Teacher’s Day is a big deal here in Mongolia – and rightfully so! It occurs every year on one of the first Saturdays of October. In our aimag all of the schools – primary through college – celebrate together. This year it was my site mate Mary’s school’s turn to host. Leading up to Teacher’s Day the Polytechnic College organized a variety of competitions between the teachers of different schools. There were volleyball and shagai tournaments and a karaoke competition. Our school performed admirably, medalled in volleyball, and I believe one of our teachers won the Karaoke solo competition.
On the Thursday and Friday before Teacher’s Day the teachers and school workers handed their responsibilities over to 12th grade students. They taught classes, took over hall monitor duties, and even stepped in as the school nurse – yes, that last one concerned me a little too. While the students ruled the school, the teachers had a volleyball tournament among themselves. Have I mentioned how much Mongolians love volleyball? The Foreign Language and Social Sciences women combined forces to take home first place.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not good enough to play on these teams, but it was very fun to watch and I am now very motivated to improve. I plan on practicing so that by this time next year I’m worthy of a spot on the school team. I would be lying if I said I’m not imagining that as a Hollywood montage of the underdog going through extensive and punishing training to come out the other end with muscles she didn’t realize she had and a mean spike. Hopefully one of the gym teachers will step in as the hard, but motivating coach and one of my site mate’s teams will have a minor, but important role as our biggest rivals whom we defeat by the narrowest of margins to take first place. It’s going to be inspiring stuff.
Okay, let’s get back to reality. On Friday there was a relay race with nine different challenges. This time, I was invited to participate. Hurrah! As I’m known to enjoy basketball and to play it with at least some modicum of skill I was offered a choice of two of the basketball related challenges. However, as soon as they discovered that I knew how to solve a Mongolian puzzle made of bone and string I got switched from starter to anchor. As unlikely as it sounds, I, the American, was the only one on the team who knew how to solve it. Thank goodness my site mate’s host dad conveniently taught me how to solve the puzzle only two weeks ago. Anyways, thanks to my teams’ obscure, but impressive skills we won the competition. In the video below you can watch all nine challenges performed by one of the other teams.
In the afternoon, the teachers became students. They dressed in school uniforms and attended classes on English, Mongolian, and physics. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to sit in on these lessons because I had to get my flu shot, but I did arrive back at school in time to see the teachers streaming out of their classes looking like they were in a Britney Spears music video so there’s no way I’m missing that next year. Afterwards, the students presented their teachers with gifts. I received some chocolates, a potted plant, and a rose and my day was made.
On Teacher’s Day itself there were two big events, the ceremony and the party. The ceremony took place in the theater and was supposed to start at noon, so of course it didn’t start until after 1:00. I got there shortly after 12:00 to save some seats before they filled up because in Mongolia arriving only a little late is being early. Everyone was dressed in their fancy deels with their makeup and hair done to the nines. The majority of the ceremony consisted of handing out awards to teachers from across the aimag for their excellence in teaching and for their performances in the competitions I mentioned earlier, but there were also a concert and some skits performed by a comedy troupe from Ulaanbaatar. Although my Mongolian isn’t the best and most of it went over my head, I was able to string pieces together here and there and at least got the gist of some of it. Finally, the teachers from the Polytechnic College came on stage in matching outfits to sing their school song. Seven hours after I arrived the ceremony finished. That’s probably the average length of any flight I’ve been on and I’m surprised I didn’t develop Deep Vein Thrombosis from sitting for so long.
Once the ceremony ended, the real fun began. I ran home quickly to change and then I headed right back out to my school’s Teacher’s Day party. We rented out the nicest restaurant in town and had a blast. Several teachers performed songs, a group performed a dance, some of the retired teachers were honored, and more awards were presented. My favorite part, however, was the screening of a music video that the administrators had made. Oh boy. It was incredible. I don’t know if I can get my hands on a copy, but I will share if it is possible because everyone should see it. With the deels, the snuff bottles, the pipe, the scenery it was Mongolia in a nutshell. If any of the administration reads this, please consider me for next year’s video. There’s no way I’m good enough to sing, but I could be a back up dancer!
In summary: Teacher’s Day was great. 10/10. Would recommend.