14 January 2009

This week, teaching

On Monday, by the 4th hour, I was asleep. I finished teaching at 11:30am, ate lunch (though for my body it could have been a very early breakfast or a late dinner...) and went to sleep. I woke up again at 6:30, ate dinner (though again, time is pretty relative) and went to sleep. During my 3rd lesson (4th hour) on Monday, I know the kids could sense I was not really awake, and this was a problem: "Pani učitelka, can we sleep now?" -- I'm not making this up -- but I'm happy when they speak English, so I wasn't complaining.

I'd arrived in Slovakia on Saturday (via Philadelphia, Munich, Vienna and Bratislava), getting to Ružomberok at nearly 8pm, or nearly 12 hours after landing in Europe. Since I had been cat napping for most of the day, I was exhausted, and slept through the night easily, got up for church at 11, had lunch and went to a school program on Sunday afternoon. Monday morning, my alarm went off at 6:15am like normal, except that I disabled it instead of snoozed it, so that my eyes opened at 7:25am and I like to get to school by 7:30am. Especially on my first day back, and especially because I was so exhausted that I couldn't even think of what I wanted to talk about with the kids even when I had tried. So I threw on some clothes, ran downstairs, quickly made some breakfast sandwiches, and promptly bumped into my principal, as my hands were full of slippers, chocolate, and sandwiches. However, she's awesome and sympathetic, so it was all cool. At school, I quickly consulted my secret stash of ideas, and here's what I came up with (NB: All of the classrooms have sponges in them):
What do we use sponges for?
Imagine that we are all sponges. (Kids giggle: We're sponges?! Yes.)
As a sponge, what is yo
ur favorite mess?
What do we use magnets for?
Would you rather be a sponge or a magnet? (Near unanimous magnitude in 4 groups.)
(To stick to things and other people. In one group, the specific phrase 'girl magnet' was used.)

This was interesting, but then I had a rare moment of sheer brilliance after asking my colleagues what the sixth graders were up to. It turns out that they are in a review phase geared towards mid-year testing. Most of what they had learned already were animals and the present tense. So to review:
Ok, crew. What animals do you know?
(Intense shouting of various forms of animals, categorized mainly as pets, farm animals, Australian varieties and jungle varieties.)
Ok, now pick two animals, and put them together to make one new animal.
Then, when you're finished, writ
e a few sentences to describe them.
(Moans and 'but I don't want to's and replies of 'but it's good for you')

A sampling of the results:
One, which I may add later, was a combination black widow spider and grasshopper, called a spiderhopper, and the kid actually drew it in top and side views, like it a was drafting. I never stop being impressed by these kids. Some of their descriptions were actually quite good, and very surprising also.

The groups that challenge me most to plan for are the seventh graders, because they are really at this midpoint that means what I do with the eighth and ninth graders will be too hard, and what I do with the sixth graders will be too easy. So with them, while watching the snow and ice outside, we discussed the following:
What are your favorite ice cream flavors?
Let's imagine it's our job to create new ice cream flavors.
What's the most unusual flavor you can create?
(My suggestions to get them rolling were bryndzové ice cream and beet ice cream, some of theirs included celery and pig tail.)
Now, the ice cream cone is imperfect, because it leaks and drips. What are some ways we can improve an ice cream cone or what are some new ways to hold ice cream?
(One suggestion, to go with tomato ice cream, for example, was a cabbage leaf.
These kids are so cool.)

I had a notable classroom management issue today which provoked tears from one student, and another in which a kid approximated his surname to something rather inappropriate in English, in front of me, another student and a colleague of mine who absolutely does not understand English. I was in the process of running back to the teacher's room for something, she comes in and asks me what x word is, and I immediately launch (in Slovak) at him into something like: "If I ever hear that again, I will write you up, again. You said that and you know that she (Colleague) doesn't know what you're saying." So I go back to my group, he immediately got kind of embarrassed and afterward Colleague and I talked about it. It seems she asked him what he was so embarrassed to explain to her... I told her this sort of thing had already happened once before with him. The problem is that he's really quite good at English, but he also already knows some words he shouldn't (if others do, they keep it to themselves).

The fact that it is sometimes hard for me to keep 10 12-year-olds in line notwithstanding, I'm totally energized about being back. It feels great.

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