Saturday, November 29, 2008

Prague Day one

Arrived last night around 9:30 in Prague, taxi to hostel, in bed by 11. Still have my cold which was aggrevated by having to sit int he smokinug car on the train to Budapest. Slept in this morning and got moving around 9am. Found a coffee house then off to the Mucha Museum - beautiful interesting art. Back to the hostel for long underwear and another layer, as it is quite cold. Did a walking tour for 2 hours through the main areas - good to see to know what to go spend more time looking out. Tara got here around 5:30 and off to the Old Town square to see the lighting of the Christmas tree. Didn't make it in time and the small street we were in became packed with people pushing and shoving, trying to get out of the square and those of us trying to get in. Met a lady from Chicago - Ruth - who we pushed and shoved with! She wanted to know about the Mayor's marathon in Anchorage, but I encouraged her to check out the one in Juneau. We made it into the square and around the booths with mulled wine, food and gifts. There was a show on a stage next to the Christmas tree, but we moved on and walked through to Charles Bridge. Now to plan our day for tomorrow.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Since I celebrated early with the other teachers, today will be a day like every other: I am scheduled for 6 classes, but there is a change to the schedule - imagine that! There will be a play performance today and tomorrow about Mother Theresa's life. Not sure if I will attend or not, as it can get pretty long when you can't understand a word being spoken!

CETP arranged for today and tomorrow off for all the teachers, however, I asked for Monday and Tuesday off instead. I will leave Kisvarda on Friday night, train to Budapest, and then fly to Prague, Czech Republic for 4 days. Tara from Mariapocs will join me on Saturday evening. Am looking forward to this trip, as Prague is a place that has long intrigued me.

Enjoy your turkey day and all the fixin's and family.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday - my "easy day"

Hmmm, easy it will not be. I have a terrible cold and thought my contact teacher was going to call me last night to go see a Dr - the husband of one of the teachers. You must see a Dr. to miss a day of school. No worries - only two classes today - NOT!

Two teachers are out today and I am scheduled to have 7 classes. Will be utter misery.

Woke up to snow....and yes, it is actually accumulating! They are calling for about 5 inches today...well, they gave it in centimeters....

Hmm, maybe school will be canceled?! Probably just wishful thinking on my part.... yep, the charachters are out shoveling the sidewalk.....

Early Thanksgiving

Last Friday immediately after school, I was off to Szolnok and Ujszasz for an early Thanksgiving dinner with other CETP teachers. First we shopped at an amazing store - almost the size of the Juneau Costco - for all of our Thanksgiving fare. We settled on 6 turkey legs and one turkey breast! I found peanut butter (yea!) and took a pic of the gallon plus jugs of wine - they don't mess around with boxes!

After a nice dinner out, off to Ujszasz, a 14 minute ride on the train, where Jamie lives. I think this town is around 6000 people -- we were warned by a fellow train rider, that this was a "f*cking dangerous town" and not to let the gypsies hear us speak in English as they would come rob the flat! There have been English teachers in this community for years, so don't know why anyone would be surprised to find out she lives there!

We had a great dinner and a lot of fun cooking, conducting quality control on the food and wine, and gorging ourselves on traditional fare. Had soo much food and a lot of fun. Jamie found Christmas decorations in her flat, so those were added to the table and around the room to make it more festive.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ribbon Pinning Celebration

Yesterday was the big event. At 3pm, all the 12th graders and the teachers met at the Catholic Church for mass and the pinning of the ribbons on the teachers. First there was mass, then the blessing of the ribbons and then the students took the ribbons and a lily to each of the teachers and pinned the ribbons on their lapel. The young man who did mine is one of my better students, so that was really nice.

From there, we went to the theatre. (The school, the town theatre, and the church, are all located on the town square - Floria'n Te'r - a few steps from each other.) All of the students came on stage by class, and their form (homeroom) teacher pinned the ribbon on each student and the students presented the teacher with a bouquet of flowers.

After a short break, came the class waltz. Only a few students can participate in this, and the teachers must select the students. This is a very difficult situation, trying to be fair when there just isn't enough space for all. Often, it is the students who have been the leaders in activities throughout the four years of school who are selected. As you can see, this is very formal with the young men in tuxes with tails and the young ladies in matching beautiful white dresses. It was quite the sight to see.

After this beautiful waltz, each of the 4 classes presented their show. The pictures will all be posted separately on my photo page instead of here in the blog.
After the show, all the students, their families, and the teachers all went back to the school. The teachers' room and 4 of the classrooms were transformed into buffet tables with a huge variety of food prepared by the families. The cafeteria was transformed into a dining hall for the students and their form teachers and they had a formal meal served to them. Then, the waltz once more, this time in the gym, and a dance for the students followed. All the girls were in prom style dresses and some of the boys remained in their tuxes while others had changed back to their every day attire. The party in the teachers' room went on until at least midnight and when I went to bed, I could still hear the music coming from the gym.
It was a fantastic afternoon/evening and I enjoyed myself tremendously. I laughed and joked with the other teachers through broken English and Hungarian and I'm not sure any of us really knew what the other was saying. I met a teacher's wife who is an English teacher at an elementary school and their 16 year old daughter. Both of them just wanted to talk and talk to me in English. I met an elderly gentleman who is a retired teacher from here and the school priest, Father Lazslo. (Lazslo is a VERY common name: I have 5 Lazslo's in one of my classes!) Both spoke English and we were able to chat. I engaged in girl-talk with one of the other English teachers and talked politics and social issues with another of the English teachers - we just don't get much time to visit throughout the school day. Both of these teachers have invited me to their homes for Sunday lunch; I will probably go next Sunday to Istvan Suba's and then not sure when I will go to Marianne's, but in the next few weeks. Both will sure to be very nice and fun.

The last two weeks...

One thing is guaranteed in Hungary and especially in this school: plans are to be broken!

For the last two weeks, the 12th graders have been preparing for a big event which celebrates their last year in school. This event, (which I didn't write down the name) has three components: religious, formal, and class performances. Each of the four 12 grade groups prepare a half hour program including skits and dances. Everything at the school has been focused on preparing for this. The grounds keepers have been super-busy (the rose bushes were finally cut back), costumes and formal clothing have been prepared, decorations for the gymnasium and the cafeteria and the stage have been prepared, and as the last two weeks progressed, hair has been cut and colored and fingernails polished!

During my class period, one of the groups repeatedly practiced their program. Each of the other classes would have students missing. One day, I only had 4 students out of 18 in the class! Needless to say, I haven't been on schedule with the syllabus! Other teachers have said they haven't seen their 12 grade groups in two weeks!

On Friday, the classes were shorter and then the last two cancelled. The whole school went across the street to the theatre and we got to view the shows. Fantastic! these kids can dance! All four were different, but a lot of fun. It was especially fun to see the one class that had used my class time to practice, do their dances in full costume.

On top of the excitement regarding the 12th grade event, one of the English teachers had surgery and has been off of work since last Tuesday and will be out until the end of the month. Then, on Wednesday of this past week, another of the English teachers got sick and was out Wed - Fri. When a teacher is out ill, they do not call in a subsititute. Instead, the other teachers pick up the slack!

This resulted in my Tuesday going from 2 classes, to 6 classes, with one of them doubled up with two groups in it! Then on Wednesday, the same thing, from 3 classes to 6, except I had two periods with double the students! Uncontrollable let alone un-teachable! Thursday I already had a full schedule of 6 classes, but they were still able to use me to substitute by doubling up again! When you have around 3o students from absolute beginner to advanced, there is not much you can do! I did find a few board games on line and had them work in pairs to do the games - all ESL of course.

After returning from the fall break, I decided to take more of my evening meals in the Cafeteria to save money - especially since I haven't gotten paid yet. Well, the first week back, the food really sucked! Two fried eggs on a bowl of creamed peas does not a dinner make for me. I found this quite frustrating, sending me to the store shopping at the last minute. Then last week, on Tuesday I go to dinner at 6:30 and ---- the cafeteria is dark and no one is around! I found out the next day that the students went to some performance at the theatre, so had to have dinner early before the ya think someone would have told me?

The week before last, I met with Mike, the other CETP teacher here in Kisvarda one day after school and talked about everything under the sun. Sure is nice to have another American right here to talk to once in awhile.

Also one day I was in the teacher's room at the end of the day, and there was a man waiting for me in the hallway. His name is Zsolt and he and his wife have a language school here in Kisvarda. They teach mainly English, but have someone who also teaches a few German classes. They have a 2 1/2 year old daughter and he asked if I would be interesting meeting with him, his wife and their daughter for 2 hours twice a week, plus on Sundays from 9am - 1 or 2pm for drives around the countryside, all the while with them practicing their English and encouraging their daughter to speak English in this time. I am so full with my obligation to the school and other things that I want to do, that I just don't have time, and don't want to take on any private students. And certainly not every Sunday, which would cut into my availability to go anywhere over the weekend or accept an invitation to lunch!

My hostel (dorm) classes have also increased. I must teach 3 per week instead of 2. I have now divided them into advanced, beginners, and then combined and we will play word games in the combined class.

This Tuesday right after my last class (on my nightmare day), Edit took me into Nyiregyhaza and I got my work visa. I am now legal until June 15! One day soon, I should now get paid - I hope!

So, busy times! And I am loving it!

School Lessons

Where, oh where, does the time go? It gets eaten up by my researching ideas and creating lesson plans! I have 4 different class levels: 9 - 12 (Freshmen - Seniors) and then within each, I have at least 2 levels of ability. Luckily, the teachers for these different class levels are in agreement as to what they want me to teach, with a couple of exceptions. So, for a week, I need lessons on 4-6 topics at different skill levels. I spend hours and hours on the prep, and then in 45 minutes, bam !, it's over and I am busy analyzing and critiquing what worked, what didn't, how well I met their ability level, etc., and then I start adjusting the lesson for the next classes. I have nineteen 45 minute lessons each week: just over 14 hours, and then three 1 hour lessons for a total of less than 20 hours of teaching time. But my prep time is at least 20 hours per week - more like a minimum of 30.

There is so much information available about teaching English in addition to lesson plans, worksheets and activities on a bazillion topics, it is hard not to get lost in reading it all. For those of you who have worked with me, you know how I read and read and take in so much info, and then at the last minutes have to pull together whatever the task was I initially started with! I am really enjoying learning so much ... it's almost as if I am in school myself.

This last two weeks one of the subjects was asking for and giving directions. I introduced the phrases and used "gap-fill" worksheets and maps to become familiar with the phrases. Then in the 2nd session on the topic, we either went outside or moved desks in the classroom and created little "towns" and students had to ask and follow directions from each other. When I have run into the students outside of class, I ask them for directions to things and most are doing ok with it!

Another subject was shopping - large superstores vs. small shops. This is a subject the 12 graders must speak on to pass their English test at the end of the year. We've done role plays with students trying to convince each other to shop at one store or another and then for the two most advanced classes, I had then discuss the impact on the economy of large superstores and small shops, based on a dialogue presented from a language workbook.

All of this make the students sound pretty advanced when I read what I have written. They aren't. One of the biggest barriers is that a lot of Hungarian is spoken in the class. It is impossible to stop it, and at the higher class levels it is the worst in that it is institutionalized. Some of the kids have made it to grade 12 with learning very, very little English. What has happened is that as they did not pick it up as quickly as the other students, another student will translate for them. It has now gotten to be the way of the class: I say something, maybe 1/2 the class will understand. The other half of the class doesn't even try to understand - they wait for another student to translate it for them. Or, I speak directly to a student and they don't know what I said, so they turn to the top student and ask for translation, instead of saying they don't understand. For a student who wants to try to understand, they will say the don't understand or will ask a question, and we can try different words, pantomime, etc., to understand each other. But these other students don't even try, they just wait for instructions in Hungarian.

I have one 12th grade class that there is no way that any of the students will pass the English exam. They just don't know anything. I have asked what to do about it, and basically, about all I can do is help them memorize a few sentences on each of the topics they will need to speak about. But this won't even be enough to pass the exam. They will still get their HS diploma, but not a diploma that shows they are eligible for entry into college or university. Bottom line is that none of those kids will even try to go on to University anyway, so they aren't too concerned about the test.

Anyway, I just keep trying. I had feedback from the Headmaster this week that he hears good things from the students about my classes. I'm glad, because I put so much work into them! I hope it gets easier as the year goes on, but I have a feeling that as I learn more, I will only learn that there is so much more to learn!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


As we move into evening here, America is lining up at the polls. Yesterday and today I have been asked by a number of teachers who I wanted for president: all are awaiting the election results.
One teacher told me that Barack Obama's name means "peach" in Hungarian. Peach Brandy, or Pa'linka is the national drink here. Apparently some town here is sending or sent peaches and pa'linka to him.... Searched for this on google, and instead found another CETP teacher's blog telling the same story.... felt like such a lurker.
When I went into Nyregyhaza a few weeks ago for my work visa (which still isn't here), the headmaster wanted to know if the American people would accept a "black man" as president.
The Budapest Sun - an English Language newspaper - says if Hungarians were to vote, they would elect Obama.
Will be interesting in the morning here to hear all of the comments and speculations about our future president.