when my friend megan asked how my week has been, i thought about it momentarily trying to find one word to sum it up, and replied “it’s been…stupid.” she laughed at my answer but completely understood my word choice when i described this weeks events to her. what is a stupid week like? well it’s not necessarily a bad week, just a week that kind of makes you think “whaaaaaaaa?”.
the school system of ukraine often makes me think “whaaaaa?”. it’s a school system unlike any other i’ve encountered and lacks the familiar forms of discipline and structure i’m used to back home. there are no absences, no tardies, no detentions, no suspensions, no failing or even receiving a zero. and subsitute teachers? well those don’t exsist. it’s up to the other teachers to pick-up any extra classes and students. so one teacher missing means two classes combined, about 45 kids, all crammed into one classroom — some sit on the floor, some two to a chair. it’s a chaotic mess.
i give serious props to the teachers in ukraine. they put up with a lot. they’re forced to deal with “subbing” for other teachers in addition to their own classes, to discipline without any administrative help, and deal with students constantly being pulled from class to participate in various rehearsals. their job is not easy and i know i definitely couldn’t do their job day after day for years.
i feel a bit ‘spoiled’ at my current site to have most of my classes with a ukrainian present. it’s necessary otherwise the kids go WILD. like beating each other in class and throwing backpacks out windows. yes — true stories. and to think i taught that way for almost a year at my old site!! sweet jesus that was tough. anyways, i’m no good at yelling (no really, i just sound super awkward if i try) and yelling is basically the only form of discipline they respond to, so they know how to take advantage of nice miss kristen.
it’s terrifying to deal with a class of 20 kids as it its (you have to remember i can only discipline them in ukrainian/russian since they really don’t speak english), but this week two teachers didn’t show so that left me with a classroom of 40 plus 5th graders. me. all by myself. stupid is right. this isn’t the first time this is happened, oh no, but it still terrifies me none the less. i tried not to let it across that i felt like some sort of sacrificial gift, slowly walking my last steps to the altar.
the class wasn’t really that bad since at least the 5th graders are some of my favorite kids. but teaching anything was impossible. they lost all focus being crammed in such a small room and in such numbers at that. so i told them “okay you can either shut up and doodle or copy this entire text from the book.” juuuust kidding i didn’t say that…but it’s pretty close. they were mostly quiet and doodled, PRAISE THE LORD. hence why it wasn’t bad, just…stupid. kids were everywhere in that classroom, it was practically bursting at the seams. there’s just no way kids can learn when there are that many in a class.
later that day while teaching my “oh so enthusiastic” 11th graders, i was walking around the classroom with the text book following along with what they read. i paused near a student holding my book near my waste and when i moved it i found his camera cellphone aimed at my crotch. lovely. just lovely you little perv. i didn’t even get mad (this is why i can’t be a teacher) i just flat out said in english “ew! what are you doing?”. i don’t think he actually took a photo, at least i hope not, and i really hope it’s not floating around on the internet with any other secretive awkward photos of me students have snapped.
my 11th graders are checked-out mentally. hence why they’re taking inappropriate photos in class rather than trying to learn. they’re about to graduate and 85% of them can’t form a sentence in english. a few can’t even read in english! when i first learned of their frighteningly low level of english i mostly, and foolishly, blamed the teaching. i think teaching has part to do with it, but mostly it’s their sad “i really don’t give a rat’s ass” attitude and the fact that they all miss so many classes to do other school things. the kids in that class are great…but most of them are terrible students.
the english teacher i work with for the 11th grade told me after class this week that she doesn’t think she’ll come back next year. she told me that teaching isn’t for her, or at least at this school. she really is a great teacher so i’d hate to see her leave (though i’ll leave before her, so i guess it doesn’t really matter). she said that she wants to work somewhere that makes her feel good at the end of the day, to leave with something positive. and i understand what she means, i see and experience first hand, all the systematical inefficiencies these teachers put up with.
my last solo lesson of the day ended with some very sweet 4th graders. a class that actually tries and wants to learn english. crazy right?! they were so happy to have me all to themselves for the lesson and behaved pretty well despite it. before the bell rang they asked when i’d be leaving, my answer of “May” always gives whiney moans and “don’t go!”. they told me that they’d build a 60 story house, for me and my family, so that i could live and teach here foreveeeeeerrrrrr! i was flattered by this offer, but somehow i don’t think i’d trust a house built by 4th graders and i’m not sure all my friends and family would consent to moving here either…but i told them i’d think about it.
so really, the week wasn’t bad, certainly not terrible, i mean i was offered housing and a job for the rest of my life, but the school system of ukraine still gets me sometimes. on my way home from school today i stopped at the local store to pick-up a few things. this is a store that i’ve gotten to know the owners quite well and enjoy frequenting because they’re so nice to me. but it’s also a store where i’ve never bought alcohol. during peace corps training they REALLY use fear tactics into never buying alcohol in your village in fear that one purchase will label you as an alki forever. i went almost a year at my first site before it was the dead of winter and i just really needed some wine. turns out, no one cared. and though i have bought some wine in my village here, i still play it safe and try to purchase most refreshments in the city.
i normally don’t even bother a glimps at the beer selection in stores because i don’t like the beer here, but ever since i discovered an actually delicious beer, a limited edition christmas beer, i’ve had my eyes peeled for any chance i have to purchase it before it runs out forever. and as february rolls around, it’s becoming a more challenging task to track it down. but i found it, THE HOLY GRAIL! sitting in the cooler of that little store. and i couldn’t just not buy it…despite never having purchased booze there before.
my plan was to make it as inconspicuous to the owner, clerk and 3 other people standing there. but i failed miserably at that. after the lady tallied up my items i super awkwardly said, “um…and beer”. thinking i’d just tell her the price, she’d add it and i could take it from the cooler as i left. but she came from behind the counter to get it, i think figuring i wasn’t going to (which was a logical guess), but then we sort of awkwardly tangoed as to who would reach for it. she asked ‘one?’ and i said “two” thinking it looks better if i’m getting a beer for myself and a friend rather than just one for myself…or maybe they now think i’ll drink two by myself …either way it probably doesn’t even matter. but my awkwardness drew more attention to myself and the fact that i was buying beer so the reactions of the store people turned out to feel more like this:
aaaand everyone in the village knows i buy beer. eh…at least i’m leaving in 4 months. now enjoy these photos from my run today: