My life as a teacher in Ukraine is not, and will never be, normal. It’s about time I tell you about my new job.
Where should I start…?
In short, I teach 18 hours a week, 5th through 11th forms, seeing each class twice a week, every other week. I also run two English clubs and tutor after school at least three hours a week. In my “free” time, I research English camps, funding opportunities, and cultual exchange programs for my kids. I also attend other PCV’s weekend English camps in order to gain experience before I create my own next year. I’ll start writing my first grant (for new English textbooks) in June – stay tuned for more information on how you can help. In my other “free” time, I attempt to study Russian…
If my teaching schedule (actually time in the classroom with each class) sounds absurd to you, you are not alone, but I can assure you that all the best intention was behind it. My own opinion on this schedule has changed dramatically since it was first proposed. At the start of the semester, I thought it was bad for the kids to have such a sporadic teacher. I thought they would never be able to understand my teaching style and I would never be able to understand their learning style. In addition, I was convinced by my co-workers that this schedule was the only ‘fair’ way to divide my time amongst the students. However, as the weeks progressed I came to appreciate it. I am able to interact will all the kids who specialize in languages, peruse the curriculum of all seven secondary forms and prioritize learning through games rather than drills since I see the kids so rarely.
Recently, my opinion has changed again and this time it is backed by the knowledge that my contract with the school and current schedule do not match. Technically, I am required to see each class at least twice a week, EVERY week. Although it is too late to change my schedule this year, I have decided to make sure it is adhered to next semester. This is for three main reasons (1) currently, my presence is is accepted by the students more like a celebrity, game show host or substitute than a teacher. (2) It is impossible for me to remember all 360 of my students’ names if I see them so rarely which makes me feel extremely uncomfortable giving them grades. (3) At the end of every day, I am required to seek out all the teachers whose classes I am teaching the next day to get their homework assignments and current topics. This means, it is impossible for me to plan lessons ahead of time which severally diminishes the quality of my lessons and possibility of multi-day/week projects.
English clubs are highlights of my week. I lead two English clubs. One for ‘young learners’, forms 4-6 and another for older students, forms 7-11. At first, we just played games at club meetings, but I’ve managed to find projects for each group.
The older English club is publishing an online newspaper. However, since there are are not many events to report on, it is more focused on writing. I encourage my students to write about anything that interests them, which varies from extreme sports to cultural anecdotes. It is titled ‘Number One Gazette‘. (Feel free to comment on their articles and ask questions!) Since the site was revealed, we have been working hard at figuring out how to work it and manage its design. I have also made more students painfully aware that citation is an essential element of publication and plagiarism (even if it is run through a translator) is not acceptable and totally defeats the purpose of our writing practice.
The younger English club was recently matched with a partner school in the USA through the Peace Corps World Wise Schools program. Our partner is a fith grade classroom in Hollywood, California. The students are mostly hispanic and involved in some very cool programs in the environment and NASA. So far, we’ve received a letter from them and responded by making a video introduction of ourselves. You can watch the video in my earlier post from April 5th. I’m very excited for our future exchanges and think it will be an incredible opportunity for my kids to learn about another culture. Our club also loves to play games, learn English songs, and read stories. One day we even discussed gender roles and the professional possibilities for men vs. women. My favorite club meeting was Valentine’s Day week. We discussed some basic holiday symbols then I taught them how to write similies and acrostic poems for Valentine’s Day cards. I was so impressed with their creativity in the poems and I think most of them actually gave the cards they made to a valentine.
After school, I meet with a variety of students on a regular basis for extra English tutoring as well as tutoring for the application process for the FLEX program. FLEX is an incredible exchange opportunity for students in Ukraine to study in a US high school for a whole academic year. However, the application process is lengthy and requires a knowledge of US academic styles such as the five paragraph essay.
When not lesson planning, tutoring or preparing for club, my time is spent investigating teacher training workshops, grant opportunities, and gaining English language camp experience. In the past four months I have already attended three weekend camps (Themed: Journalism, Ancient Roman politics & Healthy Lifestyles) and organized for Sumy Region’s (my region) traveling ‘Camp Excite‘ to visit Romny on May 20. This summer I will attend four more camps (Specifically geared towards: general English immersion, teaching methodology & English language practice for teachers, young English learners and community project planning).
The most difficult part of this job is knowing that my work is nothing if not sustainable when I leave in two years. I need to be more than listening practice or an occasional teacher of grammar and vocab. The question becomes, how can I make my work sustainable and effective? How can I be sure my work effects others as much as it effects me?