some things do not change in education no matter where you are in the world. As our principal said, “25% of the year is over and it is time to celebrate good times.”
The party was presented as a pot luck. Michael offered to cook the meat and asked that everyone bring something to either eat or drink. Of course, all of the booze was provided by the faculty from the states. Shocker. The usual suspects brought delicious yummy sides. There was homemade hummus, Tavis’ coleslaw (anything the man makes is amazing), salsa and black beans dip, mozzarella and tomato salad, and the most delicious banana cheesecake concoction I have ever tasted! (Nancy, you literally rocked mine and Michael’s world with that one!) And I learned that my principal, Michael takes grilling very seriously. Every few minutes a new meat emerged from the parrilla, piping hot and cooked to perfection. Julie walked around making sure everyone had happy and full stomachs. Sausage, steak, chicken. Uruguay made it, and we were eating it. Drinks were poured, conversations stirred. Elementary and secondary mingled discussing how school was going so far. Staff members shared there own stories about school. The party opened conversations with people I say hi to on a daily basis but never had the opportunity to really get to know. I learned that some of our security staff have some serious dance moves! Our technology teacher was gracious enough to speak to me in very slow Spanish to allow me to practice. My beautiful fellow English teacher salsa danced with the wife of our math teacher. We fiesta-ed with little inhibitions.
Looking around, I realized just how much of a community our little school really is for our faculty and staff. We are this bubble, sitting in the heart of Montevideo. We represent all facets of life – different continents and countries, different languages and cultures. We occupy different places in the ecosystem that makes up an education environment. However, there is one difference I noticed from the environment I was used to in the states: As everyone danced and sang and ate and talked, we didn’t protrude back towards our comfort zone. The environment was inclusive and open. There were no cliques or labels. In the states, faculty meetings and parties were notorious for comfort-zone seating – this is the coaches table, this is the fine arts table, this is the English department table, this is the guidance counselor table – and rarely did we branch from what we know. Sure, I may have a conversation with someone from a different faculty department or a member of the staff, but we never really stepped over the threshold towards friendship and understanding. There were even times we were forced to work with other people and then when break came, we immediately gravitated back to our people. My comfort zone here has been the North American international staff who are my age. But I have never been one to shy away from a conversation. So when our music teacher pulled me aside and said, “tell me about you. I haven’t had a chance to really meet you,” I knew I wasn’t in Hendersonville anymore. Not even language was going to be a barrier this night. We were determined to simply enjoy everyone and ourselves.
We have a wonderfully accepting international school. It was the factor that both Michael (principal) and Matt (director) emphasized about the school in my interview. It is the quality the faculty and staff take pride in when discussing our students. And acceptance is what I felt and hopefully contributed to mingling with my peers on the Terraza of my principal’s apartment building. We are UAS. We teach our children what it means to be educated citizens of the world. We celebrate differences and change. And we have a principal who will cook us meat, dance and sing, and open his home at the end of a marking period to an entire school just because “he thinks we are all GREAT!”