Friday, October 17, 2008

Ups and downs

Time for the work update. That is, Business English. About a week ago, my boss sent me a list of paperwork that I had to have ready within a week. I think it’s related to my work permit. Needless to say I was not thrilled about this assignment. I had plans for every minute of the next few days. But I suppose there’s never a convenient time to do paperwork.

Lo and behold, when I finally attacked it a few days ago, the paperwork actually ended up being….easy? First of all, I didn’t have to fill out any forms. That’s a task that normally reduces me to tears. I’m sure a few of you out there have been witnesses. I initially didn’t know where to go for the documents, but once I got the address from someone, I arrived, and there wasn’t even a line. They knew exactly what I needed since they daily process documents for non-Russian citizens who need work permits.

The next day, I returned to pick up the documents and get my photo taken, which was also really quick and painless. The photos came out decent except that one of my earrings was turned, so it looks like I only have one. Oh well. As I was leaving, I found a bakery with lots of tasty things for lunch before going to work. Perfect!

On the teaching front, it’s been so-so. For one thing, I got a bit burned-out with the lesson plans. Also, I remember how the lessons used to fly by during the first few weeks. Now, they drag a little bit and I race out of there.

I’m getting to know my students better and we had some helpful discussions about what topics they would like to study. Although I asked them the same thing on the first day of class, communication wasn’t exactly smooth since we didn’t know each other. This time they were more receptive.

After getting some ideas from them, I was newly inspired. But the next day, only one of the beginners came to class. That was a little disappointing since I had tried to plan some really interesting conversation exercises, according to what they had requested. The lone student and I went through the material really quickly since it was just the two of us. We even went though the assignment I was going to give for homework, and then I had to improvise.

On the one hand, I understand that they have a lot of work. But on the other hand, if you want to study a foreign language, you have to come to class. It’s not like some other class where you can get the notes from someone else.

I have one tutorial that meets 3 times a week, more than the other classes. She is pretty faithful about attendance and homework, although she is sometimes late or gets called away for work. I honestly admire her because she is a single mother and works in a highly demanding job and is also trying hard to learn another language. Today she asked me, “Am I making progress?” Well, how was I supposed to answer that? It’s not that easy to make an impromptu evaluation, plus I obviously wasn’t going to say “No.” I said “Yes, you are getting better.” And that is the truth, because she does remember the concepts that we’ve covered in class, even though it’s hard to assess her general progress over the last month. I made a mistake the first week with her because I used Russian sometimes and lately I noticed that she was using Russian too much and waiting for the translation. So I have been trying to be firmer about using English most of the time.

“I used to use Russian more with you,” she said. “But now I use English. And I like using English now, even making phone calls.” Hooray!

When I was reflecting on the paperwork process, and other daily challenges, I realized that I sometimes expect the worst. But I don’t think I’m a pessimist. In general I expect good outcomes, I just expect there to be challenges along the way. I think that imagining possible challenges is my way of letting go and putting everything in God’s hands. I acknowledge that the result I expected might actually be very different. I prepare myself for disappointment. And God’s provision, though faithful, is often surprising.


  1. I think your idea of insisting on using English unless it is an emergency is a good one. I know that when I am in a situation where I MUST speak Russian, I have a freedom to "give it a try" that I don't have the rest of the time.

    I'm glad everything turned out better than you anticipated! There is a protective sort of pessimism. I'll do that, just preparing myself "in case"...always nice to be surprised in a good way.

  2. Of course one has to "insist" carefully so that the student remains at ease. I try to use a lot of pair work to reduce pressure, but that doesn't really help if only one student shows up!


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