Tuesday, September 21, 2010

School days

The first day of school was last Wednesday. I walked up to the Foreign Language School, where I was entertained for about an hour and a half of singing, dancing and speeches- in Bulgarian. Okay so it wasn't so entertaining. The mayor of Pleven was there... But I did enjoy the boys' break dancing team and the fact that one girl sang 'Whenever, Wherever" by Shakira.

I received my schedule (which, despite claims that the schedule tends to change after the first week, seems to be permanent) and it looks like I'm only actually working three days a week. Bulgarian students attend classes in one of two shifts: first shift, in the morning, from 7:30AM until about 12:30PM, and second, in the afternoon, from 1:30PM to 6:30PM. I'll be working the later half of the second shift on Mondays, the later half of the first shift on Wednesdays, and then (this is my favorite part) both the first half of the first AND the second half of the second shift on Thursdays. This basically means I have a six-hour break between my classes, but I still have to wake up at 6AM to make it to work on time. But I do have Tuesdays off, which is a nice bonus (having Fridays off was a special consideration negotiated by the Fulbright Commission so that we could have more time to travel- thanks, Julia). So I'm actually pretty happy with the schedule, besides having to trek up to school twice on Thursdays. But 6 hours leave more than ample time for a well-deserved nap, right?

Because the first day of school wasn't a real teaching day, I've only actually met 3 of the 4 grades I'll be teaching this year so far. I had three classes with the 9th grade and then three more with the 8th grade on Thursday, and yesterday I had three classes with the 10th grade. Tomorrow I would be meeting my 11th graders, but it's a national holiday (Independence Day) so I have to wait until next week. So I have today and tomorrow off of school and need to think of productive things to do with myself.
I hadn't actually put that much thought into what teaching would be like- which is weird, when I think about it now. What was I thinking? I would just show up, introduce myself, and hope they would ask questions? Yeah, that's pretty much what I was thinking. Needless to say my first few classes were a little awkward (for me, at least) because I hadn't planned them enough. Not that I'm going to be slacking as a teacher, I just hadn't really put that much thought into the first day. I've talked to a lot of my colleagues and they've given me suggestions for getting the students to engage in discussions. I'm going to focus a lot on their interests and try to present them with stimulating topics that will actually give them useful conversational skills. Since I'm only meeting with most of them once a week, and I'm the only native English speaker at the school, it's important to maximize my time with them. I put a bit more effort into my lesson yesterday and I think it worked pretty well. I asked them to do a short writing exercise, then discuss what they wrote with their peers and introduce one another to the class. I was pretty happy with the results, except that I forgot to collect the writing assignment afterward. Three times, actually. So at least I'm consistent in my absent-mindedness.

Another aspect of my teaching here is going to be an elective course on American culture, which will probably start next week. I've been thinking about possible topics a lot and it's hard to conceptualize what exactly I want them to learn about American culture, whatever that means. What can I teach them that they don't already know from television, the movies, advertising, international news, etc? So it's going to be sort of a work-in-progress. This is the only class I feel severely under-qualified to teach.... maybe I don't actually need teaching credentials to assist in English classes once a week, but doing a class on American culture? I'm not sure if I'm the best person to do it. I hope these kids like South Park...

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