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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Impermanence! ERRR!

Norbu and I

“Norbu, where’s my pen?

“Impermanence! It’s gone!”

“Norbu, what’s the date today?”

“Impermanence!  I don’t know!”


“Impermanence, impermanence, impermanence…”


Norbu, the monk Dzongkha teacher at my school, favorite topic is on the nature of impermanence whereas it’s my least favorite concept because I find it difficult to internalize.  I have gotten use to Norbu always teasing me about impermanence, yet trying to teach me.  However, one particular day his teaching on the topic really sank into my heart.

It was a quiet day in the staff room because most of the teachers had gone home for the day.  I was completing my report cards at my desk when Norbu took a seat beside me and said, “Hey Man!  Dawa (Sonam’s teenage niece who lived with me) is finished with her exams and she will be leaving in a few days to her village, so how are you feeling?”

Giving him an evil eye because I knew that this conversation was going to be about impermanence I sighed, “Well I’ve been distracted with report cards, so I haven’t really been thinking about it, but now that you’ve mentioned it, I feel sad.  Thanks!”

Norbu slyly grinned at me and started his lecture, “You know, life is like a dream.  Dawa will soon be gone and she will fade into a memory.  Weeks will turn into years and from time to time you will wonder how she is doing.  Then one day you will be very old and you will barely remember her.  Your time with Dawa will seem like a dream.  Like it never happened.  The same thing with Dawa is probably happening with Sonam and it will surely happen with your memories in Bhutan.  Sometimes we have to ask ourselves, was I dreaming?  Did that really happen?  Nothing stays the same and the past is like a dream.  Impermanence!” 

Then as quick as he came to hit me with some daily teachings, he ran off saying, “Have a nice day, don’t miss me…” leaving me sitting alone in the staff room frowning, pouting, contemplating and resisting the nature of impermanence.  

I knew that there was some truth to his little speech and I felt even more somber wondering if his predicament would come true:  Would my unique friendship with Dawa really fade into a memory as if I had been dreaming?  Dawa had lived with me for four months and we took care of each other.  When she was sick, I would rush her to the hospital and if I had a soar throat, she would make me tea.  She taught me how to make curries and I taught her how to make French toast.  We were always together; walking, shopping, eating, laughing...  She was my best friend, little sister and sometimes I joked that she was even my big baby.  I didn’t want all of this to end and turn into memories, but at the same time I knew that Norbu was right-everything is impermanent and I would have to let go of Dawa without resisting the change. 

So throughout the week, while we did our usual cooking together, cleaning and drinking coffee around the bukhari, I enjoyed every simple remaining moment and tried to stay in the present.  When she started packing, I told myself that this was the nature of life:  everything is always changing so there is no need to cling to moments.

However, when her ride came to take her to her village and it was time for us to depart for good, I walked her to the car and I was feeling ok until I heard Norbu’s voice ringing in the back of my head, “This is it, nothing will ever be the same, Dawa will be a memory in a few seconds just like a dream.  Impermanence!”  Then I could hear myself resisting in the background, “NOOOO.”  Errrr I was so disappointed with myself because the tears started to flow as I wished some things could stay the same forever.  

I think that she was shocked to see my well put together self silently weeping out of nowhere and she instantly threw her arms around me while I said, “I’m really going to miss you!  Please call me if you need anything.” 

Unlike me, Dawa gets Buddhist concepts easy and she calmly said, “I’m going to miss you too!  Please don’t cry.  I don’t want you to be sad, I think that maybe I should stay a little longer.”

“No of course not, I want you to enjoy your time with your aunty.  Don’t worry about me!  I’m going to be fine.  I’m just sad to see you go, but I promise I will be ok.  Besides, I will try to stop by Gangtey to say goodbye to everyone, so maybe we will meet again,” I said trying to sound positive.

After a long squeeze, I hurriedly walked away wiping the tears and hoping not to see anyone.  Then I felt my arm being tugged back and when I turned around, I was surprised to see that it was Dawa.  She ran back to give me one last big hug and for further assurance that I would be ok.

After she left, my home felt empty and lifeless without her.  The first few days were strange adapting to living alone once again.  I didn’t feel like lighting the bukhari for just one person and I didn't know how to make rice for one.  Sometimes out of habit, I would even peek my head out of the room thinking she was there and I would start to say, “Hey why are you so quiet?”  But then I would realize that she was gone and I would sigh repeating Norbu’s words, “Impermanence!”

After a week, I really started to embrace the nature of impermanence; I didn’t feel sad or lonely and I just continued with life without resistance.  So I was surprised when she called me and inquired, “Are you lonely? I’m thinking that you are lonely, so I want to come back until you leave Bumthang.”

I tried to reassure her, “It’s impossible to feel lonely when I have Norbu and all the neighbors.  Also my students are always dropping by.  I’m fine!  Seriously, you don’t have to come all the way back for me.  You will be bored with no school while I’m at work all day.  I promise that I’m fine.”

We went back and forth for several long minutes and in the end she made an excuse that she wanted to come back and rewrite some school notes.  I started giggling at her excuse and I gave in saying, “As long as I am here, this is your second home, so you are more than welcome to come back, but you don’t have to come back if you’re worried about me because for the last time, I’m fine!”

The next evening she came with a basket of gifts from her aunty: cheese, bread, apples and a hand woven scarf.  She explained that the last image of me with teary eyes made her feel terrible and when she told her family they were also worried sick about me.  I laughed a little still trying to convince her that I was fine, but I understood how Bhutanese are extremely family orientated and concerned with others happiness.  So I thanked her for coming back to check up on me. 

Then when it was time for her to leave once more, somehow I felt differently than the time before.  I didn’t feel resistance to the nature of impermanence; there was no little voice screaming, “Nooo”.  Instead I gave her a big hug and I smiled goodbye accepting that this was part of life.  Finally, somehow Norbu’s teachings started to settle into my heart with ease and the tables have turned as I quickly answer Norbus’ mundane questions with his own words, “Impermanence!” and now he occasionally responds, “Errr.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Goodbye Fifth Graders - A field of tears

My palms felt sweaty and my heart was beating a little faster than usual as I walked in class and said, “Fifth graders grab your notebooks and a pen, then follow me to the football field.  They excitedly gathered their materials and skipped along to the field.  My class captain boy looked up at me with a big smile and said, “Miss, I like when you take us outside to learn.  What are we going to do today?” His happy little face made my heart feel even more ill because I knew that sweet face would be frowning within minutes and all I could do was force a fake smile while putting my arm around his shoulders withholding the answer.  With each step further into the field, my heart sank deeper and deeper into the pit of my stomach.  Today would be the day I would tell them.  I had pushed it back for so long.  I had to tell them in person before they heard it from someone else.

Since I have a very special bond with my class, I was worried about how they would take my decision and I tried to sound normal as I said, “Students gather around and sit down.  I have an important announcement to make.”  Now my heart was really aching and pounding more than ever.  I took one deep breath and opened my mouth to speak, but the words were all stuck in my throat; the only thing that seemed to come out were the beads of tears falling from my glossy eyes.  I hung my head low and I tried whipping the tears away, but it was useless because they splattered out like a string of pearls bursting on the floor. 

The students were silent and stunned.  There faces looked horrid, as they had never seen me cry before.  My class captain asked in an alarmed and protective voice, “Miss, what happened?  Tell us!  Who made you cry?” 

I took one deep breath and slowly said in a soft, low voice, “I’m ok.  Everything is fine.  I’m just really sad.  As you all know I love each and every one of you very much, as if you were my very own children.  I also love Chumey School and Bhutan too.  I had a great year here.  So it breaks my heart to tell you that I decided not to stay next year, I will be leaving Bhutan.”

They were shocked and instantly on the verge of tears.  They shouted in denial, “Don’t worry Miss, we will call our government and ask if you can stay.  We will go to the principal and tell him he must let you stay.  We will even write to your government too.  We will figure a way to let you stay.”

I softly smiled at them through my blurry tears and said, “I don’t think you understand.  It was my decision not to stay.  The government will let me stay, but I chose not to because I feel like I have reached my growing capacity at Chumey School and I can feel in my heart that it is time for me to move on.  I feel a calling to do something different.  I have decided to go to India to learn about Buddhism and meditation.  I hope you understand.”

There was a moment of silence and then a wave of tears flooded the football ground as the girls openly cried and the boys tried to hide their glossy eyes.  Suddenly they all fired an intense round of pleading bullets at me and I felt terrible as they begged, “NOOOOOOOOO Miss, please don’t leave us.  You are like our second parent.  You can’t go because no one will take care of us like you.  Who will protect us?  What about our classroom, it will turn ugly if you leave.  Miss who will take care of the library?  It will get destroyed.  Please don’t go back to America.  No America!  I never thought that you would leave us.  Miss don’t you love us...”

As horrible as I felt, I forced my tears to stop flowing and I held my ground, otherwise, I thought they were going to tie me up and lock me in a closet until next year.  I said, “Everyone please try to calm down.  I’m not going to America; I’m going to India for mediation retreats.  Please understand that just because I am leaving doesn’t mean that I don’t care about you.  It was a very hard decision because I love you all so dearly, but I know that it’s my time to go.  Nothing in life stays the same and it’s our time to depart.”

My Class Captains
Their devastated faces seemed to accept it until one student announced, “Last night I had a dream that Miss was going back to America and I was crying in the dream.  And now it looks like my dream came true.  I was hoping that it was just a dream.  I can’t believe your leaving.  Please don’t go to America.”  The students started to sob even more and they started pleading all over again, “Miss if you just stay one more year, then you can leave next year and we will let you go.”  Then another chirped in, “No, please stay just five more years until we graduate from Chuemy.  Please Miss then we will be as smart as class 20.”

My sweethearts
I tried my best to turn the situation into something positive and I said, “Again, I’m not going to America, I’m going to India.  I’m so sorry, but my decision is final.  I have a feeling that we will meet again in the future, so please don’t be upset.  Everything happens for a reason.  I also have a very good feeling that next year you will get an amazing, new foreign teacher.  The new teacher will bring new ideas to the school and teach you new things.  You will love the new teacher and he or she will love you too.  Also the new teacher might be feeling nervous the first week of school and since you already had a foreign teacher, you will be experts on how to help him or her.  Who knows, you could get a teacher that is ten times better than me.  Imagine that!  So me leaving could be a very good thing.  I want everyone to get excited about having a new foreign teacher.”  (At the time, I didn’t know who the new teacher would be, but I have come to know her through emails and my prediction was true-she’s amazing).

The students were still reluctantly moaning and their faces were plastered with anxiety and heartache.  I knew that I had to turn this day around so I explained, “I asked you to bring your notebooks because I wanted to teach you what I like to do when I feel sad; I like to write my feelings and thoughts in a journal.  So today I want you to write about how you feel.  Then I want you to write about what things you are looking forward to about having a new, foreign teacher.  Please try to focus on the good that can come.  Lastly, draw a picture that goes with your writing.” 

As they wrote their tender feelings down, they silently bawled into their notebooks and the only sound I could hear were musical notes of sniffling noses.  The football field felt like a burial ground.  They wrote and wrote, drew and drew, sniffled and sniffled.  Every once and awhile I could hear them whispering to each other about how to spell “America” in order to complete the sentence, “I wish Miss no go to America.”  I think that after I told them I wasn’t going to stay next year, they weren’t able to hear the part about India and all they could think about was that I was leaving, which they assumed back to America. 

After a long time of writing, I could see that the situation wasn’t getting better and the bell was about to ring for the next period.  I didn’t want to leave them feeling blue and crying.  I was still on a mission to bring a smile to their faces when I got a sudden idea.

“The bell is going to ring soon, so please close your notebooks.  I want everyone to feel happy, so before we walk back to class, I need twenty-five hugs.  Yes, everyone has to give me a hug.  Who’s going first?” I demanded with lots of enthusiasm.  It worked like a charm.  Their faces turned into oversized smiles and they were giggling trying to decide who would go first.  Bhutanese teachers don’t tend to hug their students and so this would be abnormal for them to receive a monster hug from a teacher.  As a result, they were giggling with awkwardness. 

Then one of my boys tried to be a joker and said, “Ok I’ll go first” but when I went to hug him, he pulled his hands together dropped to the ground and curled up into a ball so I couldn’t hug him.  But of course a little laughing ball couldn’t stop me and I squatted next to him and hugged his rounded back while saying, “Ohhhh I love my Pema.”  My students thought that this was the funniest sight they had ever seen and they all screamed in laughter, jumping up and down in excitement.  

Every hug brought new waves of laughter and twenty-five hugs later there were no more tears.  They went back to class with smiles, especially after I promised them an end of the year party.  It was apparent that there had been a shift in emotions and for one of the last times I said, “I love you all!  See you tomorrow!” 
Ice Cream Party!
Going away presents 
Three cute cups!  Thanks Girls!
More presents: scarf, card, mirror, jewelry

The saddest letters they wrote in their notebooks on our somber day, but their writing is  sooooo cute and I wanted to share how sweet they really are and to show how they couldn't understand that I wasn't going back to America.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Two Very Different 9th Grade Classes

Class 9A photo:  I'm the English teacher and Norbu is the Dzongkha class teacher
In addition to teaching fifth grade English and being a librarian, I also taught two ninth grade classes.  The differences between my ninth grade classes were like night and day; one was good in studies, well behaved and cheerful while let’s just say the other one was the exact opposite.  The later would take me on a roller coaster ride, but would forever touch my heart.

My first spectacular ninth grade class (section 9A) was what I called my party class because they were always in a good mood like they were at a party.  When I entered the class, all I could hear was a thunder of chairs being pushed back as they hurriedly stood up and shouted, “Good Morning Miss!  How are you today?  Looking beautiful Miss!”

9A classroom is so bright and beautiful just like them
I could never jump right into teaching because they were so giggly, social and happy that I couldn’t help but join in with their chatter.  So I always started the class off by saying “How are you all doing today?  What’s new?”  After I heard from them, sometimes I fulfilled their request for a short story about anything interesting that happened to me.  I’m a good storyteller, so when I said, “Ok I have a story for you” they immediately hushed each other, the class became silent within seconds, large smiles took over their faces and they leaned forward ready to be entertained.  I usually told them scary, yet funny stories about my dangerous, black, stray dog that was occupying my doorstep.  They loved my dog stories and I think that they will never forget my madness with my black dog as they asked me everyday if anything new happened with him (If I had more time, I would write a whole book about him).

I also loved this class because there were a handful of girls who I dearly admired for their outspokenness and how they wouldn’t put up with any BS from the boys.  Nevertheless, the boys were respectful to the girls and they treated them like their sisters.  The class acted like one big happy family.  The class was also filled with leaders and they were not afraid to correct each other if someone was misbehaving.  For instance, if someone was repeatedly talking while I was teaching, all I had to do was give them a cross look and the students would scold who ever was talking by saying, “Miss is trying to teach, stop it and apologize now.”  They were so easy to love.  

9C Class
On the other hand, my next ninth grade class (section 9C) was the complete opposite from the other ninth graders (section 9A).  In fact, the beginning of the year with them started off a bit rocky, but slowly over time, the class underwent a huge transformation.  In the beginning, the class was notoriously known as the naughty class because most of the boys in the class would get in trouble for breaking school rules and the boys dominated the class like big bullies while the girls were quiet and often submissive.  Most of the teachers disliked subbing in the class and would often storm out of the class, including one guest Canadian teacher who refused to ever go back claiming the students were similar to “bad western students.”  On several occasions, when I came into the class, I found some girls weeping due to the boys bullying them.  The feminist in me would light up and I would give the boys a good scolding.  Almost all the boys had bad attitudes as well as manners and they would frequently shout out obnoxious remarks.  I became very strict with the class, otherwise, I thought that they would walk all over me.      

Then one day, I was thinking about how my two ninth-grade classes were so different.  I was contemplating how 9A was bubbly and their classroom was bright and beautiful just like their personalities.  In contrast, 9C was a dull classroom and the students didn’t seem so enthusiastic and positive.  I started thinking about how people attract people, forming groups.  It was amazing thinking how all those happy, smart 9A students somehow attracted each other to form 9A while the naughty boys and shy girls of 9C also attracted each other.  Then it hit me, “OMG somehow I have attracted naughty 9C to my schedule.  I can see how I could attract bright 9A, but why naughty 9C?”  I started thinking and the only answer I got was that I used to love working with tough students in urban schools because I could always see through their toughness and I enjoyed helping them.  I felt inspired to help 9C turn around their attitudes, but first I would have to change too; I would have to change my strategies for dealing with their behavior; I would have to become more loving towards them.   

My first step was talking with their class teacher about my concerns for the class and she set down her expectations with them.  The class knew I had an ally!  Next, I changed my strategy of scolding the boys to more of a counseling style.  I would sit on the corner of my desk, put teaching aside and have a heart-to-heart talk with them.  I once told the class, “When I hear other teachers complain about you, I feel really bad because even though I’m not your class teacher, I’m still one of your teachers so it hurts me to hear when you act bad.  Yet whether you behave good or bad, I am always going to care about you because you are not just my students, but you are like nephews or nieces to me since we see each other everyday.  I know that 9C can be the best class in the school, but you have to change your attitudes.  We have a whole year together, so something has to change.  I can’t continue going on like this.  So how can we make this change happen?”  The students looked guilty hanging their heads and they murmured apologies.  Then we brainstormed about how the class would act from that day forward: don’t be disrespectful, no shouting, be kind to the girls, etc.  That day was the first day of a slow transformation.

Additionally, throughout the year I taught the boys with some made up stories about how to be a gentleman.  Some of my stories were funny and I would start off by telling the boys that I was really worried about them because I didn’t think that they would ever get a girlfriend or married due to their bad habits and so I wanted to help them transform their ways.  The class would giggle and I would try to keep a straight face while saying, “I’m serious, girls like gentlemen and you boys need some help in that category?”

My other strategy to helping the class was trying to empower the girls by having a few minutes in the class where only the girls could give answers; otherwise, the boys would eagerly answer while the girls were too shy to raise their hand let alone speak.  And if the girls were too shy to speak, I would read their answers for them and tell them that their written responses were wonderful.  Sometimes I would even joke, “Geez girls, speak up, please tell the class your answers, your smarter than the boys” and the boys and I would exchange a sly grin while the girls blushed with confidence.  I also counseled the girls to not tolerate being bullied and I modeled how to do so.  In private, I often followed up on the boys’ demeanor to the girls and they would report that the boys no longer bullied them.  Slowly but surely, the girls started to share their voice in the class.  The class was changing!

Although I was sterner with 9C than my other classes, I tried my best to be the most tender with how I corrected them.  As time went on, the boys became more and more respectful as well as hardworking.  The class atmosphere felt different and they became very serious about their studies.  Even their classroom looked cleaner and they added some beautiful decorations, which matched their new change in attitude.  Then one day, when they were all working hard writing summaries, it hit me that this was no longer the same class and I just smiled at them saying, “Wow, you are one of my best classes.”  I’m not sure what exactly caused the shift or what strategies other teachers implemented, but all I know is that over time they became one of my favorite classes and I always looked forward to teaching them.

On the last day of school, they gathered around me with sad faces and teary eyes saying, “We are going to really miss you, please don’t forget us.” I told them that I could never forget them and not only was I so proud of them for their improvement in writing, but also for their huge behavior transformation.  Then one boy who was twice my size said out loud with a frown, “Miss, I feel like crying” and the students could barely giggle because most of us felt like crying and we were all doing our best to hold it in.  

I gave them my last lecture, but it wasn’t on English.  Instead I said, “Some of you might not be satisfied with your English grade, but instead of dwelling on your grade, I want you to focus on how much you’ve improved because everyone has made progress and I am so proud of you.  Remember the most important thing in life isn’t necessarily your English grade, but how you treat others and the choices you make.”  I went on like an aunty advising them to never give up on their dreams and to always follow their heart.  As I walked away with a knot in my throat, I turned around one last time to say, “Awe, I’m really going to miss you all!  We will meet again, in this life or the next.  I love you!” 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chumey M.S.S Primary Library

When I reached Chumey M.S.S I was shocked to discover that apart from teaching English, I would also be a librarian for kindergarten to sixth grade.  When my principal informed me, I nervously gasped, “What? I was told that I was going to be teaching math and science.  No one told me that I was going to be a librarian.  I don’t have any real experience being a librarian.”  However, I was no match to crush my principal’s wish; he had a plan to make a library just for the primary students (k-6), whereby I would be in charge of.  He shared with me his concern that majority of Bhutanese students didn’t read outside of school.  Therefore, he wanted me to inspire them to form good reading habits at a young age, so they would grow up to be adults who love to read.  He gave me no guidelines, but reassured me that he would support whatever I came up with as long as I motivated the students to read.  I wasn’t sure how I was going to do this and I was left stunned.  I had no idea that this would be the most perfect job for me, as I would come to love being a librarian and the library would end up being me my little contribution to the young Chumey students.

In the beginning, since there wasn’t yet a primary library to take the students to because it was being built, I dug through piles of books to take to the students’ classroom for library period.  At first, it felt more like a reading period than a library period.  There weren’t enough books for the kinders and first graders, so they would share and sometimes fight over them.  I would get creative and have them copy the print in their notebooks so they could practice reading on their own and I would make up my own stories on the board. 

Sharing a book
I viewed library period in their class as a time to prep them for a new functioning library.  I always started off by teaching them a few songs with hand movements to elicit a happy mood.  Then I would do a read aloud while modeling a new skill, such as how to predict using pictures.  Finally, they would read books at their tables while practicing the new skill.  Lastly, I would wrap it up with one last song and as I walked away, I always heard them still cheerfully singing in the distance, “The wheels on the bus go round and round…” 

They didn’t seem to mind that library period was conducted in their class with a few books and they were just happy to sing, listen to me read and then get their hands on a book.  It was a fun period for them and when they kinders would see me coming with books they never failed to chant, “Miss Sabrina, Miss Sabrina...” while jumping up and down in excitement and disturbing the entire primary block.  It didn’t matter what age they were, they loved to be read to. 

Meanwhile an empty classroom in the primary section was being ripped apart to replace the floors and walls to become the new library.  One day I stuck my head in to have a peak and felt a little nauseous at how they would ever finish.  Every week the workers would tell me one more week, and I was worried that I would never get a library to take the children to.

The finished library
Finally, when the new library was finished with new bookcases and benches, I was so excited because I knew that my real work would soon snowball into something beautiful beyond anyone’s expectations.  I was struck with a vision: a bright colorful library so divine that the students would beg me to let them in to read.  I believe that one’s environment sets the tone for learning; a clean, heavenly place inspires learning and gives off good vibes.  I also had two grand plans to encourage reading:  my first plan was to set up a system where students (3rd to 6th grade) for the first time in Chumey history would be able to checkout a book to take home so they could practice reading.  Most students don’t have a collection of books at home or even one book.  My second idea was to implement an afterschool buddy-reading period. 

It took weeks to carry out my vision with tons of helping hands.  First, I donated five buckets of paint: a sweet pale pink and baby blue.  Numerous students and some staff members painted layers upon layers for weeks; blue walls with pink trimming.  When it was finished the only thing we could do was say: WOW!  It was the most alive place in the school. 

Next, it was months of decorating and organizing.  Putting together the library became a bonding time with my fifth graders, as they were my biggest supporters spending countless hours after school helping me.  Together we made over a hundred colorful stars taping them on the ceiling and we pasted numerous posters on the wall. They were in love with the new beauty of the library and they referred to it as a temple. 

Additionally, my fifth graders became more than students; they became mini-librarians.  I taught them how to look at the print of a book to categorize it by grade level in order to put it on the designated shelf.   They would shine with confidence when I asked them their opinions, “Do you think this book should go on the fourth grade shelf or fifth grade shelf?”  They spent so much time helping me organize all the books that they became protective over the library and would get upset if they found that a younger student put a book on the wrong shelf.  They thought of the library as their second classroom!  

In fact, they cared for the library so much that I even entrusted them with the library key when I went to the capital to reach my parent’s.  When I returned, I learned they spent hours of their free time reading books in the library and I found everything exactly in place.  They even surprised me by hanging more stars.

I carried out my library period in a similar manner as I used to do in their classroom.  I greeted them at the door, they sat down on the floor ready to sing a happy song and enjoy a read aloud.  However, after the read aloud, I let them freely roam around their designated bookcases to checkout a book to take home and practice reading.  

We had no fancy computers or gadgets to check out the books.  Instead, I taught the students how to independently run the library on their own, so I could spend more time helping students read and teaching them knew strategies.  Also I wanted them to be able to run the library in case there was a day I wasn’t able to be there.  So when the students were ready to check out a book, the class captain or any available student would write the title of the book the student wanted to checkout as well as the book record number in the library notebook next to the student’s role number.  Upon returning the books, they would line up in role order, show me their book while I referred back to the record notebook to make sure it was the correct one.  Lastly, the class captains quickly checked the returned books to make sure none were damaged (the thought of somebody checking the books for damage, made the students take good care of their books).  It was an old fashioned check out system, but it worked.

Before releasing them to check out books, I would go over the five-finger rule:  To help them figure out if a book they wanted was too difficult or easy, they would read a random page and for each word they didn't know, they would put up one finger.  If they got to four-five fingers, the book was too hard and they would search for another one. If they got to two-three fingers, they could check out the book, but if they got zero to one finger, then it was too easy and again they would search for a different book.  They usually didn’t have too much difficulty finding a book that was just right, because each bookcase was labeled with a grade level.  There were even bookshelves for fairytales, fables, a teacher corner, but the students favorite bookcase was the “book hospital.”  

The book hospital was a shelf for students to place books that needed some kind of repair so that I could fix them.  They thought it was funny to have a book hospital for “hurt” books and they referred to me as the Book Doctor.  Although it was my fifth graders who loved to fix the books and they were the real Book Doctors (thanks kidos).   

All the students loved taking books home and they rarely forgot their books.  If a student did forget their book, they were required to write me a short letter about why they forgot their book and when they would bring it back.  Then they would usually return it the next day and only then would they be allowed to check out another book.  I only had four students out of nearly a hundred who lost their book and they immediately replaced the book while sympathetically apologizing. 

All in all, the primary library was a new phenomenon at Chumey M.S.S and I feel so grateful that my principal nudged me to be a part of it.  It turned out to be one of my favorite experiences in Bhutan.  I have no doubt that it instilled a new love for reading in the students.  For instance, I would see students reading under trees during lunch with their friends and sometimes I would see them in their classroom reading while they waited for their next teacher.  Once a student even told me that he couldn’t return his book because his mom wanted to finish reading it too.  I learned that the students went home and shared their books with their family, often reading to little siblings or their older siblings would take their book to read to them.  I believe that Chumey students will mature into book loving adults.

After-School Buddy Reading

6th graders and 4th graders reading to each other
To really inspire the students to read their library  books they checked out, I created an extra short period on Fridays for an afterschool budding-reading (3rd-6th grade).  Third grade boys and fifth grade boys would buddy-read to each other in one classroom while third grade girls and fifth grade girls read to each other in another classroom.  In the same way, fourth grade buddied up with sixth grade.  All in all, I had four classrooms of students reading to each other and since it was my creation, I was the only teacher on duty.  Fortunately, the girls were extremely responsible and they only required a quick walk around to make sure everyone was busy reading to each other.  On the other hand, the boys tended to be less enthusiastic, so I spent more time in their classrooms encouraging them to read.  Eventually, I realized that I could benefit with more support for supervising four classrooms (about 100 students), so I recruited two of my best ninth graders to supervise the boys while I supervised the girls. 
A 5th grader buddy reading to her 3rd grade buddies

Buddy Reading
Overall, It ran smoothly and I loved watching the students read to each other.  They would often practice at home because they would want to impress their buddies with their reading.  It was cute!  I also had modeled to the fifth graders and sixth graders how to help their younger buddy by chunking hard words and how to ask their little buddies questions about the story to check for comprehension.  It was an honor watching them act like little teachers and I felt good knowing that something magical had occurred at the school; students were forming good habits of reading and helping each other.  I’m really going to miss library and reading period!

Painting Time
The first blue wall 

Painting the windowsills and trims pink

Pink Hands
Hanging Stars
Decorating Time

Hanging Posters
Organizing Books

Making Labels

Our Welcome Sign!!!
Glueing boarders

Books Everywhere; trying to sort them out by grade level

Team work!  Everyone has a job and is working hard
Thank you girls
My Sweet Sunday Helpers 
Choose a book
Half way done
We are done!
My mini-librarians 

We Love the Chumey M.S.S Primary Library