My Last First Bell

I got home from Kiev two days before school started, and at first I must admit that my attitude about going back to school was not in the right place. I’m not a huge fan of the schedule for TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) PC Volunteers, because we arrive at our sites in December, teach half a year, have a summer off, teach a whole year, have another summer off, and then teach two months before we finish our service and go back to America. And these last two months are kind of a pain, because you don’t get a real schedule (you’re leaving, so its not worth it for them to write you into the permanent schedule) and you can’t accomplish much in two months. Plus your head is not really in the teaching game, as you attempt to make plans for life after Peace Corps and tackle the do-list of things you must do before you finish your service.

I grumbled the whole two days before school started, telling myself I wasn’t ready and bemoaning my lack of time to recuperate. But then September 1st arrived, and as I was deciding what to wear to my (LAST) first day of school, I felt an inkling of excitement somewhere deep inside, knowing soon I would see my students. I generally like all of my students, but there are a few who have crossed the line and become friends, and others (usually the younger ones) who are so stinking cute that you can’t help but love them. I thought of Dasha and Masha and Tanya and Vita and Bogdan and Vova, and suddenly I was looking forward to school, because it meant seeing them for the first time in months.

 First Bell in the courtyard at our school.

I arrived at school just in time for First Bell, which is a huge production at every Ukrainian school. We all stand outside in the courtyard, and there are many speeches and choreographed dance numbers. The children bring the teachers flowers, and by the end of the ceremony your arms are full. The ceremony starts to drag on after the first hour, and soon everyone is talking and not really paying attention to whats going on. It seems so incredibly rude to me, but this happens in lessons here too. The kids just talk while you’re teaching and it seems so disrespectful. 

The priest blessing our school year and anointing us with holy water.

But the worst part was when the local priest came to bless our coming school year, and no one would be quiet and listen to what he was saying. In America, I can’t imagine anyone talking through a pastor’s prayer, and I was shocked that the teachers and parents were talking just as much as the kids and not bothering to shush them at all. The priest kept praying anyways though, and when he finished he walked around the courtyard and doused us with holy water. Maybe you have to be Catholic or Orthodox to understand the efficacy of holy water, but I’m telling you as a Protestant I don’t really get it. I tried to get out of the line of fire, but I was standing in front of a group of little kids and they didn’t serve very well as cover. But luckily I protected my camera from the holy water!

Nastia ringing the First Bell as Andriy gives her a lift.

The First Bell Ceremony concludes when a student from the oldest class (the 11th form) carries a student from the youngest class (1st form) around the courtyard on his shoulder, while the kid rings a bell, symbolizing the beginning of our school year. As I watched my 11th form student Andriy carefully carrying Nastia around the courtyard, I realized that this is the last time I’ll watch the First Bell ceremony. This is my last first day of school, or at least it is as a teacher. I don’t know if I’ll be back in school as a student again, but I think Peace Corps is the only time I’ll ever work as a teacher.

I’m finished with Peace Corps in November, so I guess this is the beginning of the end, and every blog post from now on will be “I had my last this” and “today was my last that.” Its kind of a sad thought, and its just starting to sink in how close I am to the finish line. I lost track of time this summer, and now it seems like everything is flying by at warp speed as we race towards the end. The question is whether I want time to speed up or slow down… I’ll have to get back to you on the answer to that one.

 Natalia teaching the first lesson.

After First Bell, we had our first lesson. In Ukraine, First Bell always falls on September 1st, regardless of the day of the week it is. So we had our First Bell ceremony on Saturday, followed by our First Lesson. The lesson was all for show, and I went to my counterpart Natalia’s homeroom class of 5th graders so I could say hi and hang out with them. Wait I retract that–now they’re sixth graders! Its crazy to think that two years have passed since I met these kids. When I got here they were in fourth grade, and couldn’t speak English at all. They still don’t speak much, but we can get through the pleasantries in English, and they can speak Ukrainian sentences with a random English word thrown in here or there for my benefit 😉 I’m starting to think Ukrainglish is cute, maybe that’s a sign that I’ve been here too long.

You see this classroom in the picture above, where Natalia is teaching? This is the English room (or cabinet, if you will), and the future home of our English Resource and Technology Center. Now that school has officially started, most of my time and energy will be devoted to making this happen, so stay tuned for a blog post updating our progress!

I wish you all a happy first day of school, whether you’re a teacher, a student, or a parent happy to have the house all to yourself again 😉

I hope all is well where you are.


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