I didn’t think I had time to write a long post today, so I was going to just post some photos I took at school during cleaning time. But I got sucked into the writing vortex.
What is cleaning time? At my school it’s the half-hour or so after the last period of the day, when the students “clean” the school. They sweep and mop the floors, take out the garbage, clean the blackboards, sweep up the grounds, and generally tidy up. I say “clean” because it seems like all they do is move the dirt from one corner to another and back again.
Broom fights, gossip, and mimicry of unpopular teachers seem to be much more popular than actual cleaning. And rightfully so. I think schools here should hire a janitor, or else make the maintenance guy—as far as I can tell all he does is change fluorescent tubes, trim the trees, and watch TV—do some work.
I’ve played slipper badminton with my students in a back hallway when none of the other teachers were watching. My opponents used their school slippers—a required part of their wardrobe, colour-coded by grade and labelled with the student’s name—and I used the closest teacher’s equivalent: one of my Birks. In addition to badminton and the occasional armwrestling match, I try to talk to my students. Even students with severely limited vocabularies—some only know two or three English phrases—use me as an excuse to avoid cleaning since I support their claims that they’re being studious by practicing English. Though some of the teachers have caught on and try to herd the students away when they see me coming.
In addition to regular cleaning, there’s “big cleaning.” This happens at various pre-ordained times of the year—before inspections from the department of education, before graduation, at the end of each term, and so on. During big cleaning the students can be seen wiping any surface that can be reached with a dirty rag, including desks, door frames, and windows. They also wax the floors, carry out any obsolete textbooks to the collection shed, and have longer-than-usual standing naps using broom handles for support.
Here’s a photo from the big cleaning day we had at the end of the school year, on March 18th. Some boys are trying to deal with a puddle of wax that one of their classmates splashed on the floor. I think the wax-wielding boy emptied his bucket, creating two pools fairly close together and almost soaking half-a-d0zen students. Not the most effective distribution for an entire classroom. I seem to recall watching the same thing happen with a different class on a big cleaning day earlier in the year. To give you an idea of how thorough these boys are, note the whitish smudge between and slightly behind the left and middle boys. It looks like wax but in fact it’s a smear of chalk dust from where a blackboard eraser was tossed earlier.
This photo is also from the March 18th big cleaning day. These girls are about to bundle up this pile of cardboard boxes before they put it in the cardboard recycling shed. There was a strong wind so they’re using their weight to keep the boxes from blowing away.
One part of the situation made me shake my head in wonder. The teacher who was directing traffic to the different sheds wouldn’t let these girls put the cardboard in the appropriate shed until it had been bundled up. This despite the fact that it gets thrown into a big messy pile for storage and then the pile gets thrown into a recycling truck. The girl holding the spool of pink twine and scissors had to trek all the way back to the school buildings—the sheds are in a remote corner of the grounds—to get the twine and scissors. Everything is about process here.
Behind the girls is a garbage truck, and behind it are the various garbage and recycling sheds. One for cardboard, one for burnable trash, one for appliances (computers, microwave ovens, etc.), one for textbooks. Yes, textbooks. Every year each student buys a full set of softcover textbooks, and every year they all get thrown out or recycled. On the day I took this photo, the textbook shed was piled taller than these girls, in an area about two by three metres. And that was just the teachers’ textbooks. The students have to take their own books home to deal with them.
The next two pictures are from big cleaning on April 6th, before the beginning-of-the-new-school-year-for-returning-students ceremony. Said ceremony is different from the welcoming-the-new-first-year-students ceremony on April 7th and the teachers-who-were-transferred-to-other-schools-coming-to-say-their-goodbyes-ceremony on April 8th.
The boys below are receiving brooms so they can sweep the sidewalk. Yes, sweeping despite the fact that not really required since it’s been rainy, it was done less than a month ago, and not a lot of plants have died in the intervening time.
A pair of boys using their time more productively than sweeping imaginary dust.