mmm it’s officially fall here. or as all the students have learned to say in british english ‘autumn’. fall or autumn, either way. it’s here and it’s wonderful and like all the weather in ukraine, the changed practically happened overnight. i was wearing shorts and a t-shirt on saturday and come sunday i was forced to dig into my suitcase and unzip my vacuum packed sweaters, filling them with life again. fall is by far my favorite season. maybe since i grew up in arizona never knowing just how beautiful it is, so now i love it even more, trying to make up for the years i’ve spent without it. pretty sure i’ve been looking forward to fall since….last fall? i just can’t get enough of its sweater/scarf wearing, leaf changing, cider drinking, cider doughnuts, pumpkin carving, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin everything wonderfulness. i should stop myself before i carry on like bubba and his shrimp. but i will say, i have two short term goals right now: find a pumpkin. make pumpkin pie…pretty good goals i must say.
anyways, like the sudden change in weather, i don’t know what has happened at school…my students have seemed to change (for the better) overnight. –wait, i should go knock on wood before i continue to write this– phew, okay. i really don’t want to jinx this. i can’t pinpoint what has changed, if it’s me or if it’s them, but something has. don’t get me wrong…there’s still discipline problems but my classes have become…bearable. which is saying a lot. maybe the students are finally realizing that i’m there to teach not just be some stand-in that doesn’t expect anything. more than half of my students still don’t really listen, or even care to listen, but i’ve been able to get through some lesson plans without spending the entire class on discipline issues. which is awesome. i feel like i’m starting to get the hang of this thing…or at least maybe. i’ve memorized most of the students by names and am getting to know them better as they are getting to know me. so maybe the ‘new substitute teacher syndrom’ the kids pinned on me is, like the tree leaves, slooowly changing.
it’s only tuesday and i’ve already taught 11 classes. it’s only tuesday and i’ve already forgotten what i did on monday, so i guess that means nothing terrible happened. today’s classes went fairly well and some were even fun. for my 10th form (whom i secretly enjoy teaching) i decided to transition from seasons to seasonal sports in america, which they seemed to like. i also promised after a lesson on american baseball, we’d spend a class outside playing it ‘for real’…though i have yet to think of what would substitute as a good bat or baseball….buuut i’ll think of something. i’m thinking duct tape will be involved.
with every lesson, you don’t really know how things will work until you actually go out to to the battlefield and experience open fire…probably not the best analogy, but whatever. my 9th form, whom on somedays i would rather NOT teach, really got into their lesson like i hoped they might. we’d spent the lesson before learning about autobiographies so this time i had the idea (well really a fellow pcv had the idea) to play a match making game. i found 10 photos from a newspaper (5 women and 5 men) and made little bio-cards for each. dividing the class into two groups, it was there job to think up bios for each person (name, age, profession, hobbies). i thought for a minute maybe they wouldn’t take the task seriously, but what they wrote could have very well been that person’s bio. i was impressed. once we had them all written we voted as a class as to who should a couple. i lined them up on the chalk board and one by one we made a match, with even the last remaining two, a 86 year-old philosopher and a 24 year-old librarian, seeming to possibly work together. i was SO glad it went over well. i’d been looking forward to that lesson for a week since i planned it (lame i know). i’m not sure they thought it was a much fun as i did, but i’d like to think so. : )
other than lessons, which i’m sure is thrilling to read about, things have been on the up too. students have been harassing my window less (i still get the occasional ‘knock and ditch’ and thrown objects, but hey, less is better). living at school still has it’s fair share of pluses and minuses. sometimes the minuses far out weigh the pluses, but then again i get to know my students in a way that no other teacher does (or probably wants to). and after a very very lonely weekend, i was so glad to see some of my favorite students (i know i know i’m not supposed to play favorites). on sunday night the three girls from the 7th form i’ve become closest to greeted me with hugs, running full force with open arms, and insisted i let them come over and do my hair.
i wasn’t reeeeally sure how i felt about inviting students into my room. it’s like the rules of sharing food in class, if you have something you have to share it with everyone, and i definitely don’t want to share my room with everyone. but these girls are my friends, maybe my only friends, so i decided to cross my own line and let them in. they were so impressed by my decorations (which are really just maps, letters, postcards and some sticky wall art, a far cry from my ideal ikea deco). they had me sit down in my chair, got out their crimper and hairspray and went to work. 30 minutes later they told me to look in the mirror to which i saw a 90s music video back up dancer version of me looking back. my hair had been crimped to the point where it had no resemblance to it’s former self, teased, hair sprayed and pulled into a high ponytail with a fuchsia scrunchie. i felt like i went back a few decades in time. give me some leg warmers and spandex and i could have been skipper’s brunette side kick. it was hard not to laugh…i looked absolutely hilarious and unfortunately i did not get any pictures of this. but the girls meant well and i figured i’d just hopefully be able to wash out the 90s.
but last night, on my designated shower day, my water was shut off. this isn’t the first time this has happend. in fact it’s happened while i had a head full of shampoo. that was fun. water in my village just randomly turns on and off, like sporadic desert rain. it’s just rather unfortunate when it’s on my ‘designated shower day’. in america, i’d shower everyday, without fail. but like other pcu volunteers and ukrainians themselves, our showering becomes much less daily and more so ‘when there’s water’. this morning there was still no water, which meant trying to do something with my student-made-90s-frizzy mess again. it’s sort of hard to make that style look professional for school. but to my delight i tried the faucet once more this afternoon, just for kicks, and sure enough out sputtered some water and while i wasn’t planing on taking a shower then, i seized the opportunity.
i went back to school after my much needed shower and showed up for my daily after school ukrainian art lesson. the students were working on making ‘stain glass’ by cutting out designs in paper and gluing on colored paper. i told them they were doing a good job and may have exaggerated my level of impressment because before i knew it, i was handed one to make too.
as any fellow foreigner that doesn’t really speak the native language may know, sometimes your lack of language knowledge gets turned into the assumption that you don’t know much of anything at all. this…was one of those times. they handed me the easiest of easy designs to do, with only 4 simple shapes to cut out and kept asking if it was too hard for me. uhhh no. i can manage cutting paper. i even managed getting an art degree. imagine that! i knew they ment well and i went along with it, not saying anything of what i was actually feeling, but it wasn’t easy to put aside my artist’s ego and not take it personally. sigh…it was like handing lance armstrong a bike with training wheels and telling him not to go too fast. but moments like those happen in a foreign country. i’ve become more used to the fact that people think i’m not smart because i’m not as articulate in their language. but whatever. it just seems to hurt a little more when it’s regarding your profession.
after i mastered the difficult task of cutting and gluing paper, i worked on grading, skyped with jeff and before long the sun had set and it was dinner. i debated whether to eat at the cantine or not since i usually only get a nice serving of potatoes, hold the meat. as i popped my head in just so see what they were serving, as if i’d be anything other than potatoes, my students greeted me offering me their chocolate candies that were to be dessert. i told them ‘no no no’ because, who can take candy from a kid. but in ukraine, no doesn’t mean no. there’s some type of rule regarding having to say it three times in a row before someone actually believes you mean ‘no’. the kids insisted i take it, holding their arms extended reaching out to me with chocolate. kids all know i love chocolate so they called me on my bluff. they looked like they might cry if i didn’t take it. so shamefully i did. giving food is a sign of admiration here, so i knew it was a compliment. but that didn’t make me feel any less ridiculous as i left the cantine, my hoodie pockets over flowing with donated candies.
i went back to my room to prepare a nutritious ‘more than just potatoes’ dinner and also address my mouse problem. that cute little mouse i met last weekend and SWORE i got rid of after he jumped into a plastic bag that i tied and ran outside with to let him free (talk about a humane mouse trap). but some how he’s back. or maybe it’s a different one. but either way he has left ‘presents’ for me all over my kitchen counter and had fun scampering around my room in the night. so it was time i do something about it. i told the secretary at my school and she later came to me with a bag full of what i’m guessing is poison. i know i know…i can hear PETA hitting the ‘revoked’ button on my membership. i’d much rather rely on my plastic bag traps, but obviously that didn’t work. i doubt there’s any humane traps in ukraine, so in that way, at least poison is better than the metal traps? i reluctantly set one of the newspaper wrapped packet of magenta seeds under my kitchen cabinet and hoped it would solve the problem quickly, for myself and the mouse. poor mouse.
after i betrayed my fellow peta members, i got a phone call from my regional manager. i wasn’t sure what it could have possibly been about, i thought maybe i forgot to fill out one of the billion forms that peace corps sends us. but instead he called to apologize for the news regarding my package. i’d emailed someone from peace corps like he suggested, but only got an email back saying there was nothing that can be done about it. my regional manager, oleg, said he was sorry that was the news i got, he was certain something more could have been done. i was sort of surprised that was the reason for his phone call and i told him i know it’s no one’s fault on behalf of peace corps. however dumb the law may be here, it’s the law.
i told him there was nothing monetarily valuable in the packages but he understood my disappointment saying ‘even a postcard from home is important’. he asked how school was going and i said it was going a little better. he knows i’m working way over my contracted workload and thanked me for the hard work i’ve been putting in, which was so nice to hear. he ended the phone call genuinely saying ‘you know i like you…so i’m sorry this package thing happened to you’. me too oleg. but at least other things are going well.
later on, while taking a break from writing this blog, i decided to walk over to the dorm (well, i live in the dorm, so by walk over i mean go to the door where the students live). one of my students rinna, was not her usual self in class today and something was clearly bothering her, so my camp counselor instincts took over and i thought i’d try to see what was the problem. that and return the fuchsia scrunchie.
when i entered the noise of screaming and running was pretty much just as loud as it is through my walls (all walls in ukraine are PAPER thin). it’s no wonder why it’s so noisy, kids were everywhere. i made my way through, saying ‘hello’ and soon i had a pack of students following me, excited i’d come for a visit. adorable. i found rinna who was sitting on the floor with a history book trying to ignore the commotion around her. i sat down with her and asked her what was the matter today during class. she seemed sort of embarrassed to tell me she was upset about a grade in history. glad to hear that’s all it was, i told her it was okay and studying more was the right thing to do. i hung around the dorms for a little while longer, watched some russian tv, learned how to make a ribbon bracelet, watch some kids do flips (which is probably what they’re doing when it sounds like they’re about to crash through the ceiling), and left with kids begging me to stay. so yea i may have crossed the line of what a typical ukrainian teacher does, but whatever i’m not ukrainian. plus being their friend is way more fun.