Tuesday, October 20, 2009

First Impressions - Friday, 2 October 2009

My first day at my new school -- Teacher's Day
Friday, 2 October 2009

First Impressions
Friday was Kazakhstan's Teacher's Day, and the principal picked up Sophia and me at noon to come and see the school. The school is a short drive from the apartment, and the building is brand new (about 2 years, I think). The school has three parts--the international part on the right, the Turkish part on the left (high school and primary, I think), and a shared middle with a cafeteria, gym, canteen, and swimming pool! Sophia's ears perked up at the mention of a pool, and she was very eager to see it.

After a brief meeting with the principal, he showed me my room. I will teach in class 1B, grade 1. I will have 19 students, a Kazakh teacher, and an assistant teacher. The children were running around noisily when we arrived. There were also children running around in the hallway.

Then we looked in the neighboring room, class 1A, which is also first grade. Miss Valerie, an American who arrived earlier this week, is the English language teacher; she also has a Kazakh teacher and an assistant teacher. She was relieved to learn that she would be getting a new female student (Sophia), as she only has 4 girls.

The classrooms were small, yet very neat, and the desks were tables for two, neatly arranged. Both classrooms were extremely noisy.

Then I met with the principal and discussed school a bit. I asked about the nationalities, and he looked at the list of names, from which he could tell the nationalities. Most of my students are Kazakh, two are Korean, one is Arabic, and one is Chechen. I learned that I will initially be responsible for 18 hours a week--18 "lessons" which I believe is a common term in British schools. I will teach 8 hours of English a week, 5 hours of math, and 5 hours of science. Later I may have additional hours teaching English to older students. The older students vary greatly in their English, some being close to fluent and some beginners.

Lessons begin at 9:00; at 9:40 the students have breakfast for 15 minutes; and then there are lessons until 1:00, which is lunchtime. After lunch there are 2 more hours of lessons. At 3:25 the lessons are over and extracurricular activities begin. The children can have extra lessons or clubs--activities such as swimming (Sophia is very excited, of course!) The end of the day is at 5:00.

Then the secretary showed me around some more. We met Christy, the Canadian teacher in 2nd grade, and then my assistant teachers introduced me to the class, who uniformly said, "Good morning Miss Elizabeth!" and "I'm fine, and how are you?" In Miss Valerie's classroom, a girl was drawing on the whiteboard, and smiled sweetly when Sophia and I tried to talk to her, but she did not answer. Valerie informed us that she is Chinese, and speaks no English, Russian, or Kazakh. The primary language for the children was Russian, that was plain to tell, but at least there are other students who are Russian language learners. Sophia and the Chinese girl will attend Russian language lessons every day, while the Kazakh children attend Kazakh lessons.

A little girl with light brown hair in a ponytail, and a pink sweater and black skirt (not the uniform) was very excited to meet Sophia. This child was Russian, I learned (although when I asked the question, the person who answered seemed surprised. Wasn't it obvious that the child was Russian? I'm finding out that if you look Caucasian, then you must be Russian, and there's no need to question it.)

The Russian child enthusiastically told Sophia, "pohka, Sophia, pohka!" which means, "Bye, Sophia, bye!" So it looks like Sophia will be able to make some friends. In fact, she spent most the day asking to go to class or go to the playground, to be with other children.

The secretary then took us to lunch. The teachers ate in a separate room! Who was with the children, I do not know, but if I am provided with free food and a lunch break every day, then I will be quite content. I had eaten a late and large breakfast (consisting mostly of delicious bread) and was not too hungry. Sophia looked rather sullen at the sight of the food put in front of her--some kind of chicken soup, some meat with a mixture of a mashed potatoes texture, purple fruit salad, and some creamy white soup-or-yogurt-or-whatnot. The secretary tried to tell me what the last item was, but I could not understand her. I think now that she was trying to say "dessert."

The food was very good, and I felt bad that I was not hungry enough to eat it all--everyone else in the room seemed to finish all their food--and I reached into my backpack to hand Sophia some Ritz crackers and mozzarella cheese sticks. She knows that our supply of American food is running out, she knows she will soon have to eat local.

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