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.

First Full Week of School

PST practice school
Full disclosure: this was from practice school and not from my actual school!

Throughout the summer, we were warned numerous times to be mindful that Moldovan schools operate a bit differently than American schools.  That seemed a bit obvious to me- we’re in a completely different country, of course it’ll be a bit different.  I think I underestimated a bit.  Now, I’m not saying that the “American” way is right, and the “Moldovan” way is wrong, but they are certainly very, very different, and that CAN be confusing.

I think a large part of the frustration is that, because of the additional language barrier, I miss a lot of key things during school meetings and when talking with other teachers.  Therefore, I have felt a bit like I never have a single clue what is going on around me.  That said, I’m excited for the school year to really get rolling!  The biggest difference I’ve noticed is in regards to the schedule.  In the United States, a schedule might change a bit after school has started, but it’s usually figured out in advance and is more or less set.  Here, the schedule is not at all set in stone, changes throughout the first month (sometimes very drastically), and we maybe have our schedule for the following day at the end of the current day.  At my school, two new (to the school- they’re actually very experienced teachers that have come out of retirement and are from the next town over) teachers started halfway through this past week, so the schedule basically had to be done all over again.

This also means that, because I teach with two teachers, my schedule is a bit wacky at the moment.  Currently, I am supposed to be in two classes at once more than one period a day.  I’m sure this will all get ironed out eventually, though.

I observed one partner teacher this week but planned and taught with the other.  I observed fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth grades and taught third and fourth.  I am really hoping that the final schedule will allow me to continue to work with third and fourth, as I have really enjoyed it so far.  It requires a lot more Romanian knowledge, but they are so excited to learn!  I’m not sure yet whether I’ll be teaching ninth, but if I do, I think it will be a whole new experience for me!  I’ve only taught up to sixth grade in the past, and seventh and eighth don’t seem that different, but ninth graders are a whole other story!

Learning how Moldovan schools work is definitely going to be a process, but I can’t wait to start working more with students and I’m sure we’ll get (more or less) there soon!

First Bell at School

My sister and I my first day of 1st grade!
My sister and I my first day of 1st grade!

In Moldova, school generally starts on September 1st (unless, I’m assuming, September 1st falls on the weekend).  It’s a very different experience from the first day of school in the United States.  In the United States, you arrive at school, are shuffled to your classroom, and once you’re settled in, you start going over rules or expectations, or some basic classroom routines.  There might be an assembly with the rest of the students, but not always.

The first form students performed several songs/recited a really long poem!
The first form students performed several songs/recited a really long poem!

The first day of school in Moldova is a big deal, and it’s kicked off with a ceremony called “First Bell”.  The teachers had a short meeting in our faculty room, with wishes for success and a good year of school.  Then we headed outside, where all the students, as well as parents, were waiting in the courtyard.  All the students were dressed very nicely in uniforms- girls wore white shirts and blue or black skirts, while the boys wore dress pants, dress shirts, and ties.  The teachers and parents were all dressed very nicely as well.

The first form students with their first textbooks
The first form students with their first textbooks

Once everyone was organized by class, the ceremony began.  Two of the older students welcomed everyone, then the school director (like a principal) said a few words.  The Moldovan national anthem was played, and the flag was raised.  After, the first form (first grade) students were brought to the front steps of the school, holding hands with students from the ninth form.  First grade is the first year of school for students in Moldova, so this was their very first day of school.

The first form students parade around the circle before heading to their classroom.
The first form students parade around the circle before heading to their classroom.

A man from the regional educational agency handed out a few awards, and then it was my turn to speak.  As the newbie (and American), I had been asked to prepare a short speech in Romanian to present to the students.  I introduced myself, explained that I am a volunteer in the Peace Corps, and wished the students a year of success.  It was short and sweet, and a number of people told me I spoke very well!

The first form students head to their classroom
The first form students head to their classroom

After all of this, the first form students performed both a poem they had memorized and a couple of songs.  Then the second form students brought them their first textbooks.  At this point, one of the ninth form boys came forward, and he carried one of the first form girls on his shoulders as she rang the big bell to begin the school year, walking around the circle of students.  When she finished, all of the first form students walked around in front of the group of older students and parents, then headed to their classroom, and the rest of the students followed.

We had about 2 hours of class with our homeroom class.  This was mostly spent doling out classroom responsibilities, choosing electives, and figuring out the schedule.  We also spent a little bit of time playing some English games- hang man and a form of concentration.  The students asked me a couple of questions- they wanted to know if I had brothers or sisters, how old I was, and what my family name is (my last name).  They had me write my name and there was a short discussion about my first name (teachers go by their first name here).  Although Elisabeth isn’t too difficult for Moldovans to pronounce (minus the h at the end- they pronounce it Elisabet), the Moldovan version of the name is Elizaveta.  And we also explained Mrs. and Miss to them.  I have a feeling some of them will be calling me Mrs. Elizaveta.  We’ll see!

Around 11, students were released for the day and the teachers gathered in the cantina for a masa (special meal).  There were many toasts, and I was wished (to the best of my Romanian-understanding abilities): health, many years, that I will find a husband in our town and never leave, that I will stay with them many years, and much success in the school year to come.  And then, around 1, we all headed home!

It was a good first day and I’m excited to start teaching!

School “Open House”

The first poster I've made!
The first poster I’ve made!

Note: I have had very limited internet the past couple weeks but I do have some posts that I will get up when I have access to internet.

I’ve been working a couple of hours a day at the school since I arrived at site.  My partner teachers are still on vacation, so I go and hang out in the library with Elena, the librarian.  I’ve gone through the first unit of all of the English textbooks to take notes and get some ideas, but I really don’t have a whole lot to do yet.  I spent two days this week working on a painted poster for the library- a big, bright book.  Because posters are very expensive and teachers have to pay for all supplies (except perhaps a couple of pieces of chalk), the walls are pretty bare in many classrooms.  The classrooms are also, in the words of fellow EE volunteer Alex, “pale colors galore”.  In my school, almost all of the classrooms have the lower part of the walls covered in various wallpaper- each room is different.  My school director has already told me to make our English classroom more pretty (especially as they’ve already figured out that I can draw and paint fairly well).  I have a few ideas for that, but I need to talk to my partner teachers first before I can implement them.

Last week, however, there was a scheduled work day with many, but not all, of the teachers, as it was an open house day.  Parents and students came, as well as teachers, and we worked in separate groups (parents, students, and teachers) to discuss what the school does well, what needs work, and focus on the theme of “access and quality”.  I was in the teacher’s group, and it was really interesting to see what a “conference” looked like in a Moldovan school.  It reminded me a lot of teacher conference days in the United States- there were interactive activities, a brainstorming session, teachers worked in groups on different things, and at the end, everyone filled out a survey rating 30 different aspects of a good school.  According to the answers the other teachers provided, the school has students that are very involved in extracurricular activities and faith activities, but maybe isn’t quite so strong at using current teaching methods and practices (I think, it was all in Romanian, but I’m pretty sure that’s what they said).

After each of the groups worked on their own for a couple of hours, we all crammed into a classroom (only 2 students attended, but quite a few mothers were there) for a presentation by Doamna Feodora, the school director.  It was essentially a breakdown of all of the possible data from the previous school year- how many students in each class, how many students scored at different levels on their exams, how many teacher there are, those teachers’ credentials and educational attainment, how many classrooms, cafeteria, etc. and the square footage and capacity of each, how many students participated in each extracurricular activity, the outside organizations the school collaborated with throughout the year, basic budget figures, and so on and so forth.  It was interesting to learn more about the school, but given how much information there was, the speed at which it was given, and the amount of numbers involved, I did struggle a bit to understand everything.  After, there was a discussion with the parents (all mothers), which turned into a debate over school uniforms (I’m under the impression that students will be required to wear a school uniform this year and that this is a new rule).  The parents were not in favor of the uniforms from I could understand.

It was a really useful day for me as I try to get a grip on how things work in the school, and it also gave me an opportunity to meet several of the other teachers.  At the same time, it was pretty overwhelming- there were a lot of people speaking Romanian very fast, often at the same time, and it was definitely harder to understand than when I’m just speaking one-on-one with other people.  I had a headache at the end from concentrating so hard.  But I did understand almost everything that was said and went on, so I do feel that my Romanian is getting there!

Professional Dress for a Teacher

So, I’m currently on Spring Break and just ended my second semester at college (my college has 3 terms, 2 that are 12 weeks long and a spring term that is 6 weeks long).  During the spring term, students only take 6 credits (two, maybe even only one, classes).  In addition, there are no classes on Wednesdays, unless you are a nursing or education student, in which case you have all-day fieldwork on Wednesdays.  I am an freshman education student, which means that I will be doing fieldwork every day (half days Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and a full day on Wednesday).  I will be placed in a classroom and will do things like observe, worked on-on-one with kids, and work with small groups, in addition to doing various assignments.

For the fieldwork, we have to dress professionally.  I have found that a lot of professional clothes are not quite appropriate for classroom wear- teachers have to bend over, kneel, and move around a lot.  This is also a bit of a problem in terms of shoes as well- teachers are often on their feet for the majority of the day.  This means no heels for me.

On Tuesday, my mom and I went shopping to create my “teacher” wardrobe, since I didn’t have many professional clothes.  I purchased 10 clothing items, plus 3 pairs of shoes.

2013-04-18 10.47.36Here’s all of what I got.  Three pairs of pants, one skirt, one blazer, two button-up shirts, and four other shirts.  Today, I laid them all out to figure out how many outfits I could get from just these (I already had a few other items, but I didn’t include them in the remix).  I came up with sixteen, plus a few of the outfits I could easily add the blazer to.  I figured I’d show what I came up with.  Note: the photos aren’t the best, sorry!

skirt outfits

First up are the skirt outfits!  The skirt is a thrifted Gap shirt.  The blazer is also thrifted.  The pink and navy blue shirts were from Kohl’s and the gingham and black shirts were from TJ Maxx.  I absolutely love the skirt with the navy blue with small white polka dots shirt.  My mom and sister say gingham and floral doesn’t go together, but I don’t care- I like it.

black pants outfitsI also purchased some black dress pants from Kohl’s.  I’m sorry these pictures came out so badly- the shirts are (clockwise from top left): blue gingham, pink (both from above), turquoise, and tan (the turquoise was from Kohl’s and the tan shirt was from TJ Maxx).

blue pants outfitsThese navy blue pants (from TJ Maxx) are shorter.  I paired them with the turqoise shirt, the tan shirt (same as the one above), and the blue gingham shirt.  I liked the gingham shirt better not tucked in (in other words, not worn as shown above).

tan pants outfitsThese tan pants were also from TJ Maxx and are paired with shirts I’ve already shown.  Several of the shirts also look good with the blazer:

tan pants + blazer outfitsWell, I hope these help anyone who needs some inspiration for professional dress.  I also have a pair of grey dress pants, a black and white floral shirt, a purple gauzy shirt, and a few other items, along with a couple of dresses.  I plan to pair the outfits with four different pairs of shoes: black flats, brown flats, brown sandals, and black sandals.

Have a wonderful Friday and weekend!!