Thursday, November 15, 2007

Middle school

Oh, how I dreaded middle school!

A friend recently asked me to visit the school where she teaches English as a foreign language. The school is public but specializes in English. I said I would visit, but didn’t know when. Then this week a morning freed up, so told her I was available. She called me at about 10:30 pm on Monday night and I was going to visit on Tuesday.

“You can talk about yourself and about America. Then in the second half, you can talk about Jesus. Eighth grade is studying Ecology and seventh grade Education systems, and with the fifth grade you can talk about anything.” Ummm, okay. Panic attack! I managed to grab some photos from various albums before drifting off to sleep.

As we entered the school, I felt the familiar stress from the school days: social hierarchy, too much homework, sleeplessness, godlessness….my friend didn’t seem too thrilled about it either. She is from a Baptist church and they are very strict about contact with the World.

When the kids came in, they had to stand up and say “Good morning” and remain until the teacher told them to sit down. Then she introduced me and told them that they now had an opportunity to listen to me and ask questions, and that they should use the time wisely.

I passed around photos of my life in America and fielded questions from the students. The younger kids had been instructed to prepare questions as homework, and had 10 each. Some of them were interesting and others were obviously written in haste. From the Ecology group I got questions like “What do you use water for and do you waste water?” Or, “What ecological problems exist in America?” From the Education group I got questions like “How many years do American children study?” and “Does America have a good school system?” Then of course there were the personal questions about why I’m in Russia and what my favorite color/book/film/t.v. show/magazine is.

There were a few teen questions as well.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” “No.” (giggles from the kids…)

“What are your favorite colors?” “Black and red.” (excited whispers…) “Do you like pink?” “Yes.” (rumors went around the room that I was an Emo fan….)

“What kind of jeans do you like? Low-cut or high-cut?” "Ummm, I like them to fit me and not fall down."

I was nervous as to what Natasha had said about telling them about Jesus. Was that allowed? What should I say? But some of the questions made an easy transition. It was natural to talk about my favorite holidays as relating to my faith. Even questions about the environment provided an opportunity, as I explained how I don’t know much about science, but believe that God created the world that we see around us. I also talked about how God had led me here to Russia.

The 9th-graders were not surprisingly the most challenging. Whereas the 5th-graders had jumped out of their seats to ask questions, the 9th-graders were apathetic. Their lesson was meant to be computer-based, making today an exception. Some of them sat at computers and logged into Facebook while others chose to listen to what I had to say. We talked about fastfood and learning foreign languages. I found myself lecturing about university being more interesting, but that they needed to do well in school so they could be better prepared for university. :)

The five classes went by fast, but I was tired. I admire school teachers who are with their students for the whole day, every day. I can barely manage two or three classes in a row. I do think that teaching a foreign language is a little more straining on the vocal cords because you have to annunciate very clearly and repeat the same words endlessly.

And so, I enjoyed being a special guest…but I’m not sure if I could handle the regular position!

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