Teaching Highlights

I’ve been saving some of the more memorable moments from English class to share with you! Ukrainian kids are hilarious, and teaching English is always an experience. So here goes!

One of my favorites was with the 5th grade (I know teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but 5th grade is my favorite class, hands down), when they were practicing reading. I know I blogged about learning to reading the Cyrillic alphabet, and how the “false friends” trip me up all the time. These are the letters that look the same but make different sounds. The letters B, H, P, R, X, C, and Y make entirely different sounds in Ukrainian. For example, “B” makes a “v” sound, and H = n, P = r, X = h C = s, and Y = oo.

So the concept of “false friends” works the same way for Ukrainian students learning English. They see the letters B, H, P, R, X, C, and Y, but have to learn the English sounds for these words. They see Y and think “oo,” not “yeh.” It’s so interesting to be learning Ukrainian as I’m teaching English to Ukrainian students; I can definitely sympathize with what they’re going through! And the more Ukrainian I learn, the more I’m able to translate what I’m trying to teach in English. Sometimes direct translation saves me a lot of time doing charades and confusing them : )

So here is the funny class moment: One of my shy students was reading with his head completely down, and I was trying to listen to his pronunciation. Ukrainian teachers are very big on error correction—they want you to correct a mistake as soon as it leaves the student’s lips. I don’t really like jumping in and shattering the student’s concentration, and in some cases, confidence, but every week my technical trainer tells me to correct errors immediately as they occur. Needless to say, it’s kind of frustrating. So my student was stuck on the word “ugly.” There is no “u” or “g” in Ukrainian, so I helped him with the “ug” part. He thinks for a minute, and then finally says “ugloo.” And it sounded so funny I had to bite my tongue and not smile, but as I was thinking about it later, I realized it was a false friend that had tripped him up. He got the “ugl” part of the word, but when it came to the “y,” he read a Cyrillic “y,” which makes an “oo” sound.” Hence; “ugloo.” I understand how false friends work, and I can sympathize. They mess me up all the time too! I wonder how often Natalia wants to laugh at how we pronounce/butcher Ukrainian!

Okay, so I just re-read that paragraph and it isn’t as funny written down as it was in person. Oh well, pretend like you think its funny anyways. The next story I have is genuinely funny (I hope). Me and my cluster mates from Kolychivka went into the city of Chernihiv to watch our friends, Michelle and Chris, teach a university class. FYI: When you join the Peace Corps TEFL program (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), volunteers with a bachelors degree teach in secondary schools (anywhere from 4th-11th grades) while volunteers with a masters degree teach in universities. After seeing how fun the university class was, Tammela and I agreed that we should have gotten our masters degrees and then joined the Peace Corps—the university classes would be so much more fun to teach! Well, not exactly more fun, but definitely more advanced—you’d be able to teach so much more to these classes, because they understand English very well. Most of the time in my secondary classes I need to give a Ukrainian translation just so the students understand my directions!

So Michelle and Chris were teaching their class about London. They read a text about the city and where things were located, and then they had the students work together to draw a poster of the city. After they finished their poster, the students were asked to present it and explain where things were located. One girl was explaining about the theater, and the pub located next to it. Michelle asked her, “what is a pub?” and she answers, “it’s a café for alcoholics!” It was hilarious, and I definitely laughed out loud when she said it. And she was so serious, I’m not sure she even realized why it was funny. And while I met quite a few alcoholics at the pubs in Ireland, I’m pretty sure people who aren’t alcoholics like to hang out there as well ; )

And this brings us to the last funny teaching moment. At the root of this issue is my name and how I want students to address me. In America, teachers go by Miss/Mrs. _____ (last name). Calling a teacher by their first name is not appropriate. In Ukraine, teachers go by their first name and patronymic name. The patronymic name is derived from the father’s first name. For example, the Ukrainian English teacher in Kolychivka is called “Olexsandra Vasilivna.” Her father’s name was Vasya, so the patronymic version of his name is “Vasilivna.” All of her students and colleagues address her as “Olexsandra Vasilivna;” you must use both names to be polite.

So originally, I thought I would try to adapt to Ukrainian culture by using my first name and patronymic name when I taught. That was until I realized what my patronymic name was! My father’s name is Greg, so my patronymic name is something like “Gregovina.” And the Ukrainian version of Kathryn/Kate is “Katerina” or “Katya,” so my patronymic name is either “Katerina Gregovina” or “Katya Gregovina.” And besides being a mouthful, I don’t think I’d remember that someone saying “Katerina Gregovina” was talking to me! I respond to “Katya” now, 80% of the time, but I don’t really want students calling me by my first name anyways. I’m definitely at the younger end of the spectrum, as most teachers in my school are middle-aged. So having students call me by my first name would make me feel even younger and less of an authority figure.

And I think the bottom line is that I’m an American here teaching English—I’m not Ukrainian. I love learning about culture and I try my best to adapt, but living here won’t change the fact that I’m American. And the reason I’m here teaching is because Ukrainian schools requested American Peace Corps volunteers to teach English in their schools. So I introduce myself to my students as “Miss Kathryn.” Ukrainians never refer to each other by family names, so if I asked them to call me “Miss Baus” I’d really confuse them. I didn’t really want to use “Miss Kate,” because only close friends call me Kate anyways. “Kathryn” feels older, so I think it’s a decent compromise. But Andrew calls me Kate and “Katcha” (I think its his own version of Katya) in class all the time, so I have no clue what they’re going to end up calling me. But as much as I love my Dad, I don’t think I can go by Katya Gregovina! : P

That’s all for now, I hope these teaching moments amused you and helped explain Ukrainian culture a little bit more. They don’t seem as funny written down as they did in person, but oh well. I tried : )


Much love!


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