Monday, October 09, 2006

Much More

Most of my posts have been pretty heavy thus far. Sure a great deal has been very challenging. I've been on the receiving end of threats, violence, and obscene gestures, but life up here has been very good to me, especially for the past couple of weeks.

At first, my class was chaotic, extremely violent, and intimidating. I asked around for some sort of help from a number of teachers who have been up here for years. I received answers such as, "I put my time in with those guys," and "I would have left if I had had to teach them this year." It seemed that no one was willing to touch these kids with a ten-foot pole let alone come into my class and give me pointers on how to deal with them. No one but Sophie, another Qallunaat teacher. Her encouragement and advice gave me the ideas and strength to put the kids through boot camp and gain control of an ugly situation. Over the next weeks, we became increasingly close and realised that we have an intense connection. We began to spend a great deal of time together, and realised just how much we have in common. We enjoy too many of the same things to describe here, so I will spare you the details.

It's tough to verbalise what we have without sounding corny and cliché. It's not as if we help each other deal with otherwise difficult lives teaching in the North. I love it here. While some of the other teachers are counting the days until Christmas, I find myself wondering if I actually want to go South. Life in le Grand Nord is wonderful, and I am extremely lucky and happy to have found Sophie, someone who loves it here as much as I do.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Class - Black Monday

Over the past few weeks after boot camp, things had been going relatively well. The students are able to sit in their seats and work for most of the time, with violent, frightening incidents happening less and less frequently. Until Monday morning. By noon, it seemed that all of the hard-won progress that the class had made in the past weeks had dissolved into a puddle of tears, saliva, rocks, and broken bones on my classroom floor.

One student who has a strong work ethic and craves sucess, forgot to take his medication and ended up throwing rocks at my house and threatening my dog's life. Another, normally a good student who can have violent outbursts, threw a volleyball in my face, punched a girl, and spit the biggest booger I've ever seen on her coat on his way out the door. Later, he showed me one of his soapstone carvings. The kid is eleven, and obviously talented. His carvings are better than some of the adult carvings I've seen in the village.

Another showed up with a broken nose. She became upset and tossed her journal on the floor. I reacted by telling her to "stop acting like a child". She blew up. I went down to the office at lunch, about a half hour later, to find her bawling and speaking in Inuttitut. When I went to console her, she stood up, eyes full of tears, bit her bottom lip, and waved a single finger in my face. Twice. I wanted to hug her and tell her everything was going to be okay, but how would I know? So I just took it and watched her walk away crying. I felt the tears welling up inside myself as well. There is nothing like watching a few of your own words take a bad situation and make it worse.

Monday was tough, and the rest of the week was not much easier. Yet, I find myself elated and happy. The kids obviously love being in my class. They do not want to leave at the end of the day or at lunch. It appears that I have at least given them a safe place to sit for a few hours a day. On top of that, a pupil in kindergarten has taken an exceptional liking to me. The smallest child in the school, she is absolutely adorable. She runs up to me and grabs onto my legs every time she sees me. However, it is more than this. Much more.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Residence

Some of you may wonder why I've taken so long to post. Believe me, if I had the time, I would. The reasons for my two-and-a-half week hiatus from presuming that people read this blog will become clear over the next three posts, which hopefully will come in the next few days.

The first of these three posts is the least exciting, but that is not to say that it is not exciting. The week at the residence was a lot of fun. First off, I stand corrected. Sec six does exist in private schools in Quebec, but not for the same reasons. Sec six exists in private schools in the South as a means to skip cegep. In the North, it exists to ready students for college and life in the South. However, the kids that I was supervising were not even in Sec six. The residence normally houses these students, but not this year, I will save you the bureaucratic details.
The students I lived with for a week come from small villages that do not have enough secondary students to warrant a teacher. Most of them are very good kids. Few of them are very good students.

My week consisted of waking up at 6:30 or 7:00 and cleaning up after the night's chaos. By eight, I had to start waking up the students, which was my most difficult task for most of the week. My knuckles were raw and bleeding from all of the knocking on the first day, which was capped off at 8:30 when one of the residents opened her door and said "Fuck you asshole" to me, and promptly slammed the door in my face. The regular animator (res. supervisor) Eric relieved me a few minutes later, and when he began knocking, she repeated her morning outburst at him, believing that it was still me. Big mistake. She was minutes away from being sent out to her home community.

After waking up the students, I went to the school to teach all day, after which I returned to the residence at 5:30 to look after the kids until 11:30, when I locked the doors and went to bed at aruond midnight. The evenings were great. I spent a lot of time planning, after the first night, when I sat in front of the television, a luxury I haven't had in a long time. I was well on my way into a four hour shift of underproductivity when I snapped out of the hypnotic laziness which follows thumbing through the channels only to inevitably discover that there is nothing on. I wasn't even watching the box, just looking at it, and unconsciously letting it drain my brain of all ambition and intellect. All of a sudden I realised that I was watching a biography of Julianne Moore. I laughed, shut off the tube, and didn't turn it on for the rest of the week.

The week was difficult, if only for the lack of sleep, until Sunday night, my last night. Around eleven, I answered the telephone only to hear an obviously drunk Inuk wanting to speak with one of the residents. She wasn't there, but he insisted, begged, and offered me money to get her on the phone. About twenty-five minutes later, the student was sitting outside when I went to lock the door. I told her about the call, and she responded that she feared for her safety. After speaking with her for a few minutes, we went inside and I locked the door.

At eleven-thirty five, I heard a knock. I assumed that it was one of the three missing residents. I opened the door to indeed be faced by one of the tardy kids, but also a couple of other Inuuk men, who I assumed were accompanying him. Immediately, I stopped all but the resident from coming in. The largest of the Inuuk, who is taller than me (gigantic by Inuit standards) slurringly sputtered "I want to see my cousin". Instinctively, I thought of the conversation I had had a few minutes earlier. I asked "Who is your cousin?" to which the man responded "Do you want me to fuck you up?"

I tried to diffuse the situation, asked his seemingly sober friends for help, and explained that the residence visiting hours were long over. However, he was determined to get into the residence to "see his cousin" which to me, always thinking of the earlier phone call and conversation, was a euphemism for "rape one of the residents". After five minutes of repeatedly answering no to the question "do you want me to fuck you up?" I suggested that he leave before I called the police. He quipped "Fuck the police. If you call the police, you're dead!", turned on his heel and headed for the door. I reached for the handle to close the door, only to see him throwing a haymaker from his hip in an effort to let me know he was the bigger man. I rolled with the punch, which deflected off of my cheek, and I grabbed him and restrained him, while yelling "Call the Police!" to the residents. The man's friends helped me remove him, which I appreciated dearly, considering I probably would have had to knock him out to do it myself. After I slammed his arm in the door a few times, he finally gave up and left before the police came.

The cops were busy. It took them about half an hour to show up because they had had four calls in a few minutes (there are two of them in the village). They showed up to make sure he was gone and advised me to come in the next day to give a statement. The next day at school, I asked the centre director, a man of some stature in Kangirsujuaq what I should do. Without hesitation, he responded "Charge him."

I went into the police station, where I still wasn't sure what to do. I was unhurt, tired, and confused. The cops made the decision for me, and pressured me into charging the man. They told me that they wanted to "get him" for other things he had done, and made jokes about the horrible ways they planned on detaining him. After leaving the building, I felt dirty and used. The village has been so heavy in the past couple of weeks that I still haven't had the chance to go in, identify his mugshot, and drop the charges.

Why? Well, as a first year teacher, I don't want to cause any trouble for myself. Selfishness aside however, I also do not believe that sending the man out of the community to a Southern jail for a month is a good remedy. It temporarily removes the problem and is a band-aid solution, which may only infuriate him further and teach him a few new tricks. Southern justice does not seem to fit up here. It is the community's problem, and having someone in Montreal deal with it seems to be an excercise in hiding one's head in the sand. Many people, Inuit and Qallunaat alike, have advised me to charge him. It seems to me that they want him to be charged for all of the other things that he has done to the community, and not what he has done to me. I welcome any and all suggestions about what to do, as it eats at me constantly.

My only regret from the week was that this happened on my last night. I was not able to go back in the next day and show the kids that I wasn't afraid, and that I cared enough about them to not let a drunken tirade drive me away. Alas, the school board has decided that I am too expensive to continue to relieve the overworked animators, and has recalled the head animator from Kuujjuaq for the time being. Nonetheless, I now have an enormous amount kind of respect for Eric and Roland, the animators, who have repeatedly borne the brunt of such outbursts. Also, I have gained the respect of some of the residents themselves, who watched the whole thing go down.