Wednesday, February 12, 2014

So, Now I Know About Cricket

Hi all,

Well, it's been a busy past week...but we'll endeavor to hit the highlights. I'm using the royal we, since I covered the National Sport of England (!) in class this week...but more on that later.

"Be Happy Me" Club
So, about the 3rd day after my arrival to my site, I was greeted with a letter from a parent. She wrote in perfect English (not to mention script!) and was very welcoming - saying she had lived abroad and wanted to open her home to me if I needed anything - but also not-so-casually mentioning that she was extremely interested in having an adult conversation club. Needless to say, I was a bit overwhelmed, and let most of the break go by -after politely answering her question. One night, however, she gave me a call and asked if I was free to meet. Following my Country Director's advice, I thought, what the heck, and then met her for coffee. She's a serious dynamo...she's got four kids - two teens, a tween and an almost (?) 6 month old baby. She was very chatty, and I admit I had a lovely time.

She kind of hoodwinked me a week later into having the first club - which consists of us and two of her mommy friends. We're having it open to anyone that wants to come, but so far it has met 3 times and is a bit slow in gaining momentum. It's great though - she organizes the themes for us to reflect on (so far hobbies and blessings) and we just sit and chat. We had the last meeting at her house (on the way to which I got to see some amazing trumpeter swans - humongous!) and I got swept into a very domestic setting. It was lovely. And the homemade doughnuts were fantastic.

They Didn't Prepare Me for This During Training
While on the theme of things I've been hoodwinked into, I should probably mention the strange occurrence of the maybe-dead-man-in-the-night story. I promise, it's pretty much as awkward and potentially horrifying as it seems. I'm sure my mother will be pleased. Anyhow, last Monday I was guilted (which, according to the dictionary is not a word, but anyone raised Catholic will definitely not agree with the dictionary) into meeting with a local language school director. It's not that I don't want to run community programs - it's simply that I'm on to 5 clubs now (oh yes, I split my middle-aged group of kids and have added a club for 5-7th, because...I'm crazy?) and I'm feeling like I need to gain some stability in that first. However, there are some personal reasons involved, so I felt obligated to at least meet with the director.

Now, I'm sure if you dig back far enough you'll be able to recall my fiasco that led to my getting a GPS while living in the community. In case you need a refresher, I tend to get a little traumatized when lost. This being said, the directions I was given for walking to the building were a little vague - and resulted in me getting a little panicky for 5 minutes, until I turned around and realized I'd passed right by it. However, between my house and that point, I had a rather uncomfortable experience. First of all, it was rather dark (being 8pm), and as I ambled my way down the unlit street (not quite as sketchy as it sounds - it's normal, cuts down on light pollution, and there were many people still out and about), I pondered how false my sense of security potentially was. I thought that perhaps I should be more freaked out by my lack of worry than I actually was. But then I reasoned that that line of reasoning probably wasn't helpful.

It was in the middle of this ambling that I first spotted the man "lying" on the sidewalk. Well, to be fair, at first he appeared to be a giant blob on the sidewalk, but as I got very close it became clear that 1. It was definitely a man and 2. The position he was in was decidedly unnatural. As in, completely fallen-on-his-face unnatural. To make the matter more severe, there were also dark liquidy patches near his head - although in the poor light I couldn't tell if they were streams of ice on the pavement, or drying blood. Head wounds bleed a lot.

I had an instant moment of sheer panic -and then slight hysteria. What on earth was I supposed to do? Prod him gently to make sure he was alive (a statement I can barely muster, mind you). Doubtlessly, had he been able to be raised to consciousness, the ensuing conversation would have been unintelligible to me and probably to him as well. It occurred to me that I didn't even know the name of the street I was on. I was stopped short in my panic when I noticed a young couple standing and looking worriedly at the man on the pavement - and the man had his cell phone out. They caught my eye inquiringly, and I awkwardly kept on walking. Had I opened my mouth, I probably would have only delayed any action they were going to take.

I still felt like a terrible person.

As I went on, I realized how truly helpless I could be in some situations - especially those that require quick action. I thought about what if I had tried to call the police, but doubtless my poor language skills would have gotten my contact (a high up officer) called and no telling as to what he might do. Not, once again, that I knew where I was. And an American girl who can't tell you where she is and muttering on about a maybe dead man would probably cause a bit of a stir.

Later, it was pointed out to me that I could have called PC security (they have a non-emergency line) or even my counterpart to ask her what I should do. It made me realize that you really can't have a contingency plan for everything in life - and also how lucky I was that someone else was there to take action. When I returned 40 minutes later, the man was gone - I hope into a warm room somewhere. I also may have freaked out a young couple by walking pretty close to them pushing their baby pram back into the center of town.

My meeting went fine with the director - although she wants us (myself and Hugo,who she met at one of their hosted events) to have a club once a month for 2 hours on Saturday. It's a bit daunting, but I think we'll meet again this Saturday, with Hugo, and we can try to plan some things. We'll see. And, all my co-worker English teachers thought my story was hilarious. They've heard my limited language skills, and immediately realized that I'd been in WAY over my head. I hope it was endearing - I'm still struggling with figuring out how to try not to intimidate them...process!

Weekend Trip
So, briefly,  I was talking with Will last week and he mentioned how bored he was because of having been on standfast the last 2 weeks. I invited him to come to my site, saying both he and Zim were welcome to come - but then he said he'd really like to show us his village instead. It's about 2 hours of traveling total, so not very bad. Since I had my Be Happy Me club, I decided to leave early Sat morning. Hugo had visited and we worked out a key situation so he was able to stay and use the internet for the rest of the day. Because by early, I mean at 7:40am the bus left - so I left my house at 7. Zim had called the night before to say she was super-stressed because she just found out she had to take over all her counterpart's lessons due to her son being sick. So she had to bail on visiting Will.

I found out on Sat morning when she met us in the nearest big city (5 of us volunteers ended up meeting up for a while, which was very nice) that she'd neglected to inform Will about this change of plans. He was a little distraught since he'd promised his landlords (he lives in a room attached to the main house) that he'd have 2 girls visiting. Since he lives in a microcosm, I could appreciate that having only 1 girl come could look like something it wasn't - so I offered to just make it a day trip. However, it was already planned that he'd sleep in the main house, so we planned to avert scandalous rumors in this fashion.

I was very glad to meet his landlord's family. He and his wife are both engineers and speak some English - quite a bit, really. They have a 7 year old and an adorable one year old, who loves to flirt with girls. Needless to say, I also got some very tasty borsht and some homemade wine (he had his vodka distillery set up as I walked in the door -quite the set up. We had a nice evening with them, and played some Uno. We did lots of talking and it was very nice. I left the next day in the early afternoon, and was able to be fairly productive in lesson and club planning for Monday.

Finally, Olympiad Boot Camp
While I'm rather bummed to be missing the Olympics (which I could possibly stream but am too busy/lazy to find), I was roped into helping with the "boot camp" (my own emphasis) for the region's candidates for going to the national English Olympiad competition. Today I was helping out with reading and writing skills. I'd met with Vonnie (the volunteer I'm finally naming who lives an hour away and works at the language institute there) who was in charge of coordinating the whole week of training and we'd found a few activities to supplement doing practice activities. We used "Synonym Snowman" (try saying that 5 times fast!), I taught the 5-paragraph-essay-as-a-burger structure, we did tongue-twisters and also had some fun conversation and a name game. They were all great kids, who clearly had a passion for English and seriously wanted to go on.

It will be very hard to know that not all of them get to go on - but hopefully after working with them for a week it should be clear to Vonnie who the strongest candidates are.

Anyhow, I need to go to bed. I'm not entirely prepared for tomorrow - as I missed planning with a few teachers today. But, I am as prepared as I'm going to get and know I can whip something out if needed.

Hope all is well,


PS - I spent a solid 3 hours creating a presentation/lesson plan for teaching Cricket to the 6th form - and I only marginally understand it better than before. They loved it.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I'm Alive. And Christmas has been Postponed.

Hi all,

I have a vicious blogging cycle that I sometimes fall prey to - I get backed up (usually due to an exciting topic or event - such as Christmas!), get it partially written, and then fall behind. Thus, I decide I will not forge on until I have time to finish the post and then catch up.

Clearly, there is a flaw in this plan.

So I'm sallying forth, since it's been a good month since a post of any note.
Also, Happy Birthday Grandma. I called, but she's probably out having a birthday lunch, probably the Poco Loco : p

Anyhow, so I'm kinda a legit teacher.

If legit means that I have yet to memorize half of my students' names (I have 10 original classes a week, and some just once - so that's a lot of names to get down), I come to most lessons prepared to do a portion that sometimes turns into the whole lesson, and I've been asked to sub 4 times. Twice in 5th form, for sections I don't normally team teach in.

So, you can probably pretty much imagine how that went. Also, I had no I stole one of the children's. The first time it went ok (teacher was out sick) but two days in a row with no other teacher in the room and me knowing 2 students' names? Nope, not pretty. But not total chaos, so I'm taking survivor points on it. And major brownie points.

Sometimes, I just get so confused (ok, a lot, but for many different reasons). Like, yesterday, I was told I was needed to sub for a class that only meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They're the class that only meets twice a week, because they have German more often. I already taught the other half of the 9th form that morning with the other teacher. However, the teacher that I teach with on Tuesdays and Thursdays for them, is never in school on Mondays - she has a "methodological" day. Which is fine and dandy, until this happens.

But it gets better.

Mostly because it turns out I got ALL the 9th form (making me believe that I was technically subbing for a German teacher?), including the students I'd already had that day! Luckily (?), the students work out of different books - not that I or they probably had them that day. Students don't have lockers here - they must bring their books every day to every class. Sometimes they have desk partners, and this leads to extremely complicated arrangements for planning who will bring a book - which ends very simply when both forget.

So, I had - luckily- prepared for Tuesday, the activity I said I would - giving a structure for talking about your favorite book. Not that they haven't already had this topic, oh, probably 4 years running, but y'know. Quality books and such. So. I said we'd learn the structure, practice together and their homework would be to do it themselves. In return for paying attention (including the half of the class who wasn't supposed to be there), we'd play a game for the remainder of the class.

Well, attention was as good as I could have hoped: read, not very, and we got through the academic portion in 25 minutes. Leaving 20 for "Heads up, Seven Up" - although we played with 3. I'm glad that 9th form enjoyed it as much as I did in middle school, because it was the only ace up my sleeve. I figure, they're not stampeding through the halls and there was some learning done.

Speaking of, I had class with the co-teacher today with the class that was supposed to have English today. (If that made any sense...). She asked if I'd prepared anything and I told her I had - but I'd taught it the day before. Not that anyone did their homework.

I'll admit I wasn't too sad that they got yelled at.

Anyhow, she apparently didn't prepare ANYTHING, so they picked a spot at random in the book and worked on that. No comment.

However, I did have a really good lesson with the 6th form - we played a fishbowl game with sport vocabulary, and they both enjoyed it and didn't get ridiculously out of hand. I did get cornered by a parent afterward, who decided that we should both practice our secondary language skills. I really didn't know where the conversation was leading...he was asking if his son was good, and if...I don't really even know. So I beckoned through the open door to his teacher. Then I understood enough that he was not pleased with his child's marks/grades? The teacher simply said - let's go look at the grade book and waived me off...

I'm very gratefully I am unable to officially give grades.

Although a lot of volunteers apparently have issues with trying to give grades and then having the teachers change them or simply ignoring them. Definitely doesn't give the students any reason to have any extra respect. Of course, I'm still trying to figure out where marks should be given (how often, and what's the appropriate expectation level to have for each class level), so it's a bit daunting.

Practice Practice Practice.

And, by the way. Yes, things are a little crazy in the capital. Which I am 14 hours away from by train. My region is as quiet as a mouse, and seemingly unconcerned. I think they see westward progress and inevitable - not merely desirable. I also was put on "standfast" for 2 weeks - meaning I couldn't leave site. Thankfully, I just got off of that yesterday. It's tedious at best, and nerve-wracking at worst.

It wasn't the ideal way to end my first week of teaching. I'd already been quite anxious all week with dealing with expectations and it was a major blow. I had fears that the situation would really escalate and I'd find myself being evacuated. It's very hard to buckle down into teaching when you have that thought in the back of your mind.

But I bought a printer this last weekend. So it's official, I'm staying : p

Hope all is well,