Vacation is Over, and It’s Not as Bad as I Thought

Some students stopped by our house last night as part of a Moldovan Christmas tradition called “steaua” (star).

Today was the first day back to school after a little over two weeks of vacation, which I spent in the United States with my family.  I have to admit that after a long and difficult trip back to Moldova, I was kind of dreading having to get up this morning and get back into the school routine.  Then I practically didn’t sleep at all last night thanks to jet lag and my body not being adjusted back to this time zone.  I also found out yesterday that one of my partners won’t be here this entire week.  Her absence is for a completely legitimate reason, but teaching some classes by myself when I know I’ll be especially tired this week felt a little daunting.

Needless to say, when I finally dragged (and I really mean dragged- it was no easy feat) myself out of bed this morning I was in a rather foul mood.  I scarfed down a small amount of food, quickly got ready, and walked quickly to school, worried that I was going to be late.  I got to school and found out that we have a new schedule and that I now have to teach SIX lessons in a row on Tuesdays (normal, perhaps, in the United States, but fairly rare here).  Ugh.

And then I went to my classes and was thoroughly surprised by just how great the day ended up being.  Funny how that happens sometimes, right?  My third graders excitedly told me about their vacations and we learned some new English words related to the holidays.  My second graders told me that their vacations were wonderful but that they had really, really missed me.  They were extremely curious about my time in the United States and surprised me by their excitement at the thought of me flying home and then back on a plane.  “I’ve wanted my entire life to ride on a plane!” one girl exclaimed.  When I asked them why they hadn’t come caroling at my house, they looked at me crestfallen and said, “we didn’t know you were home!”  At the end of the lesson, a couple of the girls came up and gave me great, big hugs.  For the first time since last spring, I spent a lesson with a group of 4th graders that I no longer teach, and they cheered when I came in the classroom and were so excited they could hardly read or complete their assignments.  My eighth grade students sang “Happy Birthday” to me in English and asked me all about my trip, and my seventh grade students were well-behaved and quiet.  Later, my site mate told me some of the primary school teachers were talking about me earlier and that they had nothing but good things to say.

I have to say that my no good, very bad day turned out one little blessing after another.  Today was the first day of my last semester of teaching here in this little school and I was reminded of just how lucky I am to be in this village and teach in this school.  Some days are hard, but then there are days like today, when I realize just how much I love being here.  I will miss my students, partners, school colleagues, and host family so very much when I leave here, so for now, I’m going to soak up every minute I have left and focus on all the blessings this adventure has brought me instead of all of the challenges.

English Club

Students from 8th and 9th grade help create a video showcasing how we say “hello!” in Moldova
Our English Club welcomed our Peace Corps Country Director, Tracey, and my fellow volunteer, Alicia, to our village

One of the best parts of my final year here so far has been the continuation of the English Club I do with students in grades 7 through 9 at my school.  I started the club last winter in February and had about 70 students sign up and about 50 students regularly show up.  We took a break over the summer other than a couple weeks when we had a summer English Club/Camp, but started up again in October.  Last year’s ninth grade students have moved on to other school, so the new seventh grade students got to join us.  I had about 55 students sign up, and about 35-40 attend every week.

There are three mixed-grade-level groups and each group meets once a week for an hour.  My site mate, who teaches health at the school, sometimes helps out, and one of my partners also attends sometimes.  This semester, we covered a variety of topics including: introductions and greetings, talking about ourselves, numbers (from simple numbers to more complicated numbers like 5,406,827,359), Halloween, how to research, Thanksgiving, winter holidays (Christmas, New Year, and Hanukkah), and a United States of America states project.  We’ve played games, used whiteboards for practice, had conversations, talked about American culture, and worked in teams to create posters.

There are a number of reasons I love doing the English Club so much.  I like that there is no set curriculum and what we do each week can be tailored to what the students need more practice on (like saying numbers) or are interested in (like American holidays and traditions).  It’s also nice to be able to teach in a more relaxed setting, as we don’t need to worry about grades or do things in a way that we are expected to do when teaching normal lessons.

Most of all, I love the opportunity to get to know my students better.  During class, we have a lot to cover in a very small amount of time, so things need to be rigidly scheduled.  During English Club, we can take time to have conversations and I have more time to work one-on-one with a struggling student or in smaller groups.  I feel like the club has allowed me to get to know my students on a more personal basis, and I also have more opportunities to share about myself, my family, why I am here in Moldova, and about American culture.

The students are very curious about my life in the United States and my American family!  Last week, I talked to my dad briefly while one of the groups were working on a poster project.  When the students realized I was speaking English on the phone, they were silent!  They looked at me in awe as I rapidly (well, to them) spoke English.  After, they told me, “Wow! You speak so quickly in English when you speak to other Americans!”.

I can’t wait to start the club up again after our winter vacation, and know that I will dearly miss these students when I leave Moldova in a few short months.

Youth Day

The celebration started off with some poetry.

Last week, our school celebrated Youth Day.  The Student Council made a video and put together an hour-long performance for the 8th and 9th grade students.  I was really impressed by how quickly they put everything together and learned the dances and songs!

This song was titled “Ana” and in it, a girl is in love and wants to go out dancing. Her mother/grandmother doesn’t want her to go, but in the end joins in and dances with them. It was absolutely hilarious!
The main performance- here some boys dressed up as mothers argue with their “kids” and tell them they must go to school.
The main performance- the gym teacher has left the students alone, so they dance.
The main performance- the boy in front is in love and is writing a love note.
The main performance- the gym teacher returns and they dance in a train.

There was a mix of some songs, dances, and one big musical skit.  Most of the performances were humorous and they did a great job!  After, there was a short dance for the 8th and 9th graders.

Library Opening

Last spring, I began working with a team of teachers and students at my school to plan, write, and implement a grant project to renovate and modernize our school library.  The grant was funded in part by a small Peace Corps grant, as well as by our village’s mayor’s office and our school’s parent association.  Starting in February, we surveyed our students and teachers.  Everyone was in agreement that though there are many things our school needs, the most important need was a “new” school library.

Our children’s literature was in poor shape.
Many of the books were in Cyrillic.

While we had a dedicated school library space, it was in poor condition.  The ceilings and walls had cracks and occasionally parts of the plaster would fall down.  The bookshelves had been cobbled together out of scrap wood and took up much of the space.  The rest of the furniture in the room had been taken from other classrooms, but would be needed for a larger incoming 1st grade class.  A large majority of the books were from the Soviet era and most were in Cyrillic even though our school is a Romanian school.  There was no technology in the library and our school had no computer that was for student use for research.

The almost completed library space after.

The project included renovating the space and repairing the plaster walls and ceilings as well as the purchase and installation of new furniture and technology.  We were able to buy a computer, projector, and projector screen, which were accompanied by a new printer the school had recently purchased.  Most importantly, however, we bought approximately 300 new books for the library, mostly children’s picture books and literature, as well as a few resource books and a set of textbooks for the primary grades.

Opening Ceremony

Our grant project will wrap up at the end of this month, and we still need to have some seminars/workshops with the students and teachers on how to use the new resources we have gained, but the renovations and installations, as well as the purchases, have been completed.

Last Monday, the school officially opened the library.  A group of students from grades 3 through 9 worked with our school librarians to plan a ceremony, which was held in the school’s “Festival Room” due to size constraints in the library.  The concert included songs, poems, and many comments on the importance of books and reading, as well as a short skit.  The students did a fantastic job!

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
Ribbon cutting ceremony in the new space

After, we held a ribbon cutting ceremony in the library.  One of our Peace Corps staff members, Bob, and his wife attended the festivities, and he was given the honor of cutting the ribbon with a 3rd grade student.  A government representative was also in attendance, and donated a number of books as well as laptop to be used in the new space.

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony in the new library!
Ribbon Cutting Ceremony in the new and modern library

I am so impressed by the hard work of our grant team.  So many individuals spent so much of their time and energy on the planning and implementation of this project, and we now have a beautiful, safe, healthy, and useful space for teachers and students to use.

Ziua Profesorului (Teacher’s Day) 2017

An 8th grade student presents her class’s wishes for the teachers.
A 6th grade students shares wishes for the teachers.
Some 8th graders present a poem for the teachers.

October 5 is International Teacher’s Day, and here in Moldova it’s a very big holiday (read about last year’s celebration here).  At our school, we started the day off with a short assembly outside in the school’s courtyard.  One student from each class presented their wishes for the teachers and thanked them for the work they do.

Some teachers at the school.
Some teachers at the school (I’m in the front in the center).

On Thursdays, my partner Liuba and I teach our younger students in 2nd through 3rd grade.  One of the Moldovan traditions for Teacher’s Day is for older students to teach some of the lessons throughout the day instead of the teachers.

A 9th grade student teachers one of our 3rd grade classes.
An 8th grade student teaches the other 3rd grade class.

For our two 3rd grade classes, two girls, one in 8th grade and one in 9th grade, taught our lessons.  We sat in the back and helped a little as needed.  The 3rd graders were very excited to have older students teach the class and the two “teachers” did a good job.

8th grade students perform in a concert for the teachers.
Students perform a humorous skit.

During our classes, some of the students gave us flowers and other prepared small speeches to thank us.  According to one of my 4th grade boys, I am very pretty and they like to have lessons with me very much because I never yell at them.

8th grade girls sing for the teacgers.
All of the teachers, with the 8th grade students.

After lessons, some of the teachers went to our raion center for a big concert and ceremony, but I didn’t join them.  On Friday, the 8th graders prepared a concert for us, with poems, songs, and even a skit.  Then, that evening, all of the teachers went to a larger nearby town to have a really nice party at a restaurant.  We ate, drank, and danced for several hours.  It was a really nice celebration and everyone seemed to have a very nice time.