Finally, after one month of trying to sort everything out, I have a set schedule, set classes, and a decent routine.
I’m doing four different “blocks” of “things”.
1) Teaching at Astrakhan State University Fulbright orientation this past summer really freaked me out in terms of teaching at the university. I seemed to only hear horror stories about bad students, departments who ignored their Assistants, and schedules with no real schedule. I was initially very worried, especially upon hearing after this and that rumor during my first few days in Astrakhan. I teach at INYAZ, or the department of foreign languages. And, I have to admit – I’m in love with my university, department, classes, and students. I teach about 4-5 classes a week. The fifth year classes have just gotten back in session after their internships, so I will probably pick up a few more in the coming weeks. Russian university classes meet in a two week rotation, So I have a different schedule each second week, if that makes sense, which I don’t see how it can because it still confuses me. I have three groups of fourth year students. Honestly, they are the better students – all of them come to class, they always do their homework, and are very active in class. I have two groups of level 3 students. For the most part, they’re also very good, and active, though one group is much stronger than the other, in the sense that they are as good as my 4th year-ers. Essentially I’m teaching along with the indicated syllabi of the department. With the third year group I’m helping teach drama, and with the fourth year groups, higher education.
I work among all other English teachers at AGU’s Department of Foreign Languages. There’s a LOT of teachers; I’m actually pretty surprised at how many teachers there are. And really, there doesn’t seem to be THAT many students. But perhaps I just haven’t met enough of them. Furthermore, the classes are small; my biggest class has 11 students. And from what I’ve understood, each group has a different teacher of English. I suppose that evens the numbers out a bit? But I’m still really confused as to when groups meet and how this whole schedule thing works. Aside from my own schedule, I understand nothing else. The system just runs..
Last week we had a faculty party in celebration of “Teacher’s Day”. In addition to celebrating the holiday we also celebrated all birthdays in the month of October. It was a typical Russian gathering – lots of food, mainly lots of little dishes of various salads, pies, meats, and cheeses. We had three glasses – one for juice/water, one of champagne, and the last for liquor. There were toasts, after toasts, after toasts, followed by little kudos to the birthday teachers. Then we ended everything with tea and desserts, which I provided by surprise. I baked M&M cookies, brownies, and banana bread. Everything was a much bigger hit than I expected. First and foremost, every thing turned out and turned out excellently; that was already more than I expected. I had the great help of Angelika’s wonderful kitchen, so having a well working oven really helped. My colleagues loved the desserts so much I copied the recipes and left them in the department.
After already a month, I’ve noticed a few “peculiarities” about the university. First, many students are attending two universities. I just don’t get how or why they do this. I really don’t understand. From the converstaions I’ve heard, the teachers also do not understand. Conversation with one of my students last week:
Julia: “well I won’t be here for a month.”
Me: “a month? .. wait what?!”
Julia: “yes a month. i return in November.”
Me: “and.. why? are you going on vacation?”
Julia: “no, I must go to Saratov and finish there.”
Me: “finish what there?”
Julia: “my other education. i take exams there.”
Me: “wait, so you’re coming back in November.”
Julia: “yeah, i take exams there in the month of October and come back to Astrakhan in November.”
Me: “oh. okay… safe travels and good luck?”
What is this? I’m still not sure. But students just come and go from the university as they please. A good handful of students just came back from America, despite the fact that classes started on September 1st. There’s another student who has only been to class once because he’s studying at another school, and working, and probably partying, who knows. But he definitely uses the first two excuses to not come to class. In fact, they’re not even excuses – he just doesn’t come. Another one of my students just suddenly decided to join the army. He came to class twice. Then he didn’t come, but sent me this song through the Russian facebook, vkontakte. I responded with another song and said “COME TO CLASS.” I then got a message in response: “i’m sorry I can’t. i’m going to the army this week.” I suppose he had an epiphany.
Second oddity: personal conversations during class time. First, student just like to answer their phones during the middle of class. and what do they say? “sorry mom, i’m in class; can I call you back later?” This blows my mind. Really. I mean what the hell? Do you absolutely have to pick up the phone? No. I am curtain of that answer. After 90 minutes, you will have a break. You can call mommy dearest or boyfriendy dear then. Or send a text. In general phones are going off ALL the time. Most of the time they don’t even put it on vibrate. If they do, the vibrate is as loud as ring anyways, so I’d rather her the first lines of a Rihanna song than the phone vibrating against the table.
Granted, it hasn’t been this bad in my class, but phones do go off a lot. However, three weeks ago I sat in on a Russian course for first year students. It was horrible. They stuffed 40 students into some small room, pulling chairs into the walkway. If a fire would have started in INYAZ, we would have been royally screwed. However, the point is – the phones, my god the phones! There was no way I was going to be able to pay attention during this lecture. Phones went off about every minute, with most people answering them and whispering conversations. The rest of the time was filled with little conversations between classmates. Often these were mumbled, but just as often they were spoken at a normal level. And the professor – did she say anything? No. she just keep on babbling about something related to Latin and Russian; I was so lost.
These little conversations though, I’m struggling to control them in my own classroom. The students really seem to have problems with talking when others talk.. in general. The other day two of my students were having a conversation in the middle of our class discussion; I asked “do you have any questions?” blank stares “no”. then they kept talking, so I asked again “do you have any questions?!“. finally the one girl states, “she’s mad at me!” my response: “you can fight AFTER class…” Yesterday, my class gave presentations, and other students were just having mini-discussions during the middle of these presentations. Afterwords I literally had to say, “well good job, but from now on when others are talking, you are all silent.” I’ve had to yell at people quite a few times for this. I hate looking like a bitch, but honestly, if it’s so distracting for me, I know it’s really distracting for the other students. And if I don’t maintain control over my classroom they’ll start picking up their phones and having conversations with their mothers.
2) Russian I am doing three different types of Russian training (aside from just living…). I have one-on-one lessons twice a week. I just started these last week, and so far, I can’t complain. Granted, I’ve only taken the Russian language test, but I really like my teacher and I think they’ll be really good. That is, if I survive the confidence blow this Russian test is providing.
Secondly, I’m attending Russian classes – two of them. The first class is Russian for teachers of Russian. This class is definitely very challenging for me, as so far we’ve taken words from the dictionary and really broken them down into five different categories. It’s pretty interesting, and I’ve enjoyed the classes so far. The second is Russian for teachers of Russian language to foreigners. This class is a little more interactive and demands the students to learn tactics of teaching and actually act them out themselves. So far the classmates here seem a little dull; aside from the two I walked home with afterwords. The class was silent most of the time, and the professor really had to push them to be active. Future teachers? I’m not feelin’ it so far. Maybe they’ll prove themselves in future classes. Both my classes are taught by the same professor, who is really great! The best part is that she doesn’t treat me any different; she asks me questions during class and forces me to answer. Yet, she also very understanding that perhaps I don’t understand everything or can’t quite pronounce the right words. embarrassing.
3.) Schools I’m now going to two high schools or, as they are truly called “Gymnasium” 3 and 4, named and based on the German concept of high school. In both schools I’m supposed to be doing a drama-type class. Thus far I’ve gone to the 3rd Gymnasium a handful of times and the 4th one only twice. The 3rd Gymnasium is already quite frustrating. I’ve met with a different group of students each time. They barely talk. And when I mean barely, I ask a simple question and get blank stares. The last time however, I became a bit more hopefully. I showed a video clip and would pause it and ask, do you understand, etc. They’d be like “yes. we understand”. “well, what was it about?” blank stares. And finally, one girl answered, and it turned out she really did understand. I hope I can get some momentum going there; but in order to do what I’m supposed to, I need a steady flow of continuously appearing students.
The best way to portray American high schools? Naturally:
I went to the 4th Gymnasium for the first time last Monday. I walked into a auditorium filled with possibly more than 60 students. I was shocked. So, I stood up front, talked, asked them questions. I got an applause. Three times. They literally loved me; I was even more shocked. All I did was answer questions and make an absolute fool of myself. After I dismissed them, I was quickly enclosed by some extra eager school kids asking for my name on vkontakte. Throughout the past week I’ve had an overflow of School-children friends on my Russian social networking site. I really am cool now. But really, I was very much impressed by the Gymnasium. I was even more impressed today, when we had another meeting and another 30 students showed up, once again eager to participate. We played a few different games and talked about meeting times. A few girls left early and stopped me on the way out “thank you! we think you’re so cool!” Woahhh! I think I’ve found my way to ultimate coolness. I’m pretty excited to continue working with this group. If they stay this excited, and we have as much fun as we did today, it will be a good run with them.
4.) Turkish classes I’ve started Turkish. Perhaps I’m crazy, but the classes are free and the university’s program is pretty good. I mean, I think that’s just the way it was supposed to be. How could I and even more importantly, why would I want to turn that down? I have class twice a week. The worst part about it is that one of those days is Saturday, and class on Saturday is three hours long. But for the most part, I really enjoy classes. Everything’s taught in Russian, so they’re pretty difficult and I really have to focus, but it’s a great challenge for me. Furthermore, I should be studying for it a lot; my teacher is pretty demanding. But I don’t really have the time or often even energy to devote a lot of time to studying. However, either way I’ll have had a year of Turkish under my belt, and that’s one step closer to my goal. Furthermore, it definitely doesn’t hurt my Russian, and in fact I study everything in Russian-Turkish, so it’s a great tool for learning and practicing my Russian.
So, that’s my routine. We’ll see what else manages to squeeze it’s way in…