Friday, June 22, 2012

Saying Goodbye

Today was the last day of the school year. It's hard to tell, with so many cultural and language barriers, how much impact I have had on the people I've met, taught, and worked with for the past two years.

I'm a pretty quiet person. I'm more apt to sit and observe than jump into ongoing conversations. My natural tendencies compounded with the fact that I was tentative about using Romanian while most of my colleagues were tentative about using English meant that it took a long time for me to consistently engage in conversations with many of the other teachers at my schools.

Although not being able to fully express myself was frustrating at times, I was always at least able to smile and greet everyone with a friendly and polite "Buna dimineata" or a "Buna zuia." Not to brag, but I think I was able to make very good impressions with many of the older teachers just by being polite and upbeat. And in a work place environment that is always helpful.

Although I never sought out attention, I had it just for being different and other. I never felt this was a negative at my schools. As one of my colleagues put it today, "Julie was the only teacher able to walk through the school without a name tag and still be known by everyone." In my small town, everyone knows I'm the American girl and in my school, everyone knows I'm the English teacher who is a bit odd (but in a good way).

This week, as I have been collecting and making many goodbyes, even many of my students and colleagues that I was not particularly close to wanted to express their gratitude for my time here and for the work I have done. I hope my presence has brought some awareness of things that are odd or "other" and in the most non-cliched sense possible, that some of them might have an increased interest in something new. And, of course, it is always nice to be appreciated.

People always say that teachers are under-appreciated. And these two years have definitely been some of the most challenging of my life. I admire but do not envy those that make teaching their life's devotion. I wish every teacher at both of my schools all the best.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Oh The Places We'll Go

The Dr. Seuss book, "Oh, The Places You'll Go" was the theme of my high school all-night grad party. I've been thinking about the message of that story again as both the 12th graders here are graduating and I'm preparing to end my service. I have now been in Romania for over two years and yes, I've experienced many of the cliched feeling of affecting change, of not, and being changed as well. I think the most important goal I have for myself coming out of this experience is to remember an honest account of my experiences here, the difficult and the gratifying.

Wednesday of this week was the graduation ceremony for 12 C, a class I taught last year who's home room teacher is my counterpart. These kids are pretty great. I always enjoyed teaching them and this year, when I wasn't their teacher, it was always nice to stop and chat for a few minutes when I saw them in school or in town. Since students spend all their classes together for their four years of high school, they form very strong bonds with their classmates and their teachers. The school has a number of graduation robes that the students borrow for their ceremony. 12 C had made a video of their class saying goodbye and sharing memories, set of course to Vitamin C's "Friends Forever." Their home room teacher gave a short speech and then various students said a little about each of their teachers. Everyone gets very emotional (me less so, since I was using most of my concentration trying to translate the rapid Romanian in my head).

Friday was Children's Day here in Romania. After the 12th graders passed the "key" to the school onto the 11th graders, there was a festival celebrating the children in the town. There were dance troops, guitar ensembles, art projects, and fun all around. My favorite was an act of 5 or 6 year old dancers. The little girls had cheer-leading uniforms and pom-poms and had learned a cute rudimentary dance. The best part was that there was one little boy who was extremely enthusiastic but always a beat or two behind the girls in the dance. The whole thing was incredibly adorable and I found myself smiling through the entire four-minute production.

Friday evening was the banquet or "prom" for the 12th grade. It was held in the reception hall at a bed and breakfast in a neighboring town. All the students take advantage of the occasion and get very dressed up. The girls wore cocktail dresses or gowns (many of them even brought a second one to change into!) and towering stiletto heels. The boys care just as much about their outfits and there was an abundance of purple dress shirts and bow ties. I'm always entertained by awkward interactions so the people-watching was wonderful. The students find it very amusing to be at a party with all their teachers. Since the party didn't start until nine, everyone ate and danced until the wee hours. Luckily, I was able to duck out around three a.m. so I didn't have to stay until five or six like some of the other chaperones.

There are still three weeks of school for the other students, so now is the time to concentrate on finishing the school year and continue checking things off my checklist in preparation of returning to the States.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Incorporating Music and Cultural Exchange In the Classroom

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love music. I listen to it all the time and will happily recommend songs and bands I like to anyone who is interested. I'm always looking for interesting ways to incorporate music into my lessons and broaden the musical horizons of my students.

The past couple weeks, I have been giving my middle school students verbal exams. This is a good way to test their listening and speaking skills while also making it more difficult to cheat! I prepared questions and conversation started adequate for each grade level (though discrepancies within classes were more difficult to manage). Some of my 5th graders know more English than some of my 8th graders. I asked questions with increasing difficulty and allowed for basic answers versus more embellished ones. Overall, both I and my students were pretty happy with the process. I tried to make the testing atmosphere as relaxed and conversation-like as possible, since I know how frightening and frustrating speaking tests can be.

I first considered conducting the tests outside the door of the classroom to prevent students from overhearing the questions, but that would have been asking for chaos to reign within the classroom. Then I considered having students leave the classroom after they had completed the test, but again, that did not give me adequate supervision. Finally, I decided on playing some music for the rest of the class while having the individual tests at the front of the room.

I gave the entire class a small-group activity to due for the period and called students up one by one. Some were extremely nervous and would answer my first question, "How old are you?" with "Fine." I would patiently repeat the question, making sure to articulate the words very clearly and slowly, until (hopefully) they understood. After the first question, most students seemed much more comfortable.

Besides testing their listening and speaking abilities, I also wanted to share some music that I enjoy. Most of my students have very different music tastes than I do. I'm glad they enjoy pop and rock and metal. I also want to take some time to expose them to types of music they may otherwise never be exposed to. During my 8th grade classes, I played the new album from the band fun., called Some Nights. I thought the music might have elements that are similar to things they already enjoy but also have elements and sounds they have never heard before. And I was successful!

At the end of class, when students usually come up to the teacher's desk to pester me about their grade, my student, Beni, brought me a USB drive and asked if I could put the album on it for him. Just one student, but it really made my day.

I have a little over three months left here in Romania, and I'm going to try to have as many of these little moments as I can.