I tried to explain to my fellow Fulbrighters (none of whom are teachers) the other night why Halloween is a teacher’s least favorite holiday. Until you’ve tried to keep the attention of 25 students during an entire month devoted to the consumption of candy, you just can’t understand. So, I was less than enthusiastic when I heard Nguyễn Tất Thành School would be having a Halloween festival and I would be one of the judges for the costume contest.
My classes on this Halloween were similar to what I would expect in the US. One class was very wound up about the holiday and we only got half way through the lesson. In another class, many students were absent because they were busy preparing for the party. Most students had no recollection of the items I had asked them to bring to class today. I’m not complaining, it just shows that the Halloween effect is universal.
By the time the party was getting ready to begin at 4:30, I was pretty exhausted. I had shown up for the morning assembly at 7:20 to see the science club’s demonstrations, so it had been a long day. I kept reminding myself that to the students and teachers here, this is normal. A seventh grader told me today that his basketball practice is from 7-9pm, and then he goes home to do homework.
Well, just like Linus helped reignite Charlie Brown’s belief in Christmas, the students and teachers sparked my Halloween spirit tonight. The party was limited to just over an hour, but during that time there were games and activities at several different booths, singing and dancing by students, music performances and the costume contest. There were decorations everywhere and a lighted red carpet runway for the main event. Hundreds of students from grades 6-12 crowded into the courtyard and just had fun. There never seems to be a concern about misbehavior at events like these – the students always act appropriately.
Each class presented an entry for the costume contest. The contestants moved down the runway quickly and it was hard to keep up with the judging, but the other judges and I did agree on the winners in the end. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of the great costumes since I was too busy taking notes.
Several teachers and students asked my opinion of the party and said it must be very small compared to what I’m used to. They were surprised to hear that schools in the US tend not to have large Halloween parties like this and holidays in general are downplayed for several reasons. I assured them that this was the largest Halloween party I had been to, and that it showed the positive and friendly spirit at NTT. As one of the other judges said (an English teacher from Australia), it was nice to see the whole school community coming together to have a good time.
As I left in the dark at around 6:00, half the students were still there, dismantling the booths, putting away the chairs, rolling up the red carpet, sweeping the courtyard. They had spent weeks preparing for this event, much of it on their own time. Tonight, they’ll go home and do their homework (or off to extra English classes, or basketball practice, or . . . ) There is a real sense of community here at NTT and that shone through tonight. I thought the least I could do is come home and write about it.