Friday, February 02, 2007

Update in Three Parts

Hello again . . . so, this is an entry in three parts . . . bear with me, and take your time. The first is from last Thursday:

Part I

I started teaching last Wednesday; again, I teach grades 5 through 11, for 18 classes a week, including a few that I co-teach with my coordinator. It’s been similar to my experience teaching middle-schoolers last summer: I always really love teaching while I’m doing it, but dread it beforehand. For some reason I just can’t make the connection in my mind, between how much I like teaching when I’m in the classroom, and the anticipation of being in the classroom. I always feel like, oooh, I have to get through this, and then it’s often the best part of my day – the kids are generally good, fairly smart, and it’s nice to speak English for such an extended period of time, frankly. Also, it’s somehow less tiring than speaking to Ukrainians who are already “fluent” . . . there’s less chance of misunderstanding when you assume that the people you’re speaking to understand almost nothing.

And maybe this will change when the students get more used to me and I get more used to the curriculum and lesson-planning, but often in the past week and a half, I’ve used classes as an excuse to talk about whatever I want (especially with the older kids). Ha. Not that I don’t stick to the lesson topic, but sometimes the Plahotnyk lessons are a half-page long, and I’m not accustomed to supplementing lessons with other text books and worksheets like my coordinator does, so I just make it last by taking advantage of my captive audience and my novelty as the American. Part of it is to help them learn to speak off-script – students in Ukraine will often be able to tell you ten memorized sentences about the agricultural products of Manchester, but are completely baffled when you ask them what they grow in Manchester. Or, they know what you mean, but are afraid they don’t know the right way to answer. For instance, today I talked about the Grand Canyon with the 9th grade, and when trying to explain the word “deep,” I played a 20 Questions-type game with them, to make them guess the word “well.” They figured out what I was thinking of (they’re outside of every home), but didn’t know how to begin describing it in English. They are trying to speak only English for the most part, though, which I plan to reward with stickers when my novelty starts to wear off more.

I don’t have too many discipline problems, because when I teach on my own, I have only half of each grade – around 15 kids – and supposedly the more advanced, motivated half. For the 5th grade I get both halves though, and when I co-teach grades, I get to teach all 30ish kids with my coordinator. Lots and lots of blank faces, especially when they are terrified of me like the 10th grade. So, besides moving a few boys to different desks, over and over, no real problems so far – plus, I have my own classroom! When I teach alone, my half of the class comes to the classroom next-door to my coordinator’s, slightly colder . . . but which I have started to decorate compulsively. All my vocabulary lists with pictures go on the walls, so I can point to words randomly when convenient (lots of these strategies I got from current volunteers when they spoke to us during training about how to handle the sites we had just visited – very helpful!) Also, there are my four rules: Speak English, Don’t Interrupt (whispering the answer and/or Ukrainian translation to classmates when they are asked something, or correcting them while they read out loud, is a way of life here and it drives me crazy), Repeat After Me, and Behave. So . . . we’ll see.

I visited a one-floor house for rent last week, that had about 10 cots in it (for students going to the local technical college), and a price that sent my host mother and coordinator into shock, they barely talked to me for the first fifteen minutes after we left – just reeling. The new strategy is not to tell the landlord that an American is renting, and anyway, I don’t pay – the PC and my school do. Visiting an apartment on Monday, which would make more sense since I don’t expect that many visitors (I’m sure you all would have been thrilled at the sight of those cots, too . . . . so appealing). By the way, I’m very proud of all my recent-graduate readers who are off being adult now – finding apartments and jobs or grad schools – I have a feeling that by the time I figure out how things like renting apartments work here, I’ll have lost any understanding I once had about how things work in America, so you’ll have to coach me in two years (or slightly less than).

Friday was a Ukrainian Orthodox holiday involving the blessing of water, including the river, but my host mother and I were teaching and it wasn’t mentioned, so I just assumed we were sitting that one out. Well, what happens when you assume, is: the next day I was lesson-planning in my room, and heard operatic singing which I assumed was coming from the TV. It was pretty loud, but still. Then, all of a sudden, my host mom knocked on my door calling something to me in Ukrainian. I opened the door, and out of the front room walked two Ukrainian Orthodox priest in their black robes and red sashes, singing together at the top of their lungs. I remained as collected as I could when they started splashing holy water on me. It made me think of when I was on a summer program in Spain, and a group of us went to high mass: when one girl in our group, who was Jewish, was splashed with the holy water, she went rigid, whispering frantically to us “What do I do?? Do I stand up?! What?” I was sort of similarly freaking out, but managed to smile and nod. Their voices were beautiful, and it was really nice to hear the music, but it was definitely an unexpected experience. They apparently visit each house to bless it; I’m sure the American Protestant wasn’t on their original itinerary, but I hope I made their day more interesting.

Hmm, all I’ve really done this week is teach . . but there are a few more stories about that, I suppose. Today I came to school after classes had started, because I didn’t have to teach until the 4th period – about 11 am – and was immediately ushered into the faculty room and given a glass of home-made wine and handfuls of cookies. It was for St. Tatiana’s day, and a few of the teachers/administrators named Tatiana had brought things for a celebration. Not quite used to wine in the morning (. . . yet), and I promptly forgot which classroom I was supposed to be in (really confusing my coordinator) . . . but it all worked out in the end.

Later, I had to teach the 11th grade about Valentine’s Day, and sort of went off in another direction. I made a little Valentine that said “Be Mine!,” but mostly talked to them about commercialism. They’re so cute – when I asked, Who might be excited that Valentines day is coming? they were all guessing, “Sweethearts? Married couples? Young people?” And I said no . . . stores. It’s sort of hard for them to imagine commercialism on the level we’re used to – Target was filled with Halloween products in August, before I left – but I tried to explain. Regardless of the lesson I start out teaching, by the end of the class, my blackboard is covered with random drawings and phrases. The Valentine’s Day board ranged from “Roman Empire” to “cynicism” and “doubt.” When I run out of things to say in class, it makes me think of my bus driver in 5th grade, Bill. Bill was supposed to drop my sister and me off with one of my classmates’ mothers, but she wasn’t there, so he started circling her neighborhood, hoping that she would show up soon enough for him to get everyone else to their destination. He was very funny, and tried to play it off by grabbing the microphone and announcing that we were taking a scenic tour of the neighborhood, and commenting on the views – and an older boy in the back finally called out, “Drive, Bill!” Whenever I run out of things to say and start to just talk at the kids, hoping I don’t lose their attention before the class ends, I hear a voice saying “Drive, Bill!” . . . .

Part II

(This past Monday)

Not that much has happened to me since the end of last week. The internet didn’t work in Nimerov, so I changed four American dollars at the bank. And bought stamps. However, my day wasn’t all boring errands – when I got back home I picked up a package from Mev! Thanks, Mev!! Basically spent the rest of the weekend reading a book from the package – “The Poisonwood Bible,” how did I miss that one before? Very good. Have been trying to take advantage of my host family’s satellite TV before I move out (didn’t see the apartment today, not sure when I will . . . hey, I’m just along for the ride) – saw “New Adventures of Old Christine,” and didn’t like it much . . . does anyone not-dependent on a random Irish TV channel even watch that? Also, was very excited to watch “Scent of a Woman” dubbed in Russian, Al Pacino is generally loud enough to hear regardless.

Also, it finally snowed . . . and stuck for a while, but is now melting. Just enough to make me slip, not enough for my Yax Trax.

Today, I insisted on telling my 5th graders the real story about Eeyore’s birthday – which was very poorly adapted (or “adopted,” if you write Ukrainian textbooks) in their book. Basically, in their version, Eeyore has no presents, so Pooh decides to get him a jar of honey, and Piglet gets him a red balloon. (Both are drawn like real animals, btw.) At the end of the text, they compliment one another on being kind, and go to the birthday party. It’s awful. So I wrote out an approximation of the end, and tried to explain how even though Pooh accidentally eats all of the honey, and Piglet’s balloon bursts, Eeyore is still happy with his presents because the balloon can fit in the jar, and it’s perfect. They mostly liked saying “Eeyore,” which I made them repeat a lot because they couldn’t pronounce it. This is my life now – still feels pretty unreal. But my drawings, copied off of the textbook’s cover (on which they plagiarize Disney freely), were better than the ones on the page, so there.

Part III

Ok. Final installment for this week. I tried a local school’s internet and it didn’t like me very much, so we’re back to the drawing board in Nimerov.

It snowed again – twice! I should probably stop considering cold weather to be something new and interesting – but I’m still sort of unused to snow, and can’t help remembering how even the few inches we’ve had here so far would have shut most things down in Alexandria or Williamsburg.

My coordinator and I had a “demo lesson” to show how we co-teach . . . it was a sort of bizarre experience, but no one, including the teachers observing, seemed the least bit fazed, so I suppose I’ll have to adjust. They went back to a unit they had already covered, so that they would know all the answers, and it happened to be the unit they were on when I visited back in November. It was like a circus, or a field day, or something – just activity after activity piled on top of one another, students racing around filling out handouts and all raising their hands to be called upon. They all dressed up in their best clothes – and the same girl who sang “Yesterday” when I visited sang it again, with same introduction and everything. I was only asked to talk for five minutes, and had no idea what to say except, ok kids – remember when I visited in November? Sure enough, they did, so we just talked about the same sort of things again. I feel the need to emphasize: this was not considered strange by anyone else. This is obviously (or maybe not obviously) not the way we normally co-teach – the class time is usually split up evenly and students don’t always know the answers (or sing, or dress up). But it all seemed to go well according to standards I haven’t yet grasped . . . I’m sure I will eventually (for the time being, I felt like I was “taking crazy pills”).

I finally saw the apartment (does this mean I’m no longer just along for the ride?) – it’s fine, everything’s great – except the boiler doesn’t work and there’s no refrigerator or stove. All of that is fixable, and “the process is going on.” I’m estimating that I’ll move in in time for my birthday (early March) – but it’s nice to have even that settled!

The only other slightly interesting thing is that I’ve been meeting some Ukrainians my age! I really had my doubts when I kept hearing Volunteers refer to “the Ukrainian friends” you’ll meet, not because I’m unfriendly, but it’s just so different from basically any social situation I’ve ever been in before. However, they’re there – one girl I met will be in my teacher’s club – she teaches English at the orphanage, and is my age (though she has a husband and toddler – more social contacts, hurrah!). I remember hearing about a sorority ceremony held when a “sister” became engaged, etc. – but also traditionally available for the celebration of “meeting a new friend.” (Um, sorry if I’m not supposed to know this . . . I forget whether this was a Greek secret I promised not to tell or not.) It was very rarely used for the last purpose, and even then mostly as a joke – but it feels appropriate in this case!

So I’ll stop talking at you now too, except to say that I hope you’re all doing well! And to say this: as you may have noticed, I have a lot of free time here in Bratslav. And I know that writing letters endlessly back and forth can be boring. So here’s my proposition: if you write me a letter, I will write a poem about you. I’m serious – and I have enough time on my hands to make it good. But I won’t do it for just any letter – a letter or postcard must include the following to make it eligible:

1 piece of celebrity gossip

1 piece of national or local news that was interesting or bizarre, and that I probably missed because it didn’t stay in the news long enough

1 update about what you’re doing

You may also include suggestions for the poem (like, that it be about you going to work, going shopping, or riding an elephant). So there’s some inspiration to entertain me, and give me something to do besides lesson plan and hand out stickers. Have a good week!

Love, Virginia

2 Comments:

At February 07, 2007 10:59 AM, Blogger Gigi said...

haha I love your drawings :-)

 
At February 09, 2007 3:45 AM, Blogger Virginia said...

Thanks! Ok, so, I'm not updating, even though I'm online, because the internet at the post office in Nimeroff doesn't let me use my flash drive, and I can't cut and paste it. Soooo, am looking for other options. But nothing that interesting happened to me anyway, don't worry. Miss you all, thank you Gigi, Kristen, Little One and my family for the great mail I received this week . . and if I don't figure out a way to update for another little while, take care!!

 

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