When you have a bad work day, it’s nice to have a friend to make the evening better.
It was bound to happen, I suppose. Remember that Elementary class with the two really bright students who were discipline problems? I had to kick one of them out of class for foul language. They’ve both been warned before. Heck, they are warned about something 2-3 times in every class! If I didn’t act this time, they’d just roll right over me. And the other students are already beginning to mimic some of their bad behavior—the latest of which is climbing under the desk during class or stealing someone’s cell phone. So when I heard her call one of the other students a m@ther f#cker, I had to act. Obviously everyone in the classroom knew what the words meant because they got deathly silent. She immediately apologized, which is good, but actions have consequences. I couldn’t let her get away with anything else. I didn’t yell or threaten to call her parents; I didn’t wash her mouth out with soap or spank her—all things that would have happened to me at her age. I just told her she had to leave. First she was shocked and didn’t respond. Then she kept asking for forgiveness. I just kept saying she had to leave the classroom. Now. It was the last 15 minutes of class and we were playing a new game. (I had not done a game in class for the last two lessons since their behavior was so bad, but hoped that was enough punishment. I think they learn a lot from these games, so I risked another.) She wouldn’t move. I considered taking her arm and dragging her out, I didn’t want to even touch her. It wouldn’t do for the foreign teacher to be accused of harming a student. So I went to the office to ask for help. The owner had stepped out, unfortunately, but another teacher was in charge and I quickly told her the situation. She came with me to the classroom and persuaded the girl to go to the office, where the two of them sat for the rest of class.
I felt terrible. I hate disciplining kids. It’s one of the reasons I prefer teaching adults. And to make it worse, by the time we finished the game, the girl had managed to get the teacher on her side. Now it was two against one! Not a good situation for the lone, foreign girl. The teacher said it was just a word in an internet game and that the student didn’t know it was wrong. I said calmly that this is the smartest kid in the class. She knew what the words meant. Everyone in class did. In fact, this student had been warned about foul language before. Then I outlined some of her earlier behavior in class and how she was a constant discipline problem. I told the other teacher that the student could come back to class on Monday, but that she must behave herself. (Heck, there’s only two more classes!)
I ended up missing most of my lunch hour, answering the other teacher’s questions about the situation. Possibly I’ll be in trouble over this. I did suggest that I believe part of the problem is that the child is bored. After all, she tells me often enough. As I’ve reported before, I believe she should be moved to a higher, more challenging class. If the material were more difficult, perhaps she would be too busy to be a problem. I’ll probably brood over this all weekend, like I did last weekend. It’s draining.
I want to do better. I want to inspire, not discipline. This isn’t what I want in a classroom.
Yesterday felt like the longest day—in addition to the discipline issue, the Beginners had been especially rowdy and the Intermediate class had been especially non-verbal. The entire day was constant struggle. I was so glad to make it home, but exhausted. I stood at the bottom of the four flights of stairs to my flat and wondered if I had the energy to climb them. When it was over, I showered and took a short nap without supper.
I’d told Lubov that I’d go with her to a new beach, called Tungu (Trudny? phonetic spelling). Though I wasn’t sure I’d have the energy, I knew it would be good for me. It was. Many of the roads in Russia are quite poor and this one was one of the worst I’ve seen—mostly dirt and potholes with the occasional stream running down the middle. It must be impassable in wet weather. It was a foggy evening, so we could hear the waves long before we could see them. First there was a narrow wood, then a steep stairway straight down. Halfway down, the fog cleared to show a lonely, austere beach, filled with jagged shale, black sand and crashing waves. Swimming would be too treacherous here. It was the perfect antidote for my day.
We walked the length of the beach until a vertical cliff face blocked the dry land. We balanced on rocks half the way and it reminded me of hiking in Pennsylvania. Then we sat on driftwood and talked. We climbed the stairway out with the last rays of the sun. It was full dark by the time we got to the car and the road didn’t improve in darkness and continued fog. I didn’t share my bad day with Lubov. She has enough troubles of her own, I’m sure. Don’t we all? But her kindness did me a world of good, more than she knows. I am lucky to have met such a good person who is interested in practicing her English.
I tried a new warm up in the Beginners class today and it went really well. The kids are very young and though I had some teaching experience with this age in Vietnam, I’ve never felt I was strong with young beginners. I’m getting better, though. Today we went on a “walk” through the jungle. I drew (really bad) pictures on the board of words I wanted them to learn and the name below them: Tree, rocks, river, tiger, monkey, snake, grass. Then I wrote some action verbs on the board. We pretended to walk through the trees, jump over the river, climb the rocks, lift our legs high over the tall grass, run away from the tiger, tiptoe around the snake and say hello to the monkey. It was fun and worked off a bit of their energy! We worked on Capital Letters for 20 minutes—that seems a difficult subject, but we will go back to it next class. I find they will work surprisingly hard for about 20-25 minutes if I draw a smiley face on their paper when they get it right. Then, I needed to practice a LONG list of vocabulary words they have been learning. I put them into teams, drew a big bulls-eye on the board and if they guessed the word correctly, I let them throw a sticky ball at the bulls-eye and win points for their team. Great fun!
My routine in almost all my classes is to have the last 25 min of class be a tongue twister, then a game or activity of some kind. My games are all learning games, but they aren’t new. I’ve gleaned them from books, the internet and sitting in on other classes. I do all the standards: Taboo, Scattergories, Pictionary, Three Truths and a Lie, Bingo,… in fact today was Number Bingo in my Elementary class. I’ve had to buy sticky balls, large foam dice, egg timers, plastic alphabet letters and numbers. I even have noise buttons. I’m going to get a Twister game when I get to a place where I have reliable shipping. It’s a lot to carry around, but I can’t count on the school to have these things. I don’t think that Russian teachers do many games, even with kids. Many of these games work for adults, too, as long as they are useful skills they are practicing. Besides, it’s summer. If you can’t have fun in the summer, when can you?
I spent most of the weekend getting my classes organized. While I’m not happy with the new schedule, I’m determined to do the best job I can. I’ve got a master spreadsheet and written a Warm-Up, major activity/game and tongue twister for each class. I’ve chosen the pages we will do for the classes that use a book. It will make it easier to have a good flow and to better pair activities with that day’s lessons. I simply didn’t have enough time or familiarity with the materials during the first three week session to be this organized.
I do pretty well with languages when we share an alphabet. When I was in Vietnam, I learned to read signs and menus quickly. Vietnamese uses the Latin alphabet, but adds some tonal marks. Turkish is the same, except they add a few additional letters. I even think I’ll eventually be functional in Spanish. But Cyrillic is just beyond me in this short period of time. I can’t read signs or menus at all. Going to the grocery store is an adventure and restaurants are impossible. I buy what I can identify and cook at home. I occasionally make a mistake, though. I thought I was getting milk and came home with a salty yogurt drink. And I bought cream cheese instead of butter this week.
In most of the other countries I’ve spent time in, you can take one look at me and know I’m “not from around here.” But it’s different here in Nakhodka. I look as Russian as anyone else. And they aren’t used to seeing foreigners since it isn’t a tourist area. Most of the time, people aren’t mean to me because I’m an American. They don’t know that. The folks here are simply not outgoing in the way I’m used to. No one smiles or talks to strangers. People aren’t gregarious and don’t strike up a conversation with someone they don’t know. Unless we are forced to communicate, the folks around me have no idea where I’m from. Even in a shop where I have to talk to a clerk or cashier occasionally, they probably still don’t know where I’m from, even if they can figure out I’m speaking English. Very few of my students can distinguish my American accent from someone from London. But they are surrounded by the English language. They listen to American music and watch American films. Most products and many stores have English names, though there may be no other English words on the bottle or in the store. Even grandmothers wear shirts with English words on the front.
My classes are all in the evening today. Since it’s the only non-rainy day forecast for days, I decided to go to the store mid-week. I went to the large grocery store in the mall and it was clear that they’ve made some changes in the last few days. I don’t know what happened to the fresh produce, but it is no longer at the entrance. There are seasonal items there. It’s not like there was a lot of fresh produce, anyway, but now I can’t find any. I got some wine and a can of something that was like a mixed cocktail. The store wasn’t busy, but it took forever at grocery checkout. First, there were several items with security tags that had to be removed. These weren’t on my coffee before. After that, neither of the items with alcohol would scan. The cashier has to scan three different codes on the containers and none of them worked without a few dozen attempts. First she called over another cashier, then the head cashier, THEN the security man. All I understood was that there was a new program and she was upset. Initially she talked non-stop to me, never noticing that I don’t speak Russian. Then she began talking to the others in turn. Once they finally got the items to scan, they all stood there and kept talking, leaving my groceries half rung up. I finally interrupted them with the little Russian I know, “Please?” and pointed to my watch. The cashier actually rolled her eyes at me. And she pointedly finished her conversation before ringing up the rest of my groceries. I gave her exact change and began to leave. An alarm bell went off and the security officer stopped me. I’d put all my groceries in my daypack, so I took it off and handed him the sales receipt. He kept asking questions, but I kept saying: “Russki, neyt. English?” Then I got out my phone, opened Google Translate where I had pre-programed, “I don’t speak Russian. I speak English.” He seemed mystified, but he finally just waved me on. The cashier scowled at me the entire time. I don’t have to know Russian to know the names she called me.
Have I mentioned that I won’t be moving here?
Every negative encounter is exacerbated by the dark skies. It won’t stop raining. I’m getting depressed. Even today, it’s not raining, but the cloud cover is oppressive and the humidity is 100%. The temperature is actually cool, but I get sweaty anytime I move around.
My favorite class is currently my evening adults. It’s still a challenge because they are at very different speaking levels, but they work hard and they are funny and likeable people. It’s also difficult because learning materials are often written for children and I want to treat them like the mature adults they are. Of course, my classes always run long and the poor owner has to wait for me before she can lock up. She almost has to chase the students from the classroom.
In contrast, my afternoon Elementary class is simply not working. First, I only have 3-4 students in the class and none of them are interested in talking. I think more were signed up or expected. They are good kids, but all young teens and very self-conscious. On nice weather days they’d rather be outside. On any day, they’d rather be playing video games or chatting on their phone. There aren’t enough students to play many of the learning games I have. They aren’t interested in conversation. I haven’t found topic they seem excited by. It’s slow going and I don’t think they enjoy the class. I hate that because they are all bright and capable of learning.
My other Elementary class, however, has a different issue. I’ve got two stellar students who frankly need to be in Pre-intermediate. These two girls are highly verbal, have an excellent vocabulary and almost always know the answers. If they weren’t so loud and disruptive, they could make the class better. Instead, they won’t let anyone else answer questions, they constantly tell me they are smart (a two-word phrase comes to mind and it starts with “smart”) and bored. When we play learning games, they try to run the games and won’t let anyone else take their turn. It’s a constant fight with them. Plus they are angry when they don’t win or don’t know an answer. It’s maddening. They are coupled with an entire back row of younger boys who would prefer to never open their mouths if it means speaking English. They aren’t dumb, just younger, less experienced with English, and as non-verbal as most boys are when they are 10 years old. We were finishing a game yesterday and only had 2 minutes to go. It was boys against girls, and as unlikely as it seems, the boys won. These two girls were furious. One said the game was “stupid.” The other looked right at me and said, “Go home.” I must have registered the shock on my face. I’d been feeling pretty unwelcome here, but no one had actually told me to go home. It took a second to remember that they don’t understand the subtleties of the language. To them, “We want to go home” and “Go home!” mean the same thing. I just said, “OK, Go.” I was hurt and exasperated. No one moved or made a noise. I took a deep breath to calm myself. “I’m sorry you don’t like the games. Class is over. Go home.” They could have been statues. I repeated that the class was over, turned my back on them and began erasing the board. They silently filed out.
I shouldn’t let children hurt me, but I work so hard to make a good class. The games can be exhausting for me when I have to play referee the entire time. Even on a good day, games require a lot of time to create and prepare plus I usually have to buy props (dice, timers, letters, numbers) and rewards, like candy. It would be easier and less expensive to just stick to the books. I’ll take a break from games with this class and see how it goes.
Today I had a truly unique experience. I got to see some dolphins up close and personal. These beluga whales are pure white and they seemed to like the attention of the small crowd who gathered to watch the 11am feeding. What surprised me most about these Arctic mammals was the sounds! I’ve never heard such noisy sea creatures in my life. Check out these two short videos:
The dolphins are kept in ocean pens not far from Nakhodka, where I am teaching this summer. They are acclimated here to living around humans and taught some basic tricks. They are then sold to perform in shows all over the world. While I have a hard time thinking about what life these intelligent creatures might have in the future, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see them.
On the internet, I only found this and that article that mentioned Nakhodka as a place that had young beluga whales.
I moved to Nakhodka, Russia at the end of May to teach English during the summer. It’s a lovely place, so those of you who are still thinking “Cold War” can exhale now. The place and people are nice. The school is the best one I’ve been to yet and the teachers are top notch. But it’s a world away from the USA. Oh, and I saved the worst for last.
Smiles: The people are very serious here. No one smiles on the street. It’s not any worse than, say, New York City, but different from Spain where everyone smiles. Or Vietnam. But of course I’ve learned the hard way that smiles mean different things in different countries. In Vietnam, it seemed to mean that even though I didn’t know you, it was OK for you to touch me. I found this uncomfortable. In Istanbul, a wide smile meant I might be a foreign prostitute and was soliciting business. I really hated that! In Spain, it was just what people did. Here in Russia, the other teachers tell me that if I smile on the street, people may think I’m a bit off in the head. Who knew a smile could mean so many things?
Infrastructure: My brother confided that he still thought of Russia with an eye to the Cold War. I completely understand! I thought it might be gray and oppressive, too. While some of the buildings are austere and need maintenance, it’s not bad. But coming in the spring helps–fresh flowers, green grass and sunny skies make any country look better. I don’t have a handle on how Russians feel about their country and government. I’m waiting for a better opening for that conversation. So far, most have mentioned the roads, which do need attention. The road between Vladivostok and Nakhodka had a lot of potholes. It’s only about 100 miles (176k) between the two cities, but it took almost four hours. And I only drink filtered water (I bought a filtering pitcher). Of course, the infrastructure in the USA needs some attention, too. I filtered my water in Atlanta, as well.
Do I look Russian? So far, in the places I’ve worked, when people saw me, they almost always knew I was an English speaker. Sometimes they thought I was Canadian or from the UK, but they knew I wasn’t from their country. Even in Spain, people immediately spoke English we me, even when I began conversations in Spanish. (Pretty sure that was a very bad accent, however.) Not so in Russia. Of course, there are very few English speakers here in Nakhodka, but even on the plane, the airline attendants initially spoke Russian to me. I flew Aeroflot, Russian Airlines, and the flight attendants spoke English, but they assumed I understood Russian. Maybe I look Russian?
Exchange rate: I’m not paid much, enough to cover room and board, at most jobs. What money I do get, is in the local currency. I’m more interested in what my money will buy here (which seems to be a fair amount in food, my only major expense), rather than what it’s worth in US terms. I often pay little attention to the exchange rate until I have to get cash from an ATM. Just for reference, the current exchange rate is 100 Russian Rubles = about $1.50 USA.
Steering wheels: Here in Nakhodka, almost all of the cars have steering wheels on the right side of the car, though the traffic is on the right side of the road. Why? Most of these cars come from Japan, where they drive on the left. We are only about 850km from Japan. In contrast, I’m about 9,000km (a drive of 117 hours) away from Moscow. As one friend put it, “you’re so far east, you’re west!”
Cheap wine: I like a glass of wine in the evening. I’m not a connoisseur, but I thought the wine in Spain was really good, even the cheap wine. Heck, even the box wine! Cheap wine here in Russia? Just cheap. Maybe I should try the vodka?
Old Men: In short, I just need to stay away from them. I had seen this older man around the apartment block. He looked feeble and moved slowly. Yesterday, as I exited my apartment, I noticed him climbing the stairs. He apparently lives in a flat above me. He seemed to be having trouble so I pantomimed that I could help. He smiled. I smiled. I took his arm and tried to help him up the next step, but he motioned for me to stop. I thought he wanted to rest a bit longer. He smiled again. I smiled again. He kissed the air in my general direction. I wasn’t sure what to do. Then he grabbed my breast. Seriously! Based on his reaction time, I’d say he can move pretty quickly when he wants to. I said “NEYT” clearly while removing his hand. I wagged my finger in his general direction, turned around continued down the stairs, alone. He was still chuckling when I reached the ground floor, 4 flights below.
On the 26th of May, I moved to Nakhodka, Russia where I’ll teach English for the summer. I had my first day in the office today, just working on lesson plans and figuring out where things are, how to print…blah blah. They have a 10 day English camp starting today and I get to be there two days. It’s an overnight camp for 8-13year olds. They asked for some ideas from me so I showed them some games to play to reinforce many of the lessons. They were thrilled! Yea! And because I’d spent the weekend reviewing, I’d already planned what I will do for this week. So today, I printed off my lesson plans, extra dialogues, and activities, since I figured the owner would want to see what I’m doing. That went over well, too. So I got to be a big hit on my first day. I really enjoyed just talking with the teachers. Their English is excellent and they are so very nice. I may never get a chance to practice any Russian words–everyone wants to speak in English with me.
Tomorrow, I’m taking a group of adults out to tea for their final class–surprise extra conversation. It’s not in my contract, but I think it’s a good faith effort. Besides, the owner immediately reimbursed me for my flight and the cost of my visa–which they didn’t have to do until the end of the contract. They are playing fair, so I will be as kind as possible! (The tea was canceled. Boo)
Honestly, everything looks really good here at the school–this will be my best job yet. Suddenly sorry I’m only here for 2 months!
The weather is quite cool. It may not get above 80F the entire time I’m here. Today it is cloudy and breezy, maybe only 60F. I’m shocked at how far East I came. Jet lag is terrible this transition. It’s 8 hours difference from Madrid–but 7 of those hours are from Moscow to here! It’s a huge country.
Not talked politics with any one yet. I’m very interested to know what Russians think of their own government. Or if they feel comfortable commenting. I’ve only talked to one person about Donald Trump. They were visibly relieved when I said I thought he was a crazy lunatic. I don’t understand what America is thinking? Please, don’t let him become president!
I now have cable in the apartment and can get the BBC World news. I was so behind!
June 2, 2016
I’ve officially been in Russia a week. I’m only now beginning to feel settled in. And I’ve still got some jet lag. Must be getting old? Honestly, all week I’ve felt beaten up. Like when you ride one of those new, super-roller coasters and get jarred around. Only I feel as if rode it a couple dozen times. All my joints ache. I’ve got intermittent diarrhea, mostly in the morning. I am still gagging in the morning like I did when I was hiking and I can’t eat anything when I first get up. I’ve not actually thrown up, but it’s been very close. I even have to drink my coffee pretty slowly. I’m trying to eat lightly, drink lots of filtered water, eat yogurt daily and get extra sleep. The bottom line is that travel is hard on a body. And I’ve been moving around a LOT. I had a different bed each night for a month and a half while I was hiking and the next two weeks were not much better while staying in hostels. In fact, I moved rooms or hostels every 2-3 days. There is little privacy in them and sleep is tougher. That’s a lot of change in a couple months. And most of the last 3 weeks I’ve had a pretty serious cold. But now I’m in one place, recovering from my virus and sleeping better.
I am going to try to just learn one work of Russian a day, phonetically. I also want to learn the Cyrillic Alphabet. I know that’s very little, but it is something. My students will help me. So far I can say yes (da); no (neyt); goodbye (paka); thanks (spaceebo). I’m working on sister, brother, dog, hello, chicken, cheese. Frankly, I’m not doing very well, but at least I’m comic relief for my classes.
In the meantime, I’m continuing to work on Spanish on DuoLingo.com. I’m really happy with the website’s learning tools and it’s free. It will give me a jump start on my Spanish studies once I get to Mexico. I’m committed to being functional in Spanish and my three months in Spain has shown me that it’s possible. No, I’ll probably never be able to discuss poetry in Spanish, but I should be able to book a hotel, order from a menu, ask directions and do simple banking.
Yesterday I spent the afternoon at the Summer English Camp. It took about an hour to drive there, but it’s in a beautiful park by the sea. There are about 25-30 children and I was very surprised at how good their English was. They had so many questions for me! I spent most of the first hour just answering questions. Also, they gave me candy, which was very special since it is contraband at the camp! Such adorable children—all the time they hugged me, held my hand and almost fought to sit next to me. I was wonderful. This must be what it feels like to be a rock star!
Today, I got to meet the rest of my classes. In every case, they are quite good and as long as I don’t speak too quickly, they seem to understand me. I have 6 groups—Beginners thru Intermediates and I see each group two or three times a week. Each class is about an hour and a half and I have 15 classes a week. It will keep me busy! This session is three weeks long. I’d been under the impression that I’d have all new students in the second3-week session, but looks like at least half the classes will be the same students, just extending their learning. I’ll also have a new group of adults and I’ve been asked to do some conversation classes with the teachers. While I think they are VERY good, they feel they need more conversation practice.
Yesterday was the most fun ever! I helped out again at Summer English camp, located about an hour outside Nakhodka. There are almost 30 kids and the teachers have them non-stop, overnight for 10 days. Talk about BRAVE! Anyway, the kids are great and the English of 2/3rds of them is spectacular. My job was to play games with them for a couple hours. I had to spend some time thinking about what to do. I’ve never run a camp and I didn’t have children, so I’m grateful for Google Search! I did Simon Says, balloon pass races, taught them a couple songs, and we played a game called “chocolate” that was a huge hit. It works well with a large group—at least 10. You seat the kids in a circle and put an opened bar of chocolate in the center of the circle. You hand them a dice and tell them that when they roll a six they can have a piece of chocolate BUT first they have to put on a hat, vest, scarf, gloves (I wish I’d had mittens!). THEN they can only eat the chocolate with a fork and knife, one square at a time. No touching with their hands. All the time they are putting on the clothes, everyone else taking turns rolling the dice, trying to get a six. Most of the time they get almost dressed then have to undress to give the clothes to someone else. It’s all done at top speed, lots of yelling and screaming. Great fun!
I’ve had to buy a few things for the kitchen. When I’m on short assignments, I usually make it part of my contract to live in housing provided by the school. Since I don’t speak the language, that keeps my frustration level down. This apartment is very nice, but I needed just a few items, since I like to cook. The big find was a filtering water pitcher. I couldn’t even find one in the last two countries! I’ll probably leave most of the kitchen items behind, but I plan to buy extra filters and keep the pitcher.
True Confessions: Watched my first episode of Outlander last night. It’s recently become available on Netflix. I’ll be power watching season 1! Now if I can just catch up on Game of Thrones, Downton Abby, Big Bang Theory, ….I’m so behind on television……