post-soviet school systems and pretty picture shows

ahhhh the weekend. i don’t think i’ll be able to begin another weekend blog post without the same exclamation of weekend happiness. although it’s already saturday which means i only have one day left. darn.

the middle of my week was kind of a struggle, but it ended on a high note with fairly behaved and (more fun than before) classes. after having my least favorite 8b form class on wednesday, come thursday i was just burnt out and my one lesson plan on prepositions became a one size fits all ‘cause-i’m-too-tired to-think-up-4-diffrerent-lessons’ lesson. it was all new information for the classes and they seemed to enjoy it…so i don’t feel so bad. i actually got a few ‘thank you for lesson, teacher’ after class which was certainly nice.

during my 11th form lesson, which is usually only half the class since teachers make the other half go do yard work, i attempted to draw a bracket on the chalkboard to explain some grammar rule. but as i did it in a hurry, i immediately realized that my bracket had a striking resemblance to boobs. i kinda chuckled to myself but decided not to erase it and keep going. turns out i wasn’t the only one that saw a pair of robust boobs on the board. one of the guys in the back said in ukrainian ‘hey look two tits’ to which i only understood because the word is pretty much the same in english and fact that my neighbor, while giving me clothes she doesn’t wear, exclaimed that ‘you have big tits and i don’t’ (i’m pretty sure ukrainians don’t have a filter). so i couldn’t help but laugh and decide after all to erase them and redraw less booby looking brackets. the whole class, especially the guy that said it, was amazed that i understood. ehehe i love surprising them with the fact that i understand more than they think.

'geography' class room

still chuckling from the ‘accidental boobs’ incident i taught the rest of my lessons, wary of the way i drew my brackets. my 8a form was my last lesson of the day and despite being the same age group and association with my 8b form, is not neeeearly as bad. maybe because the class is much smaller, i think a total of 10 semi-interested kids versus 8b with 19 out of 20 uninterested kids. so really, that class is much more bearable. don’t get me wrong they still have some discipline issues, but not nearly on the level as their other half. due to the shortage of classrooms, almost all the teachers rotate rooms every hour. so that hour i was in the computer lab where i only have a small poster-board sized chalkboard and other teachers sitting working at the computers. while that room isn’t the most teaching conducive room, i was kinda glad to have other teachers there, especially the one that promised i could go to her for help.

the lesson went fine in the beginning until i tried to confiscate a cellphone from a girl in the back of the class (it’s always the back of the room). she refused to give it to me and acted like she didn’t know what i was talking about. it was then that the teacher sitting there working, turned around and with just the utterance of the words ‘STAND UP’ the students had fear in their eyes (i was kinda scared too). she walked over to the girl i was talking to and began yelling at her, then the rest of the class. i stood there, super awkwardly, feeling pretty wimpy and powerless compared to this boss of a teacher. i was thankful she stepped in, but i knew i could never yell at my students like that. if a teacher did that in america, they’d probably be fired. not that she was saying bad thing necessarily, but ALL students have a reverent fear for their teacher. well…except me. probably because i grew up attending ‘upper middle class’ schools and mainly knowing ‘mr. rodger’s-nice-honkey-dory-apple-pie-baking-non-yelling’ teachers. this kind of discipline is new to me. and i’m not very good at it.

all of ukrainian school is so different from american school. i’ve been asked several times to describe the differences but it’s hard to explain all the subtle, and not so subtle, differences. for one, students don’t have the same classes every day. there are six 40 minute periods in a day but the schedule changes daily and is written the day before. so i see some students twice a week and some three times a week. i guess the easiest way for me to explain it, from what i understand so far, is that new material is taught lesson by lesson rather than over extended periods. everything here seems to have a quick turn around rate. lots of dictation, reciting, memorizing, and translation. you teach your students give them homework, they do (or don’t do) the homework and you move on. during the school day ukrainian students work in the school fields (farm land) at least twice a week, sweep and mop the floors between classes, and stand when a teacher enters the room. from my american educational experience, kids wouldn’t even pick up their own trash, the idea of standing up for a teacher would seem silly, and there were many more drawn out assignments, book reports, group projects, etc. that lasted over several lesson and or weeks. american students have much more group work, pupil to pupil work, and every high schooler’s favorite two words: critical thinking.

but in a post-soviet transitioning culture, the deeply rooted mentality behind everything, especially education is bound to be different. part of the whole reason why ukraine has the most volunteers out of any other peace corps serving country, currently 400 volunteers in total, is to help bring new (american, if you will) ideas to the system. while i don’t alwaaays agree with the political agenda of peace corps, i do agree that i ukraine is in a critical transitioning period. a time when young people *want* things to be different than it was a few generations ago. so that’s why we’re here — to present new critical thinking needed, leadership nurturing methods of teaching. well that’s only some of the reasons. easy stuff right?

so anyways after my thursday of ‘american’ style teaching, i met up with the art teacher for some ‘ukrainian’ style art lessons. i was excited. i bought some gouashe, paint pallet, and brush from the little mahazine (who regularly has shortages of milk and bread) and headed to her classroom. there were still some students cleaning the floors and wiping down the board when i entered but she told me to come in and take a seat. she sat at her desk and i took the desk opposite of hers. when i sat down she handed me some candy and told me ‘to your health’ so i took it and i smiled back, mesmerized by my brief reflection in her golden front teeth. she showed me all of her beautiful traditional ukrainian artwork, mainly paintings of flowers on cutting boards, dishes and spoons. they’re beautiful. we started out learning the basics, painting all the shapes that make the flowers and foliage. it was a quick 45 minutes of painting, with students, who were waiting for the bus, watching over my shoulder as i tried my best to act like a real ukrainian with ever brushstroke. it looks easy, but it’s going to take some practice…mine looked certainly less ukrainian than hers.

painting happy little flowers

later i receiving phone call from the school secretary that i had a package, which turned out to be one from my cousin coral (THANKS CORAL!) that i thought had been lost somewhere in ukraine. i opened it and spread it’s contents of a tin with two necklaces and two american eagle t-shirts. oooooooooh new things!!!! i can’t even describe how nice it is to have something new to wear. well when my rate of purchase is one new article of clothing after 6 months…i think you can get an idea. how i miss american clothing. i even smelled the t-shirts, which still smelled of american eagle mmm. i realize this sounds weird…but when you’ve worked there a few summers with that smell in your nose, it was as close as i could get to smelling america.

american eagle fix

that night after a bag of beets from my neighbor (i LOVE beets now) and hanging out with my students at the dorm till late that evening i still had yet to lesson plan for friday. come thursday my head was already ready for the weekend. so my friday lesson became a ‘photos of america’ slideshow the students had been begging me to do. i had about 60 or so photos of chicago, and my other stately travels, my home, family and friends. with every photo the students just couldn’t believe how beautiful and clean everything was there. i know (even more so now) that i am very very lucky to have what i have in america, but i honestly felt guilty throughout the whole thing. especially after one of my younger students said to his friend ‘it’s so clean there…they must not drink’. when i was finished my students just kept begging me to take them back with me. and i wish i could too (the good kids that is) though i’m pretty sure customs would notice…

after i convinced them all that chicago is the best place in the world (they may have a biased teacher hehe), i declared no homework for the weekend (i was feeling nice), received a ukrainian flag colored bracelet made by two of my 6th formers and went home. while i sat and read some lesson ideas, i heard the quietest knock on my door. sergie, from 7a, came to ask me he could have the photos from my presentation if he gave me a flash drive. i was kind of surprised at his request, but said of course he could. he thought for a second and then replied with ‘thank you’ in english and went to go pack for home.

some students learnin a dance just for fun. ukrainians love to dance.

more students stayed behind this weekend than normal (i think it has to do with some young romance between some dorm girls and local boys) but i have to admit is kind of a bummer…i look forward to my studentless weekends lol. after school i went for the run that i literally took a rain check for that rainy morning. chucha decided to run with me, attack some baby ducks and then chickens on the way (people just let their ducks and chickens roam free) and ran to catch up with me. half way through my run two of my 8a form boys rode up next to me on their bikes. they’re actually super nice kids, despite the fact that one was shouting ‘hail hitler’ at school (don’t worry he got yelled at), and i enjoyed their company. as i approached my turn around point and the only curve in the road, one the boys said something to the fact of ‘watch out for big cars’ and at that moment a very very old woman on a bike slowly came around the bend. the other boy shouted ‘oh look! a big car!’ and we all laughed. it was perfect timing. i tried to encourage them to go running with me, but they said they’d prefer their bike and they’d die if they ran so far.

when i finished my run i went back to my room where a bunch of students were gathered out by my window. i talked with them for a minute and they begged me to bake something for them this weekend. ha. i probably would if half of those kids weren’t in 8b. i almost felt like asking them ‘why are you so terrible in class??’ but realized that wouldn’t do any good lol. i made some dinner (because the last three meals i ate at school were literally only potatoes. nutritious) and then used my sliced apples to make a quick apple crisp mmmmm. (i didn’t forget about it in the oven this time!).

warm apple crisp : )

so here we are. it’s saturday. and i should ideally be preparing my lessons for the week. i have another week of 22 lessons sans counterpart again. i called her on thursday and she doesn’t think she’ll be back next week or any idea of when she’ll come back at all. awesome. so! it looks like today and tomorrow will be spent doing laundry, writing lesson plans and grading papers…with interspersed dance breaks to marky mark.

6 thoughts on “post-soviet school systems and pretty picture shows

  1. Hi,

    I know this is pretty random, but I’m an American and just got nominated for Peace Corps service in Eastern Europe/Central Asia. As I was searching around the internet for possible ideas about what service is like there, I saw your blog and read today’s page. It is really helpful in learning about what you’re doing from day-to-day, and I’m sure that you are affecting your students in ways that you can’t imagine. Right now, I’m doing an AmeriCorps program in an inner-city high school, and I can tell you that what you are doing is amazing. I’ll be sure to read up on your blog more. Hope your Saturday goes really well!

  2. So glad you like the stuff I sent you! Brings all new meaning to the term “snail mail”. lol
    Being a teacher there sounds difficult, but seems that you are getting through it just fine. I am sure it will only get easier from here! 🙂

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