вівторок, грудня 26, 2006

silent night (except when the kids are running around with Shrek masks)

My first Christmas of the season is over (Ukrainian-style on December 25th), with two more (American-style with Jason when he gets here and Ukrainian-style on January 7th) left to go. Yesterday started out as a rough day at school, where I thought I was supposed to be planning fun-filled Christmas lessons and instead was proctoring tests, plus was told that I had made "a big mistake" this semester because I don't have my students copy down texts from their textbooks into their notebooks and call them "monologue speeches". [*bang head here*] My Christmas presents from my parents, sent mid-November, are still somewhere between Lakeview and Balaklia, and it was turning into my worst Christmas ever, because no one seemed to comprehend that this was an important holiday for me (because most Ukrainians consider New Year's as the big winter holiday, and those who celebrate Christmas mostly do so on January 7th).

But then in the evening, I went to the K's church for their Christmas night service, and it was what I needed. We sang "Joy to the World" and "Silent Night" in Russian, (plus a lot of songs I'd never heard before), the little kids all recited poems, I sang "Silent Night" in English, and all the little kids came up front at the end and were given bags of candy. Tanya, one of the girls from the youth group, had a box of chocolates, so all of us youth sat around after church and ate them (and were tickled pink when we realized that the box had two layers!).

Afterwards, I went to the K's house along with them and their cousins. They had a Christmas tree with lights on it, and 10 of the 11 kids ran around whooping and hollering, only stopping occasionally to stare at the tree. Natasha, the oldest girl (9th form) and I had a good chat; she went to my school last year but now goes to the lyceum in town, so I don't get to see her very much these days (I haven't been going to the K's church on Sunday nights for a few months because I don't want to walk all the way there after dark). We had supper, and I now can say that I have tried one more traditional Ukrainian dish: kholodets (Tif, I saw that shudder!). Kholodets is...um...cold jellied animal feet (pig? rabbit? don't know). Everyone there loved it, so I tried a little. I think you have to be born there to truly appreciate it.

Today I got to school and found out that the schedule was changed around, and Nelya told me I didn't have to teach because I had errands to go do before I leave for Kharkiv. I attempted to explain that it wasn't necessary, but then decided just to consider it an extra Christmas gift.

I hope all of you back home had a wonderful Christmas...I didn't think I would, but I did. And it snowed just a little last night!

пʼятниця, грудня 22, 2006

it's beginning to look a lot like...well, New Year's (the big winter holiday here)

First off, a very merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates it on December 25th (ie everyone not in countries where the primary branch of Christianity is Orthodox...it's on January 7th over here, except for the church the K family goes to, who celebrate it on December 25). I hope to be able to get to the post office on Monday, but who knows?

This week has been composed of end-of-semester tests, which has meant that I've had little lesson planning to do, but a lot of test booklets to check. I try to keep reassuring myself that the (abominably) bad grades have a lot to do with the fact that we use standardized test booklets that don't exactly correspond with the books we use, and definitely don't correspond completely with how I teach.

Still, they're really bad. Except for my 7th form, who almost unanimously copied from Kostya, my best pupil in that class. How do I know they copied? He's the only one capable of doing as well as he did, and they all have the same mistakes.


Sunday: church
Monday: teach (boo), attempt to be Christmassy, open my parents' package if it shows up (they sent it over a month ago...I'm getting worried), maybe go to the K's church if they have an evening service
Tuesday: teach, head to Kharkiv in the evening and then overnight to Kyiv
Wednesday: arrive in Kyiv, have a meeting with my regional manager and lead specialist to talk about various issues, pick up Jason at the airport, take the train back to Kharkiv (and then on Thursday take the elektrichka from Kharkiv to Balaklia)

I get to see someone from home!!! And it's Jason!!! *does little happy dance*

As I said before, merry Christmas!

понеділок, грудня 18, 2006

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how small and fake your branches!

Before you ask why I haven't posted in almost a week, let me just say that if you haven't already heard about last week, I will just tell you that it was REALLY bad and I was in no mood to post, nor did I have much time. The short version is that my school feels that I haven't accomplished anything of value this semester. The long version...well, is a detailed list of everything I apparently haven't accomplished.

As I said, it was a bad week. But this one's going better so far. I bought a very small artificial Christmas tree yesterday (easier to haul back from the bazaar) and decorated it; the adjective that best describes the end result is "brave". Nelya was in Kharkiv today and I had all our classes by myself, plus her 8a form. The 7th form went crazy, because I had all the kids (usually we try and split them), the 3rd and 4th forms were better than normal (the 4th form MUCH better) due to their regular teachers in the back of the room, 8a form made me glad I don't teach them, and 8B played a rousing game of English-Speaking Authors Jeopardy.

Also, a funny story from last week that was one of my few good laughs: I have 4th form on the 5th period on Fridays, their last lesson of the week, which generally leads to chaos. Zhenia A. was running around like the wild child he is (although as I said, he was very good today), children were being crazy, Nelya was dealing with kids on the other side of the room, and Zhenia V's glue bottle had spilled all over EVERYTHING in his backpack. I was trying to wipe glue off of books, pens, and the backpack, when Andrei #3 (the class has three Andreis, three Olenas, two Zhenias, and a Tanya and an Anya who are not related but look similar!), who has only been going to our school for a few weeks, came up to me with a huge smile on his face and said in Ukrainian, "Miss Sally, I like this school! I want to go here always!"

I just started laughing and said, "Andrei, I'm so glad."

Saturday was "Christmas dinner" with other PCVs from the area; many people are going home for the holiday season, so we met up in Kharkiv and went out to an excellent and inexpensive Italian restaurant for dinner. Very good food (pasta with salmon), good company, and good prices, plus Greg's Santa hat and Travis and Teresa dancing. It all helped cheer me up after a bad week, and that's what friends are for.

6 more days left to teach this semester!

вівторок, грудня 12, 2006

these boots are made for walkin'

I have found the answer to shoe shopping: prayer. You pray that God will help you find the right shoes in the right price range without too much stress, and, unless God has decided that patience is the virtue you should work on that day, shoe shopping becomes much easier.

Which is to say, I now have new boots. They are black with a little gold decoration on the side, come up to mid-calf, are fuzzy-lined, and don't so much have a heel as just have a thicker sole in the back. Price: $54 USD, which is less than half of what I paid last year when I bought boots in the US (which lasted one year over here). I went to one of the big markets in Kharkiv, found the shoe section, found a friendly saleslady who took the time to help me and show me several options, and had my boots within half an hour of arriving at the market, giving me time to go to a coffee shop with Teresa, Shelia (who ET'd this week...sad to see her go), and Shelia's former LCF (language teacher).

They're pretty comfortable boots as well...I've worn them all day for the last three days, and tonight is the first time they've really bothered me (which has a lot to do with the walk from school to the post office after a day of teaching, all in new shoes).

(Liz: the boots from Nadia need some fixing up...also, they're good for outdoors stuff and walking, but not "dressy" enough for school.)

The olympiad on Sunday was cool in that I got to see how well some kids in my town speak English and depressing in that...um, well...they definitely weren't MY kids. We got creamed. Ouch. Oh, well...if they'd put any real effort into preparing, I'd feel worse.

Am frustrated because I am here to be teaching students the Communicative Method of English, which emphasizes vocabulary, speaking, and being understood rather than emphasizing grammar, only to have teachers at my school complain that the kids aren't learning grammar. Which I have, in fact, taught a great deal of...I've found that I prefer to teach more grammar/translation than PC suggests, because I do think that grammar's important. But not as important as Ukrainian teachers think it is. I am reminded of something I read at PST University to the effect that while teachers here say that they want new techniques and ideas, they really just want us to teach Ukrainian-style. Which is not entirely fair, but there's some truth to it.

It's something I've been thinking about a lot lately...how much is the teacher responsible for what her students learn and how much is the student's responsibility? I believe that I should do everything I can to ensure that my students learn, but when their test scores are repeatedly bad, how much should I be beating myself up over this? Teachers who read this, please comment!

субота, грудня 09, 2006

reboot: the occasion of getting new boots

Am in Kharkiv with two goals: buy train tickets for Jason and me for his visit and buy winter boots.

I hate shoe shopping. (Teresa is at the Internet cafe as well, and when I asked her if she wanted to help me she said no, she also hates shoe shopping and wanted to kill herself by the end of the day when she herself bought winter boots. This was not encouraging.)

Tomorrow is the English Olympiad for our rayon (county). Four competitions in reading, writing, speaking, and listening comprehension. 8 of my kids are competing, and I have the unfortunate feeling that we're going to get trounced (except maybe for Firuyza, one of my 8th form girls). Ah, well...it's the fun that counts. Or something like that.

четвер, грудня 07, 2006

of winter boots and such necessities of life

When I went back on Tuesday, I was able to send my family's Christmas presents (see previous post). It took one hour and almost $20 USD...but Christmas only comes once a year. :) The best moment was when the post office lady was gluing two envelopes together to fit the calendar (don't ask), and someone said something to her. Her reply was, "Be quiet, I'm busy and I don't want the people in America to laugh at how I put these envelopes together." So I assured her they wouldn't laugh. Family, please don't laugh. Besides, I was pretty impressed with her ingenuity.

Winter boots have been the other issue of the week. The soles of my boots are separating from the rest of them, due to the who-knows-how-many kilometers I've walked in the past year. Perhaps they are fixable, but they also look like I've walked long distances in them. So I took a poll of various Ukrainian women on the best place to buy boots. I've been told five different locations, plus three more locations for boot repair. It's a bit overwhelming.

So I did what I always do when confronted with difficult dilemmas of Ukrainain life, and asked Nadia, on the assumption that anyone with 10 children should know where to get good quality, relatively inexpensive items. She told me that the bazaar in Kharkiv is the best option, but that it's big and crazy, so maybe I should go with her sometime. Then today, when I walked Liza home from school and stopped by to get milk (and was also given rasberry jam and a cabbage), she had me try on two different pairs of knee-high winter boots that people had given her and that she said she didn't want anymore. The one pair pinched my toes and also appeared to be slippery on ice, if their wood floors are any example, but the other pair, which are fur-lined, fit well except for being a little snug at the top, which Nadia said could be fixed by taking the boots to a repair shop and getting a little elastic inserted. I attempted to protest, but it was futile, and now I have new brown boots. I love Nadia...she was like, "If you want, you could still get fancy ones, but these will be good for Balaklia."

The Yukhymets family has done so much for me over the past year, and I feel like I can't figure out how to ever repay them. Yesterday I gave Nadia some books for English handwriting practice that Brandi gave me for the kids, but it seems so small a thing in return for being my family here in Ukraine. I guess that's part of being the family of God.

Jim Perkins's 6th grade world studies class at Lakeview Middle School (he was my 8th grade science teacher) wrote letters to my 7th form, and they arrived yesterday. I told the kids today that they'll get them on Monday, which had them all excited. I considered making it a prerequisite that they had to get at least 50% on their spelling tests, but based on previous scores, I'd only be passing out 3-4 letters. And I'm not sure if an American letter, while a great incentive, could improve their scores THAT much. :)

понеділок, грудня 04, 2006

Santa may be a bit late this Christmas, sorry

Incredibly frustrating moment: being told that I can't send all of my Christmas presents to my family in the same package because some of them are paper things and some of them aren't. The paper things have to go in an envelope while the other stuff has to go in a box. The very sweet post office lady told me that I have to come back tomorrow because she can't help me today. And she meant it nicely, I know, but still...

Aargh. Aargh. Aargh. Why on earth can't I send all my Christmas presents in one box? And having to wait another day makes it that much more likely they won't get there on time...sigh. I kept saying that I didn't understand, and the woman thought I didn't understand what she wanted. I understood. I just failed to comprehend why, for whatever postal reasons, my presents can't all go in the same package. I can understand not putting the non-paper items in an envelope. But why can't the calender (shh, nobody tell Grandma and Grandpa) and the other stuff (nope, not telling) not go in a box?

There are some mysteries too dep for us mere mortals to understand.


My AIDS lessons went really well on Friday, especially in my 11th form. This is a class who is usually out to lunch...I'd call it senioritis except that it happened last year as well. But they were (for the most part) mature, participated, and seemed interested in what I had to say. My 10th form went a little crazy, but it was last period on Friday and they couldn't handle talking about birth control.


I had a really cool experience on Saturday. A bunch of my neighbors and I got together to clean up the area outside the entrance to our building, organized by one of the middle-aged women who live on the first floor. There were eight adults and two little kids, and for two hours we picked up trash, raked dead grass and leaves, and swept off the cement. Ukrainians tend to just throw their trash on the ground, so it was neat to watch everyone working together to clean it up. Some of the kids from the next doorway down saw what we were doing and started cleaning their area. And I got to know my neighbors a bit better. All in all, a good time.