This week I’ve been very busy preparing for my first class as an English teacher in Ukraine. For the first few weeks we will be team-teaching to break us in, and my teacher partner is Andrew (not to be confused with Andy; we have two Andrews in our cluster, so one is Andrew and one is Andy. Andy = funny fake swear words. Andrew = teaching partner). I was really worried on Monday that I would be teaching alone, as Andrew wasn’t feeling very well. He felt better by Tuesday night though, and we made all the materials we’d need to teach our class.
Andrew and I were assigned to teach 5th grade for the first few weeks, and we were informed that in Ukraine 4th or 5th grade is when students are first introduced to English. So we were a little concerned that if we conducted the lesson entirely in English, it would be over our students’ heads. So Andrew made a list of commands in Ukrainian such as read, listen, repeat, etc. so use as prompts in case they didn’t understand those words in English. I looked up all the English vocabulary words we’d be introducing in the lesson and wrote down their Ukrainian equivalent so we could introduce them side-by-side. If the students didn’t understand the meaning of the vocabulary or the commands the teachers were using, we wouldn’t get very far in teaching!
The lesson theme was classroom vocabulary, and the teacher asked us to also incorporate frequency adverbs. I’m glad the textbook explained frequency adverbs; otherwise I would have had no idea what she was talking about. I guess this is just one of those things that you grow up understanding as a native speaker of English. I would never call the words “sometimes, often, never, always, usually, and seldom” frequency adverbs, but that is their proper name. So we came up with simple sentences like “I always ride my back to school” and “I usually do my homework” and “The teacher is never late for class” to use both school vocabulary and frequency adverbs. We also designed a group activity and a few class exercises to practice saying the words and using them in sentences. We completely mapped out the lesson and made all the materials we would need, using the only resources we had available: paper, markers, plus the scissors we borrowed from Andrew’s host mother. The classroom will have a chalkboard and chalk, but that’s about it.
After we finished lesson planning, it was time for Andy’s birthday party! He turned 23, and his host mom threw him a party and invited all of us over for dessert. So I went home to my house to grab the birthday card I made him and some Reeses from my secret stash to give him as a present. My host mom met me on the way out with a bouquet of flowers, and really wanted me to give them to Andy too. So I took the flowers and felt kind of awkward walking in, seeing as I’ve only known the guy less than 2 weeks and here I was giving him flowers. He laughed though, so I’m glad he could appreciate the humor in the situation : ) Andy’s host mom went all out with the party, and had tons of food prepared for us. I was expecting desert, so I had already eaten dinner with my host family. It was a lot of fun though, and I’m glad we got to celebrate with Andy. When we got up to leave, Andy’s mom stopped as that door and insisted we come back in for ice cream. We’d already eaten food and birthday cake, and there was no way ice cream could be crammed in too. So we promised her we’d come back another day for ice cream. I feel like it’s a hobby here in Kolychivka—stuff the Peace Corps volunteers until they burst! But I know its just their excellent hospitality, and I really do appreciate it. Most of the time : )
So this morning I woke up and put a dress on in honor of my first lesson as the teacher. We had two hours of Ukrainian class before we headed to the secondary school to teach our own lessons, so I went to Natalia’s house first. I knew the second I walked out the door that I picked the wrong day to wear a dress—it was freaking cold! I don’t have a very good understanding of the Celsius thermometer, so when my host mother told me it was “0” outside, I knew it was warmer by the Fahrenheit standard. But one of my cluster-mates said 0 ºC = 32 ºF, which is still pretty cold for October. I had a hard time paying attention to Natalia, as I thought through the lesson plan in my head and tried to think of back-up plans in case any activities didn’t go over well.
We finally left for the school, and we met our technical trainer outside of the classroom. She said I looked like a real Ukrainian teacher, which made me laugh because Ukrainian teachers dress to the 10s and wear huge heels. I just had on a dress, which I guess is fancier than what she usually sees me in, but by no means what Ukrainian teachers wear. One of my other cluster-mates, Tammela, taught today too, and she had on a dress very similar to mine. We even took a picture to mark our first day from the other side of the classroom, in our matching dresses : )
So the moment of truth! Andrew and I walked into our classroom and started setting up, using duck tape he brought from the U.S. to tape our vocabulary words to the board. Our students started coming in and sat down, and one of the little boys brought us chocolate. I already know who my favorite student will be ; ) Once the bell rang, we started class and all the students stood up to greet us. I was in charge of introductions, so I introduced Andrew and myself and then asked the students to introduce themselves, saying “Hello, my name is ________. Nice to meet you.” At first they looked lost/uncertain, so I re-introduced myself and had Andrew introduce himself too. And then I wrote those phrases on the board, and asked the students to try. Writing it on the board really helped, and they all successfully introduced themselves. From here on out the lesson was a breeze, and they did so well! We had 2 or 3 very active students who had answers for every question we asked. A few more would respond if we called on them, and then probably 3 or 4 didn’t speak at all the whole class. So I hope next time we can draw them out of their shells. We’ll be teaching the same class for the next few weeks, so we’ll have plenty of time to get to know their names and English abilities. Andrew has never taught before, but you definitely couldn’t tell from watching our lesson! He did a great job using Ukrainian commands, and always spoke slowly. That’s something I’m horrible at—slowing my speech down. I can only talk slowly when I’m intentionally thinking about it, so I often have to repeat what I’ve already said slowly. (I just used a frequency adverb in that sentence that! Before this week I wouldn’t have even known it was a frequency adverb!)
After the lesson our technical trainer (Katerina) and our fellow cluster mates critiqued our lesson plan and its execution, and they said it was great and flowed very smoothly. I’m very pleased with how it turned out, and I look forward to teaching the 5th grade more! At first I was unsure about teaching kids so young, as I’m not exactly a kid person. But these kids were so well behaved and eager to learn English, so they made it easy to like them : ) Next week Andrew and I teach them twice, but if it stays as cold as its been this week, I’m definitely going for warmth instead of style in my choice of clothing. I haven’t busted out the long wool leggings or underarmor yet, but it might be time soon.
This week I’m supposed to get paperwork from the Ukrainian government saying that I’m here legitimately with the Peace Corps, and once I have it I’m allowed to travel on my own. In Ukraine, the police can stop anyone and demand to see their identification papers, so we (Peace Corps trainees) have to travel with our language trainers or technical trainers until we have our papers and can explain ourselves in Ukrainian if asked. So, once I get my papers I can come into the city more often for internet access, and hopefully get to talk to some of you via Skype! My Skype name is “kathrynbaus” (no quotation marks, obviously, just the kathrynbaus part), so add me to your Skype contacts : ) I usually have Internet in the late afternoon/early evening in Ukraine, which is usually morning (9am-noonish) for all of you on Eastern Standard time. So look for me then!
All my love : )