In the midst of packing, moving, and resettling at my new apartment, I realized that the weekend for my English seminar at school was rapidly approaching. This seminar has been in the works for months, but given everything else going on, it somehow managed to sneak up on me. I didn’t come up with the idea for this seminar on my own; Peace Corps Volunteers conduct many English conferences, with the most popular series being called WELL (Workshops in English Language and Leadership). Most PCVs have taught at a WELL seminar before, usually in the bigger cities where students have a high level of English. The lessons taught at WELL seminars are conducted entirely in English, which is something kids in small towns and villages rarely experience. I wanted to bring this opportunity to kids in the boonies (or sticks, you might say), where we live, and my friends Erin, Alex, and Holden (who all live within an hour of Sokyriany), agreed to bring some of their best pupils to my school in Sokyriany, which would host the seminar. We modified lessons from the WELL seminar, and renamed our version TELL (Teaching English Language and Leadership). And our TELL seminar was set for Saturday, May 5th, which was suddenly only days away.
When Erin came over earlier in the week to help me pack and move, we spent part of the evening going over our plans for the day, modifying lessons and creating a schedule and assigning lessons to each volunteer who would be teaching. The rest of the preparations for the seminar had to be done at school Thursday and Friday, seeing as we had no school Monday through Wednesday (it was communist Labor Day, a remnant of soviet days which remains a fixed part of the Ukrainian calendar). I went to all my 9th, 10th, and 11th form classes Thursday and Friday, rounding up my best students and reminding them that there would be an English seminar at school on Saturday, and assuring my teachers that the seminar would be free. The director of my school had made the seminar mandatory for the English teachers, so their presence was guaranteed.
Thursday night, the bad news started coming. My friend Alex, who had planned on bringing 20 students from his school in Murovani Kurilivtsi in the next oblast (region), found out from his director that the school bus wasn’t allowed to cross oblast lines without signed permission from the Department of Transportation. The permission was denied, so Alex’s students wouldn’t be able to attend after all. Alex promised to come anyway to teach and help out, which was a godsend because two other Peace Corps volunteers who had committed to coming and teaching bailed at the last minute. Needless to say, by Friday I was quite stressed out. The bad news kept coming, when my counterpart informed me that none of my 11th form students would be attending the seminar because they had to sit for exams. It seems like everyone waited till the last minute to give me their bit of bad news.
Friday morning at school I reviewed the materials for the lessons, which focused on themes such as environmentalism, human trafficking, diversity, and HIV/AIDS. Erin and I realized that some of the basic concepts from these lessons (composting, recycling, prejudice, discrimination, etc.) were entirely unknown to our students. We came up with a list of words that the kids should know to understand our lessons, which we would still endeavor to teach only in English. So at school Friday I typed up the list, and my counterpart Natalia tried to help me come up with the Ukrainian translations. This turned out to be a project in and of itself, because most Ukrainians in rural areas have never heard of things like composting or recycling, so Natalia and I referenced Google Translate (Google Parakladach!) quite often. In the HIV/AIDS lesson, we had difficulty translating words like “treatable” and “curable,” because Natalia insisted that both terms translate to the same thing in Ukrainian. I tried to explain the difference to her, because while HIV/AIDS can be treated, it can never be cured. This point was crucial to the lesson, so coming with a decent translation was imperative. Just creating and translating this vocabulary list gave me an inkling of how challenging this seminar might be to pull off!
Luckily, help was on its way in the form of Michelle and Alex, who arrived in Sokyriany around lunchtime. We had lunch at a cafe with my friend Olha, and stopped in to see my friends Slavic and Petunia at work. Then I took them back to my new apartment, and we spent the evening hanging out and preparing for the big day coming up.
At 7am, I awoke to my cell phone ringing. I had set my alarm for 7:15, but it wasn’t my alarm going off—it was a call coming in from an American cell phone number. I answered and it was my Dad, who was calling to wish me luck for my seminar. It was so sweet of him—best Dad of the Year award definitely goes to mine! He was still awake in Ohio, where it was just after midnight. He was waiting to pickup my sister from Prom, and he proudly informed me that she won Best Dress! It was great to hear from him, and a lovely way to start the day. Thanks Daddy : )
After breakfast, Alex, Michelle and I headed over to school where we quickly set up the classrooms, distributed the materials, and started registration for the students who were beginning to arrive. Soon a school bus pulled up outside, full of Holden’s students from Kelmentsi and Erin’s students from Romankivtsi. My kids all showed up too, and soon it was time to begin! We started by welcoming everyone to the seminar, and splitting the kids into teams. Erin and Alex were in charge of the red team, while Holden and I had the green team. Michelle was on her own with the yellow team, which was fine because she has enough personality for two team leaders ; )
The schedule of the day went like this: Team Time, where the kids came up with a team name, motto, and song, followed by 4 lessons (with a break for lunch in the middle), before the final assembly, where they presented their team project and received certificates for successfully completing our TELL Seminar. I was in charge of teaching the lesson on diversity and discrimination, but since we were running short on teachers I also taught the HIV/AIDS lesson with Holden, and helped out Michelle with a lesson on the history of American music. This lesson was hands-down the most entertaining, mostly due to Michelle’s hilarious impressions of gospel music and improvisation. My Ukrainian friend Slavic came to see the seminar, and I was glad he sat in on this lesson, seeing as it was one of the best : ) When I wasn’t teaching, I was going from class to class making sure everything was going smoothly, and sneaking as many pictures as possible. Here are some of the best!
The green team, a.k.a Green Day! Our motto was “Every Day is a Green Day,” because our group project was based on environmentalism.
Team Green Day came up with a project to teach people about composting, and create a town compost pile. In this picture, the girls are creating a poster to explain their project!
The red team, a.k.a The Red Devils (are good evils) [don’t ask me, that’s the name they came up with] is hard at work designing a project to raise awareness about the different ways HIV/AIDs can be transmitted.
And we can’t forget the yellow team, a.k.a The Funny Bananas led by Michelle! Their motto was “Just eat it! Just smile!” Here the Funny Bananas are presenting their project on diversity, where they planned a seminar featuring a “Living Library” full of people (as living books) from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, who would interact and answer questions about their lives and how it it feels to be them.
At the end of the day, after the students presented their projects, we handed out certificates of completion and took group pictures.
We had 30 participants, 5 Peace Corps Volunteers, as well as some of our Ukrainian colleagues who came to observe the seminar!
Alex, Erin, Holden, me, and Michelle—thanks so much for all your hard work, my friends!
In the afternoon when the seminar concluded and the kids went home, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It all went off without a hitch, and many of the students told me they enjoyed the lessons and meeting other American volunteers. I hope they learned a lot of new concepts that wouldn’t normally come up in their English lessons at school, and I hope their exposure to lessons taught entirely in English (by native speakers no less) encouraged them to take their English studies a little more seriously. I really enjoyed having the freedom to teach whatever we wanted and use methods that Ukrainian teachers would consider unorthodox (no translation! lots of conversation!), and it was a day I felt like our work here as teachers is actually accomplishing something. So all things considered, I would consider TELL 2012 a huge success. But I’m still really glad its over… I can’t believe its May and the school year is winding down! But having this seminar concluded means we’re one week closer to summer break—bring it on!
Thanks for reading!