16 October 2008

This week, teaching

First, it's rather amazing to me that I like teaching as much as I do. I really didn't think I would.

Subconsciously knowing that I'd be really busy this past weekend and therefore not really able to do lesson planning, which is kind of a drag anyway, last week I assigned a project to my (2 groups of) 9th graders. I gave them a list of questions along the theme of "populate an ideal land" by taking a chunk out of Slovakia and infusing 20,000 foreigners. They had to discuss what the political system would be like, what the culture would be like, where in Slovakia it would be, education, etc. The first group was pretty literal (or not especially creative) and proposed something that sounded a lot like Ružomberok, right down to the paper factory. The only surprise was from one group who suggested home schooling and then only going to school to take tests. Home schooling is an interesting topic to ask people about here, because it's not allowed but people know about it. The next group was disappointing, because I had anticipated they would not be prepared, but then they really weren't. One group had someone in the hospital, another group just didn't do it because the kid is the type who is a leader type of kid, and he was lazy, which really bothered me. The one group that was prepared and did present was exceptionally good and highly creative -- they set the standard. The country would be limited only to those people who like rock n' roll, and the official language would be British English (one of the girls is a huge Sex Pistols fan). Guns would be prohibited with the exception of water guns, people would be able to drink beer at age 15, and there would be music conservatories to study at. I finished up with each class by conducting a discussion of "What is Slovak culture?" -- bryndza cheese, various TV programs, artists like Benka and Fulla, etc. In their textbooks, there are lots of articles about culture, history, etc. in the Anglophone world. But I think it's really more interesting and more important to talk about things closer to home.

At the beginning of class, there's this special book I where I have to mark who's absent and what the objective of the lesson is. This week, one class starts running up to me with pens, and I'm like, "Thanks, I've already got one" and they're all yelling at me, "BLUE PEN!!! Not black pen!!!!" Last week I had written in black pen, and their teacher (who is really quite an excellent colleague) told them to tell me to do it in blue -- because it's the law, which it is. Alas. I tend towards loathing blue pens, but I have to use them here almost exclusively because of the amount of legal bureaucratic documents it seems I'm having to deal with.

Also this week, I had to go to this special training session about emergencies from the fire department. But before this, no one knew how to explain it to me, and I was really confused -- as it turns out, it was a window onto yet another facet of the Slovak bureaucratic polyhedron. The viceprincipal told the fireman that I didn't really speak Slovak, and he said, "It's ok, only her signature matters!" This was the first Powerpoint I've had to sit through in quite a long time (amazing how much I don't miss it) and also included the fireman person taking a cell phone call in the middle and a returning pseudo-retired widow veteran teacher making wisecracks throughout. Here's what I could understand:
  • I should not smoke or drink alcohol while teaching.
  • I should keep caustic chemicals away from the eyes.
  • Only one person should stand on a ladder at one time.
  • In the event of an emergency, dial 112 or 150.
After the Powerpoint, he passed out a test form, which we had to sign and give ourselves the grade of 1 (equivalent to A) before we even started it. He then proceeded to dictate the test to us while we watched it on the screen -- all we had to do was check the right multiple choice. Evidently the quiz was really easy for everyone (except me, because I couldn't understand it). I copied off of my colleague, which was of course no problem because it was being dictated anyway and I already gave my signature. Afterwards, I was left with the feeling of "Wow, what just happened to me?" And still they couldn't explain it! I was talking later with the principal, telling her what I had understood, and she said, "wow, you're so smart and nobody knows it but you!" This was hysterically funny to both of us -- to me because of the mutiple levels of interpretation possible.

And, because I've been fighting with the internet connection all day, I'll put the kružok question in this post:
What is free?

EDIT: I forgot a few things.

First, this week with 6th graders we were talking about holidays in the year according to the Slovak calendar. One group didn't know why Cyril and Methodius are important to Slovaks, and the another group didn't know what SNP (slovenské národné povstanie -- Slovak National Uprising -- WWII partisans) stood for. These are quite possibly two of the most important parts of Slovak National ... pride? propaganda? identity? and I was a bit suprised they didn't know. They had fun explaining Easter Monday to me: "Boys ... girls ... splash ..."

Also, some of my best (or rather, most enthusiastic) students are Roma kids. In the continual culture wars, the usual response is something like, "Slovak gypsies like going to England. They go there and do nothing and think they've made it. So these kids want to learn English so they can go to England." Somehow, I can't believe this is why they're enthusiastic. Could they not be enthusiastic for other reasons, like because they enjoy learning English or they're quite intelligent kids and it comes easily to them or any number of other reasons?

Finally (I can't believe I keep forgetting this of all things), while going over the calendar, when we got to December, one group of 6th graders asked me if I believed in Santa Claus. At which point I froze. When I told my mom (a professional educator) about it later, she said, "The correct response is, 'of course I believe in Santa Claus!' or 'of course Santa Clause exists!'" But I am not so sanguine. I deflected the question, because I didn't want to be the one to poop (or not poop) the party. After class in the zborovňa, I asked my colleagues about it. They didn't really have a sufficient answer and I was slightly traumatized. I'm much more happy with the idea of Saint Nicholas than I am with Santa Claus (because Saint Nicholas is not really an agent of global capitalism nor cultural imperialism), and so maybe I could have emphasized Saint Nicholas more than I already did? I invite any other current or former professional educators to weigh in on the issue. ;)

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