Problem children, nightmares & musical water glasses

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Feeling lucky to be in Russia. The weather is quite cool. It's barely broken 70F and we've had a lot of light rain and cloud cover. Personally, I'm enjoying the cool temperatures.
Feeling lucky for this opportunity to see Russia. The weather is quite cool. It’s barely broken 70F and we’ve had a lot of light rain and cloud cover. Personally, I’m enjoying the cool temperatures.

6/6/2016

Last week’s classes went well. My two days at summer English camp were spectacular. Being a teacher is such an amazing job. But only when it’s working. Today, things were not working. I had three classes and all could have gone better. Much better

It started with Beginners. The vocabulary review went very well. I let them throw sticky balls at the vocabulary words from last week. I ended with a game I call Hot/Cold where we use English words like “you’re red hot” or “you’re ice cold” to say how close someone is to a piece of candy we’ve hidden. Of course, everyone likes the game because they get candy, but I’m not sure they really understood the objective. In the middle was a grammar lesson on “be” verbs= I am, he is, we are…..  Then I was to move on to contractions (short form) such as I’m, She’s, They’re……. I’d seen their previous books and they should have known this, so I thought I was doing a review. But they didn’t know it. Half the class acted as if they had never seen this before. And somehow I couldn’t quite move the slow ones forward. It was painful and it took me too long to understand the problem.  I really failed. Fortunately, I have a translator for this class or it would have been a disaster. She made some excellent suggestions for me to use in the next class and we will try this topic again. The “be” verb isn’t common in other languages, but it’s critical in English. I hope to do better.

Next I had an Elementary class, which was OK, except for two girls who wanted to talk to each other (in Russian). Every time I called on them, all they would say is, “I want to to sleep” or “This is boring.” Good English, but not helpful.

Who wants apples? Nastya gives me chocolate! What a good student!
Who wants apples? Nastya gives me chocolate! What a good student!
A local product: Chocolate with sea salt and seaweed. Both were very good. I couldn't taste the seaweed, but there was a delightful crisp sound when you bit into the bar.
A local product: Chocolate with sea salt and seaweed. Both were very good. I couldn’t taste the seaweed, but there was a delightful crisp sound when you bit into the bar.
From last weekend: Yulia, Katherine and her two daughters Nastya and the youngest girl, whose name I have forgotten.
From last weekend: Yulia, Katherine and her two daughters Nastya and the youngest girl, whose name I have forgotten.

After lunch was the Intermediate class, my favorite. One girl is clearly ahead of the rest, most are solid students and there’s one or two a bit behind, but bright enough to get the material. My challenge is finding things difficult enough for my star student, but not completely go over the heads of the others. I did some English word jokes/riddles, Extreme Adjectives for vocabulary (they knew over  half of the words) and a current event—a story about the gorilla that was recently shot in the Cincinnati zoo after a child fell into his enclosure. Some of it worked; some of it didn’t.

So there were no big breakthroughs today. No magic. I must do better.  I just went for an hour long walk to shake off the day. Now making dinner. Tonight, I’ll go over my plans for tomorrow and see how I can make them better.

The view of Nakhodka bay from the hill the cathedral is on. This is a major shipping port, especially for coal and those cranes lift it from the land to the boats. Look at the clouds/fog in the distant mountains.
The view of Nakhodka bay from the hill the cathedral is on. This is a major shipping port, especially for coal and those cranes lift it from the land to the boats. Look at the clouds/fog in the distant mountains.

6/7/2016

As a child, I had terrible nightmares–monsters chasing me. I was terrified. After my sister died, they got worse–falling off cliffs, drowning, very violent images. There were nights I just didn’t sleep. But the things that scare us change as we get older. Last night, my nightmare was that I’d lost my passport, credit cards and cash. For a traveler, that’s SCARY.

Last weekend, I got to attend some of the school's graduates. In the middle is Olga, surrounded by her students. Most will go to college soon.
Last weekend, I got to attend the school’s graduation. In the middle is Olga, surrounded by her students. Most will go to college soon.
This is one of the reasons I am not losing any weight here. At the graduations were many tempting sweets, including this cake made with sweetened sour cream frosting.
This is one of the reasons I am not losing any weight here. Also at the graduation were many tempting sweets, including this cake made with sweetened sour cream frosting. Yum!

6/14/2016

My Pre-Intermediate class asked if they could skip an activity and ask questions about the USA. They are all teenagers. Here’s what they asked.

  • Why does everyone in America have a gun?
  • Is it true that most Americans don’t take off their shoes when they come into the house? (They were horrified that anyone would wear outdoor shoes inside a house. When I said that not everyone took off their shoes, they next asked, “so all the streets are very clean, then?”)
  • Are Americans like what we see on the movies?
  • Does everyone eat coffee and donuts for breakfast?
  • Is it true that there is no public transportation in America?
  • How many cars do most families have?
  • Is everyone rich?
  • Why do white people hate black people?
  • Is it true that if you do something wrong the police will shoot you?
  • Do American people like Russians?

Sunday is my day to do lesson plans for the week and also grocery shopping. While I was at the grocery store, a man called me by name. (OK, he actually called me “Bet” because Russian doesn’t have the “th” sound. Much like all Asian languages. My name is unpronounceable by half the world!) I was so surprised because I didn’t know the man. He held his hand above the floor (to show height) and said, “chilled” which I eventually understood to mean “child.” Then he put his hands first to his heart, then pointed at me. I really hope he was saying, “My child loves you.” He had a big smile on his face, so he was trying to communicate something positive. It made me very happy.

I saw my first statue of Lenin.
I saw my first statue of Lenin.

I find I’m really tired by the end of the week. Three 2-hour classes each day, five days a week, is a lot. It would be easier if they weren’t all different levels and all completely new classes and books for me.  If I didn’t already have several dialogues and activities prepared, this would be much worse. It’s  a lot of hours on my feet. I just can’t be one of those teachers who sits at a desk. I am lucky that I can walk to school in just a few minutes, so I don’t add a long commute time to the day. The other good news is that I’m teaching very formal little grammar. I focus on speaking and listening exercises–grammar in use–while adding any new vocabulary words that come up.

Church of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. Don't you love those shinny onion domes?
Church of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. Don’t you love those shinny onion domes?
Small chapel beside the cathedral.
Small chapel beside the cathedral.

6/15/2016

Last night Olga, one of the teachers, took me to see the big cathedral, Church of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. It’s fairly new. Here, it’s just called “the church,” but we’d call it Eastern Orthodox. It’s not associated with Catholicism, but the religion is similar, having grown from the same roots. No one seems to understand the word “protestant” but I’ve seen at least one Islamic mosque. No Jewish temples. We could only go downstairs at the cathedral. Because there was a small service going on, I didn’t feel it was right to take photos inside. The incense and chanting priest gave it an otherworldly sense. The walls and ceiling were painted with saints and biblical scenes. Framed and gilded pictures of saints covered the walls. It was quite beautiful. We had to cover our heads when we entered, much like in a mosque or in the older Catholic Church.

Then Olga took me to an unusual musical performance at the International Marine Club. There was a man playing water glasses, accompanied by a classical guitar player. Fascinating.

The International Marine Club was the site of the special musical performance. Lovely facility, which is also rented out for weddings and special dinners.
The International Marine Club was the site of the special musical performance. Lovely facility, which is also rented out for weddings and special dinners.
A man playing the water glasses! What an unusual performance. The classical guitar player, who accompanied him, was very impressive as well.
A man playing the water glasses! What an unusual performance. The classical guitar player, who accompanied him, was very impressive as well.
A look at the water glasses. They are securely attached to a board and there are about 4 sizes.
A look at the water glasses. They are securely attached to a board and there are about 4 sizes.

Water glass music video

And a signed copy of the program, too!
And a signed copy of the program, too!

6/17/16

Not sure why I am so tired. Tried to take a walk last night, as usual, after classes, but just didn’t have the energy. After about 15 minutes I gave up, walked back to my flat and lay down on the couch. It was perhaps 5:30p when I fell asleep and I didn’t wake up until 9pm. I got undressed and made my bed. In a half hour was sound asleep again until morning.

I can’t put my finger on it, but I’m not quite fitting in here. Nothing is wrong. The school teachers are nice and my flat has everything I need. Somehow I am not as comfortable, nor as successful as I’d hoped.  I work as hard as usual putting together lesson plans and activities, but the classes just don’t seem to click as well here. Maybe something is lost in the translation? Maybe I have simply not found the right way to express myself? Perhaps I just need more Russian language and culture to better explain things? I’m sure all of that would help. Of course, it’s possible this just isn’t a culture I “get.” I find that the Russians are very serious. There are few smiles, especially on the street. In fact, I was run off the sidewalk twice today by old ladies who wouldn’t make room for a second person to pass! It’s surprising how much that affects your day. And I don’t hear compliments from people, though I do hear criticism. If a student has an “ah ha” moment, I don’t think they show it outwardly. Maybe people are happier than they look, but from an outsiders point of view, they look ….resigned. Not the young children, but the adults. I hope I’m wrong.

Once again, my impressions probably say more about me than about Russia. Clearly, I’m pretty attached to approval and acceptance! Toto, we are not in Kansas. I’m glad for this experience, really, but I’m also a bit depressed at the moment. None of this would hit me so strongly if we had not just had a terrible shooting in Orlando (LGBT Club, 50 dead, 50 injured).  This shooting really struck me and I’m surprisingly moved by it. And don’t get me started on the divisiveness of the country over the current election. I’ve had to take a break from social media–especially FaceBook to get away from the hateful posts about guns, gays and and Trump. I’m feeling a bit isolated–which is a constant issue if you travel a lot, have no home, stable job and live in a country where you don’t speak the language. Nothing life threatening, but I need to keep an eye on myself.

OK, so I can't say I've not been appreciated here. This is a lovely book and magnet from one of the students from the English camp. The book has Russian stories, often folktales, in English (fortunately!) with really great drawings. I feel really lucky. At least two other students have spotted me when I've been out shopping and came to talk to me.
OK, so I can’t say I’ve not been appreciated here. This is a lovely book and magnet from one of the students from the English camp. The book has Russian stories, often folktales, in English (fortunately!) with really great drawings. I feel really lucky. At least two other students have spotted me when I’ve been out shopping and came to talk to me.
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Beth

I'm a professional vagabond. I quit my cubical job in January 2014. Since then, I've hiked the Appalachian Trail, The Camino, and taught English in Vietnam, Turkey, Russia, Spain and Mexico. I'm exploring the world.

3 thoughts on “Problem children, nightmares & musical water glasses”

  1. My guess is that the disconnect you’re feeling is cultural remnants of the decades of communist government, where the people struggled to exist and had everything decided for them. Couple that with the Cold War, and the fact that the US and USSR were such mortal enemies, full of mutual distrust, I’m sure they’re still not quite sure of themselves or you. Remember that this is a country that was fed lies about Americans and the US. I’m sure the citizens, particularly those of our generation and older, are still wary on some level. If you’re uncomfortable and not as confident in the culture, it will come out in your teaching. Hang in there. In my experience, Russians are very nice and kind one they get to know you a little. And it also sounds a little like the best organized school you’ve taught at, so you’re actually dealing with normal classroom problems and situations add opposed to all the chaos you’ve had to deal with before. That’s probably throwing off your game some too.

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