Wednesday, November 11, 2009

First Day of School

I've written previously about how I teach English one day a week at a high school. With the new school year, me extending my stay in Romania, and adding Eli and Hollie to the team, we worked out a new arrangement wherein each of us teaches two hours a week, thereby covering all of their grades every two weeks. Eli has high school, Hollie middle school, and I elementary. This Tuesday was my first day.

I wake up at 6:45. I note this because this is early for me. Since all my friends are college students, I'm on their schedule. Bed at 12-1, up at 8-9. So 6:45 is really early. But my first class on this first day is at 8am. Yahoo! I get myself together, walk the 7 minute walk to the school, and manage to find the teacher's lounge. Not only am I teaching an entirely new age range, it's in a different (albeit closer to my apartment) place. I walk in at 7:50 and thankfully see one or two familiar faces from the high school. This school is a small private Christian school, with one to two classes per grade, so some of the teachers teach all grades. However, what I don't see is either of the English teachers. So much for showing up a bit early to learn about... say, anything at all about what I should teach. I sit down and just chillax, assuming they'll show up soon enough.

8:00 rolls around and still no English teacher. All the other teachers start to file out for their classes, and I get the attention of the woman I recognize and know speaks English to ask her what to do. She says, "Well, Raluca never has classes this early, and Elisa is in Italy." Great, thanks. At that moment, what I should have done is just said, Well, that's a shame, I'll just have to come back next week. And certainly I would've been completely justified in doing so. But I'm such a glutton for punishment, and have some bizarre sense of 'loyalty' (masochism?), that what I say instead is, "Ok, well I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to teach today, so what should I do?" She says, "Let's go to the secretary and find out what class it is." We do so and find out that 2nd and 4th graders have English at 8 and 9, respectively, so off we walk to find the second graders. And so it begins.

We walk into a large classroom with 15 little second graders sitting quietly at their desks. Alone. No teacher. The woman introduces me and says I'll be teaching English. They all promptly ask (in Romanian) where Elisa is and whether or not I understand Romanian. Great. Then she leaves. I am now alone with 15 Romanian second graders. Did you catch that? Alone. 15. Second graders. Whose knowledge of English is colors and numbers. With no lesson plan, curriculum, nothing. Great. I introduce myself, say I'm from America. I ask them to introduce themselves and say how old they are. "My name is Alina. I am 9 years old." This takes 5 minutes. Only 45 to go! In the middle of this exercise a teacher walks in. She seems surprised to see another teacher in the room. Probably not much more surprised than I am to be there. I tell her who I am and she just sits down in the back of the room. I suppose she's their teacher, and am thankful for someone to keep order.

After introductions I decide we'll do the Alphabet song. Some of them know it, so this goes pretty quickly. They don't know the part at the end that goes, "Now I know my ABC's, next time won't you sing with me." Oooh something to teach! This takes 5 more minutes. And the other teacher leaves. I'm sorry, but do I LOOK like I am able to be alone with these children? Do I really seem that confident and capable? Because I want to curl into the fetal position starting 5 minutes ago.

A bunch of them are saying that they want to play THE GAME. What game? What game children? One kid pulls out flashcards with characters from Toy Story. And in my crap understanding of Romanian I piece together that I should just say the name of one of the characters (Dog! Ball! Dinosaur!) and they will find the proper one and hold it up. Ok, SUBSTANCE! I can do this! A few cards in I decide to start asking what colors are involved in these flashcards. What color is the ball? Thankfully it's 4 colors, so I can involve 4 students. What color are the dog's feet? And so on. This game lasts 15 minutes. Even though the kids are a bit crazy, at least they're participating.

Flashcards done. Now what? Someone is saying Simon Says. Simon Says? Like the Simon Says I know where I'm 'Simon' and when I say Simon Says to do something they should do it but if I don't say Simon Says at the beginning of the command they shouldn't do it... and if they do they're out? Please Jesus let it be the same one! Someone please explain to me... oh wait, what am I saying, YOU DON'T SPEAK ENOUGH ENGLISH AND I DON'T SPEAK ENOUGH ROMANIAN FOR THAT. Ok, let's just give it a try. One boy tells me that when people get out they have to go to the open side of the room that has a carpet and two couches. What I should have done is stopped and thought about what that might mean and what the likely result might be of 10 second graders who have just LOST at a game, being sent to stand all in a clump together. But instead I say, Of course, sure. And we begin. They have no bloomin clue what I'm saying, but they happily mimic me. Many of them are out quickly and they go to stand by the couches. And I'm sure you can guess what happens next. MASS CHAOS that's what. Think every movie you've ever watched with a teacher in a new school on her first day, bright eyed and bushy tailed and TOTALLY NAIVE. And the inevitable riots, fights, and swarms of children running hither and thither. With the camera zooming in on my deflated face. I don't know what to do. I really don't. I have no authority over or rapport with these children, I don't have enough Romanian to say anything more than "Sit sit sit!" and I just keep waiting for the director of the school to walk in and see children dragging one another across the room and jumping on the couches and promptly fire me. Even though I'm not even hired. But somehow, slowly, I get them all back to their seats, sitting. SIMON SAYS NO MORE SIMON SAYS.

There are still 10 minutes left. I am now totally in survival mode. Just make it. What can I do with them? Several of them have their English Adventure books open to the same page and are pointing to a Color-by-Number type thing. The instructions have a picture of a CD and say, "Listen and Color." I decide that I will be the audio CD and just have them color. This is surely ok, right? Simple. Quiet. Oh if it were only so easy as that! I say (in English), "Color number one blue" and immediately someone says (in Romanian), "But why not purple?" Because I say blue, ok?? They start coloring. But probably 6 of them don't a blue colored pencil. Another 3 ask me if their shade of blue is acceptable. Another boy doesn't have his book because he left it at home. So much for simple and quiet. I manage to press onward with this, and halfway through I see one girl not coloring. I walk over and she says (in Romanian), "I won't do it." I ask (in English then Romanian), "Why not?" She replies in Romanian and I have no clue what she's saying other than, 'Elisa says.' She seems really genuine and concerned and not like she wants to make trouble, but I just don't know what she's saying. I make another circuit to check on the other kids, adds another number/color, and come back to her. I ask her again why she won't color, and I finally understand that she's telling me that Elisa (their teacher) told them not to work ahead in the workbook. So I ask what page they're actually on, if not THE ONE THEY ALL OPENED THEIR BOOKS TO. Page 4. What page am I having them color on? 12. Oh right, only 200% past where they're supposed to be. And in my mind I imagine that I've just broken the Number One Rule of the classroom. Excellent. Another bullet point for the list of Why I Got Fired. It's too late to correct the problem, so I just press on, making a mental note to email Elisa immediately after I get home to apologize profusely.

The class finally ends, and the kids tell me they can leave. I'm sorry, you can just leave? That makes NO SENSE to me. So I tell them to stay for a minute, schlep upstairs to the teacher's lounge, ask if the kids are just free to roam the halls, they tell me yes, and I go tell them they're free. Wave goodbye, and mentally regroup for a second hour.

Time for fourth grade. I walk into the classroom alone and as I'm taking in the fact that there are a LOT more children here (about 30) I hear, "Liiiiiiiiiiiiz!!!!!" and someone is hugging me. I look down and see Sabina, the daughter of a Romanian pastor and in this moment MY FAVORITE PERSON IN THE WORLD. Oh thank you Jesus is all I can think. Suddenly it doesn't matter that I am alone with 30 fourth graders because I know one of them, and that makes a world of difference. She just sits in the back smiling at me and it's allllll ok. I repeat my exercise of having them each use complete sentences to introduce themselves ("My name is X" and "I am Y years old."). Like clock work their teacher walks in during the middle of this exercise, is surprised to see me, but somehow seems to think I know what I'm doing, and then leaves.

The students tell me (in English!) that they're supposed to have a test on numbers. Well kiddos, I'm happy to be the bearer of GOOD NEWS, no test today! Instead we'll play a GAME. Yes, competition. Nothing like competition to get fourth graders interested in what you want them to learn. So I split the room down the middle, have a person from each team stand, give them a math problem in English and they have to respond with the correct answer, in English. It goes over splendidly. And even though there is the snarky kid in back who questions my every move and a half dozen kids who think it's ok to whisper help to their teammate even, I just carry on. After every point there is loud cheering from the winning team, and I wait patiently for them to be quiet. I learn quickly that the pairs of 15 and 50, 16 and 60, 17 and 70, and 18 and 80 sound the same to these children. And certainly when they say those number pairs they sound EXACTLY the same to me in their accent. And since they're at an age where they've learned to lie, especially when a beloved point in a competition is involved, it's just madness. I think I hear him saying 15 but he and his teammates claim up and down he's saying 50. Of course the opposing team says "HE SAID 15!!" And because I'm a glutton for punishment, I continue using these controversial numbers just because I WANT THEM TO LEARN TO HEAR THE DIFFERENCE. Why do I do these things? Why??

This game lasts a solid 35 minutes, and I am thankful, if exhausted at negotiating every. single. point. We finish with Simon Says, which is also fine because they simply sit down in their seats when they lose rather than contribute to pandemonium in the classroom. The class ends. I say my goodbyes. I get my coat from the teacher's lounge. I walk home. I promptly go to bed and dream dreams of being in New York City with my friends, eating a donut. I can only imagine how much my psyche was craving something comfortable in that moment.

The good news is, I survived. I learned. And most importantly, I didn't dismember any children. So, all in all, a success first day of teaching English to primary students. I imagine I will have more stories to share as the semester continues. Although hopefully none quite like this.

1 comment:

Karen Connor said...

Holy wow.